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Friday, July 31, 2015

Dumping the Junk

For the past year or so, I have been walking around in a state of self-disgust. I have been preparing to move out of the family home for many months.  When a family of four lives in a large house for over 12 years  one expects a certain amount of accumulated material goods.  Our accumulated material goods far exceeded expected levels and strayed into the realm of moral turpitude.  Why do we have 5 computer printers (including 2 that have never been used)?  Why do we have 7 brooms??  Why do we have 37 vases???????

No one remembers.  .

After many trips to the thrift store with boxes of books, kitchen utensils and assorted bric-a-brac, I have moved.  The sale of the rambling old Victorian will close in two weeks.  I am unpacking stuff at the new two flat.  I don't have enough room for the junk I schlepped to the new place in spite of the weeding out completed during the move.  I must shrink my inventory significantly.

The act of dumping the junk is surprisingly difficult.  Holding an item and thinking about it carefully causes a trip down memory lane.   There is the small ceramic bowl hand made by my son, now 34, when he was a senior in high school.  There is the Nestle's Quick rabbit-head cup that all four of my kids used when they were small.  There are old guidebooks from Southeast Asia picked up when I was living in Singapore back in the mid- eighties.  There are several boxes of nice business and personal stationary with my old address that I had printed in 2004 when I thought I would be a solo consultant. And there are several boxes of busted harmonicas, saved for the day when I learn how to repair them (HA!! I have to face the fact that I am a "blow 'em and throw 'em" harp player).  I don't need any of these things now, but they are reeking with sentiment and family history.

This accumulation of stuff is a symptom of the uniquely American disease of Affluenza.  The expense of my horrific divorce has cured me of this malady; I am living in much reduced circumstances these days.  Now I just need to complete the right-sizing of my life and feel grateful to be rid of all the shit I never wanted in the first place.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Looking back in shame

The Confederate battle flag was lowered in Charleston SC this morning in the wake of the atrocities committed by the racist killer Dylann Roof, so I am nervous about putting the above image on my blog - I worry that folks might jump to conclusions.    Like many white people, I have my own connection to this flag,  and it was in the form of the image above.  A framed print of this "Johnny Reb" cartoon was on the wall of my childhood home, proudly placed there by my father.  Oh, and my middle name is "Lee."  My dad wanted me to carry the surname of General Robert E. Lee throughout my life.  Since Lee is a common name, it doesn't attract much attention.  But I know what my father intended.  My father's people are from the southern U.S. (although he moved to California, where I was born and raised).  When we would visit the family in Tennessee, I was startled by their casual bigotry.  They used to call me  a "damned Yankee" (and other things that weren't as benign).

I have avoided digging too deeply into my genealogy.    A complete and detailed family tree could reveal some slave-holding ancestors.  I carry enough shame over the racism of my extended family and my ancestors; I don't want to know if great-great-great granddaddy committed the crime of enslaving humans.  If that makes me a coward, so be it.

When I was a kid, I thought the cartoon rebel dude was kinda cool.  The whole "Southern heritage" thing was part of my upbringing, especially as it related to food.  My dad would occasionally encourage us to eat turnip greens, hush puppies, hot water hoe cakes, fried green tomatoes and Tennessee ham with red-eye gravy.  It seemed colorful and interesting.  But once I hit high school, I began to feel very uneasy about "Johnny Reb" on the wall.  The shame didn't kick in until later.  I began to feel (and still feel) that I should apologize to every black person I meet for the actions and attitudes of my ancestors.  I know it isn't my fault, but I am a product of this legacy.

I am a white male American  born in the middle of the 20th Century.  It is like I started the 100- yard dash at the 50-yard line.  My son-in-law is black.  It is like he started the 100-yard dash 25 yards behind the starting line.  The Confederate battle flag, white Southern heritage, white supremacist terrorism and the basic organization of American life reminds us that the past is not really past. Conditions have improved, but the nasty tribal instincts that create so much evil are alive and well.

But I take heart.  Two of my grandchildren are mixed kids, and they have friends of all shades.  My community is more open and friendly towards various cultures, ethnic groups and creeds than most places. We can continue to improve our understanding of each other.  As the singer Pearl Bailey liked to say, "There is only one race - the human race."