Tag Archives: families

Family Values

70s bike

My fuchsia bicycle with the flowered banana-seat conveyed me all over town, my travel unrestricted. Stranger Danger didn’t get forced on a kid in the ‘70s like the present day. I pedaled pretty much anywhere the strength of my legs could take me.

I got to ride that bike to visit my friend, Veronica, from school. My mother knew where I was going and said, “You can go but only if you don’t tell your daddy.” I could ride my bike there by myself, but my father would’ve forbidden me from going. I’d never been to a black family’s house in my nine years of life.

This was the 1970s, not Jim Crow, not the segregated South, although the Midwest wasn’t exactly a cozy nest of inclusion. Few of my elementary school classmates were black, whom I could count on one hand from amongst three third-grade classrooms.

Our home may have been typical in a small town, but I didn’t know since kids didn’t compare notes. While my mother didn’t condone our dad’s racism, her inaction was complicit. She’d also been raised to think the races need to remain separate, to “stick with their own.” She must’ve fallen into a torpor from the seeming normalness of that environment. Almost as if you can’t beat ‘em, so join ‘em in their prejudice.

My dad was inexorable and felt totally justified in his behavior. We’d been raised with this example as normal, but we knew better inside. Such an ugly secret we hid behind closed doors felt wrong. The balance of our blooming consciences grew lopsided to what seemed right, no matter what we knew as normal in our own home.

Me and my sisters were warned to never bring a black or Asian guy home or we’d have no home. We’d be disowned, which scared me enough to never date outside my race. As a teenager, I realized what bigotry meant but that my father wasn’t even a consistent bigot. He would’ve been fine with one of us dating someone Native American, but he would’ve lost his shit with any of us dating an African American guy.

He once said, “I know one at work, and he’s okay. He’s a hard worker.” Like that was a bonus, as if the man would otherwise slack because of being born black. I have no idea what caused his negativity about other races. It didn’t seem personal. His parents never acted that way. Their rural background likely didn’t involve much, if any, interaction with anyone other than white people. Maybe isolation simply took its toll on him.

My dad’s racist attitude and language overshadowed his other virtues. Being a hard worker who provided and care for his family didn’t weigh as heavy as the hatred and inconsistencies I witnessed. Someone who claimed, “Never think you’re better than anyone else,” was the same person who told us who could be our friends. I remember him saying, “Nobody is any better than you either, no matter how much money they have.” Such mixed messages.

He didn’t like Jews and gave running commentary on the nightly news, especially if it included the likes of Henry Kissinger or JFK, although he never gave a reason why. Astonishingly enough, I think he voted Democrat. We couldn’t watch videos of Eddie Murphy’s comedy routine without a hateful diatribe if our dad walked into the room. Why demonize people we didn’t even know?

It was personal for me. Veronica was my friend, and going to her house excited me. Everyone there welcomed me. With its unique decorations and varied kitchen aromas (as in anyone else’s home), theirs was an average middle-class household. We lived on the north side of the railroad tracks that delineated the poorer side of town. Ironically, I crossed those tracks to go to Veronica’s house not five or six blocks further down the same street.

I came home afterward to report, “Mom, Veronica has three mamas. They all live at her house.” Looking back, I imagine extended family lived there with them. My mom made sure to explain how that couldn’t be right, that they must be different.

Always different, never the same. Making folks different could keep us separate. Twenty-three years after his death I still wonder what stemmed my father’s antipathy.

I’m lucky to have learned a different way of living by moving to a bigger city and meeting individuals of all races, nationalities, religions and lifestyles. My own life experience is richer for it. I know people are ultimately just people.

Some of those people are good and others bad, regardless of skin color. Unfortunately, indifference exists in all human beings. A generation later, I could cross railroad tracks all over the country — or the world — and find the same wherever my wheels take me. But making it personal seems makes it better.

Photo: deer_je via Flickr

*Studio 30+ writing prompt: bonus

Studio30

With a sad spirit, these thoughts are dedicated to a transcendent artist now missed by the world – RIP Prince.

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Loyalty

4147993730_d8e29e98ae_o.jpgTheo Hammons sat on the idea for near three weeks before he finally settled on asking his grandson his opinion on the matter. He stood on the rickety porch waiting for the young man’s arrival to get his take. Worn boards moaned pitifully at his weight shift, regardless of the man’s slight frame, their age and strength waning even more than his own.

The widower exclaimed, “Damn it!” as he lost his grip on the railing, paint flakes flying when his hand raked across it. “Get away from me, ya good for nothin,’” he spat at a scraggly calico cat trying to rub against his dirty blue jeans as it circled his legs. Kicking at the feline altered his balance more than the animal’s resolve.

His t-shirt, once white and now an ill-tempered yellow with sweat stains and filth, caught a drip of chewing tobacco flung from the gaping maw of his mouth. He blamed the cat as his latest annoyance, cursed at it some more, and flung a Pabst Blue Ribbon can at it after he took the last swallow. The discarded aluminum landed near a similar pile of empties lining the opposite railing.

Working all those years at Peckinpaw Farms certainly wore him down and damaged his ego. He surprised even himself with the prospect of asking the new foreman for his job back. He’d once been in charge, after all. He ran the operation until his bones couldn’t take it any more and his self-medication through alcohol no longer soothed the aches and pains of his body and soul. Especially after his wife passed.

Otherwise, Theo simply existed. Many of his friends had either died, moved in with their children to be cared for, or stared at the green institutional walls of the State Veterans’ Home. Since failing the vision test and losing his driver’s license, he hadn’t been to visit any of them. Days spent watching the RFD network or the weather channel, listening to Hank Williams on the radio, and waiting interminably for grandkids to visit worked his nerves. Watching, listening, waiting.

Returning to work might give him reason to live again. “I’m ready to run that tractor, by God,” he’d tell Peckinpaw Jr., who’d taken over. “Maybe I can supervise the field work from the cab of that new John Deere.” He planned to assert, “Those young ‘uns could learn from my experience. Surely that still means somethin’ today.” Swallowing his pride to ask for his job would go down about as well as a dirt clod from a wind row in one of those fields.

When Jason arrived later that evening, he found Theo collapsed in a heap among his cast-off beer cans in front of the porch swing. “Grandpa,” he asked shaking the man’s shoulder, “what in the world are you doing out here?” He struggled to lift his dead weight, as slight as it was, and half-dragged his grandfather inside through a sagging screen door that groaned louder than Theo did and nearly fell off its twisted hinges at being opened.

The old orange, brown and white cat’s eyes looked almost as rheumy as its owner’s. The feline snuck quickly behind Jason and inside the house before the ragged door smacked closed behind them. “Damned, cat,” Theo muttered. “Made me fall down. Git outta here, git!” He swung a weak arm at the animal, attempting to erase it from existence, as if doing so would help relieve his misery.

“That silly cat may be one of the few beings left on this earth that cares about you,” his grandson warned him. Theo passed out again, and his balding head slumped forward. He lay still on the threadbare couch, much like the stack of crushed PBR empties beside it on the floor. The raggedy cat walked in a circle atop his body before settling down to sleep on Theo’s bony hip.

Jason crossed back across the threshold to leave and eased the door closed behind him so as to not wake Theo. He left him there to sleep off his sorrow until the morning.

*Studio 30+ writing prompt – erase s30p

photo: Geoffrey Galloway via Flickr

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On a Mission

Observing Christmas Eve …

katy brandes writes

Image via Joseph on Flickr

The clash of pool balls smacking together greeted Eve as she opened the heavy door. She knew which direction to go when she heard the familiar sound. The room was dim with the limited illumination from glass-hooded lights above the tables, so it was hard to see through the thick haze of cigarette smoke that hovered all the way up to the ceiling. Eve stood just over four feet tall, short for her 12 years, so the gray cloud lingered right above her hairline. Bud Light placards and Nascar signs lined the dingy walls adorned with deer head trophies there so long the hair looked mangy and antlers colorless and whittled away with age.

She stomped slush off her feet and scanned the room for the man she searched for so many times before. Eve hoped to spot him from just inside the door so she’d escape…

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Fish Tales

Mr. McCall had known Julia since she was a little girl. Her grandparents owned land by his place, and he’d practically watched her grow up. That was long before her parents divorced and her mother had lost her mind in the aftermath.

Mrs. McCall had died sometime in between, and Julia’s mom had tried to help him recover from his loss. She had been unreachable in her own sorrow, though. Julia remembered going to Mr. McCall’s house for something to eat when her mother would space out for days on end. The widower took Julia and her brother under his wing, fed them and made sure they were safe when their mom was mentally lost to them.

Her dad’s leaving had scarred them all, but mostly their mother. It was a good thing their mom’s example didn’t affect Julia and her brother any more than it did, or they’d never have made it out of that miserable existence. Mr. McCall was a life-saving father figure after her dad’s abandonment, and Mac — as they called him — helped give them the substance to survive both physically and emotionally.

Julia needed a strong male presence as much as her teenage brother did. There were otherwise so many bad influences in their world, especially for a pretty and impressionable young girl like her. The most daunting one was unfortunately her brother’s best friend, Pete, but Mr. McCall tried to see to it that Pete didn’t bother Julia. At least not if he could help it.

Mac talked to Julia’s brother once about how bad he thought Pete was for both him and Julia. To no avail. He’d noticed a change in Julia’s behavior around that boy in the last few months, though, and he feared what may have already happened between the two.

He was taking a chance, with Julia not being family and all, but decided to discuss the matter with her anyway. If her own family wasn’t there to step in, he was the next best thing to it. Damn her mother for not doing so herself.

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The old man took the girl fishing from time to time and decided to broach the subject one of those peaceful afternoons. They had their own spot on the bank where they usually set up, away from where the boys or other neighbors could hear their conversation. It was within this seclusion that Mac stumbled over his words in an abridged version of the-birds-and-the-bees as well as the boy-birds-gone-bad.

This was heretofore a discussion he’d never imagined having with a girl her age, the daughter or granddaughter Mac never had himself. “Now, Julia, honey,” he began. “I wanna tell you something that your momma mightn’t never had told you before.” She sat on the ground with her pole in the water, its red bobber bouncing on the surface, in rapt attention at Mac’s exhortation. “You have to watch out for boys. I know because, believe it or not, I once was one myself.” A slight smile crept across her face but quickly disappeared when she realized he was quite serious.

Mac continued, “You need to watch what you’re doing … and watch what THEY’RE doing. ‘Cause them boys might be up to no good. You’re becoming quite a fetching young woman, and adolescent boys might not be trusted around a looker like you. Their bodies start to take over for them.” Julia began to protest, her face flushing to a darkening crimson, “Oh, come on, Mac …”

“You let me finish,” he admonished. “Your daddy’s not here to warn you about how some boys aren’t gentlemanly but will act a certain way to get you to … warm up to ‘em. And I just want you to be on your guard.” Julia’s gaze was downcast by now, but she respected her elder and listened to his advice. To prevent any further embarrassment on both their parts, Mac decided to stop while he was ahead. He asked, “You understand what I’m saying here, hon?”

She raised her head to meet his eyes and gave a slight nod. Julia said, “No worries, Mac. I still have that old pocket knife you once gave me for my birthday, and I know how to use it if the need arises.” She’d succeeded in cutting the thick tension with her knife of humor.

Mac was the most positive influence in her life, and Julia knew he’d do anything in his power to protect her. There was no way she could tell him what Pete had already done.

I used the weekly writing prompt fetching from the Studio 30+ online writing community.

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image: cjdjkobe at everystockphoto.com (attribution license)

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