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Thursday, July 02, 2020

American Civics and Political Science Lesson for Our Time

There are years that ask questions and years that answer. ~Zora Neale Hurston, American folklorist and author, (1891-1960).

     Awhile back I wrote a blog about the the things I liked best and least about Britain after living there for nearly a decade. I promised British readers I would write a similar post about America, being level handed in my writing about what I liked best and least. Well here is the latter part, as I promised our friend and fellow boater Mike Griffin. I will write another post later about what I like about this country when I can find something to write about. 

     On so many levels this world is clearly in an answer phase, demanding answers to atrocious human behavior on nearly every level that has carried on in this country for five hundred years. We here in the USA, are dealing with so much overwhelming crap on our plate, and many of us find ourselves wishing we could quarantine all the bigots, racists, Christian religious zealots, conservative Republicans, corporate and financial raiders, greedy billionaires, white terrorist groups, along with Donald and Melania Trump and his supporters (yeah I know some of the above groups intersect and overlap) together on Mars forever, although that wouldn't be far enough away for me.
     I remember telling a British friend shortly after Trump was elected to the White House that we were witnessing a coup in action and that America was as close to another Civil war as we had been in those years leading up to April 1861. My friend looked at me rather shocked, refuting my assertion and suggesting I was being an alarmist and my attitude was a bit extreme. I still believe my assertion is true; only a thin black line of ink in the U.S. Constitution is holding this nation together. America was founded on genocide and slavery, the poisons of which foul our country and its politics from then until now, and Americans have been complacent about turning a blind eye to its institutional entrenchment in all parts of everyday American life--but most especially in our religion and politics, cloaked by white fragility and willful ignorance, taught in our schools and churches, enacted upon the lives of people of color in this country as a matter of course because it is written into our laws, and embedded in the American culture and psyche, hand-in-hand with white Christianity. Church and State are complicit in keeping people of color down while lifting white folks up.
     If people think BLM protests are shocking then wait and see what happens if Trump is defeated in November. Things will get really ugly out there because it is already disgustingly nasty. 45's behavior has not only given all the above named groups permission to come out of the shadows and corners of our country, but encourages them to march proud, guns in hand, taking over State capitols, city streets, and expounding their racism in churches, with white impunity while innocent black people--too many of them black boys--are shot in the back for being black in the wrong place at the wrong time and trans people are shot in the street like dogs. Trump supporters feel powerful now and if history has taught me anything, it is that those with power over others will not relinquish it voluntarily. Voting Trump and his administration out of office, voting Republicans who support Trump out of the Senate, these will be seen as the first salvos of the war; it is going to be a struggle of decades to take back this country and re-establish civility and work towards human and environmental rights for all; to regain the precious ground we have lost.
     We are dealing with the most corrupt administration ever to reside in our nation's capitol. While most folks in other countries are disgusted by Trump, they are dealing with stuff in their own countries--Brexit and a pandemic to name two--and the news outlets only cover the most outrageous of Trump's exploits and lies. They are not aware of all the dismantling of public works and Federal law that has taken place by the arbiter of evil sitting in the White House. Since taking office Trump has completed 66 rollbacks and has 34 in progress; Federal laws and programs that protect what I drink, eat, breathe, my rights as a worker,  etc. etc. etc. I will not list them for you ad infinitum because your eyes would glaze over. If you really want to know exactly what we Americans are living with these days you may review the list HERE, printed by the New York Times newspaper.  

      How you may ask, did America lose itself on the way here?
     It was a deliberately planned coup with its initiation by white southern Democrats in the 1960's who switched parties over Kennedy's push for making over society as an enlightened, civil society with regard for the environment, equality, and civil rights. The GOP (Grand Old Party) welcomed the southern bigots and racists with open arms and in that moment it began to signify what the Party really stood for--and what it stood against. "The landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act signaled that the Republican Party would be a home for white voters — especially southern Democrats — unnerved by the burgeoning civil rights movement" (Caldwell, Ch. 2; A Party Divided; July 7, 2016; 
     On March 6, 1961, he (President Kennedy) signed Executive Order 10925 which required government contractors to take affirmative action to ensure all employees are treated equally irrespective of their race, creed, color, or national origin. His Executive Order 11063 of November 1962 banned segregation in federally funded housing. On June 11, 1963, JFK gave his famous civil rights address calling Americans to recognize civil rights as a moral cause. His proposal to provide equal access to public schools and other facilities, and greater protection of voting rights became part of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. 
     The Kennedy administration expanded unemployment benefits; aid was provided to cities to improve housing and transportation; a water pollution control act was passed to protect rivers and streams; significant anti-poverty legislation was passed including increase in social security benefits and minimum wage; and the most comprehensive legislation to assist farmers was carried out since 1938 which included expansion in rural electrification, soil conservation, crop insurance and farm credit.
Over the next five decades, as the GOP built a three-legged stool of support from security hawks, social conservatives and fiscal conservatives, white working-class voters, especially men, gravitated toward the party...In order for the GOP to become the Party of Trump it first had to become the Party of Reagan. Many factors led to the rise of Reaganism, including the candidate’s optimistic outlook, celebrity status, and tough stance on national security. Economic and cultural factors played a major role as well: In 1976, with Ford in the White House, unemployment hit nine percent. The post-World War II economic boom had finally slowed, with blue-collar workers facing a disproportionate effect. Simultaneously, the feminist movement had gained momentum, and along with the civil rights movement of a decade earlier, political attention was increasingly focused on minorities and women. That left traditional white, working-class Democrats, whose economic struggles had begun a decades-long decline, feeling out of place in the party. Charles Murray, the controversial social scientist whose 2012 book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, chronicled the growing disenfranchisement of white working-class people, told NBC News that since the civil rights movement, white men in the 1970s had started to become “not only the forgotten voter but also the forgotten segment of the population. (Caldwell, Ch. 2; A Party Divided; July 7, 2016; Bear in mind though that for a segment of the population who felt unappreciated and disenfranchised, white men of any economic status had the most power in America then and now. 
      I read the Nancy Reagan biography Lady in Red by Sheila Tate over two decades ago wherein I learned that Nancy Reagan and her step-father, wealthy, conservative Dr. Loyal Davis were responsible for turning her husband "Dutch" from a questioning Democrat into a staunch Republican in 1962. She was far more of a political animal than he ever was and Ronnie always allowed Nancy to call the political shots. This is vaguely reminiscent of Trump and Melania. It was she who convinced Donald to run for president and who began the orchestrations behind the scenes that led him to the White House, allowing the nation to view her as eye candy and a brain dead cardboard cutout on her husband's arm. She is anything but and we underestimate her at our peril. Nancy adored Ronnie; Melania is only in it for the money and power. 
    Nancy came from wealth and was surrounded by exceedingly wealthy ultra-conservatives throughout her life. Close friends Betsy Bloomingdale and Mr. and Mrs. Walter Annenberg to name only two of the billionaire's who hobnobbed with Ronnie and Nancy (he called her Mommy, reminiscent of Mike Pence who calls his wife "Mother"), their wealthy friends and allies underwrote Reagan's political bid and their lavish lifestyle, buying Nancy and Ronnie a new mansion in which to live in when they helped him get elected as Governor of California. 
     I can grant Ronald some distance from culpability given that he had Alzheimer's, and was no doubt suffering from it for decades before it flourished in full form. If I am going to give Ronnie the benefit of the doubt, I have to then consider that Nancy and her wealthy, conservative circle of friends were complicit in manipulating Reagan to their own ends, just as those in power in the GOP have masterfully manipulated working class white voters to vote against their own interests, to the benefit of the wealthy.
     Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1994. The mild to early phase of Alzheimer's generally takes two to four years, the moderate to middle stage anywhere from two to ten years, and severe or late stage about one to three years. Ronald Reagan was Governor of California from 1967 to 1975. Using the stage definitions above Reagan could have begun experiencing mild Alzheimer's in 1980. He was elected U.S. President in 1981 and re-elected to stay in office until 1989. I thought at the time it was apparent to anyone paying close attention that Reagan wasn't running the show; Dick Cheney had his hand up the back of Ronnie's coat, manipulating his strings while Nancy whispered in Cheney's ear. 
     The GOP's long range plan to take over the government and the country rolled out with gloves off after the election of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1994. If the Republicans are good at anything, it is patience, long range tactics, and gross manipulation of voters by appealing to their emotions and beliefs.
     Gingrich began the wholesale cozying up to the Religious Right--specifically Evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics. This is not a case of the left hand knows not what the right hand is doing; this is a case of the left and right hands rubbing each other gleefully while skipping out together to unfurl the new ultra-conservative 
Republican Religious Right agenda propping up the Republican Party, which has proven they will get in bed with anyone who will ensure their rise to the top of politics and power in this country while f***ing everyone else to reach their goals.
     I have been shocked at the manner in which Christians have consistently voted for anyone who will advance their ideological agendas while turning a blind eye to the sick and ugly behaviors, mentality, and lack of character their chosen candidates exhibit. Consider Newt Gingrich standing at the bedside of his then estranged wife Jackie, who had just come out of surgery for what turned out to be a benign lump (she has been diagnosed with uterine cancer in 1978, a fact Newt was happy to capitalize on when running for office), with a yellow legal pad covered with ultimatums and demands that he wanted her to sign off on immediately--while she was only hours out of surgery and still in recovery. He was the advance act for Trump with his p***y grabbing, sociopathic, lying, ego aggrandizing behavior; but hey! Bubba Trump--or should I say Brother Trump--was willing to appoint 200 ultra conservative circuit court judges across this country, and install the same demagogues in the highest court in the land in order to defeat Roe Vs. Wade and overturn legalized abortion. The Republican party mantra is "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" (Barry Goldwater Campaign, 1962).
     For these Christians the end always justifies the means as long as it is their ideological ends being supported. And the sad thing about it is that overturning Roe V. Wade will not stop abortions. It will limit who has access to safe abortions because the wives, mistresses, sisters, and daughters of conservative politicians have always had this access and they always will. It is working class and poor women who will suffer and find themselves trapped in the tyranny of motherhood their lack of wealth and health cannot afford or support. These Christians would have been right at home with the Spanish Inquisition. I know these people because I am related to a whole passle of them. At one time in my early teen years I too attended their church and drank the Kool-Aid until I escaped and managed to find my brain which must be checked at the church door. I know how they think, how they pray, and how they justify their support of Trump. Interestingly though, these same folks are now so embarrassed by Trump they are finally silenced, their tongues sticking to the roof of their mouths, except to mumble, "Jesus said it, I believe it, and that is all I need to know" while crossing their fingers behind their backs in prayers of thanks for all the damage their presidential candidate has done to this country as long as their agenda is legitimized. These same majority white folks are so racially fragile that they fear their entire childhood is undermined with the knowledge that Aunt Jemima is a racist trope and not some nice negro woman well paid and happy to be the face of their breakfast syrup and pancakes, and surely was duly remunerated as a full and equal partner by the Quaker Oats corporation! My, my...
     According to a thought provoking article in the NY Times newspaper last week, "'Gingrich wrote the playbook for it all. The nastiness, the contempt for norms, the transformation of political opponents into enemies. This began forty years ago (1980, Reagan's last term in office as President), with the normalization of personal destruction. The contempt for custom. The media-baiting, the annihilation of bipartisan comity, the delegitimizing of institutions. Gingrich had planted; Trump had reaped,'” writes the Princeton historian Julian Zelizer in the prologue to his forthcoming book, Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of a New Republican Party (Senior, Trump's Napalm Politics? They Began With Newt; NY Times Op-Ed, June 28, 2020). 
     Follow the money...and it will lead you to the inescapable facts above and paint the ugliest of pictures about the underbelly of American culture and society: It isn't just the economy, stupid! That is the veil under which hides the real issue: it's institutionalized racism for economic benefit of some over others. Until we root it out, expose and acknowledge this publicly in all its many disguises, and America expiates for the sin of genocide and slavery in pursuit of the all mighty dollar, we cannot in my opinion, move forward again as a united nation. 

Monday, April 06, 2020

Sis July 28th, 1947-March 6th, 2020

"A sister is a little bit of childhood that can never be lost." ~ Marion C. Garretty

   My big sister, Susan Louise Anderson Muntean,  died March 6th. She was a decade older than me, born in 1947 in Williston, North Dakota. We shared the same mom but different fathers. Sis was fine boned and small in body with a blazing spirit, an enormous sense of humor, and a HUGE temper. One did not ever want to get on her bad side because Sis cast a long shadow for a tiny woman.
   These are some of the things I remember about my sister:
I recall our mom saying once, "Susie was the prettiest little girl. Blond hair, big blue eyes, and a sunny smile. She knew it too. She thought she could charm the birds out of the trees." My sister was a classically beautiful blonde, petite with long hair--never shorter than shoulder length--nice legs, and a lovely figure. Men flocked to Sis like bees to honey.
Sis aged 10 with me, 1957.
   With the ten year age difference, my memories are mostly those of a pesky little sister. I remember when I was about four years old, I was fascinated by my sisters' jewelry, perfume, scarves, and lacy slips. There were three of us, with Sharon being four years older than Sis and fourteen years older than me. We had to share a bedroom and whenever I was put to bed for the night and my sisters were out on a date or visiting a friend, I would go through their jewelry boxes, try one their slips, drape their scarves around my neck and spray myself with their perfume--and fall asleep with all the evidence on! I look back now and wonder how on earth they put up with me.
   I turned four in 1961 and it was about that time when skin tight jeans and long, straight hair was all the rage. Sis had a summer job and she bought herself several pairs of new Levis which were nearly too small for her. She managed to work herself into them by lying down on the bed, sucking in her stomach until it nearly touched her back bone, and doing up the buttons. Then she filled the bathtub with steaming hot water, laid down in it with her new Levi's on, and let them soak until they shrunk right to her body. She got out and wore them until they dried. It was a little sister-big sister conspiracy. She bribed me with Tootsie Roll pops not to tell mom, who would've been pissed.
Sis about age fourteen.
   I remember Mom saving the large cardboard cans that frozen orange juice concentrate came in so Susan could roll her hair on them and have board-straight locks. She looked so goofy walking around the house in her chenille bathrobe and fluffy pink slippers with ginormous orange juice cans bobby-pinned to her head!
   Sis hated doing chores. She ran the sink full of scalding hot water, then sat in the living room with a Photplay magazine reading about the stars while the water cooled off. Hours later the water was cold, the dishes were still dirty, and Sis was in trouble. Susan also took turns with our older sister in babysitting me--another chore she didn't like. For awhile on her nights (our mom worked nights cleaning airplanes out at Anchorage Airport, when it was a simple Quonset hut), Susan would either get her date to pay or she would use some of her own money and take me to a place called The Kitty Drop. It was about five blocks from where we lived and it was a place working parents left their kids. I remember it was dark and full of cribs. I was put into a crib and left there to cry myself to sleep until Sis came back for me. When mom found out what was going on, Sis got into deep trouble. From then on when it was her turn to babysit, Susan would take me with her on her nights out, clearly not telling Mom what she was doing. I remember going to a teenage dance place called the Cinnamon Cinder. It was just a dingy hall with folding chairs around the walls and bands playing music. The alcohol-free dance club for teenagers opened in 1962. Owned by KRLA disc jockey Bob Eubanks, the club spawned a TV show, a national chain of teen clubs and a hit record by the same name as the club. A year or so later after Sis got her driving license and Mom managed to buy her an old 1950 brown, cloth-top convertible, Sis would make me up a bed on the back seat with my pillow and a blanket, and we would cruise downtown. I remember the traffic lights changing color, and Sis playing music on the Radio: Sugar Shack by Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, The Beach Boys singing Surfin' USA, Blue Velvet and Blue on Blue crooned by Bobby Vinton, My Boyfriend's Back by The Angels, Peter Paul & Mary singing Puff the Magic Dragon and Blowin' in the Wind, The Four Seasons demanding in harmony that we "Walk Like a Man, Walk Right In by the Rooftop Singers, Sam Cook telling us all about Havin' a Party, Be My Baby crooned the Ronettes, and Nat King Cole singing Those Lazy Hazy Crazy Days of Summer.
   I recall too when KENI radio broadcast from the roof of the Bun Drive-in on Northern Lights Blvd. The Varsity Show with Ron Moore as host was all the rage with Anchorage teens. Sis used to plunk me down on a red leather spinning stool inside the Bun at the curved Formica counter, order me a small burger, fries and a Pepsi, and tell me to stay there until she came back. Susan would disappear up the stairs to the roof and dance to the  music. I remember sneaking up and watching her do the Mashed Potato, The Cross Fire and The Pony. Sis was the best dancer there and the prettiest too and the music was fab: The Loco-Motion by Little Eva, Do The Mashed Potatoes by The Fabulous Echoes, and Bony Maroni by Larry Williams. Sis introduced me to Rick and Roll when it was all the new rage. I recall waking up on Halloween morning in 1962 to the radio playing on the bedside table between our beds. As we lie there in the October dark a funny new song debuted: The Monster Mash. We listened fascinated, laughing together at the lyrics. We used to walk everywhere throughout Spenard which was originally a 160 acre homestead of a  man name Joe Spenard. Our tiny home was located 2.3 miles south of the city of Anchorage. Across the street from where we lived was a wall of solid forest that ran seven miles east to the foothills of the Chugach mountains and eleven miles north from Merrill Field air strip, South to Rabbit Creek Road. We used to walk up to the new Caribou Ward's department store on the corner of Spenard Road and Northern Lights Boulevard. Next door was a Woolworth's and it had a cafe inside. A couple times a month either mom or Sis would walk with me to Woolworth's and I would get a cup of Campbell's vegetable soup  and an orange sherbet ice cream cone. I was about two or three at the time. 
Map of Anchorage, Alaska. The yellow highlighted area is Joe Spenard's original homestead site. The turquoise line encompasses everything that was forest when we were children. I not talking about lightly wooded areas but thick forest that stretched seven miles from our home on the corner of 36th Ave, and Arctic Blvd.  and the foothills of the Chugach mountain directly east, and elven miles north form Merrill Field air strip south to Rabbit Creek Road. The light green square under Dimond Blvd, is where the Hideaway Club is located. It was the ONLY thing located on this road when we were kids. The small bright blue dot on 35th Ave where the yellow highlight meets the turquoise line is where we lived. The two large green boxes on the far right are the forested acres where the girl and boy scout camps were located--way out of town!
  One time Sis made Mom so angry she was put on restriction; for three months Susan could not go anywhere, see anyone, or leave the house. She had to do her chores to Mom's satisfaction, babysit me...and work on patience. One morning two months into her sentence, Sis decided she would super clean the kitchen as a last ditch effort to get a reduced sentence. When Mom walked in the door after work, she looked around at the sparkling kitchen and spotless floor as she hung up her coat. When she turned around Sis popped out of the hallway, bent from the waist, head turned cockeyed, hair streaming down and arms hanging loose. She said in a kind of odd, zombie like voice: "Maaaooottthhher, pleeeeeze will you let me out of the house now?" as she swung her arms and shambled sideways towards our mother who, taken by complete surprise, burst out laughing--the one and only time I ever remember hearing our mother laugh until I was nineteen years old. It worked and Sis was sprung from house arrest.
   I recall spying on Sis and her boyfriend Tom when he brought her home from dates and they stood kissing on the porch and how utterly heartbroken Susan was when Tom was drafted and left for Viet Nam. She pledged to wait for him, but it was far better to be gone from our house than caught in it when Mom and our step-father Bill were drinking and fighting, which could be any and all nights of the week and all day on a weekend, and Sis was soon caught up in Spenard night life. I didn't realize until I was a young woman myself, that Sis was fair game for beatings along with our Mom, but not me. For some reason we will never know, Bill wouldn't beat a child. He might grab you up by your ankle, peel off his thin leather belt and whip you all over until you were crying so hard you stuttered for hours afterward, but he saved his fists and steel toed boots for women, which was any female in his house that bled every month.
   As soon as Susan could drive she was gone most of the time. Occasionally when our parents had friends over for a party, Sis would stay and have a beer with them until things got out of hand; then she slipped quietly out the door and was gone, my eyes following, wishing I could go with her instead of being left behind in hell.
   I know some of the things that happened to my lovely sister out late at night roaming the streets of Anchorage at age fourteen, fifteen and sixteen, when she should have been home in bed asleep, had  our home been a happy, loving place. I won't divulge those stories because they are hers--not mine--but I do know they are not pretty. Alaska has always attracted male predators and the ratio has always been eight men to every woman in Anchorage. I recall having to walk the gauntlet of perverts trolling low and slow in their cars, fondling their tackle in anticipation during the endless sunny days of summer when all the neighborhood kids walked a mile and a half to go swimming at Lake Spenard. I remember Sis telling me, "No matter what, you never ever go up to their cars when they call you. Do you understand me?" She would give my skinny little body a good shake to underscore the importance of her words.
Cousin Joanne with Mom, 1970's.
   Sis looked after me in her fashion.
   I recall listening to Susan and our cousin Joanne Plimpton Reinnikka reminiscing over coffee one afternoon when we were all old enough to have children of our own. Joanne and Sis were thick as thieves, very close but they didn't see each other often because Joanne lived way across town from us. To know Cousin Joanne was to love her. She had sparkling brown eyes, dark hair, and a ten-thousand watt smile, and when Jojo laughed the world came along for the ride. Sis said, "Joanne do you recall that winter evening when we put Jackie on your sled and we were pulling her down the street behind us as we chattered like magpies? We had stayed out sledding too long and it was getting dark."
   "Oh Susan, I remember thinking the sled felt awfully light to pull and we turned around laughing and there was Jackie all bundled up in her baby suit half a block back in the middle of street waving her arms and legs in the snow! We were so lucky no cars had come along. God was really watching over us."
   "Oh Joanne--when I think of it now my heart goes to my throat, but we were just silly little girls out playing in the snow, laughing and having fun. We didn't realize how dangerous things were at that moment."
Sis and me, aged 27 and 17, 1975.
   Sis was the one I went to for information on birth control, sex, and dealing with life in general. She was my confidant with whom I shared all my firsts, and she opened her home and made a bed on her couch for me more times than I can count when life in the continual front line of household terrorism became too much for me to cope with.
   Susan married when I was twelve and she gave birth to my niece Brandy the day after my 13th birthday. I was mesmerized by "our" baby and I loved babysitting for Sis. She is my favorite niece and I loved spending time with her and her mom. Sis trained as my childbirth coach for my first pregnancy.
   As the years passed our lives grew apart, but we still managed to make some fabulous, funny memories--ones that I alone am left to remember now. I am so glad I visited Sis last May. We hadn't seen each other for twenty five years--not since our Mom's memorial service. Sis led a hard life due to alcoholism and prescription drug addiction. There were so many things in her childhood if one can even call it that--which left deep trauma in her soul; so many demons chasing her through the snow.
  When I was four, we lived on Doorbrandt Street in a wonky little gray house. I loved it because for the first time I could recollect our Mom seemed happy. She would sing as she put groceries away: "Today is the day they give babies away with a half a pound of cheese--absolutely free-a half a pound of cheese!" Mom baked on her days off and she and Bill were still in the new stage of their relationship, not married but co-habitating. Mom had managed to divorce my alcoholic father and I think she believed then, that her life had a slim chance of being happy. Bill decided one late winter weekend that we were going winter camping. I don't remember any other details about that weekend which is strange for me, because I am our family's collective memory and I have memories that stretch back to when I was six months old according to my Mom. What I do remember is that Sis didn't want to go camping with us. At fourteen she would rather stay home where it was warm, and watch TV. Bill talked Mom into letting Susan stay on her own. I remember Mom turning on the porch light and how it created illuminated pools of warm yellow light across the shadowed snow berms and black night. I can close my eyes and hear Mom telling Sis to be sure and lock the door behind her, while she grabbed my arm because there was a huge chunk of ice built up on the threshold to the door. Then we turned, got in the VW bug and drove away.
   Mom and Sis thought the door was shut tight and locked but the ice on the threshold was just enough to keep the door from locking. Susan fell asleep on the couch in her cotton nightgown. She woke in the dark with a man's hands around her throat, choking her. He had women's stocking pulled over his head, distorting his features. Susan fought for her life, managed to break the man's hold, jump over the back of the couch and was out the door in a heartbeat, running barefoot down Doorbrandt street at 3:00 AM in minus 10 degree weather, looking for a house with a porch light on, looking behind her to see if the man was chasing her. She pounded on doors until someone woke and answered.  We moved out of the little grey house shortly afterward, to the house on McKinley Ave. where life grew bitter and angry; a twisted seed watered with alcohol and violence, punctuated with knives and guns, our Mom calling for help whenever Bill beat her.
   Sis had never had any form of counseling for the terrible trauma she survived. Back in 1961 no one even heard of mental health or trauma counseling or knew that such events could cause PTSD. Sis always maintained that her attacker was someone she knew. She couldn't see his face but she knew his voice. He was never found and Susan spent a lifetime living in Anchorage, fearing he would return. She could never again bear to be alone at night and she began drinking to shut down her fear.
   I also knew Sis had never talked with anyone about how horrible our childhood was. People back then simply didn't discuss such things, and certainly not when the abuser threatened to make sure you wouldn't wake up in the morning if you told anyone what went on in our house. So part of my visit last summer was to bring up our childhood and open Pandora's box. I wanted to give my sister the gift of acknowledgement: recognition of the facts as we remembered them individually and together, and permission to speak about those terrible things, to weep, get angry, and be sad and let it out. Susan carried that awful burden from age five to age seventy two and I wanted to find some way to help her lighten the burden.
   It was good, our visit. We did all of the above, revisiting some of our favorite memories together too. We were so lucky to live in Spenard when we did--before "civilization" arrived, cut down the forests, paved everything over, Anchorage swallowed up Spenard, and flat-landers from the lower forty eight states moved up in the many thousands to escape their suburban nightmares and turned Anchorage into the same soulless urban landscape they left behind.
   We both love Led Zeppelin and we put on their music and danced, two old ladies feeling the weight of decades falling away, young and beautiful again for the length of a song. We also made new memories with plans for a few more. We went shopping together and I introduced her to Lush. We played Gin Rummy in the evenings, while listening to a host of good rock and roll which I made for her from my computer music library.  I met her best friend Kim and her husband. We all had dinner together, reminiscing about having moms who were school lunch ladies, and the Good Friday Quake in 1964, and growing up in Spenard. Susan and I went for walks and talked about a world of ideas, laughing like crazy, sarcastic old women do when they have seen it all. I am so grateful to have countless wonderful memories of Sis that make me smile through my tears. I've never laughed harder in my life than with Sis and Les. I carry them both in my heart.
   Susan was going to come down to Gresham in June to visit for a few weeks. I called her a week before she died and we talked for over an hour, singing The Witch Doctor song to each other and laughing like giddy girls; "Ooh-eee-ooh-ah-ah-ting-tang-walla-walla-bing-bang!" We were planning to visit the ocean together. We wanted to rent a yurt and camp out with my daughter Sparky,  my daughter-in-law Kelli, and my foster daughter Mary. We planned to smoke a bowl, eat some good grub, do a bit of hiking, lots of laughing, and enjoy the seashore...but it was not to be. I only hope Sis' death was quick, painless, and her spirit has risen with joy to find a place far better than we knew in this world.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

I Cannot Help But Wonder...

"Suddenly she realized that what she was regretting was not the lost past but the lost future, not what had not been but what would never be." ~F.Scott Fitzgerald, American Author, 1896-1940

  The quote for this post and it's title refer to Les. In the final months of his life Dear Sir wondered often about what amazing and wonderful things the future without him would herald. There is no way he ever considered the future marred by global climate change and a pandemic. I do find myself having conversation with him now, in my head.
   "What do you think about the current state of affairs my love?" I see his spirit looking at the world from wherever it may be now, considering a much larger picture than I can see from my own myopic viewpoint. I suspect Les would be shocked and terribly saddened, frightened for those he loves, and angry. Were he still alive we would be on board NB Valerie and he would feel as I do, that living aboard on the cut is one of the safest places we could possibly be during a pandemic. With his near encyclopedic knowledge of the canals Les would have chosen the best place for us to fetch up in order to wait things out, move once a week to fill with water and empty the rubbish, and get groceries delivered. We would have faced the fear and uncertainty together gathering strength from each other.
   Meanwhile my friends and loved ones on boats have issues of their own to contend with; the ubiquitous usage of the towpath by non-boaters for jogging, bicycling, and walking groups along with dog walkers all crowding in along a narrow towpath to escape the lock-down and get some fresh air and exercise. Never mind they pass within two feet of people on boats who need to get off and on unimpeded and attempt to do so while obeying the six foot self-isolation rule. After all boaters aren't real people are they? Its only a puppet!! (Brits will know to what exactly I am alluding with this statement!)
   I always found it comical when Les would bring us in to moor somewhere that appeared to be way out in the country and by the time we had properly moored up at least eight people and their dogs would walk past on the towpath, and that was on a weekday in mid-morning! I've been woken many mornings by townies standing out on the towpath by the boats, dogs running loose to piddle while their owner takes that moment at 6:30 AM to call someone and have a conversation loud enough to be heard five boats down, completely oblivious to the fact that people actually are on those boats, curtains closed, asleep in bed--or they were before the dog walker decided to have a conversation on the cut.  Below is the latest poster from Canal River Trust (CRT) regarding this issue:

   My email inbox receives a daily news update from the New York Times newspaper. Yesterday's update included a link called The Great Empty, of photos taken around the world of famous cities and sites eerily empty of human beings.
   Looking online I came across a Youtube video someone filmed of seven minutes on a double-decker bus through London's Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, and Oxford Circus. I am familiar with this route as Les and I traveled it by bus quite a few times on our three forays into London by boat. This was filmed two days ago. It was seeing London so empty that got me to thinking about Les. Having been born and raised in Paddington (West London), Dear Sir loved showing me the great city and I loved finding new things that surprised him. I can imagine Les' face, watching the video with me, astonished and shocked at the empty streets and the abandoned feeling at Westminster Underground station which usually has people boiling up out of it like ants out of a giant underground mound. Nearly nine million people live in The Big Smoke and one million more commute in and out daily with 2.56 million cars licensed in London. No trouble getting a seat on the bus these days!
   For Americans reading this blog who have never been to Britain, I urge you to pay careful attention to the signal lights. There are three sets of lights for each direction, mounted on three different posts on each side of the street! British signal lights turn green-yellow-red-yellow-green. Why the extra yellow you might ask? I was told it was to signal the driver that the light was about to turn green! I could not for the life of me understand why this was necessary until I discovered that British drivers are supposed to use their parking brake each time they stop.
   Notice the lack of street signs with actual names of streets in plain view, and how directions are written on the lanes. Notice too how narrow the streets and the buses appear! The video begins with Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament across the Thames on the left. Watch this in full screen view so you can stop it to really look at things as the journey presses on. Look closely and you will see signs about half way up on the outer walls of buildings at each junction or intersection, which is where the actual street names are located. See if you can easily spot crosswalks in the video. In London they tend to be at the top of the lanes by the signal lights but everywhere else they are located back down the lane before the actual intersection.

Notice how quiet things are on the bus, and how stunningly free of litter and clean the streets are without humans everywhere. Below is a video of what Oxford Circus Underground station is usually like!

   Finally I leave you all with a link to The Londonist. It's a great blog to follow for all things London. Today's posts offers a link to their free Youtube channel with all kinds of interesting videos about London's floating village, secrets of The Victoria Line (Underground), a search for 221B Baker Street for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson fans, a look at Europe's largest Sikh temple, London's old and new pagans, the secrets of Borough Market, and several other very entertaining and informative videos. Stay safe, stay well!
Love Jaq xxx
Mona takes a personal break while the museum is closed! :)

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs