The Buffalo Soldier – a good read about relationships in tough times

The recipe is simple, but tragic. Mix in a young couple living in Vermont who loses their twin daughters to a terrible flood. Season with a ten-year old African-American foster child that they take in two years later. Understand the couple grieves differently and the husband has a one night affair that produces a pregnancy. Finally, layer in a kind, retired couple across the street, one of whom is a retired history professor who introduces the boy to a book on an African-American regiment called the Buffalo Soldiers. What results is an excellent book by Chris Bohjalian called “The Buffalo Soldier.”

The book is told in first person, through the eyes of five sets of characters. Laura, the young wife, works at a pet shelter. Terry, the husband, is a Vermont state trooper. Alfred is the young boy who has moved from foster home to foster home. Phoebe is the woman who Terry becomes infatuated with and is the expectant mother of his child. And, the Heberts, Paul and Emily, are the retired couple whose view is told together. Bohjalian alternates the first person narrative by chapter which provides perspective.

Alfred becomes fascinated with the Buffalo Soldiers, especially after Paul tells him the Native Americans gave them that name as an honor. To them, the buffalo gave life – food, clothing, shelter – so they revered the animal. This becomes important when Paul and Emily get a horse and ask Alfred to help. Alfred is treated differently by others because there are not many African-Americans in this small town or his school, so the Buffalo Soldiers intrigue him and give him a connection.

The story has many relationships, but the foster family is at the heart of it. As noted therein, losing one child is trying to a family, but losing both of your only children can cause relationships to end. As noted above, people grieve differently and for long periods of time. So, while Alfred helps bring Laura out of her grief, Terry has still not stopped being mad at the world and misses how his relationship with his wife was before the death of the twins.

Each chapter begins with a little paragraph on the Buffalo Soldiers, so we see what Paul and Alfred find so compelling about them. I will stop there so as not to reveal any more of the plot. Give it a read and let me know what you think. Please avoid the comments in case others have already read it.

Monday musings – insignificant or significant

Life offers many experiences from the insignificant to significant. Approaching my 62nd birthday, I can share that more than a few things people believe are significant are not really important. Conversely, little insignificant things may have been gateways into something more meaningful. As Robert Frost wrote, the road not taken has made all the difference.

The girl or boy you did not ask out, as your friends labeled the person too different, might have opened your eyes to wonderful experiences.

Being prevented by your parents from attending a party may be mortifying for a teen, but does not make that big a difference in the big scheme of things.

To this point, the most well-adjusted Hollywood couples, live away from the superficial Hollywood scene. They crave the reality, not perception.

Being genuine is far more important than being popular. Choosing to help or listen to someone with a problem, is far more important than being “liked.”

Changing your mind on a major decision may prove embarrassing, but it is usually for the best. Life events are worthy of as much introspection as possible. I have never regretted unwinding a major decision.

Saying “no” may be unpopular, but it is also more than fine to decline. People sometimes overcommit and end up letting people down.

Take the time to ask your older relatives about your heritage before it is too late. I still have unanswered questions, especially after doing research online. Knowing your lineage and history is gratifying, even if the history reveals some warts. Our kids love to speak of their roots.

Finally, one of the things my wife and I miss with the COVID-19 limitations is talking to people we encounter on our travels, near and far. A trip to Ireland was seasoned by chatting with Oola, who grew up in a corner of Belgium, very close to two other countries, eg. Take the time to talk to folks. It may make all the difference.

Caleb’s Crossing – a good book with a dose of history

Take a surprising true story – the first Native American to graduate from Harvard in the 17th century. Season it with a historically appropriate context. And, mix in a story told through the eyes of a growing young daughter of a minister and you arrive at “Caleb’s Crossing” by Gretchen Brooks, who is a Pulitzer Prize winner for her 2006 book “March.”

Bethia Mayfield is the girl growing up in the settlement of Great Harbor on what is now called Martha’s Vineyard. Her father has an earnest effort to convert and educate members of the Wampanoag tribe on the island. While Bethia is not allowed advanced schooling given her gender, she listens to her father’s lessons to her older brother, Makepeace. Since her brother is not the best of students, unlike his younger sister, she gets the benefit of hearing the lessons repeated.

As she lost her twin brother in a terrible accident, she wanders the coast, woods and meadows. She befriends a a Wampanoag boy about her age. She eventually gives him an English name of Caleb. He is as curious to learn as she is and he teaches her about where good berries can be found and how to fish. He also teaches her his language and vice-versa. Yet, other than taking her berries home, she must keep her learnings to herself.

I will stop there as not to reveal too much plot. If you are a woman, this book will exasperate you at times. You will pull for Bethia throughout and wince when she does headstrong things that her mother cautioned her about. She will acknowledge that she may have said too much on occasion in the book.

While Bethia and her story is fiction, there are many parts of the story that are true. Brooks points these out at the end of the book, as she does not want her book to replace history. Yet, so much is unknown about Caleb and another Native American Harvard student, that the story is a good teaching aid.

“Caleb’s Crossing” is a good book. It is not a can’t-put-down-read, at least to me, but it is entertaining. Men will find it of interest, but women will likely be more invested with how it portrays the subservient nature of girls and women in the mid-to-late 17th century and how Bethia overcomes obstacles.

Tuesday’s Gone with the Wind – a few thoughts

With all due respect to “Ruby Tuesday” and “Tuesday Afternoon,” I chose this song title for my random Tuesday thoughts. “Tuesday’s Gone with the Wind” has the right melancholy feel.

Starting with the last part of the title “Gone with the Wind,” it reminds me that the entertainment world has finally figured out the famous movie and book are racist and poor renditions of the events surrounding the Civil War. We actually discussed this misrepresentation by the movie and book in my World Literature class in 1977. But, propaganda about the war has been around since white slaveowners got poor whites to fight for a more righteous cause of states’ rights than the real one to let them keep slaves.

Remember how states’ rights were cited by the president for delegating his responsibility to fight COVID-19. Yet, states’ rights are less important if he must flex his law and order muscles. Both the Kenosha mayor and Wisconsin governor asked the president not to come to Kenosha as he would not help calm the situation. Well, he is coming to get his photo shoot, but he should not be surprised if he is not well-received. Uniting people is not the mission of this president as noted by General James Mattis, his former Secretary of Defense.

The president’s actions and words concern me on so many levels. One is his fanning the flames of racial unrest to win an election. He offers it is not his doing, but he is the one walking around with a gasoline can. All lives and Blue lives, of course, matter, but those mantras denigrate the message of Black Lives Matters. What this white washing misdirection does is ignores that too many Americans do not feel Black lives matter or that Blacks are overstating their strife. And, the president is catering to these groups with his divisive rhetoric and gasoline.

The vast majority of BLM protests are peaceful and civil. They are also well attended by multiple racial groups. But, the smaller few need to cease the violence. It devalues the message. Violence also feeds directly into the hands of the president who looks for wedge issues. In three and half years, many have become weary of this me, me, me focus of the president who cares more about his perception than solving problems. These things are happening on his watch and he is making things worse, not better.

On the Blue side, the police must better police themselves. They need to weed out any bad actors and recognize, address and train-to-minimize bad actions. A former FBI domestic terrorism expert said she shared with the Justice Department that a few police officers are sympathetic with white nationalists. But, the police union and management must stop doing what the Catholic Church did for decades and ignore bad apples. They do spoil the impression of the whole bunch. Just like only a few priests were pedophiles, only a few police are overly racist.

Fixing problems requires leaders to acknowledge them. And, understand them. As I noted earlier, using problems to be a wedge issue to win does not solve the problems. It makes them worse.

Freedom Summer Project – a needed revisit with a voter suppression and racism afoot

With a president who attacks the voting process (without dearly protecting it) and does not speak out against racism in our country, this past post on a terrible time in history is relevant of what we must not become again. The only change is adding six years to the time elapsed.

Fifty-six years ago this summer, over 700 students from across the country, joined in the Civil Rights battle in Mississippi, where African-Americans had been demonstratively and, at times, violently denied their basic civil rights, especially the right to vote. These students joined together with the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee (SNNC) under the guidance of Bob Moses, who had been slowly organizing SNNC since 1960. These students, were predominantly white, but included all races and ethnic groups.

The fact that many were white helped bring further attention to the ongoing tragedy going on Mississippi, perpetuated by those in power as the young students lived within the African-American community, taught through Freedom Schools young students about African-American history, literature and rights, items that had been absent from their curriculum. The Freedom Summer project can be viewed up close with an excellent documentary shown on the PBS American Experience. A link is provided below.* I would encourage you to watch the two-hour film as it can tell a story that requires footages of violence, overt racism, and brave people who spoke up, like Moses, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rita Schwerner and countless others.

Hamer is the face of the effort as evidenced by her speaking passionately in front of the 1964 Democratic Convention committee about how she was arrested, beaten, and tormented when she and others tried to register vote. Schwerner is the widow of one the three Civil Rights workers, Michael Schwerner, who along with James Chaney and Andrew Goodman, were abducted and killed by the KKK who came to abet the efforts of those in power in Mississippi. The widow rightfully pointed out the fact that two of the abducted (at the time) were white, was the only reason people in America started paying attention. She noted it is a shame that many African-Americans had died or were injured merely trying to exercise their right as citizens. Before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, less than 7% of African-Americans in Mississippi were allowed to register due to ostracization, intimidation, and complex constitutional literacy tests.

Since I cannot begin to do justice to this subject, I encourage you to watch the documentary. It will make you ashamed that this could happen in America, while at the same time making you applaud the magnificent courage of all involved, especially those African-Americans who had lived and would continue to live in this Apartheid like state once the freedom summer students went home. Yet, it took the deaths of these three young folks to galvanize and empower people.

It also took the organization of a more representative Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party of whites and blacks that went to the national convention to unseat the representatives sent by the state party, who were all white. Since morality was on their side, they almost succeeded, but they ran into the politics of Lyndon B. Johnson, who used his power to squelch the effort for a greater good – he could not help in matters if he did not get elected and he saw this as a means to interfere with that mission, no matter how noble the cause. LBJ accomplished great things for African-Americans, but politics is an ugly thing to watch up close and he looks manipulative in the process.

While their efforts fell short at the convention, their efforts were huge contributors to the passage of the Voting Rights Act the next year. But, one of the young folks who went to the Freedom Schools and is now a PhD., noted that learning about their African-American culture and civil rights that had been denied them, may have been the greatest achievement. I applaud their efforts and bravery. We still have a way to go and are seeing some battles having to be refought with several states passing restrictive Voter ID Laws. Three states have had their new laws ruled unconstitutional, while others are in court now. Yet, just because our President is multi-racial does not mean we are there yet. So, let’s keep in mind the battles these brave folks fought and not let their civil rights be stepped on again, no matter how cleverly masked those efforts.

* http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/freedomsummer/

The Go-Gos – an underappreciated group

The Go-Gos are the first popular all female band that played their own instruments and wrote their own songs. There were earlier female bands, but this New Wave group catapulted to the top of the charts faster than others and belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A Showtime documentary called “The Go-Gos,” produced by Alison Eastwood, provides a great look into the band.

The Go-Gos are usually identified by the five members when they hit it big – Belinda Carlisle (lead singer), Jane Wiedlin (rhythm guitar), Charlotte Caffey (lead guitarist and keyboards), Kathy Valentine (bass guitar) and Gina Schock (drummer).

Ironically, they started as a punk rock band as the initial members felt they were not part of any other culture. Their initial drummer was Elissa Bello and initial bassist was Margot Olavarria. Even more surprising, none of the four initial members knew how to play instruments. Fortunately, in punk rock, belng a bad musician was not a total liability. So, they played and learned. Caffey joined them and brought musicianship and song writing. And, when Bello left due to a paying career, she was replaced by Schock who had been drumming for years. Valentine would replace Olavarria later.

They hit it off with Madness and The Specials, two Ska revival UK punk rock bands, when they played in the US. So, The Go-Gos joined these groups on a tour of Scotland. It should be noted their first manager Ginger Canzoneri sold everything to underwrite their UK trip. Now, the Ska bands attracted a white nationalist fan base that did not like non-Scots, Americans and women playing in a band, so the group took a lot of grief which toughened them and made them a more cohesive group.

They released “We’ve got the beat” as a single under Stiff Records in the UK. When they returned to the US, they signed with IRS Records and released their double platinum album “Beauty and the Beat” which soared to #1 on the Billboard charts. The album included their hit single and “Our lips are sealed,” “Get up and go,” and “This old feeling.”

They would release “Vacation” as their second album, whose biggest hit was the title cover. “Talk Show” followed, but by that time, the band was having troubles. Personal differences, song writing revenue sharing and drug issues led to the eventual split. Wiedlin left and was replaced by Paula Jean Brown, but the band would not last long after that.

The band would break up in the mid-1980s, but tour off and on in the 1990s through today. There was even a Broadway show called “Head over Heels” about the band. Carlisle would go on to have a successful solo career and the others would form or join bands. Yet, they would reconvene to celebrate and re-perforn what made them great.

The Go-Gos had a fun, energetic sound. They also played with a joie de vivre. They influenced many a young girl to strive to be a musician or artist or follow a passion. Seeing someone like you on stage is an inspiration.

Do you think they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. What are your favorite songs or memories?

Thirteen years and counting

Yesterday was the thirteenth anniversary of the start of my going alcohol free. The echo still remains, but it is a faint one and usually pops up at certain times in the late afternoon. It is indeed manageable. The following link is to a post I wrote on my sixth anniversary, which remains my most visited post. If you have this issue or know someone who does, I mention some teachings therein I gleaned from others. The key one is “I am not going to drink today.”

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/six-years-alcohol-free-but-still-want-to-drink/

Let’s follow the example John Lewis lived

The following is necessarily short, as my local newspaper was kind enough to print it in its “Letters to the Editor” section this morning.

Watching the memorial service for Congressman John Lewis, I noticed the words kind, caring and courageous were used often. A staff member noted he was a great boss with several people working with him for over 10 years (a few over 20).

Lewis embodied the words spoken about him. Civil and nonviolent protest will be his lasting legacy. His example is followed by a significant majority who participate in the multiracial Black Lives Matter protests.

Those few who choose violence may make the news, but they dilute the message. Steadfast resolve is a much greater weapon. It galvanizes people.

Let’s honor Lewis for the person he was and how he conducted himself. Black lives do matter.

Fool’s errand

Over 152,000 Americans have died due to COVID-19. The US has 4.3% of the global population, but 23% of the COVID-19 deaths and 26% of the global cases. Yet, those facts seem to not sink into the minds of supporters of the president.

The president resorted to misinformation on COVID-19, his modus operandi, when briefed on the pandemic risk back in January. This person who wants to be liked and viewed as great leader, chose not to lead in fighting the pandemic, choosing instead to call it a hoax and naysay it. And, it continues to this day – both the misinformation and the pandemic. Fixing the problem is secondary to fixing the blame.

Conservative pundit David Brooks has offered two pertinent quotes over the term of the incumbent president. First, he noted “The Trump White House is equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Second, he said “Trump lacks a sense of decency or empathy.” Adding in attorney and fixer Michael Cohen’s comment under oath, “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-artist and he is a cheat,” and it paints a picture that is troubling about any person in leadership. Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States of America and our planet.

As for sycophants who carry water for the person defined above, I do not wish COVID-19 on anyone. But, it is not a surprise, when people flouting mask wearing and social distancing get infected. Herman Cain and Bill Montgomery, two conservative leaders, have died because of COVID-19, with Cain maybe picking it up at a Tulsa pep rally for Trump (where several staff members tested positive). Congressman Louie Gohmert has also contracted it and in so doing has galvanized criticism by Congressional staff for their bosses to take the virus seriously. They are being exposed because their bosses must carry water for the president and heretobefore have not acted cautiously.

Taking the president at his word is a fool’s errand. Now, many Americans are in danger and a many have died needlessly. Putting one’s life at risk for such a corrupt and deceitful person is beyond unwise. It is a fool’s errand.

Planning and more planning to reopen schools (then plan some more)

Listening to a well-rounded discussion on NPR on going back to school makes one realize the need to plan. Buses, class sizes, cleaning, masking, outside vs. inside schooling, etc. All with a back drop of limited budgets. If this is the path forward, we should not be planning today, what should have been done months ago. The continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic should not have been a surprise with the caution-to-the-wind re-openings fueled by the president and some impatient governors. So, planning ahead should have started before the past few weeks.

NPR also played several vignettes from interviews with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. She led off several comments with “As everyone knows…” Actually that is a false introduction, as everyone does not know. It is a ploy to make the listener cede her point. Here are a few things to consider, which are not being so considered, in this binary discussion of to re-open or not.

– Schools include teachers, administrators, staff, bus drivers, etc. who are not children. Some are even in their fifties. They will be at risk as will be the folks they come in contact with.

– Kids may be less susceptible to dying, but they can still get COVID-19 and can become carriers. They have parents and grandparents and come in contact with other adults and children as will these folks.

– Kids can be harmed by COVID-19. A rising senior who had COVID-19 says walking to the bathroom even now that she has recovered leaves her out of breath. So, she is frightened by coping with walking the halls of the school. She could not even read her own story on a local NPR show, as she did not have the wind capacity, so a reporter read her narrative.

I know parents and kids want to go back to school. We all want our economy back to normal. But, we let misinformation create false hope. Misinformation has and still gives people a false sense of security. Masks, social distancing, hand-cleaning, less hand-to-face contact, etc. are keys regardless of the path we choose. What we lose sight of is the exponential risk of contact.

So, we need to plan for all variables. We need to allow for the safest path forward. That may be delay for some. That may be online schooling for others. That may include small class sizes with outdoor learning. Whatever it is, the path will not be a normal one for quite some time. And, if any politician tells you differently, then they are not shooting straight with you. So, we must look out for each other. Is that too much to ask?