A Small Miracle in Ferguson

The root vegetables were roasting as part of tonight’s dinner; potatoes, carrots and onions. Even at 400+ degrees it takes a while. I took a break and walked out on the front porch here in famous Ferguson to enjoy the spring evening. At 6:30 the sun was still high enough to cast long shadows and back light everything in it’s direction. It has been a cool to cold spring, the azaleas along our front porch were a full 3 weeks behind last years blooming season, but tonight they left no doubt that spring had finally arrived. The crickets, katydids, tree frogs and cicadas were still dormant, leaving the job of the spring symphony to the birds. They were up to the task with chirps, warbles, trills, etc.

As I looked toward the setting sun, I noticed a pair of tiny white dots in my vision, floating just above the azaleas. I don’t have the best of eye sight, my first thought was that those specs were floaters. I forced my eyes to focus and realized that they were not defects in my vision, but gnats.

Gnats, even the name implies something to swat away, a nuisance. The most insignificant of the insignificant. I watched as they rose and fell in an aerial ballet, no doubt doing what most life forms are doing this time of year … procreating the species. I spent about 1 point 5 seconds wondering how gnats “do it” then quickly assigned that thought to the category of “mystery’s I really don’t want solved.”

In the big global picture, the little ecosystem in front of me is insignificant. There are no tropical rain forests, tundras, deserts or arctic reaches, but there are probably no less than 20 varieties of weeds in my front yard alone, along with squirrels, a variety of birds, numerous insects (seen and unseen) and Mrs. G, our feral cat, who is likely viewed as the T-Rex of Elizabeth Avenue by the birds and rodents visiting my front yard.

I stood in awe, observing the life forms, the growth, the melodies, the smells that just a month before did not exist. It is a miracle that happens every year. A commonplace miracle that could be easy dismissed, but a miracle nonetheless.

I don’t understand how it all happens and that’s okay. Does God create and control every little detail or did he set things in motion and let natural selection take over? I don’t know and honestly, don’t care. I’m content to be an observer of the beauty and complexity, besides my family is waiting for me inside, along with some roasted vegetables.

Poppy

(p.s. A warning to the assorted rodents, birds and young squirrels, God has given the gift of hunting to Mrs G … look out!)

Remembering Maurice

Mimsy and I went for walk tonight. There was nothing unusual about that, it’s a daily occurrence. Tonight though there was an abundance of thunder and lightning, but very little rain. A big production, lots of special effects, but at the end, nothing of substance. Shakespeare said it best in Macbeth, “sound and fury, Signifying nothing”. Lots of commotion, but very little good came of it.

Tonight in St. Louis we have another round of protests over the not guilty verdict of officer Jason Stockley in the 2011 death of Anthony Lamar Smith, a heroin dealer who was fleeing the police. I’m not here to pass judgement, I don’t know what happened. There are only two people, only one of which is alive, who knew the details of what transpired.

As a 30 year resident of Ferguson, Missouri, this brings back a lot of painful memories. It also brings back memories of Maurice, whom I wrote about in, “Having Skin in the Game.”

Maurice was a young black man who I had the privilege of knowing for a  few moments. The intersection of our lives was brief and I’m pretty sure, I’ve thought about him more than he’s thought about me. When he told me what high school he was entering, I knew what part of town he lived in. I knew the odds weren’t in his favor. Maurice is now at an age to be looking for a job. I wonder if those protesters that are hoping the kill the economy of St. Louis are thinking about Maurice. Are they concerned that Maurice has never been taught how to fill out a job application? Are they concerned that Maurice is more likely to be killed in a drive by shooting than any other cause of death in his part of town?

Whether Anthony Lamar Smith was innocent, I don’t know. I do know that Maurice and others like him are truly innocent. Where is the outrage for the Maurice’s of St. Louis who are trapped in a cycle of poverty? Where are the protests that address the lack of basic life skills being taught to Maurice. Where is the acknowledgement that our economy has changed and that good paying blue-collar jobs are rare? Where is the acknowledgement that Maurice has little opportunity? Where is the national/state/city/individual will to change this?

Protesting is easy, posting on social media is easy, being politically correct is easy, and I’m as guilty as anyone.

Do we have the will to have painfully honest discussions on race? Can we accept that there is enough blame to go around on all sides? Do we really want to solve this?

Mimsy and I head back home, the thunder is crashing, the lightning flashes, but we are barely damp.

Late Night Porch Meditations

It was a beautiful Labor Day weekend in famous Ferguson. The temperature dropped and I took the opportunity to retire to the front porch after dinner. The katydids, crickets and tree frogs were in fine form, serenading me with the background murmurs of the cars running up and down Elizabeth Avenue. The air had a hint of autumn, a foreshadowing of seasons to come. The trees in our neighborhood had long abandoned their frivolous bright green hues of spring and donned more somber shades of deep green with hints of brown. The maids of May Day had become dowagers in just a few short months.

Earlier that day, I sat on the same porch, finished reading a book and laid it on the table in front of me. It was Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. When I decided to change the focus and name of this blog to “Poppy Walks the Dog”, I thought the least I could do was review some real writers who had a focus on dogs.

James Thurber was the first to come to mind, His “Snapshot of a Dog” remains one of my favorites. If you are not familiar with Thurber, check out his writings and cartoons.

Steinbeck was next on the list. It has probably been 25 years since I first read, Travels with Charley. It recounts Steinbeck’s 1960 lap around America, with his dog, Charley. The motivation was in Steinbeck’s words, “To find our what Americans are like today.” Like many of Steinbeck’s writings, it is both melancholy and hopeful. His journey was around the edges of the United States and encompassed nearly 10,000 miles.

What are Americans like today?

As one little guy sitting in the heartland, with my own perspectives and prejudices, I’m not qualified to answer that. We are certainly more diverse than we were in 1960. Our technology has certainly changed. We are blessed/cursed to have the internet and social media. We have the ability to be petty much more efficiently than in 1960.

Are we more divided? The media keeps telling us how we are such a divided nation. We are certainly just as political. Part of Steinbeck’s journey took him back to his hometown of Monterey, California, where he had time to spend with his sisters. This was against the backdrop of the upcoming presidential election, pitting Kennedy against Nixon.

Civil war is supposed to be the bitterest of wars, and surely family politics are the most vehement and venomous. I can discuss politics coldly and analytically with strangers. That was nor possible with my sisters. We ended each session panting and spent with rage. On no point was there any compromise. No quarter was asked or given.

Each evening we promised, “Let’s just be friendly and loving. No politics tonight.” And ten minutes later we would be screaming at each other. “John Kennedy was a so and so …”

“Well, if that’s your attitude, how can you reconcile Dick Nixon?”

“You talk like a Communist.”

“Well you sound suspiciously like Genghis Khan.”

It was awful. A stranger hearing us would have called the police to prevent bloodshed. And I don’t think we were the only ones. I believe this was going on all over the country.”

What are Americans like today? Are we better or worse than in 1960?

I believe the answer is a resounding, yes! We are better and worse than in 1960. Part of Steinbeck’s lap of America took him through the deep south at the beginnings of the civil rights movement. Many of those affairs make the recent Charlottesville events look like a Sunday School picnic. We have made a lot of progress since then. We are not perfect, but we are certainly moving in the right direction.

As a race, we humans are fundamentally flawed. We will never be perfect, hate will always be a force to be reckoned with. It won’t matter who we elect or what laws we pass, utopia will never be achieved.

But for tonight,  I’m just a guy sitting on his front porch on a Labor Day weekend with his dog and I’m okay with that.

 

Waiting for Spring

Dinner was simmering. It was chili. Well, chili-ish, it was missing a few ingredients I thought I had on hand (tomatoes). Thankfully the grilled cheese sandwiches saved the day (one slice of cheddar, one slice of provolone, you’ll be a hero).

I stepped out on the front porch.

Tonight was the eve of the official first day of spring. Breathing deeply, I could smell the earth and the scent of emerging growth. Our porch, like the one pictured on the home across the street, runs the length of the house. I’ve a theory, totally unsupported by research, that world peace could be achieved if everyone had a front porch. A place for reflection, a spot to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and watch the world that is your community go by. A place for sitting. A place for greeting neighbors. A place for watching the sun rise or set.

I’ve walked out of our front door onto the porch thousands of times. I’ve seen that tree an equal number of times. I have walked under it’s shade more times than I can remember. Tonight I was struck by its anticipation.

Our house was built in 1890. I’m guessing the house across the street can’t be too far off that timeline. The houses here in my neighborhood of famous Ferguson were constructed pre-bulldozer. The lots weren’t leveled, the basements were dug by hand, and unless a tree was in the exact location a house was planned, it was allowed to stand.

I’m not smart enough to tell you the species of the tree in the photo or its age. But I can tell you it’s dang ancient. It towers over a two-story house that most of us would consider old. It has stood by a street that was once dirt and provided passage to horse and buggy. It now stands sentinel over paved roads and automobiles. It has provided shelter for hundreds of generations of birds. It has withstood storms and tornadoes. In this current season, its gaunt limbs are raised in supplication. It waits for spring.

I too wait for spring. It is a time of waiting, a time of Lent. Then comes a time of new growth, a time of resurrection. A time of hope.

I really don’t like winter. Okay, let’s be honest, I hate winter. It’s cold, duh, it’s lifeless, colorless, and generally depressing. But without winter would I truly appreciate spring? Without barren seasons, would I truly appreciate fruitful ones?

I walked back into the house. I was greeted by the smells of mediocre chili, the chatter of a loving family …and hope. Spring is coming.

Peace, Poppy

 

Having “Skin” in the Game…

At the time, I didn’t know his name.

All I knew was that I was in a hurry and he was partially blocking the entrance to the Shop N Save. He looked to be about 14 or 15 years old. The August heat radiating off the pavement, caused a thin sheen of perspiration to coat his ebony skin, soaking into his jeans and dark grey sleeveless t-shirt.

“Excuse me,” he said, holding up his hand motioning for me to stop.

Here it comes, I thought, He’s going to ask me for some type of handout.

He didn’t disappoint. His approach was direct and to the point.

“I need some money for the bus, could you help me?”

I’m pretty sure there is an invisible sign floating over my head that only people who are panhandling can see. It says, “Soft Touch” or “Easy Mark”, or something to that effect, with an arrow pointing down at my head.

“Sorry,” I said, “I don’t have any cash on me.”

He paused for just a second then said, “Could you give me a ride then? It’s just down the street,” as he pointed in a southerly direction.

“What’s just down the street?” I asked, somewhat incredulous at his bold approach. Between my less than stellar hearing, the ambient street noise, and his thick inner-city dialogue he mumbled something that I didn’t quite catch. “I’m sorry, what’s just down the street?” I repeated.

“You know, it’s next to the Walgreens” he said with equal parts exasperation and desperation, “It’s not that far.”

Still not understanding everything he was saying, I said, “I’m going to get my groceries,” and walked past him into the store. I had less than a dozen items to pick up but that still gave me plenty of time for an internal debate.

It’s not my problem … he’s young, it won’t kill him to walk a few miles … but it’s 95° …what if he tries to carjack me? … he’s a skinny kid, I could take him … but what if he has a gun? … he’s only 14 or 15 … even 14 year olds have guns these days … if he was intent on carjacking someone, would he hang out in such a visible spot? …it’s just not smart to let a total stranger in the car with you … but he seems so desperate … I could go out the other entrance to the store and circle around to my car, he would never see me …it’s not my problem … I can spare 10 or 15 minutes out of my life to help someone .

I paid for my groceries. Not bothering to take a shopping cart, I balanced my two small bags of groceries in each hand, and headed out of the store. He was sitting on the ground, back pressed against one of the brick columns that ran the length of the store. His arms wrapped around his bent legs, forehead resting on his knees, he was the picture of dejection.

“You ready?”

He glanced up and jumped to his feet, “Yes.”

I shifted the bags in my right hand to my left and introduced myself.

Tentatively he took my offered hand, “Maurice,” he replied.

I loaded the groceries into the back of the SUV while he climbed into the passenger seat. Opening the driver’s side door, I took one last inventory of my companion before settling in behind the wheel. “So, Maurice, where are we headed?” I asked, still not understanding exactly where he wanted to go.

“I’ll show you, it’s not that far,” he said trying to reassure me. “The people from the store let me hang out, I tried to earn some money by helping people with their groceries, but nobody wanted any help,” he volunteered.

Still trying to puzzle out his desired destination I asked, “So do you live on that street by the Walgreens?”

“Oh no,” he replied quickly, “I live in the city! That street goes to the bus station.”

“If you live in the city, how did you end up out here?” I asked.

“I was supposed to meet my cousin, but I took the wrong bus. Now I don’t have any money, I’ve got to get home … this is the worst day of my life!” he blurted out.

I couldn’t help but laugh. “Maurice, I really hope this is the worst day of your life, but if you live very long I can pretty much guarantee this won’t be the worst day of your life.” Before my eyes the young black man I had viewed as a potential threat morphed into a kid … lost, confused and just trying to get home.

“How much is the bus fare?” I asked.

“With the transfer, it’s $3.00, but if I ask the driver maybe they will let me ride for free.”

Good luck with that, I thought to myself.

“Let’s see what we can do.” I said, “There is always some cash scattered around in the truck I keep for tolls and such.”

“Can we look?” he said excitedly.

I pulled off the road and started rummaging through the cup holders and console. The drink holders yielded 79¢, the console revealed a long forgotten crumbled one-dollar bill along with some more change. I passed the loot over to Maurice bit-by-bit as he totaled it up.

“How are we doing?” I asked.

“We’ve got it!” he exclaimed.

When we arrived at the Metrolink station, a much more confident young man thrust his hand into mine and said, “Thank you.”

With his head held high and a bit of strut in his walk he made a beeline for the bus.

I’ve thought about Maurice several times since then. He told me what school he would be attending this fall, I have a pretty good idea what part of town he lives in … the odds are not in his favor.


I’ve lived in two houses built in 1890. I’ve learned to fix a lot of things. But the things I can fix pale in comparison to the things I can’t. I can’t fix racial strife and inequality. I can’t fix abusive cops. I can’t fix the divisiveness of Black Lives Matter. I can’t fix either of the Presidential candidates or even top 40 country music, and that’s just scratching the surface! So why even worry about it?

I’ve flirted with Apathy. I’ve considered going steady with her. If I totally committed to her and embraced her, maybe life would be simpler … I wouldn’t have to worry about all those things I can’t fix. But Apathy will never be my mistress, you see I have skin in the game.


My grandson, whom I love more than life itself, is biracial. I see him as an amazing young man bursting with undeveloped potential. Society will see him as a black man.

Already tall, when he reaches the age of Maurice, he will probably tower over me. Five years from now, will he engender fear when he approaches a sixty-something white man? Will he receive extra scrutiny when he walks into an upscale store? Will he be viewed as an automatic suspect by police?

I don’t like the term white privilege, I find it simplistic and divisive. Privilege exists on an almost unlimited number of levels that are beyond our control or influence. If you are born into money, you will have advantages that others don’t. If you are born with perfectly symmetrical and proportioned features that fit our definition of beauty, you will have advantages that others don’t. The majority of CEO’s are male, over six feet tall and have full heads of hair. Life is not, or ever will be, a level playing field.

While I may not like the term, white privilege, it would be naive not to recognize that my grandson will face challenges that I never had to face. Only by recognizing and acknowledging these challenges will we ever reduce or eliminate them. However, having challenges that I have not had, does not make him a victim. Not being born beautiful, rich, or having any of those other advantages does not make you a victim.

So where do we go from here as a society on the myriad of racial issues that face us as a species?

It would be the height of hubris for me to pretend I have the answers to those questions, but I can tell you how I would like my grandson treated (and by extension the Maurice’s of the world).

  • I want him seen as an individual, not as a member of some monolithic block. As an individual he will decide what types of food and music he will enjoy. As a unique person he will decide who to vote for. As an individual he will choose his friends, his educational path and ultimately his profession. I never want him instantly categorized on any level based on his appearance.
  • I want him held accountable for his actions. I want him judged but not prejudged.
  • I want him given a fair chance, but not receive special consideration based on his skin color. I don’t want him awarded a ribbon for just showing up. A couple of years ago, I taught him to play chess. He has yet to beat me in a game of chess. One day he will best me, and on that day he will know he has earned that victory.
  • Most of all I want my grandson viewed as child of God. Steinbeck wrote, The great change in the last 2,000 years was the Christian idea that the individual soul was very precious. Unless we can preserve and foster the principle of the preciousness of the individual mind, the world of men will either disintegrate into a screaming chaos or will go into a gray slavery.”

What do I want from my grandson?

I want him to take the bullet points above and flip them around, so that he treats everyone in the same fashion I want him treated. I want him to always be grateful for the privileges he has and never look down on those with less. I want him to love God and country. I want him to live by these simple but profound words from William Shakespeare, “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”


And now the question that haunts me; If my grandson wasn’t who he is, would I have given Maurice a ride? I’m not sure … Poppy, 10/15/2016


chess

*Well, it finally happened, he beat me in a game of chess! … Poppy 9/21/2017

Summertime Greek Salad

SummerGreekSalad1

Summer has finally arrived in famous Ferguson. The past month has seen several of us flipping to the book of Genesis looking up plans to build an ark, but today was hot and steamy like we would expect a July day to be in the midwest. Unfortunately a month of rainy days and a lack of sun resulted in an unprecedented crop of mildew on the clapboards and beadboard underneath the  front porch roof that runs the entire length of our 1890 home.

So Poppy spent the day removing shutters and furniture from the porch, then armed with a 5 gallon bucket filled with a bleach-water-detergent mixture, a pressurized sprayer loaded with the same, a deck brush, safety goggles, while dressed in the oldest, rattiest clothes I could find, commenced doing battle with the mildew.

By late afternoon, Poopy had won, the mildew was banished and I was famished!

Porch

What to make … it had to be cool, it had to be tasty, it had to be easy!

Enter Poppy’s take on the Greek salad with some summertime touches.

A bed of baby spinach provided the foundation, followed by chunks of cold peeled cucumber, diced ripe tomatoes, halved Kalamata olives, cubes of seedless watermelon all drizzled with Extra Virgin Olive Oil mixed with a little garlic salt and pepper then topped with crumbled feta cheese. I served the salad with strips of lightly toasted naan bread.

The resulting flavors and freshness were the perfect end to a day that had me thinking about the joys of condo ownership more than once.

(tip: if your olives were packed in olive oil, use some of that oil for extra flavor)

SummerGreekSalad2

EasyTastyHealthy

A Few Spring “Ferguson” Resolutions

Ferguson2

“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