O say can you TELL by the dawn’s early light?


I find I have been quick to judge our American swimmer Ryan Lochte for his behavior away from the pool in Rio de Janeiro during the Olympic games, and I had a few minutes to sit in my favorite chair this morning to ponder his trials and tribulations while I was waiting for T’s physical therapist to arrive. I love to ponder – particularly when the house is quiet, and today was no exception.

I read moments ago that Speedo and Ralph Lauren  severed their endorsement relationships with Mr. Lochte which led me down the meandering  pondering  quite smug path of See there, I told you so. When you play, you pay…an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Why didn’t you stick to pool parties…I went on and on with this conversation in my mind because it’s a replay of how I’ve felt since the bizarre incident occurred in Rio. Really, Ryan, how stupid could you be. You’re thirty-two years old, for crying out loud. You’re old enough to know better.

Whoa, Nellie…hold your horses. Old enough to know better – that stopped me in my instant replay.  Hm.  Now what was I doing when I was thirty-two years old…that would have been 1978. Hm….meander, meander some more… I was living in Columbia by then and had met the person that would become my lifelong friend but was at the time my best drinking buddy Millie Miller who was happy to spend many evenings with me at local bars until they closed in the wee hours of the morning.  We weren’t always in the best shape when they closed, either. Really, then, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t cast stones, although admittedly my glass house wasn’t part of an international Olympic Games and I wasn’t representing my country at the time. Not to split hairs, of course. The two similarities of this story were thirty-two years old and intoxicated, as I rambled along in my mind. Don’t try to make more of it than that.

So it wasn’t the drunken public exhibition by a member of Team USA in a foreign country that continued to nag at me in the Lochte saga although that would have been enough to keep the story churning. I could finagle that around in my mind to somehow relate to his wanting to celebrate with his teammates after the medals were handed out. Something to be ashamed of when he sobered up, but mistakes are surely made by us all – usually not in front of a gazillion people but hey, nobody’s perfect.

No, that wasn’t the nagging current flowing through my stream of consciousness this morning. It was the lying – an amazingly creative lie to be sure – but a lie nonetheless… followed by his inability to say Hey, I lied about it, and I’m sorry.  Instead, the lie became his “over-exaggeration” of the truth which sounds strangely similar to the acceptable “little white lie.” Ding, ding, ding goes the alarm bell. Don’t tell that to the Brazilians.

Somewhere in my mind there is a disconnect between what used to be known as the truth and what now has become an inability on a grand scale to define. Lying is a way of life in our family relationships, business dealings, political discourse, religious institutions, collegiate locker rooms, football weights, beauty pageants and just about anything else you can think of. You name it – we can lie about it with gusto and embellishment.

I am beyond weary of lies and liars.

But this is clearly not a new problem of the 21st. century.  The major religions of today have all weighed in against lying thousands of years ago via stone tablets and whatever else they could find to write on plus probably on cave walls before that. The universal consensus was that lying is fundamentally wrong but truth is subject to interpretation. My truth might not be your truth, and vice versa.  Clearly Ryan Lochte subscribed to that theory when he invented his own elaborate version of the truth and then tried to redefine it.

I should never have gotten started on this mind meandering today. I feel like I’m digging myself deeper and deeper into a meaningless hole and I hear the voices of my Texas heroines Molly Ivins and Ann Richards hollering from their graves to admonish me that when I find myself in a hole this big, I need to stop digging.

And so I shall. Team USA won forty-seven gold medals at the 2016 Olympics in Rio;T and I heard the Star-Spangled Banner played for many of those medal ceremonies from her hospital room following her successful knee replacement surgery last week and from our bedroom where she continues to recover this week.  Each time we heard it was special with the expressions of the champions ranging from smiles of happiness to tears of joy to thoughtful reflections of awe and wonder…they were moments of truth we shared with them. At least, that’s how my mind meanderings like to think about it. Somebody stop me.

And the Answer is: What is Old People


Every night I take three 500-mg Extra Strength Tylenol tablets from a bottle in my bedside stand – the tablets which my doctor assures me will provide added ammunition against the arthritis in my knees that aims to make it impossible for me to get the bed off my back the following morning.  I’m not crystal clear when I realized I needed to also place a walking cane next to my bed to help me keep my balance when I get up to  let the dogs out in the early hours of the morning, but I’m pretty sure it was sometime this year. Part of the perks of turning seventy.

The same bedside stand is the home for my orange-flavored 81 mg. Bayer Aspirin that my doctor urges me to take every night to help reduce the risks of strokes, heart attacks and other Night Stalkers out and about who threaten to fulfill the part of the “If I should die before I wake” prayer.  And at the risk of too much information, I wouldn’t even have to worry about waking at all if it weren’t for the ambien I take to go to sleep. Sleep was apparently a privileged activity reserved for “pre-menopausal” years and insomnia has punished me for my giddiness at no longer needing to purchase feminine products on a monthly basis.

At any rate, waking up is a big deal every day now. Even when I wake up before the dogs are ready to go out, I feel like it’s a good sign to be able to know where I am, what day it is and who’s in the bed with me. Today I was also filled with optimism for the week because I didn’t have to watch another national political convention; T’s favorite restaurant the Mediterranean Tea Room was opening today after their annual ten-day summer break and that meant delicious leftovers in the refrigerator. We are playing cards with friends on Tuesday and watching the Lady Gamecocks basketball team in a Pro-Am Wednesday night so the week was full of promise for fun.

When I turned on my computer, I began my morning ritual of scanning the AOL news that long ago replaced the local newspaper. Most of the time, I click and click and click with a few stops along the way to read a story with a headline that interests me. This morning was no exception.

Click. Click. Click. And then I saw it: Old People are Holding the Economy Back read the headline of an article written by Andrew Soergel for the U.S. News and World Report online magazine. Oh, my goodness, I thought. Seriously?

Yes. The National Bureau of Economic Research has determined that “a 10% increase in the fraction of Americans at least 60 years old slashes national economic output per capita by 5.5%.” In other words, our country’s aging population is a drag on the economy as a whole. Hiss…I could hear the sounds of the air leaving my happiness bubble as I read the entire article. If the Jeopardy question is what is the cause of economic woes for our country, then the answer is “what is old people.”

Please, please, please don’t show this to the Trump campaign which will add a plank to their platform calling for the deportation of all people over 60 years of age to Russia and/or the Ukraine  to go along with the deportation of all undocumented Latinos and Mexicans to Mexico. I am trying to visualize the process. You old white person – get on the bus to Russia. You suspicious-looking brown person – get on the bus to Mexico. And don’t ever come back – either one of you. Just think of the possibility of confusion in the process, however, if the old white person takes the wrong bus – which I have to say from personal experience is a real possibility.

Thanks to this bit of news, I must guard against my old nemesis Negativity that tries to remind me on a daily basis that my becoming a senior citizen renders my contributions no longer welcome or necessary even to the point that I have become invisible to the eyes of the people I encounter as I walk through my world. Now I must also bear the responsibility for the woes of the national economy.

Hm. Get thee behind me, Negativity. I have a pill for you, too, and I will now hit the Delete button for the AOL news. Click.

I feel better already.

 

 

 

Breathes There the Woman…


Once upon a time (actually in May, 1945) a twenty-year-old clean-shaven, blonde-haired, short in stature, recently honorably discharged 1st. Lieutenant World War II Air Corps navigator flew home to Texas across the pond from where he had been serving in the Eighth Air Force in England since December, 1944. Although his combat service was brief, he participated in thirty-two bombing missions over Germany which were part of the final blows to the Nazi regime.

When he returned to Texas, he immediately eloped with his childhood sweetheart who had been in love with him since she was in the eighth grade when he came to go hunting and fishing with her three older brothers. It was the end of World War II and the beginning of freedom from fear of foreign tyranny  with optimism for life after the deaths and devastation he had seen in Europe.

The following April, I was born into what would become known as the Baby Boom generation. The war ended, the boys returned home to marry their girlfriends who had been waiting for them and then Boom, here come the babies. Millions of us born into families who now had amazing educational opportunities through the miracle of the GI Bill to do what their parents couldn’t have done. My father took advantage of the veterans’ benefits to enroll in college while he also worked to support his little family of me and my mom.

Ultimately, he realized the importance of education as the only way to break cycles of poverty and ignorance. He became a public school teacher, a high school basketball coach and finally superintendent of the tiny southeast Texas school district of Richards in Grimes County, one of the poorest counties in the state. He made very little money, but his name was known and respected by many in his community and beyond.

At the same time he was teaching and coaching, he supported and encouraged my mother to make the fifty-mile round trip commute to Sam Houston Teachers College in Huntsville five days a week so that she could finish her college degree she had started at Baylor University during the War. I was in the fourth grade when my mother enrolled and in the sixth grade when she graduated. She came to teach music part-time the next year when I was in the seventh grade and I have to say it was a nightmare being in my mother’s music class and going to a school where my father was superintendent. I remember thinking it was a curse to my happiness in growing up and I kept wondering why me, God, why my mother and daddy.

But I survived…and in my home there was never a discussion about going to college when I finished high school. No. The discussions were about which college I would attend and how education opened doors of endless opportunities. My father once told me that the whole earth was my territory – that I could be anything I wanted to be if I worked hard and believed in myself.

It was good advice, although I discovered after my graduation from the University of Texas in Austin with an accounting degree and my first job working for a prestigious accounting firm in Houston, that my territory was missing a basic component known as a level playing field.  For example, I made $600 /month working side by side with a male friend who complained about his $900 /month salary. Same job. Same duties. I was a cum laude graduate – he wasn’t. Long story short – I talked to my dad who suggested I confront my HR guy and figure out where the problem was.

My boss Mr. Terrell sat behind a desk as big as my cubicle in an office the size of my apartment. We were on the 17th. floor of the Bank of the Southwest building in downtown Houston, and I looked out on his incredible vista of the city as I sat down to talk. The talk was brief and to the point: I was a woman who might become pregnant  when I got married and, therefore, waste their investment in me while my  cohort John was a man who would get married and become the provider for his family and continue his uninterrupted career. End of discussion.

I explored different parts of my territory while I worked in several jobs as a CPA in the early 1970s from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Northwest  to end up in the southeastern Atlantic Coast state of South Carolina after a detour for a couple of years in Fort Worth, Texas. Every position I had was the same. I always was paid less for equal work. I was in a nontraditional occupation for a woman in those days and struggled against the oppression I felt wherever I went.

I was with my father in his hospital room at Herman Hospital in Houston in August of 1974. He had just gone through the ordeal of a surgery that removed much of his colon and left him with a colostomy bag that he was struggling to get to know.  But he was talking to me about my career and the reality of my territory.  Why don’t you be your own boss then? Why don’t you set up your own CPA business if you don’t like how you’re being treated?

So in a time when our code of ethics prohibited any form of advertising if you were a CPA, I started my own business and made my way with the help of my clients who became my friends for the next thirty-four years from small business owner to financial planning for other small business owners to participating in helping people with savings for education, retirement, and estate planning to provide a safe financial future for their loved ones.

I found my place in my territory, but my father wasn’t with me on the journey. He died in 1976, twenty-two months after that surgery and my conversation with him. He was fifty-one years old.  He was my mentor and my friend and the best example of public service in an era that valued educators.

Now his once-upon-a-time vision of his daughter’s territory will be realized forty years later for another Baby Boomer daughter whose mother dared to believe she could become President of the United States of America.

One of my favorite Texas cousins, Nita Jean, texted me Tuesday night as history was being made right in front of us on the Democratic National Convention floor as we watched from our respective living rooms in Texas and South Carolina. State after state on the roll call cast votes for Hillary Rodham Clinton to become the first woman nominated by a major political party. Honestly, I wept through that entire roll call. Regardless of feelings about Secretary Clinton, it was a moment that affirmed me and every other little girl and woman in this country and was a statement about our worth across the globe that transcended partisan politics.

Nita Jean’s text was jubilant, and she asked me this question: What do you think your father would have thought about this night?

I replied that I thought he would have been ecstatic and happy to celebrate with me!

My dad taught me my love of poetry, and one of his favorite poems I memorized when I was a child listening to him read to me out of his Best Loved Poems of the American People was from the Lay of the Last Minstrel by Sir Walter Scott. I’m sure my father wouldn’t have minded my substituting the word “woman” for “man” on this historic occasion.

Breathes there the woman with soul so dead who 

never to herself has said,

This is my own, my native land.

Whose heart has ne’er within her burned

as homeward her footsteps she has turned

from wandering on a foreign strand…

This is my own, my native land…my territory, and tonight I hear the echoes of a group of women at Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 as they gathered for the first women’s rights convention in the nation. I wonder if they ever dreamed of a day when a woman could be nominated for President. Thank you, Shirley Chisholm and all those women and men who have worked to make the hopes and dreams of that Seneca Falls Convention come true. We the people are better for it.

Human Frailty


Full disclosure to avoid any semblance of plagiarism – I stole this idea from my current favorite BBC series Lark Rise to Candleford. (Current to me but originally aired in 2008 – 2011.) Dorcas Lane is the postmistress caught in a wave of changes to her small town of Candleford in Oxfordshire at the end of the 19th. century. Her notoriety extends beyond the walls of the post office due to her persistent meddling in everyone’s affairs.

Her maid Minnie is a wonderful addition to the cast in the second season with her penchant for asking questions that are “extraordinary.” In the episode I watched today, Minnie is a-twitter with questions about just what does Happily Ever After really mean in affairs of the heart. Dorcas is prepared to answer with wisdom to share and spare.

“We all want life to be simple and our relationships to be enchanted and then along comes human frailty. Before we know it, all will be lost.”

Human frailty. I have seen a ton of that going around in the world lately. So much so that it seems like an epidemic. Waves of it. Oceans of it. Human frailty runs rampant from Orlando to Dallas to Minnesota to Baton Rouge. It zigzags through a packed crowd in a huge commercial truck in Nice, France before striking again in a failed military coup in Turkey. It shouts angry hate-filled  rhetoric in a large convention hall in Cleveland, Ohio before skipping across the Atlantic again  with gunfire in a shopping mall in Munich. Behind every evil stands the specter of human frailty.

Thank goodness for the relief of Lark Rise, a break from the onslaught of bad news on my favorite 24-hour news channels with their 24-hour news cycles. Yes, give me a good conversation with Twister Terrell, another of my favorite friends from Lark Rise, who sums up what happens when human frailty runs rampant.

“Some folks got neither logic nor reason nor sense nor sanity.”

Here’s hoping somewhere… sometime… somebody unravels the key to human kindness and compassion for each other that will not only change the news cycles but enable us to rediscover the logic, reason, sense and sanity that our human frailty disguises.

Like Minnie, I long for Happily Ever After.

 

 

 

 

I Give Up


Big “D”, little “a”, double “L”  – a – s. Dallas, Dallas, Dallas, another notch in your gun belt this week; more snipers take a shot at our ability to wage peaceful parades and protests  while the face of violence lights up within your city limits. Shades of 1963 when you were the harbinger of our national nightmares to come.

I am outraged at the environment of fear and desperation that leads men to believe that shooting each other with guns or blowing up each other with bombs is the only solution to our problems within our borders and across the pond. Prejudices over skin color and religious practices cross oceans, span continents and land right at our doorsteps. And since we have the right to bear arms, we also have the right to shoot them – at each other.

Policemen who are sworn to protect us become caught up in a kind of madness that makes them so suspicious and fearful of  people of color that even routine traffic violations can turn into scenes of degradation and death.  Lives are changed forever – death is permanent – there is no taking back the gunfire that kills an innocent man or woman: no do-overs. And it’s not just that one life taken. The ripple effect in the lives of families and friends is also never-ending.

Take Back the Night? Hardly bold enough. Give Back the Light, I say. Give back the light of acceptance of citizens regardless of race or who they love or where they worship, but without apathy toward those who struggle with less. Acceptance without apathy – do we have leaders capable of recognizing the reality of the feelings of Powerlessness that drive men to fire gunshots against the Powerful…I wonder. And can the Powerful be changed to look beyond the obvious to the pain below the surface…I wonder.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God, Jesus said in his sermon on the mount. I am looking for the peacemakers, I am waiting for the peacemakers, I am hoping that they find their way to Dallas, Texas tonight.

Otherwise, I give up.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dreams Came True!


011

Cinderella Coastal Carolina Celebrates...

The “sugar” game in the College World Series that was scheduled for the night of June 29th. had to be re-scheduled for the following day due to inclement weather, and the crowd that was able to stay for the game the next day at noon was much smaller than the ones on hand for the two previous night games.  But what a treat for baseball fans whether in the TD Ameritrade Park or watching from their living rooms via the magic of ESPN!

Coastal relied on three pitchers throughout the nine innings to throw strikes that left the Arizona Wildcats stranded on bases  when the chips were down. An unexpected bonus was a  young man named G.K. Young, a local boy from the little town of Conway down the road from the Coastal campus, who hit a two-run homer that made the final score 4 – 3. The game was a barn-burner, as my daddy would have called it.

017

G. K. Young a Hero

During a post-game interview with the slugger, G. K. Young said he had dreamed of one day hitting a game-winning home run but that hitting one in the College World Series was more than a dream come true.

013

As for Coach Gilmore, his tears of joy spoke for him. Twenty-one years of keeping on keeping on and believing in himself and his program, his coaches and his players…big dreams of one day taking a team to Omaha and playing in the World Series had already been fulfilled. But to actually win…unbelievable…a miracle. His only regret was that his father wasn’t there to share the moment with him. His father had died two years earlier, and the coach pointed skyward as he said he knew his father was watching.

When the team returned home the next day, more than 8,000 people greeted them as the conquering heroes, and Coach Gilmore again was near tears. “I came here twenty-one years ago and spent the first six months in a trailer with no indoor plumbing”, he said. “And these guys behind me have made my dreams come true.” They also helped him be recognized as the national coach of the year.

And so we say good-bye to the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers and to college baseball one more time. Theirs was a Cinderella story with a Hollywood ending. Thank goodness Wimbledon dreams are still alive for another week of drama and underdogs like Sam Querry who defeated Novak Djokovic, the #1 player in the world, move on to the next round. Casa de Canterbury will be tuned in.

As the Fourth of July approaches, I am reminded of another group of unlikely young men who became heroes as they fought and won our independence to establish a great nation that continues to grant me life, liberty and my personal pursuit of happiness two hundred and forty years later.  I am indebted to those early freedom fighters – flawed as we all are – who never lost faith in their dreams.

It’s About Dreams Coming True


The Grand Slam tennis tournaments are big deals at Casa de Canterbury and this week marks the beginning of the Wimbledon grass courts championships in London, England; so Teresa and I are listening to and half-way watching the ESPN and Tennis Channel coverage of the matches from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily. Wimbledon is always held the last week of June and the first week of July which signifies half of the year is gone and Christmas is only 179 days away. It feels like yesterday was New Year’s Eve and the beginning of 2016, but when Wimbledon is upon us, I can’t argue with the calendar.

Last night we watched Game Two of the College World Series in Omaha because we have a South Carolina team hanging on by a thread to play for the NCAA National Championship tonight.  The Coastal Carolina Chanticleers lost the first game of the three-game title series, but in a must-win game last night, they prevailed 5 – 4 in a fairy tale finish that signed off at midnight in our time zone. The “sugar” game as we used to call the decisive contest in a tie situation, will be played tonight and we will watch if our nerves can stand it. We will tune in to see if our version of a Cinderella team can put together the pitching and hitting necessary to win one for the Gipper, or in this case, their coach Gary Gilmore who has been coaching at Coastal Carolina for twenty-one years… a coach who took over a program that practiced and played on a baseball field covered by hole-digging moles when he was hired.

Tonight his team will play under the lights at TD Ameritrade Park in one of the most storied events  in American sports to find out if they can make his – and their- dreams come true. High drama. Great story lines.

No better story lines than the one today, though, that took place an ocean and continent away in the second round play at Wimbledon.  For a young man named Marcus Willis ranked number 772 in the world, his dreams came true as he had his day in the sun (or in this case under a closed roof) when he played the living tennis legend Roger Federer.  Willis’s road to this moment wasn’t easy. He had to win three pre-qualifying , then three qualifying matches to be admitted to the tournament where he played a first-round match Monday against a much higher-ranked opponent; he won for his seventh win in a row on the grass courts.

 

003

Pinch me, I’m playing Roger Federer…

Wimbledon Matches Played:

Federer 90, Willis 01

005

…on Center Court at Wimbledon

Grand Slam Matches Played:

Federer 303, Willis 01

007

Willis’s Army – his friends who came to cheer him on

009

Roger easily advanced to the third round

008

The records will read Federer defeated the Brit Willis, 6 – 0, 6 – 3, 6 – 4; but don’t ever suggest to Marcus Willis that he was a loser today.  As ESPN commentator Chrissie Evert said with a smile in the post-game analysis, “To me, this is what sports is all about…it’s about dreams coming true.” I couldn’t agree more.

Tomorrow, June 30th., the man who taught me to love sports will have been gone for forty years. I particularly remember my high school and college years when my dad and I watched anything related to sports covered by our ABC, NBC and CBS television networks in Houston, Texas. My daddy loved sports as much as anyone I’ve ever known – he was at his happiest when he saw dreams come true in a sporting event.  I miss him to this day.

Luckily, I married a woman who shares my passion for sports and the underdogs as she shares the rest of my life for better or worse. She makes my dreams come true every day, and I feel like a winner.

 

 

Franciscan Peace Prayer


 

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Please Pardon this Interruption from the 2016 Campaign Trails


The summer of 1960 was a hot one in Texas, as most summers are, but the temperatures at my grandmother’s little round kitchen table where I had eaten for fourteen years were even hotter – and the cause wasn’t just the heat from the frying pan on the stove that held the delicious fried pineapple pies she’d fixed for dessert. Nope. Presidential politics was the fire-starter that summer at our kitchen table and many others around the country. Democratic  nominee John F. Kennedy versus Republican standard-bearer Richard Nixon was a hot topic for us.

My family that gathered around the kitchen table had always voted Democratic. They were the quintessential yellow dog Democrats and lovers of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, they believed, was responsible for putting an end to the Great Depression of the 1930s and bringing a successful ending to WWII. After all, both of their sons had crossed the Pond to place their very young lives in harm’s way for their country, but President Roosevelt had brought them home without a visible scratch. Democrats were “for the people,” as my grandfather never failed to remind me whenever he had an opportunity. He rarely had any opportunity since my grandmother held court in most of our family discussions – which made any remarks from my grandfather more memorable to me.

In addition to their faith in the Democratic Party, however, all of us at the kitchen table – and beyond were members of a small Southern Baptist church in our town. My paternal grandmother, Ma, was very proud of her church attendance and the Christian heritage that went with it. Her faith itself was a mixed bag since she couldn’t keep herself from poking fun at the minister’s sermons every Sunday, but she had very definite opinions on every religious topic including her suspicions regarding the Catholic Church, the Pope and her Polish neighbors who went to the Catholic Church ten miles away in Anderson. My grandmother was prejudiced against Catholics, among other groups.

Here was her dilemma in that hot summer of 1960. The Democratic nominee, Senator John F. Kennedy, was a Catholic. Not just a little bit Catholic, but a whole lot Catholic. He was a card-carrying Catholic, and his family had been Catholics as long as hers had been Baptists and Methodists. Mr. Nixon was not a Catholic. He was a Quaker, of all things, and that really didn’t suit her, either; but she knew Quakers didn’t have a Pope.

My daddy and grandfather argued for JFK at that little table and in other, more public places, and said the idea that he would be taking orders from the Pope in Rome was ridiculous. For one thing, he would be so busy with the Russians that he wouldn’t have time to talk to the Pope about every little matter that came up and plus, with Lyndon Johnson as Vice-President to keep him in check, no Pope could get past him. Lyndon was a Texan who was also a savvy politician in the Democratic Party and hadn’t Senator Kennedy made a wise choice in choosing a man who could move things along up there in Washington without any help from a Pope.

My little kitchen table was a microcosm of the larger anti-Catholic sentiment that was one of the major campaign issues in 1960 and a cause for one of the slimmest margins of victory in American presidential elections . In fact, Senator Kennedy made a swing through Texas with Senator Johnson on September 12, 1960 to give one of his most famous speeches to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association at the Rice Hotel in Houston, Texas. In that speech he emphasized the “far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election; the spread of Communist influence…; the humiliating treatment of our President and Vice-President by those who no longer respect our power – the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills, the families forced to give up their farms – an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space. These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues – for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.

But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured – perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me – but what kind of America I believe in.”

And this is what he talked about in the speech in Houston that evening, an America where separation of church was “absolute” and an America where he wouldn’t be “accepting instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of churches or any other ecclesiastical source…”

Two years later on September 12, 1962, after John Fitzgerald Kennedy squeaked out his victory over Richard Nixon,  President Kennedy returned to Houston to address a crowd of 35,000 in Rice University’s football stadium. I was sixteen years old, just beginning my junior year of high school, and I was there. My dad took me. He said it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear a great President speak in person, and he wanted us to go. There must have been something special about Houston for JFK – that speech became one of the cornerstones of the President’s space program.

“We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people…” I was mesmerized by the President’s words, his delivery and I was in awe of being a part of such an amazing crowd. It was a memory maker, as Granny Selma would say.

The very next year in November, 1963 President Kennedy made a final trip to Texas, this time to Dallas, and was fatally shot while riding in his motorcade. I mourned with the rest of the nation.

Fast forward to the Presidential Election of 2008. On November 04, 2008, President-Elect Barack Obama, the first African-American man to be elected President, gave one of his most famous speeches in Grant Park in Chicago, Illinois, his home town. I shared that moment with Oprah – she was there in person while I watched with Rachel Maddow from my living room. I was in love with another American President just like Annette Bening. Heady stuff.

“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.” he began and his message of “Yes we can” reverberated around the world to give hope that race should not be a barrier to leadership or equality.

Finally this week, there is a presumptive Democratic presidential nominee in the person of former Secretary of State, former New York Senator and former First Lady of the United States and now the first woman ever to be nominated by a major political party: Hillary Rodham Clinton.  Another barrier comes tumbling down as all of us who are the survivors of the feminist movement of the 1970s are fortunate enough to witness the fruits of our labors. The bitter feelings of defeat after the Equal Rights Amendment failed to pass in South Carolina in the 1980s have been replaced by the fulfillment of the promises and dreams I first had when I watched the National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977. Thank you, Shirley Chisholm, Barbara Jordan and Ann Richards. Thank you, Gloria Steinem, for the inspiration to do outrageous acts and everyday rebellions. Thank you, Hillary Clinton, for the massive undertaking of running for President. I admire your resilience and your abilities. Onward.

Remarkably, in my seventy years, I have hit the trifecta! I have personally observed the prejudices of religion , race and gender be revealed to the world for what they are – excuses to exclude and divide people from each other – to build walls instead of bridges. By the dawn’s early light I’ve seen what so proudly we hail at the twilight’s last gleaming…a glimmer of hope for a level playing field for every citizen in our currently great country. Greatness does not mean flawless, but we can – and will –  continue to strive for the right.

As for my grandmother and JFK, I will never know what happened when she voted in 1960 because she refused to tell despite the pleadings of my daddy. In the 1968 Presidential election when I was finally old enough to vote, I cast my first vote for Republican and Quaker Richard Nixon.

My family was horrified.

 

 

 

Memorial Day Matters


Last Sunday afternoon Teresa and Spike and I took advantage of the low humidity and spring-like weather that lasts about a minute in Columbia before we hit the days that make you feel like you could melt any second and drove over to St. Peter’s Cemetery downtown just off I-126. Remarkably, this was a cemetery we had overlooked in our graveyard tours in the past because of its proximity to the much larger Elmwood Cemetery which goes on forever.  (No pun intended.)

What impressed me first was the large number of little American flags standing guard over the graves. It’s a common occurrence for soldiers’ markers to have the small red, white and blue colored flags flying above the veterans’ graves but usually only one or two families bother. Clearly, this was a concerted effort by someone or some group or perhaps St. Peter’s themselves to honor every fallen soldier. Luckily Teresa had her cell phone with her and was able to take pictures.

Memorial Day Pictures from St. Peter's 7

I was taken with the names of the veterans and wondered about their stories from the wars.

Memorial Day Pictures from St. Peter's 9

What was a World War I army nurse from New Jersey doing in a Columbia, South Carolina cemetery, I wondered.  She was born just ten years after the Civil War and somehow ended up as an Army nurse in World War I.  Now she rests here with an American flag that acknowledges her service to her country and two visitors who would like to know how she came to be in this place.

Memorial Day Pictures from St. Peter's 3

James Riley was born in New York  in 1837 and actually served in the Civil War as a Confederate soldier; he died in Columbia in 1924. He is buried here draped with a flag that is the symbol of a country he tried to destroy. Yet, here he is – a survivor of one of the bloodiest wars in American history.

Then there’s Sergeant Charles Edward Timmons, Jr. who served in World War I and was killed in action. His body is buried in France, but his family has honored him with a beautiful marker and  stone flag that flies every day so boldly it practically reaches out for your attention.

Memorial Day Pictures from St. Peter's 6

We also saw one different flag – a German one – lying against a grave in St. Peter’s. Memorial Day Pictures from St. Peter's 8

Hugo Krause was born in Germany in 1855 and died in 1925 in Eastover, South Carolina, which is a small town south of Columbia. Apparently Mr. Krause was also a soldier but served a different country in World War I. Someone is still proud of his German heritage.

So the stones tell short stories of a few of the soldiers we honor this Memorial Day which is a day of remembrance for those who cared enough for what they believed in to offer up their lives to preserve those beliefs. I admire and respect these soldiers for their sacrifices.

My family had members who served in World War I and World War II as well as ancestors who served on both sides of the Civil War and some who date to the Revolutionary War for Independence in 1776. I obviously didn’t know many of them, but I did know my father who was a navigator in the Army Air Corps in 1944-45. He was nineteen years old when he enlisted and sent to officer training school in San Antonio.

He served with the Eighth Air Force in England and flew thirty-two missions over Germany in the short time he was over the Pond. He was never proud of his assignments – the only thing he ever said to me about it was he felt he did his duty.

002

I am proud of the teenager who left his small rural Grimes County, Texas home town, family and friends to do what he thought was right. His country was proud of his service, too, and awarded him the Medal of Honor when he was discharged. On this Memorial Day I will once again respectfully remember  the young man who became the father I loved and all the daughters and sons, mothers and fathers who served in past years and those who serve today who will not be with their own families because they have a reason that puts them in harm’s way every day.

Memorial Day matters.