our community lost a fighter who was also a good friend


Profile photo of Nigel Mahaffey

Nigel M Mahaffey, Jr.

(August 07, 1959 – June 25, 2020)

(photo from Linked In)

The obituary for this friend began “Nigel loved life and was one of the most joyful people to grace this earth.” I couldn’t agree more. He always greeted me with a smile that wasn’t forced, a hug to match the smile. Joyful – that’s a compliment these days when not many people are full of joy. Nigel was a true believer in sharing joy regardless of the circumstances.

Tige and Nigel. Nigel and Tige. I never really thought about them separately because Pretty and I rarely saw one without the other for the past twenty-seven years they were together. Tige and Nigel worked together in their political consulting business, lived in the same neighborhood for most of their married life, and more importantly to us they both loved to play trivial pursuit on regular game nights at their house or someone else’s. If Nigel were here writing this, he would add that Tige, Pretty and another friend named Curtis were always favorite picks for any trivial pursuit team while Nigel joined the race for the last ones chosen that featured me and Curtis’s husband, Dick. Such fun times.

Nigel and Tige made many contributions to the lgbtq community over the past 30 years, not the least of which was their magazine In  Unison which was a professionally produced news magazine intended for the lgbtq community in the southeast. During the early days of organizing our  queer movement in the southern states, In Unison was a powerful voice for a community struggling to discover that voice. The articles in the magazine, the advertising supporters, the distributors – everyone wanted to encourage the co-founders  to continue their positive messaging on behalf of the queer community in South Carolina and the surrounding area.

Pretty and I ran into Nigel and Tige earlier this year at The Kingsman restaurant. Truth be told there were so many gay customers in the restaurant that night I thought I must have missed the invite to a family party. But Tige and Nigel got up from their dinners, gave us both a big hug and we all promised each other we would definitely get together for a game night in 2020.

Opportunity lost forever – Nigel, you would have been my first pick if I were ever made team captain.

I know many of your friends who will join me in grieving your loss, my friend. Rest in peace, Nigel M Mahaffey, Jr.

Stay safe, stay sane, and stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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i heard dave chappelle say shut up, white women. was he talking to me?


In Dave Chappelle’s concert “8:46” he opens by thanking young protesters in the streets today –  carry on, young ones, he says.  You’re good drivers, I’m comfortable riding in the back seat.

I so got that comment. When I watch the protesters in the streets of our major (and minor) cities and towns, I feel exactly the same way. Go on, young people, keep marching. I am comfortable in the back seat with your driving the wheels of change toward a time when equality and justice for all are reality – not just words on handmade signs. Keep at it, young ones, until you reach deep into the heart of every person full of hate, pluck the racism from the blood that flows through it and close the wound in a river of true righteousness.

By the way, make sure you vote in November. We need you to march all the way to the voting booths.

White women, I support you, but shut the f— up. Whoa – what’s that you say, Dave? Ouch. Now that was a little too close for comfort. I was all about you until we got to that comment. Thank goodness for Dr. Laura – since she was one of the prominent white women Dave was talking to and about, right? At first, I was startled by the comment. Then I remembered no one was safe from Dave Chappelle’s surgical cuts. I went from a sharp intake of white privilege breath to a moment of quiet realization that he meant me, too. Thank you for the support, Dave – truly. I know you are sincere.

I also know for sure I do not know the pain of those marching in the streets to claim their identities. I do not know the pain of black women who have lost their sons to police violence, black women who fear for the lives of their children every time one of them  leaves the house. I do not know the pain of siblings who have lost siblings at the hands of those sworn to serve and protect them. I do not pretend to know this kind of pain.

But white privilege? Me? Yes girl, you, said Pretty who tries her best to make me a better person. But remember, Pretty, I’m a white l-e-s-b-i-a-n. Don’t I get a little extra credit for having that double dip scoop on the ice cream of discrimination? Doesn’t count in this cone, Pretty says with finality. Of course she’s right. Sigh.

For more than seven decades I never owned the term white privilege because I came from a poor family growing up in the back piney woods of southeast Texas.  I saved my college money from running six cows with my daddy and grandfather when I was a child. My allowance from my daddy in college was $25 a month. Sometimes he was apologetically late. My first jobs after college were in a rich man’s world of systemic oppression of women financially and every day in the workplace. I didn’t think being white gave me good fortune.

And yet, it did. The older I get, the more I am aware of the racial divide I started out with in my little segregated red brick schoolhouse in 1952 that happened to be on one side of a single street in a dusty southeast Texas town of 500 people where the other side of that main street held a white wooden schoolhouse full of children whose grandparents and great-grandparents were slaves.

Time for me to shut up.

Stay safe, stay sane and stay tuned.

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where am I now that I need me? why Peachtree Rock, of course!


As monuments fall to the ground around us, I was reminded of my love for Peachtree Rock which bit the dust in December of 2013 due to erosion, storms and visitors’ carvings after millions of years of natural life. Named for no one – just a wonderful surprise for amateur hikers and their four-legged friends. (A shout out to my friend Ellen from Great Britain who asked me about the demise.)


IMG_5907

I think I see me at the Peachtree Rock Preserve

We each have our own places that remind us of who we are – or who we would like to be.  Water does it for some people.  Lakes.  Rivers. Oceans.  We are drawn to waters like these for their uninterrupted flows and timelessness.  We can paddle our own canoes on a river or we can swim in an ocean or we can float behind boats in a lake.  Yes, the water reminds us of ourselves and gives us a sense of peace.

Since I am a Taurus and have a general water phobia, I wouldn’t head to the beach to look for myself if I were lost.  No, I’d go for a walk – not actually a hike these days – but a nice walk.  If I were in Texas, I’d look for me in an old Dodge Dakota pickup truck.  I’d be going for a ride in Grimes County to see the rolling hills and pastures filled with cows and horses, the bluebonnets in the spring or the splashes of bright red and yellow leaves on the hardwood trees in the fall. I’d enjoy the absence of traffic on the back country roads.  Usually I’d stop for my walk at the Fairview Cemetery to say hello to my family and friends who rest there now, but the recent losses make this stop too painful so I doubt that’s where I’d find myself today.

No, I think I’d go to South Carolina to the Peachtree Rock Preserve.  I’d park in the little area reserved for visitors to start my walk that is a mile on a narrow trail into the thick forest where lo and behold, I’d come to a clearing about halfway up the trail to find the Peachtree Rock rising majestically in the woods, resting on its perch as it has sat for millions of years.  The rock is as timeless for me as the ocean;  my sense of awe when I first saw it was as deep as the sea is for those who worship its eternal waves.  I’ve only been there once, but the feelings of strength, serenity and sheer joy I felt when I was there make it the perfect place to look for me any day when I seem to have gone missing.

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It was okay for me to bring a friend – 

this is Smokey Lonesome Ollie – he also loved climbing

Stay safe, stay sane and stay tuned.

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summertime and the living is, uh, not quite so easy as we’d thought originally


I asked Pretty to join me on our screened porch last night a little after 9 o’clock. Pretty who had had a stressful day putting out fires she didn’t start, didn’t hesitate. Ok, she said as she began to move outside with me. That’s one of Pretty’s best characteristics – she’s never afraid to switch gears – she’s always willing to humor me when I make a gear switch.  I guess that’s really two exceptional qualities, but who’s counting.

Today is the summer solstice, I reminded Pretty, it’s the longest daylight of the year. I wanted to enjoy it with you, I said. Look, it’s almost 9:15 and just now getting darker.

Pretty exclaimed with enthusiasm – oh you’re right. I’m so glad you suggested the porch.

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You can blame this on the frogs

While Pretty and I talked on our porch last night, I tried to explain to her what was going through my head on this first day of my 74th. summer. The sounds from our porch were connected to the sounds of my earliest memories of summer when I slept in a small double bed with my maternal grandmother while a cheap oscillating fan turned slowly from side to side as it valiantly tried to cool us in the hot humidity of an East Texas heat a thousand miles away from South Carolina, a heat that would not be relieved by opening every window on the porch where we slept or the random whisper of cool air from a small oscillating fan made by Westinghouse. The sheets were always clean but never actually cool.

I never trusted the sheets anyway after discovering a scorpion hiding between them one night.

But it was the sound of the frogs around our pool here on Cardinal Drive – particularly after a rain – that drew me to those hot muggy nights of Grimes County, Texas where I was raised. My grandmother’s wooden house made from a retail catalog blueprint had many design flaws, but its one awesome feature which had nothing to do with the design really, was the magical pond (or tank, as we called it in East Texas) behind her house.

The tank was the focal point of my only-child imagination play stories during the day, but it was the tank’s music of those summer nights I hope will never be erased from my memory. Specifically, it was the frogs, or bull frogs as my grandmother used to call them  just before we drifted off to sleep. The low guttural sounds were always behind the house and were somewhat subdued until every light was turned off at night. But then, those frogs got louder and louder until they hit a mighty crescendo. My grandmother and I laughed out loud when we heard them.

The frogs who live in our backyard on Cardinal Drive are rarely as raucous as the bull frogs in my tank in Richards – I think they are smaller frogs. But occasionally I hear one of those loud guttural sounds looking for something, probably safer water supplies, and I am transported to different days. To a grandmother who guided me with her wisdom – now to a woman who loves sharing another summer solstice with me.

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I was blessed with a loving eccentric family who in the end gave me what they could – so much more than I realized. Today I stand with the Poor People’s Campaign and their national Call for a real Moral Revival to discover a soul within ourselves that will move all people to address the intersection of poverty, systemic racism, social injustices.

One of the co-founders of the movement, Reverend William J. Barber II says, “In the long arc of human history, there are moments when the universe itself groans and declares, ‘It’s time.'”

It is, indeed, time. It’s also summertime and contrary to the Gershwin hit song from Porgy and Bess, the living is definitely not easy for most of our fellow citizens who continue to demonstrate in our streets or elsewhere. Keep the faith. We must do better.

Onward.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

 

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have you heard the one about…


the little old lady who walked into the West Columbia Location of the South Carolina Diagnostic Imaging clinic late yesterday afternoon to have two MRIs performed?

(Masks were provided, social distancing observed by all patients and personnel in the facility – thankfully.)

The little old lady asked if she could take a pain pill before they started. Much younger technician Tammy replied of course and provided her with water while at the same time also offering  her two bright yellow ear plugs. It gets a little loud in there, Tammy said. Would you like headphones with music, too?

Oh yes, said the little old lady. Definitely. Can you have them play ABBA music?

How do you spell ABBA, asked Tammy.

Then we got down to business on my right bionic knee when Tammy rolled me into the MRI tube as the machine began making noises like roofers who are hammering nails in the final sections of replacing a roof. Bam, Bam, wham, bam…louder in staccato…and then in loud warning signals reminiscent of sirens in WWII announcing the bombs are coming, the bombs are coming. But did I care?

Not really because the pain pill apparently kept Abba always singing in the back of those headphones:  lots of my favorites like Take a Chance on Me, Super Trooper, Dancing Queen, Fernando and finally when I thought I would go mad from the hammering noises, Mama Mia (the fav of my grandbaby) sang me out of the first procedure. I pictured the little 8 month old baby loving to bounce up and down in her playpen to Mama Mia. And then I was rolled back out of the tube – thinking ABBA might not have been the best choice for remaining totally motionless during the procedure. I had been tempted to groove just a little, but NO WAY.

After a quick bathroom break, I was back on the table being slid down once again into the tube with its deafening blows to take pictures of my lower lumbar. Tammy remained most professional as she adjusted the headphones for my music. This disc jockey wasn’t a hard core ABBA fan so s/he threw in other fan favorites from the era like Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, the House of the Rising Sun by James Taylor, Carole King I Feel the Earth Move which I did, by the way, when Tammy slid me out of the tiny tube which I felt getting tinier the second go round. For some reason the lumbar didn’t seem to take as long.

Maybe it’s because time had stood still during the 1 and one half hour procedure. Tammy helped me slowly sit up.

While I gathered myself to stand, Technician Tammy said, “I’ve burned you a CD – it should be ready about now.”

To which I replied, “Oh, you burned me a CD? Thank you so very much – that’s really sweet. I hadn’t heard some of those songs in years.”

To which Tammy said in a somewhat subdued tone, “The CD is for your doctor. It’s your images.”

To which I replied, “Oh, well of course.”

Pretty was waiting for me in the car, and when I told her about the CD, she laughed uproariously as only she can do when something is really funny – we both laughed all the way across town to pick up her Wednesday night pasta at her favorite Mediterranen Tea Room. We were still laughing last night when I passed out at 9 o’clock from exhaustion.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

 

 

 

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from tinkering to transformation: the intersection of equal justice under the law


The United States Supreme Court ruled early yesterday morning that gay and transgender people are protected from workplace discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  I heard the actual Breaking News on my tv as I sat in my favorite blue recliner with my dog Charly who really didn’t understand my sudden outburst into tears – not my usual response to the Breaking News recently.

My commitment to social justice issues for more than 40 years made this news especially sweet to an old dyke growing up in the 1950s in a tiny town in the piney woods of southeast Texas. The marriage equality decision by the Supremes in June of 2015 had been huge and one I never thought I would live to see. And now, another unimaginable move forward for the gay and trans communities with protection in the places we work. We can no longer be fired for who we are. The 6 – 3 decision was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, whose phone must be ringing off wherever he keeps it today. Good on you.

Charly has become more accustomed to outbursts of anger with expletives directed at the perfect storm created by the Covid-19 chaotic governmental responses to a pandemic that continues to spike in my home state of South Carolina as it rages along in other states having similar numbers – always sure to warrant choice words from me – plus the murders of two black men by white policemen in recent weeks that have called to our public consciousness once again the systemic racism we have continued to address and ignore sporadically for more than 400 years of our country’s history. As Maya Wiley, an attorney and American Civil Rights activist, explained “We must move from tinkering with change to true transformation.” Amen to that.

My Texas sister Leora called me early today and shouted a loud “Congratulations!” over the phone. I was not quick enough to understand what she meant. When I asked her, she said for the Supreme Court decision yesterday for you and Pretty and all the other people who are trying to find equal justice where you work. I was overwhelmed and told her my celebration had been muted by the other horrific acts in recent days to which she responded: “You can breathe right now in this one place so celebrate the moment. We can all breathe again when we get the knees off our necks because of George Floyd’s death.” My African American sister gets it – the intersection of all of our hopes for a day when equal justice under the law is more than just empty words. I love Leora for many reasons, but today I love her for reminding me to be happy.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

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a moment’s pause from the madness – enjoy!


In the midst of continuing spikes in the coronavirus in our state of South Carolina and yet another senseless killing of a black man by police brutality in our neighboring state of Georgia last night, Pretty and I took the afternoon off from pandemics, systemic racism and mayhem to spend a few hours with our 8-month-old granddaughter. We invite you to share these moments of joy with us.

Billy Blue is my Go-To toy at the Nanas’ house

NanaSlo has a shiny watch

NanaT is in charge of the most important bottle

Pool Time!

NanaSlo, here’s your shiny watch

Hm. 

Now where did I get this Happy Birthday toy?

It’s hard work standing up all the time

Luckily I found my best friend Passy

Hooray for the Passy!

Charly is ok, but I think I make her tired

NanaT is in charge of the food, too – she does it all

My name is Ella James – the Nanas love me the most! 

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

 

 

 

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I can’t breathe


Webster’s Thesaurus defines moral as “ethical, or right and wrong, or proper conduct, personal. Ethical, right, proper, virtuous, just fair, aboveboard; pure, honest, high-minded, saintly…”

Democracy is defined in the same dictionary as “government by the people, representative government; state having government by the people. Fairness, equality, political equality.”

After the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmad Arbery in recent days, we have an opportunity to become better people – I hear the voices of our higher angels calling us to be just fair.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

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notes of two native daughters, a native granddaughter, and a native daughter-in-law


Two years ago Pretty planned a trip for us and two other family members who live in Texas to visit the newly opened Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama plus several other historical sites related to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. We called it our Civil Rights tour, but we could just as easily have called it our Black Lives Matter tour. This post was originally published here in May, 2018 – I dedicate it to the memory of George Floyd whose funeral service is today.  The work of equal justice for all is never finished.

This quotation from Maya Angelou is written on the walls of what is now The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration located on the site of a former warehouse where slaves were kept in prison while awaiting their fate in Montgomery, Alabama before the Civil War and the emancipation proclamation. Pretty, our tour guide, had made reservations for us to visit this museum at 9:30 last Saturday morning so our group of four was up and about very early on a gorgeous warm day. Our motel was right around the corner from the museum so we all walked over – still laughing and teasing each other about the winning and losing from the card games the night before.

The museum itself is open to the public by reservation, but it is not staffed by tour guides. Everyone is allowed to wander at their own pace to read the explanations of the artifacts, documents and jars of dirt collected at verified lynching sites across the country from 1882 to the present. The number of sites is still undetermined but from 1882 – 1968, nearly 5,000 African Americans were reportedly lynched in states across this country. Congressman John Lewis who wrote the foreword for the book Without Sanctuary calls these lynchings the  “hangings, burnings, castrations and torture of an American holocaust…what is it in the human psyche that would drive a person to commit such acts of violence against their fellow citizens?”

Our group split up as we meandered around through the various amazing exhibits. Pretty and I wandered in one direction, Leora and Carmen went off on their own journey through time as we all saw the intimate lives of American slaves come alive through the magic of hologram technology that portrayed the heartache of families savagely separated from each other, the pleas of the children looking for their mother. Interesting fact:  approximately 12 million people were kidnapped over the three centuries of slave trade to America, according to The Legacy Museum. 12 million living, breathing individuals. I felt overwhelmed by the atrocities with each turn Pretty and I made on our visit.

Overwhelmed, ashamed, guilty, angry – those are the emotions that swirled around in my mind with each personal account of my legacy as a white person in America. The pictures that showed cheering crowds of us – sometimes in the thousands – while an African American man was hanged, shot, burned…pieces of his body sold as souvenirs…post card pictures made…popcorn sold. I dreaded looking at the people watching the horrific acts in a party mood with as much fear that I would recognize someone in the crowds as the fear I felt for forcing myself to look at the actual horrific acts perpetrated by the mob violence. I couldn’t even begin to imagine how Leora and Carmen felt.

“The museum connects the legacy of slavery with subsequent decades of racial terrorism and lynching. Visitors see the link between codified racial hierarchy enforced by elected official and law enforcement with both the past and the present. Contemporary issues surrounding mass incarceration are explored with interactive exhibits and examination of important issues surrounding conditions of confinement, police violence, and the administration of criminal justice.”  (Legacy Museum – Equal Justice Initiative)

Interesting fact: One in three black male babies born today is expected to go to jail or prison in his lifetime.  One in three. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world. In 1979 when Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs, roughly 320,000 people were in prison in our country. Now, the current total incarcerated is 2.1 million people with a higher percentage of people of color.

As Pretty and I were getting ready to leave the museum, Pretty wheeled me to a very large interactive map of the USA. By merely clicking on an individual state, the number of lynched persons discovered to date in that state was highlighted. I foolishly couldn’t resist my native state of Texas. The total number was 338. The interactive map also showed the details by county: the name of the person and the date of the lynching. I made the mistake of going to my home county, Grimes, and saw the names and dates of 10 black men lynched there. Right in my home county. Where were my grandparents on those days, or did I really want to know?

Shortly thereafter, Pretty and I left the museum. Leora and Carmen were not far behind us. We were all truly lost in our own thoughts and the walk back to the hotel was very quiet.

As usual, Pretty saved the day by encouraging us to finish packing for checkout, finish the leftover food in our room, and call for our car. We were headed for what turned out to be redemption for us all at the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and a woman named Wanda who helped us shift our focus from evil to good. Hallelujah!

daughter-in- law Pretty, daughter Leora,

granddaughter Carmen,  daughter Sheila

(clockwise left to right)

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

 

 

 

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STOP KILLING US – a peaceful protest in Red Bank, South Carolina


 

Protest in Red Bank, South Carolina, USA on June 02, 2020

WISTV.com

If all lives matter, then why are you not OUTRAGED by Americans being murdered, tear gassed and arrested for peaceful protests? (sign held by woman in the middle)

If a small percentage of looters discredits an entire movement, THEN what does a small percentage of BAD COPS DO??? (sign held by woman at the end)

My thanks to our friend Michelle who came to take Spike for his walk this morning and mentioned the protest this week in Red Bank, South Carolina. She told me two of our local TV stations, WISTV and WLTXTV, had aired a brief broadcast about the gathering this past Tuesday, June 2nd.,  in the midst of the much lengthier coverage for the larger protests continuing this week in Columbia, the state capital.

Minneapolis, St. Paul, New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Phoenix, Seattle, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, Atlanta – I’ve watched this week as hundreds of thousands of Americans have taken to the streets of our major cities to protest the senseless murder of George Floyd by the police in Minneapolis. The news coverage has been 24/7 since the crime was committed on May 25th.

Red Bank is not an incorporated community, but it is locally recognized and identified by name as a census-designated place in Lexington County which is distinguished primarily as the politically conservative next-door neighbor of the more liberal larger city of Columbia in Richland County. Crossing the Congaree River from one county to the next sometimes reflects more than a geographical change on a map.

According to the news reports, Highway 55 Burgers Shakes and Fries teamed up with Sandpit Fitness in their shopping center to offer a place for the protesters to peacefully gather to make their voices heard on the matters involving the death of George Floyd. Like their counterparts in Columbia and other cities across the world, their messages were direct, simple, profound. Stop killing us, won’t you?

The police were called by someone who feared these people and their signs in Red Bank. However, no arrests were made.

Amendment 1 to the Constitution of the United States says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

The people of Red Bank are citizens of the United States; they are entitled to petition our government for equal justice and fair treatment by police officers who are sworn to serve and protect all citizens. They may not have a town hall, but they have a right to their voices.

The events of the past week since the murder of George Floyd have weighed heavily on us in our home. Pretty and I are outraged by the police actions we have seen with our own eyes as we are also outraged by the ongoing failure of the leadership of our country at the highest levels. The president is a shameful disgrace devoid of any pretense of compassion. He stood as the fairy tale emperor with no clothes when he held a Bible in front of a church after an assault on peaceful American protesters to make way for him to pass by.

And yet as I have watched the diversity of the crowds peacefully protesting, I share a hope with former President Obama who admonishes us to look to the next generation for answers to the problems of race we leave them as part of our legacy. We should have done better. Now they must do better if our democracy is to survive.

To the Red Bank peaceful protesters for a better nation, I say thanks to you for your courage to exercise your rights. Onward, together.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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