Sunday, March 28, 2010

An Ordinary Hero

She was born in the middle of The Great Depression to what later generations would call a family of migrant farm workers. The youngest of nine living children, it seemed fate had stacked the deck against Millie from the start. In the pre World War II South, if you didn't work, you didn't eat. At the age of three, Millie was following her mother through the cotton fields, dragging sacks which her mother filled one by one. When she wasn't in the fields she was washing clothes and cooking for her parents and older siblings. Since this was all Millie knew, she did her chores and lived her life.

Eventually Millie's father and brothers got jobs in a coal mine. Not the mechanized world of 21st century mining but the brutal indentured servitude of the mid 40's. A world of back breaking labor and company stores. Still, the family could eat regularly and Millie could finally start school. She quickly found an affinity for math and reading, so much so that this bright child skipped the second grade entirely. She made friends and the world looked so much brighter. Unfortunately for Millie, this wouldn't last. One day, during the fifth grade, her brothers came to get her from school. There had been an accident. Even though her father would live, he would never work another day. It was an eleven year old's time to help share the load. She left school  never to return.

At age fifteen Millie's life would again change in a way that would define her forever. A sister had a baby, a baby she was not equipped to raise. She wrapped the baby in a blanket, handed it to Millie, and walked away, abandoning both her newborn daughter and her teen-aged sister. Millie took this challenge as she had all others. She fed and changed the child and found a job. Over the next ten years, this scene would be repeated twice. A child born, a child abandoned. Most people would have thrown up their hands and said "No"! Not Millie. Her sense of  duty and her love for these children led her to take them in and raise them as her own. Fate was not done with Millie. As her older siblings married and moved away, the responsibility for her aging parents fell more and more on Millie's shoulders. Finally, at age twenty five, Millie was the sole support for three adults and three children, all from a job that paid thirty cents an hour. Nothing fancy, but there was food on the table every day and everyone had clean clothes and clean faces. Government assistance didn't exist in the days and even if it had, Millie would probably not have taken advantage of it. She was that kind of girl.

At age twenty nine, Millie got married. True to her sense of responsibilities, she brought the three children and her aged parents along with her. Her new husband, being the kind  of man he was, accepted this and raised these kids as his own. Finally Millie had a son of her own. But even this was accomplished by Millie being Millie. She continued to work every day until a month before she delivered, and returned to work two weeks later. Not an office job. Millie didn't have the education for that. A job as a presser at a dry cleaners. Standing in inch deep water with one hundred twenty degree heat and steam all around, eight to ten hours a day every day. She brought her newborn son to work in a box and fed and changed him until he was old enough to be left with her aging mother.

You would think that all this drudgery would have turned Millie into an angry, bitter person. You would be wrong. Yes, as befitting someone raised in a household with four older brothers, Millie did have a temper. When she raised her voice, it was enough to peel the paint from the walls. But her anger was always aimed at those who would hurt the ones she loved. It was said that if you hurt one of her "kids", you might as well go ahead and beat yourself to a bloody pulp and save her the trouble.Her heart was a big as her voice. Rarely was there a summer day when some wayward neighborhood kid was not having lemonade and cookies on her front porch. Her husband was a preacher. She was at the church every time the doors opened, willing to give her time and her shoulders to carry the load or to comfort those in need. You would always find her on the right end of the fifth pew, bible open and church kids packed in next to her. Her hard work and dedication raised a generation. Of her own children, she raised all four to adulthood and two to college.

Millie finally retired after fifty seven years of work. She did not want to, but her husband suffered a stroke and there was no one left to care for him. For a year she bathed him, fed him, and changed his clothes. Twenty one days after their forty sixth anniversary, Millie walked to his casket and surrounded by her "kids" kissed him goodbye.

Alzheimer's has now claimed Millie's mind. It has not claimed her spirit. Anyone who talks to her is told that she is ready to get back to work. She walks around her nursing home as unofficial ambassador, clutching her baby doll, making everyone feel welcome. In fact, given a chance, she grabs a broom and mop and cleans the floor. Her only concerns are those she loves.

For the heroes of this world there are many monuments, statues, and memorials. For this precious lady there are none except the memories of the ones she touched. Only one person ever called her Millie, her pastor who she treated as a son. The world and her husband called her Mildred. I call her Mom.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An Epiphany

Mr. Webster defines an epiphany as "an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking." As I was browsing the news, as I am wont to do each evening, I came across a statement that was stunning to me in it's simplicity. In an article on entitled " 5 Reasons Why America Should Steer Clear of a National ID Card.", author Alex Nowrasteh stated the following, with a National ID Card " every worker would have to ask permission from the federal government to get a job." My epiphany came with the very next sentence. " American workers shouldn’t have to beg or plead to anybody to get permission to work." I would expand that statement. An American should not have to beg or plead the government for permission to do anything.

We have been sliding towards an Orwellian future for quite some time. The causes for this are many and varied, Some say terrorism and those "bleep" Republicans with their Patriot Act (which was just renewed by the "bleep" Democrats). Others would say the need for the left wing Democrats to destroy any opposition to their control of the government. Look up Richard Nixon and his "Enemies List". The causes, even though they are important, pale when compared to the effect.

From the time when Grok was first voted head of the cavemen to the present, no government has failed to misuse whatever powers were granted it. This National ID would treat every American like a criminal. It would require us to enter our personal information into a government database. Where does this stop? We already have to show a Social Security card to get a job. Will we have to show a Federal ID to simply buy groceries? It would give those in "authority" an even greater license for abuse. I have visions of Homeland Security agents in black trench coats saying (insert bad German accent) "papers pleeeze." If you think I am overreacting, let me share a recent incident.

A good friend of mine took a job in the land of ice and snow. OK, Columbus, Ohio, but let me get back to my story, She was about to get on a flight and was stopped by a TSA screener. Now we all know about emptying our pockets and, thanks to Richard Reid, taking off our shoes. But this person decided Mandie might be planning something even more devious and ordered her to take off her sweater. Mandie is a very attractive Southern lady in every sense of the word. I don't know whether this person was a not so subtle voyeur or simply trying to show his authority over a simple peasant, but the end result was my friend standing in crowded airport in her underwear. On a side note, he picked the wrong person. Mandie is an award winning reporter for a Columbus radio station. The screener is probably somewhere in Alaska asking Eskimo's to take off their mukluks.

My concern isn't about left wing vs. right wing, conservative vs. liberal, or even Christian vs. Muslim vs. Secular Humanism. It is about freedom vs. tyranny. It is about absolute power corrupting absolutely. It is about a "Government of the people, by the people, for the people," perishing from this Earth. This isn't a call for a letter writing campaign or a "Boston Tea Party". It is merely one man's revelation on rainy night. As Mohandas Gandhi wrote "Freedom is never dear at any price. It is the breath of life. What would a man not pay for living?"

Peace Out.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Winters Night on a Road Well Traveled

There are few things I detest more than Southern stereotypes. I do not own a pair of overalls, I do own at least one pair of shoes, and I have been known, on occasion, to read a book with a little more depth than "See Spot Run". There is one image of Southerners that I have clung to my entire life. Southern people are good, kind, and always willing to go out of their way to help their neighbor. When faced with reality, sadly, this one joined all the others on the ash heap of truth.

On a recent Tuesday evening, as I was driving home from work, I experienced a blowout. After wrestling my 3 ton van to to a stop, I discovered that my spare tire was flat. Alright, this was not a big deal. I am on "Nation's Largest 3 G Network" and I have a spiffy Blackberry that would allow me to summon assistance in a mere moment. Alas, this was not to be. Due to the hour (9:45 P.M.) and some phone difficulties, I could not reach any friends or acquaintances for rescue. My options narrowed to two. I could wrap up and wait for someone to stop and check on me or I could start walking. I chose the latter. I did not come to this decision lightly. It was 22 degrees and 4 miles to my home. However, I had to be up in 7 hours and I was sure someone would take pity on me as I trudged along and give me a lift. So much for my faith in my fellow man.

My breakdown occurred at the corner of The Trace and Airport Road. For those of you unfamiliar with the Jasper area, this is one one of the busier secondary roads in our fair city. I began my trek knowing within a few moments I would be in a warm car speeding towards my home. After 3 miles of admiring the clear cold night and dodging speeding cars, I had pretty much resigned myself to the walk. Even though no one so much as slowed as they passed me, several vehicles did turn on their high beams as they approached, I would like to think this was to assist me in my attempt to stay out of ditches, but it probably was not.

I cannot in honesty say that no one stopped. About a mile from my house, one of our city's finest did stop. He was doing his sworn duty to "Serve and Protect". He had received a call that "someone was walking down Hwy. 5 with an axe in his hand". Since the only thing in my hand was a bag of Frito's, I assured him it was not me. He checked my identity and after learning that I had "only" another mile or so left to walk, he wished me good night, climbed in his patrol car, and drove off leaving me another half hour or so of brisk exercise. A half mile from home my ordeal ended. A gentleman going in a completely different direction stopped and gave me ride. Both I and my numbed face will be eternally grateful.

Where was so-called Southern hospitality? Have we become so frightened of things that go "bang" in the night that we cannot help our fellow man or can we simply not be bothered? I am in reasonably good health and a three mile hike left no permanent damage. What if I had been someone with a heart condition or a pregnant woman? Would the scenario have been any different? I will never know. I do know that my life long belief in the kindness of Southern culture died on that long, cold walk. Mayberry, Rest In Peace. This Southern boy misses you very much.