MLK Day in 2021


“As I began doing the research for this email and was reading the speeches of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I had no idea that the events – the breach of our national Capitol building on January 6th  would occur.  As the news broke on January 6th I was shaken and I was horrified.  There are multiple reasons that we. as a nation, got to this terrible moment. My question to myself and to you is “what do we do next”?  As I turned back to Dr. King, I read about his vision of building a Beloved Community and found some hope.”

These words were written by a friend of mine and found their way to me via another friend. I identified with these feelings of being shaken and horrified, and I was sure I needed a good dose of hope. What better way to honor Dr. King on MLK Day in 2021 than returning to his own words. For example, he wrote the following in his Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom essay on May 4, 1966.

“I must continue by faith or it is too great a burden to bear and violence, even in self-defense, creates more problems than it solves. Only a refusal to hate or kill can put an end to the chain of violence in the world and lead us toward a community where men can live together without fear. Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives…The American racial revolution has been a revolution to “get in” rather than to overthrow. We want to share in the American economy, the housing market, the educational system and the social opportunities. The goal itself indicates that a social change in America must be nonviolent.

If one is in search of a better job, it does not help to burn down the factory. If one needs more adequate education, shooting the principal will not help, or if housing is the goal, only building and construction will produce that end. To destroy anything, person or property, can’t bring us closer to the goal that we seek. The nonviolent strategy has been to dramatize the evils of our society in such a way that pressure is brought to bear against those evils by the forces of good will in the community and change is produced…”

To me, as my mother used to say when she was about to make a proclamation on a controversial topic, the people involved in the attack on our nation’s Capitol weren’t interested in a beloved community. I’m not sure if the insurrectionists who participated in this violent revolution had a vision of any community.

How long had it been since I read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous letter penned from a Birmingham jail on April 16, 1963, five days before my seventeenth birthday – finishing my junior year in a totally white high school in a still very much segregated Texas Gulf Coast town, vaguely aware of the Civil Rights Movement and one of its principal leaders – probably consumed by my hormones that created crushes on girls unaware of my attention as I was unaware of a black minister imprisoned in Birmingham, Alabama who would change the course of American history, a minister now recognized with a National Holiday every third Monday in January since 1983.

“But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the
outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America’s destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands.”

My thanks to my friend whose words encouraged me to take a fresh look at the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Prize for Peace winner at the age of 35 in October, 1964 – four years before he was assassinated while standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 04, 1968 by a man described as a white supporter of segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace.

Reading Dr. King’s essays bring me comfort and hope, too. I encourage each of my cyberspace friends to google his essays and read them in their entirety.

In May, 2018 Pretty and I met our Texas sisters Leora and Carmen in Louisiana to spend a few days on Pretty’s guided tour of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama. In addition to great barbecue and fun times playing cards at night, we went to the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church in Montgomery.

We squeezed in under the wire for the last tour of the day for the church following our visit to The Legacy Museum that morning. The church was rich in history but was usually identified by its connection to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who was its pastor from 1954 – 1960. The meeting to launch the Montgomery Bus Boycott was held in the basement of the church on December 2, 1956.

What an incredible experience we all had with our tour guide Wanda – her joy in sharing the history of the church was infectious…her storytelling made the history come alive. She provided opportunities for our personal interactions within the sacred surroundings. One moment from the church basement tour stood out to me as I settled into my thoughts on a riverboat ride later in the afternoon.

The original lectern Dr. King used in his meetings was still standing in the basement of the church. Wanda allowed each of our small group of six (another married couple from Kansas had joined us) to stand behind that lectern and repeat his words: “How long? Not long.” I put both my hands on the lectern as I repeated the short phrases, how long? not long. I felt a crack in the veil of shame for an entire race that I had worn since The Legacy Museum visit earlier that day. If Dr. King could say “not long,” then surely time was meaningless; redemption was still possible for all who repented. How long? Not long.

I wanted to add “too long.”

This week on January 20, 2021 we will inaugurate a new President Joe Biden and a new Vice President Kamala Harris. I was in the camp advocating a small private ceremony in a basement bunker somewhere – maybe I was the only one in that camp. Pretty being Pretty said ah, ah, no way. We can’t let domestic terrorists steal our celebration, our joy. My Texas sister Leora agreed with Pretty and also reminded me of Dr. King’s Mountaintop speech.

“Well, I don’t know what will happen now.  We’ve got some difficult days ahead.  But it doesn’t matter with me now.  Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.  And I don’t mind.  Like any man I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now…God’s allowed me to go up to the mountain.  And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land.  I may not get there with you.  But I want you to know today that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.  And I’m happy, today,  I’m not worried about anything.  I’m not fearing any man.”

The Covid pandemic has changed all of our lives in the past year. The political unrest is unnerving, but our struggles are small in comparison to those of a young African American minister who refused to surrender to fear.

Happy Birthday, Dr. King! I will be thinking of you and your legacy of hope for a beloved community in the days to come.

Stay safe, stay sane, and please stay tuned.

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yep – this is who we are


The images flashing across the television screen this week were appalling but compelling. I couldn’t look away, even when I didn’t want to see, much less believe, what was happening in my nation’s capitol. An estimated 10,000 of mostly white people who looked like me stormed the Capitol building in Washington, DC where the Senate and House of Representatives were in session to count the votes the 50 states’ electors had sent to the two bodies for a ceremony that was usually a pro forma final recognition of the results of the previous November election.

Not so much this year. Donald Trump, not unlike Humpty Dumpty, had sat on the largest wall of power in the world as president of the United States and had suffered a great fall when he lost his position in a free and fair election on November 03, 2020. Since that loss, apparently all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Donald Trump together again.

The king’s men ran around the country challenging election results in scores of courts ranging from state and federal courts to the Supreme Court of the United States with the same decisions. Humpty Dumpty lost fair and square; please stop bothering us with baseless complaints. But Mr. Trump, who had spent most of his adult life in court battles long ago learned to believe the courts were fallible – even unreliable. He thought his appointment of not one, not two, but three Supreme Court justices during his term of office would finally give him the wins he so desperately craved through the legal system. Shockingly, to him and me, the courts held fast and repeatedly ruled against him.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch or the White House if you prefer, the Covid pandemic raged on with more ferocity than a Category 5 hurricane. Ignoring the warnings of our medicine men, millions of Americans traveled throughout the country by plane, train, bus and automobile during the holiday season to visit friends and family who either unknowingly carried the coronavirus to the travelers or caught it from them. Rates of infections in the past two weeks have skyrocketed while hospitals and their staffs have been stressed to breaking points. Deaths stand at nearly 370,000 individuals today. Mr. Trumpty hasn’t noticed, or if he has noticed, he hasn’t commented on the losses.

He did, however, promise that the king’s horses would deliver a hundred million doses of new vaccines by the end of 2020 when in fact Newsweek reported on December 28th. that the actual number of vaccines administered on that date was closer to 2.1 million. Another loss to absorb and ignore.

Was it really just one week ago today that Mr. Trump called the Georgia Secretary of State to ask him to find 11,780 votes to reverse the results of the November election in Georgia? Gosh, that bullying phone call, which accomplished nothing more than another revelation of his delusion, seems tame now compared to the events I witnessed four days later on January 6th.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again. Mr. Trump’s big lie that he won re-election in November, a lie that he tweeted incessantly over social media, a lie that he used to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from his more than 74 million faithful followers who voted to re-elect him was the lie that led to the images of destruction and deaths in our nation’s Capitol this week.

Many of the king’s men and women reported for duty at a large rally in which the king and his surrogates urged them to storm the Capitol to bring an end once and for all to the transition of power to anyone other than himself on January 20th. Mr. Trump promised to march with them to accomplish the coup that would guarantee Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would not replace him. It was Humpty Dumpty and Custer’s last stand. By the way, he retreated to the safety of the White House to revel in the dangerous mission instead of keeping his word to join the march.

The painful images keep coming – new ones every day – the wonder of cell phone cameras recording the faces and horrific actions of mob violence in my country. I feel overwhelmed, depressed, shamed, sickened at the sights of the attack on our democracy displayed for the world to see.

President-Elect Biden and I grew up in the same generation, and from his words of hope and his insistence that what happened this week was not what America really was, I knew he and I were on the same page. The man carrying the Confederate flag in the rotunda of the Capitol, the man sitting with his legs propped up on a desk in Speaker Pelosi’s office, the men and women shattering glass, breaking historic relics, vandalizing individual offices, in general disrespecting the building that represented the legislative branch of our government – those people whose actions resulted in the deaths of five others – they weren’t the Americans Joe Biden and I remembered.

Nonetheless, we are the Americans who immigrated from faraway places, spread disease and killed the population living on this land in order to take the land from them. We are the Americans who used slavery to build on this land, to work the crops on the land, to be the backbone of our agrarian economy. White equaled might for us and when the colors of our nation became more colorful, we are the Americans who feared for our destiny.

When Joe Biden and I celebrated putting a man on the moon, we are the Americans who refused to guarantee health care for everyone. While he and I celebrated rugged individualism, bringing ourselves up by our bootstraps, we forgot some people didn’t have boots. More recently, we looked past the atrocities of Guantanamo Bay, brown children separated from their families living in cages at our borders, black children denied access to quality education which placed them at higher risk for quality jobs, poor people of all races who live today in food insecurity also known as hunger. Gun violence, police brutality toward people of color, denial of climate change, homelessness – the list goes on. We are all of these Americans.

But Mr. Trump and his white nationalist friends are losers. He lost the presidency, he lost the Senate, and he lost the House of Representatives for his Trumpty Party. His attempt at overthrowing our democracy failed. His white nationalist friends are scattering to the winds as quickly as the planes can fly them home. The reality show is over for now.

I believe Joe Biden and I can listen and learn to be better Americans. I think Kamala Harris will help raise the consciousness of what the next generation of Americans can be. That thought gives me hope for my granddaughter’s future.

***********************

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

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the final new year


 

She sat in her large recliner covered with worn blankets for extra warmth.  She was shrunken with age and her spine was so curved by scoliosis she slumped down into the bowels of the chair. It seemed to swallow her tiny body.

She lost weight since she went to this place three months ago.   She didn’t eat. Her meals were pureed in a blender and fed through a large syringe. Open, please. Thank you.

She wore bright blue flowered pajamas which I knew didn’t belong to her. She was covered by a Christmas blanket and looked like an incongruous mixture of Hawaii with the North Pole.

Her beautiful white hair was uncombed, and she periodically raised her right hand to carefully brush a few strands from her forehead. There, that’s better.

Two other women sat in similar recliners in the dark den lit only by the reflected light of a massive television screen which was the focal point of the room.

The sitcom How I Met Your Mother was playing that afternoon.  No one watched this episode about misadventures on New Year’s Eve. I found the irony in the sitcom’s name since the woman in chair number one was my mother.

She needed care for the past four years, and I regularly sat with her as her dementia progressed in medical jargon from mild to moderate to severe. Severe was where we were on that first day of 2012.

I tried to talk to her about visiting my aunt, her sister-in-law, over the weekend.  No response. Mom had adored my Aunt Lucille so I thought she might be able to find her somewhere. Instead, she gazed at her black leather shoes on the floor in front of her. Slowly, very deliberately, she bent over and painstakingly reached for her left shoe. I moved to help her because I was afraid she’d fall out of the chair.

Do you want to put on your shoes, Mom? She stared vacantly at me and shook her head. Ok, I said and returned to my seat on the large overstuffed sofa next to her chair.

I made conversation with one of two sisters who cared for my mother and the two other mothers who sat in the recliners.   Mothers and daughters and sisters. We were all connected in the little den with the big tv.

My mother ignored me as she continued her ritual of laboriously picking up her black shoes one by one, tugging on the tongue to ready it for her foot, fiddling with the shoelaces as if to adjust them and then lowering the shoe to the floor in front of her to the same place it was before. She did that over and over again. Ad infinitum.

During one of her attempts, she dropped a shoe beyond her reach, and I put it in front of her chair with the other one. Do you need help to put on your shoes?  I asked again. No. I have to keep on this road, she answered.  She was on a mission.

The mother in chair number two told me she tried to help my mother with her shoes earlier. She told me to get away from them so I did, the woman said with a note of exasperation.

I’m sorry, I said.  That wasn’t really who she was. But I was wrong. That was who she was now.

I talked and tried to avoid watching my mother and her little black shoes for an eternity that was only an hour. Mom, I have to go, I said.  She looked at me with some level of recognition and said Don’t leave me.

I’ll be back in a day or two, I said, hugged her and kissed her on the cheek and told her I loved her.

I love you too, she said.  I really do.

*********************

I didn’t know on New Year’s Day in 2012 that my mother would be gone in April after years of waging war against an unknown enemy who robbed her not only of her body but also her mind, her memories. It was a losing battle, but I expected the loss.

Estimates place 1.6 million homes around the world in 2020 hadn’t known its mothers, sisters, wives, daughters as well as its fathers, brothers, husbands and sons wouldn’t live to see the first day of 2021. Shocked, dazed, saddened by the unexpected deaths of family members and friends, the fight against another unknown enemy called Covid-19 was briefer than my mother’s war but just as deadly.

Vaccines discovered at “warp speed” offered hope of victory over the Covid-19 devil in 2020 although the roll out at the end of the year has been poorly managed in the US in keeping with the tradition of pandemic mismanagement established at the federal level in previous months. Agent Orange is so busy trying to keep the presidency through wacky shenanigans since the November election that he has no time to participate in governing. The president is AWOL, and time has stood still during the political transition while members of the current administration remain persistently unconcerned about preserving either our national security, our democracy or our sense of compassion for the people whose lives will be forever changed by the events of 2020.

Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted, according to the gospel of Matthew. Garth Brooks sang of “taking any comfort that I can.” I’m hoping 2021 will be known as the year of comfort for mourners everywhere.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

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from the prom to white christmas to 2021


Pretty and I began Christmas Day with a musical comedy called The Prom that started streaming on Netflix in December with a cast that featured three of our film favorites, Meryl Streep, Kerry Washington and Nicole Kidman. The movie got mixed reviews from the critics (whoever they might be) but came highly recommended to us by several friends as a must see. Even though I knew nothing about it, my feeling was any movie with Meryl is a must see.

Spoiler alert: The movie was about a high school girl in a small town in Indiana who wasn’t allowed to come to her prom because she wanted to bring another girl as her date. The plot sang and danced its way from one twist to another turn, from the longing of young lesbian love to the more political issues of inclusion and discrimination. Lavish musical production numbers, intimate dialogue among the key characters, Kerry Washington as a mother with a penchant for control that rivaled Olivia Pope in Scandal, Nicole Kidman with legs that went on forever, a musical Meryl having fun in the spirit of her Mama Mia movie in 2008. Director Ryan Murphy combined a variety of love stories set to music sung and danced to by a cast of talented performers that also featured James Corden, Keegan-Michael Key and Jo Ellen Pellman as the teenage lesbian heroine. Pretty and I were thoroughly entertained.

What struck me as I watched from the comfort of my recliner, however, was the message of the movie. In 2020 teenage lesbians coming of age in outgoing VP Pence’s home state of Indiana weren’t intrinsically bad kids. They were legitimate heroines; their love could be celebrated, not condemned. What a difference sixty years make. I shed more than a few tears mixed with laughter as I relived the emotions of my teenage yearnings for the “love that dared not speak its name.” Going to a prom with another girl in West Columbia, Texas in 1964 was as unimaginable for me as becoming Vice President of the United States.

Christmas night Pretty and I settled in for another musical comedy on Netflix: White Christmas starring Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney (George Clooney’s aunt on his daddy’s side), Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen, another dancer whose legs went on forever. This classic was made in 1954 when I was 8 years old and while I have no memory of seeing it that Christmas, I do remember watching several times when it was replayed on television over the next six decades. I had, of course, forgotten almost everything about White Christmas except the song “Sisters,” a dance routine Clooney and a dubbed Vera-Ellen sang in costumes Beyonce and Tina Turner must have worn at some point in their careers. Did I mention Vera-Ellen’s legs went on forever? Well, Pretty was more impressed with her tiny waist which was practically nonexistent.

The amazing costumes for White Christmas were created by Edith Head, one of Hollywood’s most prestigious costume designers who won eight Oscars during her career but not one for this technicolor film. No, the only Oscar for the movie went to Irving Berlin for the title song which is purportedly the largest selling single record of all time if you can trust Guinness World Records that places sales at more than 50 million copies. Pretty came up with the interesting research that Bing Crosby had recorded the song years before the 1954 movie was made – that’s Pretty for you, and she’s always right. Crosby introduced “White Christmas” for the first time on Christmas Day on his radio show in 1941, days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Pretty and I spent Christmas day with our dogs, our gas logs and Netflix movies. This year we had no travel plans, no holiday get together with friends; but we had enough memories of our past twenty years together to make the day as special as our first Christmas. We had Mexican food leftovers purchased the day before at our favorite go-to small restaurant near our home. Life is better with salsa.

The pandemic of 2020 changed not only our lives but also the lives of everyone on the planet forever. On Christmas Eve we opened gifts at the home of our son and daughter-in-law to share the joy of our granddaughter Ella James who at age 1 was more interested in opening the packages than what was inside. It was a memory maker, as my mother used to say.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned as we face 2021 together. Pretty and I wish better days for all our friends in cyberspace in the New Year.

 

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winter solstice, the great conjunction and k.t. oslin


Last night Pretty came home from a trip to the upstate, sat in her favorite chair, started peeling shrimp from the low country for supper and mentioned we needed to be sure to go outside to view the Great Conjunction when she finished eating. Thank goodness the weather person on the 6 o’clock news had spent much of his time talking about the Great Conjunction; otherwise, I might have appeared ignorant to Pretty.

And, but, or, for, nor, so, yet – coordinating conjunctions – seven words that connect other words, phrases, clauses, or sentences. The Great Conjunction which occurred on December 21, 2020 didn’t refer to these little conjunction words sprinkled throughout my writing – oh, how I love a good conjunction. No, the Great Conjunction is the name of a planetary phenomenon that takes place every 20 years when Saturn and Jupiter pass each other at their nearest point which I won’t even begin to try to explain in planetary distances except to say they are way farther than it is from South Carolina to Texas. Think gazillions of miles.

When Pretty finished eating, our little band of two plus three dogs walked single file as she opened the door to the backyard. The first day of winter, the winter solstice, meant darkness came early and stayed late. Night snuffed day like smokers snuffed cigarettes. Pretty and I stood together in the dark while we stared at the enormous sky above us. The dogs trotted off to make rounds.

“Darlene told me it’s to the left of the moon,” Pretty said. “Or maybe she said the right of the moon.”

“Your sister’s best help was starting with the moon?” I asked.

“Yes. I think she figured that’s the only thing we could find.”

“Point taken,” I said. But harsh.

We stood searching the skies until I said, “I think I’ve found them.”

Pretty followed my finger pointing to the right of the moon and said, “That’s a satellite. I can see it’s moving. You can’t see Saturn or Jupiter moving at that speed.”

We gave up our search for the Great Conjunction after a few minutes, even though this was the closest the two planets had been since 1623. We were cold, the dogs had completed their rounds, ready for warmth and treats. The next Great Conjunction would be in 2040…something to look forward to.

The only good thing I can say about the winter solstice with its longest night of the year is it starts the countdown toward spring. For 2021, I am also counting down toward inaugural events including the inauguration itself signaling a change in the direction of leadership in America. I am counting down to successful vaccines that will make Covid 19 as far removed from the world as Saturn is from Jupiter. I am counting down to longer days and longer lives, too.

The year 2020 is the poster year for lives lost across planet earth due to a pandemic known as Covid. The world of country music hasn’t gone unscathed from that plague or other vicissitudes of life, as my daddy used to say. Kenny Rogers, Mac Davis, John Prine, Joe Diffie, Charley Pride, Charlie Daniels – to name a few. Little Richard, who I wouldn’t call a country singer exactly, but a singer who always entertained me when he performed and played his piano. Elvis’s grandson Benjamin who died at the age of 27 and is now buried next to him at Graceland. I didn’t know Elvis had a grandson.

But on the day of this winter solstice, two more women died from Covid. K. T. Oslin’s name was added to the 2020 country music losses. K. T. (born Kay Toinette Oslin on May 15, 1942 in Crossett, Arkansas ) was one of my favorite singer/songwriters ever. Her music spoke to me as it did to thousands of other women in the eighties decade of the twentieth century when I was much younger and much more energetic just like the other boomers. In the late 80s I saw her perform in a concert in Greenville, South Carolina. She was fabulous: sexy, gorgeous, singing only to me. “80s Ladies” was her biggest hit first released in 1987, but I’ll never forget this one. How about you? Do Ya?

youtube.com/watch?v=f5VGto1-N8U

On 12-21-20 the State newspaper reported 21 deaths; 2,121 new Covid cases in South Carolina. One of the 21 people lost in the state was Pretty’s aunt, the eldest of her mother’s eleven brothers and sisters. The purpose of Pretty’s trip to the upstate I mentioned earlier was to stand with her sister and many of their first cousins outside a nursing home to sing carols to her three aunts who lived there. All three aunts had Covid. Unfortunately, Thelma the eldest aunt died in the early morning hours before they arrived, her Aunt Cooter was being taken to her doctor who later in the day diagnosed her with pneumonia and the third aunt, Iris, had severe dementia. She wouldn’t remember them or their visit, but family had gathered to celebrate “the aunts” with familiar Christmas carols while I stayed home to try to stay safe which is my Christmas wish for all of our friends in cyberspace this holiday season.

I encourage each of you to stay safe, stay sensible, stay sane and please stay tuned.

Posted in family life, Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, politics, Reflections, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

dear Santa, send boxing gloves


Before you ask yourself whether you’ve read this story before, I can say possibly – it’s a seasonal favorite of mine.

*********************

“Dear Santa Claus, how are you? I am fine.

I have been pretty good this year. Please bring me a pair

of boxing gloves for Christmas.  I need them.

Your friend, Sheila Rae Morris”

“That’s a good letter,” my grandmother Dude said. She folded it and placed it neatly in the envelope. “I’ll take it to the post office tomorrow and give it to Miss Sally Hamilton to mail for you. Now, why do you need these boxing gloves?”

“Thank you so much, Dude. I hope he gets it in time. All the boys I play with have boxing gloves. They say I can’t box with them because I’m a girl and don’t have my own gloves. I have to get them from Santa Claus.”

“I see,” she said. “I can understand the problem. I’ll take care of your letter for you.”

Several days later it was Christmas Eve. That was the night we opened our gifts with both families. This year Dude, Mama, Daddy, Uncle Marion, Uncle Toby and I went to my other grandparents’  house down the hill from ours. With us, we took the See’s Candies from Dude’s sister Aunt Orrie who lived in California, plus all the gifts. I didn’t like to share the candy, but it wouldn’t be opened until we could offer everyone a piece. Luckily, most everyone else preferred Ma’s divinity or her date loaf.

The beverage for the party was a homemade green punch. My Uncle Marion had carried Ginger Ale and lime sherbet with him. He mixed that at Ma’s in her fine glass punch bowl with the 12 cups that matched. You knew it was a special night if Ma got out her punch bowl. The drink was frothy and delicious. The perfect liquid refreshment with the desserts. I was in heaven, and very grownup.

When it was time to open the gifts, we gathered in the living room around the Christmas tree, which was ablaze with multi-colored blinking bubble lights. Ma was in total control of the opening of the gifts and instructed me to bring her each gift one at a time so she could read the names and anything else written on the tag. She insisted that we keep a slow pace so that all would have time to enjoy their surprises.

Really, there were few of those. Each year the men got a tie or shirt or socks or some combination. So the big surprise would be the color for that year. The women got a scarf or blouse or new gloves for church. Pa would bring out the Evening in Paris perfume for Ma that he had raced over to Mr. McAfee’s Drug Store to buy just before he closed.

The real anticipation was always the wrapping and bows for the gifts. They saved the bows year after year and made a game of passing them back and forth to each other like old friends. There would be peals of laughter and delight as a bow that had been missing for two Christmases would make a mysterious re-appearance. Ma and Dude entertained themselves royally with the outside of the presents. The contents were practical and useful for the adults every year.

My gifts, on the other hand, were more fun. Toys and clothes combined the practical with the impractical. Ma would make me a dress to wear to school and buy me a doll of some kind. Daddy and Pa would give me six-shooters or a bow and arrows or cowboy boots and hats. Dude always gave me underwear.

This year Uncle Marion had brought me a jewelry box from Colorado. He had gone out there to work on a construction job and look for gold. I loved the jewelry box. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any jewelry.

“Well, somebody needs to go home and get to bed so that Santa Claus can come tonight,” Daddy said at last. “I wonder what that good little girl thinks she’s going to get.” He smiled.

“Boxing gloves,” I said immediately. “I wrote Santa a letter to bring me boxing gloves. Let’s go home right now so I can get to bed.”

Everybody got really quiet.

Daddy looked at Mama. Ma looked at Pa. Uncle Marion and Uncle Toby looked at the floor. Dude looked at me.

“Okay, then, sugar. Give Ma and Pa a kiss and a big hug for all your presents. Let’s go, everybody, and we’ll call it a night so we can see what Santa brings in the morning,” Daddy said.

*********************

“Is it time to get up yet?” I whispered to Dude. What was wrong with her? She was always the first one up every morning. Why would she choose Christmas Day to sleep late?

“I think it’s time,” she whispered back. “I believe I heard Saint Nick himself in the living room a little while ago. Go wake up your mama and daddy so they can turn on the Christmas tree lights for you to see what he left. Shhh. Don’t wake up your uncles.”

I climbed over her and slipped quietly past my sleeping Uncle Marion and crept through the dining room to Mama and Daddy’s bedroom. I was trying to not make any noise. I could hear my Uncle Toby snoring in the middle bedroom.

“Daddy, Mama, wake up,” I said softly to the door of their room. “Did Santa Claus come yet?” Daddy opened the door, and he and Mama came out. They were smiling happily and took me to the living room where Mama turned on the tree lights. I was thrilled with the sight of the twinkling lights as they lit the dark room. Mama’s tree was so much bigger than Ma’s and was perfectly decorated with ornaments of every shape and size and color. The icicles shimmered in the glow of the lights. There were millions of them. Each one had been meticulously placed individually by Mama. Daddy and I had offered to help but had been rejected when we were seen throwing the icicles on the tree in clumps rather than draping them carefully on each branch.

I held my breath. I was afraid to look down. When I did, the first thing I saw was the Roy Rogers gun and holster set. Two six-shooters with gleaming barrels and ivory-colored handles. Twelve silver bullets on the belt.

“Wow,” I exclaimed as I took each gun out of the holster and examined them closely. “These look just like the ones Roy uses, don’t they, Daddy?”

“You bet,” he said. “I’m sure they’re the real thing. No bad guys will get past you when you have those on. Main Street will be safe again.” He and Mama laughed together at that thought.

The next thing my eyes rested on was the Mr. And Mrs. Potato Head game. I wasn’t sure what that was when I picked it up, but I could figure it out later. Some kind of game to play with when the cousins came later for Christmas lunch.

I moved around the tree and found another surprise. There was a tiny crib with three identical baby dolls in it. They were carefully wrapped in two pink blankets and one blue one. I stared at them.

“Triplets,” Mama said with excitement. “Imagine having not one, not two, but three baby dolls at once. Two girls and a boy. Isn’t that fun? Look, they have a bottle you can feed them with. See, their little mouths can open. You can practice feeding them. Aren’t they wonderful?”

I nodded. “Yes, ma’am. They’re great. I’ll play with them later this afternoon.” I looked around the floor and crawled to look behind the tree.

“Does Santa ever leave anything anywhere else but here?” I asked. Daddy and Mama looked at each other and then back at me.

“No, sweetheart,” Daddy said. “This is all he brought this year. Don’t you like all of your presents?”

“Oh, yes, I love them all,” I said with the air of a diplomat. “But, you know, I had asked him for boxing gloves. I was really counting on getting them. All the other boys have them, and I wanted them so bad.”

“Well,” Mama said. “Santa Claus had the good common sense not to bring a little girl boxing gloves. He knew that only little boys should be fighting each other with big old hard gloves. He also realized that lines have to be drawn somewhere. He would go along with toy guns, even though that was questionable. But he had to refuse to allow boxing gloves this Christmas or any Christmas.”

I looked at Daddy. My heart sank.

“Well, baby,” he said with a rueful look. “I’m afraid I heard him say those very words.”

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(This is an excerpt from my first book Deep in the Heart: A Memoir of Love and Longing  published in 2007 when I was 61 years old. The following Christmas one of my best friends Billy Frye gave me a pair of boxing gloves – better late than never, Santa.)

From our family to yours, wherever you are and whoever you call family, Pretty and I send our hope for some moments of joy during this remarkable 2020 “holiday” season tainted by the loss of loved ones, physical separation from friends and family, and an ongoing war with an unseen enemy that attacks us with seemingly random ruthlessness.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

Posted in Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, politics, racism, Slice of Life, sports, The Way Life Is | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

cross over the bridge


In June, 2015 two separate events captured the attention of not only the United States but also countries on other continents. Yes, indeed. We were part of the good, the bad and the very ugly. I wrote this piece the day after the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage was the law of the land,  the day of the funeral for the Reverend Clementa Pinckney who was one of the Emanuel Nine in Charleston, South Carolina.

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Traveling to East Tennessee last week, Pretty and I listened to a collection of Patti Page hits. One of the songs she sang in this album which was recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1997 was Cross Over the Bridge – a song I hadn’t heard since 1954 when Patti originally recorded it –  but one I remembered singing while my mother played the yellow piano keys of the ancient upright piano in our living room in the tiny town of Richards in rural Grimes County, Texas. My mom bought sheet music like some people bought cigarettes back then…she was addicted to it. One of her favorites was Cross Over the Bridge so naturally eight-year-old me learned the lyrics as my mother sang and played which meant I was able to sing along with Patti in the car while Pretty and I rode through the gorgeous vistas of the Upstate of South Carolina toward the incredible views of the mountains in East Tennessee. Mine eyes did see the glory.

Cross over the bridge, cross over the bridge…Change your reckless way of living, cross over the bridge…Leave your fickle past behind you, and true romance will find you, Brother, cross over the bridge.

Admittedly this is a love song in the tradition of the 1950s favorite sentiments, but as I was trying to digest and cope with the overwhelming seesaws of emotion I felt yesterday, crossing bridges came to mind.

Yesterday morning I woke up in a new world…truly a new world for me and my family. The Supreme Court of the United States lifted my status as a citizen. I was no longer “lesser than.” I was a person who mattered. By recognizing the fundamental right to marry for all same-sex couples in every state in the nation, SCOTUS recognized me as a person who was entitled to my own pursuit of happiness with life and liberty guaranteed as a bonus.

Two years to the day after the favorable ruling in the Edie Windsor case that gave equal federal treatment to the same-sex marriages recognized in twelve states and the District of Columbia at the time, the Supremes crossed a bridge to leave a fickle past of outright discrimination behind all of us and yes, to allow true romance for whoever we love. We crossed a bridge to walk a path toward full equality for the entire LGBTQ community because of the efforts of people who worked at coming out to their parents, friends, co-workers – everyone in their daily lives – to reveal their authentic selves.

It was a day of rejoicing for Pretty and me in our home; we were beside ourselves with an emotional high as the breaking news unfolded on the television before our eyes. To hear a Gay Men’s Chorus sing our national anthem outside the building in Washington, D.C. where history was being made brought chills and tears to our eyes. We savored the moment together.

But the celebration was cut short by the next four hours of the television coverage of the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of the Emanuel Nine slain in his church in Charleston, South Carolina the week before when he was leading a Bible Study group at the church. The celebration of his life was a long one for a man who had lived the relatively short life of only forty-one years. But this man’s life had counted for more than his years.

He began preaching at the age of thirteen and was a pastor at eighteen years of age. The men and women who reflected on Reverend Pinckney’s life did so with exuberance and humor as they told their personal stories of interacting with him as friends, family and co-workers. The picture that emerged was that of a good man who loved his family, his church and his country with its flawed history of systemic racism. He was a man on a mission to make life better for those who felt they had no voice to speak about their basic needs of food and shelter, their educational opportunities, a flawed criminal justice system. He was a man who cared, he was passionate about making a difference.

He was murdered by another kind of man who had a reckless way of living and a disregard for the sanctity of human life. He was murdered by a white man who was taught to hate the color black as a skin color in a society too often divided by colors, creeds and labels. We need to change our reckless way of living as a people.

We need to open our eyes and our hearts to see glimpses of truth, as the old hymn admonishes. Open our eyes that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me. And may we not just see the truth, but may we speak and act as though the truth is important because it is. When our eyes are opened, for example, to the pain the Confederate Flag flying on the public state house grounds inflicts on a daily basis to many of our citizens, we must make every effort to take it down. We must speak up and act out. (the flag came down on July 10, 2015)

President Obama spoke in his eulogy about the grace that each of us has from God, but that none of us earned. Regardless of our concept of God, we know grace is unmerited favor. We live in a country of contrasts and  sometimes conflicts, but for those of us to whom grace has been given, we are compelled to share this bounty with everyone we encounter – whether they agree or disagree with us in our political ideals. This is harder to practice than preach. Reverend Clementa Pinckney both preached and practiced grace  in his life as he crossed another kind of bridge – a bridge we will all cross at some point.

The tragedy of his untimely crossing took Pretty and me on a roller coaster of emotions as we watched the funeral yesterday. From the euphoria of the Supreme Court ruling early in the morning to the depths of despair as we remembered the losses of the Emanuel Nine during the funeral of Reverend Pinckney to the stirring tribute filled with hope by President Barak Obama that raised our spirits once again to believe in the possibility of grace; we crossed over two bridges in one day that we will never forget. Patti Page had none of this in mind when she sang her love song in 1954, but I’d like to  think my mother would be happy to know her music inspired more than a little girl’s learning to carry a tune.

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Five years later we continue to cross over the bridges of systemic racism that divide us in this country. The murder of George Floyd in May of 2020 ignited marchers in the streets around the world to cross bridges for civil rights with similar passions to those of  John Lewis and the others who crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama in 1965. I believe the Black Lives Matter movement along with the passing of civil rights icons Congressmen John Lewis and Elijah Cummings were the beginning of the end for a Trump presidency that failed spectacularly to successfully combat an enemy known as Covid 19 in 2020 – an administration committed more to the stock market than  the welfare of its citizens, a presidency that encouraged politics of divisiveness over unity, a political party with ongoing threats to democratic cornerstones. The loss of nearly 300,000 American lives was, and continues to be, a bridge too far of failed leadership that resulted in the contentious removal of a one-term impeached president  by 81 million plus voters in the November election; 74 million people voted to re-elect him. But that’s a topic for another day.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

Posted in family life, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, politics, racism, Random, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, sports, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy Holidays! Clearance!


my books

I have signed new copies available of several nonfiction titles of mine that will make great holiday gifts for yourself or someone you love:

Get ’em while they’re not hot for $5. each plus shipping cost of $3.99. You can send $ through paypal.me/SHEILARMORRIS

Pardon the interruption for this shameless self promotion. As my daddy used to say, whosoever tooteth not his own horn, the same shall not be tooteth. That was my dad.

Stay safe, stay sane and please stay tuned.

Posted in family life, Humor, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, politics, racism, Reflections, sexism, Slice of Life, sports, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Happy Birthday, Finn!


 Sunday November 29th. is the tenth birthday of our good friend Finn who visits us frequently in the summers because he loves chess games on the porch, Texas hold ’em high stakes games, trivia with Alexa, racing cars on my iPad while we watch tennis on TV, our barking dogs, me, his Auntie T (also known here as Pretty) and our swimming pool. Probably in reverse order.

 

 

chess requires deep concentration

Pretty and I have known Finn since the day he was born – his parents Dave and Saskia were close friends for several years before his birth. In Pretty’s previous life as a realtor she helped them find their home when they moved to Columbia to teach at the University of South Carolina. 

Continue reading

Posted in family life, Lesbian Literary, Life, Personal, photography, Reflections, Slice of Life, The Way Life Is, The Way Life Should Be | Tagged , , | 4 Comments