Monday, July 31, 2017

On Stealing

Years ago, for a very short period of time, my son had a girlfriend who stole things. I’m not sure why she did it, and when he found out, he was disgusted by it. The relationship quickly ended, thank goodness; it also inspired me to write the following little piece.

Sharlene August had been stealing since she was seven and she was not about to stop now. Her first acquisition had been a bright yellow package of Juicy Fruit gum that she had stolen right in front of a Safeway clerk whose eyes hadn’t glanced down far enough to see her little hand snag the treat. She had clutched the gum in her sweaty hand until she was seated in the back seat of her mother’s silver Volvo and then cradled it there, just looking. From then she moved on to Baby Ruth candy bars, Hostess Snow Balls, and too many boxes of Cracker Jacks to count. Those were her favorites at the time.
By the time she was ten, she had taken change from her father’s sock drawer and dollar bills from her mother’s wallet. That was easy. It was harder to slide the Barbie doll into her backpack in the crowded aisle of Toys R Us or shove the shiny red slippers from the discount shoe store under her sweatshirt, but she did it and glowed in the satisfaction of getting away with it. She would gaze in delight at the loot she had snatched in the privacy of her bedroom and if her mother saw, and asked, “Where’d you get that Barbie doll?” or “Those shoes don’t belong to you.” Sharlene would say, “The doll’s Cindy’s, but she has so many Barbies, she let me have this one, and Louise let me borrow the shoes. Aren’t they pretty?”
She would look with wide innocent eyes into her mother’s face that was too wrinkled, saggy, and exhausted to ask more. Her mother would sigh then and say, “Well, you probably ought to give them back.”
It wasn’t that Sharlene needed these things. She didn’t always even want them, but it was the excitement of carrying out an act she knew her parents would slap her fanny for doing. She knew better. They had held a tight reign over her and her brother Calvin for years and she resented it. Stealing had become a way to create her own power, and although she felt slightly depressed when she held the stolen items in her hands or tucked them under her bed for safe keeping, she did it anyway.

I wonder what will happen with a kid like Sharlene?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Transparency  - The Sham Of It All

Everyone knows the meaning of transparency; it’s having the property of transmitting light or being fine and sheer enough to be seen through, as with a clean window or lens of some kind. A second definition, however, refers to being free from pretense or deceit, being frank and readily understood. It is characterized by visibility or accessibility of information, especially concerning business practices. It is telling it “like it is” so that one can see and comprehend.
Unfortunately, in today’s world, the word transparency has lost all validity. It has. It used to mean something. We could count on it. In the past, transparency truly was the condition of being transparent and clear. If someone was being transparent, he or she was open, candid, and straightforward. A person who was transparent could be held accountable. We could believe that individual. What happened?
Poor “transparency” had been overused, misused, altered, abused, and even bantered about to the point of oblivion. It’s been battered to a bloody pulp. Yet, folks are still espousing its credibility. They are holding on to poor, shredded “transparency”, its pieces stuffed in a plastic bag, and promising, “Yes, it’s here. Really. It is. Maybe it’s a little roughed up, but all you have to do is sift through the scraps here and piece it back together. You can do that, can’t you?”
Yeah, right. I’m sorry, but I simply don’t have the energy anymore to accept the promises, especially from politicians, that transparency is still intact. In countless arenas, especially in government, individuals champion the idea of transparency, even advocating it as a principle upon which they and those around them stand proud. I say, “Malarkey.”
Every day we hear the supposed leaders of our country spouting off. “We are being absolutely transparent. Transparency is at the core of our party, our country. We are committed to transparency. We are being transparent for the good of the people.”
 Really? Then why are new revelations being released ad nauseam? Why are retractions, recusals, disclaimers, denials, deceptions, alleged forgotten facts, and plain old fabrications of the truth running rampant? To those in the midst of this travesty, I say, “Shame on you for creating such a sham.”
Like many other people I know, I have grown weary of the corruption that is epitomized in the rape of blessed transparency. It keeps me awake at night, puts me a little on edge, and makes me ache from my heart on out. I don’t believe I’m asking too much of those who represent me, and those who act on the behalf of other citizens, to remember the ethics and values upon which the United States of America was founded. I have looked back at the past (not all of it “pretty”, but some of it absolutely stunning) so that I can envision the future, one unburdened by deceit, lies, and the overthrow of true transparency. I may be deluding myself but, again, I don’t think it’s too much to ask.

Friday, July 7, 2017

On Staying Forty-Eight
            Remembering Addie

My grandmother, Addie Lee Peden Baird, stopped having birthdays at the age of forty-eight. It was her choice. Though she lived many more years, passing away just short of turning one hundred, she never added another year to her chronological calendar.
“I’m forty-eight,” she would chuckle as the years rolled by, each one adding a few additional wrinkles, more gray hair, sagging breasts, and crepe-like skin the color of pearls.
“Forty-eight is a good age,” she asserted. “It’s not old, but old enough to know better.”
It was the embracing of “forty-eight” that helped my grandmother stay young . . . and she did, almost to the end. She was never in a hospital until four days before she died. My mother is certain her heart failed because she was scared to death about being there. While that may be an exaggeration, my mother’s reasoning is not without merit, because a hospital stay took Addie away from the hearty context of her life, a life that never was easy, but as she believed, blessed.
Addie was strong physically, mentally, and spiritually. She had to be. Born the last of eleven children, she learned to stand up for herself among her siblings, some who were stern disciplinarians, and others who teased her relentlessly. She grew up on a country farm in the Bluegrass state, Kentucky. She graduated from high school, loved to read, and I am willing to bet harbored all the same dreams any young girl of her day did.
Eventually, she married and had three children, the first of whom died in infancy of hydrocephalus. Even as an adult woman, my grandmother’s eyes would brim with tears when she remembered “little Paul” and the agony he endured as a baby. My mother, Nola Jean, was Addie’s second child, and my Uncle Alton, her third.
As a young mother, she raised chickens and was a homemaker. At some point, the family moved to the city of Louisville, and then to Elizabethtown, around fifty miles to the South where she lived in a large, rambling home on the Dixie Highway. (It was 408 West Dixie Avenue, I think; I have no idea why I recall this detail.) From what I am told, her husband was less than ambitious so she opened her home to boarders whose stays varied in length, but who I am sure, appreciated her hospitality. In time, my grandfather, Gillum, died and Addie bought a small, brick house across the street from the Severns Valley Baptist Church. That location was perfect for her because her religion was, in many ways, a foundation for her existence. Her faith was unwavering.
Addie prayed aloud every morning before breakfast, loved to hum hymns, her favorite being How Great Thou Art, and participated in countless church services and potluck dinners commonplace in the South. That aside, my grandmother was never “preachy”. Her beliefs were personal and private. She pushed nothing on anyone else. Instead, she led by example.
Thinking about Addie makes me smile. My older brother, Jay, latched onto her first name when only a toddler and began calling Addie “Addie” instead of the traditional Grandma or Nana. I followed suit. She was simply Addie to us for the rest of her life. I am lucky to have been named after her. We share the same middle name, Lee.
Addie could be feisty if something didn’t “sit well” with her, but she was tender and kind. She made the best custard pie in the county, loved puttering in her garden, was a fabulous cook, had the most beautiful handwriting I have ever seen, and was an exquisite seamstress. She taught me to knit, crochet, and embroidery although I’m afraid I did not inherit her skill or patience for needlework. Addie wore thick nylons that she anchored above the knee with some kind of elastic band. They looked terribly uncomfortable. However, she never wore a bra in her life . . . ever because “those things are too confining”. I’m afraid her bosom was captured by the fate of gravity quite early on as a result. Still, she was proud, loving to dress up when an opportunity presented itself. Aside perhaps for a tiny bit of lipstick, Addie never wore make-up, but she adored plastering creams on her face and hands to make them soft. I can, to this day, recall the smooth, silky feeling of her cheeks. She had long, grey-streaked hair for much of her life. She swept it up, off the back of her neck, and rolled it into an elongated bun. From time to time, when I was a small girl, she allowed me to brush and comb her hair. I would braid it or put her long locks in “dog ears” or ponytails, complete with bows or artificial flowers. A quick look in the mirror always made her laugh. Tolerance obviously was one of her gifts!
What else do I recollect? She had a canary named Peachy who sang to her and gave her companionship when no one else was around. She collected S&H green stamps. (Does anyone remember those?) She hung her clothes on a clothesline to dry in the sun. She made her own jam, jelly, pickles, cornbread, and, oh my goodness, the best, most yummy, chicken dumplings ever.
My grandmother loved her family, but of all the grandchildren, I like to think she loved my brother and me the most. I never was in doubt of her affection although for most of my adult life I did not live close enough to her to share the feeling firsthand.
When Addie died, I was unable to attend her funeral in Kentucky. I was in California by then with a young family of my own, but I was there in spirit . . . and I cried buckets of tears. I must admit that Addie is still with me now. I think of her often, almost as a guardian angel who advises me when times are tough, and for that reason, I know her essence is still kicking around the universe. And that is perhaps why, when I sat down to “blog” today, Addie became my topic. She was a role model to me for many reasons, not the least of which was her determination to hold on to “forty-eight”, the exuberance of life, and not let go.

My mother (Jean), Addie, my son (Alex) and me in the summer of 1974. We are on the steps of
the Masonic Home in Louisville, Kentucky, the last place Addie lived. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Perfect Bubble

         My husband and I attended a “Third of July” party on Monday. It was planned but was also impromptu. A few folks walking by, just by chance, joined the festivities that included an array of yummy, ethnically diverse food, fine wine, an abundant supply of beer, and camaraderie that seems to be in short supply these days. We had planned to stay for only a short time, but the conversation was rich and the heterogeneous group of people there was friendly, interesting, and interested. (There is a distinct difference in the latter two.) So we stayed, much longer than we had planned . . . until the coastal fog began to inch toward us, its inexorable chill eventually driving us home. (One must remember that during the summer in northern California, clothing layers are a must.)
            As we left the gathering, we thanked the hosts, Gloria and Mike, and said good-bye to the hangers-on – newly acquired and old friends and acquaintances, as well as distant neighbors whose faces were new to us. Though I am quite sure most of us there were “like thinking” politically, we tried to skirt current issues so as not to dampen the spirit of the evening. That being said, several of us commented on the disharmony that exists nationwide and noted how lucky we are to live where we do, in an area where individuals are friendly, are always present to lend a hand, are animal lovers, are environmentally conscious and astute, and are accepting and tolerant of others. The group that assembled on July third in our neighborhood exemplified all those attributes. The men and women there were diverse in terms of ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, immigration status, age, educational background, profession, and perhaps even material worth. None of that mattered on the night of July third . . . not for one second. What was important was that we were one, a group of smiling, laughing, munching, sipping, listening, sharing neighbors who for a few hours shifted our attention from the disturbing tide of the times, and were present for each other . . . in the now. Gloria described the gathering as a perfect bubble. I think she was correct.
            We drove the short distance home, though cold, content to know that good people do exist. They are close by - our neighbors, our friends, and our acquaintances, each of whom is unique, all of whom contribute, and all of whom help create a beautiful fabric of humanity, at least in our little bubble of the world.