On Dreams and Football Games In 1989, at some point, it was my last high school football game as a senior. I remember some of it, all those years ago, but certain details will always be a part of me. The rich sound of the band, the feel of the clarinet in my white-gloved hands. The heat of the stadium lights warming the cool fall night. Riding the yellow dog with Joy, Mackie, and some more of y’all I’ve kept touch with all these years. Question: when did we get so old? I digress. The smell of the autumn wind, with a hint of a distant fireplace burning. The red, white, and black uniform, wool, against my skin. The bill of my black hat over my eyes. The grass underfoot as we marched as one. The roar of the crowd. The feeling that something indelible was coming to an end. The tears, warm on my cheek. Meeting the eyes of my friends as we silently said goodbye to this part of our childhood. Even though I thought there would be more ball games–I was majoring in music, after all–I knew there wouldn’t be one like this. Isn’t life funny?
Of course it wasn’t “the last,” in that I went to dozens more over the course of my kids’ growing up years. I watched them from the lens of a proud mom, and felt a little nostalgia at what could have been. When I attended Nate’s final ball game, it hurt like a mother. The knowledge that everything that felt so permanent for so long–the busy days, never enough hours, it seemed, report cards and conferences, concerts and ball games–was coming to an end, well, I’ve never been so great at change. The image of time as an hourglass remained in my mind for months afterward. Pride and sorrow bled together when I knew my kids were flying away from the nest. How, though, could I come to terms?
You all know the last few years have been tough, because of what I’ve shared on here, but you only know the tiniest splinter of the tree. When Lee lost his job in Amarillo, and our whole world was pulled out from under us, right when the world was shutting down in quarantine, and I was going to multiple doctor’s visits as they just kept shaking their heads and saying, “Well, something’s really wrong, but we don’t know what. Something in your blood isn’t right. More tests…” I nearly lost any sense of mental wellness I had.
I was teaching hybrid, like all my friends, and I felt like I was doing a really lousy job. I’m type A, and I HATE feeling like I’m not doing well. I HATE feeling like what I’m offering is second best, or not up to some standard I can’t even articulate. I could not find the mental clarity to continue my dissertation. I wasted a whole year. I’m so lost now I don’t know if I can finish. That’s a tough pill for me to swallow, but it’s there.
We went back to school, in person AND online, with the cases at an all time high, and I was terrified, but not able to really talk about it at school because there was a “We’re in this TOGETHER for the KIDS” mentality–a toxic positivity that did not allow for it. At one point, almost every kid in one of my classes had Covid. It was enough to break my spirit. Every night, I would drive home, exhausted, only to have the energy to crawl into bed.
After a year of searching, applying, interviewing, and having the company say, “Well, we’ve actually decided to just eliminate this position,” Jody and Calen said, “Mom and Dad. Just move here to San Antonio. Stay with us. We’ll figure this out. It will be fine.” We had talked about moving there eventually, maybe in a few years, when retirement was closer, but…
So that’s the story of how Lee and I moved in with our kids instead of the usual scenario.
My mom was pretty skeptical about it. Lot’s of “Well, are you just going to sponge off of them forever?” comments. I must have told her ten times that we weren’t “sponging.” That we were helping with bills and things. It didn’t help us to feel better. Sometimes I avoided her calls because I just wasn’t in the right place to once again defend myself.
But I tell you all that to tell you this part.
In October, we will have been in San Antonio for 10 months. We both found jobs, good jobs. Lee’s a supervising project engineer for the San Antonio Water Department. I’m teaching high school juniors, helping build a Dual Credit program at my school, and still teaching online at Amarillo College. I’m trying to get back into writing my dissertation, and not doing great, but trying.
They still don’t know what’s up with my bloodwork. I have to see a hematologist/oncologist every 3-6 months to keep an eye on the counts. It’s one of those “we’re closely monitoring, but there’s nothing to be done until it hits a certain threshold” type things. It’s also a “Could be nothing…might be a precursor to leukemia” things. It’s a whole lot of question marks.
Life just goes on.
Last night, I went with Jody to her ball game. I rode the yellow dog with a packed bus of sweaty high school kids who had detailed conversations about who had a crush on who.
I went onto the field and watched the band.
Sitting on a bench near the 50, I heard he rich sound of the band, and listened to the nervous clarinet soloist just feet away. I smiled at her to encourage her. The heat of the stadium lights warming the slightly cool fall night (usually SA is lots warmer than Arkansas or Amarillo). Only this time, I was sitting next to Jody…and was called “The OG Mrs. B.” Once, a kid called us “The Ms. Bees.”
I love that so much.
II mean, I know it’s not my band anymore, it’s hers, but the green, white, black, and gray uniforms aren’t too much different from the ones we wore. I can tell you, when she reads this, she will say, “Mom, it’s not MY band…I’m just an assistant,” but … the band needs all parts to function. And those kids…they love her.
They didn’t march on grass; the AstroTurf is cleaner and less volatile in response to the elements, but it’s the same effect.
The roar of the crowd could have been the same as in 1989.
I met the eyes of my girl, conducting her band. Hers.
Even though I thought there would be more ball games–I was majoring in music, after all–I knew there wouldn’t be one like this. The tears felt differently somehow. I could definitely get used to this. I think I will.
I am David’s daughter, a stubborn, often difficult, hard-working blue-collar man.
He loved laughing, movies, the perfect cheeseburger, and his family, but still died too young of a cruel disease that stole his identity and left him thin and sick, but still as strong-willed as always.
When he stopped breathing, the clock ticked loudly. I stood next to him, holding his hand as he took his last breath on earth and his first breath in eternity.
I am Kathy’s daughter.
She is an enigma, one of which I will never be able to solve, because I will never possess all the pieces of the puzzle to put them together in the first place.
The fragments, like jagged pieces of ice, float on the surface, pushing and grinding against each other, but never fitting.
Her ability to do the hard things never failed, working in a freezer in the winter for ten years, and working with insulation in the summer, until her fingers bled.
The insulation, splintering under the tender skin of her hands and inside her lungs and clinging to her towel even after she showered, often cut her delicate skin.
Yet, she worked.
She worked in shopping center cafeterias, washing dishes and waiting tables for tips.
She worked in a fish market, walking to and from work smelling irresistible to cats.
When her father was ill, she moved in with him to take care of him.
He, my grandfather, often catankerous and mean, having more whiskey than blood in his veins, was often unkind.
But, still she stayed,
chained by his illiteracy and her unreasonable love.
She took care of his tasks, not needing or expecting appreciation.
I am Betty’s granddaughter—
a woman who married young, had ten children (one after another after another)
who worked hard every day of her life to support those who were hers.
Her high cheekbones and dark hair made her beautiful as a girl, but the outer beauty was soon lost by the hard life of following the crops.
The sun burned her skin and darkened her face.
Diabetes darkened her once lovely limbs, her legs, staining her skin.
Married at 15 to a man much older who loved another,
her body worn out early, from childbirth and poverty and abuse and the burning of it all on her heart.
Sometimes becoming pregnant with the next baby while her breasts still full of milk, she endured much.
She, too, worked in the fields and followed the crops, picking berries, shucking corn, and planting food for the next season.
She, like me, loved letters,
both writing them and reading them in books.
Her words were her escape.
When she died her children mourned, and still mourn.
I am Ginger’s granddaughter—
a wild child, who lived hard and died hard and broke all the rules that young ladies in during WWII were supposed to uphold.
Her secrets, like blackened words on an old letter,
are still coming to light, even twenty-two years after her death.
Her humor and wit blended with just enough manipulation to keep me on my guard, but I never doubted she loved me.
I am David’s great-granddaughter, first generation American, who fought in WWI as a very young man and WWII as an old one.He drank hard, and lived hard, and lung cancer ensured he died hard.
I am the great-granddaughter of Joseph and Mary–Irish immigrant sharecroppers whose very existence tied them to the Missouri earth.
Joseph: stocky, hands dirty from the fields, shading his eyes, begging God for rain, married young Mary, a biblical-like coincidence.
I am the great-granddaughter of the Grahames: Scottish men and women who offended the king and were exiled from their native land.
They could not hold their tongues when they witnessed injustice. I cannot hold my tongue either.
I am the wife of Lee who works hard and thinks much, who desires to get closer to God and reflect him more fully. He is not a perfect man. I am not a perfect woman.
Our imperfections, our weaknesses–they weld together. His strengths—his engineer-like mind that is always thinking things through–weighing the consequences of each action as well as possible reactions
his even-keeled temperament seals
to my weaknesses of impulsivity, irrationality and the ability to hold a grudge.
My strengths—my passionate, often blinding love and loyalty, my ability to say what I mean, my love of research and fun,
blend well with his weakness of passivity and sometimes easy-goingness to a fault.
I am the yin to his yang.
We have known each other since we were children, and, though it has been no easy ride, we love each other and cannot ignore it.
I am Jordanne Melina’s mother.
When I was 19, they said
“Here she is, your daughter…Look at that hair! ”
Although I made many mistakes, she is lovely and funny and easy-going.
She is talented and fun and thinks deeply.
She is loyal, sometimes to a fault.
When she plays her clarinet, the angels stop to listen.
I am Sarah Nicole’s mother.
When I was 21, they said,
“My, she’s a long baby!”
She’s unpredictable, hot-tempered, unafraid to back it up with action, if necessary–always with a penetrating honesty and she requires nothing less from others…a natural leader,
a beautiful fire.
I am Nathan Lee’s mother.
When I was 28, they said,
“The baby is in trouble…”
There was no crying.
I ripped the oxygen off my face and screamed “GIVE HIM TO ME!”
His skin, blue tinted, terrified me.
He is funny and generous with his love,
his money and his time.
He loves helping little kids tie their shoes or find their moms when they are lost.
He smiles like my father used to.
He, like his sisters, has music in his veins.
I am a student, a teacher, a writer, a reader, a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a friend.
I descend from Irish-Scottish-German-British roots, but I am all-American.
My mother died two weeks ago, on my fiftieth birthday.
It was unexpected in a way, even though she had been ill for a while. She had been in and out of the hospital for the past few years, but she had always gotten better.
My sister texted me that mom had fallen out of bed and that paramedics were there. The text was a bit incoherent, but this is what I made of it. My mother lived in Maryland for the past few years, near my sister. I lived in Texas, nearly 1700 miles away. Last year, Mom had a particularly bad episode, and was on a ventilator. My girls and I flew up in the height of Covid to see her. By the time we arrived, she’d been moved to rehab. We were not allowed in, and we had to talk to her standing outside her window. It wasn’t ideal, but that was the last time I saw her. We joked around a bit, and she reminded my oldest daughter that she didn’t have any great-grandkids yet.
Two weeks ago, Mom did not get better. The door was locked, and had to be broken into. They could hear the beeping of her oxygen machine. She’d been gone several hours. I’m told she looked happy and at peace.
I am not at peace.
My relationship with my mom was very complicated. If we are honest as a family, we will agree that everyone’s relationship with her was complicated.
The funeral was last Saturday, and of course was very difficult. A few bright spots I will always remember: my best friend since high school, Joy, silently by my side the whole time. My kids and husband supporting me always. One of my best college buddies, Katie, surprised me at the funeral home. I haven’t seen her in at least 10 years, but she drove from Oklahoma City to be with me. Two of my best cousins were there without being asked, and two of the remaining aunts were also there. Of course they were mourning their sister. These are the people who hold me dear and in return, have my deepest loyalty.
I thought I’d be ready to go to work last Wednesday, but Tuesday night I knew I could not. I stayed home.
My mind is fuzzy. I’m not at my best. I’m forgetful. I’m in a fog. I’m exhausted all the time. I tried to lesson plan, and could not. I tried to read: it’s too hard to focus. I watched all of Season 7 of Alone, where contestants battle the cold Arctic winter for 100 days, in the hopes of winning a million dollars. They carve out shelters with their own hands and no technology or help. They battle the elements in a way Thoreau never had to. They suffer frostbite and starvation and wolves tracking them. Alone.
I sleep a lot. Or not at all.
I watched the rest of Handmaid’s Tale, my favorite quarantine show. I didn’t really enjoy it, but I finished it.
I went back to Alone. The Season 7 winner, a weird mountain man type, talked a lot about his relationship with his mother and how he didn’t do right by her. He talked about how he dedicated his win to her. Then he ate a bunch of really questionable food.
I don’t feel the same. I did the best I could with my mom. I called her as often as I could. She was manipulative, so I had to be in a good mental place to phone her. If I talked to her when I was feeling down, her comments would sting for months.
I asked her, when her health was failing, to move to Texas. I said I would pick her up, and move her near me. She declined.
My mom was a puzzle.
In my fog-brain, this poem by Longfellow keeps floating to the surface, like fish in a frozen pond:
When She Was Good by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. (American poet, 1807-1882)
There was a little girl, who had a little curl Right in the middle of her forehead, And when she was good, she was very, very good, But when she was bad she was horrid. She stood on her head, on her little trundle bed, With nobody by for to hinder; She screamed and she squalled, she yelled and she bawled, And drummed her little heels against the winder.
Her mother heard the noise, and thought it was the boys Playing in the empty attic, She rushed upstairs, and caught her unawares, And spanked her, most emphatic.
My mom was like that little girl.
She could be kind, sweet, and generous. She once brought a ton of groceries to my house when the kids were little and we were struggling. She sent me and her granddaughters home made quilts, just a few months ago, “To remember me by…”
She hugged me and wiped my tears sometimes.
Other times, she was harsh. Demanding. Mean. Suspicious.
She would get carried away in anger, and turn abusive.
She would get jealous if a family member became close to another, and she would make up stories to hurt them. To drive wedges, to harm most foul.
These were the yin and yang of my mother.
She was still my mother, and I will miss her.
These thoughts, they can harm me. I have to find a way to deal with them. To stay mentally as healthy as I can.
So I came downstairs to the kitchen, and I began cooking.
I baked soft white bread and served it with warm Irish butter. I baked peach cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream. I made comforting beefy Shepherd’s Pie topped with mashed potatoes and a pound of sharp cheddar cheese. I roasted a pork loin and served it with roasted broccoli, baby carrots, and cauliflower. I made cheesy sausage and egg breakfast tacos with home fries and served them with ripe, sliced avocado. I made Chicken Tortilla Soup with homemade tortilla chips I oven baked. I made a beef pot roast with gravy and pasta salad. I made cold garden salad with cheese and boiled eggs and bacon bits, sliced avocados and fresh tomato. Red onion and homemade ranch dressing. I made French toast and scrambled eggs and fresh brewed coffee.
Yesterday, I meal prepped lunches. I made grownup lunchables: pepper turkey and sharp cheddar cubes, black olives and a cold dill pickle. Boiled eggs. Sliced red peppers. Chilled broccoli salad with cranberries and almonds. Fruit salad with peaches in their juice, pineapples, oranges, ripe strawberries and blueberries.
I have to go back to work tomorrow. I can’t take any more days off.
Although I’m going back to work – for better or for worse – and won’t have time to cook through the grief, but I know this: I’m not Alone. I’m not in this Arctic circle of grief by myself. I have my husband, my three kids, my friends and relatives. Though the snow may swirl and my marrow become leaden, I am not Alone. And I will be okay. We all will.
For anyone who doesn’t know me, I’m Tina. Mary’s oldest daughter. I have been an English teacher and a writer for a long time, and so it makes sense that when I need to write something, I think about quotes from books and the art of storytelling. This little passage kept raising to my consciousness, because its relevance is too telling. It is from Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club,” and it has to do with the complicated relationship of mothers and their daughters.
“What will I say? What can I tell them about my mother? I don’t know anything. She was my mother.” The aunties are looking at me as if I had become crazy right before their eyes. Not know your own mother?” cries Auntie Anmei with disbelief. “How can you say that? Your mother is in your bones!” “Tell them stories of your family here. How she became success,” “Tell them stories she told you, lessons she taught, what you know about her mind that has become your mind,” “You mother very smart lady.” I hear more choruses of “ tell them, tell them” as each auntie frantically tries to think what should be passed on. “Her kindness.” “Her smartness.” “Her dutiful nature to family.” “Her hopes, things that matter to her.” “The excellent dishes she cooked.” “Imagine a daughter not knowing her own mother!” And then it occurs to me. They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant.”
As for me and my mother:
I will tell her story, but not the way she would have, because I cannot. I can only tell it the way I know it: how it resounds in my bones, in my marrow, in every beat of my heart.
As I sit here drinking my coffee black, at the kitchen table, the way she did, listening to old 80s country (like she did), I start thinking about my mother’s life and her legacy. The memories have been strong the last few days, enough to almost break me. In my mind’s eye, I see her in the yellow kitchen on Highland Street, drinking black coffee from her favorite mug, and reading a book, listening to the Judds. The day of my wedding, back in 1989, I woke up to the smell of potatoes boiling and the sound of “Going to the Chapel.” Momma was singing along as she prepared dishes for my reception. The kitchen was as hot as the gates of hell—you know we barely used air conditioning—but she was still standing at the stove. In that hazy memory, edged with a dreamlike quality, I remember Momma turning to ask me if I was ready to get married. I hold this in my heart as a piece of my time with her.
As for my mother’s life, I only can speak to the parts I saw, that she revealed to me. A woman never reveals her whole heart to anyone. A woman knows that to do so makes her completely vulnerable to attack and brokenness. And as far as I can see, a life is many pieces of a whole: a puzzle.
Some say that a life is reflected in a person’s occupation. My mother did many jobs throughout her life. As a kid, she and her siblings often picked crops for money. She was a waitress at Neal’s Café, and at a fish market in Tulsa. She would walk home from work and become irresistible to stray cats. She worked at an insulation company in the summer, and her towel would contain fibers that she rubbed from her skin after her nightly shower. She worked at Tyson’s for a long time, layering up to stand in the freezer for twelve plus hours a day. None of these jobs were particularly fulfilling or rewarding, but my mom didn’t think that work should be that way. She saw work as a means to an end: paying the bills. Having not finished high school limited her choices for jobs, but she didn’t waste time complaining about it. She simply worked.
Some say that a life is reflected by a person’s interest and hobbies. My mom liked to grow things. Flowers and vegetables, plants and gardens. I still remember her dragging us kids to grandpa and grandmas to weed that huge garden of his (seemed like 10 acres) and to dig potatoes and pick tomatoes. Not my favorite, and I’m sure I was such a joy in the hot summer sun. She liked to work in the dirt with her hands, coaxing life from dead soil. I have not inherited this talent. I can kill a houseplant in under 24 hours if anyone needs this service.
My mom also liked to read. She loved all kinds of books: Erma Bombeck was one of her favorite writers. She also loved trashy books, joke books, and most books…just not a lot of horror.
I don’t know if you know this, but my mom used to be a writer. She inherited this from her mother, who wrote poetry and short stories and letters. I remember seeing Grandma’s poetry published in her church’s bulletins. I know this made her proud.
As a child, I would stumble upon my mom’s short stories in notebooks, some finished, some just began. The notebooks were never just stories, they were catch-all things, places for grocery lists and letters. Places for plans and notes to herself. Her stories were mostly about her life: growing up in the country. Stories about her mom and dad and y’all. Stories of childhood memories: swimming in the Gar hole, stories about sneaking into the drive-in in the trunk of somebody’s car (!), and seeing a scary movie and being afraid walking home, so they would have a couple of them facing front and a couple of them facing back to keep the murderers away. Stories about others who have passed.
I remember one story about a bill collector or somebody from the law…I can’t remember the details, I just remember it was an authority figure that was somehow threatening who showed up to grandma and grandpa’s house and how all the kids lined up on the porch and how grandma showed the law the way out with a shotgun. My mother has passed this love of storytelling on to me.
Another story she wrote was about meeting and falling in love with my dad. Even though they divorced, she always did love him. She confessed that to me many times over. Sometimes relationships fall apart, but the heart doesn’t forget. I have inherited Momma’s love of writing, and if I go too long without it, I actually feel it in my bones. Lee says I am happiest when I am writing.
All these pieces of my mother are parts of her, and by extension parts of us. But the most important legacy my mom left was us, her family. The family she came from and the family she made. I think it’s a fair assumption that everyone here can agree upon: family is messy. It’s love and caring, but it’s also fighting and making up (or sometimes not). It’s hurt feelings and sometimes false accusations and misunderstandings and brokenness. Some of this can be avoided, but many times, it can’t. We are all imperfect humans. My mom was not perfect, you all know that. She was difficult, and hard-headed. She was sometimes a giant pain. She sometimes inflicted pain upon others. I cannot make amends for her. I cannot defend this. But I can say she was harmed in many ways from the time she was a small child. This affected her in many ways seen and unseen.
I will say that one thing that I will never forget is her devotion to Grandpa. She took care of him until he died, and although I only saw bits and pieces of this, it was a hard road. Grandpa was not always appreciative, and often mean. Still, she drove out and stocked his groceries. She took him to the doctor. She listened to his complaints. She balanced his checkbook. He didn’t say thank you. Seeing this devotion has left a tattoo on my heart.
My mom is survived by all of you, and by us, her immediate family. She was so proud of our family.
Mom was very proud of Sherry and your starting your business from scratch. Sherry you were always good at organizing and making things beautiful, and you cleverly found a way to make a living from this skill. Mom also connected to Sherry with her love of plants and small pups. Sherry is a very good dog mama. Those pups are lucky.
Mom was also proud of you, Crystal and your service to this country, as well as your college degrees. How you served in the Air Force, like daddy did. How you were deployed to Baghdad and many other dangerous fronts multiple times, and I know we all breathed a little easier when you made it back to American soil. Once an airman, always an airman. Mom loved Andy and the whole family, and I am eternally grateful that her last days were spent with Crystal, Andy, Lizzy, and Kat. I know these moments brought her joy. It’s not easy taking care of an aging parent, and we all know that at her best Momma could be difficult. Thank you Andy and Crystal. I will never forget your kindness. My heart is full.
I don’t know Lizzy and Kat (Crystal and Andy’s daughters and my nieces) as well as I would like, but I know that Lizzy also inherited Momma’s love of gardening and plants, and that Lizzy also is a writer. You’ve already published a book, of which I have a copy. I know this is just the first of your many successes and can’t wait to see how your life unfolds.
Little Kat was such a joy to Mama, and it’s so nice that she is her namesake. I’ve seen pics of them together, and it’s very sweet. With Crystal and Andy as your mom and dad, and big sister to guide you, I’m sure you will also take the world by storm one day.
My daughter Jody is also part of her grandmother’s legacy. Besides looking almost exactly like Mama back in the day, you’ve inherited Momma’s love of music, and so you’ve earned a master’s degree which you use to teach middle school kids to love music. Momma’s love of music is being passed on to other families, and who knows where that ripple in the pond will resonate.
My daughter Sarah also loves music, and you also went to college to be a band director, also passing on the love of music to other people’s kids. Sarah you are also very artistic and creative, and I’m so proud that you are a published illustrator. I can’t help remembering the times I saw Momma buy those books that teach you how to draw. She would spend hours drawing, or doing paint by number projects. Sarah shows these skills in her crafts.
Nathan, Momma’s only grandson, is going to school to be an engineer. You’ve got a mind for numbers, like Momma. I sadly did not inherit this skill. You and I spend hours listening to 80s country music together, and I made sure you knew all of Momma’s favorite artists: Willie Nelson cautioning mamas about their sons being cowboys, Tammy Wynette standing by her man; Johnny Cash burning in the ring of fire and Alabama and their childhood in high cotton. We listened to Hank Williams Jr. being proud of how country boys can survive and Loretta Lynn being a coal miner’s daughter. We listened to John Denver reminiscing about country roads and of course, Elvis. Every Elvis song known to man. I love how you have taught yourself guitar and one of your first songs was Can’t Help Falling in Love.
Nate playing guitar at the luncheon after the service.
I’m finishing up my remembrances on a different day from when I started because I had to take a break midway. The memories were overwhelming. I’m sitting here with a new cup of coffee (black) and seeing my reflection a bit in the screen of my computer. My mother’s eyes look back at me, and I feel her next to me. Momma, we will miss you. We already miss you, but as Amy Tan put it, I can’t forget you. You’re in my bones, in my marrow, in every beat of my heart.
Please rest in peace, and as Willie says, “I’ll meet you on the other side.”
You sat in the back of Algebra 2, doodling on the inside of your Trapper Keeper before the bell rang, laughing with your friends and talking about the next football game. You’d make bets on who’d be starting. You knew it would be you.
I’d see you outside the band hall studying or reading. You’d look up when I went by, too shy to say hi. I noticed you, though, when you’d play that French horn. That was how you expressed yourself back then. Nobody could ignore you when you made music.
I’d hear you practicing your solo for Harmony. When you sang, everyone stopped to listen.
I’d see you in the hallway with the other cheerleaders. You seemed happy, but I noticed how you held back just a bit. You smiled, but it didn’t always meet your eyes. Though you looked perfect, your life wasn’t, but that wasn’t your fault.
I’d see you waiting for the school bus, in clothes that didn’t quite fit and looked a bit too old. You never had a lunch, but were too embarrassed to take advantage of the free lunch provided, so you would just sit under the tree behind the cafeteria and read. You were a bit of a loner, but you were tough as nails.
I’d see you studying at the library. You always turned in every assignment on time. Your dreams were a bit larger than many, and you knew it would take work. You missed out on a lot of the fun, but knew it would be worth it.
I’d see you flirting with the girls between classes. You were hard to ignore in your letterman jacket, all 6’2 and pretty. You had the world in the palm of your hands. I’d see you making jokes with the other smart kids, jokes not everyone understood. We all knew you were destined to be on SNL one day. Or running the world.
I’d see you behind the gym smoking with your buddies. You didn’t care if you got caught or not. Bad girls never care. I admired how you weren’t afraid of anything.
I’d see you sneaking out with the seniors to go to lunch, even though you were just a sophomore. You prayed Coach wouldn’t catch you.
I’d see you listening to your Walkman in your own world. Was that Tears for Fears, or Sting? Was it Genesis or Bon Jovi? Whatever it was, you knew all the facts about the music, the bands. You were so cool without even trying.
I’d see you with your boyfriend, holding hands, stealing a kiss before Spanish. We all wondered if you would be together forever. I’d see you looking afraid to get in the car after school. I wondered if your parents were mean to you.
I’d see you crying at the dance. He dumped you for your best friend.
I’d see you asking her out for the first time, making it seem effortless, even though you practiced at home in front of your mirror for an hour before, while you put on a drop of your brother’s Polo.
I’d see you wanting to tell your parents you were gay, but being too afraid.
I’d see you in your Bible study group, praying at the flagpole, your hands clasping theirs. You were so sincere, and really had a heart for others.
I’d see you playing video games at the arcade at the mall. You always won. You’d make those quarters last for hours. You’d always know all the tricks.
I’d see you with your little brother, and how you took care of him without making a big deal of it.
I’d see you in your cowboy hat and torn up jeans that you didn’t buy that way. You were a real cowboy–not one for show. You were hoping to be in the Rodeo, and you needed to spend time roping to get there. The Skoal in your back pocket left a ring…and your mama didn’t like that.
Class of 1989: I see you now.
We’ve been through some things, haven’t we? Since 1989, we’ve seen 6 presidents, including a father and son, the first Black president, and the first woman of color vice president.
We watched the first Batman, and Indiana Jones, and Dead Poets Society. Say Anything, The Breakfast Club, all the Karate Kids.
We listened to George Michael, Guns and Roses, Cyndi Lauper. Journey, Van Halen, The Bangles. Randy Travis and George Strait, with all his Exes down in Texas.
We witnessed the horror of Columbine.
We cried when the Twin Towers fell. Many of us enlisted. Those who already were in the service of our country paid (and still pay) our debt.
We saw the Gulf War and Afghanistan.
We watched the Space Shuttle crash.
We wondered at the birth of the Internet and listened for that all-to-familiar AOL login sound.
We created our MySpace accounts and felt so cutting edge.
We cried at the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
We lost a bit of our childhood when Michael Jackson died.
Some of us have married, and are still married. Some of us didn’t quite find the love of our lives the first time, and tried again.
Some of us had children. Some of us have lost children.
We’ve all lost beloved classmates.
We’ve traveled and earned degrees or worked with our hands, creating.
We loved and were hurt and had our hearts broken by those near and far. Maybe we’ve broken a few ourselves.
We have endured through Covid-19: a virus so vile it is still with us over a year after we first learned of it. A virus that’s sole purpose was to kill us.
But oh, how we have lived.
Many of us will turn 50 this year, celebrating half a century on this earth. What a milestone! What we’ve seen together this 50 years!
What a privilege to have known you. What a place you have in my heart.
Class of 1989: I see you. I see you, because you are a part of my heart.
I want to tell you about how I’m turning 50 in a few weeks, and how I can’t stop thinking about my 5th birthday.
My parents bought me the most extravagant gift: a swing set. Here’s a picture of it, but I’m older here. That’s me on the left.
My mother was a waitress at Borden’s Cafeteria and dad was a factory worker in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and money was so tight.
But I was turning five, and I’ll tell you I know without a doubt it was my dad who wanted to get it for me.
It was my birthday, but it was also our nation’s birthday: its bicentennial, so almost everything was set to theme. This swing set was GLORIOUS.
It had everything.
Red, white, and blue paint from top to bottom. It was all flags and eagles and I was HERE FOR IT.
There was seesaw swing (that would definitely be banned in 2021 because it’s NOT SAFE) to ride on with a friend. I had a few, including Erin who also was named Coleman, so we thought it made sense that one of us was adopted. I also had a friend named Jeremy, who held my hand when we walked to school in first grade, and thought that OF COURSE we would one day be married, because we both loved Scooby Doo and this is the bedrock of any successful marriage.
It has two regular swings with blue plastic seats and shiny silver chains connecting them to the top. I would swing as hard as I could, my stringy legs pumping furiously, and then at the highest point JUMP to my death, pretending to be Wonder Woman. I did not die, but I did knock the heels of my boots once I the fourth grade and they had to call my dad. Another story.
There was a basket swing that would set four kindergarteners like myself, and two older kids. Many picnics and serious discussions occurred on this swing. Also life plans, like being an extra on I Dream of Jeannie.
I can’t forget the most glorious slide that would suck in the heat of the Oklahoma sun and channel it into the fires of hell on my little tanned legs. That slide: how many times would I perilously perch at the top, pretending to be the Queen of all I surveyed? How many times would I barrel down its center? How many times would I try it head first to scare myself? I would even drag my wading pool over and submerge the bottom of the slide inside, trying to recreate a KOA pool experience, even going to the extreme of turning on the water hose and placing it on the top of the slide, so that it would feed a steady stream down the aluminum center. Also not safe, but this is why Gen-X’rs are fearless: because we faced certain death every day of our childhoods.
I think my dad thought I was too small to tip it but he was wrong. I was practicing my trapeze act when it happened. It flipped clean over and the top of it landed on my neck. I was still somehow fine and just needed a few extra cookies.
Even now, I picture the sun-washed yard that seemed to span acres but was probably just a postage stamp size in sepia tones. I remember the outside of the house itself only vaguely, but I do recall the yellow kitchen, maybe because it is in a few pictures in the dusty album. I remember the wallpaper with yellow daisies, and my birthday cake with Snoopy in his doghouse. My tiny grandma, only 4′ 11″, came to my house that day and I know she loved me, but now all these years later, I also know her secrets.
I was the only child then, and sometimes lonely, but happy. I remember my mom making gallons of sweet tea, putting cold water and tea bags into a rinsed out milk jug, setting it up on the top of the slide to slowly brew in the steamy summer sun. In the evenings, she’d take the tea bags out and add a cup of sugar, stirring until the little granules would mostly (but not completely) dissolve. That tea tasted like summer.
I was thinking about the swing set yesterday as I made sun tea and set it out on my son-in-law’s grill to brew in the steamy San Antonio sun. I was thinking about that birthday and this one. I was thinking about how that day was perfect, maybe because of everything I didn’t know then. It was before, way before, anything bad ever happened.
But that’s another memory and not one to associate with this one.
I’m seeing all sorts of posts from acquaintances praising the concept of limiting or banning the discussion of Critical Race Theory without fully grasping it. Critical Race Theory is not a single issue that can be easily avoided in the classroom. It’s interwoven throughout many topics that go hand in hand with history and literature, art and government, current events and debate.
Many right-leaning news sources such as Fox News are painting CRT as something that CREATES racism. This is completely inaccurate. CRT discusses the impact of racism as it used to exist and still exists. Discussing the effects of racism on American history or current public policy does not increase it; making us aware of problems is the first step to eradicating them. Sweeping it under the rug and saying it’s not there does nothing. It’s not saying that America is a horrible place to live or that we haven’t made progress—it’s simply discussing where we can do better. And we can do better.
As Elie Wiesel, author of Night, once said: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” This quote makes more sense now than ever. How can we teach about the Holocaust without discussing racism and white supremacy? It’s impossible. Under this bill, discussing white supremacy would be a no-no. Discussing the Holocaust could be interpreted as ignoring the bill, and could pose a danger for educators.
If you are a white person who still doesn’t understand why the danger of this bill that is not only being pushed in Texas but over most of the American South, then you are hiding BEHIND YOUR PRIVILEGE and indirectly supporting racist policies.
If you are a white teacher who has not investigated this policy, or have voiced support for it based on right leaning news sources, you are actively supporting agendas that enable white supremacy and condone ignorance to the same history that many of you so fiercely claimed to defend when confederate statues were being removed.
“Attempts to eradicate instead of contextualizing history invariably fail,” Senate GOP leaders wrote. “And because of this Governor’s personal history, the motivations of this decision will always be suspect. Like Senator Chase’s idiotic, inappropriate and inflammatory response, his decision is more likely further to divide, not unite, Virginians.” If you agreed that Confederate statues being removed was erasing history, yet support the suppression of CRT discussions in the classroom, then you must check your motives.
By clinging to your privilege, you are dismissing any students of color in your classroom in favor of your own comfort. In addition, you are also adding to the already heavy burden of teachers everywhere. As Elie Wiesel, author of Night, once said: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” This quote makes more sense now than ever. How can we teach about the Holocaust without discussing racism and white supremacy? It’s impossible. Under this bill, discussing white supremacy would be a no-no. Discussing the Holocaust could be interpreted as ignoring the bill, and could pose a danger for educators.
By embracing your privilege, you are choosing the role of the oppressor.
For more information regarding this bill and the definition of Critical Race Theory, see the following article.
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