Friday, June 10, 2016

Uncle Gene

On June 6th, I posted this photo of my great Uncle Gene, not only to commemorate D-Day but because it was also his 93rd birthday.  The youngest of 11 surviving children (my "Memaw" was the oldest) he played the role of eternal bachelor. I always wondered if that was because there were all girls in the family until the birth of the last two: Joe and Gene.  The only one to move away from his native North Carolina, he live in S. Miami, where his country sisters worried that some bathing beauty would turn his head and steal his money.  Truth was, he'd been engaged, she broke it off and his new hometown became his haven.  With a sense of humor somewhere between witty and wicked....those of us who share it refer to it as the "Uncle Gene gene".
Yesterday, June 9th, he flew into the great beyond.  Okay, in my head, I envisioned his passing as Uncle Gene jumping into this plane and roaring into the wild blue yonder.  That's the way the Uncle Gene gene works.  

All my life we lived a state or two apart.  I probably only saw him once or twice as a child because he didn't relish returning to North Carolina and his sisters didn't want to visit his residential Sin City.   Every time we went to visit Memaw in N.C., anywhere from 2-3 of her sisters would drop by.  When I was 16 and answering their obligatory questions about school, I mentioned my foray into Spanish 101.  One of the sisters brightened and said, "Gene is taking Spanish too!  After all these years living in that place.  You should write to him.  Maybe you could practice together."

Little did I know I was about to enter a carnival ride that wouldn't end until he did.

Armed with his address, I wrote (yes children, back then we used paper, pen and cursive writing), explaining which of the myriad of grand nieces and nephews I was by referring to my Mom as his point of reference.  He wrote back, claiming to be delighted and set down the ground rules: the first paragraph of each letter HAD to be in Spanish, no matter how hard or how many times we had to use a dictionary.  I agreed.  About three letters in, I asked why he was just now learning a language which had been swirling around his ears for years.  He replied that a lovely Cuban woman had moved into the apartment next door and she didn't speak English.

A month later I received a letter which began, "Stop Spanish.  Woman wasn't worth it."

But that didn't mean we stopped corresponding.  In fact, the most recent note I sent him was last week, just before his birthday.  (I never could persuade him to switch to a computer).  Uncle Gene was a Charlie Brown fan (Peanuts cartoon character for you non U.S. folks).  He'd sign his letters, "Love Charlie Brown and Gene T.".  I would address his letters to "Mr. Charles Brown, c/o Gene Davis."  When I graduated from high school, he sent me $50, which sensible me spent on every day stainless steel silverware.  Yes, Hubby wouldn't propose for another 3 years but I had a hope chest...and hope.  We used that silverware until 2 years ago. 

As life progressed so did the addresses on the envelopes.  When Hubby worked at a donut place, I'd get letters to "Mrs. X. and the Donut King".  When he became manager of a pest control outfit, I got "Mrs. X. and Bug Man".  Oh, did I mention that Uncle Gene wrote my address in brightly colored magic marker? Sometimes a different color per line?  I'm sure both of our mailmen thought we were crazy.

But it was good crazy. Well, if you asked his nieces and nephews: his sisters believed him somewhere between eccentric and plain nuts. My favorite "embarrass the sisters" moment came during a visit to see Memaw.  It was customary to go out to lunch and one of the sisters came with us.  So there we sat: Memaw, her son, one of the sisters, my Mom, and myself in a N.C. Cracker Barrel.  I name the restaurant because it fits with the country theme.  A very young waitress came to get our order.  Uncle Gene, who to me often sounded like Garrison Keillor, asked very cordially,"Is the possum fresh?"

As the waitress looked perplexed, in my head I thought, "And we're off!"

Uncle Gene repeated his request with a warm smile as those of us who have the Gene gene bit our lips and tried not to laugh.  The waitress said she was unsure and scampered away.

Head held high, she came back to inform him that they did not.  To which Uncle Gene replied, "Surely someone scrapped one off the road on the way in this morning.  They're everywhere."

The flustered waitress scampered away and Uncle Gene was admonished by his sisters to behave.  He acted surprised that they would think he was being otherwise.  Out the corner of my eye I saw movement.  Through the kitchen door, the waitress was talking to the cook and pointing in our direction.  The cook had a gleam in his eye.  The waitress returned and firmly stated, "I'm sorry we're out.  But the cook says it tastes just like chicken and we have plenty of that."

Uncle Gene sighed and deadpanned,  "I was born here.  And on my visit I was looking forward to some home cooking.  I don't suppose you have any rattlesnake?"   Before the poor girl could RUN back to the kitchen, one of the sisters snapped, "Gene!" in that maternal tone which leaves no doubt that trouble is about to rear it's head.  "Fine," Uncle Gene had replied.  "It tastes like chicken too.  Guess I'll have the chicken."  The waitress disappeared and an older waitress appeared at our table.  She took one look at Uncle Gene, recognized our family, then admonished, "Behave yourself.  Today is that poor girl's first day!"

If nothing else, Uncle Gene was compassionate.  He left her a large tip.

As I worked on the family tree (still am) he'd send any nuggets of information he found.  We shared a genetic need-to-know about life and reading was how we discovered.  He answered my questions, offered a few stories I'd never heard and busted a family myth...his sisters proudly declared for years he was once a writer for "LIFE" magazine.  He laughed and said he'd once written a Letter to the Editor to LIFE, but that was the extent of his literary career with them.  He always teased me with, "One day, I'll let you in on my secret project.  I've been working on it for years.  It's not ready to see the light of day yet, but when it is, I'll let you know."   I heard that speech for years.  The family rumors and theories about what that might be were amusing, hysterical and sometimes fearful...I think his sisters feared he'd write a book calling them country bumpkins.

Nope, he never came clean about his project.  But I finally figured it out.  His secret was that every day was an adventure.  You just kept going...even if it meant moving on to a higher plane for the next adventure. 

 So lift a glass 
(as Uncle Gene, pictured on his 91st birthday, did daily)
and help me celebrate the gift of the Uncle Gene gene, 
which lives on in me.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I was wrong. Sorta

I previously mentioned that my employer was probably unaware that I was hitting the 29 year mark of employment.   Yesterday I found a letter from the Human Resources office which had been sent while I was on vacation.  It began,

"Congratulations!  
You have been identified as an employee who is eligible 
for retirement on or before July 1, 2016."

O-kay.  Should I feel good (hey, they know I work for them!) or worried? (Here's your hat, what's your hurry).    After all, I was officially eligible for retirement last year.  The next paragraph "reassures" me that the decision to retire is a personal one.  (Translation: Even though we're an "at will" state and can fire you whenever we please, we'd rather not push you out the door and have you run to an attorney). 

I'm then fed the standard governmental we're-here-to-help-you line which offers me the option of attending a workshop provided by our State Retirement System to aid in planning my retirement.  But it is MANDATORY I reply by June 17th in order to retire by July 1st.  And the date of the workshop?  

JULY 18th.  After work, of course.   Except technically, that's also after retirement.  I wonder if they suspect trouble?  The workshop is being held at the Sheriff's Department Training facility which....wait for it...use to be the old jail.  

No wonder people don't embrace government or public service as a career choice any more. 

For the record,  I politely declined.  Just think how much more comical this could get if I stick around a little while longer.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Who, What, When, Where but most of all WHY?

If you write, or have even taken a decent high school English class,  one of the first things you're taught is your responsibility to the reader.  We were given the rule that the basis of a complete story began by answering the above questions, "Who, What, When Where, Why (and sometimes How).  The answer to all five should appear in the first paragraph of an article.  It was then your job, as the the writer/reporter, to expand upon each of those in the following paragraphs for a full description of events.

A task simple enough for a high school kid to follow.  Unfortunately, it's a concept that much of today's media is not familiar.

I know.  Political years bring out more stupid than sane ideas.  And while it's hard to fight that on a national level, you'd think local media would try harder to fairly represent stories about their businesses, neighbors, or family.  It's your community.  There needs to be a shared trust and willingness to help each other.  Sadly I've just witnessed something on the local level that has me both shaking my head and angry.

On May 24th a cell phone video was given to a local television station.  I'm not sure how the "concerned citizen" choose from the 4 stations in our state.  But it appears no one at the chosen station is familiar with fact checking.  A local paper ran a brief, one paragraph report of the incident which probably raised more questions than it answered.  But I got the feeling it was a token, "There.  We heard your 'concern'.  Here's our report.  We're done".

In a nutshell, here's what the grainy video shows.  An older fireman is berating an apparently younger fireman, using language which your mama wouldn't approve.  Ironically, the younger man's face is blurred, while the older man's is not.  At the end, the older one slaps the younger one's face.  Not a knock-you-out-of-your-seat move, but stronger than a love tap.  The young man says, very calmly, "Don't do that."  The older man, clearly agitated, does so again, telling the young man to get out of his seat and go do his job. 

The firefighter is named, then the audience is advised the incident was shared with the Fire Chief, who passed it to the County Administrator. The Administrator responded with the usual "personnel matter", noting the suspension/training was already completed.  The older man was suspended for 3 days without pay and ordered to attend an Anger Management training. Then, to make sure the audience is still there, it's revealed that the young firefighter is actually ...gasp!...the older man's son, who is not named. The newscast ended with the fact charges could be pending from the local Chief of Police, and that no replies had been received from the reporter's e-mails to the police chief and firefighter.

So, sounds fair right?  Bad fireman yelled his way into a suspension, loss of pay, and possible criminal assault charges because a concerned citizen stepped forward to share physical evidence.

But what if I told you the actual event occurred over a year ago?

That's right.  There's a lot which was omitted.  Sadly, too many reporters are, quite frankly, lazy.  Reporters once used their feet, not the internet, to interview subjects.  Rather than face to face conversations, it's apparently now assumed any unanswered reporter e-mail inquiries makes the other party automatically guilty.  And yet amazingly, journalism "sources" are still protected.  Don't you wonder why it took the "concerned citizen",  never mentioned by name, so long to come forward with the video?  If he was so concerned, why allow such an irate firefighter to keep doing a job paid for by tax dollars?  

Viewers join this video "conversation" shortly after it's begun. Mr. Concerned Citizen appears to have a ringside seat, yet says nothing.   The only voice you hear is  the Firefighter's profanity laced speech.  If you can get past that, you hear something else: agitation, tinged with frustration.  What's lost on John Q. Public is the lesson he was trying to impart.  A lesson?  Screaming and slapping is a lesson, you ask? 

The difference is, I know the Firefighter and his son.  I also did some research of my own.  Yes, I like knowing both sides of the story.  Even the less sensational, worn down, parental side.

I've known this Firefighter for over 20 years.  I've known the son since he was a toddler.  Even as an adult, this kid still acts like a spoiled brat from time to time.  Let's just say God himself would have a hard time restraining himself from corporal punishment when it comes to Junior.  For the record, Dad wasn't just some volunteer fireman who suddenly decided to do so full time.  Recently retired after 20 years as a Game Warden, he also assisted local law enforcement hunt down drug dealers and other law breakers. In his "spare" time he bikes with a group of law enforcement guys who raise money to aid others.

Here's what the reporter didn't tell you.  Junior had been bragging that if he came to a house fire with gun fire involved, he'd kick in the door and fight the fire without waiting for back up.  Dad had told him that wasn't procedure and it was dangerous.  Evidently Junior then called Dad an impolite term for a cat.  What the aired portion of the video shows is Dad's frustration boiling over.  I'm not sure what Junior said, because his face was blurred, by there's a moment of hesitation before Dad's slap occurs.  This is a kid who doesn't know when to stop, doesn't acknowledge when "enough is enough" and enjoys provoking just to get a reaction.  Anyone who knows him, knows that.  Yet, all human's have their breaking point.  There is a taunt in Junior's eerily calm reply of, "Don't do that", just before Dad slaps him again and orders him to go do his job.

And so, what should've been, at best, a teaching moment in private, becomes a childish taunt causing a parent to snap while someone they probably work with sits idly by and records the whole thing.  Then sits on it.  For a year.

Why a year?  I have my own theory.  Dad is helping a local candidate run for Sheriff against a two term Sheriff he'd aided in years past to collar bad guys.  To be honest, it is time for a change in that office.  Yet one of the few things in the south which never seems to change is political grudges.  

As for that television station, I have lots of WHYS.  Why didn't your reporter do her homework and discover this incident happened a year ago?  Why didn't you look beyond the "concern" of an anonymous citizen for an additional motive because he'd kept quiet for so long?  Why send an e-mail when you could've at least picked up the phone to hear the other side?  Why would you drag a public servant through the mud, humiliating him and his family, without sharing that Junior now works at another station several counties away?  Why did you suddenly delete comments on your website when members of the community pointed out the true age of this story?

HOW can you sleep at night, knowing you only told half the story?

UPDATE:  And the plot thickens.  

It appears the video has been sitting for a year at...the Sheriff's Department.  In addition, I've learned the whole incident was set up...by Junior.  He told his friend (Mr. Videographer) to get out his phone and get ready: he was going to make his father so angry that he'd lose it and slap his son. So what started off as a sick prank took a horrible turn.  Probably politically motivated at this point.  But the media won't report that...because it would entail looking for the truth.

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Gift for....ME

That's right.  Today marks the 29th year with my Employer.  No, he won't remember but my first supervisor was the only one who ever did.  She was a retired School Teacher...who obviously had first hand knowledge of the notion hired people are suppose to work hard, why mention it?  The weird part is that I've worked so long, I "earn" 4 weeks of vacation a year.  Unfortunately, there's never enough time to take it and I end up "losing" a week every year because we can only carry over 45 days.  Such is life.  

Okay, so I'm still trying to figure out how to get in those last 5 days before they evaporate June 30th. 

In the meantime, I'm taking a week off.  I call it the "Home Improvement vacation".  The one where stuff around the house gets done that's not earth shattering, but necessary at some point.  Like painting the front porch.  You get the idea. 

So if it gets quiet here for a week or so, don't worry.  I'm re-charging my batteries.  (Translation: NO political news for a week....besides, Morley Safer dying Thursday a mere week after retiring was kinda depressing).

Happy weekend y'all!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

I Owe You...a word of gratitude

I get it America.  You're mad as hell and you're not going to take it any more.  Word of advice?

Grow up!

I'm not the only one tired of self entitled, label calling, self centered behavior that is passing for the "new normal".  It's not okay to give yourself a title, then berate everyone who isn't you.  Why?

Because nothing gets accomplished if everyone is living in their own little world and sucking the air out of the room.  Live and learn.

I began my college life at the community college.  We use to refer to it as "High School Plus".   The work was harder than what we'd left behind, but we had the opportunity to learn without going bankrupt...and if we wanted to go home and sleep in our own bed, that was okay too.

I was in the "Work/Study" program which allowed me to pay my own way, so my education truly felt earned.  My hometown wasn't large, but with an Air Force Base, we had a variety of individuals who passed through.  Some of them even stayed.  It made us more like a melting pot than just a traditional southern town.  One of my most important life lessons occurred on that campus.  Between classes.  And I learned how much deeper life goes than what we see.
During my Sophomore year, the T.V. mini-series "Roots" was playing.  I was standing with a group of friends, chatting between classes.  There was Bobby, the Student Body President I'd known since first grade.  His buddy Terry, the 6'4" poster boy for athletes: a kind, handsome, blue eyed, blond who wanted to date but became catatonic around girls.  (Dating Hubby, I was deemed "safe" therefore the exception to his rule).  Juan was a light skinned black kid who believed he was white.  Because he told us he believed he should've been. (Yes, when I was in school it was simple: you were either White or Black). 
We were talking about a committee meeting we'd left when we were approached by Joe.  A tall, broad shouldered black man, he was older than us.  To be honest, his presence was intimidating.  Not because of his color, but because he scowled. Constantly.  He'd glare at you without saying a word and storm off before you could respond.  It probably didn't help that the campus rumor was he was a drug dealer not to be messed with.  Yet on that day he marched right up to us and asked a question, probably not expecting an answer.
"Any of y'all watching 'Roots'?"  he demanded as conversation abruptly died.  "You know, you owe me," he added, looking at us one by one. 
I was shy.  Comfortable with lifelong friends but usually the one doing the listening, not the talking.  I was so taken aback that Joe had even approached a group of goodie two shoes that I just looked at him.
So he said it again.  Firmly.  With authority.
"You owe me."
And then I heard this little voice say, ever so politely, "I don't owe you anything." 
Oh crap!  Was that me?
Joe turned to me, fire in his eyes and asked,"What did you say to me little white girl?"
From somewhere deep inside, probably where stupidity and cowardice dwell side by side, I replied politely, "Unless I borrowed money from you.  I don't owe you anything.  Now my great-great-great-great granddaddy may owe your  great-great-great-great granddaddy an apology and more.  But I haven't taken anything from you."

So what did my trio of male friends do?  Juan gasp out loud like a southern belle who'd been slapped, Terry's expression was stunned horror and Bobby was looking at me as if I'd lost my happy mind.

And then they all took a step back.  A giant step.  Leaving me to face Joe alone as they watched from the sidelines.

Joe studied me for a moment, fully aware my bravado was probably on the verge of wavering after such a declaration.  He took a step closer, looked me in the eye and said with great conviction, "Good for you!"

I stood there, waiting for the "But".  What came next was a lesson I never forgot.

"I have had white professors kissing my black ass all day long.  Apologizing for slavery.  Apologizing because we live in the South.  Apologizing for how cruel the white actors had to be to the black actors.  After the 10th one apologized, I asked him, 'Do you own any slaves?'  When he sputtered that he did not, I replied, 'Then why are you apologizing to me?'  You don't know me."

That's when it hit me.  I didn't know him either.  

Somewhere in the distance a bell rang.  My trio of buddies looked at me apologetically before going in three different directions to class.  I stood there as Joe waved over a female friend.  He then proceeded to tell her that I had stood up to him because I had principles.  That I wasn't swayed by the belief of the masses.  She eyed me suspiciously.  Then my sense of curiosity raised it's silly head and I asked Joe where he was from.  He seemed surprised by that but in the next five minutes I learned he was from the North, (New York.  Or New Jersey?) and was 10 years older than us.  When he was my age, he'd been in the Army, fighting in the jungles of Vietnam.  He was attending school on the G.I. Bill.  He wanted to teach.

Now I understood that scowl.  The things he must've seen at my age.  The things he must've endured.  He was old enough to realize the world wasn't a nice nor fair place, yet he was kind enough to want me to embrace my beliefs.  Little did Joe realize I was his first student.  

As we parted, I said something about going to get a Coke.  Now in the south, that's how we refer to a Coca-Cola.  Joe did a double take and his friend's eyes widened.  

"A soda.  In the canteen," I offered in explanation.  I was so young and naive it never occurred to me that he thought I was referring to his "rep" as a possible drug dealer.

Joe shook his head...in relief.  "Little girl, you scared me.  You didn't seem like the type to do drugs.  Make sure you stay away from anyone that does."

I nodded, feeling silly.  Then Joe gave me a gift I can still access today.

Looking me in the eye, he smiled.  The biggest, most heartwarming grin I've ever seen.  To this day, I can see him smiling at me.  Because he meant it.

"See you around," Joe said, waving as I walked away.  

And each time we'd pass on campus, we'd wave.  He usually beat me to it.  I joked it was because he was taller and saw me coming.  

It took a while for the trio to question my encounter.  I remember thinking they needed to grow up and look past the obvious.  "I stood up for what I believed and he praised me for it," was my only reply. If they couldn't see past what they thought was the obvious, they needed to learn.  First hand.

Thanks Joe, for that gift.  For not embracing a label, or slapping one on me.  For letting us have a moment both educational and personal.  I hear there's a remake of "Roots" about to hit television again.  If you were to say, "You owe me" today, I'd give you the same reply.  I'm not so sure today's generation would do the same.  They'd probably be too busy on their phones to even notice you, start screaming about you invading their personal space or put a hand out to receive a trophy for making time to acknowledge your presence.

I've got your six, Joe.  I will make time to listen in hopes a real conversation begins.  It has to start somewhere.  Why not from the lesson learned from a Vietnam Vet just trying to make the world a better place: in war and in peace.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Queen of Soul's got it right

I know we're suppose to be an informed society but lately, all I'm reading is people "screaming" at each other in disagreement.  The vile name calling and the attempts to shame another's "ignorance" while showing their own is just...

...depressing.

And if everyone is shouting, who is listening?  How can you share opinions and knowledge if everyone is yelling all the time?

This is why I keep blogging.

I've been told blogging is dead, passe, irrelevant and a waste of time.  I feel sorry for those people who shirk a blog's sharing embrace.  Truth is, I've learned a lot from the people I've met through this medium.  I LOVE learning.  I love LISTENING even more...even if it is with my eyes.

The thing is, my friends here are from a variety of cultural belief systems.  We have varied lifestyles.  We live in different places yet all understand Earth is our community.  Most of the time I wish these folks lived right next door.  Kim could take our photos while Maurcheen sang to us.  Savannah would cook us an excellent meal while Ponita tended to any injuries received through over enthusiastic hugging.  

You see, despite the fact that we are a mixed bag of cultures, religious beliefs (or not), whether conservative or liberal politically speaking, our conversations are just that: shared observations combined with discussion.  I've never known anyone in my group of invisible friends to snap at the other or accuse them of being ignorant or just plain stupid.  We discuss, we share, we add to each other's knowledge.  Sometimes y'all are my best cheerleaders even if we've never met face to face.  But I know your heart.  Even if we don't agree, (because humans seldom do, all the time) there is one thing we all share.

RESPECT. 

It's something the rest of the world should consider before speaking.

So here's to letting the Queen of Soul sing us into a happy weekend.



Wednesday, May 4, 2016

When You Wish...

As my ol' pal Opus is clearly stating, 
sometimes you just need to sit in the weeds and make a few wishes.  

One wish has come true: a very busy annual work event is OVER!
(This was the 24th one I've participated in and sadly, it was the worst ever).

Online fundraiser is over.
Wish the so-so results had been better.
But something is always better than nothing.

Unless you're talking U.S. politics.

I wish America would come to its collective senses.
I get it America.
You're mad and you're not going to take it anymore!
Yet kindly take a good hard look at your current clown...um...candidate of choice
and remember we're stuck with that circus for the next 4 years. 
And no, Canada has been a GREAT neighbor.
We shouldn't be bothering them about extended, 4 year vacations.

My current wish is that my vacation at the end of the month gets here soon!

Next wish is yours.