An only child and the oldest granddaughter I was overindulged and sheltered by adoring parents and relatives. And when things went wrong for me, I just picked up my toys and went home.
That didn’t work so well as an adult.
And things aren’t going so well these days. Political turmoil, war and poverty, mega fires, devastating floods, social upheaval, financial instability. And I must admit, my first reaction isn’t to charge headlong into the battle, but to hide, the adult version of “picking up my toys and going home.”
I hear a lot these days about people fleeing the country in desperation. I understand and share their frustration. We have a huge drug problem, our infrastructure is failing, our schools are falling behind, the middle class is struggling, our immigration policies don’t work, our racial divide is widening. Not to mention mass shootings and natural disasters. I hear all that.
But I have to wonder how many of those thinking of leaving the country have lived in or visited other countries for extended periods of time. One look at the nightly news shows us that these are not problems specific to us; they exist the world over. No country is exempt from problems and even if there were such a Nirvana, there is no way to hide there. Our community is global.
Besides, we have so much to fight for, so much we take for granted. Our public education, flawed, but still a route out of poverty for (I’m a case in point). Freedom of speech. No one is imprisoned for criticizing the government or attending religious services. Our cities have clean water and our children are vaccinated against deadly diseases. Our breathtakingly beautiful national parks are open to everyone. For starters.
But it’s not free. To quote Edmund Burke,
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. “
And it all counts. Every thing we don’t say, every seed not planted, word not written, neighbors’ pain ignored, adds to the turmoil, desperation and fear around us. It might be uncomfortable, even dangerous to face our problems. But we can’t afford to pick up our toys and go home.
Southerners love to cook. Especially we love those community gatherings where everyone brings their favorite dish and we all sample “just a bite” of everyone’s. My earliest memories of this were “Dinner on the Ground,” and it literally was on the ground. Thinking about it now, I’m amazed we kept the kids from stumbling into the spread – and maybe we didn’t..
I have such wonderful memories of that food – and no matter how many times I try recreating their recipes, they just don’t come out the same. Uncle Henry’s fried chicken, Miss Nina’s coconut cake,
Miss Ethel’s peach cobbler, Aunt Minnie’s chicken and dumplings, Miss Edna’s buttermilk biscuits, and of course, Aunt Annie’s fabled deviled eggs.
Eventually we graduated to folding tables and chairs and finally to a real Fellowship Hall equipped with all the modern conveniences. Much more comfortable but in nostalgic moods, I wonder if we were better off in those days. We were blissfully unaware of the dangers of sugar, gluten, lactose, saturated fat, cholesterol, and vegetarians were, well, just weird. There was no guilt associated with a hamburger and a coke for lunch.
We had no idea the trouble we were in.
My rational self remembers how it was to lose relatives to diet-related disease, especially heart disease and diabetes. These could be devastating for a family, since health insurance was essentially non-existent in those days; health care was pay-as-you-go.
Southerners will always love our community food get-togethers, although today we make at least a token effort to prepare healthful food . However, if the occasional slice of coconut cake happened to sneak in, well.. just a bite couldn’t hurt.
I would definitely not light up after dinner in my favorite restaurant these days, but there was a time when..
Smoking was a rite of passage, a symbol of sophistication. Movie stars smoked: James Dean, Elvis, Kathryn Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Marilyn Monroe, Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, Doris Day, to name a few. Smoke rose along the edge of the TV screen from Edward R. Murrow’s ashtray as he delivered the evening news. Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson smoked. Doctors, including the Surgeon General, smoked. Even Fred Flintstone smoked! Cigarettes dominated the advertising market and heavily supported prime time TV, sponsoring such popular family programs as “I Love Lucy,” “I’ve Got a Secret,” and “The Adams Family. All, among many others, brought to us by the cigarette industry. In this vintage Philip Morris commercial, Lucy tells us “how to keep your man happy” by choosing the right cigarette.
Most men, including my father and uncles, in the small Louisiana community where I grew up smoked. Sundays after church would find them clustered on the steps or under a nearby tree, hastily lighting up or stoking pipes, although it was considered immoral by some, and especially on church property. However, it was more or less accepted as a good man’s reward for bringing the family to church. There was no debate, however, on the subject of smoking for women. It
was “trashy” and everyone knew it. I never smoked until years after leaving home and then never, ever, in the presence of a family member. The only woman I knew who was able to escape the ire of the community for flaunting the “smoking ban” for women was my wonderfully eccentric Aunt Ivalee. But then, she was from New Orleans…
I began smoking in earnest in grad school. And I loved it. I loved it all. The ambience, the romance of it, that special camaraderie among smokers. I loved blowing smoke rings. I loved a cigarette with a cup of coffee after dinner. I loved the way it made me feel. And it didn’t hurt that it helped me keep the weight off. And after all, I could always quit…whenever I was ready.
On July 12, 1957, the Surgeon General issued the first official, and greatly understated, warning about the harmful effects of smoking. Seven years later, the American Cancer Society released a slightly stronger warning. However neither acknowledged the compelling evidence of the link between lung cancer being suppressed by the tabacco industry. A virtual war ensued over the next three decades between health care advocates and the powerful Tobacco Institute. Eventually health advocates won an uneasy peace, taxes were levied, warning labels required, and smoking rates declined, as more and smokers attempted to kick the habit. But what no one knew then, was that the power of the nicotine addition is comparable to that of heroin, and for most people, more powerful than alcohol.
I eventually quit smoking in the 80s, my resolve being fortified by the growing public disfavor of smoking. Secondary smoke had been implicated in lung cancer and growing number of restaurants restricted smoking to designated areas. Some airlines banned smoking on flights less than two hours and by 1990 all smoking on airlines was banned.
But breaking the nicotine habit turned out to be far more difficult than I had imagined. A few days (or hours) after gathering my resolve, throwing all my cigarettes in the trash, out the window, giving them away, etc., would find me scrounging for cigarettes under sofa cushions, jacket pockets, even trash cans. Those humiliating experiences gave me a new understanding of the power of addiction and compassion for those under its spell.
Today, with all the knowledge at hand about the harmful effects of cigarettes, smoking would seem to be a game-stopper. However, about 15% of adults and sadly, 20% of teenagers, are smokers today. I would like to think that if my rebellious teenage self had known what I know now about smoking, she would have exercised the good judgment not to light up. But, sadly, good judgment seems to be something we learn by making mistakes, assuming we live through them.
Click here to view a history of the effects of smoking on health.
A southerner waking up that first morning in Wisconsin, I was sure I had mis-heard the weather forecast: “-25 deg with wind chill factor.” Whatever that was. Surely not – people couldn’t survive that! I switched to another channel. Sure enough, it really was -25 deg with wind chill. Certainly businesses were closed.
But they weren’t. Soon I saw neighbors faring forth, picking their way down the sidewalks. Still incredulous, I layered on most of the clothes I owned, and slipping and sliding, eked my way to the bus stop where people stood around casually talking or sipping steaming coffee from mugs, like nothing was amiss.
“Is it always LIKE this?” I chattered to the woman nearest me, hands jammed in pockets, feet stamping for warmth. She flashed a knowing smile. “You’ll get used to it,” she said.
And I did. Which was a good and proper thing if I planned to stay in Wisconsin.
But “getting used to it” isn’t always the answer. In fact, I’m wondering if it isn’t at the root of some of the turmoil in our country today.
For starters, when did interrupting not only become acceptable, but commonplace? There is hardly a “news” show that doesn’t sound like a magpie convention. This obviously rude and irritating behavior is now widespread, and since more and more anchors adopt the practice, apparently worthy of emulation.
And when did it become OK for politicians to lie on prime-time TV? When did we “get used to” leaders that had nothing more to offer than insults for their opponents and end up voting for the lesser of the evils? How would John Kennedy’s clarion call be received today? “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
I greatly fear we have lost our respect for each other and with it, our self-respect. Perhaps our cellphone-internet addictions have so immersed us in a web-game-world of noisy anger and violence, glorifying an insatiable need for power, appearances and possessions, that we have come to believe that what matters is what the internet sells: the illusion of individual power. In other words, “F You!” But that is foolish. Our lives are utterly and eternally interlinked by immutable laws of nature. No cell phone or internet game will change that.
And speaking of the “F” word, when our kids were in college (OK, it was the nineties) the commonplace word “suck” was considered inappropriate in polite conversation, although its genesis was and still is, disputed. Use of the “F” word in public was practically unheard of. Now it is openly bandied about by teenagers in restaurants and peppers conversations in popular TV shows. Ironically, it is especially popular with young women. Really? Have we forgotten the connotation of the word for women? And what if someone else simply doesn’t want to hear it shouted out on the street? Wikipedia calls this phenomenon the “dysphemism treadmill“, meaning former vulgarities become inoffensive and commonplace. Or simply, we “got used to it.”
So take it or leave it, but from where I stand, disrespectful language and behavior are just that, disrespectful. And if we allow ourselves to get used to disrespect, can abuse be far behind? Don’t we deserve more?
I began my morning walk with Jake and Jesse burdened with the troubles of our world; the famine in Africa, the injustice visited on children in wars, petty politics, corporate greed; all being paraded in rapid fire across the TV screen on the morning news.
The rustle of the wind through the tall pines, the sun sparkling on whitecaps on the lake, the mallard ducks floating serenely on gentle waves, the lush perfume of jasmine on the fence and gardenia by the garden gate – none penetrated my mood.
Jake and Jesse strained on their leads pulling me behind them down the path like an overloaded dogsled. I had no appetite for bringing them to heel, dimly aware that allowing them to pull on the lead meant more work for me in retraining. If not for their insistent pacing back and forth to the door when it was time for their walk, I would have bagged it altogether.
As we started up the hill, a golf cart came into view heading toward us, the driver braking when he saw us. I didn’t recognize them, but it was clearly a grandfather out with a morning ride with his two granddaughters; perhaps four or five years old. Of course, they wanted to “pet the puppies” and PawPaw was OK with it, so over they came, squatting down to eye level, tentative little fingers touching furry black ears and and quickly pulling back with giggles and shrieks of glee.
“Look, he LIKEs me, PawPaw,” the oldest said as Jesse licked her finger.
“Likes me too!” from the younger.
After five minutes or so of playful chatter and pleasantries, Grampa decided it was time to go home before Mom got worried.
“Well, you know what?” the oldest asked, swinging into the cart.
“What?” I answered.
“You can come visit me sometime. And bring the puppies!”
“I will!” I answered.
The grandfather turned the cart around and headed up the hill. My earlier foggy malaise slowly dissipated as I watched the happy little trio, the girls chatting away and pointing out various points of interest to their grandfather as only small children can, a squirrel, a bird perched on a high limb, a lizard, wildflowers, until they rounded the last curve and disappeared up the hill.
Yes. There IS that.
It is important to remember that in our troubled, broken, scary world, there are still grandfathers taking grandchildren for a ride on a beautiful spring morning. That is good.
And what I learned in Sunday School is as true today as it was then: “Hold Fast To What Is Good.” (1) Don’t ignore the pain, the trouble, but hold onto the good. With all your might. That is what will get us through.