This COVID-19 pandemic has taken so much from the average person – no matter where in the world they live. Here in the U.S. we’re trapped in a nightmarish scenario with a disoriented leader heralding recent gains in the stock market, while millions remain unemployed. I’m sure those struggling to pay utilities are thrilled to know Fortune 1000 companies are enjoying record stock prices.
One of the most severe – and underrated – effects is the impact the scourge has had on people’s psyches. Emotional, mental and physical health always become subconscious victims of any national crisis. People are just trying to survive.
Personally, I’m in a vortex of angst and frustration. My freelance writing enterprise – as meager as it was – has pretty much collapsed. I’m fortunate I have some money saved from previous work, but I know that won’t last forever. Or even much longer. After my mother’s death this past June, though, I began to feel sick. Friends and relatives thought I was in a state of grief, which I was for the most part. But I thought I’d contracted that dreaded novel coronavirus. I had many of the symptoms. I had hoped my seasonal allergies had started to hit me early. Then again, perhaps it was the stress of dealing with my mother’s health. One friend suggested I was suffering from a lack of iron and Vitamin D. Still, I finally reconciled, it may be all of the above. Fighting so many battles at once takes a toll on the body. And mind.
Because of the pandemic, health clubs were among those businesses shuttered across the nation in an effort to contain the spread. I last visited my gym in mid-May; shortly before the rehabilitation center where my mother had been staying shoved her out because her Medicare benefits had been exhausted. (That’s another story!)
But even after my gym reopened in June, I still haven’t visited. Again it was that awful sickness. I didn’t know what was wrong. I’ve taken to doing basic calisthenics and walking along an exercise trail behind my home in recent weeks in the middle of the day. I used to go running, but I don’t have the strength right now. Key words: right now. Once you take off a long time without doing any kind of exercise besides laundry and loading and unloading the dishwasher, it’s a tad bit difficult to get back to normal. But even that little bit still makes me feel good.
Seven years ago I wrote about my tendency to visit my local gym on Saturday nights, when hardly anyone was present. I commented that only lonely fools like me did such a thing. At the turn of the century, working out on a Saturday night was unmanageable. But the gym I had at the time was open 24 hours. It was a perfect time to jog on a treadmill and lift weights, I realized, with such a sparse crowd. No one was there to be “seen”. That quiet time – with various types of music blaring from the myriad speakers lingering overhead – allowed me to think of every aspect of my life.
I left that gym in 2017 to join another local gym that closed unexpectedly a year later. After a lengthy hiatus, I joined my current gym last year. This is an old-school gym with no fancy juice bars or chic workout gear. Loud rock and rap music bounces around the concrete walls. It boasts an outside area with non-traditional workout gear, like tractor tires and tree stumps. Men can go shirtless. People there sweat – they don’t perspire! It’s not for suburban soccer moms or GQ cover models. (No offense to soccer moms!) I feel more than comfortable in such an environment.
I know it’s tough to take one’s mental and physical health into consideration if you’re unemployed or underemployed. But I also know you don’t have to belong to any kind of health club to care for your own health. Mental health experts are concerned about the severity this pandemic is having on people’s well-being. Quarantines are literally driving people crazy. And to drink too much alcohol and/or consume illegal drugs. Or contemplate hurting themselves. A bad economy helps none of that. I can identify with all of that. I really do feel that kind of pain.
Just walking the other day, carrying a water bottle and letting the sun emblazon my bare torso, helped me mentally. It didn’t make everything magically disappear once I returned home. I knew it wouldn’t. But maintaining one’s health – as best as possible, even in the worst of times – is vital. It can’t be overemphasized.
I knew my father wouldn’t like the idea of me joining the military, but the look in his eyes shivered my soul. That was easy for many people to do to me in the late 1980s, when I had little self-esteem and little self-respect. I had hoped joining the U.S. Marine Corps could cure me of that. Along with my alcoholic and same-sex tendencies. Besides, life was not going well for me at the age of 24. I had changed majors in college three years earlier and was nowhere near graduating. Both my parents were upset that I’d decided to study filmmaking instead of computer science. But, after 3 ½ years of pretending both to know what I was doing and enjoying it, I had cracked in the spring of 1985 and made the bold switch. As high school-only graduates, my parents had imbued me – their only child – with grand ambitions. Their ambitions. Their dreams. They thought my writing was just a hobby to pass the time. They never realized I’d considered it seriously in my private cogitations. But filmmaking? I might as well have said I wanted to be a professional gambler.
Then came the military idea. By 1988, I was truly at a loss of where I was going. Still, my father insisted I finish college and earn a degree – any degree. Especially one he and my mother found acceptable. They had reluctantly come to accept my detour into film studies.
But the military?
After the debacle of Vietnam, the concept of military service fell out of favor with many young Americans. It was fine if dad and granddad had done it. But not the new generation. Things had changed considerably by the 1980s. It was not socially fashionable. The thing to do was to get a good job – establish a career, rather – and make lots of money and live in a nice house with plenty of beautiful clothes and a new vehicle every year or two. That’s what my parents had wanted when they began pushing me to study computer science as I neared high school graduation. I felt I had no choice then. And, even by 1988, I still felt I had no real choice. I gave into my father’s wishes (demands) and decided to continue college.
Sadly, though, I dropped out and entered the corporate world in 1990 – always with the thought that I’d return to compete that higher education. Which I did. In 2008.
I loved my father, but I wished I’d actually rebelled against his insistence and joined the military anyway. I feel now that my life would have gone much more smoothly overall.
All of that began coming back to me nearly 20 years ago, as the U.S. plunged itself into two new conflicts: Afghanistan and Iraq. The scorn I once felt for the military had metamorphosed into respect and awe.
And it’s become even more apparent since the election (via Russia) of Donald Trump. This week Trump has found himself embroiled in more controversy regarding the U.S. military. Most of us remember that moment in 2015, when then-candidate Trump disparaged U.S. Senator John McCain by stating, “I like people who weren’t captured.” It was a direct smack-down of McCain’s brutal tenure as a war prisoner during Vietnam. Under normal political circumstances, that would have ended most political campaigns. But Trump persevered and, despite that comment and the fact he garnered a medical deferment during the same period because of some mysterious bone spurs, he went on to win the Republican Party’s nomination and eventually the presidency. Could the nation have picked a more disrespectful dumbass to be our leader?
And that’s the irony of this entire debate, isn’t it? The President of the United States is the literal head of all branches of the U.S. military. Any national leader holds that role. Thus, for the President of the United States to denigrate war dead as “losers” and “suckers” just sort of undermines his credibility – presuming, of course, that he had any in the first place.
But Trump doesn’t. He’s already been proven a draft dodger (something conservatives so easily lobbed at Bill Clinton nearly 30 years ago), a tax cheat, a womanizer (another conservative slam against Clinton) and a failed businessman.
It was obvious to me more than five years ago Trump wasn’t fit to be the leader of the proverbial free world. His actions and his verbiage have proven that to many others since. While it amazes me that so many go into orgasmic-like frenzies at the mere mention of his name, I find him beyond appalling. He’s just downright disgusting.
Our people in uniform can’t legally criticize their Commander-in-Chief in a public setting, but I certainly have no problems with it. Trump’s words fail to surprise me anymore. It’s just more proof of his mental instability and blatant incompetence. All of that is bad enough. But blatant disrespect for the millions of Americans who have served in uniform – including my father, other relatives and friends – is one of the most despicable things anyone can do. Whether or not they are President of the United States.
Both the 2020 Democratic and Republican National Conventions have come to an end, and I couldn’t be happier. Last week former Vice-President Joe Biden accepted the Democrat’s nomination for president, while Sen. Kamala Harris accepted the vice-presidential role. And, over the last few days, incumbent President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence accepted their respective nominations from the GOP. Aside from watching these political love fests conclude, the only thing that excites me more about this entire process is that the demise of the 2020 presidential race is in sight. I feel even more disenfranchised than I did four years ago.
Okay, one other thing that truly excites me is the prospect that Donald Trump will be voted out of office in November. But I have to concede that I’m not too thrilled with the idea of a Biden presidency. Joe Biden was good as vice-president, but I feel less secure with him in the role of Chief Executive. I’m certain, though, he’ll be much better than Trump. Hell, a stray dog would be better than Trump!
In 2016 I voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein. A physician, Stein had been the Green Party’s candidate four years earlier. I knew Iceland would see 80-degree temperatures on Christmas Day before Stein would win the U.S. presidency. But I didn’t like either Trump or the Democratic choice of Hillary Clinton. Clinton supporters blamed people like me for Clinton’s loss in 2016. But we didn’t cause Hillary Clinton to lose the 2016 presidential election. Hillary Clinton caused Hillary Clinton to lose the 2016 presidential election. Her and the Russians. As we now know, Russia essentially elected Trump; just like the U.S. Supreme Court elected George W. Bush in 2000. America’s role as the beacon of democracy seems to have been shredded over the past 20 years.
I just never liked Hillary Clinton. I loved Bill (Whose Your Daddy?) Clinton, but I never took a liking to Hillary. By 2016, she had acquired top much baggage; more baggage than a Samsonite warehouse or a Lufthansa flight fresh in from Berlin.
And I definitely didn’t like Trump. Donald Trump had been running for president for some 30 years by the time he made it official in 2015. The idea had arisen back in the 1980s, when his name and persona first became public, and much of the nation had grown enamored with the concept of rapid-fire wealth and public prestige. As AIDS and cocaine rampaged, many in the U.S. found the likes of Trump appealing. He survived the collapse of the financial industry related to the savings-and-loan crisis and the string of high-profile prosecutions that ensued. It seemed there was a price to pay for fiduciary recklessness. No one knew at the time, though, that Trump was actually a womanizing failed businessman and tax cheat. We know that well enough now. But he’s president. And, as another massive health crisis grips the nation and the world, we see how incompetent and ineffective Donald Trump really is.
I’m sure Joe Biden can do better. But I keep thinking Biden should have called it a political life after his vice-presidency ended in January of 2017. He should have retired to his estate in Delaware to consult on other political campaigns, give speeches and write books. He’d served his time in office; he’d done his duty.
For the Democratic Party, the 2020 presidential campaign had started with high promises and an extraordinarily bright future. The field of candidates was the most diverse that had ever existed among any political party. But, by March, we’d ended up with two old White guys: Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Kind of like the Republican Party. And I say this with all due respect to old White men. I mean, I’m a mostly White man myself – in the golden days of middle age. And, as I’ve declared before, White men aren’t the nexus of evil in America they’re often portrayed to be. But I personally had hoped Sen. Elizabeth Warren would be the Democrats’ choice. I would definitely be more excited with her at the head of the ticket.
As usual, there has been no real mention of either the Green or Libertarian Parties. They’ve essentially been locked out of the convention hall – again. And Americans are overwhelmed by the demagoguery of the Democratic and Republican Parties – again. Indeed, the U.S. is becoming less and less like a democracy and more like an oligarchy. Does my vote – or the vote of any individual – truly count? Throughout the year the U.S. has seen covert attempts by the Trump Administration to thwart the right to vote – one of the foundational pillars of any free society. That’s typical of social and political conservatives. While the Republican Party of the 19th century pushed for the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it was the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that propelled many conservatives into the arms of the GOP. Recent efforts to enforce voter identifications, calls for limiting early voting days and ongoing battles to undermine mail-in voting prove that conservatives – the ones who will move Heaven and Earth to protect their sacred gun rights – will do anything possible to circumvent the voting process.
And here we are: stuck with two old men who represent more of America’s past than its future. I was enthralled with Bill Clinton and I liked Barack Obama. Yet, I just can’t bring myself to get excited with the current campaign.
My two biggest fears? If Trump is reelected, the nation will descend further into social chaos and economic madness. If Biden is elected, he may die in office, which will send the nation into equally unending chaos.
I know I will vote nonetheless. People have fought and died for this right – even within the past 100 years. There are literally millions of people across the globe who would relish the chance to choose between the lesser of two or three evils. The people of Belarus certainly wish they had that opportunity now. Amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic and a rash of voter suppression tactics, I will stand in line to select a candidate for the U.S. presidency. It’s my right and my obligation. Besides, I have nothing else to do two days before my 57th birthday.
So far, 2020 has been one of the roughest years in the lives of many people. Not just here in the United States, but across the globe. For me, it’s been extraordinarily tough. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I became leery as my savings dwindled. My freelance writing career hasn’t proven as successful as I’d hoped, so writing gigs have dried up. My mother’s stroke at the end of January sent me into an emotional tailspin. I felt incredibly guilty sending her to a rehabilitation center. But, as her own health failed, I realized she was entering the final stages of her life. She finally passed away June 22.
My mother worked in the insurance industry her entire adult life, retiring in 2003 at the age of 70. She was earning pensions from the last two companies where she worked. One has already informed me there was no final beneficiary payout, and I’m waiting to hear from the other. They have to (snail) mail me some documentation that I have to complete and sign and return to them with a copy of her death certificate. Okay, I’m thinking, this is the 21st century. Did they not get the memo? It’s like much of the Southeastern U.S. with the Civil War. But it’s not financial; it’s an issue I have to resolve from a legal perspective in order to probate the will and get this house transferred into my name.
Still, I remain unemployed, with little financial backup. I’ve had to delay utility payments – something I’ve never done in my entire life. Now my truck is showing its age. Like a dog, 14 is old for a vehicle.
Moreover, I thought briefly I had contracted the dreaded novel coronavirus. Symptoms like fever and a persistently runny nose alarmed me. The lethargy overwhelmed me. I kept thinking (hoping) these were the effects of allergies – a constant plague in my life. Or perhaps I’m simply recovering from the stress of caring for both my parents. Maybe it’s male menopause. (I’ll be 57 in November.) I didn’t know. But a friend recently suggested another problem: a lack of exercise (which I’d already admitted) and/or an iron deficiency (which I’d already suspected.) Thus, I purchased some iron supplements and have become determined to reinvigorate my various exercise regimens. I’ve been out walking along an exercise trail behind my home these past couple of weeks. During one of those I actually made an attempt to jog – and promptly stopped. You just can’t go months without running and then expect to break into an Olympic-style sprint! I’m watching middle age gently fade from my soul in real time.
That same friend, however, said something to me last week that offended me more than anything else he – or most anyone else – has ever said. We’ve always had a sometimes-contentious, yet brutally honest friendship. But he coyly criticized me for spending so much time on my writing – and this blog; that I’m wasting that time and energy on my creative pursuits instead of trying to find a full-time job.
His comments stunned me. I promptly reminded him of my previous years of employment; where I slaved away over hot computer keyboards during weekdays, before turning to my creative writing endeavors in the evenings and on weekends. I’ve always felt a greater sense of responsibility to myself and my community than to suffer for my art and live off the grid and on the edge.
I write because I enjoy it. I feel I’m good at it. It’s the one thing about myself in which I’m 100% confident. Writing is mostly all I’ve ever wanted to do with my life. It’s therapeutic. It’s kept me from hurting myself and others. I understood long ago that my chances at becoming a famous author were slim. But I don’t write stories in the hopes of becoming wealthy and renowned. I fully realize the odds of that are incredibly rare. I’m not naïve – or irresponsible.
I continue to search for full-time, even contract or part-time, work. And I continue to write – on this blog and my stories. I’m not writing now just to piss off my friend, which would suck up too much of my energy.
Once more, I write because I love it. It’s who I am and who I always will be.
There are some parts of our souls upon which we can never give up.
The alteration didn’t come from a moment of sudden spiritual enlightenment from team owner Dan Snyder who had said many years ago that a name change was out of the question; adding: “NEVER – you can use caps.”
But society is also changing. Despite the old guard claims that it’s “just a game”, American consciousness has seen that proverbial light in the darkness and gone towards it. NASCAR, for example, recently banned Confederate flags from its events; a move that has upset many White southerners. Again, the old guard is losing its grip on cultural relevance.
The word “redskin” is equivalent to slurs like nigger, gook, spic, fag, or politician. It’s seriously debasing and relegates the Western Hemisphere’s native peoples to a skin tone (which many don’t actually have) as well as to a sub-human category. In all fairness, some people of Native American ancestry don’t care either way. They don’t view the term as derogatory or racist. It’s just a word. Of course, it is! So is genocide.
Washington is now at a moniker crossroads. Obviously, they’ll keep the name Washington. But what to add to it? Some have suggested “Warriors” or “Red Tails”; the latter a reference to the legendary Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) servicemen during World War II who went disregarded and underappreciated for decades.
I recommend the term “Monuments”. It’s a direct recognition of the Washington Monument, but it’s also a reference to the structure’s form and size. You know – a large, tall, long, hard, phallic-shaped emblem. Since football is such a macho sport, I feel it’s appropriate.
Regardless of whatever name Washington adopts, the time is way past due. And there’s simply no turning back. Time doesn’t stop and it doesn’t retract. It always moves forward. So should we all.
Yesterday, July 3, the Washington Redskins football team made the stunning announcement that they would actually consider changing their name; at least change the “Redskins” part of it. If there’s a true case of better late than never, this is it. For decades, the nation’s Native American population and their supporters have demanded Washington remove the “Redskins” feature of their moniker. As recently as 2013, team owner Dan Snyder scoffed at the possibility of such a move. Many have expressed surprise that Snyder would be opposed to the alteration because he is of Jewish-American extraction. But I say it’s because he is Jewish-American that he remained reticent to a change. From what I’ve seen, many people of Jewish faith and ethnicity feel they are not only the “Chosen Ones” of humanity, but they are the ONLY ones who have ever suffered the horror of genocide. So much so that the term ‘holocaust’ has metamorphosed into ‘Holocaust’ as a direct reference to Nazi Germany’s attempt to obliterate the Jewish people. Snyder had spat out the usual Caucasian rhetoric of venerating Native Americans as fierce warriors with the word “redskin”.
In his formal statement, he declared, in part, “This process allows the team to take into account not only the proud tradition and history of the franchise, but also input from our alumni, the organization, sponsors, the National Football League and the local community it is proud to represent on and off the field.”
Not once did Snyder mention the derogatory nature of the word “redskin”. In the spirit of thick-skin football, I presume Snyder wouldn’t mind me recounting a couple of old Jewish jokes someone told me more than 30 years ago.
“Hear about the new German microwave oven?
“What’s a Jewish woman’s favorite sex position?
Bent over the checkbook.”
In the spirit of racial unity, I wanted to refer to one of my earliest essays, “A Matter of Respect,” in which I address this very issue. Because, like love and hope, respect never dies.
We’ve heard it so many times before. History has always been written by the victors. It’s a sad reality, yet very true. It means that much of the history of Africa and the Western Hemisphere has been recounted with a decidedly European viewpoint. As someone of mixed European and Indigenous American extraction, I always felt conflicted about this disparity. While trying to find information about Native American Texans in an encyclopedia during my grade school years, for example, I noticed that references to pre-Columbian peoples were treated dismissively. It wasn’t just archaic history in standard academic circles. It was irrelevant. Even mention of the state’s Spanish colonizers – the first permanent European settlers – was dubbed “pre-history.” It seemed Texas history didn’t actually begin until the likes of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston arrived. And it didn’t matter that these men weren’t even born and raised in the state.
Only within the past half-century has the truth about various indigenous societies been revealed with advances in archaeological research and detailed forensic analysis. Lidar, for example, has taken the concept of neon lighting from the banal presence of liquor store signs to the jungles of Central America where long-abandoned Mayan structures remain shrouded by the foliage. As a devotee of Archeology magazine, I’m constantly amazed by discoveries of ancient settlements across the globe. Areas once thought to be occupied by nomadic hunter-gatherer types at best are revealing the ghosts of thriving population centers.
Yes, history has always been dictated and composed by those who somehow managed to overcome the locals – usually through the casualties of disease and pestilence or the sanguineous nature of war and violence. But the blood of history’s victims seeps into the ground and eventually fertilizes the crops that feed the newly-minted empires. That blood eventually metabolizes into the truth of what really happened – albeit many centuries or millennia later. Still at that point, it can no longer be ignored.
Here in the U.S. we’re now seeing statues and other emblems of the American Civil War come down by government decree. Supporters of that conflict have maintained its genesis was the battle for states’ rights, while truth-tellers insist it was a battle over slavery. They’re both correct, in some ways. It was a battle over the right of some states to keep an entire race of people enslaved. I certainly feel removal of these statues is appropriate. Those who fought for the Confederacy wanted to rip the nation in half over that slavery issue and therefore, should not be venerated as military heroes. They’re traitors.
The debate has now shifted to renaming many U.S. military bases. In my native Texas, one military base is named after John Bell Hood, a Confederate general who – like so many other Texas “heroes” – wasn’t even born and raised in the state. Hood also wasn’t an especially adept military commander; having lost a number of individual conflicts. And yet, a military base is named after this treasonous fool?
The U.S. Pentagon has expressed some willingness to rename military bases that reference those ill-fated Civil War characters. Naturally, it’s upset many White southerners who annually reenact various Civil War conflicts; not realizing how ridiculous they look in their antebellum garb. I can’t help but laugh at them. They’ve been fighting the war for over 150 years and STILL haven’t won!
In his usual brusque and toddler-esque manner, President Trump announced last month he would veto a USD 740 billion defense bill if it included an amendment that would rename many of those military bases. He declared, “These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, and a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom.”
Remember, the Confederacy lost that war. A million reenactments won’t change that reality.
Some 30 years ago my father discovered that Spain’s Queen Isabella (who funded Christopher Columbus’ voyage) was an ancestor of his mother. According to documentation my father found, Isabella learned of the atrocities Spain’s military officials were committing against the indigenous peoples of the “New World” and ordered them to stop. That’s one reason why Latin America has a stronger connection to its native peoples than the United States and even Canada.
It should be worth noting that, while Italians celebrate Columbus as a national hero, he probably wasn’t even a native son. For centuries he was considered a Genoese sailor with grand visions of finding a westward route to India and subsequently gain an edge in the then-contentious spice trade. Contemporary research, however, has declared he was actually the son of Polish King Władysław III; often dubbed the twelve-toed king because allegedly had 6 toes on each foot. And I have to emphasize that Columbus couldn’t get Italian leaders to finance his ventures, so he turned to Spain. In the 15th century C.E., Italy was actually a conglomeration of city-states.
In one of my earliest essays on this blog, I lamented the term “redskin”; a derogatory moniker for Native Americans that has figured prominently into the names of many sports teams, from grade school to professional. Just this week the Washington Redskins football team announced what many previously considered unthinkable: they might change their name. Team owner Daniel Snyder conceded he’s bowing to pressure from its largest corporate sponsors (big money always has the loudest voice in the corporate world), as well a growing cacophony of socially-conscious voices demanding change. Snyder said the team has begun a “review” of both the name and the team’s mascot. Detractors, of course, moan this is political correctness at its worst. But, just like Civil War reenactors still haven’t won, Eurocentrics still won’t admit they didn’t obliterate North America’s indigenous populations.
Change on such a grand scale is always slow and painful. But, as with time itself, change will happen; it can’t be stopped.
We can never correct or fix what happened in the past. Nothing can ever atone for the loss of millions of people and the destruction of the societies they built. But we can acknowledge the truth that is buried. It’s not rewriting history; it’s writing the actual history that remained entombed in that bloodied soil for so long. It’s adding the needed and long-absent color to reality.
My mother told me that one day in the early 1960s, she was strolling past a row of file cabinets at the insurance company in downtown Dallas where she worked at the time, when a man who had a history of playing pranks on his coworkers suddenly leaped out and popped her bra strap. At a time when people could normally get away with such shenanigans in the workplace, my mother said she didn’t think twice once she saw the smirk on the young man’s face…and smacked him across his face, sending his glasses to the floor. She cursed at him – something that most people, especially women could NOT get away with in those days – and merely walked away. Trying to play the victim, she said he complained to his manager who subsequently called her into his office. She reiterated the entire scenario, which generally would be a true case of he-said-she-said. But she had a supporter. Another man had witnessed the incident and confirmed her version. The bra popper was merely reprimanded verbally, and my mother was forced to drop the incident.
Not until years later did she reveal that to my father who surely would have stormed into the office and cracked a few heads of the all-male management. In fact, she told me she never told my father most of the stuff that happened to her at work – the ongoing and pervasive sexual harassment she endured in the old days – because she feared his retribution upon her male colleagues. But really didn’t need to do that; she could fend for herself.
My mother, Maria Guadalupe De La Garza, passed away last Monday, June 22, at the age of 87. She had endured a lengthy battle with dementia and the effects of a stroke she suffered last January, which almost completely rendered her left side immobile. After a lengthy stay in a rehabilitation center, I had to bring her home in May; whereupon she entered home hospice care. That, in and of itself, was an ordeal.
But I knew her time was coming to an end.
My mother had a difficult start in life. Her mother, Esperanza, was seven months pregnant with her, when her parents traveled to Taxco, a town just outside of México City, to attend some kind of family gathering in December 1932. While there, Esperanza suddenly went into labor. My mother barely weighed 2 pounds at birth; she was so small they carried her home in a shoe box and used her father’s handkerchiefs for diapers. She was born on December 12, which to Latino Roman Catholics is Day of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe). Thus, her parents named her Guadalupe. Knowing that she had slim chance of survival – like most babies born prematurely in the 1930s – a local priest baptized her and gave her last rites in the same ceremony.
But she did survive – and fought various battles throughout her life with that inborn sense of determination and perseverance. I still believe the unique mix of German and Mexican extraction only accentuated her unbridled individualism.
Esperanza died in México City on Christmas Day 1940, just 11 months after giving birth to her only son, William. They had wanted to name him after his father, Clarence, but no one could a Spanish language version of that name. Esperanza’s mother, Felicitas Basurto, stepped in to help Clarence raise his 4 children. Felicitas had lived in the United States for a short while and worked for a U.S. Navy admiral as a governess to his 2 children. She had actually taught herself English. Felicitas returned to México in the summer of 1940, as Esperanza’s health began to fail. She was there when her daughter succumbed to an abdominal infection.
In the September of 1943, Clarence moved his children and mother-in-law to Dallas where he’d found a job working an auto plant. He wanted to return to his native Michigan, but he spotted an ad for the job in Dallas.
It was a rough transition for my mother and her 3 siblings. None of them could speak English. Many strangers thought my mother and her older sister, Margo, were Americans because of girls’ fair coloring. But their maternal grandmother helped guide them into their new lives.
My mother met my father, George, in 1957, and they married two years later. I’m their only child.
My mother’s strong personality made her almost fearless. At some a gathering in the early 1950s, a nun got angry with my Uncle William for some unknown reason and called him a “spic”. My mother was nearby and slapped the nun across her face. That got her into trouble with the church and her father and grandmother. Shortly before my parents wed, a priest told my mother that he hoped she’d do the “godly thing” and have lots of children. My mother said she didn’t want many children, but the priest insisted; telling her it was her duty as a married woman. She then agreed – and told the old man she’d bring all those children back to him so he could help her raise them.
Her sharp criticism of some people – especially other women – was boundless. She called Paula Jones – the woman who accused Bill Clinton of exposing himself to her – a “dumb broad” because Jones apparently believed that she really was going for a job interview at his hotel room at 10:00 at night. In May of 2004, my father’s second oldest sister, Teresa, died of cancer. At the rosary, we spoke briefly with the husband of one of my cousins. He was a police officer and mentioned that he was part of the security detail for former First Lady Barbara Bush when she came to Dallas and had to carry his gun.
“Why did you need to carry your gun?” my mother inquired. “I mean, who wants a piece of that old hag?”
I burst out into laughter, as my cousin’s husband tried to keep his eyeballs from falling out of their sockets.
She called another former First Lady, Nancy Reagan, a “screaming banshee”; said she didn’t realize how fat Oprah Winfrey was until she saw her in jeans, when the talk show maven visited Dallas; and denounced Monica Lewinsky (the woman who had a sexual tryst with Bill Clinton in 1996) as a “cheap-ass whore”.
My mother first started showing signs of dementia more than a decade ago. Recipes for the simplest things sometimes eluded her. My father and I finally got her to start seeing a neurologist in 2011. In the four years since my father died, she occasionally referred to me as her brother, William. A few times I had to call the paramedics to help me deal with her increasingly erratic behavior. Their sudden presence always managed to calm her down. I believe it’s because they were all men, and my mother was partial to men.
At the end of this past January, she suffered a mild stroke. I didn’t realize it at first, but noticed she couldn’t get up out of bed. I had her transported to a local hospital where an MRI discovered bleeding on the brain, which had already begun to heal. It had paralyzed her entire left side.
I had to make the difficult decision of admitting her to a rehabilitation center to help her recover. I found one nearby, but I developed a sense of dread the night the hospital transported her to the facility. I felt like I was abandoning her. I had promised my father many years ago that, if she should die first, I’d do everything I could take care of her. And, of course, he died first.
The rehab center turned out to be incredible. Physical therapists helped her regain mobility in her left arm and even her left leg. I brought her back home at the end of March, as the COVID-19 calamity was unfolding. I’d reports of residents at similar facilities contracting the novel coronavirus and even dying.
I contracted a health care agency to help me care for her. But, after a week, things didn’t turn out well. She became increasingly hostile and combative. She also developed a urinary tract infection, but I thought she was experiencing another stroke. After one night at the hospital, I had her readmitted to the rehab center. Unfortunately, health care in the United States is still very much an actual business. Her Medicare benefits were exhausted, and the facility had to discharge her in May. I wrote about this in an essay a few weeks ago.
After returning home again, she entered a home hospice care program with same health agency. They were quite phenomenal in helping me. I couldn’t depend too much on relatives, friends or neighbors. But her health continued to decline. I had told a long-time family friend who lives nearby – a woman who’s known my mother for close to 50 years – that I didn’t feel my mother would make it to the end of summer. Our friend was shocked, but when she came over to visit on the 18th, she realized I was probably right. My mother had grown incoherent; she didn’t seem to recognize anyone, even me; and would often lie in bed staring at the ceiling or a wall and asking for her sister, Margo. Margo had died of cancer in June 1989.
It’s incredibly frustrating and sad to watch someone who raised me descend into the depths of cognitive bewilderment. The once vibrant, strong-minded woman I’d known my entire life had reverted to a child-like state of mind. Now I know why dementia is often called “the long goodbye”. You see your loved one disintegrate before you, and there’s not a damn thing you can do about.
In the few weeks preceding her death, I often felt we weren’t alone in the house. I had prayed to my Aunt Margo to come get my mother, and I actually began to sense it was her moving about. I also began to see shadows of a small animal trotting down the hall or the sound of tiny footsteps. I realized immediately the figure was my dog, Wolfgang, who died in October 2016; just less than four months after my father. In many cultures, animals, birds, and butterflies are often seen as either an omen of death or a conduit between our world and whatever other world might exist. Both my parents absolutely loved that little dog of mine. He actually became our dog. Since I never married and had children, Wolfgang became their pseudo-grandson. I even mentioned Wolfgang as a “canine grandson” in my father’s obituary. On just a handful of occasions, though, I actually did spot Wolfgang – but only for a second or two. I needed no further reassurance that my mother’s time here was coming to a close.
There’s no easy way to say goodbye to a loved one. As a friend told me, that person can live a thousand years, but their demise is still painful. I’m at peace, though, with what happened. I’m glad I could get her back home to die. She and my father had worked very hard to get and to keep this house. We’ve been here almost 50 years. And I couldn’t let her die anywhere else.
It’s a typical story: White woman claims Black man assaulted her; mob of White men become enraged and launch a hunt for said perpetrator; any Negro male is automatically presumed guilty; exact details supposed incident are unknown. This was the scenario in May of 1921, when a young White female, Sarah Page, in Tulsa allegedly screamed after a young Black man, Dick Rowland, entered the elevator she operated. Even today the circumstances of the exchange between Page and Rowland remain unclear. But, in 1921, scores of hate-filled White men didn’t need to know such minutia. The White woman’s words were the only details they needed.
And thus, commenced what is now known to be the worst race-based riot in U.S. history. Police found Rowland and charged him sexual assault. The sheriff had refused to hand Rowland over to bands of outraged Whites. The throngs of self-proclaimed vigilantes stormed through Tulsa’s Black-dominated Greenwood neighborhood to exact further revenge. Greenwood featured a district known as “Black Wall Street;” where businesses owned and operated by African-American residents had become an incredibly independent and thriving economy within a city of some 100,000.
When the initial chaos was over, upwards of 300 Greenwood-area residents were dead and thousands left homeless. Some Black veterans of World War I (then called the “Great War”) had taken up arms in defense of their community, which surely incentivized the angry White men to continue their violent retribution.
The same madness would occur in Rosewood, Florida two years later. A White woman reported that a Black man had entered her home and attacked her. The woman’s husband gathered a group of about 500 Ku Klux Klan members and began a hunt through the area for any Black man they could find. They learned that a Black member of a prison chain gang had escaped and believed Black residents of Rosewood were helping him hide. The mobs then systematically tore through town, killing whoever they could (mostly Black men) and driving out most of the survivors. The entire community of Rosewood was decimated. The story of what happened remained largely unknown until at least the 1980s.
The story of Tulsa still remains largely unknown. I’d heard of the horror some 30 years ago and wondered why such a calamity would be so obscure. I now know why. Like much of Native American history, true aspects of the African-American experience are often overwhelmed by the cult of American greatness; the “Manifest Destiny” myths stained heavily with Eurocentric viewpoints. The Tulsa Massacre has received greater attention in recent months because of the tragic deaths of several African-Americans. Its significance has grown even more within the past couple of weeks, as Donald Trump was set to stage a campaign rally in Tulsa today. But that’s been postponed to tomorrow.
COVID-19 concerns aside, the event would have been held on one of the most historic dates in American history. On June 19, 1865, news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached the state of Texas – more than two years after then-President Abraham Lincoln had signed it. The decree established “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
Known as Juneteenth, the event is now celebrated as a turning point in the U.S. Civil War; bringing an end to one of the bloodiest conflicts on American soil. The Emancipation Proclamation forcibly freed millions of people from the carnage of slavery; granting them the dignity of their humanity; something that had been stolen from their ancestors ensnared in the traps of slave traders on the beaches of West Africa.
That Donald Trump – one of the most cognitively-challenged and covertly racist presidents the U.S. has ever had – would hold a reelection rally on this date and 99 years after one of the single worst racial holocausts in modern American history speaks to an incredible level of ignorance among the historical elite and certainly of its arrogance. Knowing Trump, this shouldn’t be surprising. But the partiality of U.S. history also shouldn’t be surprising.
Many factors of our history – some dating back thousands of years – have been absent from the historical account. For decades, myths persisted that Native Americans willingly bowed down to Christianity and that Blacks lived happily within an enslaved existence. Even now, for example, many Americans believe most Hispanics are Latin American immigrants; when, in fact, the history of Hispanics in the U.S. goes back further than that of other Europeans and is tied inexorably with Native American history. In other words, it IS American history.
Anger over Trump’s June 19 convocation forced organizers to reschedule it for the 20th. But that won’t solve the dilemma of deliberate ignorance – just like civil rights legislation didn’t make all racial transgressions moot. The 1965 Voting Rights Act eliminated many of the barriers to voting obstruction. But, since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, we’ve seen Republican-dominated state legislatures try to roll back some of those protections under the guise of preventing voter fraud.
Much of the anger among Whites in 1921 was that Tulsa’s Greenwood section was prosperous and independent. The same happened with the Tigua community 18 years ago, when the state of Texas shut down their casino under the ruse of combating illegal gambling. The Tiguas had become wealthy and independent with proceeds from the casino; thus, lifting most out of poverty and off of welfare. But they hadn’t gotten permission from the conservative, predominantly White state legislature; an affront of unimaginable proportions the latter. Therefore, then-Governor Rick Perry and then-State Attorney General John Cornyn forced the casino to close. Many of the Tigua have now slipped back into poverty and back onto state assistance. Even as of last year, Texas is still trying to stop the Tiguas from becoming self-sufficient.
Again, anyone with a clear mind shouldn’t be surprised. Economic independence and wealth translates into political power. The voices and experiences of those communities are no longer silenced. That, in turn, upsets the self-appointed power elite – and the oppression begins. It used to come at the end of firearms and sticks. Now it comes with legislation.
It’s too easy to dismiss the ignorance of people like Donald Trump. But it’s also dangerous. And it does a disservice to the American conscious.
We can never truly make amends for incidents like Tulsa. We can, however, honor such brutal transgressions by remembering them; remembering exactly what happened and not deleting any feature of those accounts because some are uncomfortable with it. Again, that’s a disservice to the American conscious.
I looked at Tom* with what he later described as a scowl. “Are you serious?” I asked.
“Um…yeah,” was his only reply. He then looked embarrassed – almost as if he realized he’d just said the wrong thing. Or, in this case, just pissed me off.
It was the fall of 2002, and we’d known each other for a few years and been roommates since May. Things weren’t turning out as well as I’d hoped. Pooling resources is supposed to help people get through tough time. So far, the only thing that had turned out well was the new puppy he got in August, after the death of his last dog.
I like Tom – for the most part. You never really know someone unless you either spend the night with or move in with them. Tom and I had never spent the night. I do have standards! But Tom was smart and highly-educated; something of a wild man with few bounds.
He was a little like me: a native Texan of mixed ethnicity (in his case, German and Indian) who graduated high school in 1982 and attended the University of North Texas (although I didn’t arrive there until 1984). But he was more conservative, and our political discussions on race and gender often went sideways with his right-wing logic.
This evening’s conversation was a perfect example. I can’t remember what set it off, but I had mentioned that the modern civil rights movement “had to occur”; that it had to take place. He refuted that claim; calmly stating that it had been completely unnecessary; that eventually society would “come around” and realize it was only fair to give all people a chance; that folks just “needed to wait”.
“Wait?” People had already waited – more than 400 years, from the arrival of the first Europeans to the 1950s, when Martin Luther Kind launched his quiet revolution.
People had waited through the American Revolution, the U.S. Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam. People had waited through every major political and social event since the Salem Witch Trials for an equal place in American society. People had waited through the name-calling, beatings, shootings, stabbings, lynchings and relocations.
People had waited. Long enough. And that’s why everything finally exploded in the 1960s. I believe the catalyst was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Just a few years into the decade, the first U.S. president born in the 20th century was cut down by a delusional madman (or a cavalcade of them, depending on who you ask); thus squelching a promising future to an American that was moving irreversibly forward. But the centennial of the Civil War – a conflict about one group of humans owning another group, not property – helped fuel the embers of dissatisfaction. People had finally said, ‘I’ve had it. This is it. We’ve done everything possible to make ourselves valuable and worthy of a seat at that great American banquet table.’
And, in the midst of the mayhem, old White fools like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan stood around saying, ‘I don’t know why they’re so upset. They live in a free country.’
A high school English teacher once said all that happened in the 1960s was boiling in the 1950s. The Korean War – the sadly “forgotten war” – was a blight in an otherwise great decade. It was marked by the creation of the grandest economy at the time and included the seminal Brown v. Topeka Board of Education.
Tom didn’t know what to say to me after my rant. It was more of a lecture. I can get emotional with those sensitive issues, but I’d maintained my decorum – each of us standing there in boxer shorts chugging beers. He was truly speechless – a rarity for him. But alas… he had to concede I was right. Or more, that he could see my point.