Saturday, September 16, 2017

Shattering Myths

   We all have prejudices; we pre-judge based on what we have seen and experienced. But honestly, the way some people carry on when someone has the audacity to disabuse them of their preconceived notions, you'd think it was heirloom china they had to sweep up and cart to the dustbin all by themselves!
   As if it weren't bad enough that society labels us, we oftentimes jump into those "boxes" of our own accord. Sure, cats jump into boxes all the time - but when cats tire of being confined, they jump out. There is a lot of pressure on individuals - especially nonwhite, non-straight, persons - to *know their place.*
   In some instances, this can seem vaguely amusing: I'll give you an example. Preparing to leave after a visit, I noticed ripening fruit on a peach tree. I had my eye on a particular peach and it ended up in the three I was given. Others had proved more difficult to pick. The picker bemoaned, "I don't even know how to pick peaches. What kind of Mexican am I?" Not knowing what else to say, I answered, "A Yankee-bred one?" This elicited a chuckle and a charge to go home and write about it.
   I'll tell you, it was a lot easier when I was laying in bed this morning: the words were flowing freely and I hoped I would retain them until I had a chance to etch them on a scrap of cyberspace. No such luck. Hopefully, I will not lose the full essence of what I wanted to say.
   Alright, let's freely admit that stereotypes exist because we are just too lazy to see people as individuals. Now we have that out of the way, let us be bold enough to bust open some of those pigeonholes that confine people.

  • Despite what you may have seen on the show 'Queer Eye For the Straight Guy,' not all gay men have impeccable fashion sense. And don't embarrass yourself at the office by approaching a coworker, saying, "Your kind is good at this sort of thing ..."
  • A lanky young Black is under no obligation to try out for the high school basketball team. Heck, the kid may not even like sports. Ever think of steering the kid toward theater arts?
  • Not all fat people are jolly. 
  • Neither should one assume fat people to be either lazy or dirty.
  • People suffering 'invisible' illnesses (e.g. fibromyalgia, depression), are not just "faking it."
  • Immigrants are not taking your jobs.
   That's just a short list and I'm sure you can come up with plenty of other examples, because unless one is living alone, on top of a mountain, one has at least seen - and likely experienced, discrimination and stereotyping.
   Be curious - but not insensitive, and,  if you have privilege, use it to be an ally to those who are disenfranchised. See people as individuals, not as a unit in an entity known as "them." There is a beautiful diverse world to see and explore. Enjoy it, cherish it, and work to make sure every individual is granted dignity and respect.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Who are these people? [letter 137]

Greetings dear one,
     It seems I have something of a reputation as a social butterfly, flitting hither and yon. I encourage this perception, as it gives me an excuse to get out and about. This weekend I had opportunity to be in company with extended family. Not exactly my extended family - kind of "cousins-in-law." You see, our families go way back; maybe not to the dawn of time, but shortly thereafter.
  Anyway, I had received an email last week that this gathering would occur and cousins of my generation were expected to be there. I had not seen them in three years: since Mom's memorial dinner. The only requirements were to show up with a dish to pass and a lawn chair. So, on Saturday, I bought a lawn chair - and a gallon of apple cider as my contribution to the feast.
   I knew which street to turn on but not the house number. Rounding the first curve, I saw a driveway full of cars and a couple white guys, setting up a table. This was neither large nor diverse enough to be the throng I sought. A block down the street, I beheld a line of cars - running both sides of the road and around the corner: this was it.
   When I arrived, I was introduced to people I'd never met, but I could detect resemblances to relatives of my acquaintance. Those in my generation, Annie and Angie, look just like Veva, their mother. Rosie and Casey never change. The matriarch was ensconced in a deck chair on the patio, and I went to pay respect. I gave an abbreviated version of my lineage and my position within the family, so she would know who I am. I leaned over to hug her and kiss her cheek.
   It was announced dinner was ready, now hamburgers and hotdogs were off the grill. People filed past tables in the garage, loading plates with meat, mac-&-cheese, guacamole, salsa and sundry comestibles. I was visiting with others around the table when an anguished cry was heard; "We're out of fidello!" [Better luck next time.]
   Young couples with toddlers were leaving, the sun was now behind the house, and plastic chairs were being stacked. I thanked the wife of host couple, and learned she is younger sister of my second grade teacher. She told me she had thought some people were at the wrong party, because she did not know the younger generation. I told her my experience of being at the wrong party a few weeks ago. We laughed, then hugged and I made my way to my car.
   I've tossed out a handful of names that may mean nothing to you and you might never have any earthly idea of what fidello is. It's alright: just know I had a lovely afternoon and by writing this letter, I have shared it with you.

With fond regards,
Jo Ann

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Will o' the Wisp

   One never knows who will enter one's life, or when. Accepting that, we must also acknowledge that one never knows who will exit - and usually not when. Some departures are expected - such as when someone is dying. But even if you think you are ready for it, can even welcome Death because It ends a loved one's pain, there is still grief.
   There are myriad exchanges that happen in an instant: the stranger with whom one makes flirtatious eye contact; a person you meet in queue; someone whose hand brushes yours when you reach for the same shopping cart. We know it is only an encounter, not a relationship. Social media has opened a new venue. You 'meet' people whose opinions you come to know; whose outlooks you share. Many seem closer to you than members of your blood kin. It is persons in this latter-most category whose absence is particularly heart-wrenching.
   Unless someone is into physical bondage and/or emotional blackmail, an individual cannot force an unwilling person to remain indefinitely. When a member of one's intimate circle chooses to leave, it is best if civil words can be exchanged. Even if not a mutual agreement, it behooves all parties concerned to come to mutual consent. There is much to be said for maintaining "good form."
   It is puzzling how the absence of someone never physically present can leave such a terrible void. Yet the chasm is there and must be dealt with: not with histrionics or recriminations, but with quiet dignity. There will be no phone calls, text messages, emails or letters. You are: loved, missed, and released to the Universe.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Take the Long Way Home - letter 136

Hello my dear,
        After ten days away from home, I woke Saturday morning in my own bed. It is a pleasure I highly recommend. I have that "first night back" sensation three or four times a year; it never gets old.
   All the way to South Carolina, this piece had a working title of "It's All Charlie's Fault." That lasted until I was two-thirds through my return trip. I have begun this letter for express purpose of bringing you up to date. 
   Brother was kind enough to come to Michigan and drive me to South Carolina for his Eclipse Party event. He had mentioned it in the course of our correspondence and I begged to come. On our trip, we put out some painted rocks; it seems to be a popular activity across United States - maybe beyond. Anyway, during a brief stop in Massillon, Ohio, we left a rock and visited with a clerk finishing her smoke break. When we started down the road, I was informed I now had new correspondent.
   Topographical changes became apparent as the ground swelled with hills. From previous trips, I knew before day's end we would be in The Great Smoky Mountains. Don't know about you, but I just have to admire the sheer determination of trees that grow out of rocks.
   Biological needs being what they are, we stopped to assuage them at a Bob Evans in Marietta, Ohio, just before crossing state border. You want to talk about some road rage? Going into ladies room, the handicap accessible stall was occupied by a worker talking to her significant other, so I entered another. Wouldn't you know, it was out of toilet paper and there was a stall between us so I couldn't even ask her to pass some under the dividing wall. So I made my way to next stall - making sure to scope out to toilet tissue situation - and, hearing, "Goodbye, I love you," was tempted to ask if she were about done, so I could use the facility with handrails. Just made the best of it. 
   We stopped at a scenic overlook along the way, mainly because I am fully aware this would quite likely be my last major trip. No need to panic dear: I'm not dying, it's just a mobility issue.
   Crossing into West Virginia, hills are a bit steeper. It is not uncommon to see cleared spots cut into hillsides for runaway [semi] trucks. We saw a make-shift ramp which still bore traces of usage. What must go through a driver's mind in an emergency situation?
   About 6:30, [18.5, for those who use 24 hour system] we began looking for a place to spend the night. First couple motels were just a little too proud of their accommodations, wanting over a hundred dollars per night. Needless to say, we moved on. About an hour later we came to another spot. Eddie was in there so long I had begun to wonder if a hostage situation had developed. Just as I was contemplating dialing "911," he returned to the car: no desk clerk had ever showed up. 
   Dusk had ceded to full nightfall before we finally found a place to stop. Eddie came back to the car and said, "It's on the second floor; I hope that's okay." I told him it was not, so he went back in. We got settled and while Brother went for a walk-about and a smoke, I showered and got dressed for bed. Since we had traveled so late this first day, we figured we'd be in South Carolina by noon next day. And so we were.
   Dinner with our friends the Lakes, led to an experience which rivaled the solar eclipse for pride of place, in my estimation: after three years, I finally got to sit on The Porch. It was everything I thought it would be. It was nothing short of holy. Have you ever been someplace where you know, in that moment, is where you belong? This was my time, my place; it is now part of my being.
   Monday, 21 August, 2017, was the big day. People began arriving a little before noon and the atmosphere was positively electric. There were people I had never met and others with whom I have been in correspondence for a number of years. In at least one case, an individual was in both categories.
   There was plenty of food, drink, and music. A little after midday, folks began to don their NASA-approved eclipse glasses. We watched as the progression looked, at various stages, like: a tennis ball passing in front of a basketball; a half-wheel of cheese; a slice of cantaloupe. There was a cry of momentary dismay when a wisp of cloud threatened to obscure that last thread of brightness, but it cleared. Then a communal gasp: TOTALITY! Eclipse glasses came off and we gazed in wonder. I understand why some people are eclipse chasers - it's a matter of finding that next "high." For me, I expect this was a once in a lifetime experience and I shall treasure it as such.
   As the sun again became visible in its fullness, folks checked traffic conditions and drifted off until only a handful of us were left to have supper. Finally, there was nothing left to do but check Facebook, read a little bit, and go to bed.
   Tuesday and Wednesday were days of idleness, except for minor preparations for my journey home. Thursday morning, Eddie made breakfast, which we enjoyed at our leisure. Then I brushed my teeth, made sure I had not left anything behind, we packed the car and left. At noon, we stopped at a nice little Mexican restaurant - where we both ordered beef fajitas. An hour later, our hunger sated, we drove on to meet up with one of my high school classmates.
   By 2:00, we arrived at the bookstore where she volunteers one afternoon each week. After offloading my belongings, Brother hugged my neck and kissed me goodbye. Debby found me a chair and we chit-chatted during her hours of service. It was my good fortune that a regular customer was in that day and the three of us passed a companionable hour or so in conversation. I also got his address and will write to him soon. He is a fellow 'scribbler.'
   Closing shop, we went to dinner and made our way to Debby's house. Here we put our feet up, watched some television, and retired early. Our game plan was to be on the road by 7:00 A.M. An owl served as alarm clock and we rose to have a light breakfast of cold cereal.
   We took a scenic route to the highway, so Debby could show off the mountains. If you have never beheld miles of tree-covered mountains, with their peaks slightly obscured by a haze of fog, let me tell you - the beauty is breathtaking. The undergrowth is so deep and dense in places, sun cannot penetrate and one has no difficulty believing in wee folk.
   About nine o'clock, we stopped for coffee and called another classmate, who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. We got directions to her hilltop home. We sat on the back deck and visited, recounting our eclipse experiences. We also spoke of children, grandchildren and careers. Lorrie graciously offered lunch, after which we hugged each other goodbye. Debby and I got back on the road north for several more hours of driving: we had to travel the rest of Tennessee, all of Ohio, and a bit of Michigan. The most optimistic outlook still had us arriving in Tecumseh well after dark. This was going to be a turn-around trip for Debby and we were meeting Tecumseh-area classmates for lunch at 11:30, Saturday.
   Sometime between leaving Lorrie's house and hitting post rush hour traffic between Cincinnati and Dayton [Ohio] is when I decided to change the name of this piece to Take the Long Way Home. About 20 miles after crossing Michigan/Ohio border we stopped and got Subway sandwiches, in Dundee. We had intended to eat earlier, after refueling the car but traffic and restaurant placement worked against us. Fortunately, we now had a straight shot westward on M-50.
   Arriving in Tecumseh, Debby secured a room, then took me home; it was about 10:30. I put rest of my sandwich in fridge, did minimal unpacking, brushed teeth, showered and went to bed.
   There were five of us who met for Saturday lunch. Debby gave me a couple books she thought I'd enjoy and we said our goodbyes. Now I am halfway through Sunday: have done laundry; visited Dad; seen Old Man off to Kentucky; and pretty much finished this account of my trip. 
   It occurred to me that I write from a position of privilege: when I mentioned coming back to one's own bed, I need to be mindful of those who have no bed at all. I am blessed with good friends who made this trip possible. There are "ordinary" things I take for granted; I must remember there are those who do not have that luxury.
   This year is two-thirds over, seasons are changing. I am back in the flatlands, not knowing if I will see mountains again. I am content and hope you are as well.

Much love,
Jo Ann

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Happy Hour [Letter 135]

Hello my dear,
   Remember the other day when we spoke of music and weekend plans? There wasn't much on my agenda - certainly nothing "worth writing home about." But since I am open to caprice, that all changed when a neighbor came be and invited me to a "concert."
   Her son plays guitar at a nursing home once in a while and she asked if I'd like to go. Figured what the heck - I didn't have any immediate plans. Off we went. She dropped me off in front and went to park the car. Told reception I was there with musician's mother. (Seemed pretentious to say, "I'm with the band.")
   While waiting for my friend to join me, observed routine business. Heard an attendant address a resident, "Stella," with a tiny lilt at the end. Wanted to say, "It's not 'Stehl-la' but STELLA-A-A! Figuring the nuance may have been lost, sue I didn't pursue it. Momentarily, my friend arrived and we headed for the dining room, where her son was setting up.
   The young man - he's under 50 years of age - told the assembly he was glad to be there and that he continued to come in memory of his dad. Most of the tunes he played were familiar. I'm not sure if it speaks to the timelessness of good music or if I am just really "that old" but several residents were mouthing the words.
   After a while, an aide came through with a drink cart. Offered a choice of beer or a 'cocktail;' we both opted for latter. I know it contained orange juice and probably a splash of grenadine, as it had a pinkish tinge. In plastic glasses, ice cubes don't exactly tinkle but the mood was festive. One must work within the confines of one's surroundings and this was a pleasant hour of respite from usual nursing home atmosphere.
   I shall now leave you to your own devices, while I scurry about finalizing plans for various diversions.

Hugs and kisses,
Jo Ann

Monday, August 7, 2017


   Part of the resistance movement [against "45"] was to be a barrage of missives, arriving 15 March, 2017 - the Ides. The significance, of course, was to show disapproval, just as the Roman Senate had shown its judgement of Caesar, so long ago. People were encouraged to voice their disdain and contempt. 
   The man who came away with support of the electoral college has done nothing to merit my admiration, yet I cannot find it in me to write a hateful letter. I penned a missive which was dated for March 2017, but never sent it. I hereby submit it for your perusal.

To Whom It May Concern,
   One can never be sure one's missives are delivered, much less read - especially by a person who does not seem keen on communications more than 140 characters in length. 
   Though I cast my November ballot for Hillary Rodham Clinton, I am - by virtue of U.S. residency - one of your constituents. During campaign the desire was voiced to be president for all American people. Certainly you realize your constituency exceeds the bounds of those who supported your campaign through ballot or monetary contribution.
   The Office of Presidency is a trust: it is hoped the holder of said office will prove worthy. it is a call to public service. Do you understand the role of a servant? I am not speaking of servility, which is demeaning, but true service, an honorable endeavor. I have yet to see nobility in the actions of current administration and am sorely disappointed in many Cabinet choices. Perhaps these choices were well thought out but I cannot believe they were made in best interests of the American people.
   For any country to be truly "great," its leaders and its populace must be less selfish and more compassionate. No one prospers through destruction of one's home. Rescinding regulations designed to safeguard planet ecology may, short term, increase wealth among a chosen few. Long term results will likely prove disastrous. That may not matter to either of us personally, since - given our ages - we will probably be dead.
   If you have a conscience, I appeal to it: show integrity and compassion. Though some in your shifting inner circle dismiss the Emma Lazarus poem attached to Statue of Liberty, there are many more who hold them sacred.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Letter 134

Grace and peace my dear,
         For seven years, six months, and counting, there has been a faction of United States politicians seeking to overturn Affordable Care Act. In a recent attempt, Vice President Pence was on hand, expecting his vote would be needed to break a tie. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine had already cast their nays, when Arizona Sen. John McCain's turn came. There was an audible gasp as he shocked the "good ol' boys" of his party by casting a NO vote, rendering a 51-49 decision. It was well after midnight and I cannot help but wonder if Pence was thinking, "I waited up til two in the morning for this?"
   The vitriol spewed from the White House in response has been a barrage of ugliness which has included threats of revenge/punishment. It would seem people who vote their consciences are seen as "traitors to the cause." Do we not elect public officials to serve the good of  (We) The People? Is not one's vote one's own to cast? We are not [yet] a dictatorship, nor do I want to see United States become one. 
   In recognition of their good intent, I wrote thank-you letters to Murkowski and Collins. I'm glad McCain chose the way he did: now there seems to be a willingness to do what should have been done in the first place - repair the current law. It is a waste of time, money, and resources to *reinvent the wheel* when a bit of judiciously applied sanding would smooth things out.
   I realize not everyone shares my point of view - possibly because they have not reaped the benefits I have. I am an individual who lives below poverty level and without ACA would not have had access to health care. Not everyone sees health care as a right.
   Opposition forces have long claimed that the current system is "failing" but no one has yet put forth anything better. It now appears if ACA will not die of its own accord, there are those who would vent their spleen trying to kill it. How petty and vindictive. I hope cooler and wiser heads - and kinder hearts - prevail.
   If this whole scenario really were a reality television show, it would have long since have been cancelled and a mid-season replacement found. Even tests of the emergency broadcasting system would be better.
   Alright, I have 'bent your ear' long enough; time to get something accomplished - such as writing letters and taking recyclables to county collection site.

Until next time,
Jo Ann