Hazel vs. Hillary vs. Donald

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I try to stay away from politics in any form of social media. I’ve seen people so ready and willing to give everyone a piece of their mind, that they have little remaining. But gazing across the current political landscape I can’t help but comment and to shake my head and say, “Really, Is this the best we’ve got?”

Feeling a little down and hopeless, I remembered this incident in John Steinbeck’s brilliant, light-hearted novel, Sweet Thursday. It brightened my day, hopefully it will also provide a brief escape for you.

A sequel to Cannery Row, this story takes place after WWII as the characters are returning home from the war.

First, an introduction to some of the characters:

Hazel, one of the bums. Steinbeck describes Hazel’s mental status like this.

“Hazel was in the Army long enough to qualify for the G.I. bill, and he enrolled at the University of California for training in astrophysics by making a check mark on an application. Three months later, when some of the confusion had died down, the college authorities discovered him. The Department of Psychology wanted to keep him, but it was against the law. Hazel often wondered what is was that he had gone to study. He intended to ask, Doc, but by the time Doc got back it slipped his mind.”

Fauna, the madam of the local whorehouse, who gives horoscope readings. Continue reading “Hazel vs. Hillary vs. Donald”

A magic beyond all we do here!

Music_Magic

At the insistence of my mother, I took piano lessons for years.

I came out of the process as innocent of any musical ability as when I started. This should not have come as a shock to me. Raised in the Pentecostal Church, I realized at an early age that I could not clap to the beat of the music without watching someone else clap and time my movements with theirs. The understanding of my musical shortcomings was further reinforced at our church “Youth Camp”, when the choir director took me aside and told me discreetly that while he appreciated my enthusiasm, it would be better if I just lip-synced through the choir songs. In the history of church youth choirs I believe this to be a singular distinction bestowed only on me.

I love music but have accepted that I can only be an observer and never a participant.

Accepted, yes, but maybe still a little bitter. During my high school years I believe I projected a sort of magnetic musical force field, whereby positives are attracted to negatives. All of my friends were blessed with musical abilities beyond my imagining. Don B, one of my close friends could pick up any musical instrument and play it. We would get together and jam for hours. Okay, to be exact my friends jammed and I listened and sang (they were really good friends if they let me sing)! As children of the 60’s we covered Dave Mason, Crosby-Stills-and Nash, the Guess Who, all sorts protest music including Country Joe & the Fish which gave us the opportunity to do the “Fish Chant”, give me a F, give me a U, etc. We felt terribly rebellious from the safety of our suburban garages.

Certain songs have placed a marker in my mind. Hearing them will take me back to a particular time and location. I remember as if it were yesterday, sitting in the backseat of a Chevy Corvair that belonged to my friend and next door neighbor (that car was great exercise, we pushed it almost as much as we rode in it). We were sitting in the left hand lane of MacKenzie waiting to turn onto Weber Road. The windows down, as it was summer in Affton, Missouri and the car was not air-conditioned. Blood, Sweat & Tears was playing on the 8-track player. There were four of us in the car and all of us had our hands outside the car, pounding on the roof and door panels to the beat of Spinning Wheel.

As I grew older, I sampled and discovered other types of music. The modality of Miles Davis’ landmark album, “Kind of Blue”, introduced me to the universe of jazz.

I began to appreciate music genres that I would have ridiculed as a teenager. Hank Williams and Patsy Cline opened up the world of traditional American country music to me.

My piano lessons eventually bore fruit, at least in the form of appreciation. Listening to piano works such as Chopin’s 2nd Piano Concerto, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, Mozart’s Piano Concerto #21 or Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor never fails to give me hope for humanity, no matter who becomes the next President of the United States.

My favorite line from the entire Harry Potter series is when Albus Dumbledore announces after a song rendered by the student body of Hogwarts, “Ah Music, a Magic Beyond All We Do Here!”

I believe God has hard-wired we terribly flawed humans with an angelic love of music. My beautiful little granddaughter from the time she could stand and take a few waddling steps, would freeze in her tracks and start to dance anytime  she heard music. Nobody taught her that. Like the rest of humanity she was born with a love and need for music. There are cultures who have never developed a written language or moved beyond primitive tools, but I know of no human cultures, who have not embraced music into their lives.

We live in a time when there is a richness and abundance of musical options. It was not that long ago in human history, that if you wanted to hear music, you had to create it yourself or go somewhere where live music was being performed. Today we have music in our homes, in our cars, in the grocery store, from our phones and yes, even in the elevators!

Plato said it better than I can, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and charm and gaiety to life.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to make a run to the hardware store. As soon as the door to the SUV shuts, I’m going to crank up the sound system, tap my fingers to the music … a little off-beat … sing a little off-key and enjoy every minute of it.


While I was writing this blog post, I came across this YouTube recording of Arthur Rubinstein’s 1978 performance of  Chopin’s 2nd Piano Concerto. Born in 1887, Mr. Rubinstein, in his 90’s, hands gnarled with age, interprets Chopin as no one else can. Take 33 minutes out of your day and watch this incredible performance, it is time well spent.

 

What do you see?

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A conservative and a liberal? A Catholic and a Jew? A man and a woman?

I did something a little unusual in the kitchen last night. I almost always listen to music while I cook, but I was wanting more weather information than the Amazon Echo “Alexa” was providing, so I turned on the little TV sitting beneath my cookbooks. I was greeted not with a local weather forecast but rather with the news that Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia had passed away while on vacation at age 79. My first thoughts were probably a lot like yours. My mind immediately jumped to how this would affect the balance of power on the Supreme Court and that President Obama would now have an opportunity to appoint another liberal justice. Searching for more information, I surfed up and down the channels until I landed on this rebroadcast on C-Span from April 17, 2014.

This program was part of “The Kalb Report” and featured Justices Scalia and Ginsburg. The topic was the First Amendment and the meaning of freedom. Sprinkled between some great conversation on Constitutional law was plenty of friendly banter and discussion concerning the relationship between the two justices. I had heard that the justices were friends, despite being polar opposites on the bench, but did not understand the depth of their friendship and mutual respect they had for each other. They acknowledged that about 80% of the time they were on the same side of an issue in spite of being typecast as staunch liberals and conservatives.

I went to bed thinking about this. When I got up this morning, I did a little more research and found this on CNN, Justice Ginsburg mourns the loss of her “best buddy.” The article tells of how their families vacationed together. In her chambers, Justice Ginsburg has a picture of them riding an elephant in India. The Justice known for being the pioneer of gender equality, said that she was only sitting behind Scalia to distribute weight more evenly on the elephant. “I love him but sometimes I’d like to strangle him,” Ginsburg said, according to Reuters.

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I was convicted by this.

How many times have I immediately dumped someone into a convenient bucket without hearing anything they have to say or make the effort to understand them outside the context of a particular issue? These buckets usually bear the labels of: liberal, conservative, black, white, young, old, Christian, Muslim, atheist, gay, straight, etc. And it’s not just big buckets. I have perfected this to the extent that I have buckets ready for someone whose only crime is to like top 40 country music or McRib sandwiches.

Given the standards established by social media, Justices Scalia and Ginsburg should have hated each other and only communicated by exchanging heated barbs consisting of 144 characters or less. Instead they found a way to have meaningful dialogue and develop a deep respect and a lasting relationship over the course of many years.

Twenty-four hours ago if you had shown me the photo of those two Justices at the top of this post and asked me what I saw, I would have answered, “a liberal and a conservative”.

Today, after seeing the same photo, my answer would be “friends.”

I’ve learned something.

A Minor Epiphany (In which I compare myself to God)

Judgement

Most of you know our family lives in Ferguson, Missouri … yes, that Ferguson, but that’s not the point of this little missive. But now that I’ve got your attention, can I just say, believe very little of what you see or read in the media. I’ve never been in a community where there were more warm and welcoming people of all colors, but that’s a blog for another day.

We have lived in two different houses during our 30 year stay in Ferguson. Both were built in 1890, both required a lot of rehab. Our first house was a charming two story with three bedrooms, a huge dining room and kitchen. Architecturally it was somewhere between Victorian and Foursquare. We scraped, painted, refinished and along the way built a swing set and pergola. We also planted a  perennial garden and a selection of antique roses.

The house had one full bath. By that time there were three women in the family (my wife and two young daughters), plus dad. Did I mention it had just one full bathroom?

It was time to move.

During my stint on the Ferguson Landmarks Commission one of the houses we recognised as a  “Century Home” was a five bedroom house with two full and two half-baths. It was owned by an elderly widow who lived alone. She was a delightful character who had been active in the St. Louis art scene and had once dated Grant Wood, the painter of “American Gothic.” She did not care much for his painting style or apparently himself, because she went on to marry a building contractor. This probably explains why  the house was structurally sound, although it was in severe need of updating. This house eventually became our 2nd 1890’s home.

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Almost everybody says they love old houses, but they love them from a distance. Old houses are wonderful. Old houses are horrible. I feel about old houses the same way I hope Susan feels about me, hopelessly flawed but with enough character to keep you interested.

During those renovation stages it was not unusual for me to come home, eat, then work late into the night on some project. I had a lot more energy back then, and Mr. Gore had not yet invented the internet so there were fewer things to distract me.

No matter the project, the noisy parts …the hammering, the sawing, the pounding had to end at our girl’s bedtime. I can scrape, sand, pry up multiple layers of old linoleum that have been glued on top of hardwood floors, but I can’t prepare two young girls for bed and the next day of school.

This was a logical time for me to take a break. This was a time I could sit back and relax. It was a time to quiet myself, a time before smart phones when you weren’t tempted every few minutes to check the news and the latest Facebook posts. But most of all, it was a time to listen. And this is what I heard.

I heard the sound of my family drifting from the upstairs bedrooms, down the staircase and flowing into the room where I sat. I heard the sounds of bath water being drawn, the faint clink of the ironing board as tomorrow’s outfits were pressed and the creak of 100 year-old wood floors. But it was the melody of voices from the people I loved more than life itself, that brought me pure joy. The tapestry of sounds made up of fussing, giggling, complaining and laughter. The banter, the questions, the conversations.  

I may not have smelled the best at that point, I was probably covered in a thin layer of grime and sawdust, but I was content. This was my family, I was the dad, the father and now the grandfather. To this day, I cherish the role of protector and provider.

Was this how God felt? Do the distant voices of his children make him smile?

When I first heard the concept that as parents we will love our children more than they will ever love us, I was a little taken aback. I certainly loved my parents and surely my children loved me. But the more I thought about it, I believe it to be true. I also believe that it is not a bad thing. At a certain point I needed to establish my independence. The natural order of life lays down a pattern where the child leaves the parent and established their own life, their own family, their own children. Did I care about my parents? Of course, but I didn’t lose sleep worrying that they were going to make a bad decision or run off and join the merchant marine.

I’m a bit of a slow learner, but I finally figured out that once you are a parent, you’re a parent for the rest of your life. This was not in the manual. Being a parent doesn’t end when your child reaches a certain age. They get their driver’s license, you’re still a parent (In spades). They can vote, they reach 21, they get engaged, they get married, they stay single, they get divorced … you’re still a parent, and you still worry. It never ends.

If I, as an imperfect parent continually stays worried about the well-being of my children, how much more does our heavenly Father care about us?

My mother is now 100.

From what I understand, God is considerably older.

I am a child of both, they love me more than I love them, and they are constantly worried that I will turn out okay.

Road Trip!

Roadtrip

In my teens, I was invincible. During my 20’s, I was smarter than anyone. In my 30’s, I was incredibly clever and my 40’s brought a level of sophistication that had never been seen before. The common thread running through those decades was a degree of self-absorption that now makes me blush.

There are not many advantages to getting older but there are a few. I know just enough now to know how much I don’t know. I doubt that I will ever lay claim wisdom (I’m too smart for that), but I will acknowledge at least a certain degree of perspective. Viewing the panorama of past decades allows one to better rank current events and situations with those that have been previously experienced. Events are now filtered through a sieve that allows all the small stuff to fall through. As the years go by you start to understand what seemed like a big deal in your early years was truly fluff.

You also start to understand some of those things that were neglected in your early years  truly were important. You eventually learn that the universe does not revolve around you. You grasp that time spent listening is much more important than time spent talking.

If you are lucky, the years will allow you the luxury of being comfortable in your own skin. You can learn to appreciate your strengths and not be devastated by your weaknesses. I am okay with never having ripped abs, understanding particle string theory or much closer to home, being organized and not leaving piles of mail on the nightstand. Though Susan is still holding out hope for the later.

Hopefully you learn not to dig up the corpses of past mistakes. Don’t stare in the lifeless eyes of the “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.” Let those mistakes stay buried, allow them to decompose and enrich the soil of future growth.

I’m slowly learning that it doesn’t matter what make of car you park in the grocery store parking lot. But it does matter how you treat everyone you come in contact with in the produce aisle. Every person you come across is a child of God. They may be saints; they will be sinners. They may leave piles of mail stacked up on their nightstand, but they will all have a story to tell. Our lives are a tapestry of events and relationships. Don’t limit your tapestry to 3 or 4 threads. Talk to people who are violently different from you. Listen to their stories, it will not diminish you.

Acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers (except to your grandchildren, keep them fooled as long as possible).

E.L. Doctorow once said about writing, though I think it applies to life as well, “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Life rolls out ahead of you, it’s a two-lane twisty affair with potholes and unexpected turns. You make mistakes, you make adjustments, you turn the high-beams on, you check the rear view mirror … you keep driving!

Christmas from the back seat of a 63′ Pontiac

1963Catalina

I am the only Yankee in our family, to be more precise, I’m the only non-Texan. I’m not exactly sure where Texans fit into the whole North-South thing. It’s been my experience that they view themselves as a breed apart from the rest of the world.

In any case, I’m the last and late born son of Ray and Lillie Bell. Last may not be the best way to describe my position in the family, as it implies a string of many children. In fact there were only two sons born to this union. What is unique is that our births were almost two decades apart.

In November of 1953 my parents moved from Sherman, Texas with a population of just over 20,00 to Saint Louis with a population of 850,000. The culture shock of moving from a sleepy little southern town to a large industrial Midwest City was exceeded only by the shock of my unexpected arrival. Nineteen years after the birth of my only brother I arrived on the scene in August of 1954.

My mother had given up a little white frame house with a rose garden and goldfish pond to live in a two family flat in south St. Louis. When you combine that transition with a record-setting heat wave, an unexpected pregnancy and general culture shock from moving to a different part of the country, you can understand why my mother considered herself trapped in a special type of Midwest, urban purgatory, if not hell.

Christmas holidays provided the perfect excuse to make at least a brief escape. The yearly pilgrimages back to the promised land of Texas became a tradition. The perfect excuse to visit with both sides of the family. The perfect excuse to enjoy multiple holiday meals. And the perfect excuse to drink iced tea the way it was meant to be enjoyed … sweet.

Most of my childhood Christmas memories revolve around those annual trips to Texas, riding in the back seat of my father’s big Pontiac. While not exactly traditional, those Christmas memories were as magical as anything that Norman Rockwell could conceive.

Pontiacs were my dad’s choice of vehicle when I was growing up. In Dad’s opinion the quality of a car was in direct proportion to the amount of cubic feet available as trunk space. The big four door Pontiac Catalinas provided a lot of cargo carrying capability for the money. He eschewed Pontiac’s Bonneville model as too expensive. It’s luxury features were merely opportunities for more things to malfunction or break; most importantly the extra money spent on the upscale model did not gain you any more trunk space.

Our luggage along with the piles of presents for assorted relations tested the capacity of those land leviathans. It may have been crowded, but it was a cozy crowded. What kid would not want to be surrounded by wrapped Christmas presents? The knowledge that a good number of those packages had my name written on the tag only added to the excitement.

Johnny Mathis, Brenda Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Gene Autry, Andy Williams and most importantly David Seville and the Chipmunks serenaded our family with holiday songs as we speed south. The signal from the AM radio drifted in and out as we entered then excited the range of the stations in the nearby towns along our route.

A good portion of the first leg of our journey was spent on the Will Rogers Turnpike. Named after Oklahoma’s favorite son, its main claim to fame in my mind was not the divided four lanes or the reasonable tolls, but the “Glass House Restaurant” that spanned the turnpike in Vinita, Oklahoma. Built in 1957 by the Conoco Oil Company, the same year the turnpike was opened, it afforded drivers going either direction an opportunity to fill up on gasoline, souvenirs and pot roast.

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GlassHouse

It was the first restaurant constructed over a United States public highway and became so popular with the local residents that high school proms from nearby towns were held there. Later it operated as a Howard Johnson’s then became a McDonald’s and it’s elegant mid-century modern arches were painted a golden yellow. I chose to view this (in my current curmudgeon state) as a metaphor for the general decline in charm, civility and good taste in America, but that’s a blog post for another day.

We left the turnpike at the Big Cabin exit and headed south on highway 69. As seat-belts were not standard equipment back in the day and certainly not in the rear seats, I spent much of my journey in the back of the car standing on the drive-train hump with my elbows hooked over the vinyl clad front bench seat. If that wasn’t enough to give Ralph Nader nightmares, I also spent time reclined on the large deck beneath the rear window, totally unencumbered by any type of restraining device or car seat.

Some of my favorite memories of those trips whether we were headed to Sherman, Chandler, or Wichita Falls Texas was not the time spent on the turnpike, but the two lane roads that took us through the little towns along the way. The local business districts, pre-Walmart, were decorated for the holidays in the best early 1960’s kitsch … Christmas themed display windows, banners stretched across Main Street that proclaimed, “Merry Christmas.” Courthouses and town squares where nativity displays were the norm and where figures of Santa, Rudolph and Frosty coexisted with the holy family and somehow all made sense.

Of course the real joy was reuniting with family. The Agnew’s, the Boatman’s and the Feltman’s. The hugs, the laughs, the meals; piles of turkey and ham, dressing and bean beans, mounds of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and of course gallons of sweet tea. Bowls filled with hard ribbon candy that apparently every home was required to have (though I never recall anyone actually eating any). Then the finale, the passing of presents and the flurry of holiday wrapping paper flying through the air as presents were revealed.

Dad went to his reward in 2012. Mom,  earlier this year,  she would have been 103 this Christmas day. It is just my brother and myself from that original little family unit..

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Neither my children nor grandchildren will ever ride in the backseat of a 1963 Pontiac loaded down with Christmas presents, headed to Texas. But I will do my best to pass down the magic. And if the opportunity presents itself, we will stop and have lunch at the McDonald’s that spans the Will Rogers turnpike.

 

Letting Gramma do the cooking … Gramma Dots that is

GrammaDots1

Poppy’s family is vacationing this week on the Sanibel-Captiva Islands off the Gulf coast of Florida, so I’m taking a break from cooking and letting other people do it for me. We have been coming down to these islands since the 70’s when it was just Mrs. Poppy and I. Now we travel with multiple generations and it’s better than ever.

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One of our must-do stops is Gramma Dots Seaside Saloon at the Sanibel Marina. Fresh seafood, tropical setting and surrounded by beautiful boats … it doesn’t get any better!

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Today’s lunch special was a blackened swordfish sandwich with pineapple salsa, served with homemade chips, fruit and their signature edible orchid. The pineapple salsa provided just the right amount of sweetness to balance the blackened seasoning. Combine that with a cold draft beer, blue skies, gentle breezes and being surrounded by people you love … Poppy is in heaven!

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Mrs. Poppy photo-bombs family!

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After lunch we walk around the marina and play the “If I won the lottery, which boat would I buy” game. Then its back to reality and we drive off, banking another good memory and already anticipating our next lunch at Gramma Dots.

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The Terrible-Wonderful Week

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There are not many advantages to having some years under your belt, but there are a few. One of those is perspective. The ability to recognize the inconsequential, the fluff, and yes the BS, from the things that are really important. That coffee stain on a new shirt, the mistake that kept you from getting an “A” on the exam, the guy who just cut you off in heavy traffic, the dead battery on your car, the slight you received at work  … all inconsequential, fluff, or BS.

This Wednesday as I was preparing to leave work, I got a phone call from Mrs. Poppy telling me that Fiona, our beautiful little 14 month old granddaughter, started having seizures at the doctor’s office while getting her scheduled exam and shots. Furthermore she had been taken to the E.R. No additional information was available at that time, so on the drive home to pick up Mrs. Poppy, my imagination filled in the blanks … she’s going to be fine, it’s no big deal … I’m going to have to bury my granddaughter … everything will be OK, just relax … she will have permanent brain damage … it’s just a minor hiccup … how will I live without her … etc. These schizophrenic thoughts were punctuated with prayers that contained heavy theological content with deep potent that went something like this, “Please God, please…please…please”.

Arriving at the E.R. I wanted to find the entire staff gathered around Fiona’s bed, focused on taking care of her and disregarding all other patients and duties. Instead I found our family in a darkened room,  gathered around a tiny figure, unconscious and attached to various glowing, beeping instruments, sporting an oxygen mask that was strapped to her tiny head. I must have landed in some sort of temporal anomaly, because while my head and heart were racing the E.R. staff seemed to move at a very leisurely, almost nonchalant pace. Because of the length and severity of her seizures, the eventual decision was made to transfer her to the children’s hospital here in town for overnight observation and more tests the following day.

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Fast forward almost 24 hours later, the EEG was administered and the results were finally in. The emotional pendulum abruptly swung the other way. All clear! No brain patterns that weren’t perfectly normal! Fiona is coming home!

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Lessons learned … life is precious … take nothing for granted … family is important in spite of our flaws … all families are not as blessed as ours, reach out with love and empathy to those who are hurting.

In closing, two quotes from sources that couldn’t be further apart.

From a gaming site: “Lives Remaining – Zero” … in other words, this is our one chance to do the best we can, to make a difference, to reach out, to love, to support, to foster the better angels of our nature.

And from the Bible …  Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things”.

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A Few Spring “Ferguson” Resolutions

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“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference …” Elie Wiesel

Ahh, Easter Sunday, a time of contemplating resurrection, new birth, new beginnings and new hope. Spring has arrived here in Ferguson, I can tell because all of my weeds are coming back strong!

In a couple of days we will hold municipal elections to vote in some new Council Members. I expect a record turnout, which is a great start to shedding apathy. However if we emerge from our indifference just long enough to vote, then return to our apathy, expecting the Ferguson City Council to solve all of our problems, Ferguson will never achieve its potential.

Most of us are still in shock that our sleepy, pleasantly diverse little town is now in the national spotlight. Everyone from those in the highest offices of this country to anyone with a Facebook account has no shortage of advice, condemnation and yes, even ridicule to offer. Most of those people have never visited Ferguson, never talked to a Ferguson resident, police officer or protester. Fortunately none those people no matter how powerful they are control the fate of Ferguson. We do!

I purposefully skipped any New Years resolutions, but I’m ready now for a few “Spring”, Ferguson themed resolutions. (please don’t mistake these for being preachy, they are aimed only at myself)


  • Make the effort to get to know more neighbors, shake some hands, talk face-to-face, not behind a keyboard … listen.
  • Whenever possible support local businesses from all parts of town.
  • Seek opportunities to be a peacemaker.
  • Learn to ignore those who only want to sow discord and hate. I can’t “fix” them, but I can ignore them.
  • Celebrate our diversity.
  • Accept that I can’t straighten everyone and everything out (let it go Poppy).
  • As much as is possible, see everyone as a child of God, without my own filters.


“Mankind must remember that peace is not God’s gift to his creatures, it is our gift to each other”.
Elie Wiesel

Pecking Party in Ferguson

RPMcMurphy

[McMurphy:] “Is this the usual pro-cedure for these Group Therapy shindigs? Bunch of chickens at a peckin’ party?”

[Harding:]”A ‘pecking party’? I fear your quaint down-home speech is wasted on me, my friend. I have not the slightest inclination what you’re talking about.”

“Why then, I’ll just explain it to you.” McMurphy raises his voice; though he doesn’t look at the other Acutes listening behind him, it’s them he’s talking to. “The flock gets sight of a spot of blood on some chicken and they all go to peckin’ at it, see, till they rip the chicken to shreds, blood and bones and feathers. But usually a couple of the flock gets spotted in the fracas, then it’s their turn. And a few more gets spots and gets pecked to death, and more and more. Oh, a peckin’ party can wipe out the whole flock in a matter of a few hours, buddy, I seen it. A mighty awesome sight.  The only way to prevent it—with chickens—is to clip blinders on them. So’s they can’t see. (Kesey ch.5)


The above scene is from Ken Kesey’s brilliant novel, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. McMurphy points out that Nurse Ratched’s group therapy sessions are pecking parties. Nurse Ratched strikes one of the men to reveal his weakness, and then all of the patients follow her lead, “pecking” at the man. This starts off a chain reaction that hurts all of the men, sets them all against each other (instead of against Nurse Ratched). The “therapeutic” meetings aren’t a time when patients can provide each other with mutual and beneficial help, but where they end up hurting each other and making it all worse.

We recently celebrated my oldest daughters birthday at “Vincenzos Italian Ristorante”. It has the unique position of being immediately adjacent to the Ferguson Police Station. We occupied a table along the front window and had a clear view of the parking lots of various businesses along South Florissant Road. That night the lots were filled with trucks, lights, microphones and other gear that travels with news crews. My very unscientific census would place the number of media to citizens at about a 10:1 ratio. The news teams seemed very bored that night … there was nothing to peck at.

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My grandson in front of one of the satellite news trucks, this one was from Chicago.

I am not a blind apologist for everything that has happened in Ferguson over the past few months, but I will continue to be a fierce defender of the good people of Ferguson and our unique community. Ferguson has been a very diverse town for all of the 30 years that our family has lived here. The fact that we are diverse was accepted as the status quo without further thought. The very diversity that was once considered a strength is now being turned against us. In the St. Louis region, Ferguson stands almost alone as an example of a racially mixed town that is not only holding it’s own, but was actually improving.

A year ago most people from our region would have had trouble finding Ferguson on a map, today anyone from across the nation who follows the news can tell you what percentage of Ferguson is African-American and what percentage is white. The recently released DOJ report cites selected statistics that focus on nothing but race … peck-peck-peck.

In a community where race was mostly a non-issue it has now become the only issue.

We have had student groups fly in from out-of-state with banners proclaiming our evilness, then fly out the next day and return to their all white suburbs and go to their all-white churches feeling smug for having made a statement … peck-peck-peck.

Students

We have had no shortage of activists drop by who know nothing about the people of Ferguson but are more than willing to get behind a microphone and with feigned indignation point out our faults to the nation …peck-peck-peck … then collect their offering and leave on the next plane out.

We have had politicians from all levels who have used the events from the past few months as wedges, molded to fit their own agendas, as tools of division rather than using their position to bring reconciliation and healing … peck-peck-peck.

And the pecking party continues. Good honest men and women who have committed no crime other than holding a position with the city are having their characters assassinated … peck-peck-peck.

Ferguson, it’s time to put the blinders on before we peck each other to death!

Profiling does not exist just within police departments but within all of us.

That woman is black, she probably thinks _____ and is _____.

That man is white, he must be a ______.

That person is a cop they are a _______.

They work for the city? ____ them.

Those protesters, why don’t they ____ instead of ____.

The last known perfect person never visited Ferguson, but said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”.

There is no one perfect in Ferguson. It’s time to put down the stones. It’s time to quit pecking. It’s time to recognize that we are all in this together, black and white, young and old, saints and sinners.

It’s time to cut each other a little slack.

It’s time to once again celebrate our diversity!

The job before us won’t be easy, there is a lot of pain, frustration, feelings of hopelessness that must be overcome. Will we succeed? … I don’t know.

In one of the more dramatic scenes in the book and movie, McMurphy makes a show of betting the other patients he can escape by lifting an old hydrotherapy console—a massive marble plumbing fixture—off the floor and sending it through the window; when he fails to do so, he turns to them and says, “But I tried goddammit. At least I did that.”

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