The “Invisible” Woman

I’m currently paying my bills by working as a baker in a chain grocery store. Yesterday was an unsavory day.

There were only three of us working, and as it was the Friday before Thanksgiving the place was packed with shoppers. We were baking, packaging, filling the floor, waiting on customers, dreading the massive delivery we would get on the receiving dock, not to mention trying to get things in shape so when Big-Daddy-Higher-Than-District-Manager made his appearance that evening, the department would be ready for critique.

So here I was scrambling to wait on the customers. We have a long glass goodie-filled counter stretching all the way across the front of the bakery, and a narrow workspace behind that with a half-wall separating that front section from the rest of the baking area. There’s a price scale on top of the front counter and another price scale on a small table in the narrow area, as well. Racks of baked bread and products yet to bake clogged the baking area. My other two co-workers were elsewhere, one trying to unload our supplies out in receiving and the other one over on the other side of the store taking a much-deserved break after a morning of struggle.

After serving the third customer in a row, I glanced over and saw the top of a little Asian girl’s head over the top of the counter, so I asked if I could help her. She asked for a kid’s cookie, so I got it for her. As I gave it to her I noticed there was a black woman next to her, standing in front of the scale area. She was the same height as the scale and I had not seen her earlier, and asked if I could help.

She said, “Well, you just proved to me that you think I’m invisible. I’ve been standing here waiting to be helped, but you decided to help this girl first. I’m even bigger than her but you didn’t wait on me, you waited on her because I’m a black woman and you’re racist.” With that she tossed her head and marched away, a triumphant smile on her lips as I sputtered to reply.

I’m… what? This woman knows nothing about me. She also apparently doesn’t realize the black race is not the only race that has ever experienced racism. She wasn’t there at my grade school when the pint-sized class bigot followed me all over the playground chanting “Half-breed, you’re a dirty half-breed” while the rest of the class looked on, and the teacher later defended my tormentor when I tearfully told her about it. The white race back then didn’t seem like me because I am part Muskogee Creek. The Creeks considered me a lightblood from an ordinary family clan, tainted with the white cooties of mixed race. I know about racism and prejudice.

So okay, BITCH, let me tell you something since you didn’t pay any attention to my protest of “I’m sorry, ma’m, I honestly didn’t see you there” and walked away before I could recover further from my shock.

I did not see you, not because you are “invisible” to me, but because YOUR SHORT ASS STOOD RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE SCALE. I COULDN’T see you from the angle I worked. In the minutes before I tried to wait on you, I had a number of other demanding customers to wait on. I’m sorry I didn’t call on you next but (a) if I can’t see you I don’t know you’re there so I can’t call on you (b) if you’re that anxious you could have said “I’m next” since you are bold enough to hatefully assume hurried customer service = racism, or (c) she was a kid and it took all of twenty seconds to get her kiddie cookie and send her on her way. But no, it’s much easier to simply play the race card; easier for YOU, that is.

You’ve been in this store before and have launched the same type of “you’re racist” shit at other workers who wouldn’t jump up and down the second you showed up, and didn’t kiss your entitled self-important ass. I recalled where I’ve seen your face before, after you left. A couple of months ago you accused a black co-worker of being prejudiced, which prompted her to mutter “what the hell was HER problem?” to us as you waltzed away, wrapped in the cocoon of your own self-love. She is dark-skinned and you are lighter-skinned – do you not see how ridiculously racist YOU are?

News Flash for you, Invisible Woman: the world is full of different types of people, people who have their own experiences and stories and problems. If you have an experience, you can learn from it. Maybe that can be the story you can relate in an appropriate forum. But if you have a problem, don’t hand it off to a stranger to solve for you. Handle your own problems, starting with your need to grab any opportunity to accuse a stranger of disliking you simply on the strength of the melanin in your skin. All my co-workers are black and I think the world of them; they are each funny and endearing and smart and talented, so color isn’t what I dislike about you.

I dislike you because you’re a bitch. A bitch who actively seeks out hurting other peoples’ feelings, who has this need to look for any offense, no matter how great or how slight, so you can feel superior that your “fight for justice” or whatever the hell trip you’re on, is going strong. You’re a grown-ass woman. Not everyone is out to get you, and why you would want to be remembered as a hater instead of simply as a lady out shopping, is entirely YOUR choice. Remember, when you point at someone there are three fingers still pointing back at you.

Damn it, the worst thing you could do for yourself is to piss off a writer. Congratulations.

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Farewell old friend

12 strings, eight fingers: somebody's going to have to share

12 strings, ten fingers: somebody’s going to have to share

I wanted a guitar ever since I was a little kid. When I was twelve my mother scraped and saved and then went to the OTASCO (Oklahoma Tire and Supply Company) in Bristow Oklahoma and bought one for my Christmas.

It was a beginner’s guitar, a three-quarters size generic guitar – no fancy Martin or Gibson, just a little guitar that was a perfect size and fit for both me and my mother’s budget. I loved that thing and gamely tried to teach myself to play. When my sister Annie came home from college, she brought her guitar and taught me some chords. We did duets and got our sisters to sing along with us. It was a rare time for me to be included in an activity with them, and it only enhanced my love of playing. It is one of my fondest memories.

irish

There aren’t a lot of pictures of me, because I always felt I have a face fit only for radio and so avoided cameras as much as possible.

By the time I got into high school, all my sisters had graduated ahead of me and were either in college or out in the work world. By then I was making up my own songs and playing every day. When faced with Freshman English class and a dreadful subject – Edgar Allen Poe, whose morose depressing work I absolutely HATE to this day – I fought back with the only weapon I had on hand: my three-quarter sized six-stringed friend. Everyone in class was to memorize “Annabelle Lee” so I put a tune to it and brought my guitar to class.

The performance was met with enthusiasm. Our school music program had been completely cut out of the curriculum, so everyone was happy to hear a tune. My classmates were astonished that I even knew how to play a guitar, much less sing. It gave my teacher inspiration to try to rope in other classes to enjoy poetry (even moody, depressing, funktastic Edgar Allen Poe.) She entreated me to sing again for another class later that day, and so it began. I ended up playing for both Freshman classes of English, plus the Sophomore, Junior and Senior classes.

Boy, if I wasn’t tired of Edgar Allen freakin’ Poe by then!

Every year the 4-H organization held a talent competition. I knew this since the kids in the house down the road from mine put together a band several years earlier, and every day the entire neighborhood listened to “G-L-O-R-I-A” as it roared out over amplifiers. Well, I was an acoustic act so noise wouldn’t be a problem. I stayed tucked away, strumming quietly so as not to disturb the peace. Mama finally came to my room and asked, “aren’t you going to practice — oh good! I didn’t realize you were even playing.”

“I didn’t want to bother you.”

“No bother! Come on out here where I can hear you; I like to hear you.”

mom and irish

She always had my back. I always had hers. Sometimes literally.

So I sat in the dining room and played “One Tin Soldier,” the song I was rehearsing, and then various songs she liked. I had built quite a repertoire by then so she had “her own little jukebox on the premises.” That is another fond memory of mine: performing for my mom. She was happy puttering around in the kitchen as I played.

I entered the contest and found myself up against a Christian duet, a jazz-dance act and a couple of other acts. The jazz-dance act and I were chosen to represent the school. I went on to represent the county, the district, and then I went to the big state competition that summer at the big State 4-H Convention.  It was the first time I had ever been away from home for more than a day by myself. There on a college campus, with hundreds of other kids (the talent competition was just one factor in the state meet) I made dozens of friends I would never have met otherwise, played duets with another guitar player for our fellow conventioneers on our dorm floor, and had the best time. I did not win state but I did not mind. It was a blast just to participate.

The next year at school, I had to repeat “Annabelle Lee” for incoming Freshmen. I also got some respect from my classmates – I won the “Most Talented” of our Class Excelsior page in the yearbook, alongside my male counterpart whose talent was playing basketball. I bought a second-hand twelve-string guitar with a high bridge action which was tough to play, but the sound was great. I entered the 4-H contest again – went back to county, district, and state competition too. Re-connected with the friends I had made the year before and had another blast of a time. Got another “Most Talented” nod in the yearbook as a Sophomore with Lawrence the Ballplayer.

Lawrence, Brian, and me. Scowling because it was the '70's and, you know, angst and everything.

Lawrence, Brian, and me. Scowling because it was the ’70’s and, you know, angst and everything.

By Junior year I was in full roar more Annabelle Lee (REALLY hated EAP by then) brought my guitar to school because who knew when someone might need a song, right? I didn’t get obnoxious with it, so the principal let me quietly play in the lobby during my study hall hour (back then we had things like “study hall” and “grade school recess” and “allowing the school nutter to bring a guitar to school because who knew et cetera?” Small schools of under a hundred students in the entire high school are wonderful for these exceptions.) Mama and I got an electric guitar and a small amplifier. It wasn’t as enjoyable to play as I thought it might be. As Jimmy Buffett said, “I guess I was never meant for glitter rock-and-roll” because it largely collected dust until I finally sold it years later. I didn’t make it back to the 4-H state competition which was disappointing but I understood.

Lawrence and I did a three-peat as the Junior Class “Most Talented” only this time the class also included another guitarist. Brian was a really talented musician but his talent was outmatched by his antisocial, up-the-Establishment attitude and overall sour disposition. Ah, but as Chuck Berry sang, “he could play a guitar like ringing a bell.”

Senior year we actually got music back in the school again, so I learned to play cornet in the school band, and joined chorus class. I still played guitar, still played in study hall, still played Anna-freakin’-belle Lee for English class, kept writing songs and worked with a couple of brothers and their girlfriends in a band for 4-H competition. We sounded good but did not win the county competition because just before we went onstage, the lead guitarist lit up a ciggie to calm his nerves, and without thinking and out of habit, tucked the smoking butt up behind the take-up strings on the head of the guitar, and walked out on stage to perform.

singit

Playing my seldom-used electric guitar. Smokestack is playing just behind me.

4-H was too wholesome to allow something as egregious as “cigarette smoking guitarists” represent their club, so we were out. He felt bad about it but we sounded good; we knew we would have done fine. His brother the drummer was philosophical. “Can you imagine us in a campus dorm room for three days? They’re probably afraid we’ll go heavy-metal on ’em and wreck the place.”

I got my fourth consecutive “Most Talented” with Lawrence. Brian had moved or dropped out or something; I do not recall. I added a fourth letterman’s hash to my letter sweater.

I played guitar in college, and could write pages and pages of my adventures at the Hank Thompson School of Country Music, but I won’t. Yes, it was a real thing at Claremore Junior College (now all fancy-pants as “Rogers State University.” ooOOOooh!) I also played a little at university, and for years after that I occasionally played and sang for church and for fun. Most of those years were spent raising kids and writing novels and living life, so the guitars took a back seat. My kids were not particularly interested in learning to play one back then. Two learned saxophone and the other, percussion. I gave my original little three-quarter guitar to my big brother Joe and taught him to play. He kept the guitar until he passed away in 1999. My sister-in-law still has it, I think. I also still have the huge 12-string with the high bridge action, which makes it a nice decoration but has been really too impractical for anyone to play for over a decade.

christmastime in georgia

Getting our Christmas Swing on! Yeehaw!

Four years ago I got to sing and play “Christmastime in Texas” with the Carroll County Community Chorus along with a fiddle player and an upright bass player, as part of their Christmas concert. It was a great deal of fun, just like the good old days except nobody smoked backstage so there were no cigarette butts stuck behind strings. Aw gee, take all the fun out of things, why don’t we! I was a little nervous but the audience enjoyed it.

I acquired another little three-quarter size guitar but hadn’t touched it until this year when I returned to the Community Chorus after a brief hiatus. The chorus director mentioned “Christmastime” and asked if I’d like to audition with it or a similar song as a possible solo. Okay, I said. I went home, tuned up my guitar and strummed. It was then I felt my heart break in two.

You see, I have osteoarthritis and have had it ever since the age of twelve. My doctor then said keeping my fingers active would help keep them mobile. Guitars were easier to carry around that a piano at that time, so Mama got me a guitar. Did I mention I carried my guitar to school with one hand and walked with a cane in the other? No? Well, that’s what I did back then. It’s something that has just been a part of my life, something I’ve grown used to over the years. I have gone into ‘remission’ several times where for years I never needed a cane at all. I almost forgot that arthritis is ultimately a crippling disease until it comes roaring back to slow my steps and hinder my activity. My fingers have swollen and are becoming misshapen. In the past couple of years I’ve started really having a hard time with them. I used to be a cartoonist until I could no longer hold a pencil or ink pen long enough to draw the panel artwork or do the lettering. Never once did I ever imagine I would lose the ability to play a clear chord.

I didn’t realize how hard a time until the other night when I could only play half the chords of the song without yelping in pain. One chord I cannot play at all, for it requires my middle finger to bend, pull back and press down on a string that the finger simply will no longer do. I cannot close my hands into fists either. I can type, obviously.  My hands can rock a keyboard. I shudder to think what would happen if I ever lost that skill; read a lot of Edgar Allen Poe I suppose.

And so it sits in the corner, a little three-quarter sized guitar similar to the first one I had, waiting for the day I might pick it up and play again the way I used to, the day that will never come.

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The School Shuffle and Survival Guide, circa 1970(s)

good friendly water merchantsWhen I was a kid, the waning days of summer vacation brought a shiver of anticipation and dread to dance along my spine. I had X amount of days to take stock of myself in order to brace for what was to come: the First Day of School Appearance, and dealing with the aftermath for the rest of the year.

Kids knew when the school supply list stopped having crayons as a requirement and instead listed protractors and ink pens, that was when life was about to get serious. In the sixth grade we were required to have colored pencils, which sounded cool until you learned you had to use them for geography class and little else. You kind of missed the waxy odor of Crayolas and all the black-lined art you aimlessly colored in. Besides, the cutesy prim girls with their carefully measured pencil-strokes always made the prettiest-looking maps. The rest of us did what we could to avoid going outside the lines STILL. School kids usually didn’t have the luxury to use calculators back then, as they were still expensive and considered unnecessary. Kids were always going to have to work out math problems on their own; right? You could tell the smart kids of any school by the slide rules in their pockets, since slide rules = higher math = whoa, that’s out of my league.

Clothing was another factor that signaled your entry into Growing Up. If you were lucky your family might be able to get you new outfits – a pair of jeans and a couple of shirts, underwear and a new pair of sneakers were considered great things by me. If I was especially good about holding off a growth spurt, we might afford more. On my rising Freshman year in high school, Mama was able to get enough money together to get me not just one but TWO pair of fashionable-at-the-time wide-bell-legged striped size 0 jeans which fit me like a glove, as well as shirts and a new pair of sneakers, and a can of boot polish for my cowboy boots. My sisters were in college (hooray for scholarships and tribal funds!) so we all went shopping together. It was a blast since I didn’t usually get to spend so much time in their company as a more-or-less equal. I had the advantage of their knowledge of what looked good and fashionable, and affordable. Lord knows my sense of fashion was pitiful.

dem legsI lay awake the night before the first day of school, tossing and turning and dreaming about how the next day would go. THIS year I’d be clever and witty, have great comic timing and fearless candor. I would look like aces, and the popular kids in school I knew would include me fully into their group and all the kids in my school would look to me as being the class bon vivant!

Okay, first of all: even in my eager-to-overachieve class, nobody but me would use the term ‘bon vivant’ in any situation, much less apply it to me. Second of all: it never, ever worked out that way.

“First day of school” was a misnomer since we rarely actually had classwork of any merit that day. It was usually brief sessions of Who Is In This Class, Where Will You Sit and Here’s Your Textbook For It. In grade school we had the same classroom with student lockers for that grade in that room and mostly the same teacher all day long, so you knew by heart who was in it. The questions were the seating order and whose old textbook did I get, and did they write in any useful notes? (Usually not; we were clean-cut little ragamuffins back then, carefully obeying the teacher’s admonition not to write in the margins like other, horrible, less good kids in grades above us.)

In high school we would go from classroom to classroom (just like we saw on TV!) and our lockers weren’t in our classroom but lined up along the hallways (just like on TV!) We wouldn’t even be in the same class with everyone else in our grade, since two other county grade schools bussed in their graduates to ours. New faces! New structure! New experiences! New chances!

I wore my striped pants and boots and shirt to that first day of High School, and left my night-before wit and cleverness at home. I was still the same old me, marching steadfastly to my different drummer, eager to make a difference but racked with concern that I would come off as TOO different and be labeled a full-fledged weirdo. I backed off from my alter-ego’s desire for change and remained the same old gender-fluid me.

It wasn’t bad, I suppose. I wasn’t in the A-level Popular Kids group, but many of my friends were. I helped make smart remarks and voted or supported some new idea or proposal, but I wasn’t what you’d call a leader. I wasn’t a blind follower, either because I didn’t like other people deciding my preferences for me. I suppose you could say I was on the A- or B+ level.

I was not an Academic that is to say Geek, which shocked my teachers who all assumed I was as smart as my older sisters. Thing was, I WAS as smart as my older sisters in many ways – just not very good in math or science. English and History, yes I was a Nerd among the Nerdiest, but in the hard sciences I was a remedial wonder. It didn’t matter to the administration; I was a Watson and therefore must take Algebra I. WHAT, no; I stunk on ice in math! They didn’t listen and I spent an entire year completely, totally lost. All I could do well at the end of the year was draw some nifty artwork on my graph paper.

I was no Jock by any stretch of the imagination. After spending a few weeks in the bleachers watching the varsity team play the second squad on the basketball court, I had had enough. Basketball was just about the only sport in Deep Fork School, and there was rarely a chance for us also-rans to play Volleyball. Volleyball and its vicious style of serving and spiking the ball was something I actually did quite well. A few of my bleacher buds and I protested to the principal, pointing out that we’d be just as well off sitting in the library studying as we would sitting in a cold gymnasium studying. He agreed, I won a victory and we got out of Gym Class and into Study Hall without further ado. I did have a successful alternative: Musician. I could play guitar and sing, something most of my schoolmates did not do, so that was a plus. It got me out of class on many occasions and won me a letter sweater and a letter in 4-H all four years of high school.

I joined 4-H in grade school but quickly tired of the annual Speech Contest every school entered. It was usually rote stuff the teachers suggested about subjects I thought boring. Since we were allowed to come up with our own speeches, for two years I spoke about Mosquitoes because why not. At least it wasn’t How To Brush Your Teeth (I’m not making that up) or What America Means To Me (are you kidding, I’d have been thrown out of school for declaring “Nixon is an ass”) or How to Bake a Cake (or whatever it was, I was too busy trying to remember my Mosquito speech to pay attention.) I have no idea what the judges thought of me and I still don’t know. I like to imagine that as soon as I walked in, at least one of them inwardly groaned, “oh shit here comes that kid from Deep Fork who apparently fears malaria worse than anything in the modern world.”

I was not a Cheerleader but I went out for it anyway, clowning around in the gym and disrupting the practice session just enough to suit me. It seemed to take the pressure off the others for this skinny-limbed, curly-headed oddball to try and fail and not seem to give a damn about failing, and a couple of girls who were initially nervous about going out for it did well. As I said, I didn’t give a damn. It annoyed me that our only alternative to the grand and glorious Basketball Team was to dress alike in tight outfits in order to gush all over the grand and glorious Basketball Team, so I threw a temporary spanner in the works just on principle.

punk kidI used humor and quick thinking to keep me from getting beaten up or resented, and I used that shit for all it was worth for the next four years. I suppose you could say my claim to school survival was that I was an everyman; I knew everyone in school and had friends at every social level. I had no known enemies because I refused to fight. “I bet I could beat you up!” some kid threatened, to which I would nod and say “Yep, you’re right about that, you probably could. You win.” I would saunter off while they were still trying to figure out how their victory could feel so empty. Life was different then. We had no social media except notes passed in class, and bathroom stall walls. Kids would have a fight, only to go home and then have to explain how they got blood on their clothes and where they got that shiner. Then later that evening they would catch hell when the parents got a phone call from the opponent’s parents, demanding to know why their kid was picked on by someone’s imbecilic offspring. Yeah, fighting was tough and cool up until you got your ass blistered by your parents. Life was different then. We didn’t backtalk our parents ever since we were old enough to realize what “oh shit” meant when the words popped out of our mouths.

In the early days of school when summer temperatures still beckoned or the cooler fall temps beckoned us even harder, it was difficult to sit in the classroom until the last bell rang. We’d charge out of the school and rush home. Maybe you’d score a snack but that was usually secondary to the chance to run around outdoors, up and down the street and off into the woods and bike across town. We didn’t come in until dinner was on the table or it was time to help put dinner on the table. If we had homework we’d do it after dinner or at school if possible. Sometimes I’d do homework right after school but as long as there was a warm day and a tire swing beckoning, homework could wait.

As the autumn grew cooler and school activities increased, we were busy and soon daily trials and tribulations erased the anxiety of those first days. School cliques tried to rule the school but at Deep Fork, cliques rarely won and usually dwindled in number until it was just a couple of crabby people bitching at each other. There was a group of girls from my class who liked to sit in the student lounge and pass judgement on their fellow students’ personal style and clothing choices, deciding who was cool and who was not. Two girls in particular were absolutely cruel in their opinions, and to my amazement and outrage, some kids actually took their shit to heart.

Those girls never graduated. Instead they dropped out and went on to live quiet, unheralded lives in and around the Deep Fork area, far from the ‘cool set’ they pretended to be. The most judgmental one now has no friends from high school at all, continuing to harvest her bitter defensiveness in her middle age as she had in her youth.

stick out tongueIn that respect, I’m glad my night-before dreams never came true. I’d hate to be so popular that nobody would want to speak to me now.

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Dog Guilted

every dogI just saw a post which read: Every dog should have a home and every home should have a dog.

Yes, I agree every dog should have a home – a loving home, a welcoming home, a caring home. But not every home is able to have a dog, even as delightful as a dog’s companionship is.

Circumstances like severe allergies is a major reason; landlord contracts (“no pets allowed”) physical restrictions (having an animal weaving in and out or dashing out in front of already unsteady legs) and financial problems are others. But I say a major consideration is that dogs need attention, interaction and actual face time with their owners. Sometimes people simply can’t work one more responsibility into their lives. No one should feel guilted into taking in a dog; people have a better idea of what they can handle than their well-intentioned friends do. Friends only know what you let them know, and not everyone wants to tell even their closest friends every little thing.

Dogs are more than simply something to feed and water and give a place to sleep (although there are too many dogs out there that don’t even have that.) I appreciate dogs but I just don’t think I personally could give one the kind of time and attention they deserve. Every dog should have a home, if that home is where they are petting and spoken to and played with, walked and kept safe and vaccinated.

I mean think about it: you want a job to support you but you also need it to provide health insurance for yourself and your dependents (if any.) However, jobs don’t normally provide vet insurance, but what are you going to do if Barklett or Meowser get sick or injured? I’m not about to let an animal I care for bleed out or suffer, but my pocketbank can’t handle the hundreds if not thousands of dollars a vet will charge to prevent that.

2014-10-25 17.58.10

My granddogs are rescued dogs. I am very fond of them. Still, I don’t want to own a dog myself. Simple as that. I like to play with them and fuss over them and cuddle them when I am in their company, but dogs are needy by nature. When I am doing something I like to concentrate, and I cannot break concentration to turn around and pet or pat a dog standing by. It’s not fair to those hopeful little faces that are begging for acknowledgement or praise or interaction. Pets are similar to children – hell, they ARE children to some – and they need to be encouraged and treated as members of the family. Just as you wouldn’t brush aside a child who wants to show you a picture they drew, you also shouldn’t brush aside a dog and its playtoy with a constant “go lay down, I’m busy.”

I mean geez. That’s just being an ass. Why have a pet if you aren’t going to, you know, actually take the initiative to pet it?

I also can’t afford the vet bills. Right now I’m doing good just keeping myself covered, and I can’t afford the premiums of available pet insurance policies. I can’t even take dogs for walks anymore without pain. My fingers can still fly over a keyboard but I can’t grasp leashes or unhook leash latches as easily as I once did. “Oh, if you loved dogs you wouldn’t mind the pain!” my so-called friend ‘Wanda’ insisted, she who is Dog Ownership Guilter #1. To that I say: Yeah, shut it, ‘Wanda.’ Maybe I don’t want to associate pain with dealing with dogs, and I don’t want the dogs to associate going for a walk with the pain I’ll feel that they will sense. Dogs know, even if rabid dog proponents don’t.

The only sensible thing to do in my case is NOT adopt a pet, opting to support shelters or foster centers instead, if I can. If you can’t afford the time or expense of a pet, don’t get one. But if you do genuinely want to get one, (1) go to an animal shelter and adopt. (2) Don’t buy from a pet store unless they only get animals from the local shelter, otherwise you’re just helping puppy mills proliferate. (3) Spay and neuter your pets. There’s going to be plenty of animals out there being born in the future, trust me, because of the number of people who still WON’T spay or neuter. (4) Give your pets the opportunity to run and play and sniff around, where they can stretch their legs or notice things around them and explore safely. Don’t just move them from one crate to another. (5) Pets are not throwaways. You can’t adopt a pet and then dump it when it grows out of its cute stage or grows larger than you anticipated, or gets old and sick and arthritic. Old age happens to everyone, and it happens faster to our pets. Would you want your family to take you to the side of the road and leave you, if they decide you’re too old or weak or too much trouble to take care of? No? Well then, put yourself in your pet’s place for a minute and think before you act.

Honestly, my heart belongs to goats and if I take in any animal it will be goats. Even then I will need to be able to fully care for them and make time for them. But as much as I love goats I want to do right by them and can’t, WON’T get any until I am sure I can deal with the responsibility properly. I won’t be guilted into something I can’t handle.

perfect world every home

Four words make a big difference.

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Peas in Our Time

I admit I am not much of a gardener. Part of it is because I’m just plain freakin’ lazy. Sure, let me get that out of the way right now: I hated weeding gardens when I was a kid and not much has changed since then. Now that I’m older and in the tight grip of osteoarthritis, I really hate weeding.

Two of my sisters studied horticulture. Annie died years ago but Buddy is currently enjoying a stint at the Stringer gardening center (shoutout to y’all in Tulsa!) Buddy can just glance at a plant and tell you the genus and species and all the accommodating Latin names, tell you the plant’s sun/shade preference and how to propagate and when to plant and how much to water or feed, when to harvest or what kind of insect deterrent to use – anything. She’s got a green thumb and always has had, since childhood.

I can water a plant as long as I remember it’s there. Yeah, that’s about it.

That’s not to say I haven’t tried to garden. I have a garden going right now that is probably the most successful I have ever done by myself. I have a dozen tomato plants (cherry, Roma and heirloom Cherokee) in pots on the back deck, plants that are actually producing fruit! I also have six eagerly growing cantaloupe plants in the side yard garden plot. They  are surrounded by a chicken wire fence since deer and rabbits come up from the nature preserve behind the house to eat anything that flowers in our yard. The strawberries in the decorative circle in the front yard have turned into sacrificial vegetation, much to my dismay, but the melons are being left alone so their sacrifice is not without gain.

Back when I was married, my spouse tried his hand at gardening and he did well. In Oklahoma we had some chickens and a nice little patch of green beans and tomatoes. Then we moved to Marfa, Texas where we (well, mostly he) grew a big bountiful garden in the back yard. People from all over Presidio County drove by our house slowly to stare at it in awe. Marfa is located at the northern end of the Sonora Desert, and apparently people just didn’t put gardens in a desert as a general rule, certainly not a lush green one with green beans, corn, tomatoes, squash, snap peas and okra. He watered and weeded and babied that garden, which took up the entire back yard, all summer long. The kids were barely more than toddlers but they liked to walk up and down the rows and dig in the dirt, and help water the plants with the garden hose. We never got to harvest any of it, however. His paying job at a car dealership wasn’t turning out as promised, and we wound up moving 1500 miles to his parents’ place before the summer was out. We left that big garden laden with ripening fruit to his boss and our neighbors, who were downright giddy at the prospect of all that food they neither had to pay for or toil over.

We tried another garden a few years later but it, like the marriage, eventually failed. I suppose that garden we left in Marfa is a fitting metaphor for the marriage in many ways: so much potential that was never properly or fully harvested.

So here I am twenty years later, living with and looking out for his mother (hey, I divorced him, not his family) and tinkering around with plant life again. The Lady Anne is more into flowers but she likes my attempt to raise vegetables too. She putters around with plants on the deck but leaves the side garden (on a sharply sloping lawn) to me. Last year we tried squash and tomatoes and green beans and peppers in that garden but what plants weren’t choked out by weeds, were gobbled up by insects or animals. This year I decided to just concentrate on squash and melons in the side garden, laid down some weed-out fabric and pine straw surrounding the plants, and that kept down the weeds. The fence helped solve the animal problem, and a host of helpful ladybugs are keeping the destructive insects at bay.

I have a soaker hose snaking around the melon plants and turn it on every day, and the resulting vines are growing in leaps and bounds. The squash plants threw in the towel early on. Maybe they saw the melons racing to get all the good space and decided “yeah, we can’t compete with that” and died from something; sulking, I dunno.

The tomatoes are producing. They are turning red; hell, I’ve even EATEN a few of them. To a habitual black thumb, plant-killing El Destructo of Vegetation like me, that’s a triumph. It’s like winning an Oscar or a Pulitzer, which is kind of sad I admit.

“Well, I didn’t kill anything outright so I guess I deserve an award of some kind.”

It’s actually simply “winning a small contribution to a salad” and hopefully later this year, I’ll have some juicy cantaloupe to freely nosh on!

Unless, of course, I move somewhere else before harvest.

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God and Guesswork

233I’m told by various Bible scholars and End-Times Enthusiasts that God is coming soon. It’s all in Revelations and Bible Codes and preached about on cable TV (in exchange for all the cash in your bank account) that Jesus will return soon and smite sinners and take all True Believers with him to Heaven, leaving us sinners behind to gnash our teeth and weep and wail and stuff, depending upon which verses you want to cherry-pick.

Well come on then, Jesus. Get to returnin’ and smitin’ already. The sooner You get back, the sooner the rest of us won’t have to put up with bullshit from people like Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham about what You’ll do to gays and foreigners and non-Christians, and women who consider their bodies are their own damn business and don’t intend to walk three steps behind men.

There’s quite a pileup of End-Times-types of ominous things going on: crazy, violent or unseasonable / extra-seasonable weather, rapid species die-offs, bigger and frequent earthquakes, volcanoes, incurable illnesses, sickened oceans, pollution everywhere, nuclear disasters, mutations, asteroids, abuses, murders, greed and corruption and war War WAR WAR.

What’s going to happen when it all comes to an end? Is Jesus going to come down from the skies in a blaze of glory with trumpet accompaniment and start smiting everything in sight right away? Suppose He doesn’t make a big production of it; suppose He decides to go the subtle route and come while we’re all distracted by the aforementioned ominous things? Or suppose His followers think He’s some sort of government-created fake or deny Him because their idea of Jesus has distinctly Eurocentric features? It’ll be like Calvary all over again  for Him with a distinctly deja-vu flavor to it.

Suppose he already came and decided every damn one of us, including the Holier-Than-Thou Good Righteous Christians, weren’t worth taking to Heaven? Suppose He just shrugged and decided to let us ALL go through the Tribulations? Suppose He created Armageddon a couple of years ago and didn’t give out prizes to the lucky winners?

Suppose when God first created the universe He decided to take a break for a while? After all, what’s a few billion years to someone who can freakin’ CREATE A UNIVERSE, right? Suppose God figured as long as he provided our world with everything it needed to grow and evolve and proliferate, he wouldn’t bother with checking up on it? Suppose all this was just a test and we failed miserably? Suppose —

Suppose mankind just made up the Bible? The Torah? The Koran? Religion in general? I mean, mankind just slap out might have pulled an L. Ron Hubbard and pulled stuff out of its collective ass, from thin air, and believed in it so hard it all became real to them? Suppose this world is just spinning in space with a race of highly evolved mammals in charge, driving it and everything that lives on it to the brink of destruction, partly because some of them think we’ll all get a magic Do-Over in Heaven based on Brownie Points for the Soul?

Now I happen to believe there is a Higher Power. I also happen to believe wholeheartedly in the existence of angels. (I don’t care if you agree with me or not, I have reasons to believe in angels. Write your own blog if you have a different POV.) Anyway – I happen to believe in a God of love and mercy, whose ultimate judgement will have us examine our consciences for however long it will take us to understand our faults and our virtues. All souls need experience to grow and we all take turns gaining experience in different ways, on different worlds. That’s what I believe.

I don’t believe in the God of Abraham from the Holy Bible anymore, a God who is purportedly a mighty, omnipotent, all-powerful singular God who is inexplicably jealous, which seems a petty trait for an omnipotent entity. People are taught to fear this God who threatened us with Hell ever since our biblical ancestry started us out behind the 8 ball. We never had a chance, we were set up for failure from the get-go if you believe in a Bible that has been added to, subtracted from, translated, interpreted, edited, altered, re-interpreted, lost in translation, cherry-picked and updated to sustain the interest of the latest generation for the past couple of thousand years.

If God knows everything that would happen and is all-knowing forever and ever, what was the point in creating Adam and Eve only to condemn and cast them from the Garden of Eden forever? What kind of parent points out the ONE THING children should not touch, and then leaves the top off the Holy Cookie Jar right there on the counter while he goes and does, I don’t know, parental God stuff. Why did God claim to so love the world if He also gave instructions of how to re-victimize rape victims and how much to sell your daughter for?

What kind of God lists ten strict rules to live by, yet allows certain ‘chosen’ ones like Solomon and David to have multiple wives and concubines? Is there no parity among us; does God play obvious favorites? What kind of Bible for a loving, forgiving God gives instructions on how best to slay enemies and which tribes are bad and which are good? Didn’t God create the WHOLE WORLD? Again with the favoritism! Didn’t He state “Thou shalt not commit adultery”? “Thou shalt not kill”? “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s possessions”?

Why should I believe in a version of God that ordered a faithful man to sacrifice his own son on an altar to God, and then just before the man could plunge a knife into his trussed-up child, God came breezing along and said the equivalent of “Whoa wait, hold up; never mind, I was just testing you. Look, use this ram over here as a sacrifice. Therapy for your kid is optional.” Why does God have a rule of not tempting Him if he’s going to pull a head game like this on his most ardent follower? What a horrible story; it makes God sound like a prick.

For that matter, who said Jews were the Chosen Race in the first place? Well the Jews did of course, but it’s not just Jews who believe God is only in their corner. Every group of God Squad followers thinks it’s special somehow, that it’s been chosen by God Himself and He even chats with the leaders of these groups and anoints each of them and only each of them with all sorts of consideration because those individuals are such incredibly special people!

I’m not Jewish, so why should I follow 5000-year-old rules of a people with whom I have no traceable relation? I have half-Native American, half-British ancestry. If anything I should be closer to Druidism than Christianity. Why should I follow 2000-year-old stories when my native ancestors lived on the other side of the world with good stories too – or they used to before Christian missionaries subjected my ancestors to brutal re-education when they splashed ashore, uninvited and unwelcome.

Over the course of two thousand years men wrote the Bible (using Holy Dictation!) and shored up the text with additional rules and regulations that incorporated other cultures’ mystical stories in order to keep up with the Joneses of pagan pageantry. Misogyny came in thick and fast during the (literally) Dark Ages of history in order to keep their women in line and children in their place. And instead of protesting the tone and balance of power, women went along with it because Inquisition, and That’s How Things Are Done and similar mindsets. People who feel free to wage war as long as its sanctioned by a so-called “loving God,” follow this Bible. People who use fear and coercion and social pressure to manipulate a gullible population, pass it down from generation to generation with plenty of equal helpings of guilt and overweening pride to go around.

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That’s not where my God comes from. My God gave humans the ability to figure out how to solve problems and build a better world, and then stepped back to let us work stuff out between ourselves. My God gave us the wonder and beauty of nature, and an abundance of goods to make it all work through cooperation. My God gave animals souls and feelings and minds too, but it was Man who got the opposable thumbs to hold a writing instrument. My God allows His angels to come give us a boost now and then but the bulk of responsibility for our actions are on us, His creations. My God gave us this life where when we are born we enter this room we now know and when we die, we will go through another door to experience something else, all in the interest of expanding and improving our souls (for whatever ultimate purpose. I don’t have all the answers. This is all pure conjecture. I never said My God speaks to me directly about any of this.) He didn’t expect us to completely screw over the animals or nature or each other all in the name of our own selfish interests. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen because we are free to choose our own course, but He knows what should have happened by now when He made this perfectly good world and left it in our hands.

And boy, is He gonna be pissed off when He gets back.

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“Watsons Don’t Cry.”

griefPeople handle grief in different ways. Some take dignified comfort in the sympathy of loved ones to make peace with the situation; others wail and howl until their pain finds a measure of relief in expression. Still others maintain a stiff upper lip and soldier on bravely.

That was my family. “Watsons don’t cry,” my sisters told me sternly when my father died. The tone of their voices told me they were absolutely serious about it. It wasn’t a playful joke or a riddle; it wasn’t a dare. You by God did not let a single teardrop fall, especially in front of people outside the family – oh, especially not then.

Don’t let anyone see you cry. Crying is a weakness. We don’t do it. We don’t allow for weakness. That is what I was told, and as a nine-year-old child I blindly followed orders.

I never really understood the reason, nor who started it. I strongly suspect my sisters picked it up from our stern, unblinking Grandmother Watson and she from untold generations of equally stoic Muskogee Creek Indians. What, did open mourning somehow lessen the hard armor we were supposed to have built around our tender hearts? Did expressing grief make us physically weak or humiliated beyond repair? How did strangers gain such power to drain us? Did this denial of emotion start on the Trail of Tears or was it something that developed in more recent times? Evidently I would let the family down if I mourned, so I tried hard to maintain that valued stiff upper lip. I’m pretty sure we all privately mourned but to one another we did not cry.

Twelve years later, our oldest sister died in a parachuting accident, a terrible occurrence that did not return her to us except in an ash-filled canister. By then we were all adults, yet The Code was still in force as strong as ever. “Watsons don’t cry; don’t let these people (at her memorial service) see you cry,” my sisters chided.

“Why not? I’m in mourning,” I protested.

“We just don’t do it,” came the stubborn reply.

My mother tried to hold in her grief over the loss of her daughter, her sweet precious first baby girl. Her expression at the memorial was a stone mask but the tears streaked down her cheeks regardless. Well, that was different. She was Mama. Not only that, she was only a Watson by marriage and therefore not to be held completely accountable to the Don’t Cry code.

I… I guess.

Eleven years later, Mama passed away from cancer and pneumonia in a swift and deadly combination. My brother Joe alerted me to come home as fast as I could as Mama didn’t have long, but within an hour he called back to tell me, take my time. She’s already gone.

Mama made it known to us that she did not want be ‘on display’ at the funeral home, and instead be cremated. The nursing home sent her to the funeral home for such arrangements and while transportation happened, our aunts and uncles all insisted to need to view her. They were all born in the early 1900’s when viewings and sitting with the dead were an essential part of the grieving process. That generation even had the awful practice of kissing the dead one last time. No wonder Mama had objected.

But Mama would not have wanted to stress out her elderly siblings any further, so to keep peace in the family Joe gave in to their elderly protests. The funeral directors hastily assembled something appropriate – a cloth-covered bier and Mama in a simple blue dress, her lower half covered in draped cloth. Mama’s face was unlined; her life’s earned wrinkles relaxed to the degree where she was hardly recognizable to me in death. Mama never wore makeup in her life except a little lipstick but in death she wore an odd pink blush on her pale high cheekbones and her lips were an unnatural cherry red. The funeral home did what they assumed was best but in Mama’s case, it all rang false.

Joe and sister Lela and I were on hand to meet the relatives at the funeral home door, and Lela accompanied one of the aunts in. “Ohh, look at Georgie. Doesn’t she look natural,” the aunt cooed as she stroked Mama’s arm.

“No, she looks dead,” Lela said shortly. Now you must realize, Lela was always the tactful one of the family and had a lifelong habit of deferring to elders. Not that day, however. Watsons Don’t Cry and furthermore, Watsons Don’t Like It When The Deceased’s Wishes Are Not Honored To The Letter. Our Watson aunt did not take offense to Lela’s reply. Watsons also have a tendency to be brusk during times of stress and she knew it as well as anyone.

More aunts, uncles, cousins, their grandchildren… and then a neighbor slipped in and then some people Mama used to work with slid in, and before you know it the funeral home parlor and front porch were knee-deep in people she knew from our hometown and workplace. Word must have flown around that small town that Miz Watson’s viewing was that day and people were curious to come in and view her (to see how much age had stolen her looks or some damn thing I suppose) which was something she adamantly DID NOT want.

My brother and I had the funeral director shoo people out and shut the door. We explained to the gathered crowd about Mama’s wishes and that we only intended for our elderly relatives to have a final goodbye. Thankfully the crowd dispersed, disappointed that their morbid curiosity had not been satisfied but they weren’t going to protest to a family so tight-lipped and stern-looking. Watsons Don’t Cry. Watsons Intimidate the Shit Out of Curious Folks.

Nine years later, brother Joe lost his fight with cancer. Embittered by the knowledge that a blood transfusion might have saved him if not for his entrenched belief in the cult known as Jehovah’s Witnesses, I could not work up any tears at the time. The kids and I made it to his bedside only hours before his death and we stayed to attend his funeral. I helped my sister-in-law with the arrangements which kept me busy doing something useful. I was so angry at the stupid Witness policy I had no need to hear “Watsons Don’t Cry.”

Watsons shouldn’t die needlessly either, so play that record until it wears out.

I cried later over the loss of my bookend, my brother. We never debated politics or religion because we felt it was up to us to keep the family communicating together if we could, so we kept a united front of mutual family support. I tormented myself wondering if debating religion might have eventually changed his mind about being a JW, might have encouraged him use his bright intellect to reason his way out of the confining box of erratic religious conformation. Well, never mind; it was too late. He was gone and it was time to cry.

It doesn’t bother me to cry. I don’t think it bothers my remaining sisters to cry now, either. Loss is grief and grief is pain and when I’m in pain, I cry. I don’t give a damn about stiff upper lips and I could not possibly care less if some random yahoo sees me get emotional. There is nothing wrong with emotion. There is no reason to cut oneself off from feelings. Other people’s opinions on what they assume of me, will not weaken me. I am strong enough to allow myself vulnerability for in that vulnerability I draw the greatest strength: love.

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