Adrian Peterson Social Media Commentary

My dad on the left. I didn’t make the notations on the picture.

Recently, I posted a status update on social media. It generated a lot of personal commentary, which is one of the best things that is possible from social media. I’ve written and talked about some of the abuse. It’s not a secret, especially in my regard.

For Adrian Peterson’s case, please keep in mind that I am in no way a sports fan. What triggered such a reaction from me were the words coming out of his mouth in regards to how he behaved. It’s bad enough when a blue-collar works echoes those sentiments, but when a famous multimillionaire does it while cloaking himself in both the Bible and old-fashioned “that’s what they done to me,” it galls me relentlessly. I could use the same idiotic logic and beat my spouse and children, too, almost to the point of death – because that is how some in my family deal with their problems.

“Not to cast aspersions on Adrian Peterson, but commentary: my father thought it would be appropriate to hit me across the back with a wooden rake. I wasn’t looking when he did it – the rake broke across my lower back. I urinated blood for days and didn’t get medical attention. He hit me with his fists, inner tubes, belts, sticks on many other occasions, yet I was somehow made to feel guilty about it – and then face the revisionists who would still insist that it wasn’t that bad. It’s a constant battle to not scream at other adults for failing to distinguish between discipline and abuse. If you are disciplining your child and draw blood or create bruises, you deserve to lose your job, go to jail, and be judged. Get help. If you are hurting your children to that degree, you are raising future adults who are heading into life as damaged victims ready to repeat the cycle.I would give anything to go back to several moments in my life and dole out in equal measure what was given to me. That desire is one of the single biggest impediments to living a joyous life.”

Several people contacted me privately, as they had a lot to say about it. Abuse, whether it is psychological or physical, is more common that people would like to acknowledge. It’s also commonly hidden and actively concealed from others. There are so many reasons that such things aren’t talked about.

Here are a few of the excerpts from social media (public comment, not private content):
“The system will work great IF people will talk. When they see it or hear, they should call or better yet go talk to someone to report it. Face-to-face makes the story much more credible. It’s not the police’s fault or social services when really all that needs to be done to vastly improve this is for people to come forward and tell someone.”

 “A lot of people ask why people wait until the are adults before speaking out. As a child you are afraid and ashamed. You believe it is your fault. The guilt combined with the fear is overwhelming. You also believe the threats to harm you or your loved ones are real. If you do tell someone, they don’t believe it, or choose to ignore it because it is too ugly. It takes years to recover to the point of being able to talk about it. When you do, people don’t understand unless they experienced it too.”

ALSO, other members of your family can be very disapproving of your coming forward. They will try to shame you into silence.”

 “…everything you say about abuse is true. People need to speak it instead of hide it, for many reasons. There is so much abuse in the world it’s sickening.”

“I so agree. And you know it’s hard when defenders say…. It’s private. I’m a firm believer in sunshine makes situations better.”

Did you know that Adrian Peterson also stuffed LEAVES into his boy’s mouth to keep him from screaming? He also whipped him in the testicles. I think everyone I respect is going to say that stuffing a kid’s mouth with leaves is evidence of pure crazy.”  (Allegedly?)

Others wrote privately about their own struggles and specifics. Much of it was a total surprise to me. I’m glad I wrote the post, even though it shared “too much” for some people. I noticed several key people in my life didn’t touch the post, even though it was sponsored and all over their news feeds.

It is always odd to me when someone engages in an open and honest way and other people have so much baggage that they are afraid to interact.  We can talk and snipe endlessly about politics and other superficial things but when the focus turns intense and personal, for some people, they simply can’t do it.

09142014 Authentic Abuse

Sometimes, I watch a show or movie and the authenticity of the violence is so spot on that it surprises me. Watching this week’s premiere of “Boardwalk Empire” on HBO served up such a moment.

Even though the father of Nucky Thompson had been previously portrayed as malignant, the flashback added an aura of inevitability to the scene. Factoring in that I had told a couple of “you won’t believe how mean my dad was” stories at work that day added a note of surreal to the tv episode. Seeing Nucky’s father act so casual in advance of the brutality seemed real to me. Maybe the writer had experienced abuse but whatever the past circumstances, the chilling expectation of violence shrouded the scene until it happened.

At work, I wasn’t trying to play the “one up” game on my co-workers. But the first of my stories basically slammed the conversation into a wall.. The second anecdote proceeded to burn down the building that the conversation would have been held in.

Infrequently, I forget that not everyone had exposure to such gratuitous violence growing up. Not everyone even really believes such stories, so alien they are to them. All I can do is shrug my shoulders and go on about my day when I encounter doubt.

I don’t live in that house of violence in my adult life. But I certainly drive by it every once and a while and even though I know I should avoid it, I pull into the driveway of my youth and visit old memories stored there. I visit it only because memories are much of my life. Forgetting them is a disservice, just as using them as a crutch would be.


Pollyannas. No one wants undue cynicism in their lives. But equally vexing are those insisting to the point of madness that all things be painted in the most positive light.

Or that if you are experiencing any manner of ill luck, bad experience, or irksome environment, that you should self-censor or desist from expressing it. As if the expression of same is itself infectious.

This post isn’t intended to point a finger at anyone, nor single out any particular line of positive thinking. Rather, it is to contrast the need for positivity against the increasingly sophisticated madness to lessen the output of people who have valid complaints, interesting criticism or words not powered by the blissful lightness of being. There are broken shards of darkness in the world, just as there are beacons of light and hope. Both have their uses in the world and both need room for expression. We don’t need to feed our demons or nightmares- but repression is no less a horrible response.

One person’s complaint is another person’s call to action.

Oliver Burkeman noted in “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking,” “Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong; by fighting to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, the positive thinker ends up being less prepared, and more acutely distressed, when things eventually happen that he can’t persuade himself to believe are good.”

(“Your excessive optimism and insistence that everyone and everything be happy and ecstatic is annoying me.”)

09052014 Who Put the “Curse” in Cursive Writing?

This is the logo used when I was kid. Dolly Madison is now owned by Hostess Foods. I wrote them many years ago, telling their marketing department that their logo sparked my ability to write words.

For those of who know me, I love the style of cursive writing. Writing “longhand,” as we can archaically call it, is a peaceful, meditative thing – at least for me. I wrote letters long after my contemporaries abandoned the practice.For those who had to attempt to read and comprehend my writing, I apologize! My handwriting resembles the scrawls of a man being forced to write at gunpoint, while receiving random electrical shocks. It’s that bad – regardless of the time I spent trying to do it better.

But (and there is always a “but” in these essays), as a left-handed person, cursive written was indeed a cursed activity in school. I remember the first cursive letter I ever wrote. It was an “L.” I was living with my grandparents at the time and they had a small black and white television, so we gathered around it to be entertained. It was either Friday or Saturday evening and we were watching a show sponsored by Dolly Madison. In rural Central-Eastern Arkansas back in the very early 1970s, being able to get even 3 stations was a miracle. Much of the programming was very tame by today’s standards, too. Putting an antennae up was also a necessity but it increased the chances of a lightning bolt to the house, too.

If you look casually at the logo above you can see that the “L” that my grandma showed me how to draw was essentially the bonnet in the logo. I was so proud of myself.

I learned a lot of letters from my grandparents. What is amusing is how relatively uneducated they both were, but they loved the time they spent showing me words. In fact, the way grandpa taught me to read words caused me considerable trouble in 1st grade. My teacher ultimately assigned me special help. I was regarded as a little simple. I simply didn’t know how to sound out words in the way preferred in the alleged modern teaching method. Grandpa had taught me to recognize an immense list of words. I could pronounce them and use them in sentences correctly, but it set me back compared to other kids my age, as I could not break down words into syllables and sounds distinguished by letters. My favorite thing to use to learn new words: the TV guide. In grandma Nellie’s house, the TV guide had more stature than the bible. As I progressed, learning how to sound out the alphabet in pieces instead of whole words, the truth is that I actually learned how to conceal the fact that I was still learning much, much more by learning entire words than I was by sounding them out. I’m still convinced that I can read so quickly precisely because I learned how to read the wrong way. (If you believe that there is a wrong way to learn.)

Before I forget, I didn’t go to kindergarten. Due to mom and dad moving to Northwest Arkansas between school years, I skipped having to go. I went from reading TV Guide to 1st grade at John Tyson Elementary. It is now considered highly unusual for a kid my age to have skipped kindergarten. Back then, though, there weren’t any stringent truancy laws to exact revenge on parents who didn’t enroll their kids in kindergarten or other programs before elementary school.

Later, in school, I had the terrible misfortune of having to deal with a couple of teachers who stupidly insisted that writing with my left-hand was wrong and needed to be harshly weeded out of me. Naturally, I resisted them. My grandpa had insisted that I learn to write and draw with whichever hand was comfortable. He wasn’t progressive in any sense of the word – but he did make an effort to be sure that I enjoyed writing and drawing, even if I did it poorly. And make no mistake about it, my drawing and penmanship were terrible. Unlike other kids, though, I never learned to loathe writing or to be embarrassed about my notable lack of skill. Even as my left hand left huge smears on the paper as I wrote, I didn’t let it dampen my enthusiasm. Even when those very few teachers were asses to me about writing left-handed, I knew they were wrong. One of them in particular tried vainly to shame me for my horrible penmanship. I didn’t care, as I knew that no matter how hard I worked, my penmanship was never going to be great. Some teachers just couldn’t get it through their heads that, as a left-hander, their methods of instruction were exactly backwards to me. Even in the 6th grade, I had a teacher treat me like an ape over my lack of concern over writing with the “correct” hand. She never missed an opportunity to tell me my handwriting was atrocious. Little did she know that my dad had already provided infinite training in the ability to ignore a lot of harshness being directed at me. She was a child in an adult’s world, at least in my mind. I do wonder sometimes whether she realized how horrible she seemed to me then.

Now, seeing that the tide is turning regarding cursive writing, I would like to weigh in and say that I admire cursive writing. It’s elegant and evokes times past. It does enhance motor control and acuity. But so do many other activities, ones more anchored in our ever-changing world.

But it is still wrong to continue to require it. The arguments being made for continuing to teach it are usually based on not understanding where cursive originated.

The world has moved on and those who would shout to the heavens to require this antiquated way of writing are wrong to insist on their stubbornness to require it. Focus on regular writing and leave cursive writing with calligraphy, which once was an admired and respectable means to write. Like it or not, the world has shifted to block lettering, preferred by computers and keyboards. Try as you might to anchor written communication to the past, it is not going to be successful or even necessary. It is the way of the world to claim remorse over the changing ways we live our lives and to seek to keep elements of our past alive, long after the necessity or even the utility of it has passed. I can understand the appeal toward maintaining old customs, even when they are no longer relevant.

Remember, I love cursive writing, even though it was very difficult for me to learn. Part of it might have been that everything looked backwards to me in my hard-wired left-handed world. As much as I love the idea and essence of cursive writing, it is already an elective art.

It is time for schools to acknowledge the antiquated status of cursive and use the immense time involvement on something much more useful, such as reading. One of my personal prejudices is the belief that reading in and of itself is one of the most redeeming and intellectually valuable pursuits of anyone, at any age.


If you are interested, you should google “Writing in Cursive,” or read the link here: Click Here for Cursive Wikipedia Article        Cursive was used for informal writing, while what we might call block lettering was the preferred and more esteemed way to write. Cursive was considered to be more illegible. Interesting? I think so. If you only read the Wikipedia page in the leak, I’m certain that you will discover that the issue is a little more convoluted than those arguing about it would admit to.

Cursive writing also originated from the necessity of compensating for quills and other antiquated writing utensils. Not lifting one’s writing utensil not only provided for greater speed, but also mitigated limitations of the method used to write. Please note that people arguing in favor of mandatory cursive training in school are in fact making an argument based on aesthetics over obsolescence.

Johnson Police Department: Thank You?

Need a laugh? Read this needlessly long anecdote. The only ticket I received in Johnson in my life was a warning for speeding down the hill (on a ten-speed bicycle) that connects Main and goes over the railroad tracks to hit Johnson Road. (When I used to run and walk, I did get a “stop-and-greet-who-are-you” kind of thing several dozen times, though.) I lived there many, many years and have always been extremely careful, given that there are 3,457 cops in Johnson at any given time. (Some statisticians have stated that Johnson has more police than citizens, although I think they might have been drunk when they postulated this…) I’m not a good driver, not really, so when it matters, I have to pretend I’m not an idiot. I drive to work at 4 a.m. so I don’t do anything to draw attention to myself. I drive past Johnson police to and from work and in my daily life a few dozen times a week, waving to most of them as I pass.

I bought a used car from Ford on College last year, so the police have seen me drive past them in my lovely 2007 Ford Focus no less than 500 times in this last year. Before that, I drove a beige Honda and they knew that car very well, too. Important to this story is that this car is UGLY. I bought it solely based on price and that I needed a car with working wheels and a motor. There are so many defects on this car it might as well have been in the demolition derby. I haven’t done anything to it. I don’t even wash it. I don’t care about the appearance of my car, whether it gets reception on the radio (the antennae is broken), or even if there are spiders in it. It’s ugly and only intended to get me to work and back. Dawn will get a laugh out of this story because she loathes this car. She would rather have to ride a donkey than be in it. What is really going to confuse her is that I came home and ate lunch without mentioning this incident today. She’s going to be really happy that my ugly Ford Focus resulted in a ticket. (As happy as she was that fine Sunday morning when we for some reason drove past the Johnson police department on the way to church, doing 23 mph and got blue-lighted, even though there was no other traffic anywhere on the planet. Have you tried driving 23 mph? It’s like explaining physics to your cat.)

Today, as I turn off of Main Street heading up the hill, a Johnson police car is about to exit the church parking lot on the left-side. He pulls part of the way out of the lot into the street, stopping suddenly, having to yield to me as I come up the hill. “Great,” I tell myself, “now I have to ride the brake all the way down the long side of the hill with a cop behind me.” Which I do, because I’m not stupid. I ride that brake so hard that I can feel the car getting angry at me. So, with no traffic in either direction, I ride the brake, the cop literally on my bumper. Almost at the bottom, the blue lights come on. Incredulous, I immediately pull over in the grass in front of the railroad tracks, excited to hear what heinous crime I must have committed. In my mind, I’m more curious than concerned, because I knew I hadn’t broken any laws. Was my license plate stolen? Did I have a flat? Maybe the policeman was going to tell me something helpful? Since it was Johnson, my optimism at such an outcome was less than high, to say the least. I would’ve taken Vegas odds against this being a positive encounter.

I of course have my window already down, the car off, and all my papers ready. Due to my ridiculous name, I don’t take any chances. Trust me, if your name were X, you would be quite careful in your interactions with police. I don’t mind being shot; I just don’t want to see it coming. The officer walks up to my car and after asking where I work, tells me that he noticed that my windows looked awfully dark. I told him, I bought this car used from Ford on College last August and had asked them directly if the tint was perhaps too dark. Ford told me “no.” I didn’t care whether the car had tinted windows and that I don’t care if any of my vehicles do. Since the day I bought the car, I’ve never once thought about the windows on this car. That’s not what a car is for me. It’s a box to get in and drive. The policeman returns with a photometer and shows me that the windows are in violation. He could have used a Star Trek device for all I know, as I’m ignorant about tint – or anything on a car that isn’t necessary. He said, “Yes, the legal limit is (insert whatever imaginary number applies in this blank) and your windows aren’t legal.” (Nerd joke, all I could think of what that I was using pirated software on my Windows computer.)

When the officer presented me a ticket, he was very pleasant. I’m in no way faulting his presentation, dress, demeanor or ethic. Who wouldn’t be nice? He was the one writing the ticket and making me have a terrific afternoon by giving out involuntary autographs to people with guns. I was very polite in my entire interaction with the officer. I’m certain he would agree that I was nothing but pleasant and respectful to him. Nothing I said or did lead to him writing the ticket. He had decided immediately to ticket me, no matter what the circumstances. That is what really, really bugs me. I asked him (paraphrasing): “So, even though I acted in good faith and asked about the tint of the windows, and don’t care about the windows being tinted, I’m getting a ticket? Even though no one was harmed and even a verbal request from you right now to go pay and have the tint stripped at my own cost would result in me doing so immediately?” “Yes,” he answered, “your tint is too dark.” He then showed me on the ticket where to call if I had questions. I was puzzled. I would have had the tint removed, immediately. He didn’t have to warn me or even talk to me in a helpful manner. But he could have – and it would have fixed the problem. No, he was nice and can’t be faulted for his demeanor. But the decision to give me a ticket requiring a court date or prepayment is counterproductive.

Instead of teaching me a lesson, it is only going to make me make incredibly funny remarks at Johnson’s expense. I will no longer pretend to defend the countless remarks I hear all the time about the “speed trap” mentality that most people think that motivates Johnson. While I didn’t get a speeding ticket, the one I did get was just plain dumb.

Granted, he must be absolutely right to have given me a ticket. It was his right to do so. Please note that I agree whole-heartedly that he had the right, assuming he wasn’t playing a prank on me with his Star Trek photometer. He’s also right- it doesn’t matter that I asked Ford to make sure that the tint wasn’t too dark or that I could care less about having tinted windows, or that it is my responsibility even after all that. But I’m also right that no real progress was made here today, other than to the Johnson City’s coffers once I pay the fine. The officer could have told me, “Sir, get this fixed immediately and please remind those people you know to be aware of the tint laws.” I would have agreed totally and driven off and done exactly as he told me, probably directly to the nice dealer who apparently misled me about the tint not being too dark. The fine from the ticked is not important to me. I don’t care. It doesn’t serve to deter me from further crime, because I didn’t commit one in the first place. It’s not going to impact my ability to eat at Subway’s or cause me to be homeless.

No, it encourages me to look at this interaction with a very humorous and snarky eye. I guess Johnson does need the revenue. I didn’t commit any other alleged offense other than buying a car with windows that are too dark. I then proceeded to drive this in front of Johnson police, day in and day out, a few hundred times, in both total dark and high noon sunlight. But today, for some unknown reason, I drew the attention of this police officer who wanted to write me a ticket. Hundreds of times Johnson police officers sat and watched me wave at them, and wave back at me, without a hint of an issue with my windows being too dark. Yes, it’s my fault for believing Ford when I asked and they told me my windows were fine. Yes, it is my responsibility. I’m not arguing any of that. I guess paying fines that serve no purpose is good civic practice. But an even BETTER civic practice is getting on Facebook and being snarky about it. I pray that Johnson has no law on the books that prohibits talking about this. But if there is and I don’t know about it, then I am automatically at fault for that, too.

(Maybe I have a fan on Facebook who saw me warning everyone to get out and push their cars instead of driving them to avoid a speeding ticket on the new road by Johnson Mills? If so, hey dude, what’s up? Send me a friend’s request.)

Based on the confidence of this officer to write me a ticket for something that should have not went past the warning phase, I would go so far as to say publicly that in reality, all those Johnson police officers, day in and day out, who waved at me as I passed them in my illegal 2007 Ford Focus should be called out and given a harsh lecture about public safety. How dare they allow Mr. X to drive past them for an entire year without being issued a ticket? Don’t they know that Johnson needs dollars to pay for those cruisers? Don’t they know that in matters of good faith, it is always better to punish the driver?

Before I forget, the joke is that this ticket was issued to me on the very same hill I was ticketed on back in the early 90s, riding my ten-speed bike. Granted, the previous ticket was the on the opposite side of the hill. For years, I had that warning framed. I should have kept it. For those of who aren’t familiar with the reputation that the Johnson police once had, you can suffice it say that they weren’t on the “Let Jesus forgive them” side of the equation.

Now, of course, I want nothing other than to get in my highly dangerous 2007 Ford Focus and drive up and down the Johnson roadways going exactly the speed limit. You read that right. The best revenge is driving the speed limit and making all the other motorists put their heads out their windows and shoot me in the face as they drive by in anger at moving so slowly. I guess my illegally tinted windows will help me evade the shots as they ring out? The Johnson police will be so busy investigating me getting shot at that they won’t have time to get creative with the ticket writing.

I’m not going to go to court and explain to Johnson’s judge that I didn’t know. I spend enough hours of my day at work, explaining the obvious to my own bosses only to watch their eyes roll back into their heads. I see no need to be prattled at for something as stupid as this. But it was worth a long facebook rant. Remember, you will never get these moments back, the ones you spent reading my goofy story.

An old joke: If you ever feel un-noticed or like no one knows you are alive, then drive through Johnson.

Later, I wrote the Chief of Police an email. While I’m glad he eventually wrote me back, it made me shake my head in bewilderment at what he wrote. His response was that he couldn’t teach his officers to do the right thing and to always be sure to not do something simply because they can. It wasn’t written even that plainly – it was disjointed and not focused. But that’s the argument: he couldn’t teach his officers to do the right thing. I had a couple of other smart people I trust read the letter to ensure I wasn’t imagining. “4th grade” was the response. Oops.

I did pay someone to remove all thee tint from my windows, every bit of it. It damaged the windows and defroster, among other things.

Since then, many people have told me their Johnson Police Department stories, engaged with me on social media, and universally told me that they routinely avoid driving in Johnson thanks to the police force there.

08252014 Basic Human Dignity

Warning: Negativity and person opinion expressed here.

Yesterday, my wife and I went to buy groceries in Springdale. I made my first round for heavy items and went through the register to pay for them. An older lady was at the register and I could tell she had probably seen her fair share of issues in life. I did what I always do and got her to chit-chat. After I took my ton of groceries to the car and came back inside and finished up the other round with my wife, we ended up at the exact same register. The cashier had called over and gestured a couple of kiosks away, calling toward a younger person by her name. “Do you want me to ask her to come over here?” I jokingly asked. She said “Would you?” to me, and told the younger person several feet away “I still need to go to the bathroom.” The younger person could see that I was looking so she took a few steps toward the older cashier (without getting close enough to maintain privacy) and the cashier told her “I desperately need to go to the bathroom.” The younger person pointed toward the other kiosk and brusquely said “NO. I can’t leave him here, he is training and I have to watch him.” She went back over to stand motionless, in place, and watch the trainee, leaving my cashier to squirm in discomfort, her line now having 4 people behind us and no hope for an obviously necessary bathroom break in sight. I can only presume that she didn’t start screaming in anger once I left or storm off the job she obviously needed to survive.

I’m ashamed that I didn’t lie down on the floor and commence to screaming in protest. The cashier could have been anyone’s mother or grandmother. (Except mine – my mom would have thrown a can of tomatoes at the young supervisor, as well as taught her a few new curse words.) The way the older cashier was treated with disregard lingered in my mind during the evening, while I was trying to sleep and then still bothered me this morning again.

If you missed the word “still” in my story, the cashier had asked previously, well ahead of time and then been ignored. She tried to make the best of a bad situation and was polite to her “supervisor.” She had to be humiliated and was forced to mention her need in front of several people, without being given any chance at privacy. After all that, she had to grimace and writhe instead of being allowed to go to the bathroom.

I got angrier and angrier at myself because I failed to intervene. I’d like to think it was because I didn’t want to create a scene that escalated to the older cashier being in trouble, even though she had done nothing wrong and any reaction would have been on my shoulders, both as a human being and as a customer.

For all of you who have jobs which would never put you in this kind of situation, please stop and think for a moment that there are a lot of people in jobs where the basic need to go to the bathroom is questioned. I worked at a place like that for many years; several of my jobs required “permission” to walk away. Absent permission, you could and would be disciplined or fired if you dared stray from you position. Not all the stories about people losing control and soiling themselves were urban legends. For people with great jobs, this might be difficult to accept as truth. I saw it directly more than once myself, as well as being involved from a H.R. standpoint later.

If you are a supervisor or own a business, please stop and think that staffing to a level which allows and encourages people to know that they are human beings and are valued as such is paramount. Please raise your prices if that is what it takes to ensure that everyone can exercise basic human liberty. I will gladly buy less stuff if it guarantees that people are afforded more dignity.

Taking the comparison to another level, to all the businesses who think that you are saving money by compromising the safety and health of your employees by forcing them to behave in unsafe ways or to treat other human beings as interchangeable cogs to be discarded, I hope that karma is just a concept with no real-world teeth to it. Shame on this harsher outlook toward employees. Saving money to stay and grow in any business with this attitude is a disservice to society. Compete intelligently and remember that at each step employees are human beings who would otherwise tell you to jump into a molten lake of lava for forgetting their humanity – if they could do so. If you can’t remember that people always trump process and profit, you aren’t doing anyone any favors by employing them.

08222014 Lucid Dreams and Grandma

This is me at one day of age. Grandpa’s chair…

I don’t often have lucid dreams. But it seems that when I do, the fatigue of being dragged back out of the dreamworld lingers in my head, making me foggy. It is an alluring pull to feel as if the world imagined while sleeping might be more authentic than the mundane one I’ve awakened to. The dreams of my youth are coming with less frequency now. I wonder sometimes whether it is because age requires the penalty of forgetfulness from us, or perhaps whether it is the nature of life to lose the taste and feel of the simpler pleasures in life, when an entire universe could be housed in a much smaller space than is required of us as adults. When I was younger, I considered the taste of some candy to be as exquisite as fine cuisine. The wardrobe closet my grandparents had in my grandpa’s bedroom might as well been a secret warehouse, given the exaggerations of my imagination. Even though my grandparents world was relatively small, I never felt small or unappreciated there. Any activity could be made to be interesting. Even looking at pictures of family members I didn’t really know held interest and allure. One picture of a cousin of mine made age seem like an impossible barrier, for her graduation picture was always on the walls, even before I had started school. Grandma would tell me tales of when she was young and in my mind she might as well have been describing “Little House on the Prairie” to me. I had no true accounting of time nor of its insistent race to meet me.

I don’t mean to imply that modern life is not better or that times past hold an authenticity no longer possible. Quite the contrary. Life is much better, and among good people, the chances for a great life are better than ever. I don’t share many people’s pessimism toward our modern society. We have more opportunities for education, food, and healthcare. Nothing can trump the presence or absence of someone who loves you abundantly and dearly. In the past, modern contrivances weren’t so readily available to intervene between you and those you cherished. Stuff is no more of a negative now than it was then.It’s up to us whether we value people and experiences more than we do the things we fill our houses with.

Likewise, I know that my grandma and grandpa had many faults, especially when they were younger. But I wasn’t exposed to most of that. Even the mention of a lesser life was just a story bearing no resemblance to them, as they rarely looked at me with anything less than appreciation, even when I wasn’t being a joy for them. I like to think that my grandparents deserve all the credit for any good that blossomed in my personality and that most of the clouds that still darken my days as an adult were from the “other” of my youth. In fact, I know it to be true, even as this acknowledgement might wound those confined to the grouping of “others” in my childhood. My grandparents weren’t educated, but I learned my first letters and reading with them. I learned how to use a hammer without being screamed at for doing it wrong. (To grandpa, it was impossible to do it wrong. You did it until you figured out how to do it right.) I learned to sew and in the doing distinguished that most responsible people would find it to be a great asset in life. I learned that even though it might be 100 degrees on an August night, I wouldn’t melt. Grumbling was encouraged, especially if it were done in a creative way. But once it was time to stop grouching, it was simply time to deal with the situation and go on about your business.

On a recent night, my wife stirred and got up for an eternal minute. Prior to her stirring, my dreams had been evocative of rain, cotton and tree climbing. My dreams turned vivid after she came back to bed and I slowly slid back into a vivid dream. I woke up around 5 a.m. again, still hearing the false echo of rain beating on the tin roof at my grandparents house. Instead of being in my own bed, I expected to open my eyes and find myself looking out the window facing the porch at my grandma’s house, the window screen inches from my face, looking out at the acres of cotton growing around the house and across the road. Until this lucid dream, I had forgotten that the old “house on the hill” had a second door on the front of the house, one leading from near the porch swing to the back bedroom. How had I forgotten that? Grandma never used that door and it certainly didn’t make her feel comfortable. Thinking back on it, it seems strange that she could sleep next to an open window where anyone could reach inside – but a closed, lock door might cause her more concern.

In the dream, grandma had made me a coke special. To assemble it, she would take ice cubes, fold them into a towel, and then hammer the towel to crush the ice, which she would then put into an old snuff glass and pour coca-cola from a 2-quart bottle. She had also popped popcorn, leaving the kernels in the bowl for me. It always concerned her that I enjoyed trying to break my teeth on the unpopped kernels, a habit I still love to this day. (If was a cold day and the living room wood stove was lit, she let me put the unpopped kernels on it to burn them. There’s nothing like the taste of burned kernels!)

I was sitting on the living room floor to the right of the unlit stove, the window air conditioner to my right, enjoying it blowing cold air across the top of my head. It was a cool day for summertime and the air conditioner was off more than on, a rare thing in those mosquito-dominated fields. Grandma was behind me, sitting in her chair, talking to me about General Hospital. The bowl of popcorn containing enough popped corn to feed 5 children, a cluck of chickens and two monkeys and a glass of coke were in front of me, almost forming a food altar. Grandma gave me an appreciation for the use of food as an expression of love. It was a perfect summer afternoon. My only goal was to consume an inhuman amount of popcorn and swill it down with another equally devastating dose of coke.

A weather warning interrupted the intense drama of General Hospital. A storm was moving across the southern part of Arkansas. Grandma didn’t distinguish between a distant storm 100 miles away and one overhead – they were all equally menacing. A fatal storm had ravaged my hometown in the early 1900s when she was a very young girl and countless storms since then had hammered the apprehension of storms to a fine point. Grandpa was outside sitting on the porch, facing the side of the house and the cotton field just a few feet away, ignoring grandma’s hollering for him to get inside. “Wooly! It’s fixing to start. Get on in here.”

(Grandma tended to pronounce his name “Willie” as if it were “wooly.” I didn’t know any better for many, many years.)

Instead of grandpa coming inside, I went outside on the porch (as grandma was fervently listening and watching the weather bulletin on the television). I walked barefoot – always barefoot! – along the length of the front porch to sit next to him, jumping up to sit. He pulled out his plug of Cannonball tobacco, jokingly offering to cut me off a sliver with his ever-present pocket knife. This time, I accepted. He sliced off a shaving so thin that it could have been an eyelash. I took it off the point of his knife and put it in my mouth. The harsh yet pleasant taste of tobacco flooded my mouth. I knew better than to swallow it, though. After a minute I jumped off the swing and leaned over the edge of the porch and attempted to spit it as far toward the edge of the cotton field as I could. I missed by at least ten feet, of course. Grandpa laughed. The wind had picked up and another weather bulletin could be heard, interrupting Grandma’s episode of General Hospital. After a long interval, grandma hollered once again for us to get back inside. Grandpa just slightly shook his head, having no intention of going inside. Even with the approach of an actual funnel cloud, his usual course of action was to stay outside as long as humanly possible or until he feared that grandma was going to have a stroke shouting at him to get his fool neck in the storm shelter. A couple of yellow jackets lazily buzzed around grandpa’s head and then across his hand, which was wrapped around the chain supported the wooden swing. He didn’t even bother to wave them away. His approach to wasps was the same as everything else at that point in his life: if it were going to bother him, he’d wait and let it decide for itself. When we watched “Kung Fu” together on the black-and-white tv, I could tell he got a kick out of the simple lessons being taught to Grasshopper in the show. I think his approach to wasps would have fit nicely into “Kung Fu.” 

By then, the wind had begun to make the galvanized tin sheets comprising the roof to pop with more force. Losing the roof was a real concern. While it might cause damage, replacing one of those tin roofs was a much simpler and inexpensive task than a modern roof, plus they provided a sound that cannot be matched in our modern society: the sound of rain pattering upon a tin roof. Nothing compares to that sound, not even the call for supper when you are hungry or the feel of the first sip of a coke special, handmade by your grandmother. While I’ve never considered it before, I can’t remember a mention of my maternal grandparents ever owning a house, either. Whether he owned the house or not, grandpa would build a storm shelter into the ground using nothing except hand tools. I remember when they moved to the “house on the hill,” watching him use an ax, shovel and saw to carve a place into the ground and build grandma another storm shelter. It was grueling work.

I know that there are a lot of pictures out in the world from the time when Grandma and Grandpa lived in that shotgun house in Rich. It would be a gift indeed if they were all loose in the world. Each contains a moment and a reminder. Perhaps one day everyone with legacy pictures will allow them to be shared. Perhaps. 

P.S. I know that we have metal roofs in abundance now, but they aren’t comparable to the bygone tin roofs of days past. (But much safer!) A shotgun house with a tin roof had a different set of rules governing its comforting acoustic sound of rain upon it. Unlike modern houses, insulation was rare in such houses. The space between you and sky could instantly be made apparent if the roof were peeled back, as nothing but 2 X 4s, tin and plywood usually kept your head indoors.  Were it raining, there was no need to stick one’s head out of the confines of the house – the metal roof telegraphed perfectly the intensity of every weather change. As a bonus, an average man could learn how to fix a tin roof without too much danger or intelligence, something that is no longer true with our houses.

William “Willie” Arthur Cook and Nellie Leona Phillips sitting at the house.

(Looking at this picture reminds me that time either feels fleeting or eternal. This one was probably taken in the very early 1970s, 40 years ago. Each of us, right now, is living a similar moment, unaware that time is looking at us with a wicked grin as it speeds past us, feeding on our ignorance of how precious our time is.)

08212014 A Remembrance…

The picture above is of my mother’s tombstone. My sister designed it by herself, paid for it and had it placed at my mother’s grave. The grave is in the Upper Cemetery, in Rich, a small community near Brinkley in Monroe County, Arkansas.

As always, much of this blog is personal and perhaps I should spend more time perfecting my words. Once they are out there, they will be quoted out of context and stretched to include meanings I didn’t intend. I don’t write things to lash out and I don’t write them to demand a response. My opinion is no more meaningful than anyone else’s opinion, not in the real way that the world works.  (Previous Post About Writing ANYTHING  – click here…)  This post is not perfect but I fear the hesitation I have about “finishing” it enough to post it will never subside, so here it is, warts and all.

Before writing and forgetting to mention it, I don’t fully understand why some people need to raise a fuss about the tombstone. The person who stepped up to the plate chose a headstone that was meaningful to her. Her intention was to pay homage to her mother. Granted, it isn’t a traditional headstone. That’s a good thing. It would be very stupid of me to rant and rave about the tradition of expectations regarding tombstones when I favor creativity and originality everywhere else.

(I hate the idea of being buried, but love cemeteries. That’s just my contradictory life. I would not have chosen burial for my mother, nor a headstone, left to my own devices and beliefs. Again, though, that is my definitive opinion.)

When I first realized that this was the design chosen by my sister, I was surprised. I don’t know why I was surprised because craziness runs in my family! It certainly made for a great story to share. And I did share it. But I had to ask myself over and over: what exactly made it a great story? The answer lies in the fact that it was going to totally be in people’s faces about mom and how her daughter was going to remember her. It was the ultimate way of saying “There are no secrets.” Absent a major disaster, the stone is going to survive for generations and be spread on grave websites for decades. People are going to look it and probably be caught in surprise at its brashness. The cemetery where the headstone is located is comprised of mostly nondescript headstones. Creativity and style are not attributes that the family members buried there would seek out. Mom’s life is already lived, the pages of her moments already remembered, categorized and sorted in the minds of everyone who knew her. The stone isn’t going to change anyone’s perceptions of my mother.

A family member told me that she was “sickened” by the tombstone that was erected on my mother’s grave. What a horrible reaction! I can see her point about it not being traditional or what might be expected. But I don’t see it as offensive. In this scenario, the person voicing the opinion is choosing to be offended. For those who fail to make their wishes explicitly clear to those you leave behind, you should expect to not have your wishes followed. Do you really want someone like me stepping in after you’re gone? I would honor your wishes but you can be certain that if things are left up to me there is going to be some weirdness involved. In the case of the family member who was sickened, her opinion in the matter is going to be an unwritten footnote, confined to her circle in life. The longevity of the tombstone is going to drown out and render as forgotten all the negative commentary made about my sister’s choices. I see that my sister chose appropriately and in the way she saw fit. But if I did disagree, my words of reproach would be nothing more than crows screeching outside the window, while my sister’s effort will outlast any criticism. She gets the last word on mom’s tombstone.

(Although I’ve said this many times before, my dad did not want to be buried. Ever. But, he was buried and one of the many revisionist family members claims  to this day that he wanted it that way. He hated the idea of being put in the ground. In many ways, this could be construed to be much more of a problem than the content of someone’s tombstone.)

This headstone is  a true representation of my mom, and it was done with the sincerest intentions. It is an odd thing for me to be writing in defense of anything my sister does. Lord knows that the opposite is usually the case. She is crazier than I am – and that is quite a feat.

The person who steps up and takes responsibility for taking care of the things that other people won’t gets a lot of leeway. In this case, it was my sister. She chose to put a childhood nickname for my mom on the headstone, as well as having a Bud Light can etched in it. I’m convinced she did it for her own sincere reasons. It was an expression of her feelings. But even if she had chosen the stone and its content for no reason whatsoever, I still don’t see the problem.

Maybe that makes me the problem? I can certainly laugh about it. I do “get” that those who are compelled to follow a certain social set of norms might not appreciate it. It’s not what “most” people would choose. But the tombstone isn’t a summation of my mom’s life. That life has already been lived. It is a reminder to each of us that our legacy is being written every moment of every day. We can’t control how it is spun and told once we are gone, if we are remembered much at all. It would have been a valid reaction if at some point all of mom’s children turned their backs on her. One of her children decided to take charge and remember her.

Some of my family might say “That’s not how she should be remembered.” Again, this isn’t really a reasonable thing to say to my sister. Other family members are going to tell her how to remember her own mother? How does that sound in your head when you try to argue it silently? “Listen, I know she was your mom and you were very close to her, but you have no right to remember her in the way you choose.” Hmmm…. My sister had a very tumultuous relationship with with my mom. It was not a stable, consistent relationship, but it belonged to them, both anger and affection intertwined. 

Is a family going to object to mom’s nickname on the tombstone? Why? It was her nickname and not one used in anger or ridicule. Was it her picture? I don’t see why. It was a good picture of mom and it cost my sister a lot of extra money to have it made and applied to the tombstone. Eliminating those two elements leaves only the possibility of the etched Bud Light can on the bottom of the stone. I say it without malice and without the intention to further lessen the memory of my mother in my sister’s eyes, but one thing every living being on this planet must understand and know is that mom was a heavy, heavy drinker. It was a defining characteristic in her life and lead her down many of her darker roads in life. It’s no secret to anyone who knew her. All who knew her would nod their heads in agreement that drinking was one of those things that defined my mother. Denying that this is true doesn’t make it less true. It doesn’t hurt my mother and it doesn’t do any harm to anyone who knew her. Everyone who knew my mom knew her for who and what she was, for good or for ill. Each person related to her in their own way. This is true for me and it is certainly true for my sister. I don’t preach at people about some of the craziness I was put through as a child with the intention of changing the truth of my experience nor to harm anyone. It is my experience and I own it. The same is true for my sister. She was putting an iconic remembrance of her mother on the tombstone, one which to her vividly recognizes its impact in her life. I’m not quite sure how people can take that and make it something dishonorable or claim it be misleading about mom’s life. Please stop and think before lecturing or clucking to yourself about someone like my sister misrepresenting the path that she shared with my mother. We looked on them and their on-again, off-again relationship as outsiders. We didn’t understand them when they were alive and we won’t ever understand now that mom is gone. I don’t think my sister cares about most people’s opinions because we can never penetrate past our unfamiliarity about their relationship to one another. We are outsiders.

Since I’m on the soapbox ranting and preaching, I would argue that it is the tendency to suppress the truth or the things that might put people in a bad light that is the source of much of what made a great deal of our family life simply a tragedy. Kill someone drinking and driving? Don’t talk about it. Beat your wife and kids? Don’t talk about it. Go to prison? Don’t talk about it. Affairs? Shhhh….Not talking about it only led to more of the same stupid nonsense from some of the family. More light on the issues that were really true and harming people might have made people’s lives better. But that’s not how many people were raised. People collectively agreed that silence was the best method to deal with the things that make people’s lives both difficult and interesting. For mom, I’ve written before how completely transformed she was after I graduated high school, dad left her and she went to rehab in Fort Smith. She emerged from treatment as a vital, interesting person. I cannot adequately explain to you the Jekyll-Hyde transformation that took place unless you’ve experienced it firsthand yourself. Mom was a different person and the variable was the removal of the alcohol from her life, coupled with a new realization that there was something for her left in life. Maybe if people had been more open and forthcoming when she younger, maybe her road would have veered into a more vibrant way to live. The beer can etched into my mother’s tombstone isn’t an embarrassment or an accusation, it is an authentic acknowledgement of one of the most powerful things in her life. Her relationship to almost every person she knew was bloodied by her drinking. Having it on her tombstone isn’t a finger of blame pointed at her, but rather one of the truest things that could ever be said about her. It would be shocking to find anyone who knew her that didn’t have a lot of tales to share about the stuff she got into from drinking. Most people who would share those stories now wouldn’t sit and share out of spite. The truth isn’t diminished by sharing – it is only damaged when those who are left behind are pressed to change their memories to suit a better version of someone. With enough time passing, we all lose some luster off of our halos and even the horrible things we’ve said and done can be appreciated to be parts of our lives. Excising them from our stories about people can be a dishonest thing to do their memories.

For those of you with great mothers and fathers, you were given an unimaginable start in life. While I don’t intentionally paint my parents with accusatory brushstrokes of criticism, it is a truth to be echoed in my life that my parents were diminished in many ways. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to love them or to experience many of things that I witnessed other people in life get to cherish. But it did mean that I was ill-equipped to respond better to life as I met it. That violence in childhood tainted me and it lessened my chance to have an authentic way of interacting with my parents. It is my story to remember that I finally found my own voice to reject much of what my parents found normal and to not feel guilty about leaving them out of my life. My mom got the last laugh though, in her last year, by trumping my new confidence with her own approaching death. Our relationships with friends and family are reciprocal and defining to us.So, too, is the one I had with mom, even though it was ultimately characterized by our distance to one another at a fundamental level.

Please remember that my sister chose a way to honor her relationship with mom in her own way. She meant it in the most authentic way possible for her. Her choices do make for great story but she will indeed get the last laugh, as all the detractors pass away from the earth, taking their criticisms with them. Her remembrance of mom will stand alone, whispering its message to the nearby swamp around it – to surpass the ages and maybe even everyone who once lived to remember mom.

 (“It is no accident that those who scream the loudest for you to speak only when you have something positive to say are usually the ones with the most interest in keeping you quiet.” -x)