Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Family Had Slaves

As politically incorrect in today’s acceptable society, it is part of my ancestry. Does that make me a racist? A bigot? Or is it part of history?
It is recorded that some of my ancestries had in their inventory ‘people’. Labeled like livestock or cattle there were listings of the number of slaves.
These listings of records were made in marriages or estates for tax purposes. It was also a sign of wealth.
That said, it means a former family member or an assigned taskmaster was present at a slave auction to bid on a ‘person’ just like a cow or a horse or a wagon. As appalling as that sounds today, one must remember the time and the place.
Slaves were necessary to agricultural families because they could not produce enough children fast enough to harvest crops and neighbors had the same problem. Families could not maintain their spreads of land presented to them in the new world.
Forgivable? Absolutely not, but unfortunately the act of enslaving other people has gone on since the beginning of time. Buying a ‘person’ was status quo like buying a refrigerator today.
And many, many cultures and countries were involved in the procuring, distribution and retail of ‘people’. The owner of another person had to provide food and shelter and clothing for their ‘slaves’ but little else. A slave was on his or her own to become educated or entertained or endures basic survival after being purchased.
I have no record of who these people were or their names or their duties in the households or if they were cared for or abused or their families or their kin today. I do not have a record of the race of the slaves. I only have a record of age being over or under 16. I have a brief line in history that one human being with my last name could purchase another human being for whatever purpose.
In a class society, there will always be a superior and unfortunate subordinate culture. Race, religion, height, title, family heritage not withstanding, our society adapts and changes. We cannot change history but only reflect how we have progressed.
Does that my family owned other people make me a racist? Does that I realized at an early age that people of color reacted differently to people that looked like me make be a racist? Does it matter I realized what was socially accepted was not what was preached? Does it matter I stood on the sidelines during the conflict of segregation vs. integration make me a racist?
The discussion of the act of enslaving another for whatever purpose cannot be understood or comprehended in our modern society. I know because I watched the changes from Jim Crow to desegregation in the capitol of the Confederacy with huge monuments to generals who lost the cause for state’s rights. We now pledge allegiance to the stars and strips and sing the national anthem and we are a United States, but history does not go away.
One hundred and fifty years ago the commonwealth I was born and grew up in said this:
“AN ORDINANCE to repeal the ratification of the Constitution of the United State of America by the State of Virginia, and to resume all the rights and powers granted under said Constitution.

The people of Virginia in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States:

Now, therefore, we, the people of Virginia, do declare and ordain, That the ordinance adopted by the people of this State in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and all acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying and adopting amendments to said Constitution, are hereby repealed and abrogated; that the union between the State of Virginia and the other States under the Constitution aforesaid is hereby dissolved, and that the State of Virginia is in the full possession and exercise of all the rights of sovereignty which belong and appertain to a free and independent State.

And they do further declare, That said Constitution of the United States of America is no longer binding on any of the citizens of this State.

This ordinance shall take effect and be an act of this day, when ratified by a majority of the voter of the people of this State cast at a poll to be taken thereon on the fourth Thursday in May next, in pursuance of a schedule hereafter to be enacted.
Adopted by the convention of Virginia April 17,1861 ratified by a vote of 132,201 to 37,451 on 23 May 1861.”
With all the talk about heritage and symbols, there are some basic facts. People used to be marketed. Today they still are.
Today people are moved from place to place to cultivate our crops and provided us with the inexpensive and plentiful food we indulge in. They live in squallier and though not called ‘slaves’, are used for toiling jobs with little pay. 
Is it freedom or is it 21st century slavery?
You decide.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Gold Watch

On father’s day, one remembers what made the man who brought you into life. Looking through old pictures and genealogy tells you some things but you really didn’t know that man. You spent all your growing up days with this guy, but he was ‘dad’ and he was there to provide shelter, food, transportation, and always had an extra $5 in his pocket for you.
Dads are different to boys than girls. I didn’t have any sisters, but I’ve heard they were ‘daddy’s girls’, so when I was dating I avoided her dad.
Now boys are suppose to follow in our father’s footsteps. Not only were dads to make sure you got off to school on time and instructed you on how to stand as a man to pee, but they are also required to hand down their skills and wisdom. It is in the dad’s contract.
This hand-me-down task comes from fathers to sons. The father passes on the skills of hunting, fishing, working on cars and woodworking while handing over tools and techniques to the next generation. It is a rite of passage growing up.
Dads don’t talk about old girlfriends or late night drunks or encounters with the law. They don’t talk about career failures or questionable decisions, but attempt to point the sired children to a more positive path. And it is acceptable for him to nod off in church, because he made sure you put on your coat and tie and arrived on time.
My dad was 43 when I was born. We were generations apart but he let me be who I wanted to be. When he died, I had to deal with much of the remains.
There were ties given to him years before on Father’s Day, now old and wrinkled with food stains, suits ten years out of style, bottles of Old Spice (his favorite) aftershave never opened, Christmas lights he’d string on the magnolia tree out back every year, and even that gigantic yellow convertible with the torn top he must have bought on a whim because he was much more practical than that. His funeral was back in his hometown with lots of old folk sitting around talking about him from before I was born. I should have taken notes because I really didn’t know the man.
One of the few personal items I found was a gold watch. It appeared to be a watch passed down to him from his dad and maybe before that. Stuffed in the back of an underwear drawer; a gold pocket watch with a pop up lid and a chain with a fob on it. I never saw my dad wear this watch, but he kept it safe to pass down to his first-born, like the family bible.
The heir of the family name (and his father’s name) has the gold watch to pass down to his son. And that is what dads are for.
Painting of gold watch by Hall Groat II

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Never Leaving Your Zip Code

There are those of us who like to explore, to see what is over that next ridge, to venture out into the unknown. Adventurers I believe they are called. They can’t sit still but must wander the globe in search of something new and exciting.
I am not one of them.
Perhaps youth gives us the curiosity to explore new places in hopes of finding some foreign answer to life. Is a beach in Bali any different from a beach in South Carolina? Is an open fired meal any better than what you can cook on your grill?
Even if it is a brief vacation to a foreign land, unless you have a tour package with an interpreter, you are lost in a world of different cultures and languages. They even use different money. A long list of stress from travel difficulties to lost baggage to health problems and all the extra fees, it is good to come back home.
And home is where you live. Home is where you store your stuff. Home is where the day-by-day life goes on. Home is more than a shelter, but it is where you have chosen to spend your life. The pictures on the walls and the plates and pans in the kitchen and even the rugs are a reflection of who you are.
Those photos posted with your dark glasses sitting on a sandy beach that could be in a far away land or down the block bring imaginary tales of movie stars or the rich and famous, only to collapse into reality.
The photos of kids playing in the backyard or a grill party with your neighbors or old wedding pictures are much more adored and cherished.
Wonder why no one takes pictures of working?
Yet home is what you come back to day-after-day. For whatever reasons you’ve chosen this place to settle down, this is your spot on the planet. If you have chosen right, all your essentials are close by. The store that provides you nutrition, the church that provided you spiritual fulfillment, schools within walking distance, plenty of close by entertainment and neighbors who cut their grass every Saturday and wave even though you have no idea who they are.
So as the story goes, I bought a house. A house not far from where I grew up. A house not far from where I went to school. A house not far from where I went to church. A house close enough to work I could walk there and back. I bought a house but a structure is not a home.
I met this woman and she transformed my plot of land. Today it is a sanctuary. Surrounded by walls, there is peace and quiet in the middle of an old 40’s city subdivision. The peace and quiet some wander far away to achieve for a few moments, I have everyday.
In the winter the trees are draped in snow and in the summer there is dappled shadows. The free-range critters are given daily buffets without interference. It is as close to a full natural environment that I can provide.
So my point is if this gives me pleasure, why should I leave my zip code?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What do you think when you pee?

No matter if you stand up, sit down, squat or however you empty your bladder, we all do it. What goes in must come out. The laws of physics or a cellular metabolism to remove nitrogen through the kidneys or something; we all done got to pee.
The removal is a faster process than say ‘pooping’, where you get a chance to sit down and read a magazine or contemplate the world or watch a movie on your wireless. It is best not to have a conversation with the person in the next stall unless you are out of paper. There are certain rules to these procedures.
Your parents spent years trying to teach you how to drop your trousers and use the appropriate ceramic vessel to follow acceptable civilized methods of removing pee (and poop). Whatever potty method worked so they didn’t have to clean up your diapers; was a sign of passage. Peeing is something to be proud of, but maybe not something to take to show-and-tell. 
So what do you think about during this process?
You have to drink a lot of beer to write your name in the snow and sometimes too much will allow you to wash your pants which breaks your concentration on the deed that needs to be done.
And since it seems we humans like to consume much beer and other forms of alcohol that is full of elements that pass right through, there are several rooms set up just for this passage. Most are still divided between boys and girls, though we share at home, and most of the rooms look the same with the similar sanitation fixtures to wash away human waste.
Some fine establishments provide a newspaper or magazine page to view while peeing and some fancy places even provide a television so you can forget what you are doing in this tiled room. Others provide some creative graffiti of phone numbers and unseemly descriptions of fellow patrons for a quick read. In the latter, you may not want to touch any sink handles or doorknobs.
So as you stand or sit or squat or whatever positions you need to assume, what are your thoughts for the brief few seconds (or minutes if you are really, really full)? Or do you just zone-out and enjoy the pleasure of release?