two singular American warrior women: one shared destiny


Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s parents, Johnny and Ellery Brown, have had a front row seat at their 51 year old daughter’s confirmation proceedings to be appointed the first Black woman to the United States Supreme Court during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s public hearings this week. Their faces remained noncommittal, even stoic, when their daughter’s faith, views on pornography, questions of character were attacked by the Republican Senators in the room.

The confirmation hearings that began with President Joe Biden’s nomination of Judge Jackson had a zoo-like quality with the zookeeper a/k/a Chairman Dick Durbin doing his best to maintain order – decorum was out the window. Johnny and Ellery Brown had undoubtedly seen worse behavior as natives of Miami growing up in the Jim Crow South but as public school teachers in Washington, D.C. they had also seen the impact of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s which gave their children more opportunities for success. Judge Jackson was born on September 14, 1970 in Washington, D.C.

When Judge Jackson was 27 years old in 1997, a woman named Madeleine Albright, who then President Bill Clinton had nominated to become the first female Secretary of State, went through her own Senate confirmation hearings in an atmosphere much less combative than the circus she was forced to endure. Republican Senator Jesse Helms who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee led then United Nations Ambassador Albright through the process that ended in a unanimous Senate vote to confirm. Wow. Those were the days.

Madeleine Albright was born on May 15, 1937 in Prague, Czechoslovokia (now the Czech Republic). In 1939 the Nazi occupation forced her family to become refugees in England, but they returned home after World War II; only to flee again when the communist coup occurred. Her father Josef Korbel had been a member of the Czechoslovokian diplomatic service and sentenced to death by the communist regime. The second time her family fled Madeleine and her mother Anna took a ship to Ellis Island in November, 1948; Josef joined them later. They eventually settled in Denver, Colorado where Josef accepted a postion at the University of Denver.

Madeleine Albright’s storied career represents to me the best of America. To be “the first” woman in any field, to be known as a woman who “tells it like it is,” to successfully navigate the political land mines of our nation’s Capitol to serve our country in an ever changing world – these are accomplishments we celebrate; but to achieve as an outsider, a refugee, demands our highest honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom bestowed by President Barack Obama in 2012.

Madeleine Albright died yesterday, March 23, 2022 following a long battle with an enemy we all know: cancer.

The first woman ever called Madam Secretary of State left us as the first Black woman battled for her position on the Supreme Court in a contentious, even embarrassing at times, public hearing while her parents, husband, daughters, brother and others watched. The coincidental timing was remarkable to me.

Yet I had a spirit of hope for the future when I heard Judge Jackson’s answers to the questions posed yesterday, a glimmer of hope for equality and fairness for my granddaughters. I also felt that same spirit of hope in the legacy Madeleine Albright leaves, her persistence in pursuing freedom for all nations, the world peace she strived for. I salute both of these warrior women during Women’s History Month for their shared destiny, for the heritage we can honor by emulating their courage in our own outrageous acts of everyday rebellions.

Onward.

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the battle my grandmother lost


March is Women’s History Month. I planned to write a new post today to celebrate a universally celebrated woman, but I have two excuses for re-blogging this post from February, 2019: (1) I was glued to the televised Senate confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court nominee by President Biden of a Black woman, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who I sincerely believe will one day be universally celebrated (2) I unabashedly celebrate one of the women who was certainly not well known beyond Grimes and Walker County, Texas but a woman who loved me dearly for as long as she lived.

my early years in my hometown of rural Richards, Texas

(circa 1949)

my dad and me at a family picnic in matching shirts

made by my grandmother (circa 1951)

a birthday party dress made by my grandmother (circa 1951)

my grandmother made this dress and a  picture postcard of me

for her family Easter card in 1949

Bless her heart. My grandmother tried and tried to reshape my fashions which upon reflection she probably hoped would reshape my life. One of the most dreaded phrases my mother ever spoke to me – the one that made me cringe-was “Your grandmother is making you a new dress and needs you to walk down to her house to try it on. No arguments, no whining, just go.”

I absolutely hated to stand on her little stool while she endlessly pinned away to make sure  the pattern she bought from a grand clothing store in the much bigger town of Navasota  fit perfectly on my small body. She pulled, tugged here and there, made me turn around as she measured whatever cloth she had purchased when she bought the pattern. I prayed silently that the aroma I smelled was her pineapple fried pies…the only possible redemption from the hell of being poked and prodded for a new dress I didn’t want to wear.

My grandmother Betha Day Robinson Morris and I lived within shouting distance of each other in the tiny town (pop. about 500) of Richards until my dad found a new job that took us out of the place I called home when I was 13 years old. Our new home in Brazoria was less than two hours from Richards so we came back every other week for most of my teenage years. Distance did not deter my grandmother from her sewing, however.

She usually managed to have something for me to try on whenever we visited. I finally surrendered to her passion for sewing because as I grew older I came to understand sewing was an important part of her life, but to this day I dread hearing Pretty say she brought something home for me to try on.

my grandmother surveys her granddaughters

before Easter Sunday church services in 1963

I was 17 years old and wearing a dress my grandmother made for me

while my younger cousin Melissa modeled her store-bought outfit

My grandmother continued to sew for me until I was in my twenties. Every Christmas she wrapped a large box in her best wrapping paper and favorite bow saved from the previous Christmas to give to me. I always opened with feigned surprise at the dress she made for me to wear to church and praised her for being able to still find the perfect pattern and material for me even when I wasn’t there to try it on.

I’ll never forget the last time I opened a gift of clothing she made for me. She had made a pants suit – unbelievable. I could see she was pleased with herself for breaking from the dress tradition she wanted me to wear to making the pants she now understood would forever be my choice of clothes. The year was 1968 – I was 22 years old – my grandmother would have been 55. The pants suit represented a rite of passage for both of us.

Unfortunately, I never could bring myself to wear the pants suit which was made with a hideous polyester fabric and a horrible bright green and white large zig zag pattern. I couldn’t bring myself to wear it, but I carried it with me around the country wherever I moved for the next 30 years. I would carefully hang it in my closet as a daily reminder of  the love my grandmother gave me for as long as she lived.

My grandmother Betha was a flawed individual but what I wouldn’t give today to hear my mother say “Sheila Rae, your grandmother is making you a new dress and wants you to try it on. No arguments, no whining, just go.”

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

P.S. When our granddaughter Ella gets new clothes, she can’t wait to try them on! Her mother Pretty Too has a friend Nicole who has a sewing machine and recently taught herself how to sew in a week – my grandmother would have been very impressed with that.

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leaving moon behind, but you’re still on my mind


Well, it’s Old Blue Monday my paternal grandmother Ma began her weekly letters to me while she sat on her little Singer sewing machine stool in front of the large window that gave her a view of her backyard. That phrase was my first thought when I began my walk in the early dawn before the sun rose today. It was old blue Monday, but my walk wasn’t.

The moon looked almost full like a big circular white cloud against the sky above me when I stopped to watch a lone goose (possibly duck) that had broken ranks with four others to give me a personal “missing man” flyover today. I listened every day on my walks for the sounds of the birds migrating through my neighborhood on their way to wherever they called home. I tried to hear them before they came into view so I would know how many to look for. I guessed the group this morning was small; when the five birds came into sight, they were flying in a triangular formation similar to military aerial special jets like the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds. My goose today left his group, circled back directly over me, and then flew off to rejoin the others. How cool was that?

I left the moon behind, though, and kept walking as my own jumbled thoughts were keeping pace with my steps: from the war in Ukraine that was always close to the surface, to the Gamecock women’s basketball team on their way to the Sweet 16 in Greensboro Friday, to Rafael Nadal’s loss in the Indian Wells tennis tournament championship yesterday. I also made space in my mind to worry about Pretty who was on a day trip to Georgia in our old Dodge Dakota pickup that would be loaded down when she stopped to deliver her treaures to her antique booths in Little Mountain this afternoon. I could always worry about Pretty and our granddaughters.

Hm. Macro worry to micro worry. Yep, they call me the worrier for good reason.

Our driveway was my final hill to climb. Carport Kitty welcomed me home in her usual soft meow. Out of nowhere on the kitchen steps came the memories of a K.T. Oslin song I’ve loved since I first heard her sing it many moons ago.

You’re still on my mind, still on my mind. I’m still missin’ pieces from this broken heart of mine. Now don’t get me wrong here I don’t do this kind of thing every day. I was just doin’ a little walkin’, doin’ a little talkin’ to myself, and it brought you to my mind again. You’re still on my mind – now I feel like I need to talk to someone from those good ole times.

All of you are still on my mind today – I’m asking for peace instead of conflict, safety instead of peril, comfort through despair, the power of grace over broken hearts, and the opportunity for every missing person to find the way home.

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Ukrainian President Zelenskyy to America: I have a dream. I also have a need.


In listening to an emotional virtual appeal by Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy to the Congress of the United States this morning, I felt the despair of this leader who had watched his beautiful country together with many numbers of its men, women and children obliterated by an evil neighbor for reasons known only to that neighboring country’s president and his supporters.

If President Zelenskyy could sing, and I don’t know whether he can, he could have closed with some of the words and music of “I Look to You,” singing along with the American gospel group Selah from their album Hope of the Broken World:

As I lay me down
Heaven hear me now

Winter storms have come
And darkened my sun
After all that I’ve been through
Who on earth can I turn to?

I look to You, I look to You

After all my strength is gone
In You I can be strong I look to You, I look to You
And when melodies are gone
In You I hear a song
I look to You

I don’t know if I’m gonna make it
Nothing to do but lift my head

My levees are broken
My walls have come crumbling down on me
The rain is falling, defeat is calling
I need You to set me free
Take me far away from the battle
I need You to shine on me

The people of Ukraine are looking to us and our Allies around the globe for help to stop not only the physical crumbling walls but also the assault on our vision of freedom and our democratic way of life. Make no mistake, as President Zelenskyy has consistently reminded us, the destruction of Ukraine is but the beginning of a world war against securing the blessings of individual liberty for all people and for their posterity.

I have a dream, Zelenskyy said to the Congress today, but I also have a need to reclaim the skies over Ukraine, to stop the senseless bombing of my citizens and our homes. He is looking to us.

Yes. We see you, we hear you, we feel your pain.

Message to President Biden, Vice President Harris, Secretary Blinken, Congressional members:

We must help. Do what you think we can do – and then do more.

Photo by Katie Godowski on Pexels.com

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Tweety Bird said I Tawt I taw a Puddy Tat…


Pretty’s cryptic text read thank you for sharing this horror. She was referring to my photo of the victim in the tale, the deceased bright red cardinal lying in state at that very moment on the lid of our city of West Columbia green trash roll cart.

Carport Kitty – the picture of innocence

Bully Cat leaving the scene.

Guilty until proven innocent!

I caught a glimpse of Bully Cat and a black cat racing past the carport when I opened the kitchen door that afternoon. Not an unusual sight for me since I regularly guarded Carport Kitty’s food bowl from her scavenging enemies or conniving conspiratorial friends. I’ve never figured out which category they belonged to; but I knew BC and company looked bigger, younger, stronger, more well fed while CK remained frail regardless of her food intake.

When I accidentally discovered the remains of the cardinal in the yard a few minutes later, I thought well what did you expect? This is the cycle of the animal kingdom which you have invited into your family. Sigh. I picked the little fellow up, gently placed him on the lid of the roll cart, took a photo for posterity and sent it to Pretty who was properly horrified. Misery loves company.

Pretty and I both agreed Carport Kitty couldn’t have been the culprit. Surely she was much too old and slow with her weak back legs to catch anything. Which left us with You Know Who to accuse.

…and then Tweety Bird said I did, I 100% did taw a puddy tat.

The End.

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INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY


Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

International Women’s Day

Dedicated this year to the women of Ukraine

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

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call it like I see it? heck no! today I call it like we’d rather hear it


Covid is over – no need to ever wear a mask again. Anywhere. All gone. If you see someone wearing a mask these days, like at the grocery store or ball game or again, anywhere, that person is a wild-eyed raving liberal who never voted for Donald Trump for president in America or Russia.

Vladimir Putin has no evil intentions toward Ukraine or any other country really. Instead, he has strong leadership in Russia where he is adored by 71% of the Russian people and by Donald Trump who always knows a good deal when he sees it. Putin’s army of 200,000+ surrounding Ukraine should not be considered excessive forces, and their march toward taking over a third nuclear plant in that country is to protect the people in Ukraine from blowing up themselves along with NATO allies and the European Union. Besides, Americans don’t need to worry about what goes on over there.

Joe Biden should have left well enough alone without trying to support his vision of democracy. The good tourists who walked through the US Capitol on January 6th. 2021 were simply tring to prevent a peaceful transfer of power since Biden had been elected in an unfair election. And now look where we are because of him. Back in bed with NATO supporting a small country with a president named Zelenskyy whose name we can’t even spell, much less pronounce, because he won’t do the right thing and surrender to Putin before his country is blown to smithereens. Putin just wants to get back what belongs to him and his oligarchs who insist their yachts were legitimately obtained.

And don’t even get me started about the gasoline prices.

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

Oh, wow. That was fun. Who knew misinformation or disinformation could be entertaining. To quote Pretty this morning, I’m depressed by having my news ruined by the truth – which inspired me to forget truthtelling for a day to write fiction we’d rather hear. Sigh.

Please stay tuned – truth is stranger than fiction.

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going home


As the wheels of our jet plane touched down last Wednesday the 23rd. of February on our runway at the Houston Intercontinental Airport, Pretty shared the news that Texas governor Greg Abbott had sent a letter to the Department of Family and Protective Services, calling on licensed professionals and the general public to report the parents of transgender minors to state authorities if it appeared the minors were receiving gender affirming medical care which would now be considered child abuse. I tried to process that bombshell news as our plane screeched to a halt and taxied to our gate. No time really for deep thought as we disembarked and joined the hordes of passengers trying to find the baggage carousel while throngs of people pushed against us moving in the opposite direction to board flights bound for who knows where. We must have looked like ants that had lost their GPS – going back and forth, to and fro, hurry, hurry.

Pretty blamed my break up with Texas on the weather. We left temperatures in the sunny 70s in South Carolina only to be met by a ferocious cold wind as soon as we stepped outside the Houston terminal. Jesus Cristus, we were freezing. Our motel for the first two nights of our visit was on Lake Conroe near Montgomery where Pretty and I had a home for four years, and the woman who checked me in that first night punished me for my comment on her not wearing a mask while advertising Covid safety protocols on their website. She put us in a room facing the lake, but it was only accessible by carrying our luggage through a wind tunnel with gusts of hurricane force. I recognized revenge when I felt it; I was chilled to the bone. Pretty was, too. I also recognized the look she gave me when we got to our room, the look that meant why can’t you leave things alone just once, Boomer?

Texas was the place I’d been born in 1946, the place I had been educated by public schools through high school, the place I had graduated from college, the place where I had my first grown-up job at what was then a Big Eight accounting firm in downtown Houston, and finally the state I left a year later in 1968 to seek my fortune in a city that was as foreign to me as South Carolina was to South Dakota. For the next fifty plus years no matter where I roamed I always flew and/or drove home to Texas for Christmas and usually in the summer time to reconnect with family and friends; to celebrate the mystique of the spirit that defined native Texans as, well, native – to renew the bond I had with the land itself. When my mother became someone else who couldn’t remember how to play the piano and was in a memory care unit in Houston, I stayed for long periods of time in the state with Pretty’s encouragement to be with her.

This visit, however, was our first trip back since 2017. That would be five years in case anyone is counting. New knees and Covid were the main culprits in my sabbatical from the state. Yet here we were for four nights and days that would be filled with visits to family and friends who had kept in touch over the years: meeting friends at a favorite Mexican restaurant the first night we were there, taking donuts to talk to three little boys who were small when we last saw them but now had grown up and were taking classes online; calling on a cousin who will be 98 this month and still going strong, another cousin who now at 81 is the primary caregiver for her husband she has always adored, two first cousins who met us for lunch and brought pictures from the past that sparked memories, memories.

The weather was cold and gloomy every day we were there which gave the countryside a harshness I had never associated with the rolling hills that I claimed to be my country. The cattle now grazing needed hay from the ranchers to make it through the unsparing times. Pretty and I drove through my home town the second day of our visit on the way to the little cemetery where most of my family were buried. I felt sadness as I saw what was left of the town and home I loved. Nothing remained but the remnants of wooden houses in severe disrepair and falling down brick buildings. The town was no more.

Russia invaded Ukraine the second day we were in Texas. When we were in our motel rooms at night, I watched the news on tv. Pretty followed the events on Twitter during the day and kept me up to speed. Regardless of the source, everyone agreed that the not unexpected invasion of a sovereign democracy had begun. Local news in Houston typically focused on murders in the city every day until the devastating international tragedy began and replaced the stories. I was not in a good place when I announced to Pretty and cousins at lunch the next day that this was my last trip to Texas until they brought my ashes in a nicely decorated urn to the little cemetery on one of the rolling hills of Grimes County.

That was overly dramatic and untrue. Of course I will go back – hopefully not in an urn. The ACLU has filed suit against the state of Texas to protect the rights of transgender minors and their parents. Pretty managed to locate wonderfully warm coats and sweaters for us on Day Two, thank goodness. We ate our comfort Mexican food in a different place every day – even at the Houston airport when we had time for margaritas before the flight home. I loved being with friends and family, and I also loved going to watch the Gamecock women’s basketball team beat the Aggies on their home court in College Station. As a UT grad in rival territory, I was thrilled with the final score 89 – 48. We had an hour’s drive to get back to our motel room on Lake Conroe after the game, but when we walked through the wind tunnel to get to our room, I didn’t even notice the cold.

the Fabulous Huss Brothers

l. to r. Dwight (11), George (9) and Oscar (13)

Thanks to Becky for the photo!

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

Stay safe, stay sane, get vaccinated, boosted and please stay tuned.

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celebrating Black History Month with Pearl Harris


In the tiny Sears Roebuck kit house I grew up in, boundaries were both invisible and highly visible. The home was owned by my maternal grandmother and shared with two of my mother’s adult brothers in addition to my daddy, mother and me. The home was crowded. When I think back on it, I don’t know how we all managed to eat and sleep there – not to mention the scheduling of everyone’s turn in the single bathroom which barely had space to turn around to close the door after entering. That room was tight, and boundaries were tightly defined.

While the home itself was small, the lot on which it sat was large, a corner lot with an unattached garage (with an attached outhouse that may help explain the bathroom scheduling inside) behind the house. Beyond the garage a small pond which we called a tank in rural Texas lay quietly in an “in-town” pasture that had no fences. My back yard was spacious, vast in a small child’s mind, unique in comparison to the other small frame houses sitting on the few dirt roads that connected them.

Although the tank wasn’t very big, the fish and frog population that lived there mysteriously thrived, encouraging our relatives from the bigger cities of Houston, Dallas, Rosenberg, et.al., to make regular fishing trips to our place “in the country.” They came with their poles, rods, reels, live and artificial bait to try to land Ol’ Biggie, the name my Uncle Toby gave to the wiser large perch and catfish that proved elusive most of the time. During those early years I preferred running around the banks of the tank with my cousins to dropping a line with a squiggly worm in the water.

At random times, though, I made an exception to enjoy the company of a full-bodied black woman named Pearl who walked across another invisible line to come fishing in our tank. One paved road we called main street distinctly divided black and white people in my community in those days in the late 1940s and early 1950s;  that street should have been painted blood red. Pearl lived in an area of town on one side of the street I knew simply as The Quarters. I would be much older when I realized the name referenced slave quarters that still separated her world from mine.

Pearl told me the best stories about all the fish she had caught in the hottest fishing holes around the county. I believed every word she said because I trusted the deep rich voice that spoke. Pearl and my grandmother were good friends who visited together whenever she got ready to leave with her bucket full of fish. Pearl had the best luck catching perch in our tank – never very large – but she bragged that the little ones were better to fry anyway. Made sense to me. My mother also adored Pearl which surprised me since Mama didn’t adore anyone including herself.

Pearl Harris was the first black person in my life. She was warm, affectionate, funny and always kind to me. I have no idea how she came to be friends with my grandmother. I suspect they met in the general store in town where my grandmother clerked. Whatever the circumstance, I felt their friendship was authentic. They were easy with each other. I now know Pearl’s walk across the invisible racial divide to our fishing tank was not only brave but necessary to put food on the table for her family. My grandmother could relate to that need, too.

Wanda Sykes says in her Netflix comedy routine that I’ve watched at least four times now, seriously, at least four, that all white people need to have at least one black person who is their friend. Wanda thinks that friendship just might be a starting point to heal the racial divide that is at the center of income inequality and a host of other problems in our country. From a little girl growing up in a Texas town big enough for only one general store but large enough to contain two worlds separated by skin colors of black and white, I say I couldn’t agree more, Wanda. Bravo.

RIP Pearl Harris (1893 – 1957).

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

You may remember this post from last year. I will remember Pearl for a lifetime.

Stay safe, stay sane, get vaccinated, get boosted and please stay tuned.

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yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will be afraid


We think of our lives in different ways from ourselves and others like we think of our families in different places but never being too far away from what we may think of as home.

Everyone, on the other hand, acknowledges agreement on the cycle of life we believe in, and that circle we envision shows babies being born to parents who care for and protect their young until they are able to care for themselves, ready to leave to experience life on their own. In this life cycle we envision in our minds, parents will precede their children in death.

Sometimes that picture of a life cycle is cruelly interrupted by a parent’s loss of a child while they, the parents, survive. These parents walk through the valley of the shadow of death as the psalmist wrote in the 23rd Psalm in the Bible and yet I find the Psalm is incomplete for I have witnessed tragic losses that broke the life cycle we expected. Some of those parents who remained were very afraid for their children and themselves. They feared the Evil of Death while they lost their faith in the future.

Many years ago I wrote a poem about women who lose their children – some without warning, some after a short illness, some after an illness that lasted too long – but all out of our expected cycles of life.

Rainy Day Women

Their faces wear grief like blocks of stone.

Their eyes see, and their ears hear,

But they are in a separate place.

The roads they walk are backwards,

And their direction is aimless.

They are the mothers who have lost children.

They weep with no tears.

They mourn without ashes,

Their names are Sorrow and Emptiness.

How can we reach their separate place?

How can we touch the blind and deaf in their grief?

Our words are all we can offer.

Not for a minute, not for an hour, but for as long as they live.

***********

This post is dedicated to Francie Kleckley in memory of her daughter Kathryn.

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