Thursday, July 25, 2013

My Reaction to the Trayvon Martin Case

This is the story of my first encounter with  a black-skinned person and the confusion and humiliation I experienced because of it. (Surely he did too.)

The year was 1942. Prior to that time the area I lived in Seattle was populated with white folks like me, the preponderance being of Scandinavian origin.  My roots however were English on my mother's side and Colorado cowboy on my father's. Often I felt inferior because I was different. It never bothered my glamorous young mother, however. She was a party girl and often entertained strange men at home when my father was working. Such was her reputation that when the other mothers of my friends formed a Blue-Bird group I was excluded. It hurt. One might say that was my introduction to discrimination.

The only person I ever met who looked visibly different was a gypsy foretune-teller working in a tea house in Vancouver. Years later I was to learn she was really English made up to look like a gypsy to fool the customers. I was crest-fallen. No wonder the glamorous fortune she predicted in my tea leaves never came to be.

In my school were two children of Japanese origin. How com I never noticed their skin was a different color than mine? Perhaps because they were shy and inconspicuous? Their modest home was on a skinny lot near the steep top of Dravis Street hill, and their garden, arranged in terraces,  glowed with color year-round, outdoing all the others. Everyone envied it and marveled at the construction. I hardly noticed the day the children disappeared from school. Taken, with their parents, to a relocation camp I imagine. What I did notice was how the beautiful gardens and terraces disintegrated to a crumbly weed-patch. I felt a lump in my chest.

With the war came workers and military personnel from all over the country.  My bus to and from school on Queen Anne Hill required three transfers even passing by a busy naval installation, Pier 91. The trip was a little scary for a twelve year old. Today Pier 91 is the berthing place of giant tour ships but at that time it was just an industrial pier framing, on a clear day, Mt Rainier.

Here is my memory: Gathering rain clouds colored the air over the harbor light grey. I was sitting next to the window on the Elliott Bay side, about half way back in the bus. I remember the very seat today, so profound was the experience. At the Ballard Interchange a young  sailor with dark skin boarded. I more than stared; I gaped. I had never seen a black-skinned person. I deduced he was what we then called a negro, although I had never seen one except in pictures.. His sailor uniform with white middy looked sharp and fit snugly. He seemed young and tentative. I imagine he was only 17 or 18. With extreme  care he took the empty seat next to me on the almost full bus, being careful to avoid any bodily touch. We both looked straight ahead, never making eye contact. I felt a growing discomfort and a feeling of bewilderment.

"Was it wrong for him to have sat down next to me?" I had no idea. But soon I noticed other bus passengers squirming, some even staring at him or me or both of us. A sense of tension grew. "What are the rules?" I wondered. I tried to melt into the side wall of the bus putting more distance between us, but of course that was not possible.  We had gone about half a mile before I could not bear the tension. I gave up, and slipped past his knees to stand in the aisle a few feet forward.  There were no other empty seats on the bus. Still, so many eyes were focussed on me. I flushed, my insides squirming. I could not wait till dinner time when my dad would get home from work and I could ask him what I should have done.

To be continued next week.

Friday, July 19, 2013

What Makes Friends?

What circumstances occur to make two persons previously unknown to one another become bonded as close friends? More than accident, I suggest. Many times it is a shared experience, one of unusual or memorable quality. For instance, I remain bonded to my freshman sorority roommates Shirley and Dolores some 66 years later because we shared the same big life transitions together.
In the case of Nancy who is visiting me now from Denver it was humor more than anything else that brought us together. Nancy is one of those people who was blessed with a funny bone parallel to her spine. Interacting with her is always such fun.
The circumstance that brought us together was attendance at an Elderhostel in Trinidad, Colorado eighteen years ago. Nancy had just retired from teaching second grade, whereas I, her elder, was still shrinking heads as well as learning to paint.  Nancy picked this Elderhostel because she wanted to learn more about the Santa Fe Trail (which ended in Trinidad) whereas I wanted to learn about the small town in which I believed my father was born.
As it turned out the content of the Elderhostel was wonderful. What was stressful was where we were assigned to hang our hats. Our large group of men and women attending were housed in the aging dormitory of the local junior college, women on the first floor, men on the second.  Clearly these halls had seen too many years of college freshmen. The walls of the gang toilets and showers were crawling with cockroaches. To confuse matters, the facilities were reversed: the men's john on the first floor and the women's on the second. At night we would put out a sign on the door reversing the genders to shorten the walking distance, however we were forever mixing up the order.
In the midst of all the complaining I sought out the company of one other participant, Nancy, who turned every challenge into a humorous adventure.  Toward the end of the experience, on a bus trip,  I stepped off the edge of a hill in the dark, badly twisting my ankle. The only surgeon at the tiny local Catholic hospital was famed all over the country for performing sex change operations (I'd seen him on 60 Minutes). I chose to avoid the hospital and limp around the last few days, learning after I got home that I had seven bones broken.
Like me, Nancy loved her Mac, and over the last decade we have emailed each other almost daily.  I've travelled to Denver to enjoy her hospitality twice and she has visited me in California numerous times, this being her first visit to Oakmont. She is so easy to entertain for she loves to go out to restaurants to eat. You can see how intent she is on every morsel.
Yesterday after Weight Watchers (we are both struggling often straying life members) we skipped the salad place and opted for Goji's Kitchen two blocks away where we feasted on grilled prawns and rice noodles. Who knows what yummy restaurant we will find today.  I am so lucky to have Nancy in my life.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Celebration and Elation

Eighty-three year. Egads. What fun. Last Sunday my dear housekeeper Kelly surprised me with a special birthday cake from a fancy French bakery here in Santa Rosa. It must have been superb because there was only one piece left after my fifteen house guests left.  I had it for breakfast Monday morning along with other leftovers including two chocolate dipped strawberries.  Yum.
Checking the scale Tuesday I groaned and determined to reenroll in Weight Watchers, which I did Thursday. Like life, the scale goes up and down, often but not always by one's own efforts.
The supreme court decisions re DOMA and Prop 8 are affecting so many lives, including many in my lesbian family. For some its a complicated decision with multiple legal and tax implications. Old friends Gayle and Marilyn who will celebrate their 20th anniversary in December spontaneously decided to marry and last night at Rainbow Women a lesbian couple who have been together for 47 years announced their marriage right here on the site..
I don't envy the CPA's and tax preparers who are going to have to figure all this out come tax time next year.  It makes me wonder if Lee and I would have done the same, although neither of us would have expected same sex marriage to be legal in our lifetimes.
Below are pictures from Sunday: the new gang of friends at my potluck, neighbor and good new friend Joyce and I, and old friend Jennifer Chandler (just back from Bhutan) and the birthday girl.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Reflections on Bucket Lists

Ask me "What's on my bucket list?" and I do a double take. I know folks mean, without saying succinctly, what is it I want to do before I die? Since my 83rd birthday is coming up Sunday and I have invited many new friends to a potluck, I expect someone might ask me that very question. I know they mean well, but it frustrates me since I come up with zero. Usually I scramble for an answer and end up stuttering.
First of all, I never heard of the term until the terrific 2007 movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman.  Secondly, what it implies to me is when am I going to kick the bucket and/or what will I regret on  my death bed (assuming one has the wherewithal to
reflect such trivia on his/her death bed.)
There are several explanations for the historical meaning of the term, kick the bucket,  one being a method of suicide in which one stands on a bucket with a noose around their neck and kicks the bucket to complete the scenario. Surely that is not the meaning assigned by kindly inquirers.
When I was in my late 40's my bucket list (though I did not know the term yet) consisted of one goal: ride on the back of someone's motorcycle in the Dykes on Bikes in the Gay Parade, streaming purple ribbons. Then someone gave me my first ride on a motorcycle and it was so scary I chucked that aspiration.
In earlier decades I would write yearly goals, which invariably included "loose ten pounds". Other common listings included make more time to play with the dogs, clean my study, answer letters to relatives, etc. I would make a stab at these.
But in the current decade my wish list gets shorter and shorter.
This last six months it has centered around getting unpacked and my taxes done, neither of which is accomplished, though I'm getting closer. But the last four days we have been in a heat wave and of course that is the time my almost new house air conditioner decided to be temperamental. It was 107 on my deck when it sighed "I quit".
Calls to PGE and the contractor who installed it went unanswered for a day while I camped out at friend's house. Finally both sources showed up, each blaming the other for the malfunction. Some folks say its all the fault of the PGE smart meters; PGE says that is nonsense.
Anyway, the PGE smart meter is now disemboweled from my house, I paid the contractor $309, but the guaranteed fix only lasted half of one day. So now I am once again on the wait list for service. Can you see why my bucket list contains only one item?