ECLECTIC MUSINGS FROM A WRITER’S LIFE

words-on-skin

When we made the big transition two years ago to leave Pittsburgh and move to the mountains during the summer and Florida for the winters, lots of decisions had to be made about what we kept and what we tossed. The hardest task for me personally came when I had to address the file cabinets and boxes filled with two decades of published writings.

For more than two decades, I’ve written either columns or blog posts and the major portion of those are not available electronically. I moved most of my archives, but as I hefted box after box of yellowing newsprint, I decided they would not be moved again except to my circular file, which is emptied every week.

I hadn’t done much of anything with those things until this summer after a visit home to Michigan where I presented the journal of my great grandfather to audiences interested in the Civil War and Michigan’s role in it. The only thing I have left of this man is his written word and one photograph. I have even less left by his son–my grandfather–who died in 1956.

ECLECTIC LEANINGS finalSo I’m typing madly to electronically keep a portion of my “library” as I compile many of the pieces into one book, Eclectic Leanings, Musings from a Writer’s Soul, which I hope to publish by summer’s end. Whether anyone buys it or not, I will have preserved a major part of my thoughts, values, and philosophy for my daughter and anyone else who wants to remember me after I’m gone.

Here’s one piece that I unearthed that I find relevant today. We are in danger of taking gigantic steps backward in the movement to end bullying if we don’t stop the cycle being set by those with a Twitter account and a lack of impulse control.

WORDS MATTER

Published in The High Springs Herald, January 2001

The biggest lie from childhood:  Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Hit me with a stick or throw a stone at me anytime rather than tell me that my face is ugly or my clothes are old or my mother wears army boots. Tell me those things, and I crumble.

Yet the insults and ridicule begin at a very young age whenever someone does something outside the norm of behavior. Where do we learn to insult one another for our differences? Does it come from somewhere deep inside our psyche, and is it so ingrained in our personalities that it begins with the acquisition of language?

Many times, we throw the slings and arrows of words to protect ourselves. They serve as a red herring for the soul, deflecting those slings and arrows from coming directly back at us. And so, we are taught the old adage about stick and stones in order to make ourselves tough and to let go of those insults. But how often do they really just roll off our backs? Those words pierce their way into our hearts and souls, leaving wounds. Some of us can heal those wounds over time; others never can.

The wounds which never heal become festering blisters of pain. And words serve, not as the sticks and stones of our childhood, but as the timber and boulders which threaten to come crashing down to smother us.

As I write this column, a young man of seventeen is hanging onto his life by a thread. One morning, he woke up and decided he no longer wanted to face the timber and boulders of his daily life at school because he was different. It doesn’t matter how he was different, but he was. And he was ostracized and ridiculed for it. He would hide it, deflect it, and strike back because of it. But finally, the struggle to do all of those things while still living the life of a teenager became too much, and he couldn’t face another day.

So he woke up that morning and decided he had had enough of his life. He swallowed four hundred Tylenol pills in an effort to end the pain and struggle. And for more than two weeks now he has lingered in and out of this world.

The repercussions sent out ripples, and the emotions come in waves of guilt. Other teenagers wondered if they could have done something for him while the adults wondered why they didn’t do something more. Hopefully, soon we will realize that we could have done nothing immediate to stop him from wanting to die. But maybe we can do something now to change the course of the future.

Still the insults continue as I go about my day as a teacher. The slingshots of words continue their banter across the classroom aisles, and I wonder how to stop it all. How do we stop years of learned behaviors where the standard for wit and attention resides on the yardstick of derision and ridicule?

We are a society founded on the tenets of individual freedom yet we have become something else in our struggle to protect the rights of a diverse people. We do not applaud the standard bearers or the trail blazers until they have made lots of cash from their achievement. Then we are ready to join the bandwagon as we erect statues to their heroism. This we do for the ones who can survive their differences. We put on pedestals those who are different only when they have achieved the status which we can appreciate in our little superficial souls.

As I struggle to put a positive light on a tragedy beyond human comprehension, I wonder how I can reach out to change this situation. How can we all finally figure out that words and language and actions have far more power than anything else? They have the power to kill and the power to heal.

Each morning when I rise I pray to be given the ability that day to say the right things. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. The conscious effort on the part of us all to recognize and accept the differences of others, and the willingness to praise individuality instead of mocking it can go a long way in the process of changing our attitudes. The sticks and stones of our childhood can then be turned into something constructive from which we can build a structure with a strong foundation, relishing the differences which make us whole.

  • §§§

Author Note – I wrote this column seventeen years ago. My student survived and is now happily living his life with a partner and enjoying success in his career. His attempt at ending his life motivated me to leave teaching to pursue my passion. The opinion I expressed seems quite timely now. Campaigns against bullying were being implemented in schools. And then a man was elected as the President of the United States who conducts himself in times of adversity as the Bully-in-Chief. We must be vigilant and fight it because if the highest office in our country condones name calling and personal insults, then our job on the ground must be to conduct ourselves with the utmost care and kindness toward others. I pray we don’t sink to the low level of the high office of power.

FIGHTING #INAUGURATION BLUES

womensmarch1It’s been a rough couple of months, but yesterday I felt hope for our country for the first time since November 8. I marched with more than 14,000 others in Florida’s capital city, Tallahassee.

I borrowed an idea from my cousin who attended the Women’s March in Washington. She wore the pink hats and attached hundreds of ribbons to the top of it, each one containing the name of a woman she was representing at the march. My great-grandmother and grandmother were there. I was there, too.

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My cousin’s hat

She inspired me to do something as well, including marching where I could in the town where I lived. I took an index card and wrote down the names of all the important women in my life, past and present, who I wanted to come along with me. I taped the card to the back of my sign, so as I marched I looked at their names. It gave me courage and a sense of purpose.

womensmarch3The weather loomed as a threat yesterday morning. Thunderstorms, lightning, hail, tornadoes–scary stuff. I drove to the location in Railroad Square, expecting only a couple of hundred people to come out. Instead, I saw thousands of all ages and colors. My husband didn’t think he’d be welcome at a “women’s march,” so he stayed home despite my cajoling and telling him that we needed men to be there. He wouldn’t have stood out–maybe a third of the crowd were men. Umbrellas clashing, signs soaking, and thunder providing the background drum beat, we began to move slowly. A group of college-aged African-Americans joined and stepped into place in front of me. Both male and female marchers, carrying signs. One of the young men’s sign said, “Stop the Rape Culture.” I smiled broadly at what was happening.

I estimated 10,000 marchers. When I was a reporter, I was trained how to count crowds in meetings halls and auditoriums, but I had no way to estimate these numbers. But I knew it had to be in thousands. The paper reported this morning that the Tallahassee police said more than 14,000 people participated.

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The Tallahassee March

 

I posted my photo on Facebook. After I came home and dried off, I looked at my feed on Facebook and saw my friends’ posts from around Florida and the country: Gainesville, St. Pete, Jacksonville, Tucson, Atlanta, Washington.

We will not be defeated on any of the issues so important to the heart of the United States and its government. Criticisms included the name of the marches. That might be valid–my husband a case in point–but when the organizers began making decisions that seemed to be the best title. I don’t think anyone knew what would happen. People were given a chance to publicly participate in democracy and voice their concerns and fears. No one knew the numbers that would attend. Or the issues it would bring out, which was another criticism I’ve heard in the last twenty-four hours. Disorganized, no core issues to work around, the pundits said. Who cares? People came out. Millions across the world. They did it peacefully. I saw no anger amongst the crowd where I marched. Only anger at what could happen and what did happen on November 8.

As I marched next to a woman perhaps two decades older than me using her cane to walk up the hill, I cried. How far we’ve come in her lifetime, only to be shot back down in the swift and fatal tweets of the man now occupying the Oval Office. I looked at the names of the women on my card and felt a lump in my throat.

I did it for you, Emilene Stephens Hooper, who had two children out of wedlock back in Cornwall in the 1890s, yet went on to marry and became a pillar of her community. She ran a boarding house with her two young sons–one of whom was my grandfather–when she met Fred Hooper, who married her and raised her sons and their other children. My grandfather emigrated to the United States in 1900. So, yes, I’m an immigrant, too, I suppose.

I did it for you, Anna Mary Sweet Camburn, who was in her forties when women gained the right to vote. I did it for you, Ethel DeFord Stephens, who had given birth to seven children by the time women could vote.

And I did it for you, Anna Christina Camburn Behnke, who I brought into this world and raised to be a feminist. You will be a fighter all your life against bigotry, prejudices, and injustice, whether through your actions, words, or paintings.

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With Anna at her art show with her spider lady painting

 

I feel hopeful this morning despite the rain still pounding outside. The heavens are crying as some of us have been doing for the past few months. Those tears will nourish and feed the ground, just as ours inspired and pushed us out the door and into the streets to voice our love of democracy and rights afforded us thus far.

We must keep up the good work.

What happened in your town? I’d love to hear about it!

I LOVE MY COUNTRY BUT I CRY FOR IT TODAY

flagI’m not living lightly right now, at least not when it comes to politics and the state of our union. I’m scared.

And for the first time that I can remember, I will not watch the inauguration of the new president.

Others who have suggested the same thing or who have declined to attend the event are subject to ridicule and to charges of being undemocratic. I disagree. By not participating in Friday’s events, I’m displaying the highest action afforded by living in a democracy. I am being highly democratic by using the freedom granted to all citizens of the United States and given to us by the rebels of the eighteenth century who protested highly the actions of the British monarch.

I’m not going to flee, but I am going to use my First Amendment rights to show that I do not support a president who tweets insults for every little thing that is said about him in the media. His impulses scare me, and I will in no way condone what he tweets in the early morning hours from his golden palace in the air. Nor will I condone or support a man who lies and says whatever he needs to say to win.

The day he starts to show me he can be a diplomat and that he really does care about each of us rather than his name, his business, and his blown-up–yet fragile–ego, then I will be the first to support him. However, I will not apologize for my feelings and thoughts right at this moment. He hasn’t earned my trust, and he certainly didn’t receive my vote. And I have my doubts about the legitimacy of the election. I believe in my heart that our democracy was highly compromised by the FBI and by Russia. Whether the president-elect’s team had anything to do with either, I’ll leave to the professionals to decide.

I watched the “press conference” last week. A press conference with a cheering team paid by the president-elect doesn’t qualify as a press conference by me. And deciding which of the press is legitimate and which is not by the president-elect reminds me more and more of a dictatorship than a republic. Now the transition team is seriously considering removing the press corps from the White House. Control of the press is the first step. Or perhaps it’s silencing your enemies. The tweets are the first step to that end. Did I mention that I’m scared? I haven’t even mentioned foreign relations because I can’t. It makes me quiver to think about where we’re headed.

I do care about his tax returns. And I’m tired of him and his team, saying, “I speak for all Americans . . .” You do not speak for me. Not now. Not yet. Maybe never.

Saying you speak for me is denying the beauty of our country’s cultural, religious, racial, and sexual diversity. No one speaks solely for everyone in our amazing country. I love the United States, and today, my heart aches for it.

USA map multicultural group of young people integration diversity

USA map multicultural group of young people integration diversity isolated

 

 

ENJOY A LITTLE HOLIDAY CHEER

fbI’m pleased to announce the release of a collection of Christmas short stories, Bright Lights and Candle Glow. You can download this anthology for FREE!

This collection from eight talented authors boasts short stories set during the winter holiday season. These tales encompass sober themes, heartwarming messages, and uplifting endings, appropriate for the winter season or all year long.

Arranged in chronological order, witness winter miracles from the mid-1800s through modern day, running the spectrum from somber to lighthearted.

  • Learn the meaning of the season from a Civil War soldier.
  • Go from rags to riches with a 1920s mobster.
  • Relive a fond holiday activity with a helpful Grinchy neighbor.
  • Create new holiday memories with a 1970s ranching family.
  • Meet a new friend whose advice rekindles the magic of the season.
  • Experience Christmas from a wise, aged perspective.
  • Cross cultures and beliefs to create a new holiday tradition.
  • Celebrate the season with estranged family after a life-changing revelation.

These stories are sure to enhance your experience of the holiday season. It’s a holiday-themed compilation of short stories with heavy messages and uplifting endings sure to warm the heart in the cold winter months.

Click here to download now!

I used my great grandfather’s Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier as my inspiration for writing my short story a Christmas truce. He wrote about the dismal Christmases he spent during the war. And I remembered one story, in particular, he told about encountering a woman aligned with the Confederacy. Through talking, they both reached a truce of sorts after listening to rhetoric, hatred, and lies being told about the Yankees and the Rebels alike. I wanted to write this story as an analogy for what we’ve experienced in this country in the past several months. In some ways, we’ve been embroiled in a type of “civil war.”

Fiction can serve a higher purpose than mere entertainment. It can enlighten and change minds at its very best. Here’s my effort to do a little of all three.

A Christmas Truce

by P.C. Zick

What is Christmas for a soldier such as me? I tried not to think of it. It did no good but remind us of our miserable state of affairs with the winter rains pounding down upon our heads and our huts, hastily built in the mud-covered mess of the Union army.

My family helped me along by not reminding of what I was missing, but some of the soldiers weren’t as lucky as I was. They received letters from home telling them of the holiday preparations—the parties, the decorations, the baking, the gifts—all the things that would be missed sorely by those of us in the sodden misery of Virginia wearing nothing more than the scratchy wool of our winter uniforms. My mother and sisters must have known better than to send letters that would make me ache and yearn for that which could not be. At least not for Christmas of 1862, as my troop from Michigan awaited orders to march.

The winter rains had begun the week before and already roads were rutted and spirits dampened. While we waited for the rain to stop, and the war to begin again, I took little comfort in my crowded and tiny hut with its smoking fireplace, earthen floor, and cloth roof. Without comforts, conveniences, or accessories, I had nothing much to do. I knew at any time, once the rains stopped, and the sun was able to shine down on the muddy roads, all of my energies would be focused on active service.

Too much time to reflect left me wondering what it all meant. Did my family miss me, especially now that Christmas was upon them, and I wasn’t there to help Father cut down the Christmas tree from my grandfather’s farm on the outskirts of the small community from which I hailed? I thought back to previous years in my worst moments and remembered the party that awaited our return from the woods with the perfectly shaped tree. How could I face my rations of hard bread, bacon, and coffee when memories of sugar cookies and roasted turkey filled my senses? All the days passed one like the other in camp with our regular military duties, which amounted to very little while at rest.

After the last round of steady rain for days, we received a few supplies and a newspaper full of condemnations for the idleness of the troops in the field. But no packages from home arrived, which meant any that had been sent would not be there in time for Christmas.

Any attempt to move large bodies of men was inexpedient and to move artillery and supply trains was next to impossible with the wet and soggy conditions. The clamor of newspapers, the quarrels among general officers, and the interference of Congress with artillery movements, discouraged and demoralized our ranks. It was bad enough for some of the youngest to be away from their homes for the first time at Christmas. The men felt they were enduring hardships and sacrificing lives without adequate results and all because of petty jealousies among the leaders. Idleness and discontent go hand in hand with soldiers, and the gloomy outlook of our winter camp was not cheering. The fences had all disappeared for fuel, and green wood for cooking and heating purposes had to be hauled long distances with the mules floundering knee-deep in the mire and the wagons cutting almost to the hubs.

Finally, on Christmas Eve the sun overpowered the clouds, and the incessant patter of drops on canvass stopped. I almost felt light-hearted to step outside of my hut. To break the monotony, a comrade, Jonathan, happened by and asked if I might enjoy a ride. It was the first day of sunshine we’d seen in more than a week. We both had friends in the 4th Michigan who were camped about four miles in our rear, and I decided the change of pace might very well make me miss my family less if I spent time in the company of other young men who missed home in equal measure. Our commanding officer even allowed us to take two of the horses instead of the regular mules we soldiers used for traveling with our packs. Both Jonathan and I had done extra picket duty on the stormiest nights, so we were in good stead with our superiors.

The day was filled with laughter and boasting and sunshine, and we enjoyed our visit very much. One of the soldiers told a story that had a somewhat sobering effect, although there were humorous aspects to it.

The soldier had heard about a lieutenant camped near Fredericksburg who had become enamored of a young woman who lived in an old-fashioned brick house with her mother.

The young lieutenant, whose duties called him to visit them, became acquainted with the young lady, and at her invitation called frequently upon her. He became quite taken with her charms after only a few visits that were social in nature. It wasn’t usual considering both of their ages.

“Was she Confederate or Yankee?” Jonathan asked.

“It seemed he never bothered with that formality,” came the storyteller’s response. “He said later that because of her friendliness, he assumed her to side with us.”

He continued to tell us that the lieutenant proposed marriage, and the young lady accepted with the blessing of her mother.

“Not a long courtship that,” one of the soldiers said. “But then if she was charming, why wait?”

We all laughed, but when we’d settled down, the story continued.

“One evening while calling upon his intended, during a brief lull in the conversation, the heavy atmosphere bore to his ear what he judged to be the click of a telegraphic instrument,” Samuel continued. “Instantly, his interest and loyalty were awakened and a suspicion of treachery aroused. Without betraying that he had heard the sound, he chatted on, his keen ear strained to catch and locate the clicking.”

“How could he ever suspect his beloved?” I sang out in a high-pitched tone.

“It is wartime, gentlemen,” Jonathan said. “Never trust a soul, especially an innocent maiden.”

The rest shushed us and urged for the story to continue.

“At the usual hour he left, convinced that a contraband communication was going on with the enemy,” Samuel said. “The next evening, taking with him a strong guard and leaving them in the yard, he again called upon the young lady.”

We listened attentively to the rest of the story. Receiving him with the warmth of an expected bride, the young woman conducted him to a sofa, where clasped in each other’s arms, they indulged in fond caresses and endearing words until the ominous sounds of the clicking telegraph again greeted his ear. Excusing himself for a moment that he might clear the phlegm from his throat, he opened the door and motioned vigorously to his guard despite the darkness. While the door was still open, the guard pressed in and exhibited an order from General Burnside to search the house.

“That ended the kissing, that is to be sure,” one of the soldiers said. “What happened then?”

“Everything changed in an instance, it did.”

The young lady, so recently the devoted lover, became a tigress. With flushed cheeks and blazing eyes, she let loose a torrent or rage and abuse upon the Union soldiers.

“Yankee brutes, Lincoln hirelings, scum of the North, and cutthroats” were hurled at the men as she let loose her hatred of the Union. Familiar with the favorite expressions of southern ladies, the guard with due deliberation proceeded with the search. Down in the cellar, they unearthed a young man with complete telegraph offices, the wires leading underground to Fredericksburg. They brought the cringing knave up into the habitable world, and he pleaded piteously for his cowardly life. The sight of his abject fear aroused the genuine affection of the young lady, and she begged in tears with the lieutenant to spare the life of her dear husband.

“A married woman!” I said. “And here she thinks we’re brutes?”

It seems that she had played lover to the lieutenant for the sake of the little information she could squeeze out of him for the use of the rebels.

This was only one such story I’d heard since joining the cause very early in the war. There were many instances where southern women served as decoys, and then their men were taken prisoner. Some were even taken to their deaths. They did not hesitate at anything, if they could cripple a Yankee. As a reasonable man, I knew that the same thing might exist on the other side, if given the chance. Neither side was exempt from fighting the battle of war however they might be able to win.

Jonathan and I soon made our good-byes as we knew the light of day would soon be gone. At least we’d found a way to forget about being away from home on Christmas Eve. As we rode away, I felt pleased with my decision to leave camp for a few hours. But dark clouds descended when we were gone not much more than a mile. At first, I thought we’d stayed too late and nightfall descended upon us.

The rain began in great big dollops of water, and then came faster until we were hard pressed to see the rutted road before us. When we met a group of officers on horseback, who were shouting and obviously had enjoyed some Christmas spirits, I struggled to keep my horse steady. They shouted insults to us when we ignored them.

“Too stuck up they are,” one said.

“They couldn’t win this war any better than two pups still sucking on their mother’s teats,” hurled another.

Jonathan and I concentrated on the narrow roadway. I worried that my horse might take a wrong step and end with us both in the ditch. We passed by them without giving any mind to the officers. One of them turned his horse back toward us after we passed.

“Why did you not salute your superior officer?”

“We weren’t aware that we must salute every jackass we meet,” my friend said.

I secretly applauded the rejoinder, but hoped it wouldn’t lead to an altercation. We hadn’t meant any disrespect, but were concentrating on passing without incident with our horses since the road was rutted from the rains of the previous weeks, and there was a precipitous drop off to our right.

In great rage, the officer demanded our names with regiment and company. These we truthfully gave him. He was young and green, and probably quite drunk, or he would not have turned back for such a condescending purpose. It was bound to be a very long war indeed for someone demanding salutes in precarious or even dangerous situations. It made me wonder how we could defeat the Confederacy if we practiced warfare amongst our fellow soldiers.

“I fear the winter rains have returned,” Jonathan shouted to me as he drew abreast.

“If this keeps up, it will be even more impossible to get supplies,” I said. I peered through the rain that had only let up a bit and saw flickering on the other side of the field to the south of us.

“Jonathan, look over there!” I pointed to the light.

“It’s a house. It may be filled with Confederates, but what have we to lose?”

“Just don’t be taken in by any fair maidens.” I led my horse across the field and toward the warming light of Christmas Eve candles and fires.

As we drew closer, I could see that it was a modest farmhouse, but the candles on the Christmas tree blazed from the front window. We tied up our horses to the front porch railing. A small barn stood behind the house, but I could just make out its outline in the cloud-filled gathering dark. A woman opened the front door. She walked out onto the porch, all the while peering at us.

“You’re not the doctor,” she said. “Who are you, and what is your business here?”

“We’re about two miles from our camp,” I began. “It began pouring, and our horses were having trouble on the road.”

“You’re Yankees.” She spoke in a flat voice. We would not be welcomed here.

“We are, but we mean no harm.” Jonathan pulled a white handkerchief out of his pocket and waved it above his head.

“Are you expecting a doctor?” I asked. “You seemed surprised that we weren’t the doctor.”

I wanted desperately to climb the steps to the covered porch, but she was not welcoming.

“My sister is in labor, and we sent for the doctor hours ago.”

“The roads are terrible.” I swept my arm out over the rain that had started to pick up. “How far apart are the pains?”

She pursed her lips. She didn’t want to respond, but then I heard a noise from inside, and she turned her head toward the front door.

“Five minutes, maybe closer together by now.”

“I spent much of my childhood on my grandfather’s farm,” I began. “I don’t know much about humans, but I’ve assisted on plenty of births of our animals. I could perhaps provide some assistance.”

Her face went through a gambit of emotions until worry for her sister seemed to win out.

“I suppose I don’t have any choice. I’ve never seen anything born before in my life.”

“My name is William Bradford, and this is Jonathan Cameron.” I took a couple of steps toward the door, and then considered what might put her most at ease. I pulled my rifle from my shoulder and set it down on the step. Jonathan did the same thing.

“I’m Susanna Wolfson. Please come onto the porch where it’s dry while I warn my sister. She’ll be none too pleased that her help comes in the form of a Yankee soldier.”

We waited in the cover of the porch while our clothes dripped. She soon returned with towels.

“I’ve asked the house maid to rustle up some dry clothes. My father recently passed, and I’m sure there is something in his room that will do for now.”

After I’d changed into some dry, albeit large clothes, Susanna led me into a darkened bedroom at the top of the stairs. I found the sister, Elizabeth, in the throes of a labor pain. A Negress, I assumed a slave, stood fanning her.

“How long since the last one?” I asked her.

“Four minutes gone.”

I nodded and turned to Susanna. “Do you have someone who can start the boiling of water and making us compresses?”

“We have water boiling.”

I asked them to bring me hot towels that could be laid on her swollen belly.

“You’re a Yankee,” Elizabeth muttered from her bed once the pain stopped. “Are you going to cut my baby out of me and leave me to die?”

“Of course not,” I said. Her question left me nonplussed, but I supposed not out of order, when to her mind, I was the enemy.

“There are no gentlemen in the Yankee army,” Elizabeth said through clenched teeth. “You are all villains and cutthroats.”

“I assure you, I was raised to respect all living things,” I said. “It’s this war that has caused us to be enemies on opposite sides of the field. I have no intention of anything other than helping you bring your child into the world.”

“Even if I name him Johnny Reb?”

“Even if you name him Jefferson Davis.”

That brought a smile to both of the sisters. Finally headway.

“From what I know of the birthing process, it will still be some time before your little Johnny makes his way into the world. I’ll leave you for now. Try to rest when you can.”

Susanna and I walked out into the hallway.

“You and your friend must be hungry. We have the remnants of our supper that we can share.”

“That would be surely appreciated.”

Jonathan and I sat at the kitchen table eating the pork and potatoes laid out before us. There was cornbread as well. It was the best meal we’d seen in weeks, and we made it disappear in no time.

“We hate the Yankees, you know.” Susanna poured us steaming cups of coffee. “You may be acting like gentlemen right now, but I have no faith that you won’t rob us blind before you leave.”

“Have you known any Yankees before tonight?” I asked.

“No, but we’ve heard all the stories. Yankees have no regard for the dignity of life. You are scourges upon the earth.”

I saw Jonathan squirm in his seat. I struggled to keep my temper. I even managed to smile at her pronouncement.

“So I take it all the Confederate soldiers are gentlemen?” I asked in as mild a tone as I could muster under the circumstances.

“Yes, every one.”

“Think again. Is there not at least one man in the Confederate army whom you would hesitate to associate with?”

“Well, yes, perhaps one.” Susanna’s response came slowly, but at least there was the opening I wanted.

“Now, really aren’t there many?” I asked

She looked at me with a frown. I thought I might have stepped over a boundary, until she responded.

“Well, I’ll be honest with you. There are many, but most of them are gentlemen.”

“That is exactly the case with the Yankee army.” I had gotten through to her. “The great majority of its numbers are gentlemen, but it is to be regretted that a few are not, and tonight maybe we’ll prove the truth of this statement.”

“He’s right, you know,” Jonathan interjected. “Just tonight we were almost run off the road by a Yankee officer who thought we should have been saluting him instead of keeping our horses from falling into a ravine. We might still be court martialed since he took down our names.”

Susanna stood and began pacing. “It’s so hard when all you hear are the horrible things, and we’re all on edge right now.”

“That’s what war does,” I said. “It’s even harder when we’re fighting our fellow countrymen. Do you know sometimes when we’re out on picket on quiet nights, either one of us or one of the Confederate soldiers will raise a white handkerchief, and then we’ll both come to the line to pass the night away in conversation?”

“That’s hard to believe.” Susanna stopped pacing and sat down at the table.

We heard commotion at the front door and went with Susanna to see what might be happening. Relief flooded through me, when she greeted the man as Dr. Johnson. I wouldn’t have to birth a baby after all. She led him upstairs, but when she came back down, she invited us into the parlor. She went to the piano.

“It always calms me down to play, but I’m afraid I only know Confederate songs.”

“We will take no offense, but will enjoy the entertainment,” I assured her.

She played the Confederate Wagon, the Bonnie Blue Flag and others. Afterwards, she whirled upon the piano stool to face us.

“You have been so kind, I think I will play the Star Spangled Banner for you.”

By the time she had finished, the rain had stopped. Jonathan and I decided we should head back to our camp. All appeared calm in the upper region of the house.

“Thank you, Susanna,” I said as we prepared to leave after donning our damp uniforms. “It has been a pleasure to meet a true southern lady.”

“And I to meet two Yankee gentlemen.” She grasped my hand to shake it. “I shall tell Elizabeth to keep the faith that her husband may be in the hands of men such as you.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“He was taken prisoner of war in Fort Lafayette last month,” she said. “We’ve heard nothing since then.”

“I shall look into this,” I promised. “And send word either in person or through a courier as to his well-being.”

“Then please stay the night until the baby is born so you may send him word that he has a child.”

“Nothing would please us more,” I said.

As we settled on the living room floor for a dry night’s rest, I reflected on our day. I suddenly remembered that in a few hours it would be Christmas.

“Merry Christmas, Jonathan. It may not be home, but we’ve all been given a great gift tonight.”

“What’s that?”

“We’ve all learned that we are much more than this pointless war.”

And as we drifted off to sleep, the strains of a baby’s cries wafted down the stairs. New life pulsed as night settled over us, and I fell asleep with hope for the first time in almost two years.

THE END

Remember to download the whole collection by clicking here.

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WHEN WILL WE LEARN? #VOTE 2016

Hands circle,internationl teamwork concept

The name of this blog is “Living Lightly,” but the topic of this post may veer from my intentions when I first started the blog. However, I must write what’s in my heart even if it means some of you (I hope not) decide to unfollow me.

I’m sickened by the political debacle occurring in my country, the United States. I’m tired of people my age–normally the politically active baby boomers–telling me continually they’ve decided not to vote because they are so disgusted with what is happening.

How did we sink so low?

And how much further can we go?

I’m worried. But yesterday, I discovered my new found concerns really should have bothered me before the crisis in electing a president.

Weekend guests to our home showed me I’ve been living under the falsehood that we are a nation of souls who love one another for our diversity and our individuality. I’ve lived for more than sixty years assuming that if we can simply communicate and love one another, we can solve all our problems no matter who we are, where we come from, how much we weigh, where we worship, what we believe, or how much money we make. It’s all accepted here, except by a few fringe elements.

Back to the guest who opened my eyes and mangled my innocence. She wanted to buy a few of my books before she left. I showed her to my closet stock of novels. She picked out two books, and then I had the bright of idea of gifting her with a copy of my great grandfather’s memoir Civil War Journal of a Union Soldier. I’m very proud to have published this book and believe its historical context to be of supreme importance. It gave me great pride to produce it. I explained it to our guest and attempted to hand her a copy. She stepped back as if bitten.

“My family was in the Confederacy,” she said.

I tried to explain that the journal shows the horrors of war and of brothers fighting brothers.

“My family owned slaves.” She stood in my living room saying words I thought I’d never hear. “My grandmother told me that she worked right along side the slaves, but one day a storm came up. The slaves were sent to the barn while my grandmother stayed in the fields.”

Her grandmother told our guest, “We valued our slaves more than our relatives because we needed them.”

Nervous laughter from everyone listening–except for me. I walked away protectively clutching my precious book.

“I still fly the Confederate flag.” Her words followed me back to my office.

I seethed all afternoon after she left. Then I watched the second Presidential debate last night. How can I possibly believe we can heal the great divide created in this campaign year if there are those still fighting the Civil War? And this comes from a woman my husband has known for more than twenty years. He admires her knowledge in their common field of work. She didn’t just come out from under a rock.

Even though I feel nauseated and hopeless in these waning days of the 2016 Presidential campaign, I won’t let it stop me from going to the polls and voting on November 8 for the candidate who I feel will not turn my beloved country into a totalitarian regime. And I urge every citizen of this great country to do the same no matter how you want to vote. That’s why we’re a great country because we do allow freedom of expression without fear of arrest. At least,that’s the way it stands now.

We always say to remember history lest we forget, but sometimes we might need to forget lest we continue to fight a war that ended more than one hundred and fifty years ago.

And remember propaganda,  which can be used for good or for bad, must be deciphered so we know what is positive and what is evil. Consider the following persuasive techniques to create propaganda:

  1. Take advantage of brewing discontent
  2. Offer the right answers in a time of economic upheaval
  3. Blame a scapegoat for the ills of an entire nation
  4. Place the success of a campaign on the back of one person’s personality
  5. Speak to the largest rallies possible
  6. Use a simple dogma and focus on only one or two points
  7. Repeat the simple dogma
  8. Find slogans to repeat
  9. Speak to emotions and stir them

I pulled these points together from several websites describing how Hitler managed to fool the German people long enough to form the Nazi party.

Think about it before you vote, and then remember this poignant piece from anti-Nazi and Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoller.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

REMEMBER WHO WE ARE AND VOTE NOVEMBER 8USA map multicultural group of young people integration diversity

 

Poisoning the Poor Redux

I posted this post back in February. Yesterday I heard a report on NPR that Flint residents still can’t drink their water. They must still pick up water from city hall. The donations of bottled water have fallen off. And still, the people suffer because of horrid decisions made by those in power.

The Detroit Free Press reported in November that Michigan’s governor blocked a bill to provide bottled water to the poisoned city. Shameful.

Click here for an NPR report one year after the crisis broke nationwide.

For ways to help the residents of Flint, click here.

 

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Flint’s dirty, lead contaminated water

 

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

The adjectives overwhelmed my brain, making it nearly impossible to concentrate on writing a cohesive piece.

Then for days, I would forget.

I would forget until the headlines forced me to remember.

Flint, Michigan.

Yesterday, the headline that made me take notice and remember, “Flint residents paid the highest rate in the nation for contaminated water,” forced me to sit on my rear to write this post.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

The Detroit Free Press‘s article announced the results of a study by the Food and Water Watchgroup that studied the 500 largest cities in the country and found that Flint charges twice the amount as the national average for its water. Insult upon horrific insult made even worse by the fact these residents being served up contaminated water for more than a year had to even pay in the first place.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

General Motors essentially made Flint from the 1920s to the 1980s, when it decided to move their plants somewhere else. They moved the factories, but not the workers. Flint has suffered the fate of all company towns when the company no longer wants to be there.

The companies don’t even bother saying, “Sayanora and good luck, we must leave you, taking your jobs, your economy, and your dignity. In turn, we leave you with unemployment, crime, and hopelessness.” They just leave. And no one gives a damn about it.

Towns like Flint become wastelands of poverty, dissolving into vacuums ripe for drugs and violence. The human spirit deflates faster than Tom Brady’s footballs.

And no one cares, especially the ones who caused it.

As a result, Flint went into economic decline, and by 2011, the city was in a financial state of emergency. To cope, Flint cut its budget by changing the source of their water in April 2014.

That’s bad enough, but it gets worse. After the new water lines were installed to bring water in from the Flint River instead of Lake Huron, residents complained of discoloration and foul smells and tastes coming out of their faucets. The residents complained, but no one listened. Residents, who can’t afford bottled water and who most likely struggle to pay the exorbitant water fees, were charged for dirty water.

No one listened for almost two years. No one listened to the families living below the poverty level who knew one thing for sure. Water should never taste or smell or contain color. From April 2014 to late 2015, nothing was done, until folks starting dying of Legionnaires, and children began suffering from the symptoms of lead contamination.

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The noncolor of water

Today, The Detroit Free Press reported that a man suffering from headaches, sweats, and exhaustion has levels of lead in his blood that are five times the level that is considered toxic. Most of the worry previously had been about children, rightly so. But now it’s becoming obvious that adults will see the impacts as well.

Since April 2014, Flint residents bathed, brushed their teeth, drank, and cooked with toxic water.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

Bring us the bottled water and the filters now that this national disgrace has made headlines. Stop drinking the water now, dear residents, and don’t slip up and forget when you’re standing at the sink getting ready to brush your teeth. Don’t forget to close the lid on the toilet when you flush so you’re not spraying more than crap into the air. And pick up your bottled water–provided free of charge, of course–when you come to pay your water bill for the water coursing through your pipes that could poison you and your children if you use it.

What are the solutions? Unfortunately, the damage has been done in Flint, but there are things we could do so this doesn’t happen again, but we’re going to have to change our view about the poor and their right, yes their right, to clean water.

  • Make corporations that create these company towns or communities accountable when it’s no longer feasible for them to stick around. This happened in the towns surrounding Pittsburgh, too, in the 1980s when the steel companies pulled out. WalMart creates the same hole when they close out stores in communities where they destroyed the small businesses when they opened. I read that one town in Arkansas will no longer have a grocery store when WalMart closes their store this month. Why? Because WalMart ran the smaller stores out of business when they could not compete with the giant’s low prices. These corporations are given incentives and infrastructure to build in these small communities, so they should be forced to do something when they leave that will help the community they’re destroying.
  • Don’t allow local governments to cut back on infrastructure for essential services, such as water. I’ll say it again. Clean water is a right, not a privilege for the rich. If we think otherwise, we’re responsible for genocide. In fact, the folks in Michigan who allowed this travesty to continue for nearly two years did practice a form of genocide. Let’s hope it’s limited to just ten residents (which is still ten too many).
  • Listen when residents speak. I don’t care if the first complainers are the ones who always complain. Water should never smell or taste or be the color of tea. Didn’t the folks in Flint who made the decisions about changing the water source drink the water themselves? Or are they in some ivory tower somewhere drinking water brought in from Lake Huron? Or maybe only bubbly from France will suffice.
  • Never, ever make residents pay for services they can’t use. This is simply unacceptable. This means the folks in Flint paid premium dollars to poison themselves. I would encourage all residents to stop paying those bills en masse.

At the risk of repeating myself, I will risk repeating because it has to be pounded into our collective head until we stop treating the poor communities we created as if they deserve less than the rest of us. Or worse. The residents of Flint were treated worse than we’d ever treat our pets and wildlife. They were treated as if their lives didn’t matter.

Disgusting. Unconscionable. Typical.

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Let’s make it better for all living creatures.

 

 

 

 

 

 

STOP THE BULLYING

pittvsnotredameI wrote the essay that follows two years ago after attending a football game between Notre Dame and the University of Pittsburgh. This past weekend the two teams once again took the field in Pittsburgh, and I asked my husband if it had been Notre Dame fans who almost ruined one of our few visits to Heinz Field for a game.

“That would be the same team.” And he remembered the game as vividly as I did. Notre Dame fans sitting behind us nearly ruined the whole night for us because of their rudeness bordering on bullying us simply because we wore the colors of Pitt and rooted for our home team. Recently, while going through my files, I found the essay I’d started after that game. It’s still relevant today, so I’ve pulled it out of the archives to share. I hope it gives us all a moment to consider our behaviors, whether it be during a sporting event, a political debate, or a religious discussion. We are a part of the human team, party, and church. Let’s act like it.

From November 2013:

bullyingI like rooting for the home team. I want them to win, but I don’t hate the opposing team and their fans.

We decided to buy last minute tickets to the University of Pittsburgh versus Notre Dame game. Our tickets plucked us right down in the South Bend, Indiana, home base at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. We didn’t care. It would be fun with good-natured ribbing, we thought. We only hoped it was a game, and that Pitt didn’t lose horribly as they did to Florida State at the last game we attended.

In the first quarter, a Notre Dame player ran into the lowered head of a Pitt player, and the Irish guy was thrown out of the game. While the Pitt player lay on the field, a group of five Fighting Irish fans behind us starting yelling, “Get up off the ground; you deserved that hit.” My husband tried to reason by saying any hit on the head was a bad hit. They yelled back that our player put his head down so he should expect to get hit. They continued their tirade every time a Pitt player was tackled or hit.

The ugly remarks continued behind us as Pitt kept one touchdown behind or tied. My husband tried another time to reason with them, and I told him to stop because they weren’t the reasoning kind.

They made fun of our dancers, cheerleaders, and band. They called anyone who lived in Pittsburgh “stupid.” There was more, but all stayed in the same vein until in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter when Pitt scored the winning touchdown. They became quiet, but we moved into empty seats away from them, just in case. They seemed to be the types who might do something more than hurl insensitive and cruel words. I saw bullying firsthand in those fans.

If we can’t be friendly with our rivals over a stupid and meaningless game, how can we ever expect to live in a peaceful world? Take the behavior of these fans as one snippet from the world in which we live. Take the stone walls in our lawmaking bodies for another. When did we stop listening to one another and leap into a world where only one view—our own—is accepted?

It depressed me on so many levels; I’m still attempting to absorb it all. The worst part was the struggle both my husband and I experienced as we fought not to respond. It felt far too easy to shout back about the “stupid Irish” or some other ridiculous epitaph. Sitting and tuning it out required a great deal of deep breathes and closing of our ears.

Right now, I have no desire to return to a game because of five young folks, both male and female, sitting behind us on a cold night in Pittsburgh. I have to remind myself not to let them represent all people from South Bend or Notre Dame. Next to me sat two lovely young women dressed in the green of the fighting Irish. They said little but clapped when their team did well as we did when Pitt did the same. We were polite to one another, and they did not enter into the nastiness of the folks behind us.

I implore all of us to overlook our differences and concentrate on our similarities. Act with kindness toward others. Don’t lower yourself to the baseness in others. And most of all, save your battles for the big ones in life, which will come at some point when least expected. Make sure you have the energy to fight the important stuff rather than on a football game that really doesn’t matter in the first place.

But maybe most of all, enjoy what you’re doing without venom, without spite, without violence. It can’t be enjoyable to yell angry f-bombs at the field and at the people sitting in front of you just because they’re wearing blue and beige with a Pitt Panther logo on the front. If we don’t start with us, there’s little hope that religions, political divides, and countries can ever pull together for the betterment of humanity.

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