Hearing Our Own Voices

Hearing Our Own Voices

“During the period of the drumming, a member of the protestor’s entourage began yelling at a fellow student that we “stole our land” and that we should “go back to Europe.” I heard one of my fellow students begin to respond. I motioned to my classmate and tried to get him to stop engaging with the protestor, as I was still in the mindset that we needed to calm down tensions,” Sandmann said. “I never felt like I was blocking the Native American protestor. He did not make any attempt to go around me. It was clear to me that he had singled me out for a confrontation, although I am not sure why.”

The above words are those of Nick Sandmann that he states a day after the viral video of him facing Nathan Phillips. Many opinions have been written about the hostility displayed by three groups on the steps, of all places, the Lincoln Memorial.

First, I am doubtful of young Sandmann’s statement. It reads much too mature to have been written by a high school student. Having taught high school English, I am familiar with the writing of youngsters, and few, if any high schoolers use phrases such as “…I was still in the mindset….”  Why did it take a day for him and even his mother to explain his actions?

Second, the very small group of black Israelites were shouting slurs of all types to Sandmann’s school group. That is wrong. But they also can be heard saying “See, they [students] are mocking him [Phillips].”

Third, Phillips walks to the student group along with others of his group. He has explained his action as an attempt to calm the situation and has stated that he put himself in what he now sees as a dangerous  position.

All three points above are open to interpretation as the videos are viewed. We will be offered different opinions, such as the one in National Review stressing that the media was fooled by Phillips. I understand and am grateful that we can discuss our views. However, what I cannot understand is why a chaperone, when asked by a student if the boys could chant school cheers, gave permission.

Teenagers! Not always the best thinkers. Sometimes they don’t even think fully. Add that the group was all male and examine that potential. As a parent and educator, I have witnessed the harm they can do to themselves and others. But what I can’t comprehend is the adult’s reasoning when he or she allowed the boys to chant anything, even school cheers. What type of role modeling is that? Does the adult who approved the chants and the other chaperones who allowed the chanting and jumping to continue, approve of mob action? They must, because they allowed the boys, their young charges, to become a yelling mob, an army without a leader, to paraphrase Mark Twain. And, it is a bit ironic that the yelling and screaming took place on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial just prior to the Martin L. King, Jr. Holiday.

Whatever your views of the situation, and there is potential for several, it is obviously another example showing how low our culture has fallen. As Yeats wrote, “…the falcone cannot hear the falconer/Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;…”  We shout. We jump. We hear only our voice or ones like it. We say we are Christian as young Sandmann does, but we act worldly.

Young Sandmann and his classmates should hear the words spoken by the President in whose shadow that yelled, jumped, and screamed, even when allowed to by an adult. “The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend,” are words spoken by President Lincoln as he worked to unite our country after the Civil War.

Our country was molded by debate and no Signer got everything he wanted. It is said that Franklin, when asked by the wife of Philadelphia’s mayor, what the Founding Fathers had “given us”, responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

 

 

“It Doesn’t Matter”

 

When I drove this week to a local flea market to meet a friend who was bringing me some wood, I encountered a woman and a younger woman who seemed to be her daughter. Because their large, loaded pickup truck was parked in a handicap spot, I inquired why they, two able bodied people unloading many items they were moving into the flea market, were parked in a spot reserved for handicapped people. The older woman showed me a hang tag used by some handicapped folks. As I looked at her walking and unloading a large amount of “stuff”, I told her I doubted her need for such a spot. Her response was a challenging, “How do you know I  don’t have a heart condition?” As I watched them unload more items, her daughter remarked, “It doesn’t matter.” As a wheelchair user I differ with the woman and her daughter,  and I dialed the Mooresville Police non-emergency number, and the older woman hopped into her large truck and moved it.

Since early November we have been working with the natural gas company to connect a generator to our home. Things have moved slowly and not always well: Electrical lines were not properly connected. The permit number was not reported to Iredell County government. The lines connecting the generator and new water heater were not correctly installed. A water line was left dripping in a bathroom, and it took days before the gas company returned to correct the error. On and on the saga goes.

Yesterday the lawn company came and, using those loud and noisy blowers, piled all the pine needles, pine cones, and dead tree limbs next to the road. Later in the day two workers came and used a large vacuum-truck to collect all the debris. This morning while riding my stationary bike, I noticed several large, dead limbs lying in the drainage ditch. The workers had piled them there because they could not be thrown into the vacuum.  While I appreciate that the workers are mindful of the company’s equipment, I wish they had been aware of the need for the drainage ditch to be open so that water would flow freely.

These three incidents happened in one week, and I think the words of the young woman at the flea market shout out in our present cultural attitude  of “It doesn’t matter.”

I admit to certain areas of sensitivity: I am annoyed by two people who are able to unload a packed truck but park in a handicapped parking space. I am irritated by trained craftsmen such as electricians who are sloppy in their work. I resent having to clean up after any workman who is  being paid to do a good job.

The young woman (daughter?) at the flea market said, “It doesn’t matter” more than once. Perhaps she was wanting to de-escalate what she saw as anger between the older woman and me. While I can’t speak for the older female, I was irritated, but not angry. Too often in my seventeen years of wheelchair life, I have suffered such self-serving people who use a handicapped space, even after they have wangled a hang-tag from some doctor. I have learned not to get angry, but to challenge the driver if I can. However, what concerns me are those three words of the young woman.

She appeared to be in her  early to mid-20s and was a good helper. But her attitude as expressed by her three words is wrong. It (no matter the task) does matter. And our lives are filled with tasks. In fact, our living is a task that, like all tasks, should be done as well  as possible. We should never believe that “It doesn’t matter,” because if we do, then we are taking the easy way and if the greatest man who ever lived had said, “It doesn’t matter,” we would be doomed.

Red Hill

 

The neighborhood of my earlier years was somewhat rural. While not isolated, it was a small group of homes in a section of town called Shadybrook. Since this time was during the mid-1950’s, there were no shopping centers and box stores. Those, unknowingly, were in our future. But what we local youngsters did have during those wild years of about 7-10 years of age was open spaces full of fields, unfenced yards, woods, a ravine with a creek and kudzu, a sawdust pile, and what we called Red Hill.

A rise of red clay next to the ravine and creek, Red Hill was where we held court at the intersection of Dogwood and Applewood Streets, both unpaved roads. Because of the density of its hard, red clay that had poor nutrition,  no vegetation graced the dome of Red Hill. But that is just as well because the constant traffic of rambling, young feet would have trampled any blade strong enough to break its crust of iron.

We group of neighborhood youngsters played in all our spaces. We built camps in the woods, we dammed the small creek to make a knee-deep swimming hole, we used old planks as sleds on the damp side of the sawdust pile, and we used Red Hill for our base of operations. From its dome we commanded all of our conquered territory. From its open height we gazed over our seemingly endless opportunities and planned many excursions– such as choosing sides in order to have  a dirt-clod fight in the woods. (The hard, red clay of Red Hill furnished an ample supply of hard dirt-clods perfectly sized for a small hand to grasp and wing at an “enemy” in the woods.)  Our short, young, and strong legs climbed Red Hill almost each day of play. It was our Camelot, and we its knights. We had swords and lances fashioned out of broken tree limbs from our woods. We had each other, even when we chose sides for an imaginary battle. We had our long days of free play when no adult interfered.

One hot, muggy summer we decided that we could use a real swimming pool and that it would be better than our swimming hole. One of us borrowed a shovel from a father’s garage, and we set to at digging a deep hole in the dome of Red Hill. I don’t remember how deep or how long we dug, but an older neighbor, Larry who was a young teenager, asked us how we planned to fill our swimming pool. Daunted by the task of hauling water to our well-dug hole, and the heat and the humidity, we abandoned our plan for a Red Hill swimming pool. But the hole, like the hill that held it, was ours. We used it for protection and a supple of dirt-clods as we repelled attacks from pretend enemies.

We were not aware of Red Hill’s significance then. We were just young children who had been chased out of our homes on good weather days by a knowing parent. We only wanted to run and call out and invent games. We had an inquisitive desire to explore our world. We were innocents in a trusted world. Free dreamers, we saw Red Hill as our meeting place, our base, but did not understand Red Hill’s multiple meanings. We only saw a mound of hard, red clay rising above a ravine full of kudzu that was there for our pleasure.

Memories of childhood in later years come distorted because everything during childhood is larger than it actually is. As children, our world and everything in it loomed over us. So, it was a surprise when, as a college student, I visited my old neighborhood to show it to a girlfriend. As always, when reality meets memory, much aligned and much had changed. For instance, the two roads were now paved, and some of the open fields now had houses in them. What had been Mr. Brindle’s magnificent garden was now a fallow field. And over to one side at the intersection of Dogwood and Applewood Streets I saw a patch of hard, red clay.

I parked the car and we got out to stand on the shoulder of Applewood Street. Looking at the mound, no more than a bump in the field, I looked, hoping that some harsh stares would make that circle of dirt what I remembered it to be. Yet, no matter how hard I studied it, Red Hill could not become what it had never physically been. As a child I saw it as a real hill, almost a mountain. But, here, fifteen years later, I saw it for what it was—a patch of bare, hard, red clay. Leaning against the car’s fender, I was disappointed and sad. But as we drove to my mother’s home, I was suddenly uplifted by the memories of youthful, innocent, free play that happened on and around Red Hill. Sure, I now knew what it really was, but as a child when my friends, siblings, and I needed it, Red Hill was our Camelot. Full of adventure, fun, risk, and free, Red Hill dirt is in the veins of us all who played on and around it.

 

 

Atticus

 

He first appeared one morning some weeks ago. While riding my trainer, I saw him land under the pine trees and walk around looking for food. He worked at his task as if I were not present as I rode the stationary bike. He even walked close to me, but never acknowledged my presence. After several days of his appearances, I  asked Mary Ann to buy a box of raisins because I was almost certain he would eat them.

Many years ago, I knew an elderly lady, Elsie English, who fed raisins to a one-legged mockingbird that she named Johnny. Each morning he would perch on her back porch and stare into her kitchen sink window. When she went out her back door, he would hop a few feet away and wait for his treat to be placed on the porch rail. I don’t remember how many years she and Johnny shared raisins, but it was several. The appearance of the mockingbird on the pine needles was a mystery, but from Mrs. English’s shared experience, I had a good hunch about this bird’s taste buds.

I began tossing a few raisins on the pine needles after I set the trainer for my ride. He would soon discover them as he hopped about the earthen floor. I rode and sweated, and he ate one or two raisins before flying to another spot of the yard or to the holly hedge where I think he has a nest.  One morning I saw him sitting on a post of my shop deck, so I tossed his raisins onto the deck boards and that became our morning ritual. Slowly, over the weeks, he and I have developed a relationship. He calls from his hedge when he sees me getting the morning paper. He will sit on my opened shop door encouraging me to move faster in getting his raisins. He sits on the deck post, impatient as a five-year-old child. Last evening he was sitting on the back fence as Mary Ann and I went out to walk to the shop. He flew along and perched on his post. He called, and Mary Ann served him an evening snack. This morning when she went to retrieve the  morning paper, he was on his post, and she took the photograph of him before placing his raisins on the deck. We now call him Atticus.

Weeks ago when Atticus first appeared and was so calm around me, I told Mary Ann about his, as I thought, unusual presence each morning. He acted as if he was an escaped pet, but I knew that was highly unlikely. Without the “bribe” of raisins, he flew in each morning during my rides.

I am Christian, so my beliefs concerning the appearance of Atticus before the bribing of him are limited by my religion. However, while believing that animals do not have souls like humans, as an animal lover and owner for many years, I believe that they possess qualities which we may not fully understand, and I believe that humans and animals can, and often do, develop strong and rare relationships. Atticus now comes to feed his  belly, but why did he fly in before the treats, and for so long?  For weeks he came each morning.

Humanity has accomplished much. We now have GMOs and have landed craft on Mars and the dark-side of the moon. We know much yet are still ignorant about more. And if we don’t allow arrogance to blind us to our ignorance, we will continue to accomplish much. Animals will teach us, if we allow them.

Atticus? I believe he was sent by someone or something for a purpose. I believe his presence is a message for me. I believe that, as Reynolds Price said, he is a “visitation”, and it is my Christian duty to ponder his presence and understand his appearance.   Atticus is here for some reason, sent by someone, and I am bound to figure out his message.

Courage not Regret (revised)

 

Flora Belle Atkinson Barbee and her six children lived in a small, green house at 709 Applewood Street. Built on a slight hill, the house had steep steps leading from the back door, and she once ran down them to escape a drunk husband who was attempting to cut her throat. An abused woman of the 1950s, she and her children were saved by the husband/father’s decision to desert them, not any legal or social institution. To support her six children and herself, she worked hemming washcloths in Plant 1 of Cannon Mills. But in the mid-1950s, the owner of the small house, her father-in-law, told her that she and her children had to move.

For whatever reason, this Christmas season, I have been thinking of Mrs. Barbee and her children living in the small, green house on Applewood Street before their eviction. I have wondered how she managed six children sharing two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, and a room built for a bathroom that never materialized. Instead, the toilet was down the hill at the back edge of the property and bathing was a number two washtub. The intended bathroom was used instead as a bedroom and gathering space for dirty clothes. The heat came from a basement furnace that spewed hot air through a grate in the tiny hallway between the bedrooms and living room. One cold night, when she had just gotten home from her second shift of hemming, she found that the furnace was out. In her attempt to get it working, a ball of flame rushed through the grate, but she managed to control that by cutting the furnace off,  but it was a cold night for a tired mother and her children.

Christmas, 2018, and Mrs. Barbee has troubled my mind. Every day must have been a struggle for her: Working in a cotton mill hemming washcloths. Riding a bus to and from work. Shopping and paying for groceries for her children. Being a divorced woman in the South. Washing clothes in the open basement with a ringer washer and hanging them on a clothesline. Attending the same church as her in-laws. Each day. Each week. All a difficult time, but I think Christmas must have been particularly difficult.

I hear parents today, but especially mothers, complain of the hectic days leading to Christmas. The buying, wrapping, and decorating demands time, thought, and treasure. That was true, I think, in the 1950s as well. But, what of Mrs. Barbee, who had little of those? Her finances were slim-after all, how much could a single mother of six save for Christmas or even birthdays? She had no car, so the spotty bus service was all she had to travel to town for shopping. Where did her tree come from and how did she get it? Her older children, three girls,  helped with the packages and tree and all that. But how did she afford Christmas gifts for her little ones, who undoubtably anticipated gifts for themselves under the shaggy, cedar tree. Perhaps she had one or two of the older girls go with her on the bus to town and help purchase toys and slip them unseen into the small, green house. She did so much, and she did it alone. No spouse to share any Christmas or any day, for that matter, with. And it would be years after those in the small, green house before any present would be under a Christmas tree for her.

This 2018 Christmas sees Mrs. Barbee in her mill house, at 312. It is the house she managed to move her family into after their eviction. She is the first woman to ever have had a mill house. Unless you understand the culture of a mill town during the 1950s, and Mrs. Barbee being a divorced woman, you cannot grasp the significance of her achievement in being allowed to rent a house on the mill hill. Yet life improved because she now could walk to work in Plant 1; the house had three bedrooms; it was closer to town and the schools; the mill company maintained the house; and it had an indoor bathroom.  However, she spends her days and nights in 312 bedridden and unaware of many things. But sometimes she turns her head as if  she can see the person or persons speaking. At other times she will make a gesture for one of her four daughters who rotate weekly in order to care for her. She has visitors and receives cards on special occasions. She is honored by all who know her and some who have heard of her.

Over the years shared with Mrs. Barbee, I never heard her utter regrets about, as she would say, “Me and my six little children.” Yes, I am certain that she wished for some things of her life to have been different, such as her talented husband not being enslaved by alcohol. But there is a difference in wishing for and regretting about. Mrs. Barbee is of that breed and generation who accepted circumstances and did the best that could be done in the moment. Therefore, she has the courage not to regret because she knows that she never compromised and did the best allway.

Courage not Regret

 

Flora Belle Atkinson Barbee and her six children lived in a small, green house at 709 Applewood Street. Built on a slight hill, the house had steep steps leading from the back door, and she once ran down them to escape a drunk husband who was attempting to cut her throat. An abused woman of the 1950s, she and her children were saved by the husband/father’s decision to desert them, not any legal or social institution. To support her six children and herself, she worked hemming washcloths in Plant 1 of Cannon Mills. In the mid-1950s the owner of the small house, her father-in-law told her that she and her children had to move.

For whatever reason, this Christmas season, I have been thinking of Mrs. Barbee and her children living in the small, green house on Applewood Street before their eviction by the grandfather. I have wondered how she managed six children sharing two bedrooms, living room, kitchen, and a room built for a bathroom that never materialized. Instead, the toilet was down the hill at the back edge of the property and bathing was a number two washtub. The room was, instead, used as a bedroom and gathering space for dirty clothes. The heat was a basement furnace that spewed hot air through a grate in the tiny hallway between the bedrooms and living room. One cold night, when she had just gotten home from her second shift of hemming, the furnace was out. In her attempt to get it working, a ball of flame rushed through the grate, but she managed to control that. But it was a cold night for a tired mother and her children.

Christmas, 2018, and Mrs. Barbee has troubled my mind. Every day must have been a struggle for her: Working in a cotton mill hemming washcloths. Riding a bus to and from  work. Shopping and paying for groceries for her children. Being a divorced woman in the South. Washing clothes in the open basement with a ringer washer and hanging them on a clothesline. Attending the same church as her in-laws. Each day. Each week. All a difficult time, but I think particularly  Christmas.

I hear parents, but especially mothers, complain of the hectic days leading to Christmas. The buying, wrapping, and decorating demands time, thought, and treasure. That was true, I think, in the 1950s as well. But, what of Mrs. Barbee, who had severe limits. Her finances were slim-after all, how much could a single mother of six save for Christmas or even birthdays? She had no car, so the spotty bus service was all she had to travel to town for shopping. Where did her tree come from and how did she get it? Her older children, three girls,  helped with the packages and tree and all that. But how did she afford Christmas gifts for her little ones, who undoubtably anticipated gifts for them under the shaggy tree. Perhaps she had one or two of the older girls go with her on the bus to town and help purchase toys and slip them unseen into the small, green house. She did so much, and she did it alone. No spouse to share any Christmas or any day, for that matter, with. And it would be years after those in the small, green house before any present would be under a Christmas tree for her.

This 2018 Christmas sees Mrs. Barbee in her mill house, at 312. It is the house she managed to move her family into after their eviction. She is the first woman to ever have had a mill house. Unless you understand the culture of a mill town during the 1950s, and Mrs. Barbee being a divorced woman, you cannot grasp the significance of her achievement in being allowed to rent a house on the mill hill. Life improved because she now could walk to work in Plant 1; the house had three bedrooms; it was closer to town and the schools; the mill company maintained the house; and it had an indoor bathroom.  However, she now spends her days and nights in 312, bedridden and unaware of many things. But she turns her head as if  she can see the person or persons speaking. At times she will gesture for one of her four daughters who rotate weekly in order to care for her. She has visitors and receives cards on special occasions. She is honored by all who know her and some who have heard of her.

Over the years shared with Mrs. Barbee, I never heard her utter regrets about, as she would say, “Me and my six little children.” Yes, I am certain that she wished that some things of her life had been different, such as her talented husband not being enslaved by alcohol. But there is a difference in wishing for and regretting about. Mrs. Barbee is of that breed and generation who accept circumstances and do the best that can be done in that moment. She has the courage not to regret because she knows that she never compromised but did the best allway that she could.

More Than a Dual Meet

More Than a Dual Meet

When Mary Ann and I  moved to Lake Norman just over a year ago, and we were, more or less, settled into our new home, she searched for a seller of her favorite cosmetic line. She told me  how she found a long list of representatives that sold the cosmetics she preferred, and randomly picked one. After the initial phone call to the saleslady, Mary Ann was telling me how pleasant the woman was and what a great conversation that they had had. Then, her phone rang, and the merchant asked Mary Ann if I was the Roger Barbee who had wrestled at A.L. Brown High School. Telling her yes, she told Mary Ann that her husband had wrestled at Mooresville High School and had wrestled me. Pleased for the news, we four met for lunch, and Mike, her husband,  and I have shared time since then because nothing compares to old wrestlers telling tales.

This week I learned that Mooresville was hosting a dual meet against cross-town rival Lake Norman. Since the son of a couple we go to church with would be competing, I wanted to attend. Also, I told Mike about the meet, and that I hoped it would be held in the old gymnasium at Mooresville where he and I had competed. Sadly, it was not, but was being held in the Magnolia Gym, the small and cozy one at the middle school. I was still excited, and Mike agreed to attend. The day of the match, I learned that the night was “Old Timers Night”, but I did not tell Mike for fear of his reaction.

The small gym was packed with fans, and several members of my church greeted me, a stranger to Mooresville High School wrestling: Alex kept the match clock; Roy photographed the action; Pastor greeted and encouraged all the wrestlers; Linda and Amy, the mother of the 119 pound competitor , watched each match intently; and Mike, the father of the 119 pound wrestler, shouted moves to every home competitor. My friend Mike met the head coach and others. The oldest “Old Timer,” he was introduced last, but his record was better than any other old timer.  Sitting between the two Mikes, I heard both of them as the dual meet progressed. Mike the father shared information about the home team wrestlers, and my friend Mike and I were somewhat isolated, wrapped together in the memory of our high school wrestling. Because his memory of matches and results is keener than mine, I trust what he recounts, but I remember  always dreading to wrestle him because of his fierceness. He was tough and determined, but always a good sport, on a wrestling mat and, as I discovered fifty years later,  off one.

Most Mondays he and I  share time by eating lunch or sharing time over a coffee, which he usually buys. We discuss religion, politics, family, and share personal history as he helps me in my wood shop, or as he gathers pine needles from our yard. I learned that he and I both grew up on the mill hill of our respective towns. We unknowingly shared while young wrestlers the want of that life. We don’t agree much politically, but our theologies are akin, and he who reads Greek, helps me in translations.

I cherish that we have come together all these years later-still competitors all these years after our best ones.  And that is why I wished that the dual meet would have been held in the Mooresville High School old gym, the one where my buddy and I competed against each other. But, sitting with him in Magnolia Gym was almost as good because here we were once again sharing our beloved sport. And the memory of hearing my friend’s name called, and watching him walk onto the mat once more, is a special one.