Tag Archives: family

A Package Deal

23 and me

Like many other sane individuals, I paid a company $79 for the privilege of spitting in a tube to await an email with secrets about my heritage. Well, the results are in, and I was surprised to learn that I am, in fact, white.

Yet another sound financial decision on my part.

Well, it didn’t say that I was white, but the analysis did conclude that I am 99.4% European (and over 95% Northwestern European). Zero surprise there. My freckles and love for potatoes betrayed me years ago. But the mysterious remaining 0.6%, which isn’t much from a statistical perspective, was interesting in that 0.5% was identified as Native American and the remaining 0.1% West African. That surely hasn’t shown up in the mirror before.

The explanation shared that I most likely have a great (unknown number of great) grandparent born in the 18th century that was 100% Native American and another possibly even farther removed that was 100% West African. This explanation combined with a little reflection led me to suspect that such relationships may not have been consensual. Who knows, maybe theirs was a beautiful story of forbidden love, but the odds argue for something more sinister. This was not a happy thought.

I understand the basic logic behind the refusal to accept responsibility for the sordid history of one’s family, ethnicity, nation, gender, religion, or any other identity, but I simply cannot accept an arrangement where one can take pride in the past accomplishments of one’s particular heritage without owning the bad parts, too. It seems to me to be a package deal.

I didn’t have to pay good money to spit in a tube to be reminded that I think such a thing.  But I did. And I do.



Home Run

25010686_659397667781726_6878480645274730496_nWe crossed the Mississippi River bridge in Memphis in the rental car, ironically a Malibu, and remembered what the Arkansas Delta looks like in early winter. Many of the trees had long ago shed their leaves leaving cold bare branches that reach toward the sky, and those still holding leaves that had only recently been brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges had faded to the color of rust and stood clustered together for warmth next to the brown dirt of the silent farmland. The winter sun was setting, and it looked as if someone had plastic-wrapped the entire pastel sky. It isn’t your typical picture of natural beauty, but I now find it strangely wonderful.

It was good to spend time in my hometown. Seeing family and old friends was special as expected, but there was something special about just being there, too. I don’t miss temperatures in the upper twenties even a little bit, but it was even refreshing to remember what home felt like on my skin once upon a time. I went for a seven-mile run one morning that gave me a good long time to remember.

My wife and I went for a drive one afternoon to remember more. We drove by her first workplace and the places we lived together and even Joel and Alicia’s apartment where we spent many an evening in the early days of our relationship sitting on the couch and talking and falling in love.

And then we drove to the grave sites of my sweet parents. I used to make a point to do this alone on each visit home to talk to them; first, my dad, who died so long ago, and then more recently to both of them, sort of like I would go to their bedroom seeking comfort following a childhood nightmare in the middle of the night—comforting even when I couldn’t see their faces. But this time I went with my beautiful wife. We walked across the crunchy leaves under a cold sun and stood there as a couple — as my parents were a couple once upon a memory. There was nothing really to do other than stare at the flowers and the name plates and silently wonder where the years go and what to think about it. It was good to stand there together, like my parents who also made the choice in life to stand together. And who now Rest In Peace together.

I developed a strong sense that someone has pressed pretty hard on life’s accelerator and that the years are really starting to fly by now. It may sound a little spooky to say such a thing, but strangely enough I find it to be a most peaceful feeling. Life is quite the ride, and fear now seems like such a waste of precious time.

I think my parents are telling me this as I still stand by their bedside in the darkness.

Sisters and Brother

Sisters and Brother

“I, who have no sisters or brothers, look with some degree of innocent envy on those who may be said to be born to friends.” — James Boswell

I grew up in a house with two older sisters.  Well, that’s partly true.  Given our age differences, I guess I grew up about halfway in a house with two older sisters.  They flew the coop before I hit the grand old age of eleven.

Both were so good to me.  I remember sitting on Sandy’s lap and reading my first little book, which totally freaked her out because no one had taught me to read.  (“Mom!!!  Al read a book!!!”). I remember riding in Jacki’s yellow Volkswagen Beetle  and getting to shift gears on our way to the nursing home to visit Miss Martha and Miss Jessie.  The words “sibling rivalry” meant and mean nothing to me from personal experience.  All I have ever known are sisters who love me.  As Boswell jealously observed, I was born to friends.

Sandy and most of her family came to visit this week, and it has been great fun to have them here.  It almost surprised me to notice how much I looked forward to their visit.  It is always great to have people we love come visit, but there must be something extra special about those words brother and sister, at least in our case.

Our parents have been gone for years now, leaving the three of us at the top of separate family trees with both sisters now at the grandmother stage.  It is hard to pinpoint exactly what happened with time, but I think a quote attributed to Clara Ortega says it best: “To the outside world, we all grow old.  But not to brothers and sisters.  We know each other as we always were.  We know each other’s hearts.  We share private family jokes.  We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys.  We live outside the touch of time.”  

That’s it: We live outside the touch of time.  We don’t spend much time together anymore, and as special as it is when we do, time does nothing to or for the relationship.  Our relationship is inviolate.

One Big Family

wbcDodger Stadium hosted the World Baseball Classic championship game last week, and I was honored to be in attendance as the United States claimed the title with an 8-0 win over Puerto Rico.  Like the Olympic Games, the WBC takes the field every four years, and it seemed appropriate that the USA finally won a title in its fourth try seeing as how we invited the sport and all.

My youngest daughter was home for spring break and agreed to hang out with old dad for the evening, and we knew it would be fun before we made it through the gate as the Puerto Rican fans made themselves known honking and cheering their way into the parking lot.  It just got better throughout the evening as fans of both nations/teams made their patriotism clear.  Our personal favorite was a gentleman who never stopped banging on a wok with a ladle throughout the marathon four-hour game.

At one point, the national cheers even melded into an antiphonal chant that resembled the cadence of the goofy (and potentially culturally-insensitive) Three Wandering Jews song from my childhood Vacation Bible School days.  “Puerto Rico!” “U.S.A.!”  “Puerto Rico!” “U.S.A.”

The game was sort of terrible.  United States’ pitcher, Marcus Stroman, mystified the Puerto Rican bats while the American hitters scored early and often.  There was some excitement when Stroman carried a no-no into the seventh inning, but Angel Pagan’s base hit took away that fun and the victorious American squad anticlimactically went on to complete the blowout.

Most headed for the exits after the fireworks and confetti declared the world champions, but we stuck around for the trophy presentation.  So did the Puerto Rican team.  At one point, probably predetermined, after the victors paraded around the stadium and the runners-up watched in silence, the two teams met and hugged that from our vantage point beyond the left field foul pole looked like two sets of interlocking fingers.

And there was applause.  

After hours of two competitors cheering, chanting, and heckling one another out of love of country, the two sides came together, and this apparently made everyone happy.

There is much contempt in this old world.  But the applause at Dodger Stadium last Wednesday evening reminded me that respect still has a chance.

Special Memories

familyMy parents’ birthdays are two days apart in early December.  Well, technically, sixteen years and two days apart.  My dad turned down an appointment to the United States Naval Academy in the late 1930s but enlisted alongside thousands of other Americans when Pearl Harbor was attacked the day after his twenty-first birthday.  Meanwhile, my mom celebrated her fifth birthday in the Arkansas hills the day after the attack.  While my dad headed off to the Pacific Theater to defend America’s freedom, my mom was a little girl having her freedom defended.

This week, were they both living, my dad would celebrate his ninety-sixth birthday and my mom would celebrate her eightieth.  Ninety-six and eighty are just numbers, but they are hard-to-believe numbers.  Where does the time go?

The last time I saw my dad alive he was in a hospital bed facing a wall in the fetal position and fighting the pain.  The last time I saw my mom alive she was weak and yellow and exhausted sitting in a lift chair in my sister’s living room.  When you go to check out of this life, the checkout counter is just awful.

But that’s not what I remember on special days like birthdays.  What comes to mind are happy and healthy times—and smiles.  Like the only time I remember being angry at my dad when he couldn’t suppress laughter after a bird pooped on my head.  Or my mom’s beaming face when she had the opportunities to spend time with my sweet daughters.  That’s what I will remember this week.  The smiling people who gave me an enjoyable life.

These milestone days come and go, which must explain the shocking numbers.  My sisters and I will text each other in sacred commemoration on December 6 and December 8.  I may or may not mention either day out loud to my wife or others.  But I always notice, and always remember, and never know exactly what else to do.

I do have an idea this year.  This year, I think I’ll plug in the Bing Crosby Merry Christmas CD that I kept from my mother’s things and close my eyes and be transported to another world.  I’ll picture being a kid again in that tiny house on West Mueller Street.  Mom and Dad are both there in the living room with me.  The stove is glowing orange because it is cold and snowing outside.  I can see it out the picture window when I squeeze around the Christmas tree.

I’m going to listen to that Bing Crosby sing about Christmas and travel away to that special world of memories.  And in particular I will smile when his distinctive baritone voice delivers the signature lines from that old World War Two classic, “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”

Hope for the World

As Valentine’s Day bled into Presidents’ Day, I decided to give up any love of politics for Lent. This may be the perfect year for such a sacrifice.

The tragic loss of Justice Scalia over the weekend was quickly followed by the tragic politicization of his passing.  There is political work to do, of course, but it was sad, though not surprising, that a presidential candidate had tweeted an opening shot before the Supreme Court had even published an official statement on the loss of their colleague.

This presidential campaign cycle? Wow.

Best I can tell, nine viable candidates remain—two Democrats (Clinton; Sanders), six Republicans (Bush; Carson; Cruz; Kasich; Rubio; Trump), and one lurking independent (Bloomberg). It is possible that Batman or a Muppet or One Direction (campaign slogan alert?) may enter the field, too, given this unpredictable election cycle.

If the presidential field took the field as a baseball team, I’d put Sanders in left (of course), Bloomberg in center (of course), and Cruz in right (of course). Trump would have to play first because it has a #1 in it. Bush and Kasich would necessarily be the (Republican Establishment’s) double-play combination, and Clinton would be a natural at the hot corner given her experience with controversy. I’d put Carson behind the plate (i.e., coming from behind now anyway), and Rubio could take the mound since he is the youngest candidate and may have the most lively arm.

American presidential politics is both fascinating and disturbing, sort of like a roadside accident elicits a peek. Although I vote and appreciate our system, my personal philosophy is best summed up by the late Will D. Campbell (and speaking of baseball): “I watch the political process pretty much as I watch baseball. I have a favorite team, but I know that ultimately it makes no difference who wins. I gave up on politics offering any hope for the world’s problems a long time ago.”

There is a complex thought system that underlies the quote. Just so you know.

Well, I’ll risk oversimplification and explain it this way: I stand with Will D. Campbell and Dr. King in believing that the hope for the world lies in our ability to see one another as brothers and sisters.

Watching our prospective leaders in a democracy speak as they do is a direct reflection of our own hearts, and it seems that we hate each other. Well, maybe not hate (yes, I do mean hate), but at least we resent or despise or fear each other. Surely not family.

I am happy that the inspiring friendship between Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg has received some attention this weekend.  It is unfortunate that it appears to have zero effect on the presidential campaign.

My best bet as to who will win in November? Nobody. Oh, someone will be elected president of these United States, but in this political climate, I’m not predicting any real winners. I am predicting a lot of angry people. (I’m also predicting a large number of folks will renege on their pledge to move to Canada if ________ is elected.)

It is personally comforting that I do not believe the “hope for the world’s problems” lies in a presidential election, but at the same time, it is troubling that the hope I believe in appears to have zero traction, Scalia/Ginsburg notwithstanding.

I’m going to see everyone as brothers and sisters anyway.