The girls and I headed to Epcot at Walt Disney World, me in an Electric Convenience Vehicle… an ECV… and they walking.
I always had my camera equipment and we carried our yellow Mickey ponchos for the inevitable afternoon thunderstorms.
As we wended our way around World Showcase, we went inside The American Adventureto listen to the Voices of Liberty, an amazing a Capella group that sings beautiful songs about America… and a couple of Disney tunes thrown in. (Not quite sure where the other voices are coming from, but they vanish around 2 minutes in.)
America Gardens Theater
When you walk out of the The American Adventure (which we had been in dozens of times so did not go this day), across the way, is the America Gardens Theater. I have to show you several pictures because they will be relevant later in the story.
Because I had the ECV, we were led to the Handicapped Section. It was about 8 rows from the stage and I was on the far left of the benches.
It being June in Florida, it was damn hot. I tend to get to places early (movies, shows, parties, etc.) and this was no exception. Waiting, it was suffocatingly hot. While we always carried water, that Kakigōri booth in Japan, which is next to The American Adventure, beckoned. We needed something cold!
Kakigōri, a Japanese treat, is a sort of snow cone, or if you know Hawai’i Shave Ice, it is similar to that as well. Besides the syrups they add (your choices), some people enjoy cream in theirs. (Blech!)
Not long after we were sitting in the flippin’ hot sun, the girls were sent on a mission to get the Kakigōri cones. I love cherry, and when they have it, grape. Yum! We three sat eating our snow cones, waiting for the show to start.
It finally did.
Michael Flatley Lord of the Dance
The show began with an amazing display of Irish dancing, men and women, moving in unison, the legs kicking while the tops of their bodies were stock still. It was delightful fun!
Midway through the show, a soloist came out and began singing the most lovely ballad… her soprano voice soaring into the air around us.
Then the feedback started. A blaring eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee that was the strangest thing ever! Disney is meticulous with their sound systems, it was bizarre having feedback.
People were looking around. Why hadn’t the sound people fixed it yet? Crazy!
Then I see a Cast Member wending his way through the crowd… in a hurry… was everything okay? Holy crap, he was heading… towards… me?
“Ma’am, can you get off the ECV’s horn?”
I looked down and my bulging fat belly was leaning on the red horn button, causing the horrid “feedback.”
I leaned back and, miraculously, the feedback stopped.
People everywhere were staring. Right at me. I was filled with embarrassment.
And then I started laughing.
The girls and I got the sillies, thinking about me causing all that ruckus. It took every bit of control to not howl with laughter through the rest of the performance.
The kids’ dad and I moved to Tacoma with an Army transfer. We were at the bottom rung of the pay scale. Poor. Poorer than poor. Tristan was 16 months old and I was several months pregnant with Meghann. It was a wrangle to get a lease on a house, but we did it.
(I swear the house did not look like this when we rented it. This is the new & improved exterior.)
Our Household goods were super-slow getting to us, so we were given a few things to tide us over… one of which was a crib mattress for me to lay on. Tristan slept in the playpen and the kids’ dad slept in a sleeping bag (if I recall correctly).
One middle of the night, I heard something skittering above me, in the attic. Humorously, my former husband put his boots on (and nothing else) and grabbed a trenching tool and stomped around looking for the noisemakers. He didn’t find anything, but I laid there listening to the scratching far after he fell back to sleep.
When our household goods still hadn’t arrived a month later, the Army bought us a bed. A waterbed. How time-warp is that?!? We had those rainbow sheets on it.
We also had satin hearts in a swirly mobile hanging over the bed.
Meghann & Me
I had Meghann at home, in an Unassisted Birth (called a UC or “freebirth”)… the stupidest thing I have ever done in my entire life. You can read her story here if you are interested: Meghann’s UC Birth Story.
Relevant to this story, however, is my never-ending time breastfeeding.
I’d nursed Tristan for a mere 4 months and had big expectations to nurse until Meghann weaned herself (which she sort of did at 2.5 years old). So I was a nursing zombie. I was so tired, but then we got our tv and (we had to have gotten) cable because voila! there was MTV.
Meghann was born May 27, 1984. MTV had been around since 1981, but it was really in its heyday during the time I was watching it in the middle of the night, baby at my breast. In fact, the first Top 20 Video Countdown began in March 1984 (and it SUCKED! Watch it on YouTube!), so right before Meggie was born.
The songs that stood out most for me, the ones I waited for with baited breath:
Cyndi Lauper – Girls Just Want to Have Fun– (WOW! The people in it are incredibly diverse for that time period. I never noticed before.) Tristan loved this video, especially the part where the girls are floating in the bubbles/circles and going around. I can see him as if it was yesterday, in his footie pajamas, dancing and pointing at the TV.
While Holiday was Madonna’s first hit, her first video hit was Lucky Star. From the first moment I saw her, I was enamored. She came out with a string of hits in 1984, but when Meghann was a newborn, Borderline was the video I salivated for. (Clearly, I know wayyyy too much about Madonna’s early career!)
We’d inherited a sofa bed from the kids’ dad’s parents, a little larger than a loveseat, with two big square pillows to sit on. I’ve scoured my thousands of pictures and the Net looking for the sofa. This is the best I could find.
Here is how the sofa opened into a bed.
I sat on the couch on the right side. Every time. Before Meghann was born. And after she was born. That was my spot. I plopped a feather pillow with the rainbow pillowcase under my right arm, holding up my elbow, and I would nurse for hours. Sitting on that right side of the couch.
At night, we just sat nursing by the light of MTV. We kept the volume low for her dad who had to work the next morning, but we still bee-bopped to whomever MTV put on in the wee hours.
One dark early morning, I was nursing on the right side of the couch and out from behind the huge square furnace we had in the living room, came a rat. Then another rat. Then 3 baby rats.
I screamed bloody murder and the kids’ dad ran out, scaring them so they skittered back from whence they came.
How to Kill a Rat
When the Landlord finally came over, he gave us some mouse traps and rat food. He walked around showing us where they were getting in. One place was behind the toilet which freaked me out every time I had to use the bathroom. Picture fat pregnant me with my legs raised while I did my business. Ugh.
The landlord gave us the perfect solution to keeping the rats out.
Crush some glass and sprinkle it where the holes are.
I stood there blinking.
“Uh, I have a toddler! I cannot have crushed glass around the house.”
“Well, that’s the best idea I have.”
We checked the traps and poison a few days later and the bait had all been taken, the poison eaten… and the rats twice their size and twice as active.
We had to move.
By the time a solution appeared, Meghann was 4 months old.
Some friends of the kids’ dad were managers at an apartment complex and said they had a place we could move into. The challenge was we did not have the deposit, so they said they had not cleaned it yet and if we were willing to clean it ourselves, it was ours.
We headed over right away to go clean, taking some more friends from the military. When we opened the door, ghastly smells wrapped around us; cigarette stench was the main foulness, but there were others we could not parse out.
The walls in the living room were vile. Drips of nicotine painted them.
Where the previous tenants removed photos, we could see what the once pristine white walls had looked like.
Looking at the white areas, we saw we really had our work cut out for us.
We set to cleaning.
Being fat and not able to climb, I chose the kitchen. Kitchen HELL I should say. Not only were there nicotine streaks, the people before us cooked with grease. A lot of grease. A lot of spattering grease. Within 5 feet of the stove, the grease and yellow cigarette goop challenged each other for dripping space.
The only way I could think of cleaning this disgusting mess was with SOS Pads. Steel wool with soap on them if you aren’t familiar. I set to wetting the SOS pad, then scrubbing the wall, that blessedly, had glossy paint. Small favors.
I was cleaning madly (literally, not very happily doing this hard work) and got right there around the plastic plate where the plugs go in the wall when suddenly there was a huge -POP- and a giant blue flash that zipped up my arm and threw me against the refrigerator across the kitchen. People ran in to see what happened and I innocently told them what I was doing and their eyes all bugged out.
“THAT’S METAL AND WATER YOU PUT IN A LIVE SOCKET!”
I didn’t know!
What I did know was my right arm felt like it had been smashed with a baseball bat from fingers to shoulder.
I was banished to the couch that had just been brought in. I quietly smiled, grabbing Meghann and sitting on my side, nursing not only my baby, but my really hurting right arm.
We cleaned as best we could, the place looked normal again, but there were lingering smells we just couldn’t seem to get rid of.
One night, while I was sitting on the right side of the couch nursing Meghann, Tristan playing on the floor, their dad had had enough of the growing stink. I told him it smelled like rotting potatoes and maybe we accidentally left some in a box somewhere in the closet.
He set out to find the horrid stench and pulled the boxes out, throwing stuff wildly around the room. I yelled asking if he couldn’t please be neater? He did not answer. I just heard him as he went from room to room, under the bathroom sink, into the kitchen, under the cabinets… digging digging… and throwing things, many of which ended up on the hall floor.
He came up empty. Then looked at me menacingly.
“What?” I was still nursing Meghann.
“GET UP NOW!!!!”
I jumped up, Meghann still attached and he pulled off the cushion I always sat on and there, on top of the mattress mechanism, was a rat. A dead rat.
A SQUISHED FLAT AS A PANCAKE DEAD RAT.
It had been under my ass! FOR MONTHS!
My former husband began laughing his head off. Reliving the rat’s last moments.
“I can see him! ‘Oh, some peanut butter and jelly leftovers!’ Then SQUISH, you flattened ALIVING RAT!”
He jumped around the room, doing the killing-the-rat routine half a dozen times.
Yeah. Me and my fat ass had killed a rat that had been 3 inches from my lap and my baby. I started crying which made him laugh even harder, telling me how funny it was.
Then he said he was going to get something to get the gross flat thing off our sofa. I begged him to throw the couch away. He refused, loudly reminding me we had no money for furniture and it was the only place I could nurse. He came out of the kitchen with Playtex yellow gloves on and a spatula. I could not watch.
He laughed and laughed as he scraped the disgusting animal off our couch’s pull out bed top, then danced outside to the dumpster and threw it all in.
The room still reeked and he looked in the kitchen, finding the Carpet Fresh. He came back and sprinkled the carpet fresh where the rat had been squished to death by my flopping-on-the-couch butt.
To this day, the smell of Carpet Fresh reminds me of that horrid stench. The smell that lingered until we were able to throw the couch away a year later.
As you can imagine, I hate rats. I can barely write it without shuddering with revulsion. Because of my rat-phobia, everyone in my life has agreed to call them “Potatoes.”
And damned if that flat rat didn’t smell like rotten potatoes.
Meghann had worked in our Holistic Healthcare Center for the summer and Zack and I were driving her back to Texas Tech University in Lubbock. Zack was driving his F250 and we had a new washer and dryer for Meggie in the cargo bed. The path from San Diego to Lubbock is one of the most visually boring trips in the country. Lubbock is in West Texas, in the middle of nowhere.
Now, I cannot pee outside. When I have tried, I have had it running down my legs and into my shoes. It’s just gross.
But then there is the issue of finding a bathroom that doesn’t make me gag. Unfortunately, sometimes gagging is involved with urinating in a public toilet.
We stopped at the smallest gas station on earth to fill up and let Meghann and I go to the bathroom. When we walked inside the tiny building, the man behind the glass counter…. Yeah, the man behind the counter.
He had no teeth and was holding a half-cooked greasy hamburger (without the bun) in his hand. The grease was dripping down his arm. Lots of grease. A river of grease. Dripping off his elbow onto the newspaper he seemed to be perusing.
It was revolting.
We knew the bathroom was not going to be pristine.
Meggie and I took turns in the bathroom, one guarding the other because there was no lock on the door. And what if that man wanted to wash his hands. (As if.)
Walking out, we took one last look behind the counter as the man took a gummy bite into his burger, the grease oozing down his arm.
When we got in the truck, we laughed hysterically, partially from fear release. We kept asking each other if what we saw was real and validated each other over and over. That remains one of the most surreal experiences in my life.
BBQ in Lubbock
Once we delivered the washer and dryer to Meghann’s new apartment, we headed out for some Texas BBQ.
Walking in and sitting down became an adventure in staring; them, not us. Zack is transgender, but had not come out yet so people saw him as a very butch lesbian. I’m guessing that LGBTQ people are not a big part of Lubbock or Texas Tech. The whole walking in experience seemed to be in slow motion, every step taking 5 minutes before taking the next. I swear the place went silent.
We were seated at a large table against a wrought iron room separator. Zack sat next to the fence thing and cooed a hello to a baby hanging over a mother’s shoulder. The mother shot up out of her seat and tromped to the other side of the table and sat down for the duration of her meal. I’ve always wondered if she thought the baby would catch The Gay from Zack.
We could not miss the hushed volume compared to when we first walked in, and the stares continued. Looking around, we saw many men in cowboy hats and Zack made the comment that if we were in San Diego, they would be the ones being stared at. True, true!
The next morning, Zack and I hightailed it out of Lubbock. I was never so happy to leave somewhere, barring leaving my daughter behind, even though there was the greasy hamburger man a few hundred miles ahead.
Napa Rose is my absolute favorite Disney restaurant. Besides the exquisite food, the staff is one of the most unobtrusively attentive.
I’ve eaten at Napa Rose with my family (several times), just Zack and I (several times) and by myself (a few times). I can remember almost every dinner, too. That’s gotta say something.
Michael Jordan, Master Sommelier
The very first visit, Zack and I were in awe. The decor of the restaurant, how it overlooked Disney California Adventure… and then there was Michael Jordan.
Jordan isn’t at Napa Rose anymore, but we were blessed to experience him during his 8-year tenure. He’s a Master Sommelier, 1 of 15 in the world!
When we were seated, we studied the wine list, then decided to ask Jordan for his recommendation. He came up, a delightful smile on his face… one of the most humble men I’ve ever met. We talked for a long time and when he learned I was a midwife, he said his mother was a midwife and she’d delivered Frank Sinatra (who was 13.5 pounds and had an incredibly difficult birth) in Hoboken, New Jersey. Apparently the birth was so difficult, they called in a doctor who used forceps on the baby Frank Sinatra, scarring him for life. And then he said that Dolly Sinatra delivered him! What a fun story that bonded Jordan to us within minutes. And he did, indeed choose an awesome bottle of wine for us. That night and every other night we ate there.
After my gastric bypass in 2001, a woman in Anaheim wanted to meet to talk about my experience. I was eating tiny bits of food at the time and did worry about what I was going to eat. I didn’t need to! The chef blended up some of their mushroom soup for me and I took my first slurp with him standing there, loving the soup so very much.
About 10 spoonfuls in, I began to feel ill. The mushroom soup was incredibly rich with cream and my new gastric bypass body could not handle it. I began to dump (when the body cannot process sugar or fats and floods it with insulin to try to metabolize the offending food… called Dumping Syndrome).
I excused myself from my new friend and hightailed it to the bathroom so I could moan in peace. The hypoglycemia was so bad (and I did not recognize it at that time), all I could do was lay on the cool floor, curled into a ball. Someone heard me and went to Jordan who called EMS. They got there fast, while I was still clinging to the ceramic floor and kept asking me if they could give me an insulin shot. I was in a daze, but haltingly explained the gastric bypass and the dumping that comes from it. After 30 or so minutes on the floor, the distress slowly lessened. EMS stayed to take care of, or transport, me. I remember when I could sit up again, realizing I was laying on a bathroom floor… one of the grossest places on earth. Blessedly, the restaurant had just opened so at least it was still clean and I wouldn’t have nightmares about acquiring germs and laying in filth.
I said goodbye to my friend and drove the hour back home.
Dining with the Kidlets
I can see us eating at Napa Rose right this moment… as if it was yesterday.
The 4 kids (Zack’s son included), Zack and I and Napa Rose. Michael Jordan would choose us a nice bottle of wine and we would settle in for some great food and fun conversation.
One particularly hilarious conversation occurred when I was on-call as a midwife. San Diego was 90 minutes away, so when I went, I asked my ladies to give me an earlier heads-up than they might have otherwise. So when one of my moms called, I excused myself and went to talk in the bathroom, away from the table.
When I came back, the kids started peppering me with questions: Did her water break? Does she have gloppies? (Gloppies are when women are getting ripe, losing their mucus plug, etc.) Is she engorged? (If she was nursing.) I could hardly talk from laughing so hard at how my entire family knows so so much about childbirth and breastfeeding… through osmosis!
We ate here so often, we all had our constant favorites.
Zack’s son loved the Sizzling Beach Rock Appetizer.
The rock under the shrimp was hot as fire and the food on skewers would be laid on the rock to cook. It really was an awesome display of creativity.
My favorite was the Lobster Martini. I can taste it right this second.
Lobster, avocado, mango and a pinch of something spicy combined to delight me every time. If I went to the restaurant and it wasn’t on the menu, the chef would make it for me anyway. I sure would love one now!
Michael Jordan had an enormous garden at his home and when the heirloom tomatoes came into season, he harvested them and brought them to work. Organic, so so so sweet, with a light mango dressing. Delicioso!
While the desserts at Napa Rose were amazing, sometimes I wanted the Cheese Plate. Exquisite cheeses and breads, always something new each time I went.
As I said, the desserts were amazing.
This Sampler Plate has 3 of my favorite things at Napa Rose: the Vanilla Crème Brûlée, the “World’s Best Hot Chocolate” (at $13 a cup!) and the crunchy lacy thing standing up on the Chocolate Mousse in the back.
I loved the crunchy lace cookie-like treat and would ask for a big bowl of them. Yum! Especially with the Hot Chocolate!
Zack, on the other hand, liked some dark chocolate while he finished off our delicious red wine that Michael Jordan had chosen for us.
I would love to visit Napa Rose again. Tonight! Instead, you go for me!
I read and read before ever trying that first loaf. I’m sure I almost memorized the Basic Recipe by the time I poured the first packet of yeast into the bowl of warm water. After a few months, I never had to look at the recipe again; I could feel the different amounts and measurements.
It’s been 30 years since I’ve baked a loaf of bread, yet I can still smell the scent of yeast as it was mixed with the warm water. I tried lots of different sweeteners to “feed” the yeast… sugar, honey… but settled on dark molasses.
When I learned yeast was a living being, it changed how I saw raw dough. I began treating the dough with more purpose and attention. I respected the yeast more, hence also the dough.
I learned that adding flour (I always used whole wheat flour, spring wheat if possible), even to the counter so the dough didn’t stick, wasn’t the best idea, that dough stops being sticky after kneading until you feel like your hands are going to fall off. Then you knead that long once again.
Before learning to respect the dough, I plopped it into any ol’ bowl, even plastic ones. Forgive me! I didn’t know any better! Once I learned more and shifted my attention, I bought 2 enormous glass bowls, specifically for rising dough. Learning to cover the dough with plastic wrap was an epiphany, but I also got myself 2 white cotton dish towels to protect the dough as it rose. I didn’t realize it, but I’d developed a Bread Baking Ritual.
I always had to set some dough aside for the kidlets, so they could knead at the dining room table. I’d sprinkle flour over much of the table and the kids would be busy for an hour, creating their dough shapes, letting them rise and then waiting to eat them after they came out of the oven. Oh, how I wish I had pictures of those times. I can see it clear as day in my mind, though. It’ll have to reside there forever.
When it was time to “punch” the dough down after it rose the first time, I did just that… punch… finding it amusing to watch the dough curl around my fist. After my this-stuff-is-alive realization, I began being gentle pushing the dough down again. I would use my hand like a spatula and slide against the side of the bowl, watching the (gluten) threads stretch then snap back to the mother-dough.
I nudged the dough down before folding it neatly, then covering it with plastic wrap again and placing the white cotton dish towels on top, allowing it to rise (in half the time as the first rise!) once again.
Into the Oven
After the second rise, I hand-spatula’d the dough down once again before separating it with a plastic scraper into the proper sizes for the bread pans. Over the years, I tried a variety of ways to keep the baked bread from sticking to the pan: oil (yuck), Crisco (not bad), but finally settled on Pam spray. I curled the raw dough into the bread pans, covered them with plastic wrap and the dish towels yet again, allowing them their last rise.
I wanted slashes in the top of my bread. It took at least 100 times before I didn’t deflate my dough trying to get a lovely slash in the top. I tried sharp knives, serrated knives, forks… even razor blades… and always struggled with that part of baking. Eventually, I learned to zip the knife through fast, not slow and deep. Just pull the knife quickly. Poking around for pics, I see there are now dozens of tools to make beautiful scores in your bread. But back in the olden days….
My Nose Knows
It was when I began baking bread that I realized I had an interesting cook’s gift; I can tell when baked goods are finished cooking with my nose. I need no timers, there is a distinct scent that wafts around the house and I’m able to get the bread or brownies or pie out of the oven before any burning occurs and without any under-baking.
Out of the Oven
There is no smell so heavenly as fresh baked bread right out of the oven.
It was a red-letter day the first time I tumped a loaf out of its cooking pan without it falling apart. Once the loaves were out, I put them on cookie racks to cool.
As with the slashes, I had to learn how to cut the bread. This was a shorter learning curve, quickly passing on the dinner knife and non-serrated knife. A sharp serrated knife is definitely the way to save your loaf from looking like crumbs. If you have the capability to let the bread cool even just a few minutes, it won’t fall apart as easily as right out of the oven bread.
And then the butter. Ahhhhh, butter. Not margarine… ever! The fresher the butter the better. Slathering it on, watching it melt into puddles on the bumpy surface, air bubbles holding the creamy sweetness aloft, just waiting for your first luscious bite.
Types of Bread
Besides the Basic Whole Wheat Bread I made every day for years, I experimented with other types, rarely finding success.
I could not ever ever ever get Sourdough Bread right. I tried a dozen “full-proof” recipes, believed the promises that grandma’s 100-year old starter would be The One to give me a lovely loaf of sourdough bread. Nope. It never happened. It was worse trying to make starter myself! It reminded me of how I could never keep a plant alive… cultivating living things just was not one of my fortes.
In Laurel’s Bread Book, she waxes poetic about Desem (Day-zum) Bread. It is a massively complicated process that includes burying your small starter loaf in a 50-pound bag of whole wheat flour for a few weeks, taking it out for air every few days, taking away some of the dough, replacing it with new flour… on and on. And on. (I have not looked at the recipe in 30 years so I could be telling you something totally false, but this is how it was for me trying to make the Desem Bread.) How I thought I could make Desem when I couldn’t even keep sourdough starter alive was beyond me. But I tried. More than once. Failed every single time.
Where I did find success was in Laurel’s Banana Bread recipe. I started with hers, but quickly altered it to my tastes. For real, you need 6-8 ripe (not over-ripe!) bananas (“the bread will only taste as good as the ingredients”… great life lesson right there.) to make this 85-pound loaf of bread. 6-8. In each loaf. Not kidding.
I usually made 2 loaves; one with raisins and one with nuts. I like raisins, Zack liked the nuts. You can put cranberries in there… cran-raisins, chunks of chocolate, cherries… anything your banana heart desires.
The scent of banana bread in the oven is exquisite. (I could smell when it was done as well. No timers for me!) Eating hot banana bread with gobs of butter… I’m nearly weeping remembering the taste.
Passing It On
All of my kids have made bread. I like to believe I had something to do with offering fearlessness when trying those first few times.
Technology has given us bread makers, but I know I would not use one because of the hypnotic deliciousness of kneading the dough, watching it rise, punching it down, watching the second rise, then into the pans for their third rise… all before baking.
Looking from this vantage point, there is something special about the length of time it takes from yeast proofing to butter on hot bread. Lessons in patience, small attentions and watching the making of a staple of life humbles me.
Hmmm… didn’t know I would say so much! Hope the kids enjoy this.
The horrific events in Charlottesville August 12, 2017, where the beautiful Heather Heyer was killed, were despicable acts of domestic terrorism. An outspoken beacon for ending racial and xenophobic behaviors, she will be honored always for her sacrifice to the cause of equality and peace.
My Sordid Family Legacy
These clashes between the “right/alt-right/white supremacists/white nationalists/Nazis/etc. brings out, once again, the shame I hold in my heart because of my family’s history in the Ku Klux Klan.
I remember when my family moved from northern California to Orlando, Florida in 1966; I was 5 years old. As we drove deeper and deeper into the south, I saw more and more segregation. I had no concept or context, of course, but absolutely remember the different water fountains and different bathrooms. Today, I am horrified at those memories.
USA. North Carolina. 1950.
In 5th grade, Mrs. Moore made it clear where she stood on the race issue. We still had no blacks in the school… the first and only black person came the next year… but as she taught American History, she lingered on the south’s views in the Civil War segment.
A friend of mine, Angel, brought in something that she wouldn’t even show me, but went to Mrs. Moore to ask if she could share with the class. I was near the desk so could hear it all, still not putting it into context for several more years. Angel had brought in some Civil War memorabilia, all southern in origin. I can still hear Mrs. Moore saying, “I believe the same as you do, but we aren’t allowed to talk about those things.” I went to sharpen my pencil and saw a photo of the white hoods and a burning cross. It was the first time I had ever seen the KKK.
My Nana, whom I was named after, was married to my Johnston great-grandfather. I distinctly remember her seeing black children, pinching their cheeks and telling them what cute “pickaninnies” they were. How I wish I could remember the faces of those children’s mothers; they had to have been disgusted.
When we spent weekends with my great-grandparents, watching television became an adventure in racism. The Flip Wilson Show, one of the first TV shows that starred a black person, was popular, but my great-grandfather would holler epithets at the blacks on his show and kvetched the entire hour it was on.
When we played the game it was “catch a n-word by the toe.” I had zero clue what I was saying. When I had kids, they would play the game and sing “catch a tiger by the toe,” but there was not one time I didn’t flinch when they began singing the song, fearing they would say that horrible word. They’d never even heard that version of the rhyming game; I still braced myself.
Peppered around the south are Brazil nut trees. We called them “n-word toes.”
Add the KKK to My History
I was about 10-years old when my racist great-grandfather lay dying in a hospital from emphysema. The stories began being told about his life, one of which was his history with the KKK. Apparently, he had been an active member in the 1930s and 1940s when my family lived outside New York City and then again when my great-grandparents retired to Florida in the early 1960s. Hints that he might have been a grand wizard wafted about as well. I have no idea either how to find out if that is true nor do I have any desire to learn more about his/my shameful history.
How I Was Raised
My father, a Cuban, was called the n-word in high school (in Miami) and my mom’s family became apoplectic when they became engaged. Not sure if my mom had some inherent understanding of racial issues, but she was a supporter of civil rights issues in the 60’s. Not that she could march or anything having 3 kids one right after the other, but she said she did speak up as much as possible with friends and family.
For whatever reason, we just didn’t say the n-word at home. Except for what I mentioned above, I cannot recall ever using that word to describe anyone or use as an epithet.
It took until junior high, which bused in blacks, before I heard the word used regularly. I didn’t connect the word with racism until long after I graduated from high school. I remember, in high school, hanging out with band members who “joked” about being in the KKK, how they were looking for local meetings and even talked about burning crosses. I sat mute, confused and lost. How much more oblivious could I have been? I’m baffled at my inability to see the graphic evil stewing around me.
Somewhere along the line, my mom gave me the book, Black Like Me… a not so subtle teaching of stepping into another’s shoes… black shoes. I remember reading it as if it was yesterday.
After my parent’s divorce, my dad married a deep south-thinking bitch. When she met my Dominican husband, her face pinched tight and she asked, “Are you black?!” the word “black” spit out like a bitter pill. Somewhere in me, I sat up straighter and mentally stuck my tongue out at her.
In fact, his grandmother was black, 2 of my children being brown, the last white like me.
Confronting My Own Racism
It took (too) many years coalescing all that I’d seen and heard into some semblance of understanding.
I’m sitting looking at the blinking cursor, not even sure where to go from here.
pausing some more
I need to amend a sentence I wrote above.
“I cannot recall ever using that word (the n-word) to describe anyone or use as an epithet.”
Amendment: Out loud.
After not using that word in my life, how did it jump into my mind when I was frustrated or angry with a Black person (usually in the car)? Where did that (disgusting) habit come from?
The 1980s were a really introspective time for me. I tackled issues like boycotting, feminism, inner-homophobia, non-violent communication & childrearing… and began exploring my beliefs (and lies) about racism and xenophobia.
(This is much harder to write than I expected.)
I am the embodiment of white privilege. I might have Cuban blood and a Latinx surname, but I have been indoctrinated in the ways of the white culture.
Despite working with Latinx migrant and immigrant women for a couple of decades, learning Spanish, and being able to make platanos maduros, I remain steeped in whiteness.
I acknowledge there is very little I can say to alleviate the damage done by me and my family, but I have to apologize, nevertheless. I am deeply sorry to everyone affected by those in my family… and perpetrated by myself, even inside my mind. I do not want forgiveness, would never ask for it because I do not think forgiveness is in order. I want blacks to know, in my heart, I do apologize every day. I try to use the privilege I have to rectify, support and lift up the blacks I see and interact with. I am so, so sorry. There are not enough words to express myself.
Some Things I’ve Learned
“For a black American, a black inhabitant in this country, the Statue is simply a very bitter joke… Meaning nothing to us.”
Black Lives Matter is an amazing group that holds black people in the esteem they deserve. I love their goals of ending the country’s systematic incarceration, ending police violence with regards to black folks and being “unapologetically black,” fighting for reform of the justice system that is overwhelmingly against blacks and standing tall in their shared problems and successes. I’m listening.
It makes my heart ache seeing what’s happening with this country because of 45. Each of us has a role to take in ending the pain and growing chasms tearing our country apart. I cannot march, but I can write. I need to write more.