Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Souvenir

         Recent news events brought to mind something I hadn’t thought of in years.
         When I was a child, we’d visit my Grandmother in North Carolina, who I called Memaw.  Now technically, she was my great aunt… it’s a long story.  Suffice to say she raised my Mom as my “real” grandmother (who was Memaw’s sister) died when Mom was only 3.  Memaw was the oldest of 11 children and was married to the brother of my “real” grandfather.  For years they tried to have children.  After three miscarriages, at the age of 42, she had Sonny, who was born with a hare lip and double clef palate.  For years he endured surgeries to correct those birth defects. (I’m sure there’s a PC term for that now, but when he was born, that was it.).
         Stay with me.  This really does relate back to today’s news.
         Mom used to joke, “I didn’t have you for me, I had you for Memaw.”  Maybe it was because I was the first born too or the fact Memaw was the only one in the family I ever grew taller than.  We simply connected on a different level.  She taught me to crochet and I swear she passed down those “farm woman” genes to me, right along with the peach cobbler recipe.  There was an unspoken rule that you didn’t praise anything in her house too highly, because she’d try to give it to you.  I once commented on a cute little 3 legged clay pot on the sun porch.  Yep, it went home with me that day.  I’d later learn during a tour of the Catawba Indian Museum that her 25¢ garage sale find was an authentic piece of Catawba art.  The man at the museum told me if it was signed on the bottom, it was made to sell to tourists.  If there was no signature, it was older and, to his mind, better because it wasn’t a tourist trinket.  Mine is unsigned and I treasure it.
         That’s sweet, but how does this relate to today’s news?
         Sonny lived at home with Memaw for most of his adult life.  Except for the year he went to live in Washington, D.C., where he worked for the C.I.A..  Yes, that C.I.A..   I’m not kidding.  We use to ask what he did, only to have him gravely whisper, “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”  Coming from the guy who threatened to pummel us if we ever stepped foot in his room, we believed him.  (And yes, we did get inside once, only to be disappointed to find that the “weirdest” thing in there was a collection of  Mad magazines). I was in my late 30s before he finally admitted that, as a photographer, he’d worked in a lab, analyzing photographs.  He swore it wasn’t pictures I’d be interested in but if the C.I.A. was looking at them….
         Sometime before Sonny returned home for good, he sent Memaw a souvenir sign, which she hung in the bathroom.  I’m sure the mother in her believed a gift from a son deserved to be displayed.  The fact that it hung in her bathroom probably was a silent commentary on exactly what she thought of its content.  And yet, for years I’d look at that sign and grin, knowing deep down it was probably weird for a teenager to find such subject matter amusing.  So yes, when the day came that Memaw asked me if there was anything I’d like to have, I shyly noted I’d like the sign in the bathroom.  She seemed mildly surprised, but she was not one to refuse the request of a grandchild…especially one as sentimental as me.  I don’t remember why we didn’t go get it right then and there.  It was probably time for peach cobbler.
         Somewhere along the way, the sign disappeared. Memaw was distraught, for she had promised it to me.  I told her not to worry.  If it ever turned up, I’d still be glad to have it.  It never did.  I wonder if the C.I.A. came by to repossess it?
         I may not have it in hand, but the sign’s image never left me.  Today, it’s slogan is truer than ever.  The sign was a cartoon of an old fashion toilet, the kind with a tank high above the seat and a pull chain.  In the background was a faint image of the Capitol building.  And written in bold words at the bottom…

Flush twice.  It’s a long way to Washington.”

Saturday, September 9, 2017

And the answer is...Yep

During Hurricane Matthew last year, we got a generator: living out in the country, there are only 4 houses on our electrical line and only 2 are currently occupied.  That means during storms, we're generally the last to get power back.  Since we lost power an hour into that storm and thought we'd be out for days, Hubby called a buddy 2.5 hours away, who had no storm, had him pick up a generator (the last one!) and meet him halfway to make the exchange.  That made me feel better.  We used it for 1 day before power was restored.

And yet, seeing Hubby pull that generator out a couple of days ago to change it's oil and gas it up made my skin crawl.  It's not the thought of the "things" you can lose, it's the sheer strain of the unknown.   You hope for the best, prepare for the worst and stand ready to roll up your sleeves to dig out.  The thing is, no matter what Al Roker or Jim Cantore say, I just don't trust hurricanes to stay on a specific path.

Why?  Because hurricanes are fickle and Ma Nature is in an extremely bad mood lately.  And because my first foray into the world of hurricanes was in 1989 with Hurricane Hugo.  You know, the storm that might smack Charleston, S.C., then move on?  Well, he came 180 miles inland as a Cat. 4 and made my hometown look like a war zone.  I spent the morning before and the night of Hugo's arrival in the Civil Defense office, answering phones. The weirdest part?  We were in a basement office and couldn't hear the wind.  It took 4 calls with me asking people to turn down their radios/t.v. so I could hear them before I understood that background noise was WIND.  For months afterwards, I would watch people flinch when the wind picked up and wonder why.  One day it hit me: I only heard the wind one time in the basement.  It was at the height of the storm and as it whistled and screamed around the corner of the building, even the phones stopped ringing.  The man next to me whispered, "Oh shit!" as we all nodded in silent agreement.  Then the phones began again and we were back at work. 

Last year we had two hurricanes in 2 months: Hermine in September and Matthew in October.  The year before that we experienced the "1000 year flood" with a rain storm that made me consider building an ark.  I think many of us in the south are "storm weary".  Sure, we know hurricanes happen, just like people in California know earthquakes are a possibility.  But you can't live in fear.  So what do you do?

Acknowledge the reality, prepare...and live your life.  Be ready to pick up the pieces if necessary while hugging your loved ones a little tighter.  Because that's what counts.  People, not things.  And when the chips are down, 99% of people will do the right thing and reach out to someone in need.  That's the real America.  Strangers helping strangers out of compassion and the acknowledgement that we're all just people.  (Cue Barbara Streisand singing, "People...people who need people".).

So if you're safe and dry today, send out good thoughts to those whose world is a bit wobbly from wind, rain, storm surge or fear of the unknown.  Hurricane Irma is still a day away from us, but it really does help to know someone out there is thinking of you.  

Now excuse me while I go out and give the Old Gal a hug.  :)


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Where Have I Been? Busy!


Hard at work, crafting our annual fundraiser.  I'll keep popping in. 
 Y'all have a good week!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

In Happier News.....

While thunder rumbles outside my window right now, here's a shot taken last week: the Old Gal was surrounded by a rainbow, with the sun shining in as if she was covered in a dome of protection.  A few minutes later, it became a double rainbow.

So before this storm hits, let me finish being "Southern"....yep, I was born and raised here.  Hubby just did boiled peanuts like my Grandma use to do and I have a fresh peach cobbler in the oven using my Memaw's recipe.  There's pork chops and fresh butter beans for dinner.

Have a good weekend y'all!


Monday, July 10, 2017

We...the Endangered Species

       I couldn’t sleep last night.  Something I witnessed on television, live and uncensored, made me horrified, concerned and angry.  But mostly it just made me sad.
         Let’s say you’re at home when suddenly there are lights, sirens and the sound of a vehicle colliding with an immovable object outside.  You open the door to find a van upside down against a pole and a barefoot black man using a child as a shield between himself and a white police officer as he tries to flee.  The officer orders the man to stop, but the subject continues to fling the toddler around, like a weapon.  The officer is yelling, “That’s your baby!  Put the baby down!”   His hand is not on his weapon, but reaching to grab the man before the toddler goes airborne and gets injured.  Finally freeing the child, the officer takes the subject to the ground.  The man thrashes around yelling, “Help me!” repeatedly.  As the struggle continues, a pair of legs comes into view.  The officer, all alone, calls out, “I need some help!”   Would you:

         (a) Help the officer because it’s too much for one man to handle.
         (b) Ignore him because it’s the officer’s job and not your problem.
         (c) Wonder how the van flipped, as the engine continues running.
         (d) Whip out your cell phone to record the incident.
         The camera panned out to catch the moment that pair of legs came to the rescue.  Instead we see a guy filming with his cell phone.  And laughing.
         Whatever happened to Good Samaritans?  Remember them?  They do the right thing instead of the easy thing.  Have Good Samaritan instincts become extinct in today’s society?
         For what seemed like an eternity, the pair struggled on the ground, the man screeching for help, the officer yelling at him to stop resisting.  The officer never reached for his weapon while wrestling the man into a position to put him in handcuffs.  In the background, you can hear a crowd urging the subject to keep fighting.  The cameraman continued filming, mere feet away, as the man began reaching into his back pocket.  In the cacophony of sound and struggle, the officer couldn’t see that. 
         Back up arrives.  The man is subdued without gun play yet he continues to scream for help.  With the man secured, the officer jumps up, asking in a frantic tone, “Where’s the baby?  Where’s the baby?”  He shrugs off questions about his own condition in his quest to find that child.  The cameraman pans over to the crowd who’ve been egging on the fight: half of them are standing there, filming with cell phones.  While they are of the same race as the subject, none of them heeded his calls for help.  They just filmed.  A black officer approaches the crowd, which begins to surge forward to get a better camera angle as the man is placed in a police car, kicking and screaming the whole way.  Arms outstretched, the officer firmly commands them to back up.  Instead they taunt him, cursing and calling him names.  One even has the audacity to demand his badge number.  To the officer’s credit, he calmly tells them that as soon as the situation is under control, he will come back and answer all their questions.  None of the “concerned citizens”, or the father, ask about the toddler.
         The camera rotates toward the original officer, holding the little girl in his arms, talking to her in a soft, soothing tone.  Her arms are placed firmly around his neck and her head is on his shoulder.  It’s then I realize I’ve been holding my breath.
         I watched this story unfold Saturday night on an unscripted t.v. show called Live PD.  It follows officers in several states in real time, offering the public a front row seat to see what officers see every day.  Some days are good.  Some are bad.  Whatever decision an officer makes, it’s viewed in real time.  Live PD follows two different departments in my state.  The above incident took place a little over an hour from where I live.  We’ve watched long enough to know the officers by name.  And reputation.  The responding officer, Chris Mastrianni, is cool and level headed.  He’s usually joined by Kevin Lawrence, who’s known for calmly talking people back off an emotional ledge before they jump into something they’ll regret. 
         The phrase, “Judge not” echoed in my head when the incident was over. There’s a problem with pulling out a cell phone to video without knowing the whole story.  Yes, our perception is colored by our experiences.  Perhaps that crowd simply saw a white cop struggling with a black suspect and they were waiting for shots to be fired.  What they didn’t know, but viewers did, was that Mastrianni was enroute to a “shots fired” call at a family gathering of over 200, which had turned into a fight.    As Mastrianni approached the scene, this van came flying out.  He hit the blue lights.  The van sped up.  Cops have to rely on experience and instinct: a vehicle leaving the scene at a high rate of speed where shots were reportedly just fired is not on a leisurely evening drive.  Speeds reached 90 mph.  No one had any idea a child was in the vehicle.   I was once a Dispatcher for the SC Highway Patrol; the risk of pursuit to stop someone is weighed against the possibility of innocent bystanders getting hurt.  I didn’t get the words, “He’s going to wreck!” out of my mouth before the van flipped.
         I get queasy recalling that man crawl out of the van and position his child between him and the officer. They’d just been in a wreck and Mastrianni’s fear for that child’s safety was greater than her own father’s.  As the duo wrestled on the ground, I’d later learn about 95% of viewers were also yelling with me at the t.v., ”Mastrianni, he’s reaching for his pocket!”  Many viewers were angry the cameraman didn’t intervene because he saw it too.  Well, technically his job is to document, not get involved. But one of his co-workers did.  During the mayhem, the female producer could be seen in the distance, cradling the toddler as the struggle ensued.  Sometimes, you have to forget potential legal repercussions and just do the right thing.  Thank you, Producer Lady, for doing just that.  Okay, I admit it.  I did think the cameraman could’ve at least given Mastrianni a verbal warning.  If things had gone horribly wrong, would the cameraman regret his decision to just film?
         Life is all about choices.  Simply standing by, egging on a fight and filming was a choice based on preconceived notions and a lack of facts.  Ironically that’s often the very same argument angrily used when discussing injustice.  Unless one of the crowd had been watching Live PD, they didn’t know about the family fight, shots fired or the pre-wreck chase.  Did that crowd hang around long enough to discover the subject’s screaming wasn’t fear for his life, but to create chaos as he took a bag of weed out of his back pocket and shoved it into his mouth? As the crowd dispersed, no one probably saw the female deputy calmly ask where the weed was as he forlornly spit it into her gloved hand.  That means they missed Lawrence, the officer taunted for doing his job, talking to the man calmly while counseling that his behavior was making things worse.  In fact, at the man’s request, Lawrence insured another officer went down the block to get the child’s grandmother, rather than let Social Services step in.  The officer made two trips until he found Grandma home.  As they waited for an ambulance to come check out father and child for any potential injuries, Mastrianni was seen handing the toddler a stuffed bear.  Officers carry stuff like that in their cars to give children who are scared because the adults in their life made a bad decision.  Sadly while these “concerned citizens” were documenting the chaos for whatever reason, did even one of them focus on the child who endured a high speed chase, a wreck and being tossed around like a rag doll by an adult intent on saving himself?.  And as these worthless videos were being downloaded to impress their friends, I’m guessing none of them witnessed the wrecker flip the van upright.  No “documenters” were available to see the expression on Mastrianni’s face as he searched for a child safety seat…and there was not one to be found.  But he did find something.
         On the pavement, where the driver’s side door had rested, was a spent bullet casing.
         When tough choices had to be made, Mastrianni’s focus was on an innocent child.  Those whose focus was on a cellphone screen chose to turn a blind eye to someone in need of help.  No matter what their perception of who needed the help, (father, child or cop) their choice was clear.  They chose to do nothing.
         We need to stop pre-judging each other.  Hands need to be extended in a display of mutual assistance, not merely holding a cell phone in video mode. Choices have consequences.  It’s about time we start coming up with better consequences.  Ones that benefit ALL of society.

This is a screen capture of Mastrianni and the girl.   
In the background, a “concerned citizen” films the child’s father being placed in a car.