Pines

 

Had Robert Frost lived where I do on Lake Norman, would he have written a poem about pine trees and not one about birches?  Pine trees are not as limber as the birches that Frost writes about, so no young boy could be a swinger of pines because a pine would snap, sending the swinger to the ground in a rush, not a slow arch as with the birch.  However, since moving to Isle of Pines Road on the Lake, I have been thinking of Frost and his birches and their meaning for him. And pines.

Now, if you move to a road named Isle of Pines, then you know for sure one thing about your new neighborhood.  However, as in all situations, knowing about it and living it are two different things. All summer I knew about this isle we were moving to, but in the past few weeks I have been living in the isle and learning about its pines and their ways. The abundance of pine cones and needles taught me the first lesson: There are more of them than of me, so I needed to develop a plan for co-existence, not battle.

Our house was built in the late 1990s, but it appears that no previous owner worked with the pine needles, allowing them to take over areas next to the house and on the driveway. After planting the small butterfly garden in the back yard, I grabbed by trusty pitchfork and removed them to create a border next to our neighbor’s fence. I used a shovel to scrape away the layer of hard mulch and small roots that had spread across the edge of the driveway. This reclamation of space made room for grass and flowers and gave me a sense of ownership but not control. Each time I looked up to the green canopy of over thirty pine trees in our front yard, I realized my place in this isle of pines.

One cleared area between the house and the walkway to the back yard has been designated for a bloom of azaleas, and the small area next to the front entrance will be many pots full of shade loving flowers.  The long area following the driveway has been planted with fescue grass, but one large area next to our neighbor’s fence has yet to be planned. (A wild area perhaps). The remainder of the front is either struggling green or piled pine needles nestled at the base of their trees. There are no pine trees in the back yard until you get near the Lake, and we will work with those after we come to full terms around the house.

However, I have learned quite a bit from the over thirty tall pine trees in our front yard. One day while raking, I heard the soft wind travelling through the canopy. It was one of the loveliest of nature’s many melodies. Even the shower of needles that followed was delightful. I have even come to appreciate the symmetrical style of the female pine cones while respecting their piercing points. I no longer startle at the sound of scampering squirrels as they race across the pine’s rough bark, but I did marvel on the day I found my first cone that had been gnawed by a squirrel leaving only its core with a tuft of immature seeds remaining on the top, causing it to look like some cartoon character. And who could not enjoy the bird sounds that erupt from the green canopy high above me. But, perhaps the most enjoyment I have learned from the pines is the way the sun’s light first comes to the topmost green and slowly makes its way down to the thick bases as if caressing the rough, brown bark.

Unlike Frost, I never swung on birches, but as a boy I did climb pine trees. Despite their roughness, sap, and the lasting odor they left on me, I enjoyed their convenient limbs that invited a boy to climb to their lofty tips. The trees in our yard are so tall they have no lower limbs, but even if they did, I am too old to climb. Frost writes that there are worse things to be than a swinger of birches. I agree. And there are worse things than living with pines.

Walking

 

Growing up in a small, Southern, cotton mill town in the 1950’s, our mother provided as best she could, but money was scarce for the necessities, much less for a luxury like a car. As I remember, we either walked, rode the infrequent bus, or asked someone for a ride in their car to our destination. Of these, the most used mode of transportation was walking. We walked to school, to town, to church, to work, to most places or occasions. Walking for my siblings, mother, and me was our normal. As teenagers, most of us walked. Many days after school, I would walk a female classmate who lived near me to her home because in those days parents did not pick-up their children, and I was in awe of her.  Also, the world was safe for us to walk. In college I tired of hitchhiking, and I purchased a fine, two-tone green, 1955 Ford. Walking as a means of getting somewhere, even over a short distance, stopped. As a college student my life horizons expanded, and the Ford and I shared many trips and experiences. To lose the verb form of walking was not a necessity, but it made life certainly more convenient. However, as I age, I regret having lost its verb and noun forms in my life.

As a young father, I would go walking or take a walk with my young children. In this way, we would traverse the block or street and see what we could see. We explored. We rambled. We brought home treasures. But that was all. I drove a car to work, shopping, church, or wherever. If I did not drive a car, I rode in one. No more walking to and from the movie theatre or stores or church. It was outdated.

This brings me to the story of Cleopas and Mary in Luke 24 and what occurs during their walk to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem. This is a beautiful story of Jesus revealing Himself to two disciples as they walk. A Christian couple, Mary and Cleopas were likely discussing the news of the risen Lord and are not surprised to be joined by another traveler. They are shocked, however, (v.18) that their companion is not aware of the news from Jerusalem “in these days.” So much of the Bible happens as people are walking, and I don’t think that is unusual for the time: a stranger joining you as you walked along a desert road would not be as shocking as the appearance of a stranger suddenly sitting in your SUV as you speed along I-77. Walking with her husband, Mary had time to think and talk with him about the recent events, and when our Lord began with Moses to teach Mary and Cleopas, he had their attention because they were walking, not speeding down the road. They could, and did, engage in conversation by listening to and talking with each other as they walked.

In his sermon today, our Pastor told how, as a seminary student, a teacher would say to him at times, “Come on, take a walk with me.” He told how that would sometimes frighten him because he could sense a mild reprimand coming, but at times he would be affirmed for doing something well. His point was that “a walk” was used as a place and time to have a conversation about something important with one of his teachers.

Our culture is not like that of the 1st century. We have created an infrastructure that is designed for mobility and speed. That is as it is, and we will not go backward. However, could we not all take some time each day to walk along a paved path or quiet road or even in a mall. Walk. Slow down. Even talk with a friend as you walk or greet strangers you meet. Look for some treasure on the side of the road. Who knows, you may be joined by another sojourner who has news for you.

 

Comtrol

 

 

 

This morning while riding my stationary bike, I noticed the lights of a car parked in a drive across the street turn on and the engine began running. I had not seen the driver get in the car, but I was not an observer of everything going on in the early morning, so I continued my ride. The car continued to idle, and after some time I saw the driver come out of the house and get into the car. A heavy frost covered the windows of the car which the driver ignored, and with the skill of a NASCAR driver, he backed out and roared up our little road. Puzzled, I then looked next to me at Mary Ann’s car and realized that his car, like hers, had a back-up mirror, so the frosty rear window did not need to be cleared, and he was unencumbered of that inconvenience as he entered his warmed car.

I’m reading Matthew Crawford’s book, The World Beyond Your Head (On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction), and the seemingly insignificant event of the driver preparing his car while inside his house, reminded me of one of Crawford’s astute observations:

“In walking off the field of our shared moral and aesthetic life, we cede that field to corporate forces.”

Cars that can be remotely started, locked, and unlocked are not new, in fact I have one. And there are many more innovations with cars and all the other machines in our lives. The laptop that I am writing on will correct a mistake or underline it in red or blue. For such a poor speller as I, that is an embarrassment saving feature. However, I do not solely rely on the feature because it, like me, is not foolproof. Next to me on the book shelf is a dictionary, and it is worn from use. In fact, when I was searching for the title word of this essay, I found a word I had not known before where comtrol should have been: Comstockery is after Anthony Comstock and is the overzealous censorship of literature, art, and the theater because of alleged immorality. I then Goggled comtrol, but the only word on my screen was control and while the information was correct, I was not searching for it. However, by looking in the dictionary I had the option to read several words on the page where I thought comtrol would be and found a novel word for me. What a delight.

Comtrol is a blended word that I made up while riding earlier this morning, but I wanted to be certain that is was not in use. So far, I have not found it anywhere. It is a blend of company and control, and I think it describes perfectly what our culture has allowed to happen as we, to paraphrase Crawford, have walked off the field of many areas of our lives and given control to companies, such as automobile makers who tell us we only need to look at a camera inside our car to back up. Convenient, certainly, but good? I’m not sure.

By our acquiescence to companies, we are losing our individuality and our responsibility. I recently read an article about a young driver who ran off the road, hit a guardrail, and was killed. Her distraught father is suing the state because of its unsafe guardrail.  Sad? Of course, as is any loss of life, but the guardrail did not go into the roadway, the driver ran off the road, hitting the guardrail. Whether the rail was a safe design or not, it was hit by the driver. Where is her responsibility?

Ford advertises the advantages of mirrors for young drivers. Commercials with parents teaching their children to drive show Ford cars being safer because of side, rear, and front mirrors that warn the driver of pending danger like an oncoming vehicle.  I pity any parent who thinks her child is safer while driving because of a mirror in the vehicle. Depending on a mirror will probably lead to a young driver meeting Mr. Mayhem.

My point is not to endlessly list recent technologies, but to examine how we have walked off the field of our moral lives granting control to Orwell’s “big brother”. We have allowed our lives to become products of companies by allowing our convenience to override our individual responsibility. We text to friends instead of talking with them. We order on-line instead of going to a store where we might have to have conversation with a sales person. We order our meals from a company that decides what we will have for dinner. Our cars send a text to our cell phones alerting us that the oil needs to be changed. We can “earn” a college degree or graduate degree without ever attending a class. And more, more, more. All of which gives us the sense of control because in all these examples and others, we become isolated in our own heads as Crawford writes with no personal interaction with others. Not only do our lives become hidebound as we walk along, eyes on the screen, our external environment looks as if it has been made by a cookie cutter. Look at the new or renovated buildings in Richmond, Charlotte, Atlanta, or so on. Hear the piped-in music in many public places. It is all the same, and we, like so much in our environment, are in danger of losing our individuality to companies which have been deemed as having the same privileges as people by the Supreme Court. And to whom do we complain when we object to the music being piped in at the airport or restaurant or mall? No one individual because it is “they” who decided, and “they” are never there.

Chicken Necks and Backs

 

The woman who loved chicken necks and backs is ninety-nine years old today. She is bedridden but cared for by her four daughters as only a daughter can. She is as warm, well-fed, clean, and safe as she has ever been in her long life. Yes, she is dying, but she is doing it with grace and peace.  There are no chicken necks or backs in her life now because those hard, cruel days are past when heat and food for her and “my six little children” were luxuries.

She hemmed washcloths in Cannon Mills on the second shift. She did not want to be away from her children, but she needed the job. She hired women to watch them after school, and the best one of all was Mabel; the other ones were like her abusive husband, but she needed them more than they needed her meager coins.  She rode a bus to and from Plant One and walked the block home in the dark after each shift, the dust from the unpaved road coating her shoes, but not her soul.

Deeply religious, she dressed her children each Sunday for Sunday School and, as it was called then, “Preaching.” The seven of them walked the mile to the church all the while watching cars as they roared past on Oakwood Avenue. The walking was hardest for the little ones because, to be safe, she made them walk on the soft shoulder that was often filled with tall grass and weeds. But, for the children, Sunday was a day of anticipation. It meant that she would fry a chicken when they got home and there would be lots of milk to drink. Or, she would let them walk to their paternal grandparent’s home if their father was going to be there. They could share in the food there, so they ate and saw their father while their mother rested at home.

But for the Sunday dinners when she fried a chicken for her children, she would put its neck and back in a pan of water and boil them. She admonished her children not to eat either because, she claimed, those were her favorite parts. They would divide the legs, wings, and other parts of the fried chicken and finish the gallon of milk along with the bowl of potatoes. She sat with them, gnawing on the boiled neck and back. She smiled and fed them the “Sunday dinner” as she encouraged them to drink the milk and eat all the mashed potatoes because “it’s good for you.” The rest of the day she rested until it was time to walk the long mile in the dark for Training Union at the church where she could not teach Sunday School because she was a divorced woman.

Her fortunes changed when she became the first single woman to be rented a mill house in the town. Unlike the little, green house that she and her children had been evicted from by her husband’s father, the mill house had a bathroom and three bedrooms and a proper living room and kitchen. And, it was two blocks from Plant One, so she could walk to and from work. The three older girls shared a front bedroom, she and the youngest girl shared the middle bedroom, and the two boys the back bedroom. Life was greatly improved, but still hard. Chicken necks and backs remained.

She worked. She prayed. She loved her Lord.  She guided. She finally was allowed to teach Sunday School at her new church. She purchased her first car.  She loved unconditionally, even her long-gone husband. Her six children married and the family grew to be twenty-one grandchildren, who grew into great grandchildren, and they all would come together on holidays, somehow fitting into her millhouse once more.  But, her days are closing and on this one, on her ninety-ninth birth year, she lies in a hospital bed in the middle bedroom of her cherished mill house.  Warm. Safe. Loved. Fed. Clean.  The chicken necks and backs only a memory of how much she loved “my six little children.”

 

Programmed Violence

 

During the first half of Super Bowl Fifty-Two, Brandin Cooks caught a pass and as he attempted to orient himself and run up the field, Malcolm Jenkins hit him with a blind-sided head shot. Cooks left the game and did not return. Jenkins was not called for an illegal hit, and was, in fact, applauded by some fans for such a good play.

For the past years, I have read how the NFL is working to protect its players from head injuries. Protocols have been put in place. News conferences have been held to explain how the league is improving player safety. However, if you watch the head shot by Jenkins on Cooks, you will see that it was not a tackle, but a vicious, and I think, willing helmet to helmet shot.

Jenkins is a thirty-year old professional football player, and I think he knows how to tackle a ball-carrier without using his head as a weapon. Has he never heard of a roll tackle where you put your head in front of the ball-carrier, wrap your arms around his legs, and roll him to the ground? Cooks did not see Jenkins as he was turning to see and run upfield, but Jenkins saw him as a vulnerable target that he could attack head to head, at full speed. Yet, no call by any official, so that type of unnecessary violence must be legal.   Since seems so because no flag was thrown, I have a suggestion for the NFL: let the team that wins the coin toss choose which weapons it wants to use- the spear, the Rete (weighted net) or the Fascina (the three-pronged spear), or the club, or any other such sanctioned weapon. The league has the “players”, the fans who thirst for such violence, the stadiums, and the media coverage.  The violence is present and it  is idolized by many people,  so either curb it or sanction more and more.

If the NFL wants to hear its own voice, then I suggest that any player who is charged with an illegal head shot be removed from the game as long as his victim  is  sidelined. Thus, Jenkins should have been required to sit out the remainder of the game, just as his victim Cooks.

MORE THAN A CUP

It is just a tea or coffee cup marked Staffordshire Tableware, England on the bottom. It is an off-white color and has a grey rim at its lip. A crack runs from one edge of the rim into one of the four Blue Tits embossed on either side. It is just an ordinary kitchen cup, but like so many items that are saved during a lifetime, it is more than it appears.

It was during the summer of 1999, and I was working at St. Peter’s College, Oxford as the Dean of a summer program for American high school students. The program office was in Staircase 4, and the scout for that staircase was named Hilda. Each morning when I opened the office before the busy day began, she would bring me coffee or tea in the Blue Tit cup, and we would chat for a bit before her day and mine began.

Over that summer, Hilda told me some of her life as we shared our morning ritual. In the summer of 1999, she was getting up in years, but still managed to keep our rooms and Staircase 4 clean. You would hear her singing or humming softly as she swept, emptied dust bins, and changed linens. She wore her scout’s apron and frock proudly, but I was surprised to see her attire one afternoon walking to the coach stop after her day’s labor. She was dressed in what I think of as “Sunday clothes”, and when I, the next morning, commented on how nice she looked, she said, “Now, there is no need to wear one’s work clothing to and fro, is there!” Knowing I was bested by this older, plump woman with short, blond-white hair, I drank my coffee and listened. Oh, and what a story Hilda told over the weeks of that summer.

Hilda was a German, but she met and married an English soldier stationed in Germany after World War II, and came with him to England after his post-War tour in Germany. She shared that she was not the only German female who had done this. She and “my soldier” as she called him, settled outside of Oxford and shared life. When I met her, her husband had been dead some years, but a son lived in London. Fascinated by her story, I listened each morning over tea or coffee-sometimes she would brew me one and then other times the other. She would say a few things about the times of “that awful Hitler” and how he destroyed her beloved country, as her eyes filled, looking away from me. She did not know it, but becoming a refugee made her, in the words of V.S Naipaul, one of “The flotsam of Europe not long after the end of the terrible war….” But when she shared about meeting her English soldier, their courtship, marriage, and move to England, she beamed.

The Blue Tit cup sits on a shelf in my library. Sometimes I take it down and blow the dust out of it, careful of the crack. And think of Hilda. I learned much about the War and Germany from Hilda, but I learned more about living. However, someday, as it is with a life’s accumulation, the Blue Tit cup will sit on a rickety table at an estate sale. Someone will pick it up and upon turning it, notice the crack, but decide that it is worth the low price and take it home to use as a holder of pencils or such.

In the fine, short novel, A Month in the Country, J.L. Carr writes of Tom Birkin, the main character, being given a Sara van Fleet rose by Alice Keach, the woman he loves. The novel continues, “I [Birkin] still have it. Pressed in a book. Someday after a sale, a stranger will find it there and wonder why.”

Indeed! A Sara van Fleet rose or Blue Tit cup is often more than it appears, and a stranger can only wonder what or why.

IN A CERTAIN PLACE AND TIME

The killing of Brittany White by her boyfriend Jonathan Bennett last week in Charlotte is, by itself, tragic. Bennett’s death after he ambushed police outside police headquarters is another tragic event. White’s two children have no biological mother, and the infant daughter that Bennett fathered with White and took to a safe place before he ambushed police, has no biological parents. That is tragic.  Both White and Bennett were only twenty-three years old. That is tragic.

I did not know Bennett, but he has occupied my mind these recent days because I keep wondering how a twenty-three-year-old could come to the place in his brief life that caused him to kill the mother of his child, then ambush police, and seemingly commit suicide by that action? Why, I think, would such a young man use violent acts by a gun to settle a problem or problems with White? Bennett shot White in front of her children, but cared enough for his daughter to take her to a safe place and did not harm the other child, but left him/her in the house with his/her dead mother. Rage? Of course, but what in Bennett caused him to allow rage or anger or even frustration to settle issues in his life? And, how many Bennett’s live in our society and does our society bear some responsibility for them?

I am a baby boomer which means that I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s. Where I spent those formative years was a Southern cotton mill town owned by one man—Mr. Cannon. All our lives depended on the mills, in our case of Kannapolis, North Carolina, Plants One and Four. If parents did not, and many did not, work in the plants, their wages were indirectly paid by the wages of those who did. If you were a merchant in downtown Kannapolis, your shop was owned by Mr. Cannon. If you were a high school athlete, you played in the large gymnasium building or on fields that he helped build or built. If you were a good student, you may have attended Wingate College or N.C. State through one of his scholarships. In short, we depended on Mr. Cannon, but he depended on us.

I do not mean to imply that life there and then was perfect. Like any child or adolescent, I suffered through problems of not my doing and some that I caused by poor decisions. My mother, who hemmed washcloths in Plant One, was a single parent of six children, so poverty was a reality of life, but so was hope. Our hunger was fed by that hope, and as a child and teenager, I had several adults in my life who instilled in me that I could do better. My mother was the first and most important adult in my life, but there were others: Jhonsie McKinley, the principal of my first elementary school, was kind to me. Mr. Cowan, the principal of my next elementary school, was firm but just when I hit a girl with my book while we walked home together. Her mother complained, but Mr. Cowan took me aside and explained that that was not the best way to show a girl that I liked her. In the seventh grade, Mr. Brownell was my first male teacher, and a good one who loved me, but worked me, too. Mr. Mast and Mr. Carter in high school encouraged me when I did not deserve their attention. And, I will always value the lessons of academics and life taught by Mr. Boone, Ms. Gray, Mr. Poole, and Coach Mauldin. Outside of school, there were the mothers and fathers of school mates or neighbors who taught by word and deed. Mr. Harris, my paper route manager, taught me about loyalty to a task and money. Bus Goodnight was a kind man who grew kinder as I matured and learned about true kindness; and Frank and Nell McCray were merchants who gave my mother food on credit. Fred Reece would pay me fifty cents to sweep his small barbershop, and at that time, fifty cents was a lot of money. Our neighbor John Gathins, who took me with him to race his cars at red-dirt tracks around Concord, taught me lessons on how to be male. Now, I knew all these people through my eyes as a child or young person, so I think that they had their warts, and other adults I do not mention were known by our town to have theirs. But the adults in my time did not share or display those warts to us children. For instance, I never had or never knew of any teacher who wanted to, tried to, or had sex with a student.

Growing up in that special place and time, I had heroes. All my heroes, but for one, were local. Growing up I wanted to be like one of the high school stars that I heard of or read about. There was James, Wayne, two named Jerry, Ronnie, two named Jimmy, and Bobby. They were stars in football and baseball, the glory sports of that time. There were the fathers that I met while working in Plant One who inspired: Harold, Bernard, and Tommy. Fathers like “Paw”, who lived next door to us on Juniper Street, and Mr. Hilton, who hauled a pack of R.A.’s around town in his pick-up truck to play other R.A. teams, inspired by their loyalty to God and family. And, there was Aunt Susie, Uncle Grant, and Uncle Guy who always had a kind word to share. Perfect? No, but good.

At that time and in that place, I was surrounded by all of these and other adults who knew my mother, my family, and me, and they cared enough about me to make sure that I always did the right thing when in their presence, and if they saw me mis-behave, they would correct me or tell my mother, which was worse. And, remembering all of this brings me back to the tragic deaths of White and Bennett.

Not knowing details of young Bennett’s life, I can’t honestly know what demon or void or lack in his life caused him to act as he did. If any? However, I know, just as many people do, that too many of our young males of all identities see no way to settle issues (or fill voids) in their lives except by the violence of guns, beatings, drugs, or even rampant sex. For many of our young males, the only “heroes” they see are the local drug dealers on the near-by street corner. Sadly, a friend of mine teaching in an inner-city Washington, D. C. school, was told by a student, “Doc, I makes more in a week on the corner, than you do in a month teaching school.”  I once read an article about crime in New Orleans and its high murder rate. The article high-lighted Angola inmates from New Orleans who had found a vocation while imprisoned. One young man, serving a life’s sentence for murder, had discovered his talent for making jewelry. Why did it take this young man, a killer, going to Angola to discover his talent?  Will my friend’s student discover his talents after he is imprisoned, if he is not killed on “his” corner? Is the only future we can offer many of our youth one of a quick and sudden rise ending in an early flameout?

We are, and have been for years, losing our young people, our future. I know that we can’t go back and give them the type of life that I had. Maybe we should aim higher.  However,   we can create a culture that teaches them what it means to be male and female. We can teach them that the quick and easy way is a dead end. We can teach them that to love one another is not a sign of weakness but of strength. We can teach them that justice is better than fair. We can value them without abusing them. We can correct them through kindness not meanness.

On this day of celebration for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it is obvious that we are not doing our best. Since that great man’s assassination, we have lost many of our youth. Let us not lose others. Let us remember the words of Solomon, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” and Langston Hughes, “What happens to a Dream Deferred?”

We must find a way to give our children hope so that they, too,  may have their dreams.

HARDLY A PRESIDENTIAL SPEECH

When I hear someone’s name mentioned as a possible candidate for President, I pay attention for obvious reasons. However, when that person is a product of our celebrity-crazed culture who gave a speech at an over-produced and glorified awards function, my attention is roused.

After hearing all the buzz and excitement about Ms. Winfrey’s speech at the Golden Globe Awards, I found it on the Internet and read it. I also listened to her deliver it. Stirring? Yes, Passionate? Yes. Presidential? No. I write this because, in my mind, the acceptance speech offered little that is new. What Ms. Winfrey gave is no different than what can be found in the writing of such women and men as Alice Walker, Tillie Olsen, William Bradford Huie, Gloria Naylor, Ernest Gaines, Zora Neale Hurston, Dr. King, Jr. and many more. (Read the short story Everyday Use by Alice Walker, for an example.)

However, my main objection is not with the speech of Ms. Winfrey or her strong personality or popularity, but with the public’s reaction to all of it. Are we such a base society that we are willing to not only accept but glorify the ordinary, the what is already known, or even the mundane? Of course, the professional in Ms. Winfrey delivered a strong and timely speech, but what of its substance?  The media often used one quotation from the speech, “So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon!” Strong words delivered well? Absolutely.  But we knew, or should have known all of that, if we had been following current events. Many women who joined the #Me-Too movement and men who supported it, had given notice that the “good old days of abuse” were gone. Of course, but are those words and their repeated sentiment worthy of being Presidential?

I like the speech and its allusions to Ms. Winfrey’s experiences as a child, adult, and actress. I admire the following poetic words she strongly shared, ‘In my career, what I’ve always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave, to say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere, and how we overcome.” I applaud the references to Recy Taylor and Rosa Parks and the importance of these two women. I like that she gives some men credit for being in the battle. Ms. Winfrey is powerful, and I like that. I understand, but don’t agree with, the craze over her speech; but I must draw the line on it making Ms. Winfrey Presidential.

EXCUSES FOR WRONG BEHAVIOR

A recent article in the Charlotte Observer chronicles the sad fall of Jerry Richardson, the builder of the Panther empire and of a major restaurant chair. As told in the article, Richardson’s rise from little to much is, in the classical sense, a tragedy. When any person falls because of wrong decisions and actions it is sad. However, how the public explains and understands the fall is far more important than the fall itself.

Jim Morrill and Michael Gordon, the writers of the article, state that, “Some [people] say he [Richardson] fell victim to changing times and workplace mores.” That statement is offensive and shows delusional thinking. To view Jerry Richardson as a victim of any kind is offensive and wrong-headed. How can a man of is power and reputation be a victim? If he is a victim of anything, he is a victim of his own arrogance built from too much pride. Also, any man intelligent enough to build such an empire as he did, is smart enough to adapt to the changes of society and the work place.  This statement and or belief only excuses the cheap behavior of Richardson.

In explaining the alleged racial slur used by Richardson against an African-American team scout, Morrill and Gordon explain: “It [the slur] was a surprising suggestion for a man known for the courtly manners of a Southern gentleman and whose star quarterback, like many teammates, is African-American.”  Once again, the article manages to offend. First of all, the allegation is just that. Not a suggestion. To use the word “suggestion”, the writers soften the possibility of a racial slur and, once again, excuse the behavior of Richardson by using surprising as its adjective. Why would we be surprised by such actions of a man who settled lawsuits concerning racial prejudice while the owner of a large fast-food chair? But Morrill and Gordon are not finished with that. They continue by describing Richardson as “courtly…Southern… and gentleman” who, because of the color of Cam Newton, the team’s leader and quarterback, could in no way be racist or even use a racial slur. What is more astounding is that the writers mention that many of Newton’s teammates are African-American, so that is support for Richardson’s racial views because he makes money from the work of African-American?

Richardson and his Denny’s chain were sued by six Secret Service agents for racial discrimination. Washington, D.C. attorney John Relman, represented the agents. He is quoted by Morrill and Gordon as saying, “People just don’t start using racial slurs when they’re 80.” That quotation is insightful and should engender deep thought concerning Richardson’s actions.

I don’t know Jerry Richardson, but as I read the article by Morrill and Gordon, I saw much in him to admire. He rose and built an empire and a team loved by its city. However, in reading his history, it seems to me that he kept attitudes and beliefs that should have been discarded long ago. A victim? Yes, of his own hubris.