Saturday, October 18, 2003

Songs I wrote and performed for the sound track of the prize-winning filmed documentary,  "Farallon Light," by San Francisco filmmaker, Charles Petersen ... .

Wind song
Hear my wind song, hear the gulls cry
watch the storm race through
restless reeds writhe ... waves weave madness!
blackness steals the blue.

here I stand in winter's wildness
sea and sand are mine!
take them storm, if you trust my mildness.
should you dare -- I'll bid the sun to shine!

See the clouds lift. Sand surround me
Now sun, now! Break through!
See the tide's gifts all around me
jewels I'll bring to you.

hear my gulls cry ... feel the warm sky,
hear my wind song ...
hear my wind
song ......

When my lovely world turns cold and leaves me wondering
if all I am to be has now been?
And if all I am to grow, to sense, to hear, to see, to know...
if all I am to feel has flown with the wind.

Then I flee my lonely world and climb a hill
where soft earth fits my foot and I can make the world be still
while my arms, outstretched, hold sun and clouds and sky...
and the wind folds me in love
and I'm ...
all ...

And then high atop my hill my trees and I
through earth beneath our feet all can feel the world inside
and through limbs, outstretched, feel moon and stars and sky
and our wind folds us in love
we're ...
all ...

Am thinking about the day when I took very young granddaughter, Kokee, up to the Lawrence Science Museum high above the U.C. Berkeley campus and -- walking down a long hallway -- could hear the sound of my own voice as it drifted through an open doorway. We walked inside to an empty and darkened theater. Farallon Light was being shown on a large screen ... there were the waves crashing against the rocks, and my disembodied voice ... . Waited until the film ended -- long enough to see the film credits. Realized that no one that I knew was even aware that I'd done this. Why had I been so secretive?

By this time I'd left the suburbs far behind and had re-entered life in Berkeley where I was now divorced and remarried, a faculty wife on campus, but had not yet reconnected with any of the life I'd left behind in 1950 when we'd moved into another new life. I'd become a whole other person, and there was no way to explain this Betty to either my family or our friends from those earlier years. It felt surreal. It was.

It was about this time that I stopped writing and began to evolve into political Betty. The artist was dismissed, but she may have saved my life while here. Owning that part of myself has been a difficult thing to do, but blogging is helping in that process.

Guess I'd hate to die and leave so much of myself behind buried in blue plastic storage boxes... .
Struck gold... !

Ran across this among old papers, and it speaks of an event that rushes back in the reading of it. There was a comic side that I'll tell you about, too. It's a press release:

April 6, 1971
Public Information Office
Sacramento City College
3835 Freeport Boulevard
Sacramento, California 94822
Phone: 449-7442, Distr. A,B,C,O
Lawrence Benke

Betty Reid, singer and poet, will make her second appearance at Sacramento City College this school year. The dialogue concert is scheduled for April 17, 1971, at 8:00 p.m. in the College Center.

Miss Reid recently recorded the soundtrack for a film by Charles Peterson entitled, "The Farallon Light."* The songs used are original compositions by Miss Reid. The film is a documentary on the environment.

Peterson is a former TV producer who worked with Lee Mendelsohn, producer of the Charlie Brown specials.

Betty also write lyrics and music for the theme song for a new recruiting film produced by Blacksides, Inc.,* for the United States department of Health, Education and Welfare. The film called "Code Blue" will be used to recruit young blacks and Chicanos into careers in medicine.

Mother of four, she resides in Walnut Creek, has appeared in concert in San Francisco with Pete Seeger and Malvina Reynolds. Her last appearance in Sacramento was at City College in December of 1970, and was hailed a complete success by college officials.

I cudda binna contendah!

Remember that night well, but not for obvious reasons.

At the time I was having a struggle with whether or not to seek a career in music. Had attracted a lot of attention for my work at that time, and there were many offers out there tempting me. But, remember, I had three kids and a shaky marriage at home -- one of whom had reached those troubled teens and my youngest who was mentally disabled. These occasional opportunities to share my work served to keep me whole, and to provide enough ego satisfaction to keep me writing. Performing never was as fulfilling as the creative process, itself. That was more like ashes than embers.

On that first appearance in December of the year before, I'd appeared with Ric Masten and another friend (forgive me for losing her name), but this time I had been asked to return as a soloist. Frightening thought, that. But a trick I'd learned was to take along some costume to wrap myself in, comb my hair and apply make up in a kind of "getting into the character who could DO this" mode. It meant that I could leave "Betty" in the dressing room, and emerge as "singer."

I recall now that when I'd done my set in December, I'd asked the audience to please let me sing through all of my pieces without interruption, "no applause, please, because it serves as a constant reminder that they were there. I do best when I can imagine that I'm singing to myself and letting you listen. The spotlights make that possible." They'd been wonderful.

Now, during the intervening months (and the good reviews) before this solo concert, I'd become far more confident. You need to be aware of that. Felt far more deserving of the accolades, I suppose.

You can imagine how I crashed at the end of the first few numbers when everyone sat firmly on their hands -- in total silence ... Figured that I'd totally bombed!

When (at the end of the first set) I stopped to ask why no one was responding to me I learned that -- while I was in the dressing room preparing to go on -- the emcee announced to the crowd that this was a sensitive artist who would much prefer not to be interrupted ...".

What was not taken into consideration was that the important thing here was not that I needed silence, but that what I did need was to set my own conditions for performing. The important thing was the interaction, not the outcome. That first audience and I had an agreement, and it was what I needed at that time. The emcee had taken away my ability to make my contract with these listeners, and it was a disaster.

Then the magic happened. I took the time to explain what was happening and we all had a good laugh that resulted in a new contract that allowed me to quite openly accept their appreciation. The applause was tremendous, and I learned an important lesson. Maybe we all did.

*1. Farallon Light was a filmed documentary created for the occasion of the scheduled removal of the last beacon light from the island sanctuary. The had been maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard over many decades, but was being replaced by the Audubon Society sentry. The year it was released it won the Toronto Film Festival, took second at Atlanta, and placed at San Francisco's. It won first placed for Charles Peterson, as his masters thesis at the University 9of San Francisco. But that's another story.
*2. Blacksides, Inc., is the production company that later created the Eyes on the Prize and many other fine series for PBS. It was headed by my friend, Henry Hampton, of Boston.
It's Saturday again ... .

Ran out of week late yesterday afternoon, and found myself easing into Saturday prematurely around six o'clock last night. Climbed into bed with a book, and only a small twinge of guilt at not attending the vigil for Chan. I was aware that it was happening at precisely six. Thought about the five other young people of color who'd lost their lives to gunfire over the past two weeks here in our town, and felt a twinge of hopelessness that overcame the small twinge of guilt... .

As always, woke this morning to a magnificent day that holds promise (as always), and -- after my usual cup of hot tea and a shower -- I'll see where it leads.

The nature of my work is such that clocks and calendars are irrelevant. A workday can start at the ungodly hour of seven a.m. and end at ten o'clock at night. But that's unusual. For the most part I saunter in at nine or ten and am at home by five -- then often out again to cover an evening of the planning commission or city council or a panel or banquet somewhere where I'm to present a plaque or resolution on the Assemblywoman's behalf.

Tonight (though technically a weekend), I'll attend a dinner with the Autism Society where I'll present a Certificate of Recognition and get updated on the activities of one of the areas of concern for me. I'm responsible for environmentalism, disabilities, arts & culture, some redevelopment, etc., and generally wherever events and my interests lead me.

I do want to clarify something, though. Our office does not dispense funds, but we do help to facilitate our constituent organizations to access what is rightfully theirs. By Proposition 40, for instance (and before that Proposition 12), the people of this state passed a bond measure that set aside 8.2 billion dollars for environmental, parks and recreation, arts & cultural, and historic preservation. Those moneys are captured in a variety of funds with differing criteria. Being bond moneys, they are not subject to the vagaries of the general fund, but are untouchable except for the purposes for which the public intended. They, cannot, for instance, be used to balance the budget.

It is the responsibility of legislative offices to help nonprofits, museums, and other appropriate organizations to qualify for those public funds, and to see that our constituents are aware of their availability. This is one of the more satisfying aspects of public service.

But therein lies some of the financial problems of this state. Over many years, there have been more and more such ballot propositions that have mandated "untouchable" moneys to be set aside in the name of the public interest. The Lanterman Act -- a remarkably wise and generous act that long ago established a chain of regional centers throughout the state to guarantee humane treatment and services for the developmentally disabled is another. Prop. 13 that fixed property taxes in ways that once formed the basis for funding for the public school system and is now severely out of balance and needs fixing, but that now pits the needs of children against those of seniors who struggle to remain in their homes against all odds.

The primary reason that some of us who are closest to the legislative activity of the state voted against Prop. 53 in our most recent election was that -- though it was intended to place the much-needed repair and maintenance of our infrastructure (roads and bridges) at the top of the priority list -- its passage would have further limited the amount of moneys left in the state budget for the legislature to assign. As each initiative further encumbers our tax dollars, less and less is available to be allotted to other critical needs of the state, especially health and education. It's pretty crazy.

I'm aware that I've done a u-turn in my writing, but maybe I needed you to know that -- since I'm trying hard not to censor myself, to remain spontaneous, and to stay with wherever my blogs take me -- getting into "nuts and bolts" is grounding, and takes me out of the emotional cul de sac I find myself in as this painful week comes to an end.

Maybe I also need you to see something of the complexities of being me. As with most of us, I suppose, the poet is never far away -- but the practical worker bee seems to be what sustains this being. Moving in and out of bits of that complexity with some ease is probably what keeps me whole. Learned to do that pretty effectively, but only with the help of a fine psychiatrist many years ago when those lines between the conscious and unconscious were not so clearly defined, and when I had far less a sense of control over which of me was required in any given situation.

In these later years, I'm deeply aware of the transitions, and am comfortable with them. I know where the edges are and how to use them and when to do so. This wasn't always so, at least not with the confidence that age has brought as compensation for the awareness of slowing systems and age spots. Though I must admit, I'm not aware of slowing down at all, at least not yet. Guess I just haven't had the time to notice ... .

Will take some time, later today, to look through old files for former Bettys. I do admit that I'm enjoying that part of blogging tremendously.

More later.

Friday, October 17, 2003

The morning newspaper headline says:

"Prosecutors filed murder charges Thursday against a man police say helped kill a 15 year-old girl this week in an attack likely linked to a feud between two Laotian-American street gangs."
He was nineteen.

End of story.

Leaving soon to attend a workshop for environmentalists on Prop. 40 funding opportunities. It's often difficult to readjust my psyche from one area of responsibility to another. Yesterday it was the Oakland Museum where we toured with the execs, then listened to their legitimate case for funding for their collection that represents "90% of what we are holding in a warehouse without climate control -- and that cannot be displayed." Today -- at the State Building in Oakland, it will be the other side of Prop. 40 and the equally legitimate concerns for funding for creek restorations, parks and recreation projects, etc.

In a state and nation with a Congress considering a gift of $87 billion with which to "wage the peace," with shrinking resources and a stubborn resistance to raising taxes, how on earth do you allocate what little revenues there are? And -- how do you do it while avoiding increasing homelessness and a deteriorating infrastructure? How do I deal with the fact that Dorian's 30-day supply of meds now costs $70 (her income is $1093/month and her rent is now $1025). I cannot imagine why anyone of sound mind would want a career in public service in these times.

And when do we get to even talk about the escalating body count and the suicidal lifestyles of so many of our young?


Thursday, October 16, 2003

Am writing this from work ...

It's just a little past one o'clock, and I just got in from a trip to the Laotian Organizing Project in another attempt at reaching my friend, Torm. Very wisely drove by once -- parked and walked to the office on a very busy street -- and peeked in to be sure that there was someone there to receive Assemblywoman Loni Hancock's flower basket and both our sympathy cards. There was. I could see a woman sitting at desk inside, alone.

Circled the block to visit a florist to pick up gift basket and a card from me (already had Loni's note in hand), made a selection, drove back to the office and -- as directed by a note on the door -- rang the bell.

The woman hesitated for a long time. I lifted my flower basket so that she could see my reason for being there, but she continued to dart her eyes toward then away from me.

She finally came over to the door and said something. With the street sounds at noon hour so loud, I could hear nothing. I just continued to smile and hold out my flower basket and cards hoping that she would simply open the door and take them from me. I didn't need to enter at all. It began to dawn that she probably spoke no English and had been instructed by police to not open that door to anyone. After all, Chan's killers were still out there and unidentified. What I was seeing was stark fear and I was the subject of it, at least for now.

I backed away. Looked around and discovered that there was another doorway leading from a narrow parking lot beside this building. The security doors were rolled back so that it seemed clear to me that this was the entrance used by the staff of the Laotian Center.

Finding no other way to handle the awkwardness, I placed the flower basket at that doorway with the cards leaning against it (bearing Torm's name), and walked away. This seemed the only thing to do, but it left me feeling ever more depressed being suddenly aware that this community may not be able to access what caring and sympathy many of us are feeling right now because of the language barrier. I recalled how often it was Chan and her young friends who served as the interpreters for their families. How sad this is.

Maybe Torm will just happen to stop by at some point -- and discover our gifts and feel momentarily comforted.

Could think of nothing more to do ... .
Yesterday was day of contrasts.

Realized on the drive to work that the Laotian Organizing Project office was most certainly closed and that leaving flowers would be a wasteful effort. Sure enough, it was. Chan worked there with her uncle part time while attending Middle College (a highschool program at the community college that had been designed for high-risk, high achieving youngsters). She was fifteen and surely one of these. Such a hope for her family and such a loss for her community of refugees from the horrors of the Southeast Asia wars.

When I reached my office, placed a call to Torm at his -- just to leave message of sympathy -- but there was no answer. When the voice mail came on, it was Chan's voice.

By sheer coincidence, Loni was scheduled to speak at Contra Costa Community College yesterday and arrived to find everyone in mourning. Grief counselors had been called in, and -- since this is a small program of a tiny experimental school within the college -- Chan was someone everyone knew, so the effects of her death are devastating.

Ended the day by driving in to Berkeley to the 1st Congregational Church to hear Molly Ivins (and isn't that an unlikely setup?) speak. She's on a book tour and a group of us were lucky enough to have gotten tickets to this sold out evening. I needed that.

On Ahnold: "...He looks like a giant condom stuffed with walnuts!"

On being asked if "Shrub" is really dumb or quite clever at acting so, she said. "There's a difference between being stupid and being ignorant. Dubya is not stupid. He is unknowing. As Jim Hightower said about his father, "He was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple." "Dubya just plain doesn't know."

When asked if she didn't believe it was time for a Third Party as alternative her answer was, "I was one of those who voted for Ralph Nader last time around. We believed that there was little difference between Bush and Gore. We were wrong. This time we must vote for anybody who has the best chance of beating George Bush. Though my heart speaks otherwise, I'll have none of "Down the Drain With Dennis!"

It was a good way to end the day.

Today offers a trip to the Oakland Museum to tour the site they'd like to acquire for storage of their collections and that needs the resources of Prop. 40 Cultural and Historic Preservations funds in order to do so. It will be a distraction from the thoughts of being frustrated in my attempts to reach Torm and his family with flowers and Loni's note -- but I have some hours before that can be worked out, and will have surely found him before noon... .

Maybe I'll pick up Molly's new book today, and Michael Moore's as well. Need both for some balance to Fox News and CNN, though I only see them while flipping channels and never linger, unless I'm comparison shopping.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Loni's back and the world took over yesterday, as expected ... .

I'm finding myself reluctant to leave the past and return to this uncertain present (and future). There are few landmarks to follow -- most were obliterated in the recall election. "Governor-elect Schwarzennegger" (still not sure how many 'n's' and 'g's') still sounds impossible to wrap my brain around, and the implications of the change are still murky, impossible to read... .

We gathered around the conference table and tried to get re-oriented. There were as many questions hanging in the air when the meeting ended as there had been when we gathered. Although I must say, it was comforting to be back together after the vacations and illnesses and the many hours of campaign work that has filled all of our off-work hours for weeks. Maybe in a few days we'll discover that little has really changed in Sacramento. Maybe.

There's comfort in the fact that -- under our systems of governance -- the power is well distributed between many sources. Admittedly, those systems have become distorted and need readjusting rather desperately, but they're still in place -- at least in theory. The work of getting meaningful campaign reform legislation into place is of critical importance, and term limits must be reconsidered in light of the loss of institutional memory that so impedes the ability to legislate.

But trying to deal with such things while the body count from this leaderless revolution continues unabated on the streets, keeps us off-balance. Over the weekend we lost 4 more young people. On Saturday, the adolescent niece of the director of a local Laotian Service organization was killed by gunfire. Torm Nompraseart is someone I work with regularly. He is a refugee who arrived in this country after the war in Southeast Asian over 20 years ago. This morning I'll stop by the florist to pick up flowers to drop off at his office on my way to mine.

It seems ironic that nothing that I'll do today will be in any way related to the desperation I'm sure to see in Torm's face, or those of ordinary people in the Iron Triangle, or San Pablo, or in the borderless territories of the inner cities throughout the area -- families living in terror of their lives -- day after day.

So many wars ... .

Monday, October 13, 2003

... and just behind the letter to Robin comes this song written just about that time ... .

The Ballad of the Oakland Induction Center

Went to town that morning, knew I'd find them there
standing 'roun' the sidewalks, not far from the square.
The old and young, together, walking in the sun
with signs on their shoulders and love in their hearts
singing, "Peace just has to come."

Bearded men and children, equal under skies
black and white, old soldiers, too, with fear behind their eyes.
The old and young, together, walking in the sun
with signs on their shoulders and love in their hearts
singing, "Peace just has to come!"

Policeman watched us closely, billies in their hands,
seven hundred strong, they waited -- with orders to protect this land
from old and young, together, walking in the sun
with signs on their shoulders and love in their hearts
singing, "Peace just has to come!"

The first of many carriers rolled up to disembark
the precious cargo of our young men to march off toward the dark
we pleaded with them, "No! Don't go!" Don't let us make you kill!
We must begin to live in peace, if you'll just stay, we will.
We offered them our bodies to lie twixt theirs and hell
The billies struck! The screams rang out! A boy beside me fell!

Then old and young, together, writhing in the sun
with blood on their shoulders and tears in their hearts,
crying, "Peace just has to come!"
crying, "Peace just has to come!"

We gathered up our sorrow, our days work now was done
but we'll return tomorrow, we'll be here with the sun.


Old and young, together, we'll go walking in the sun
with signs on our shoulders and love in our hearts
singing, "Peace just has to come.
singing, "Peace ......
just has to come!"

And so we did. It took a while, but the tide was turned -- eventually -- and that war ended. It helps me to remember this in times such as these, when we find ourselves involved in a preemptive war that appears to resemble the quagmire of Vietnam in many ways.

I've been listening for the poets to begin to speak again. Maybe grassroots songs and poetry now comes disguised as prose by the likes of Al Franken, Michael Moore, Jim Hightower, and Molly Ivins. It just may be too early to tell, but I'll be listening for them -- and hoping... .
Oh, the Patriot's Act will just have to take a back seat to history this day; mine... .

Just ran across a copy of a letter written to a dear friend long ago. It also involves bullhorns, as I recall. It involved the demonstrations at the Oakland Induction Center, one of the turning points in the anti-war movement of the Seventies:

Mr. Robin King
Radio Station KNEW
San Francisco, CA

Dear Robin:

I'm extremely tired tonight. I guess the old term is "soul weary."

Bob, my 17 year-old, is caught up in the dilemma of the draft. He was among the demonstrators on Monday and again on Wednesday. As he told his Dean upon returning to school on Tuesday (after having cut classes), "I'm facing the draft in another 6 months. There are lots of things that I need to learn in order to make my decision about that -- maybe the decision of my life. There's nothing here in school to help me to do that -- my answers were out there in the streets ... I had to go." The Dean (rather untypically, I thought), was very understanding and admitted that, were he in Bob's place, he would surely have done the same. No disciplinary action.

On Wednesday, I joined the demonstrators (after the melee of Tuesday, I had to go). It was interesting and frightening. You know that courage in battle is not one of my strong points, and, for all the words we use to justify actions once taken (when they're controversial); when the evidence is in, I was really there taking my risks in support of Bob; a tiny piece of the whole of this war is all I can really grasp.

I did meet a few people there whom I knew; Clinton White, Attorney for the NAACP standing with U.S. Attorney Cecil Poole ("Brotha" Poole) and a small group of black leaders. In my view, standing on the wrong side. They peered at me out of the corners of their eyes for a few minutes and then I walked up to them and re-introduced myself. Two were old acquaintances. I imagine that they thought I was an observer, too.

While I stood with them, a young man passed by with an old hat extended and a plea for funds for bail for those jailed on the two previous days. I, grandly, reached into my purse and tossed in a ten dollar bill. I really needed that money for an errand I was going to do before returning to Walnut Creek. Never had ten dollars bought such a feeling! I stepped back to them just in time to see another young man (Negro) recognize Brother Poole, call "someone bring me some fire," and watched as he burned his draft card but two feet away from where we were standing. This was scary. His face was contorted, his eyes had a strange look (drugs?), and it seemed for just an instant, that there was no sanity on either side. I wanted to look away. I couldn't.

At just this moment, a crowd began to run around the corner to the other side of the Induction Center. I joined them, and, as we rounded the corner, I could see the police marching in formation behind a paddy wagon moving toward the side entrance. The protesters formed a marching picket line. Together we marched and sang and yelled and prayed while the police gathered up those who were blocking the doorway.

In all, I was there for about three hours, singing "We shall Not Be Moved," hearing heroic stories of the day before, sharing in the bravery (which it was possible to "catch", even for a soul as timid as I) and witnessed the arrests of ordinary people, valiant youngsters ... Saw clerical collars, nuns in their habits and wimples, and academic stoles. There was a contingent of youngsters from Berkeley High School -- complete with banners, and accompanied by a young Episcopal priest, sitting in at one of the entrances. Saw a young man cry as he loudly pleaded with a busload of inductees not to go! I yelled "Hell no, don't go!" along with the rest and I meant it way down in my soul.

Looked into the faces of the Oakland Police Department ... now that is an experience. I know that these men are someone's next door neighbor .. that they put up Christmas trees, love their mothers ... but I witnessed the strangest phenomenon. Do you know that garage on the corner (the one from which they emerge with each new crisis or when a new busload of inductees is arriving? And when they -- in greater numbers than I'd ever seen in one place -- come out in formation, carrying clubs with that facelessness that by now has become a part of the uniform ... all of comparable size ... identically uniformed ... standing at arms length in rows along the gutter in full riot gear. I knew that were I to step off the curb... just step off quickly ...I would be struck ... me. There was a law that I was breaking (though I'm no longer sure which one that is). Soldiers, our marines, cutting off the ears of the enemy in the war,.. souvenirs and I could be struck for stepping off the curb -- if I moved in any way, interfered with the job at hand ... .

I heard a young man shout ... "Here they come again, out of the Cop Factory! They snap 'em together in there."

Robin, I laughed. It was absurdly true. They seemed completely dehumanized. I had the wild feeling that these men were so conditioned that one could almost imagine some giant Wizard at a master switch down in the bowels of that garage, an activating switch of some kind ... .

On the way home I suddenly felt my blood run cold. It dawned on me that this was the way it would be with my lovely gentle poet Bobby. That here was the missing piece, so obvious as to get lost in the hysteria of war. Because I am so awed by the Vietnam scholars, the great debaters, the arguments pro and con, "to escalate," to "de-escalate," "to withdraw," "extend the bombing," "the infiltration of commies within the ranks of the peaceniks," all irrelevant.

I'm certain that there are as many reasons for being here as there are protestors, contrary to those who believe that we who protest are controlled by some foreign element, subversive or otherwise.

Speaking for me. I'm here to stop the "Soldier Factory." I realized while driving down the highway tonight that this was why I couldn't ever equate the smiling joyfilled faces of returning cleancut GIs, being met by loving young wives and children (as viewed on TV) and the other film-clips; the ones showing the atrocities committed against "Charlie," the killing and maiming of civilians in the name of "freedom and justice for all!"

These kids were all "Bobs" and as unable to see themselves in the role of killer, in some cases, less than a year ago. It's the same as the "Cop Factory." These are loving fathers and husbands, good neighbors. Conditioning of the sort that must be experienced in order to produce those inhuman creatures must be stopped. Both sides are right in their descriptions of these men; both man and beast. These people marching and sitting-in -- at some level -- know this. They're aware that "There but by the grace of God go I". This is why the young man cried "Hell no, Don't go!"

I now know why I will go back. Yes, even tomorrow when violence is expected. Scared? Yes. Paralyzed? No. My Bob is another Johnny; musket, carbine, M-1, what's the difference. After a trip to the Soldier Factory, he will accept just as millions before him have, down through all of time -- that this is right -- in order to save the world. These young people know this.

I'm an ordinary middle-aged wife and mother. I've seen for myself. I've no more doubts. Anyone with an ounce of integrity left must act, and now, if any of us is to be saved.

Why this letter? Tonight as I was driving home from one of my endless trips to deliver kids, I happened to tune in to KNEW (didn't know that you were with the station). You were just beginning to read from a piece by Henry David Thoreau. I parked beside the road and listened to conclusion. Felt so moved. Wondered if you knew how those of us who have been on the line have needed just that? I felt soothed. Bathed in the silence of the night for awhile. Started the car up again and came home to write this note. Our friendship has known many fine moments, friend, but tonight was a special time. The more meaningful because I could take this familiar voice as a personal message, just to me, but at the same time to know that there are others out there who, like me, will be comforted by the love and conviction in your voice. It was one of your finest hours,

I do so love you, friend

The Patriot Act failed to involve me sufficiently. Have been side-tracked for several hours -- looking through files -- discovering copies of letters to friends and papers long ago lost in the fog of what once was... .

Have no idea to whom this letter was written, but it's self-explanatory, I think:

January 19, 1971

Just returned from the Bayfront and a long look at the havoc wreaked by the Standard Oil tankers in the collision on the Bay in the black of Tuesday night's heavy fog. Over a million gallons of black ooze covering now all shores of the east side of the Bay. Now the tide has shifted several times. Sausalito is also hard hit as is the coastline outside the gate as far north as Point Reyes (a bird sanctuary).

I stood along the edge helplessly watching poor birds of all descriptions trying to stay afloat -- but then you've seen reams of film on that subject. There were lots of folks who looked like scientists from the university, many children, plus lots of hardhats (actual) who'd been sent out by Standard to try to syphon off as much of the oil as possible, into trucks now standing by. Boxes and sacks of sawdust and rags and newspapers and endless bottles of mineral oil -- also supplied by Standard -- stood ready for the eager volunteers to use in the rescue.

Cold and foggy with near zero visibility. Felt like crying just from the gloom of it all. It's contagious ... getting, at last, a real sense of what "ecological disaster" means.

Sounds ... fog horns ... truck motors ... hushed voices (why are were we so quiet?) ... no. Not all. Seeing the world in small snapshots in the way that fog demands. One only sees in tiny pieces of the whole. Now the big voice over the bullhorn; "Now you look heah people. Dese boids is sad strugglin' out dere in dat oil-covahed watah ... and day got to come closah in tada sho-ah so's we kin ketch 'em 'n clean 'um. And IT DON' HELP NONE FUR YOUSE TA BE STANNEN OUT DERE IN DAH WATAH SCREAMIN', "HEAH BOIDIE, BOIDIE!" God bless him.

Worked for several hours more 'til it just became too cold to continue. The drive home to Walnut Creek loomed long and risky in that fog. We've been socked in for about three days in the valley. This is typical for January. There were at least a few hours of sunshine in Berkeley today, but none for several hours by the time I left for home.

Anyway, I'm back in the valley again and feeling a whole lot better about bullhorns!


Sunday, October 12, 2003

Just back from Sunday errands with Dorian ... .

The half-hour on the freeway allowed for time to think back on some of the memories that flowed after writing that last piece. Think I'll print out some of these pages and give them to David on his January birthday. There is much to remember, and it isn't all disturbing or hurtful.

There was Mrs. Rood. She was a grandmotherly woman whom I remember as David's first love, and as one who silently co-parented with this lonely young mother for one long and lonely summer. David was a little over five and still pretty self-assured. He looked like one of those apple-cheeked children that appeared from time to time on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

I've never known how they met, but since she lived just about where the school bus stopped each morning and afternoon, I suspect that he found her, trowel in hand in her garden. Her little house hugged the creek bank a long half-block away. I believe that she lived alone. We met only once, on the occasion of her telephone call to alert me that David had invited her to tea on Wednesday, and that she'd like to accept, thank you.

For most of that summer, at least twice each week my little guy would rush in from kindergarten -- wash his face and change his shirt to get ready for tea with Mrs. Rood. It was quite a formal occasion, but it was also quite private to the two of them. I made no attempt to meet her, wanting to honor this. This was a wise woman. I was sure that she understood. It was the same many years later when my friends, Jean and Roger, became David's close personal grownup friends -- and I quietly withdrew into the background.

On the occasion of his first experience at hosting tea, she came. A lovely white-hair-netted grandmother, lavender-scented and sensible-shoed and with the warmest of smiles. She told me that David had appeared at her door a few days before, pressed the doorbell, and when she answered --handed her a very short-stemmed very large sunflower and one of his little class pictures with the words, "...this is for your goodness!" And so saying, turned and walked away.

I guess it takes only a few of these loves in the life of a child to balance off the nightmarish events that all of the logic in the world can't explain away. It's quite possible that those unanswerable "whys" that haunted us and made me feel so impotent to protect him -- kept alive his humanity and enough of his own "goodness" to handle the pain of rejection. Mrs. Rood was living proof of his worthiness. I wonder if she knew? I suspect that she did.

Another song? This one was written while sitting under some trees high on Mt. Diablo watching the kids play. This mountain is the crowning point in the Valley.

The Real Things
Sailing a kite on a breeze
a child's arms encircling my knees
these are the real things
the truth in my life

watching reeds bend with the wind
buttercups held 'neath my chin
these are the real things
the truth in my life

artists paint so that we may remember the ways
but we laugh and deny what we see
artists play, sing, and dance -- all the ways to remember
the secret is simply "to be!"

holding your face in my hands
seeing there sea, sky, and sands
this is the real thing
the truth in my life.

Am still amazed that the music comes up as soon as I start to type the words ...

It's mid-morning, and not yet time to saddle up the Beamer

and pick up Dorian for some shopping-for-the-cats ("we're almost out of litter, Mom"). But first there's the Patriot's Act to pull out and begin to plow through. Did you know that it is 177 pages long? That's a lot of scary stuff, but last night just before climbing into bed, I drew it from my brief case (heavy puppy, that!) and scanned it briefly. Makes you wonder how the founding fathers managed to put so much wisdom into so few words, doesn't it? Small wonder that the paperless world has become anything but.

This morning in the cold light of day (and the first awareness of fall in the air), it's sobering indeed. Just did a search and am finding that everything I'll need is already out there on the net and nicely analyzed by minds far more insightful than mine, but surely without the range of experience, so feel fairly confident that -- after a day of reading and mulling over the implications, I'll be ready to put together a briefing paper (that's fancy talk for "bulleting" and making "talking points").

Been thinking a lot about David. Remembering that I suggested that I might share a bit about him. That got lost in the demands of other things -- and it occurs to me that this may be a key to my relationship with him. He's always been so strong and solidly dependable, that I've developed the habit of relying upon his existence in the world without much awareness that he may need me, too.

This was the child who seems to have walked out of my womb fully developed and fully cognizant of his place in the world. He followed Bobby by less than two years. They were bottle-weaned and potty-trained simultaneously. The day I realized that Davey had the latter all scoped out was the day that I found him sitting on the toilet seat -- face-backwards, with his feet in the john and the job on the floor behind him!

He's always been such a joy! Still is.

On the first day of kindergarten, I nervously watched him walk up the country road to the bus stop -- staying behind to not suggest that I didn't trust this fellow to handle this rite du passage on his own. When 20 minutes later I heard little feet on the front steps and opened the door to a scowling little guy, brand new lunch pail still clutched in hot little hand, and out came the words,"...that bus didn't come. Doesn't that driver know that I have a 'sponsibility!" That's David.

After a few days of wondering how things were going (you may recall that this was the third of my little boys who'd gone off to school into hostile suburban territory) and that life was far from simple for us... .Finally asked my little guy just how things were going? I never wanted to make them unnecessarily defensive, but to let life unfold as it would and take care of the bruises as they occurred.

David: "Kevin called me a little chocolate cookie."

Me (heart in throat): "...and what did you do?"

David: "I called him a little vanilla cookie!"

Some years later I found myself unable to explain to this open and friendly child just why he would be stoned on our country road by a carload of cruel teens with taunting calls of "Hit the nigger!," and all within 100 feet of the home that he was born in. He was just riding his bike to pick up the latest baseball cards from Slo Sams market. It was a day like any other, until... .

Or later, as an adolescent driving to visit a white school friend who'd moved to another part of town, but finding himself cruelly spread-eagled against the hood of our stationwagon by two police officers. It seems that there'd been some incident in the neighborhood and ...

David: "...Mom, I could hear their car radio as they held me there. There was a description being broadcast of the person they were looking for. It was someone who was nothing like me! They so wanted it to be me, Mom...". I knew.

On that cruel day of the stoning, I'd been unable to provide an answer for him. Nothing came. Instead I just held him. We made popovers and ate them with strawberry jam.

Later that morning I reached into that place where I usually found salvation -- when life offered no logical answers ... and wrote:

Brown-skinned Heart

Where is my brown-skinned heart to hurry?
Where shall I find my song?
Why must my mind be just for worry?
To whom does my dream belong?

What are my hands to hold this morning?
Where is my place in the sun?
With what shall I fill this time of longing?
Whose will shall be done?

The fruit of my labor will tumble in soon
in search of my love and my lead
gave all I had when they left this mornin'
Why can't they know how little souls bleed!

Where is my brown-skinned heart to hurry?
To whom does my dream belong?
Why must my mind be just for worry?
Who will hear...
my song ... ?

My four grandchildren are all David's. I say David's because he's been twice-married but has sole custody of Kokie, Rhico, Alayana, and Tamaya, and tries hard to be a loving father to all. He is now the managing-owner of Reid's Enterprises, a business his father and I founded in 1945 as a couple of very young entrepreneurs. David is still being 'sponsible. We are great friends, still.