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.
In her latter years, my mother used to ask that a lot. I never knew what to say, so I usually said something trite like “We still need you here.” At which she would click her tongue against her teeth the way she did when I disagreed with her politics.
What was she asking, I wondered. Did she still dream of unrealized ambitions in her nineties? I always found the question unsettling and frankly, a little annoying.
But now that there are many more birthdays behind than before me, I think I get it. I think she was reflecting over her long life and trying to make sense of it. And I find myself doing the same. What has my life meant? At the finish line, will I be able to say I have “fought the good fight” ? Did I miss my “calling,” my high purpose? The olympic swimmer, the nuns of Calcutta, the Nobel Laureate, the musical prodigy; they had a calling, didn’t they? A custom made life-suit, into which they fit perfectly. Their one true path. Is there one for me?
In my early life, I was sure of it. My life would be exciting, full of high purpose, awe-inspiring. Unlike my mother’s. Especially, not like my mother’s.
Mind you, my mother was not a slacker. She was a strong and intelligent woman; a school teacher, an avid reader, a seamstress and amazing gardener. She make great chicken and dumplings and rhubarb pie. She survived two husbands and lived independently for 92+ of her 93 years.
But. She never wrote a book, climbed a mountain, ran a corporation (or a marathon) or held public office. For most of her life she lived in the same community. To my impatient, arrogant 18-year-old eyes, her life looked mundane, aimless, pointless even. Not mine, I vowed. I would set goals for myself and go about achieving them. Simple as that.
But it didn’t quite work out that way. My path took unexpected twists and turns. It didn’t lead steadily to a noble destination, but instead wound through brambles, tangled ravines and rocky boulders. I ran, I stumbled, I climbed, I tripped, I fell and I recovered, with varying degrees of grace.
Admittedly, on its surface, my life looks radically different from that of my mother. I left home at an early age, attended universities in distant states, managed a demanding career, travelled the world; accumulated a modicum of recognition for my work. But at its core, like my mother’s, my life was made of the usual stuff; education, career, marriage, children, retirement. And my path, like hers, was not the work of destiny, but the result of choices.
And my path has led me…. here. Not to a mountaintop and not to a swamp. As it did my mother.
It’s tempting to fall for the “one true thing” pitch. The idea that we are entitled to the one true love, the one perfect career, the one true happily-ever-after is very appealing. And perhaps it is true for some. But my life didn’t come with a blueprint; I made choices, sometimes wisely, sometimes foolishly, that in the aggregate defined my path. I wasn’t always sure of my choices, and they didn’t always lead to the mountaintop.
If I could answer my mother now, I would reassure her that she didn’t miss her calling. Like me, she simply made choices that led her to her destination. And at the end of the day, it was not our accomplishments, as my teenage self thought, but the accumulation of our everyday thoughts and actions that defined us. Both of us.
As a child, I remember thinking it was weird that the Easter Bunny brought eggs. And exasperating that no one else thought that was a bit strange. Being the person in the family responsible for snatching
eggs from beneath cranky setting hens, I knew for sure where eggs came from.
Turns out, though, there really is a logical explanation for the egg-bearing bunny. According to Wikipedia, German Lutherans apparently established the tradition of the “Easter Hare.”
But far from the cuddly bunny with big pink ears, the original Easter bunny (after all these were not only Lutherans, but GERMAN Lutherans) was actually a stern judge-bunny, dispensing his coveted eggs only to those children who had been good over the Lenten season.
And as for the eggs, early churches abstained from them during Lent. And lacking refrigeration, the only way to keep them from spoiling was to boil them so they could eat them after the fast was ended. And they probably decorated them as part of the celebration. So that explains a lot.
But I still find an Easter bunny (especially a chocolate one) distracting to the Easter message of resurrection and hope. I don’t think the idea of the Easter bunny is harmful to children; I just think it shortchanges them because it misses the life-giving Easter message of hope; the gift of new beginnings,
I don’t have fond memories of the annual Easter egg hunt, where my basket always needed help from the Sunday School teacher. In retrospect, I know this was because of my uncorrected myopia, but still, I think I would have preferred to learn about the Easter Lily.
Blind-sided, thunderstruck, ambushed, stunned, floored flummoxed. Just flattened. By what’s just happened in our country – no, not what just happened – what just surfaced.
As my genteel cousin put it, “Surely not?” Exactly. Surely we are not the people screaming racist epithets, intimidating children, advocating jail for our rivals. We are not the people that believe silencing those who don’t look like us or believe like us will solve our problems. We are not the people who obsessed on the media’s 24/7 shouting matches, while shaking our heads about the ugly campaign. We don’t riot
in the streets after an election and burn the President Elect in effigy. We can’t be those people. And yet we are.
Until November 9, I carefully sidestepped awkward social and political conversations. After all, everyone’s entitled to her/his own opinion, right? And what does it matter really? Things will go on pretty much as they always have no matter what I do, right? So why risk damaging a friendship, causing a ruckus. Why be “that” woman? I really didn’t know what my friends, my neighbors, even some of my family, believed at a core level, didn’t really want to know, and didn’t share my own opinions. We coexisted; polite and superficial strangers under the skin. So when November 8 happened, we were amazed to find out who was living next door, or even in our own house!
It’s pretty clear we don’t understand each other. Perhaps we don’t really understand ourselves. Hopefully the 2016 election will inspire us to learn more about ourselves and our government and moreover, to become involved in our communities. We can learn to listen respectfully to each other with no other agenda. We can have discussions that don’t deteriorate into shouting matches. Ideas that challenge us are healthy precisely because they make us uncomfortable. They stretch us and keep us growing.
On the morning of November 9, I began a one woman listening campaign. I talked to neighbors on my morning walk. I listened to members of my church, to my family, to my Facebook and Twitter friends. And I heard some surprising things. Some not easy for me to hear. But my friendships were not threatened. In fact, just the opposite. After all, we all want to have our voices heard.
I know the fluttering of the butterfly wing in my tiny corner of the universe cannot influence world events. But just as one vote makes a difference, so does one honest conversation.
So let’s talk! Leave a comment. Tell us what the 2016 election meant for you. Who knows? We might not be as far apart as we thought. At the very least, we are sure to learn more about our own beliefs.
If you’re like me, by now you’re wishing this election campaign was over, or better yet had never started in the first place. We all have opinions and theories, disappointments, predictions and concerns around any election, but this one is different. It would be easy to become so frustrated and confused that we consider skipping the whole thing. But at the end of the day, the important, the crucial thing is to JUST DO IT, in the familiar words of the Nike slogan. Important for all of us, but especially for any of us who have felt the pain of having our voices ignored or discounted, in other words, for most women at some point in their lives. Even now. And it’s not so long ago that women’s voices were not only ignored, they were suppressed.
To put it in perspective:
Freed male slaves were granted the vote in 1845.* The Nineteenth Amendment granted women the right to vote in 1920.
And here’s another shocker: In 1923, the National Women’s Party proposed a Constitutional amendment, eventually known as the Equal Rights Amendment to prohibit all discrimination on the basis of sex.
It has Never Been Ratified.
The women’s suffrage movement in America began in New York in 1848, led by well-known early pioneers Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their enormous sacrifices and their perseverance to achieve for us a right we often take for granted, if we think about it at all.
However, there is another compelling and little known tale of struggle and dedication to suffrage in Mississippi. By 1820, a growing number of southern women in Mississippi had mobilized to improve social and educational conditions for women and children and the National American Woman Suffrage Association was formed. In 1890, The Mississippi Constitutional Convention seriously considered granting women the right to vote. Sadly, the proposal died in committee by a single vote.
But it was not over.
In the 1890s the Mississippi Woman Suffrage Association, under the leadership of Nellie Nugget Somerville, began efforts to gain the vote in Mississippi. The fledgling movement floundered in spite of heroic efforts by the suffragists. Facing fierce opposition by the legislators, by the 1900s they had almost given up. In 1906, Belle Kearney, a compelling professional speaker, breathed life into the nearly moribund movement and gradually the suffragists regained momentum. However, they could not win over the
necessary majority of state legislators, and the state suffrage campaign of 1914 failed. Legislators declared that woman suffrage was “not in the best interest of Mississippi women, that women should remain ‘queen of the home and hearthstone.'”
But it was not over.
In 1918, a state suffrage amendment was once again introduced and received a tie vote, insufficient to meet the required two-thirds majority. In 1919 a resolution was introduced to reject the amendment as “unwarranted, unnecessary and dangerous interference with state’s rights.” The rejection resolution was approved by a vote of 106 to 25. At this point, many of the suffragists left the movement in despair.
But it was not over.
By now the Nineteenth Amendment had been ratified by 35 states and some Mississippi senators felt the state must do likewise for the sake of the Democratic Party. The bill was recalled, amended to read “ratify” rather than “reject” and the bill passed the Senate.
But it was not over
The House rejection was swift and decisive. As one legislator put it, he would rather “die and go to hell” than vote for it. The amendment went down 90 to 23.
But it was not over.
By 1920, Mississippi was only one of two states in the nation that had not ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. However, as a federal law, it superseded the state law and provided women the vote. Ironically, two years later, Mississippi’s two leading suffragists, Somerville and Kearney, were elected to the state legislature, surviving the battles and winning the war.
The State of Mississippi finally ratified the Nineteenth Amendment with no opposition on March 22, 1984. Neither Kearney nor Somerville lived to see the ratification.
But it was over at last.
So, just in case you were thinking about giving Election Day a pass this time, please take a minute to remember the struggles of our Foremothers on our behalf.
Just Do It!
*The bill was ratified, but not enforced until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Source: Marjorie Julian Spruill and Jesse Spruill Wheeler, Mississippi Women and the Woman Suffrage Amendment, Mississippi History Now, Mississippi Historical Society 200-2015. http://bit.ly/2fvviLw