Faces of Poverty Part I: Mine

I think a lot about social stratification. I grew up poor. My entire family was poor. One year my mother actually managed to take care of two kids, an injured husband, assorted dogs, goats, horses on 12K. I am young enough that that number should shock you. I am old enough to know (and knew then) that we still had it better than most. We were never on public assistance. I don’t say that as a boast, as “well, at least we were never on public assistance”. For whatever reason we didn’t qualify, and when I was about seven, mom stopped trying to get approved for it. I imagine it was pride. You can only worry about your kids being hungry and be told that you’re on your own for so long before you decide “Screw you, system.”

In the rural South, I can say for certain: that system doesn’t work. The face of poverty is complex, and for my part, I never felt impoverished. I owe that largely to a grateful heart, simple desires, and parents who believed that it was their job to worry. Not mine. I was not the typical face of poverty, and I had more than I needed. That’s a tricky word there: “need”. People don’t understand it. They want it to encompass more than basic clothing, food, and shelter.

We did not have name brand clothing. My first pair of Nike’s were hand me downs from one of Mum’s friends. I was in middle school. I remember them vividly. They were green and white, a size 8 1/2, and as I had gym for the first time in my life rather than outdoor PE, I was ecstatic to have shoes that gave my persnickety feet the extra support they seem to have always needed on man-made surfaces. I cared that they were “Nike” for all of two days, because they were my first pair, but it didn’t take me long to realize that they were an adult shoe, modest like the nurse who’d worn them before me, rather than the shiny, young kicks all the other kids were wearing. I was lucky that I didn’t care.  That I didn’t actually like the shiny wild kicks that my classmates were wearing (Though dear gods, I STILL want a pair of shoes that light up). My little brother did. He has always suffered from the need to fit in and belong. In a consumer driven country, poverty is especially hard on those who believe what advertisers tell them they need.

We didn’t go out to eat except for special occasions. There were no daily trips to McDonalds after school. As one might expect, we were healthier for it. We didn’t have a lot of bad for us, fake food at home. 3 square meals and an afternoon snack. I think the worst thing we ever ate (nutritionally speaking) was Mum’s fried chicken (SOSOSOSO GOOD) and the Little Debbies we had with our PB&Js. We didn’t go out for every birthday. Mum made our favorite meal and bought us a birthday cake. Going to Pizza Hut for cheesey garlic bread and cokes was a special treat. One plate split between us and Mum. I am proud to say that while my parents’ financial situation is a little better now that Da has a better job and they aren’t raising two children, she still continues that tradition with my nephews. Though now that E is a teenager, they add a pizza.

We moved a lot until I was eleven. First Mum and Dadai moved often for his job. I was along for the ride. I don’t technically know how many times we moved, but by the time Mum left Dadai I can remember at least five places around the state. I know that it was more than that, and as I was only five when they divorced, I think it was not so partially responsible for my inability to stay in one place for too long. (But that’s a story for another day).  After that Mum and Da moved us five times. Four between the age of five and the age of eleven. When I was eleven, we finally bought land and moved into a single-wide trailer in the country. They have that same property (though they’re no longer in the single-wide) still.

My grandmothers had less than we did. Mum’s mom lived in an ancient singlewide, shared by her two derelict sons. She actually had to move out because the oldest wouldn’t leave. (The youngest did get married and move out). I don’t remember thinking that she was poor. She worked at a sewing plant and I remember that we would take bags of  imperfects to the African American family who lived down the road. A lady with seven children, no husband, who struggled more than we did. I remember wearing some of those imperfects myself, but most of my clothes were made by Memaw. I didn’t realize that she had so little because she did so much. It wasn’t until I was much older and explaining why I like oven toast (only toasted on the top) better than toaster oven or toaster toast that I realized it.

On cold weekend mornings, we would dash down the length of the trailer from Memaw’s room to the kitchen. Once in there, she’d open the oven and turn it on. She’d tell me to stand close but not touch anything while she put the percolator on for coffee, a pot of water for grits, and put five pats of butter on each slice of bread for our toast. I remember watching in fascination as the toast browned in the oven, feeling the lovely warmth seeping through my nightgown. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized it was her only source of heat.

I still make my toast in the oven.

So yes, I grew up poor. We didn’t have regular health care or dental. I went to the emergency room when I got sick enough and like as not the bill came out of any possible state tax returns my parents got. People who aren’t poor always wonder why people who are poor are. I know that entitlement is a problem. I know that abuse of the system is a problem, but I also know–intimately–that these sweeping generalizations are not the answer. My parents weren’t lazy. Da and Dadai were both skilled laborers. Da is an introvert though and angry with it. He has always had a harder time finding a good job than Dadai and since child support from Dadai was not what you would call dependable, we relied on Da’s much lower income. Still, he worked. And Mum took care of us. She took odd jobs when we were younger and her health was better, but Mum’s family has a hereditary heart condition that had her in and out of hospitals for much of my life. Medical bills didn’t help in our dance along the poverty line.

We got by. I babysat. My brother and I did yard work. I helped Dadai on odd jobs that he took for friends doing electrical work. I had Sundance, so I didn’t feel compelled to get a car and my license like most kids do the moment they come of age. I got a job at sixteen and saved up so that I could afford to pay the car insurance increase my parents were going to see once I got my permit. Mum drove me to and from work and I bought the gas. I had my permit for longer than anyone I know. I got my license only a handful of months before I bought my first truck, with my own money, in my name. I paid for the taxes, tags and insurance, working, borrowing, and struggling my way through college. It took me seven years to get my BA because I had to go barely full time and work just shy of full time. Do I believe that there is a student loan racket out there along with ridiculous costs of education? Abso-damn-lutely.

But here’s the thing. It would have been nice if during our worst times, there’d been some kind of assistance. That year, for instance, that Da was out of work for six months while he recovered from spine surgery. It would be nice for higher education not to have put me into a ridiculous amount of debt. And yet…

The truth of the matter is that we are, none of us, entitled to these things. We are born into a country so wealthy that there is no reason for our basic needs of food and shelter to go unmet, but these are BASIC. This does not mean McDonalds, cellphones, cars, crab legs, soda, brie, and truffle oil. It means PB&J, rice, vegetables, chicken legs, and hamburger. It means cooking at home and hand-me-down clothes. It means off brands and rare luxuries. It means working hard if you want more than that, not being angry that someone else has what you don’t because of an accident of birth.

Life isn’t fair. We aren’t born in a vacuum. We’re born into a competitive biological system that manifests in the complex social systems of our times. As long as these systems are comprised of humans, there will be an uneven distribution of wealth and power. That’s just reality. Our social values determine the fluidity of these structures of stratification. As does how we view our status as well as those whose status is not our own. I certainly don’t believe in rigid class structures. I’m morally opposed to caste systems. But I am equally opposed to mindsets that suggest anything beyond hard work and social contribution entitles an individual to anything.

We are animals. It’s something that humans like to forget. If a creature is born and will not do what it needs to procure its own food and shelter it dies. PERIOD. Is it sad to see it happen? Well, maybe. I know that I don’t like watching something suffer and starvation is particularly awful. However, it is a part of natural selection. Animals who can’t take care of themselves die, preferably before they produce offspring. Somewhere along the way, humans have decided that they are above such safeguards, and while I believe that we’ve accomplished wonderful things that make us special, we have also found horrible things that make us unique.

We have to find some balance.

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I Am Not of This World: Cycles of Abuse, Plato’s Cave

cslewis

So, yesterday’s entry, as rough and rambling as it is, will be left as it is. It has inspired a great deal of thought and dialogue in this house and even with Mum. There was a horrible tightness in my chest all day yesterday, and when the Darkling got home, we had a passionate discussion complete with my pacing and hitting the punching bag about our differing views on whether or not I was abused. Deep breath, big sigh.

I was victim of child abuse.

Now all of you who are thinking about that fist fight with Mum, forget it. Nope. Even after I admitted that I have been abused, I can’t change my mind on that one. See, after I wrote yesterday’s blog, I had this whole follow-up planned about how I wasn’t abused but it wasn’t for lack of trying. I was going to write about that. So, I’ll start there, but that’s not where I’m staying.

I was not a victim of abuse, I wrote yesterday, but it’s important to state that it wasn’t for lack of trying. That uncle was always asking for hugs, trying to get in rooms alone with me, and generally made inappropriate remarks from the moment I started developing breasts. I always responded with the aforementioned aggressive avoidance techniques and very clear “no.”s.  So, no, I was never abused, and I was prepared for my single caveat to be “though not for lack of trying.”

But here’s the thing. I couldn’t tell Dadai. Oh, I tried. Just as I tried with Smeagol. After the first dozen or so attempts though, you learn quickly that the adults around don’t want to hear about it. They’re going to tell you that you’re wrong or they’re going to make light of it. When, after you’ve told your Dadai about the incident, he insists that you go give your uncle pervert a hug… THAT. IS.  ABUSE.

When that same paternal figure regularly reinforces his world view by making you feel that you are wrong, unloving, unforgiving, unfaithful, and an overall bad person. THAT. IS.  ABUSE.

When you are drawn back in by sweet nicknames and common interests and demonstrations of concern for your well-being at moments of particular personal vulnerability. THAT. IS.  ABUSE.

When the nature of your character, your heart, and the very state of your soul is questioned regularly because you will not sanction or ignore the horrible wrongs around you and you are taught to doubt yourself from childhood. THAT. IS. ABUSE.

I grew up believing without a single doubt, that there was something wrong with me. That I didn’t think “right”, that I don’t love “right”. But for Grace and Mum and Da’s reinforcement, I don’t know where I would be. At least this way I grew up knowing that I was wrong, but not caring. If I was “wrong” I didn’t want to be “right”. Never the uselessness of those terms on a grander scale, it is more important right now that I stress that I WAS NOT WRONG.

Now that I’ve dealt with the personal particulars, I’ll explain some things about abuse so that you know I’m not just ranting, I’ve had some classes. ; )

I realize that Dadai’s family is caught in a cycle of abuse. His father was an alcoholic who (when drunk), verbally and physically abused every last one of them. I don’t know all of the particulars. I do know that there were times when the children hid under their beds in terror of their father. While I’m sure that things are much worse than that, that single image tells me all that I need to know. They were terrorized. They were abused.

Their sainted mother blamed the alcohol. I know this not only from hearing the words leave her lips, but I also know it because “except for the alcohol” Grandpa was reportedly a good man. There was a built-in excuse for his behavior, never mind that class and economics suggest that Grandpa himself was an abuse victim. Instead of stopping the abuse, Grandma prayed. I think we’ve covered some of this before, and I know I’ve covered the whole I’m-not-bashing-prayer thing. But whether or not she was afraid of him herself, a product of her generation, or whatever, the fact remains that she was both victim of the cycle of abuse and participator. There were exit avenues available to her; she knew that his behavior was wrong. She chose to remain with him because she loved him more than herself or her children, and she continued giving him children to abuse. (Thirteen, folks. They had THIRTEEN.)

Every last child carries the legacies of that abuse. Some of them have broken the cycle. They are geographically and emotionally distanced from the rest of the family, though in the twisted psychology of family groups, they still love them and occasionally spend time with them. They have not passed that abuse or the baggage of that abuse onto their children. They have empowered their children to not become victims or abusers. I admire the heck of each of them, and am so grateful for their courage, their honesty, and their willingness to help me in their own ways to deal with my part of that family legacy.

The rest are trapped in that cycle as surely as the folks in Plato’s cave. For my part, I believe that the folks in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (at least after the first one is freed) and in my family choose to remain there. A quick summary for those of you who don’t click on the link (CLICK IT!): those trapped within the cave watch shadows on the wall. They create their own ideas of that flickering reality. Should one be freed, escape to experience the reality of those shadows and return to liberate his brethren, they inevitably rail against that one, claim that he/she is corrupted and refuse to turn their heads to see anything but the shadows on the wall before them. They are still bound in darkness. It’s sad. It can even be heartbreaking, and you can argue for their victimhood and their fears, but at the end of the day they would rather hurt someone else than question themselves. They would rather remain in chains.

Why? A heart like mine will always wonder why on earth anyone would rather remain in chains. The short answer is fear and shame. I’m going to tackle those next, but I think I’m going to take a break for now. A small thanks to those who’ve shown their support for this series of posts. Even something as simple as a “like” on google+ is encouraging right now. It’s an interesting process.

I Am Not of This World: persistent abuse cultures really make me want to leave

cslewis

I think that today I need to talk a little about sexual abuse. I am sincerely hoping to write a more coherent, less personal follow-up to this piece, but right now I needed to get all of this down. I know that it’s been on everyone’s mind lately with the Stuebenville rapes and rape culture all over the media.  And to that end you should go read this: “I Didn’t Know What Rape Was.”  Yes, I know all about the author, I know that there’s profanity, but don’t make me give you the language lecture. Go read Jen’s blog and let how heart-breakingly relevant her words are in our world seep in.

(And if you need the language lecture, ask me. I’m sure I have a copy handy somewhere).

Now, I could discuss social, cultural, and gender norms, but I hope at this point we’ve at least gotten to an understanding that traditional versions of these are not without their problems.(And honestly, I think that Jen does an admirable job).  Instead, I want to share something personal from the closet that is the Hellmouth in which I grew up.

Let me say first and foremost that I have been blessed to have never personally suffered physical, mental, emotional, or sexual abuse. Arguments can be made for each of these, but the latter, and my husband has done so. But I disagree, maybe even on semantics. For my experiences “abuse” is not quite the right word. But I’m going to work on that in the next post. No clue where I’ll end up from here.

When I was twelve Mum lost her temper and hit me in the face. The bruise was small, but it was there, just below my eye on my cheekbone. She shouldn’t have done it, won’t argue that at all, but the psychology of abuse doesn’t work in that situation any more than me getting hit in a schoolyard fight would. It was a violent attack, yes. It should not have happened, yes. But I promptly punched her back and the ensuing fight was not one that left me with a fear of my mother or any other victim psychology. I did not hurt physically or otherwise any more than I would have had I gotten into the same tussle with my bff (and trust me, Billie and I had our scraps).

Violence is not abuse, though abuse can be violent. Violence is not always malicious. I would argue that abuse most certainly is.

I feel as if I’ve rambled. To return to the topic. I have not been abused, though I too easily could have been. I grew up knowing this. I watched children around me suffer neglect, physical abuse, and emotional abuse. I saw classmates cringe when the teacher had to raise her voice. I knew kids who couldn’t be touched, and children that you had to approach cautiously, as if they were half wild. I knew kids who feared their parents and their disapproval or their retribution. I knew, from an early age, that no all adults could be trusted.

For the record, none of that ever happened with me and Mum. Until I left for college, if I had a bad dream, I still went to Mum and Da’s bedroom and crawled under Da’s side of the bed. There I slept safe, loved, and protected with Pinky Toast (epic teddy extraordinaire) as a pillow, Mum’s robe as a blanket, and Da’s gun tucked between their mattresses just above my head.

Atypical, I know, but I tell you all of that to illustrate the important parts that an abused child doesn’t get: I felt loved. I felt safe. I was protected. With the exception of a single incident that to this day haunts my Mum, I did not encounter anything (at home) that would even count toward abuse. Mum (an abuse victim herself) always watched out for us, always talked to us about the signs, and how to protect ourselves. Da made sure we knew we could come to him with anything and that he’d kill anyone who harmed us. That sounds crazy violent to some, I’m sure, but when you’re a kid surrounded by adult predators, knowing that your folks have your back (even violently) is a comfort that cannot be overstressed.

And now the predators.

Dadai’s family is large. Large enough to have that one uncle that most good people would not leave alone with their children. I remember, from a very young age, not trusting said uncle. More importantly, I remember Mum telling me to stay away from him. To never be in a room alone with him and not to let him put his hands on me. I remember her telling me not to worry about being polite. Back talk, yell, kick, do whatever I had to in order to keep him away from me. I didn’t have to hug him hello and goodbye no matter what Dadai said. These were important bits of advice, since after their divorce when I was four years old Mum was not present at Dadai’s family gatherings. She raised me to never be a victim. Which in a funny way is precisely why I hit her back that day when I was 12.

Long ramble short, I was safe. I’m still safe. I’ll be dead in a ditch somewhere before I’m ever a victim unless some super clever serial killer kidnaps me and has the patience not to let me drive him to kill me.  Still, the predators are sout there. Most of Dadai’s family won’t talk about it. If you bring it up (and believe me, I did after I found out that said uncle had asked Smeagol—the baby sister—to see her breasts when she was fourteen) they act as if it’s some small bad thing that he shouldn’t have done. As if he swiped a cookie before dinner or something. They don’t tell the other children in our family to avoid him, to stop him, that they have every right to scream, shout, or kick. They make them go give him hugs when he shows up at family dinner. They make the teenage girls wait on him (fix his dinner plate, etc). I have one little cousin who is repeatedly allowed to spend the night with him and his wife!

This man has molested young girls and young women (can’t say about boys, I only know about the females) for decades. DECADES. At least forty years. That. I. Know. Of.  And while I think he should be taken out back and shot, I would be happy with even a moderate, modern response. Reporting. Counseling.  Protecting. These women have no support structures. By ignoring it, dismissing it, blaming the victims even!, family members not only hurt existing victims, they create more.

Their solution is always to pray about it. While I’m ALL for prayer, that’s b.s. It’s our JOBS to protect the innocent from harm. Not merely pray that they never come to it. More importantly, if you know that they are going to be harmed and you do nothing to stop it then you are JUST as responsible as the one who harms them.

Which is where I am today. The camel with that last straw.

I recently found out that someone biologically close to me—while under the influence of alcohol—said inappropriate things to Smeagol. These things could have come straight from the mouth of my hellbound uncle and because Smeagol’s parents are the useless creatures that they are, the Darkling and I had to explain to her just how inappropriate those comments were. Alcohol does not excuse it. I cannot go to her parents. I have done so already where the uncle was concerned and they LITERALLY did nothing. I have, of course, told Smeag to be assertive, to avoid as often as possible, but that if necessary she can shout, kick, scream or whatever.

As I said, today I’m angry. I’m angry for current events, I’m angry for past events, and I’m angry on behalf of all those victims. Little girls who had no one to stand up for them. No one to whom they could go and know that Da would shoot the bastard who’d put hands on her.

I’m also, just a little, angry for me, because I’ve finally gotten old enough to hate them all for their indifference.  I look back and I don’t see a family so human in their flaws, I see deplorable weakness and darkness. I see malice. I do not want to forgive them. That’s not who I am. I believe FIRMLY that there is good and evil in this world, and I DO believe that some people are bad. The adult me has broken trust with them. I cannot view them in the light that I once did. I do not care that they are “saved by grace.” I don’t believe that most of them are saved at all, because the abuse continues. The cycle is unbroken.

Men in that family treat women in wretched and horrifying ways because the women and the men buy into a system that reinforces the false idea that men are weak, subject to their hormones, and that they “can’t help” what they do. Women are taught that it must be their fault since the men can’t help it. So they believe that they deserve the abuse for wearing, saying, being whatever it is they were.

Enough. Enough, enough, enough. Humans MUST stop creating victims. Humans MUST stop creating these cowardly excuses for predators. And gods help us, they MUST stop using religion to reinforce this culture.

Truths:

All the prayer, church, singing, and Jesus-shouting will not save you if you are living daily the role of malice, of abuser, of harm. Being saved means you stop all that junk and pray for forgiveness for it. Not that you’re counting on JC to mitigate for you so that you can do whatever the heck you want.

An individual may be sick. An abuser may have deep-rooted psychological issues. But when over one hundred people know of even one instance of abuse and a child is still encouraged to spend time with the pervert, that isn’t a sickness, that’s frelling evil. No amount of being a “good person” will excuse you from the sins you committed against the children you sent like lambs to pain.

We need to empower one another. Children, adults, it doesn’t matter. We need to each know that no matter how stupid we may be or what we do, that no one has the RIGHT to harm us. Then we need to flip that coin and teach each other not to be stupid.

We need to empower men. That’s right. Read that again. Men are more than basic animalistic drives. Men are to be held responsible for their actions, not have excuses made for them. Men are capable of civilization.

We need to empower women. Women are not temptation. Women are not virtue. Women are humans. Just like men. If I don’t have the right to punch someone in the face because they’re stupid, then men don’t have the right to rape, molest, proposition a women because she’s not swathed in wool from hair to heel.  My skin is not an invitation to have sex with me. And a decent person never thinks that.

We need to stop apologizing to the perpetrators for the crimes they commit. Stop giving them excuses for committing them. We need to create a social norm that doesn’t encourage sins to be kept in closets that victims are then led to. We need to be comfortable calling people what they are. “Oh, he/she has had a hard life and didn’t know….blahblahblah.” WRONG. He/she is a rapist. A child molester. That’s what he/she is. And if he/she doesn’t want to be that then get help, redefine. BE BETTER.

The Stuebenville rape situation is heartbreaking because I agree with Jenny (the linked article).  It’s depressing that we do not teach physical, emotional, mental, sexual boundaries. That not only to women not know what rape is, men don’t. That we teach that someone is ENTITLED to another person’s body or being for any reason.

That, my friends, is the definition of chattel slavery.

I owe Mum (even with that right hook of hers) a greater debt than she will ever know. I was raised in region where slavery still rages (though I’ll argue it is not limited to the South), but I was not born in chains. Maybe it’s because of how hard she fought to break her own bonds. Maybe it’s simply because of how much she loved me. I don’t know. I don’t care. I am just thankful.

I do know that as a child I wasn’t much better than the monsters. I protected myself and my cousins as best I could from my uncle but because I was never abused, I didn’t stand up and say “hey, it’s not okay. It’s not okay for you to pretend this isn’t happening. It’s not okay for you to say he’s just being a dirty old man. Dirty old men are NOT OKAY!”

I did stand up when I found out about Smeagol’s incident. And that’s what I’m doing today, because I’ve watched that evil grow and it must be stopped.  If all I do is leave, if all I do is refuse to reinforce the sense of community surrounding the perpetrator, then I will have done something. Maybe not for those older than me. They know better. They choose otherwise. But maybe for the young ones. I will not be a part of it. Not in association, not in name, not in forgiveness.

Evil has too long been permitted to thrive in the hearts of humankind because we tell one another how sorry we are for the blight, instead of trying to cure it.

“I Weep for the Species”: kindness, compassion, and the separation of church and state

I hope, for originality’s sake if nothing else, that this will be last time I address homosexuality for a while. Not because it is an unworthy topic, but because its level of controversy is but a symptom of a much larger problem. One that I will only briefly begin to touch on below.

It is interesting to me how marriage camps define themselves as hetero- or homo- sexual, but you don’t see any campaigns teaching our young people how to be in a loving, honest, committed relationship of any kind, or how to find themselves or the right person before entering into a commitment. We need to teach family and relationship values, timeless elements that have absolutely nothing to do with gender or sexuality. We need to teach parenting, not what a father or a mother does. Those ideas have changed since humans moved from caves to farms to cities. But kids…? Kids still need the essentials. We should teach those.

My parents were not hung up on gender roles. Don’t get me wrong. Da was and remains a very Southern man. He is the breadwinner, the backyard farmer, and has a shop where he can make everything from welding projects to carpentry projects to his own bullets. Mostly, though, he uses it as his space, for tossing a few back, grilling out, and generally hanging out with Sundance and listening to classic rock. Still, when it came to raising a daughter, he totally stepped out of tradition. We talked about boys, relationships, my period, and bras.

Mum has always been a whole nother story. She’s a tomboy, raised with/by three brothers, she was tough as nails when I was growing up, always outside, always rough housing, and always fixing something. When our washer broke, she and I took it apart and fixed it. Same with the go-cart, the lawnmower, the vcr…I could go on. Da was not threatened by this any more than he was her propensity to not wear a bra, or make up, or fix her hair up pretty. Mum did not think him less of a man because he and his daughter talked clothes and boots and he couldn’t gut a home appliance and put it back together and have it working.

It is because of my parents that I first began separating Church and State. I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, I was twelve, and much more concerned with the fact that Da’s horse Confederate was sick. Having some bad blood between her and the local vet, Mum called one from the next county over, a lady with whom she’d gone to school. It was late. The lady asked if she could bring her significant other and their kids. Mum said, of course, and when she hung the phone she proceeded to prep us for meeting our first gay family. It went something like this:

“Dr. Vet is gay and I don’t want anyone acting like jack asses to her or her family.”

Confusion from me and my brother. Brooding from Da.

“Uh…I don’t care that she’s gay. She is coming to help Confederate, right?” Me

As always I looked to Da for confirmation. He nodded.

My brother only wanted to know how many kids she had and if they could play in the pasture.

Sundance and I ended up with babysitting duty.

I don’t remember thinking much about them or their “sin.” The two ladies were perfectly nice and had raised polite, kind, and intelligent children (a rarer and rarer thing these days). Mum and Mrs. Dr. Vet talked about animals and kids while Dr. Vet and Da took care of Confederate. Dr. Vet was good people, and her family was more than welcome on our property. We did not treat them politely and with respect in spite of their lifestyle. We treated them as they treated us and with gratitude for caring for one of ours. I guess my folks figured if they weren’t judging us for our skeletons, we wouldn’t be judging them. It wasn’t as if they were trying to convert anyone. And neither were we.

If you don’t want your kids growing up around homosexuality, pay more attention to them, control their environment. And their environment does not include the entire country. Most faiths renounce a large part of the world and popular culture. Christians are expressly told that they are “not of this world.” (a favorite passage of mine, to be sure)

This is no different. If I were a Christian parent, I wouldn’t let my kids go to see certain movies, listen to certain music, read certain books, or hang out with people who I thought might harm them (We aren’t discussing the fact that I wouldn’t actually do most of this, but if I can ban my imaginary daughter from reading Stephanie Meyer, then I can understand Christian parents choosing their own list of things to restrict). In America, parents have that right.

What parents (of any group) do NOT have the right to do is legally dictate the rights and privileges of other groups. Especially when those groups are simply demanding the same rights that the parents themselves expect. Should we protect our children? Absolutely, but that starts at home, with your family, your community, and the values that you instill in your children. They are not to be raised by the government, the schools, or the county rec league. We should be teaching them to be respectful and compassionate. Notice that there’s not direct object in that sentence? That’s right. Not “to <insert group here>”, children should be taught a basic level of common decency if we are ever to stop squabbling amongst ourselves over petty differences.

As religious cultures become increasingly divisive, the human race loses precious evolutionary ground. Even worse, spirituality takes the flack. Faith becomes the “problem”. Sacredness is the disease.

And the world is going to suck if nothing is sacred. Ever. I would rather everything be sacred. Now, we can get into a discussion about that if you’d like, and likely I will in another post, but I imagine that’s a doozy. The very nature of the sacred and the Sacred…subjectivity versus objectivity…I can feel small brains collapsing like ancient stars even now, so I’ll wrap this up and make it simple:

The misuse of religion (such as in the opposition of basic civil rights) equates religion with the lowest forms of humanity. It drags us into our past, where religion has been the tool of racists, bigots, extremists, and hatemongers. It keeps humans in the darkness of all their past crimes. It also takes a very small (if misguided) leap for those fed up with the whole thing to toss Faith out right along with religion…the unfortunate baby with the bathwater. Our world, however, has become increasingly faithless, secular if you want to sort of correctly use a word that I only kind of like. And. This. Is. Bad. If humanity has any hope of being anything more than what it is, then it is imperative that human beings spend some of their lives (often, if you ask me) contemplating something (ANYTHING!) greater than themselves. Because if we are the pinnacle of existence, then “I weep for the species.”

Origins, Dadai Issues, and Pedestals That Just Won’t Crack

Strangely, I have always loved these cars…

Memory is a curious thing. Not quite truth, sometimes closer to lies, but still the primary method through which humanity relates to the world. Memory can be shared, inherited, lost, found, purged, and sought. It can be twisted, by time and by human machination. Tell a story often enough, precisely enough, and to enough people and it becomes a part of their memory without ever having happened at all.
But the reverse is also possible. It happens all the time, most benignly, with children who’ve seen something Mom and Dad don’t want them to see. Tell someone often enough that what they remember isn’t recall and the impressionable will write it off as a dream or forget about it completely.

How do we know what’s true? Who do you trust?

Everyone has memory. Everyone has a dozen nature and nurture factors to effect that memory. The same experience is never remembered identically. Life doesn’t mean the same thing to any of us.

I was conceived in the back of an old Chevy Nova. Only one of my parents was in love, and she was an eighteen year old statistic. Low income, single parent family, Daddy issues (hers had died when she seven), brother issues (three of ‘em, two great, one physically and sexually abusive), Mommy issues (doted on the boys, about as nurturing as a fish, put all the work on the grieving, abused female child). It remains a sad, familiar song all across the globe, and for Mum it led to self-esteem issues, poor relationship choices, and too much partying. I don’t know that you’d have called her a dealer, but she could get you the mild stuff if you needed it. Dadai thought he did, and he also thought him somewhat of a ladies man.

They dated, if you can call it that. From what I’ve gathered, Dadai was just after sex where he could get it, whenever he could get it, and sex and drugs went together in the seventies right along with the rock and roll. Dadai was a bit older than Mum. Came from a likewise poor family in a similar little shit town, with an abusive father and a sainted submissive mother who stayed together because she loved him more than her self-respect or their thirteen children. Of course, times were different then, or some such nonsense. And, of course, an ego like mine can’t understand staying with someone who betrays you and your family.

At any rate, Dadai found in my Mum a perfect victim. She loved him, that I do know, so much so that she believed he was going to break up with his fiancée for her. Oh, yeah, at that time, Dadai was a real gem. Infidelity, in this case, seemed to be as much nurture as nature, since his father actually told one of my cousins it was fine “as long as you keep what you have at home happy.”

Gross.

Mum got knocked up, but had apparently begun to see Dadai for the cad that he was. Either that, or she thought fleeing to Texas with his unborn child would force him to choose between us and his fiancée . From here things get tricky (okay, so it’s all tricky, since none of it is my memory). Mum claims she left to get a fresh start in Dallas. Dadai and Memaw (Mum’s mother. Also what Southern girl doesn’t have a Memaw?) claim she went to give me up for adoption. Mum claims she hated Dallas (easy to believe for a small town SC girl); Dadai and Memaw claim that Memaw tracked her down and told her to get her butt back home.

I was born in October. Reportedly, Dadai was too hopped up on something to get Mum to the hospital, but since I wasn’t born on the side of hwy 15, they must’ve managed it. Dadai’s nurse sister didn’t want his future ruined by his illegitimate, druggie baby and demanded a blood test.

This is the only thing everyone tells me the same:

Dadai took one look at my ugly mug (and, oh, trust, me, I was an ugly baby…red, red skin, wrinkled face, perpetual frown for all that I’d been born laughing-weird, I know) and he knew I was his. In heart if not in biology. In that moment, the future, the fiancée, the volatile relationship with a woman he really didn’t want…none if it mattered. One week later they were married, bastard daughter present and probably still scowling.

This has colored my memories of my Dadai my entire life. That he could see me and love me, so totally. That my Mum, even when she was bashing him for being an adulterer, an alcoholic, and all around bad father (which he was), even she kept that part of the story.
So you see, I grew up feeling loved. Before I became a precocious and fun toddler, I was loved. My Mum loved me, I knew that. Not long after conception one of her precious brothers died. At 21. Orphaning a daughter and devastating Memaw and Mum. I filled a hole in the grieving heart of a nineteen year old who soon found herself trapped in a loveless marriage. I learned early what it meant to have someone need you. I also learned to hate it. But I loved Mum, and she loved me, and Dadai had to have loved me from the start.

Everywhere I turned, people loved me. Dadai’s large family (minus that nurse sister…I don’t think she ever liked me). His dad (yes, the rotten father and husband) doted on me; his mom called me her rose bud in an attempt to pretty up easily one of the ugliest babies she’d ever seen. Memaw’s first granddaughter (the aforementioned orphan) was lost to her after my uncle died. Her mother took her away and Memaw filled that spot with me. I was a patch job for everyone it seemed, but instead of feeling like a replacement, I felt like a hero. Shiny, adored, placed up on a pedestal (which quite frankly, I loved).

It wasn’t until I was much, much older that I realized how lonely it can be being a hero. And how no one can love you forever when you’re up on that pillar. Eventually, they hate you for their having placed you there to begin with. Especially if you don’t have the good grace to crack the foundation and topple down to crawl among them.

Happenstance: further adventure into memoir

The South did not experience me as it did so many of its children. I was a rebel among dissidents. I did not often notice lines of class, race, or gender, and when I did my appreciation for those lines was usually made quickly and loudly apparent. I was a kind and respectful child, but not one given to false courtesy. I didn’t give two figs for polite society. Still don’t. I was never encouraged to sit idly by and allow injustice to be committed. Perhaps that’s a legacy of the Old South and the New, or maybe it’s simply that I’m a flag waving South Carolinian and we have trouble keeping our mouths shut when we feel passionately for something. Nevertheless, the ideals took root in me strong and at a young age, even if my ideas about who was worthy of defense differed greatly from what our history had taught us about persons of value, people of importance.

I was, by all accounts, a sweet, but scrappy child. I didn’t have a problem throwing a punch over a dog, or my little brother. I could puff up to at least twice my size like an adder, or a cat. I couldn’t stand to see a classmate teased when that child wasn’t able to give as good as he got. I got into my first real fist fight in second grade when I heard some boys teasing a child who’d just lost his mother the year before.  I leapt in like a dervish. I’m pretty sure Eddie never knew that they’d been talking about him. I’m also pretty sure that they never talked about him again. When Mum, godsloveher, heard that I’d been scrapping, she always asked “what did they do?” because she knew that if I’d throw the first punch, it was for a good reason. She also knew that I rarely threw the first punch, and I almost always tried to solve things diplomatically before resorting to righteous violence. For the record, Eddie ended up one of the most important people in my life for a time, though then, I’d not met him.

The pattern continues. I punched a boy in the face for attempting to molest a girl at the local teen hang out. He hit me back. He also learned his lesson and we were friends until he died. I have carried a knife since I was twelve and learned how to fight with kitchen knives not long after that. I have, fortunately, had only a few occasions to use those skills and I have done so with reluctance, but also with conviction. I know that I could kill a person, but I also know that I could die for the things important to me. I’m also Southern enough to die for a lost cause. Though we certainly haven’t cornered the market on that one.

A great deal of my nature is owed to the happenstance of my birth, or if you are such a person–and I am–then it was hardly happenstance at all.  Either way, the web of circumstances that intersected, diverged, and careened about to form the foundation of my character was a remarkably Southern one, and yet the antithesis of so much Southern tradition. I’m a farm girl with a love of good dirt, growing your own food, or at least being able to walk down the road and “swipe” Mr. Sammy’s sweet corn. I don’t mind bird seed on my porch or snakes in my yard though I suffer from varying degrees of both ornitho- and ophidiophobia. I am a Disney Princess. Birds have been known to fly right up and touch my cheek. Deer have walked up to me in the woods. I’ve had “pet” squirrels, deer, and an alligator. I was raised with chickens, horses, dogs, geese, turkeys, and goats. Some of them we even ate. This was, in fairness, an agrarian life, one not limited to southern experience. I think in large part, that came from economics, and tradition. Those were the legacies of my families.

Most of my family was of modest means, which I’ve learned is the way those-of-not- modest-means pretty up the struggle for survival that others face in this cushy modern world of ours. I affectionately refer to us as dirt-poor farmers, but I know that this is a shade exaggerative. While my father’s family had lean years and often only one shirt to each child (all hand-me-downs), they had land that grew food and cash crops and the sense to stay away from the destruction that tobacco can wreak on that land. They also had maternal grandparents who were well-enough off and would not have let their grandchildren starve (even if they were not my grandfather’s biggest fan). Mum had homemade clothes as a child (for that matter, so did I, but I loved them) and hocked her high school ring to buy my baby formula, but I never lived in a car and I always had a puppy. It’s hard to imagine that I was poor. I guess I’m just one of those uppity peasants, though I tend to think of everyone else, regardless of economic situations, as peasants.

My biological father, henceforth referred to as Dadai,  was one of thirteen children, raised by a god-fearing, god-loving mother whose only supposed flaw was the fact that she remained married to her alcoholic, abusive, and womanizing husband. A man who would one day become my most beloved grandfather. But times were, as they say, different then, and  that I grew up with very particular views of what marriage and parenting should be was partly because of the fifty some odd years that they spent together. I wish I’d had the opportunity to ask her why she had stayed with him all those years, but I have a feeling that her answer would have only made me feel that much more the alien in the family, and not actually enlightened me. By all accounts, my grandmother was a saint. Finding her prayer journals after she died only reinforced this notion, but I suspect that it was from her that I got my temper. She slapped my mom once for being harsh to me, and she was positively aggressive if you messed with her cubs. She defended them to a fault, and contrary to my own doubts, her children worship her, even now. She and I crossed words over my father more than once.

I think I was probably the only grandchild who dared argue with her. I did so as politely as I could.

Mum was about as opposite in her upbringing as could be. Well, her father was also unfaithful to her mother, but that seems to have been about it. Where my father had seven brothers and five sisters, mom had three brothers. Her father died (at thirty-one) when she was seven, and because she didn’t at the time know of his infidelity, she idolized him until she was much, much older. Her mother was about as nurturing as…okay, so I can’t think of a mammal less concerned with her offspring…but she worked to support her four children, while leaving the household tasks to her seven year old daughter.  The new “man of the house” was mom’s oldest brother, a basic unsavory abusive sort that is now my mom’s only surviving brother. The “good” two died at the ripe old ages of twenty-one and twenty-six. Both left children without fathers. Children that Mum doesn’t get to see. The short version of that explanation is that my mom’s family has a hereditary heart disease, the MO of which is to take you out without any warning.

My mom has survived the longest with the disease. She sacrificed more than any mother should to not leave my brother and me motherless. I hope my angel sibling forgives us. If it means anything, I will always be grateful not to have lost my childhood with Mum and Da, Canard and Sundance, and the myriad creatures we met and loved along the way. These things would not have been possible if we’d had to live with Dadai. He was a bachelor through his second marriage, and only got himself mostly together for his third. I would have been fourteen or fifteen by the time he scraped himself together to be “saved by faith.”

We’ll get to that last bit later.