Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Halloween 2007 and 1962

Halloween is over. It was a perfect night, cool but not cold, and about ½ after dark it started raining! My daughter and her friends and I made a quick retreat home and I built a fire. They got enough candy. It was light way too late now we’re still on Daylight Savings Time. This is another reason that I don’t think Congress should monkey with the time, but they didn’t ask me. I’ll just have to vote against ‘em. Anyway, here’s a picture of this year’s pumpkin and a story from my childhood about my first Trick-or-Treat experience.

I was Tony the Tiger, wearing a mask that I got by saving box tops from Frosted Flakes. My brother had on some kind of bear cartoon character mask and I don’t remember what my uncle had on. He was an old timer at this “Trick-or-Treat” stuff, we were just beginning. I was five years old. That night my mother took my brother and me by Bunches Store in Eastwood. It was our first stop and I think we got an apple. Then we went over to my grandmothers. Grandma drove, mom rode in the front seat while L, W and I piled into the back seat for the drive into town. Once there, my uncle lead my brother and I down the street, stopping at houses and shouting “Trick-or-Treat.” We were filling up our pillow cases fast. Then we stopped at this big old brick house. It looked haunted. Suddenly, three witches appeared at the door. My brother and I screamed “witches,” as loud as we could and ran back to my grandmother’s car that had been trailing us along the street. Out of breath, we began to tell about our narrow escape (Uncle L stayed back to collect the candy). My mother got out of the car and grabbed my brother with one hand and me in the other and started dragging us back saying that we had to apologize. No, we pleaded. I wondered if my mom was really a step-mom, like the one in Hansel and Gretel. I knew that when it came to witches, one couldn’t be too sure about mothers… “They’re not witches,” she kept saying, “and you need to apologize.” When we got back to the door, the women were laughing and gave us extra candy. It turned out that they were nuns, which didn’t make sense to me at the time, but I was finally reassured that they served God and not the devil. This happened about the time of Vatican 2, which meant nothing to this Presbyterian, but looking back on it, that was obviously the reason they were still in their black outfits and wearing habits.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Death of Adam: A Book Review

Marilynne Robinson, The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought (New York; Picador, 2005).

I love this book. Yet, it’s not an easy book to read. I found myself on numerous occasions reaching for the dictionary (words like lumpenproletariat and priggishness). At other times I wonder where the tangent she appeared to be taking her readers would end. Yet, in these essays, Robinson always came back to her main points. I love this book because Robinson, the author of Gilead, is better at saying things I feel have needed to be said. A self-described liberal, who can be very critical about liberalism as a movement, Robinson is a Christian who is equally critical of the direction of the faith. One of the themes running through the book is that we need to understand our past if we are to have a chance to understand where we are at in the present. Robinson sets out to do this through a series of essays that range from Darwin, to the McGuffey Readers, to the Abolitionist movement, to the Puritans, to John Calvin, to Psalm 8, to wilderness. Robinson is a humanist, not in the silly sense that the word is often used by both “secular humanist” and their distracters within the “Christian right,” but in the sense that Calvin was a humanist. A “Christian humanist,” she see that the human race was not only created by God, but given great potential by the Almighty and we’re to use such potential for the good of all.

Robinson appears to be most critical on the way we in the modern world pigeon-hole philosophies and thoughts without understanding them. She points out various misconceptions of both the Puritans and Calvin by those in the academy, arguing that many must have never read the primary sources of those they were criticizing. Such criticism of being unfamiliar with the thoughts of Calvin and the Puritans extends to the superficial readings of Darwin (by those both sides of the Creationism debate) and even Marx (whom she suggests should have been understood better since it was supposedly the “philosophy of our enemy during the Cold War). She complains that people know and can condemn easily the Puritans and Calvin, without even knowing anything significant about them with the exception of popular misconceptions. Robinson has set out to redeem both, especially Calvin. She makes the point that Calvin’s Geneva was much more tolerant than anywhere in the world during the 16th Century (“the atmosphere of Geneva was said to be somber, but elsewhere auto-de-fe were gaudy public spectacles.”). Sure, Calvin had his faults and supported the execution of Servetus (a theologian who had challenged the doctrine of the Trinity), but that was only one case of abuse. Pointing out the tolerance of Geneva, she notes that the city even allowed the publication of the Koran. Likewise, the Salem witch trials being the exception, Puritan New England was more tolerant than the mother country, especially in the administration of justice. However, I should note that she does not point to statistics to support her argument but to anecdotal evidence, citing a joke “joke” made by Jonathan Swift after the satirist had watched a woman flayed in England (“it altered her appearance for the worst”). She notes there were no such jokes coming out of the literature of New England.
Robinson is troubled that although many have spurred the teachings of Darwin, we have brought into a Darwinism system of economics that appears to be disconnected the with faith system of most in America. In an essay on the family, which is really about economics, she complains of having heard people say they “can’t live by Jesus’ teachings in this complex modern world,” yet still maintain that they’re Christian. “They might as well call themselves the Manichaean Right or the Zoroastrian Right and not live by those teachings,” she suggests. She makes the case that we’re to take care of one another and the poor and that the Sabbath wasn’t a bad idea.
Robinson is also concerned over the tyranny of ideas. We’re prigs, in that we seem to thing that our ideas (the most modern or most up-to-date ideas) are superior and can be cited to trump older ideas without even considering the their merits. Political correctness isn’t always right. Almost as a way to slap the face of being politically correct, she often uses older language styles such as saying “man instead of human.”

Although sympathetic for causes such as saving the wilderness, in the end Robinson makes the case that the hope not only for human survival but also for the survival of the planet is not saving the wilderness, but in redeeming civilization. This is not an easy book to read and requires a critical eye to see both her arguments and places where she may have overlooked. Yet, I love this book and strongly recommend it for others interested in modern thought, politics, theology and philosophy.

For other book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.
For thoughts of the book from Dave, an economic professor, click here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A morning out

Even in my busy life, I have to take some time to get away. This morning I paddled a portion of a local river with a friend and member of my staff. It was good to be outdoors. We saw numerous deer, swans, great blue herons and a variety of ducks. I tried a little fishing, but no luck. Mostly we paddled and talked. The leaves are not nearly as nice this year as in some years, due to the drought we had in the middle of the summer. But it was still good to be outside. Lately, all my exercise has been in the gym and I need the outdoor time to help clear my head.
Update on the soldier I told you about last. He’s now in a hospital in Germany, having undergone two operations (one in Afghanistan and another in Germany). He’s doing well, is out of ICU and his parents are on their way over to be reunited with him. He’s probably looking at a year rehab. As for me, in another ten days things will slow down a bit (I hope!). Take care and I’ll try my best to get around and catch up with folks.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Catching Up and a Poem

The trees are now putting on their fall display, just a brief flurry of color before the steely skies of winter… Life continues to be very busy and will remain that way for a few more weeks. I’m not getting around to reading blogs like I had been, but I’ll catch up or email me if there’s something you post something you want to make sure that I see. The good news is that the development (a term that is vague!) I’m working on is now over 75% funded. Hopefully, when things slow down, not only will there be a break, there will also be a celebration!

Yesterday, the war came home as a son of friends was shot in Afghanistan. He was hit in an artery to his arm and was in bad shape and they had to take a piece of a vein out of his leg to repair the artery. But they got him patched up and he’s now in Germany. Say a prayer for Carl as well as for everyone out in Southern California.

I’ll be heading south right after Thanksgiving… I edited this poem that I’d written a while ago—about the experience of being on the beach for a moonrise.

October 1985
A glow, at the horizon, betrays the hidden moon
just a day after the full harvest.
Soon, a sliver appears in the distance
and slowly ascends, a ghost rising at night.
With brilliance that drowns the stars
its rays shimming across the crest of waves
directly at me.

Buttoning my jacket, for the air has now turn cold,
I walk amongst the shifting dunes,
digging my toes deep into the cold sand.
The rustle of sea oats and the crashing surf
summons me from self-imposed silence.
Procuring the moment, I’m drawn across time
to those enchanted days of summer
when we were as one.

Now, on different coasts,
We’re separated by more than miles.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

3WW: Memories of Hunting with Dad and Granddad

Sorry for being so reclusive lately but as I’ve been saying, life is very busy. Monday and Wednesday, I worked from 8 AM to 10 PM, with an hour break each day for the gym. This evening I have a big program… Yet, things are going well. At breakfast this morning I had enough time to work on Bone’s 3-Word Wednesday Writing Assignment. Every week Bone gives out this assignment, to create something using three words that he chooses. This week’s words are: “Field, Hide, and Second.” This is a memory from when I was probably six or seven years old. I took the photo last winter, at a site about a mile from where the story took place.

We walked into the field and stopped by the foundation and slab of a house long gone. I’d been here many times. Once, that summer, my uncle had taken my brother and me to the graveyard out behind the house. It was eerie as he told us of the folks buried there. Each grave was marked with a metal plaque welded to a metal post and stuck in the ground. I’d seen them before, on freshly dug graves in the cemetery by the church. They were normally on a freshly dug grave and would be replaced with a tombstone. L had told us that these folks had been too poor to buy any markers. It just didn’t right to hunt in a graveyard and I expressed my concern and quickly learned that we’d been duped. There had been no cemetery. My uncle and his friends had collected the gravemarkers from the trash at the cemetery by the church and used them to create a make-believe graveyard.

This was Uncle L’s first hunt. My brother and I were too young to have a gun. Dad and my grandfather consulted. They put L in the center of the field, with his youth model 20 gauge. My dad, followed by my brother, would skirt the south side, through the sumac. I was glad that I wasn’t going with Dad as I never liked the look of sumac, especially in the fall as the dried black berries drooped down, creating an image for me that would give Freud a field day. I stayed with my grandfather and we worked the north edge of the field. Granddaddy held his Browning Double-barrel with both hands, the gun crossing his chest. I walked in his steps a few feet behind. We skirted the north side, along the edge of the sand hill, where the land dropped toward Nick’s Creek.

Time moved slowly as we crossed the field in anticipation. Quail were known to hide in the broom straw and wire grass that grew here. We knew that if we flushed a covey, it’d be over in a second, but we found no birds this day. After a few more fields that were located in the same woods, we headed home. Grandma and my mother had just finished preparing our Thanksgiving feast and we set down to eat.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Chop Head Hill: Sage's Travels in Korea

I’m still busy, life just isn't slowing down, and I'm sounding like a broken record. I've wanted to finish this for some time. I started writing about “Chop Head Hill” a few months ago, but decided that it needed to go into the context of a story. These memories were taken from my travels in Korea in January and February 2000.
It’s still dark when I board the morning express in Masan, heading toward Seoul. Early February, it’s chilly and wet but not really cold in this southern port and industrial city. I find my seat, stow my two bags overhead (a backpack and a suit bag) and push my jacket up against the window as a pillow. A pretty Korean woman sits next to me. She looks to be in her mid-20s and is wearing a dress and heels. We smile but when I speak she shakes her head and says “No English.” Soon a whistle is heard and the train jerks and our journey begins. I lay up against the window, alternating my time between looking and reading a book on Korean history and culture. Outside, streets lights are mysteriously shrouded; it appears the world is coming alive within a fog. Dark clouds hid the sunrise; all is gray. As we rush north toward Taegu City, we pass through many rural villages that seem the anti-thesis of Korea’s modern cities. Instead of concrete high-rise apartments, rural homes appear to have changed little over the past century. Small courtyards are protected by a high concrete wall, with a house built into one side of the wall. Coal or wood smoke is seen coming from these humble adobes. All around the villages are fields for rice or vegetables, onions and cabbage and peppers. At Taegu, the woman next to me gets off.

These graves are similar, but not the ones I see from the train. These are from Kojedo Island, south of Pusan and Masan (where they don’t get much snow).

After pulling out of Taegu, the train heads in a northwestwardly direction to Taejon City. This is mountainous country, but the hills are old and worn, like the Appalachians, not rugged and knew like the Rockies. With the trees bare of leaves, I can make out the large nests of magpies. Also dotting the hills in the rural areas are many mounts representing burial sites. Coffins are placed on the ground and stones and dirt are piled up around it. The government has banned the practice because it takes up too much land in a country where land is precious, but I was told that some people still bury their dead in this way, in the middle of the night in order not to attract attention. There is snow on the ground. The roads must be icy, for as we pass one of the crossings, just beyond the gate closing the highway I notice two cars in the ditch and a wrecker working to pull one back onto the highway. Along this section, we pass Yongdong. Near here, during a hasty retreat during the Korean War, scared American soldiers opened fire on civilians, killing many, in a tragedy of the war. Although I am not sure exactly where the site is at, I think about as it’s been in the news recently.

From Taejon, the train heads north toward Seoul, traveling through a highly populated area that’s mostly industrial and suburban. High-rise apartments dot the landscape and there are many factories. The train pulls into the station at Seoul a few minutes early. I retrieve my bags and head up an escalator to the main station, worried how I’ll be able to find my ride with so many people. There, at the top of the escalator, I’m pleasantly surprise to see Chan Ran and Chang waiting for me. They suggest we stop and have lunch at a café across from the college that Chan Ran both attended and now teaches. Afterwards, as we have four hours before I need to be at the airport; Chang asks if I still want to visit Chop Head Hill. When I had arrived in Korea two weeks early, I had asked Chan Ran and her husband about this place. I immediately worried that I had insulted them, but her husband had been there and told me about it. As her husband wasn’t available, Chang came along to take us there. I was glad to have the opportunity to visit the site and the three of us seemed to be an odd pair to tour this site scared to Korean Catholics. Chan Ran is Presbyterian and Chang is Buddhist. We wound through the narrow streets north of the Han River in Chang’s car till we finally got to the infamous bluff overlooking the river.

For years, this hill was the site for executions and there is still the round stone, looking somewhat like a millstone, that was used in the beheadings. The condemned had a rope tied around their necks. The rope was pulled through the hole in the middle of the stone, pulling their head inside as an ax severed the head. In 1866, out of protest against French intrusion into Korea and as a way to cleanse the land of foreign influence, the Korean emperor ordered the extermination of Korean Christians. At the time, almost all Korean Christians were Catholics, many having been converted by priest from China. Members of the Catholic Church were lead in chains from across the nation and, upon this hill, they were executed by beheading. After a decade of tension, in the late 1870s, the French and Korea signed a treaty that guaranteed religious freedom for Korean citizens. In the aftermath of this treaty, Protestants missionaries—especially Presbyterians and Methodist—flooded into the country. In all of Asia, only the Philippines have more Christians than Korea. About 40% of the population claim to be Christian, half of which are Presbyterian. Another 40% of the population is Buddhist. On the hundred anniversary of the martyrdoms, the Catholic Church built a shrine in the honor of the martyrs and today the site is known as Chou Du San Martyrs’ Shrine.

As we still had two hours before we had to be at the airport, we swung by the Yongdo Full Gospel Church. An independent Pentecostal Church with roots in the Assembly of God, they claim to be the largest congregation in the world with 750,000 members. We quickly tour the church. Chang, a Buddhist, seems especially proud of the idea that his country has the world largest church. The sanctuary looks a look like a basketball area and seats, I’m told, nearly 20,000. Although large, I’m left to wonder where everyone worships for even with five worship services on Sunday, they still would only be able to have 20% of their members member’s present.

After visiting the church, we rush to the airport. After checking bags, we have time for a cup of tea before I have to go through security. I shake Chang’s hand and hug Chan Ran, then head down through security. In an hour, I’m flying east and sleeping the night away on a Singapore Air flight to San Francisco.

Other Stories of Korea
Magpie Crags

Friday, October 12, 2007

A 3-WW and a Parody of the News

Bone's Three Word Wednesday assignment for this week is to write a story using the following words: Knock, Weather and Initial. The weather has turned cold here, but not yet cold enough! I’m dreaming of winter as my 3WW shows…. I’m also dreaming of a work slow-down, but that doesn’t seem to be on the short-term horizon. Yet, things are exciting and going well, I just ain’t having enough time to write what I want to write! Neither am I getting around to other blogs like I want. But I still think of you all and will try to get there soon!
The weather had turned cold quickly as the winter’s initial storm moved in. When I got home from work, I headed out to the woodpile and began to haul wood up onto the back porch. After a couple of trips, the sky darkened and began to spit rain. Retreating inside, I filled the tea pot and put it on a burner and then brought in an armload of wood from the porch and prepared for a fire in the hearth. Under the wood, I placed some loosely crumbled newspaper and a few pine cones. Lighting the fire, I went back into the kitchen and fixed a cup of tea. By the time I came back into the living room, the fire was blazing. I put on a George Winston CD, picked up a couple of books and plopped down on the floor in front of the fireplace. I reclined, leaning against the couch with my feet stuck out toward the warmth of the flames. My dog joined me, laying beside me with his head resting on my thigh. I picked up a book and read a few pages and then closed my eyes and napped. I was lost in another world when the dog raised his head and barked. Then came a knock at the door.

A Review of the News
Politically incorrect reporting by Nevada Jack

Yesterday, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Al Gore. This award is causing great distress amongst many in the current administration.

“Why does he get the prize?” President Bush shouted at a recent cabinet meeting, “The people elected me.”

“Well, actually, Mr. President, the Supreme Court elected you,” Dead Eye Dick Chaney responded. “But don’t worry about it, Mr. President. “What do you expect from a nation that has a national bikini team?”

“Actually, the bikini team comes from Sweden and was created only to advertise beer,” Condi Rice corrected Chaney.

Unfazed, Chaney quipped, “The only thing more disgusting than women in bikinis is pickled fish from Norway.”

In a surprising turn of events and after much investigative reporting, it was discovered yesterday that Fox News had bribed members of the Nobel Committee into giving Gore the award.

When asked about this, an executive with Fox spoke off the record, telling Nevada Jack: “This is great for us; all our conservative talking heads will now have something to rant about.”

Further digging shows that Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater USA, loaned Murdock and his Fox cronies the money necessary to bride the Nobel official.

“Blackwater has been in the news too much lately,” Prince said, “We needed to do something to take the heat off us so we can continue to make money as my private army makes the world safe for selected capitalism.”

In other news, Larry Craig has been inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame. His plaque was prominently hung next to door into the men’s room. Rumors are circulating that the Senator for Idaho has been offered a role in the sequel to Brokeback Mountain.

Walmart, in their efforts to dominate all of America, not just coast to coast but from birth to death, has entered into the marriage business. Last week a wedding was held at a store in Ohio.

Most who attended were impressed, but best man Ed Abbey refused to stand up for his friend’s nuptials. “I refuse to go in there,” he said, “I refuse to support Walmart’s intrusion into another area of our lives.”

Walmart Executives were not fazed by such comments.

“We got great plans,” according to one store manager speaking off the record. “Next month, we’re going to offer discounted divorces, cutting the prices of those local blood sucking lawyers. In the future, look to see caskets and “do-it-yourself embalming kits” out next to the lawn and garden supplies, which you can get a shovel to dig the grave. We’re even looking to put a birthing clinic next to the eye center in the front of the store. This will be great. After giving birth, the mother can go to our children’s section and pick up the necessary supplies. We’ll even allow the mother to make an application for her child’s future employment. As a Walmart Baby, they’ll get first shot at the only jobs in town come 2025.”

Sunday, October 07, 2007

This is October Up North?

My friend J, fishing this past Friday. Notice the change of color in the trees. The shurbs are particularly nice. Because we had such a dry summer, I don't think the leaves will be outstanding this fall, but it's always nice to see color in the trees.

The trees are turn colors and leaves are already beginning to accumulate on the ground. The calendar says it’s October, but tonight, after taking out the trash, I laid in my hammock for ten minutes listening to the sounds of the night. I was wearing a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops, not normally the attire for October in these latitudes. But it’s been warm lately, highs in the mid to upper 80s with lots of humidity. The AC is still running. Is it global warming or is hell boiling over? Whatever it is, I don’t like it. I didn’t move up here to sweat in October… but enough ranting.

Life isn’t slowing down any. Work is still going crazy, but it’s all good. I did get a chance to take off Friday for some bass fishing. We were using rubber (plastic worms) and had a blast. Of the 10 or so bass I caught, only one was below the legal limit. My nicest was this 19 inch bass caught on an ultra-light rod with 4 pound test line. What this picture doesn’t show is that I’m wearing TEVAS. I didn’t worry about wearing boots or waiters (okay Ed, I meant waders) and even stuck my feet in the water. It's that warm.

I should have held the fish closer to the camera so that it would look even larger!

After tomorrow, my schedule lightens up just a bit and I hope to get some more stories posted. It’s also supposed to cool off a bit—about 15 degrees or so on Tuesday—but still rather warm for October. Take care and thanks for stopping by and listening to my ranting and bragging... I appreciate you all.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Memories of the 9th Grade: Mark, My Hippie Friend

Life is still busy, but I did get away today for some fishing (I'll say more about that later as well as posting a photo of a 19 inch bass I caught on a lightweight rod.) I’m going to pay for my fishing by having to work the rest of the weekend. This is my second memory in a row from the 9th (this one also includes a bit of the 10th) grade. Mark was one of two good friends I lost before my 20th birthday. I've also written about Tom, who died when we were both 19. I looked in a box of stuff I’d kept from school and found both Mark’s picture and my Sugar Bear Ecology Club membership card.
It was Friday night, the day school got out for Christmas. I was a tenth grader at John T. Hoggard High School and that evening at a progressive dinner with our church’s youth group. We went to different homes where we had appetizers, salad, the main dish and then dessert. We were at preacher’s house, eating in the dining room. The TV was on kitchen, tuned to the local news, and we could hear it in the background. Suddenly Mrs. Jennings stepped back into the room. She was quite upset and asked if any of us knew Mark B, a student at Hoggard. Everyone turned to me as she told us he’d been killed that afternoon in a motorcycle accident.

Mark reminded me of John Lennon; his hair was brown, long and stringy. He wore tinted wire glasses and often had on an army fatigue jacket upon which he’d drawn pictures. He looked like a hippie. He was a year older than the rest of us, having lost a year in elementary school. He’d been hit by a car while crossing the street and had been in the hospital for weeks. Although he was old enough to drive, I don’t remember him doing so. Instead, he rode his ten speed everywhere and once received a warning ticket on his bike. Riding down a road with no other cars in sight, Mark wove in and out of the dotted center lane. A police officer, sitting in a parked car in a driveway, saw Mark’s actions and pulled him over and issued the ticket. Mark didn’t make a big deal out of it.

Mark was quiet and mostly a loner. We’d become good friends the year before at Williston’s Ninth Grade Center. Everyday before school, Mark could be found at the top of the north stairwell. He would squat between the two bars of the railing, his feet on the bottom bar and his thighs pressed up against the top. He’d then lean forward and hug his knees, perched over the stairs like a gargoyle. Sometimes he’d read; mostly he’d stare. He was mostly alone. The north stairwell, along with the adjacent boy’s bathroom and breezeway was the domain of those of us who had attended Roland Grice the year before. Although Mark had recently moved to Wilmington from up north (New Jersey, I think) and never really ran around with the pack, his presence in the stairwell gave me amble opportunity to get to know him.

Mark’s philosophy was to bother no one. If someone taunted him, he’d ignore them and walk away. He was the gentlest guy I knew, and I respected him for it. At a time when everyone was running around in gangs and the school was in turmoil, Mark refused to join in. Instead, he began his own little counter-cultural gang, inviting folks to join his Sugar Bear Ecology Club. Those accepting his offer received membership cards that he gotten from cereal boxes. We had to pledge to the “Clean Code.”
-Clean up our world
-Liter hurts everyone
-Each member must do his share
-Animals are our friends
-Nature belongs to all of us
(©1971 by General Foods Corp, of course)
As far as I know, there were only three members of the club: Mark, a guy named Joe, and me.

Later in our ninth grade year, after watching a guy in slings hang by rope while painting the flagpole, Mark got an idea. His lunch was 4th period, the same time I was in Ms. Gooden’s class. He told me to keep an eye on the flag that day when he was at lunch. I did, looking out the window wasn’t anything unusual for me. Our class was on the second floor, over the offices. The flag pole was right in front of us and that day Mark climbed the pole. When he got to the top, he was eye level with us. He held onto the cap on the top like a monkey and swung around the pole, the flag flapping around him. Students flocked to the windows and to the front of the school to witness the spectacle. Mr. Howie and Mr. Barrett, the principal and one of the assistants, were immediately on the scene, demanding that he get down. I thought for sure he’d be suspended, but they let him off with a stern warning. At a time when buildings were being firebombed, climbing a flagpole seemed to be a relatively minor offense.

My dad took me to Mark’s funeral. It was a day or two before Christmas 1972 and held at the Catholic Church on Wrightsville Beach. It was stormy and the tide was in when we crossed the causeway, the waves lapping at the few boats still in the water that late in December. It was my first time in a Catholic Church and much of what happened seemed strange, except for the crying. Everyone cried. Even my father, who’d only met Mark once, seemed visibly moved. His death just didn’t seem fair. Mark had been riding on the back of his brother’s motorcycle. Someone ran a red light at the intersection of Oleander Drive and Independence Boulevard, hitting the bike. His brother was able to hold onto the bike and ride it down. Mark was thrown off the back and across two lanes of traffic. He’d beat death once before, but not this time.

It was after I moved away from Wilmington that they built a new Catholic Church on Eastwood Road, between the city and Wrightsville Beach. They named it St. Mark’s and. When they were building it, my mother told me she’d heard Mark’s family had helped raise the money and asked that it be called St. Mark's. Every time I’ve driven by the church, I’ve thought about stopping and checking it out. One day I will.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Flirting with racism: more memories of the 9th grade

The news from Jena, Louisiana has gotten me thinking about some racial incidents that occurred when I was in the 9th grade. Last year I wrote a couple of memories of that year (White Christmas, Ms Gooden). This past summer, I also wrote a review of Timothy Tyson’s Blood Done Sign My Name, a book discusses the racial turmoil in North Carolina (including Wilmington) in the early 70s. Although I have many other “memories” from my year at Williston that I would like to explore, I have to admit that this is scary stuff, especially when I think about what could have happened. I am also nervous about posting these memories of 35 years ago. Warning, this is an “adult post,” with language and themes that are of a more “mature” nature than my normal posts.
I was still dark, early morning, when I sat down at the dining room table for breakfast. My mother passed me my plate: a soft fried egg, grits, toast and bacon. I chopped my runny egg with a fork, poured a bit of coffee over it and supped it with the toast, a trick that came from my mother’s family. The bus would be here in a few minutes and I wasted no time gulping down my food. Mom was still standing by the stove, reading the morning paper. She then dropped the paper, looked at me and asked if I knew T-. Hearing his name, I jumped and asked, “Why?”

T- had been my nemesis for most of the ninth grade. He was 18 years old, but still in the ninth grade and we were in two classes together, social studies and shop. I was small for my age. T- was nearly a head taller and darker than most of the African-American students at Williston. I was a puny white kid. One day in Social Studies he taunted me before the class in front of several other black students, asking if I wanted to try LSD, and then asking if I had ever played with myself. He kept this up for several days, pushing the topic further including making suggestive remarks about how he wanted a “white boy” to “feel him off.” I was so embarrassed that I didn’t say anything about it, even to friends who would have helped protect me (I’ll write more about them later). Instead, I started scheming ways to protect myself. I tried carrying a knife, but it was hard to hide a sheaf knife and I knew a pocket knife would be too hard to open quickly. Some of my friends were carrying bicycle chains, hanging them down inside their pants, but there would be no way in close quarters that I could pull it out in time to defend myself. Then I thought about a tool that I had a legitimate reason for carrying, a drafting compass. I took out the pencil and placed the point in my wallet and put it in my front pocket.

I knew I was most vulnerable in shop, as the teacher couldn’t keep his eyes on all parts of the L shaped room. Before going across the street to the shop class, I made sure my weapon was available. Several days after he’d started making his threats, he grabbed me when I was in the back part of the room, pushing me up behind some stacked wood and pinning me against the cement block wall. He got right in my face and whispered, “White boy, I want you to feel me off.” I was scared and slowly moved my hand to my pocket as I told him to let me go. He laughed. I pulled out the compass and jabbed it toward his stomach, catching him by surprise. He jumped back and tried to grab my hand. The point stabbed him in the palm. Shit,” he said, shaking his hand as drops of blood fell on the concrete floor, “I’m going to get you for this, I’m going to go tell Mr. Howie (the principal). At this point, my adrenaline was pumping so that I felt invincible. “Let’s go,” I said pushing past T-, “I’ll tell Howie along with the rest of the school that you’re a faggot.”

I never had any more problems with T-. To my surprise, he told the teacher that he’d cut his hand on a nail that was sticking out of a board. The teacher got him some alcohol and gave him a Band-Aid. The puncture wasn’t that deep and didn’t bleed too much, just a few drops. Interestingly, there was an immediate change in T-. He never said anything more about going to Mr. Howie and he stopped taunting me. He even began to show respect for me, and in the weeks ahead referred to me around his friends as “My man…”

The last I saw of T- was that morning at breakfast. His picture was in The Star-News. He and another man, both handcuffed, were being lead away by police. They’d been arrested the evening before done on Castle Street. If I’m remembering correctly, T- was carrying a sawed off shotgun on Castle Street, supposedly to protect the Church of the Black Madonna. This was near the time of Ben Chavis and the Wilmington Ten’s trial and the city was experiencing a new wave of racial violence. T- never did come back to school and regardless of all the chummy gestures he’d recently made toward me, I was relieved to know that he was locked up.

Note: There are a number of other stories that I need to write down from the 9th Grade. They include running with a white gang and creating mischief and mayhem, being jumped in the stairs and on the playground, my “hippie friend” Mark and his Sugar Bear Club, and biracial camping trips with the Order of the Arrow in which black and white Boy Scouts became friends.