Saturday, October 25, 2003

Saturdays have become writing days, but this one got away from me.

Spent the earlier part of the day not going to San Francisco. Watched the Peace Gathering in Washington, D.C., it seemed so sparsely attended. A surprise given the times and the current headlines. Found hope in the fact that it seemed youth driven, with most of the usual suspects, but predominantly made up of young people. Hoped they didn't feel abandoned by older activists (like me). Determined to get myself onto BART this afternoon and across the Bay to join what I hoped would be a great march and demonstration, but couldn't work up the enery to do so.

Having disappointed myself, it was impossible to use the time for anything else. Silly, of course. But it's now 4:38 p.m. and I'm just now getting to my computer. Did penance, instead, I suppose.

These monologues I get into are not very fulfilling, but when my PALM went off a little earlier, at 2:00 o'clock, and I looked to see just what it was that I was scheduled for and had completely forgotten -- and discovered that I was supposed to attend the memorial service for an old friend who died over a month ago ... the guilt piled on and there was nothing left to do but pull the plug on this day and begin again tomorrow.

The planets are obviously out of alignment.

Dorrie just called in tears -- "Mom, I was in the restroom at Sears -- put my cell phone down on the sink and two girls ran away with it!" Her cell phone is one of her tickets to independence. It's our high tech umbilical cord that reaches beyond all obstacles and connects us when necessary. I rarely call her, but leave it to her to initiate contact, always. It works beautifully. However, having it stolen is traumatic since I'm always on the other end of the line, waiting to be summoned (as she perceives it). Someone stole her mom! How on earth could they know what they'd done? Distraught, she apparently had been calling her own number and they've been laughingly hanging up on her, sending her into hysteria; so sad.

Kept her on another line so she could overhear my conversation (by now from her apartment) while arranging for the service to be suspended and another cell phone FedEx'd to her -- it will arrive on Wednesday. She was calmed, but has called six times in the past 25 minutes (while I've been writing this). Maybe she's simply testing.

I've worked so hard to make her independent, but it may be an illusion. I do hope not. Despite all, I'm sure that I'm the center of her universe, and that little can be done about that. But I suspect we've done better than most in overcoming the obstacles of her mental disabilities that must be met and dealt with. All-in-all she's doing well, but she will surely outlive me, and the thought of that causes my palms to sweat and to wake in the night with jaws aching from clenched teeth ... . When the simple incident of a stolen cell phone can be this disruptive, I'm reminded of the fragility of our situation.

But I found the poem and realized that, like the others, the work is dated. Rhyming is obsolete. Free verse is far more interesting, isn't it? But remember that these were written years ago, and I'm resisting the temptation to update them or edit in any way. They are what they are.

Most were written at a time when I desperately needed a way to travel outside myself and my circumstances while Dorian held onto my skirt. The only escape was to go inside. To rummage around and explore my own mind helped to keep me sane in a world that I often found anything but. I painted and sang and wrote hour after hour. The artist in me saved my sanity, but make no mistake, it was nip and tuck in those early years. And there was a two year period when only the sensitive care of a very fine Jungian psychiatrist enabled me to survive strong suicidal tendencies. But -- those were probably the most creative years of my entire life. I've pretty well reigned my artist in now, but she's the survivor -- and I suspect informs the politician who's pretty well carried the past several decades pretty successfully.

But Dorian's mother seems to be the toughest role of all, and keeping that woman in check and suppressed enough to allow Dorrie to grow away and into her own world is the most difficult of all to accomplish. Mother lived to be 101. I'll need at least that much time to accomplish the separation, I'm sure.

But may be this just isn't the best of Saturdays. And -- it will be the longest one of the year, too ... .
Poem I wrote for the celebration of United Nations Day long ago ... .

I wonder.... .

I wonder if the children 'roun' the world are much like me?
I know their words are different, but is what they think and see?
Is what we feel and what we do about the same each day...
laugh and cry, tease and jump and run and shout at play?

Do they watch the 'blow-y" cloud shapes and wonder at the stars?
love rain upon their faces and catch wee things in jars?
Do they bump their knee, and though I know our skins don't look the same ...
does the underneath hurt just as much -- whatever is their name?

Do their Daddy's smile 'n say "let's be big" no matter how it smarts?
And do their mommys (dressed quite differently) hold them to their hearts?
And when they're all tucked in at night -- on rug or straw or bed ...
do they wonder what it's like to be someone else instead?

I wonder.....?

Wrote this for the children of Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist church when my children were Sunday School age. It has appeared in worship services for children elsewhere since that time, but has never been published (til now?).

Friday, October 24, 2003

Came home with memories bubbling away

but knowing that I'm off to staff Loni at an anniversary banquet in Emeryville, and gotta go home and overdress! In these casual times, office hours are blue jeans and sandals and -- at times -- pants suits and low boots. Several times a month there is need to gussy up and do the fancy-schmancy, which includes hauling out the family jewels, etc. This is one of those evenings. Last Saturday (The Autism Foundation's event) was another. Actually, I rather enjoy dressing up -- when it's appropriate. Makes me feel womanly.

I'm not particularly good at small talk, so usually find a potted palm to stand behind, or, place myself close to the band and feign "intent listening" so that no one can engage me in talk. I'm convinced that this is one of those talents one is born with, and that time won't do much to enhance. I'm still apt to give "real" answers to polite questions that no one wants to hear, and that are really only place holders in a conversation while the "other" looks over your shoulder for someone more influential or more beautiful, or maybe younger? These days that's called networking. I hate networking as much as Lou Grant hated "spunk!" No matter how aware I try to be about the rules of the game, I still find myself giving "real" answers ... .

Am I sounding cynical? Maybe. But -- if I'm lucky -- I'll find myself drawn to some empathetic soul who suffers from the same malady. And I usually do.

There's a poem (not lyrics this time) that I wrote for UN Day long ago, I believe it was for a group of children in a class I was teaching (Sunday School, if you will). It fits in here somewhere. Will leaf through more files this evening and print it out before I climb into bed.

Guess what? Didn't run out of week prematurely this time. It's Friday and I've still got juice enough to last through another day. Feels good.

Later ... .

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Let's see...

last report the Charbonnets (Mother, Marjorie, Betty and baby Lottie) had just arrived at the Oakland 16th Street railroad station and piled into Papa George's Model T for the trip to our new home. It actually turned out not to be ours, at all, but his and Aunt Vivian's, and Uncle Lloyd's, and Papa's third wife , Louise's. As I recall, it was really a tiny house set in a huge expanse of meadow and had only 3 small bedrooms, so I'm not sure how we all managed, but not unlike the way that other immigrants to the Golden State handled that, I suppose.

There was Papa's vegetable garden taking up some of the space, and -- about a block away (with nothing in between) was very German Mr. Mueller's dairy farm where he kept a large herd of black and white cows that were pastured just outside our house. Papa bartered vegetables for milk with the Muellers. Sometimes I got to help carry the zucchini and corn and string beans, and whatever else was ready, and watch Mrs. Mueller at the churn.

To the west there were two railroad tracks, Southern and Western Pacific, separated by wetlands and endless miles of cattails and willows. The swamplands ran uninterrupted for miles ending at the Bay. At the end of the wetlands, across a two-lane highway were the two hangars of the just developing Oakland Airport. There was one hangar and a flight school, I believe.

On the land where Papa George's little house stood there is now a huge Iron Foundry. Across the road there is a network of highways that interface at just that point and then divide and go to the Oakland International Airport, the highly developed Hegenberger Road commercial and office park developments, and the Oakland Coliseum, home of the Oakland Raiders. Not sure just what Mr. Mueller's dairy disappeared under, but there are few signs that it ever existed.

There is an effort by local environmentalists to reinstate the wetlands in some of that area, and I've had a recent opportunity to stand on the deck of the Martin Luther King Ecology Center that overlooks the new nature sanctuary that joins the Oakland estuary -- right there on the lands where I caught frogs and butterflies lo those many years ago. Where we "smoked" cattails and where salamanders, dragonflies, and all sorts of crawly creatures were collected and brought home in jelly jars to satisfy my curiosity, insatiable even then. Where we so often saw hobos with their worldly possessions tied on a stick carried across their shoulders, following the tracks to wherever they would take them. It was the depression era, and we didn't look on these men as sinister, only interesting, and to be invited home to sit on the back porch to share whatever might be left over from the night before. Mother was never fearful of them, as I recall. We loved the stories from those willing to share. It was a different time, surely.

This may come from the time when baby sister, Lottie, about 4-years old and her little friend, David, from across the road wandered off and got lost out in the wetlands. The entire neighborhood had been mobilized and spent hours in the search. I remember -- just about sundown -- a lone figure of a ragged man with Lottie asleep on his shoulder and her little friend, walking at his side. The jubilation! The gratefulness to this stranger who'd found them and was proceeding down the tracks until someone claimed them, I suppose. I don't seem to remember seeing policemen. I guess communities took care of their own. Don't know... .I do recall that David's father belonged to something called the House Of David, and wore a long beard. That day there were other bearded men out searching. Not sure I'd ever seen beards except on Santa Claus 'til then.

We must have been very poor. And, in some strange way, that is not what I remember. My world was nicely peopled with extended family. I weeded the garden with Papa George and got to choose the dinner vegetables that one of the female grownups prepared each day on the huge old wood stove that served to both feed and keep us warm. I don't recall chopping the wood, but the job of stacking the box in the kitchen fell to us children. We also got to earn 25 cents for giving Papa his rare hair cuts (he was bald with only a few wisps to trim), and it was always an honor to be chosen. Here, as in Ma-Mair's house in New Orleans, in California there was the kerosene stove that sat in the middle of the room in winter.

The best of times were those after holiday parties had been staged at the Oakland Athletic Club where Papa was a waiter. We'd be allowed to wait up for him to come home, no matter how late, and he would arrived like some jolly Santa with pockets bulging with whistles and horns, and balloons, paper hats and party foods for days!

And the times when our uncles Herman, Lloyd, and Frederick would depart on their railroad run, and the grownups would walk with us out to the wetlands to stand beside the Southern Pacific tracks to wait for their train to go by. They'd stand on the platform at the end of the train and toss out ice cream, packages of butter wrapped in towels and sheets (an occasional gray blanket), or meats from the diner. It was a little like catching items from the floats at Mardi Gras, I suppose, and certainly not seen as a bad thing. Since the conductor (white) was often seen standing beside our "tosser," and obviously approving, it was sheer delight! But that's a child's memory, of course. Maybe these were my earliest recollections of corporate power vs. the proletariat.

At some later time -- after Dad joined us on the West Coast -- the five of us Charbonnets left Papa George's and rented a tiny house just behind his, on the next street, where we lived until I was about ten, I believe. Over those years we watched from a distance as the airport slowly added hangars; watched the Bay fill in until what the grownups called "Depression Beach" that was a strip of sandy shore near the hangars -- began to disappear. I wonder how we all survived those days when I remember that raw sewage was being pumped into the Bay at that time, probably untreated. The odors on some days were almost unbearable. I suppose it had to do with the protective antibodies we'd built up over time, the kind that insure against all but the toughest bacteria! That may be why I've been so remarkably healthy all these years (smile). It really does cause one to wonder... .

My best friend grandfather, Papa George, whose best friend was his brother-in-law, Daddy Joe. These two old friends played Penny-Ante and Pinochle every Saturday night of their lives and went to watch the Negro baseball teams every Sunday during the season. I did both with Papa, riding with him in the stalwart Model T. that was durable but failing in the later years. I sat beside him -- ever ready to slide into the driver's seat when she'd die at the stop signs and have to be cranked. He would remove his coat -- jump out with the crank, I would sit and push the spark ( a little lever attached to the steering column) when signaled, stop and start all the way across town from 75th Avenue to 29th Street or then to San Pablo Park in Berkeley for the games. We were a pretty good team, actually, and always managed to get there and even in those early years I developed a sense of being capable, much-needed, and useful. Papa always treated me as an equal -- and I was, at least in handling our transportation problems. Don't recall ever being either embarrassed or impatient at such times, but the stalled times were simply part of the adventure and Papa's constant patter and sometimes ribald stories were such fun. Not sure that my mother would have approved, had she known, but these were private conversations that I knew were to be kept so.

Aunt Vivian (mother's younger sister) and Papa George were the first to recognize the emerging young woman, Betty, I think. Certainly long before my parents did. It occurs to me that one of the irreplaceable advantages of being in closely-woven extended families is that they allow the complexity of a child's personality to unfold in a more balanced kind of way. Children being separated into "markets" and "peer communities" robs them of something that those of us born at an earlier time more fully enjoyed. Maybe gangs are just another form of surrogate families, created by young people to fill the void.

Maybe there's a clue here to that disillusioned and disaffected world of the isolated young who are dying on our streets even as I write ... hadn't thought of this before. Maybe a clue. I'm painfully aware of how fearful adults are of even their own adolescents, these days, and of how lonely that must be ...

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

It's official.

Received instructions from the NPS (National Park Service) that I'm to be in San Francisco at 5 a.m. on the morning of November 11th. "The interview will be from 5:00 to 8:00 a.m., since the networks work on east coast time." (There must be someone I can complain to about this!) There will be one other "Rosie" veteran of the home front workforce being interviewed as well, and the project manager of the newly-designated Rosie the Riveter Memorial in Marina Bay Park in Richmond. She's not been identified to me, but I'm sure that her name will arrive with the promised "further instructions."

Sounds a little like CSPAN, doesn't it? Can't imagine any of the network shows covering that kind of time allotment. Maybe the first hour is prep time (makeup?) and, perhaps there will be call-ins as well. Sounds intriguing, doesn't it?

Under ordinary circumstances, I'm in the middle of my dream re-runs at that hour of the morning. That means rising at somewhere around 3:00 or 3:30 and driving to pick up the others for the drive across the bridge -- and arriving at the studio (which one?) at five. Maybe I'll just not go to bed on the night before ... .

And so saying, I'm calling it a day with a promise to write something (hopefully) significant tomorrow. This was a dull day in comparison to most. Maybe that's because our panel was canceled and I've got all that Ashcroft Patriot Act garbage loaded without the capacity to discharge it! (Thought of a far more colorful way to say that, but decided to be nice. But you should see the grin on my face. It's positively demonic!)
Yesterday was one of false starts and little forward motion.

I'm far more sensitive to those times when I'm forced to "idle"; something that becomes more and more frustrating as one grows older. Over time a sense of urgency develops that's surely related to a quiet sense of the inevitable, of one's mortality, of the preciousness of time.

I've noticed over the past five or so years that I'm far more apt to act with little hesitation in situations where, at earlier times, I might have hesitated and given more consideration to possible outcomes. Don't mean to suggest that I've become rash in my decisions or careless about consequences. No, not at all. It's just that I'm still working at full tilt in a world that's peopled by far younger professionals who are on their way up the career ladder, where much consideration must be paid to future outcomes and proper liaisons; where they're far more likely to play it safe. I'm not at the start, but at the end of mine, at a time where I've built a veritable mountain of experience and a grand library of "roads not to take, because...," and an almost uncanny sense of people signals. It's wild when I take the time to think about it (which I rarely do). In these years I act far more intuitively than ever before, and where some of that has been with me -- lifelong -- some is acquired, I'm sure. I've become a risk taker and far more daring over the past decade.

Recently I had one of those moments that may seem trivial in the telling of it, but that stood out for me as quite wondrous. I was driving to work in the usual traffic backup that leads to the Bay Bridge when I realized that my lips were very dry. With one hand on the wheel, I reached for my purse, slipped my hand into one of the three divided compartments and -- deftly and with little thought - let fingers slip past 20 small items - directly to a little tube of lip balm.
Though I hadn't used it in months, wasn't even sure it was there, my fingers immediately "knew." Had I given it any conscious thought, I'm not sure it would have happened quite that way. But in days that followed, I began to notice how many times that kind of thing occurred...
more than one might guess.

Much of my work is that way. The directions are defined in advance of the "acting on" at some intuitive level. The signals rise from that bedrock of experience, I suppose, and in more ways than I know.

Yesterday I spent the morning reading the Patriot Act. Wrote a news advisory about the panel discussion (tonight) in Walnut Creek, for release to the press. Awaited a call from Loni that we would use for her briefing session (she was at home with a bad cold). Late in the afternoon the call came announcing that she was feeling too ill to participate in the event and that tonight's panel appearance would have to be canceled. Unavoidable. The loss of a precious day, at a time when I sometimes feel myself in a countdown... .

That reminded me, though, to stop by Kaiser today for a flu shot. It's that time of year again. And today I'll have a chance to get back to the issue of the Barbara Alexander Academy and the organizing of the Iron Triangle group to support it. Have not told you about the California Autism Society Banquet last Saturday night, but that can wait. That part of my world seems to be doing pretty well without my assistance, thank you, so -- if that continues -- I'll get back to sharing more of the past.

Talked with Bob last night. Didn't ask if he's been reading this, but the feeling that I'm writing to him and to David and his children has become the more and more important. It's like the singing. I can do this if I know that I'm really speaking to them and allowing you to listen.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Just re-read yesterday's blog (and approved),

and realized that I'm beginning to really miss the interaction that comes with posting on the boards. There are times when I love having the stage to myself, but that doesn't last very long. I miss the questions, the interruptions in the flow as others move in and out of an online discussion. Yes, I even miss the challenges.

Would love it if you'd take the time to comment or question from time to time. That would help to know where to go next, though a pattern is beginning to emerge, I think, even with the leap-frogging.

Lately I've begun to visualize my kids reading this and wanting to know what my life was life, and those before me on the great continuum of family experience. That's serving me well. Makes me stop now and then and dig deeper. How I wish I had a record of the lives that preceded mine -- especially the voices of my father's people. Even after years of searching, they remain sketchy at best.

One day, maybe, one of my curious grandchildren will read this and have a sense of choice and alternative pathways, and of how much freedom life holds -- and just how much is controlled only by chance. That may be enough reason to continue to write.

How I wish I'd known Celestine or Leontine in their times! The sheer randomness of life is so obvious in retrospect. If there's anything that I've learned, it is that it matters little what happens along the way -- one's responses to events are what really matters. We all share the joys and tragedies, but the survivors appear to be those who develop resilience early in the process. Surely this was true for my great-grandmother, Leontine.

But I'm off now to "resil" (who says I can't make up words?) again in the world of "The State." Tomorrow evening Assemblywoman Loni Hancock and I will travel to Walnut Creek where she will participate on a panel re the Patriot Act for the League of Women Voters. Today we have a briefing session where I'm presumed to have gathered together the relevant facts and we'll go over them in preparation. This one is a no-brainer. But ya nevah know. Need to get into those 177 pages, more seriously, now, so I'll see you at the end of the day.

Do take the time to say something, though. I'm missing voices... .

Sunday, October 19, 2003

The last segment starts with "Of course... ."

I was referring to the fact that I could find no way to write the way we children addressed my paternal grandmother.  Our godparents were referred to as "parent" but pronounced "pah-rehn." (Sorry but that's about as close as I can come to it.) My grandmother, Victoria Morales Charbonnet, was known as "me-mair" with little or no accent on the "r" and an accent over the "mair". At that time a patois of French was the language of our household, but English was the first language. It was common for adults to start out in one language and drift in and out of the other without warning. The kids were never included, since Creole was reserved as the means for transmitting gossip, grown-up to grown-up, as with most immigrant families.


Born in 1921 in Detroit, where my parents settled so that Dad could work in the auto industry. He was a millwright/engineer. My sister, Marjorie, was born there in 1918.  In 1924, my paternal grandfather died in New Orleans, and the family returned to live with Me-mair on Laperouse Street. She was a blind diabetic. She was also my caretaker and best friend and I remember her as talcum powder, waist-length dark hair, warm and wonderful fleshy upper-under-arms that felt like soft latex and formed and reformed in small hands... She took care of me by having me brush her long hair endlessly, and telling stories without end while mother ran the household. Most of her stories were told in a language I didn't understand, but when you're that age, who cares? It's the feelings that counts, and her message was always one of love.

I was almost always on hand when she and Father Kelly visited. He came to dinner several times a week, and though blind, Ma-Mair mended altar clothes and mother would launder them for him. But maybe that was simply his excuse. Don't know. But even at that early age, I can remember. She died some time after we'd moved to California. I could have been no more than 3-5 at that time of our friendship. Those were eventful years for me.

Younger sister, Lottie, was born when I was four years and two months, in November. We were living on Frenchman Street in a two-story house. On that day Uncle Doctor Raleigh Coker (husband of Aunt Emily) was the attending physician and various aunts were running around doing whatever it is that aunts do at such times. Me? I was out in the front yard sitting on one of those metal gizmos around which a garden hose is wound. It began to roll. I fell backwards and cracked my head on the sidewalk! The raised scar is still there, marking the day of my little sister's birth!

Shortly thereafter, in "big sister" style, I remember being allowed (for the first time) to walk all the way to Aunt Corinne's house on Touro Street (maybe two blocks?) -- unpaved with boardwalks. Boards that were put down by the city in summer to walk on and lifted in winter to burn in the stoves for heat. (Learned that later.)  I believe that would have been in the Seventh Ward,

Flashes of memory: Sitting on front porches on hot and humid summer evenings while the neighbors cruised by; men tipping hats and doing their "good evenin's" and women flirting, I suppose.  Sweet lost bread and jambalaya, red beans and rice; cream cheese that in no way resembles what goes by that name today, but a confection that came in a small round carton and had a sweet cream sauce over it; soft-shelled crabs and crawfish feeds with newspaper tablecloths; seafood gumbo, red "jumbo" -- soda water bought in pitchers brought from home. "Lagniappe!" the catch-phrase that always ended the trip to the corner store and guaranteed a piece of candy, a few crackers, peanuts, anything extra. Californians, sadly, knew nothing about that.

I remember disturbing pictures of Jesus everywhere; crucifixes on walls, an altar to the Virgin Mary. There was the musty smell while sleeping under mosquito netting, the chamber pot under the bed for nighttime use, the blue and white ceramic pitcher and bowl on the stand beside the bed. There was the scurrying of roaches when lamps were lit at night. The kerosene stove in the middle of the living room and lacy antimacassers on every piece of parlor furniture. There was the huge armoire in Ma-mair's bedroom that held heaven knows what, and the cedar chest at the foot of her bed that smelled of camphor when she drew extra blankets from it. There were candles, oil lamps in case of power failures, and incense in those tiny little pyramid shapes. I remember someone's Spanish shawl that was artfully draped over a chair, and that must have had some history.

Me-mair was Islenos. Her parents were Islenos who arrived in New York from Spain during the Spanish occupation of New Orleans. Her father, was a sea captain, I'm told, but I know little more about them, and most of that was learned only recently in tracing my family's history. As the French who settled in the New World came to be known as the Creoles, so the Spanish became the Islenos. We come from both, plus the Cajuns who are my mother's ancestors. We've never been able to trace the African lines as it disappears behind the curtain of slavery some time before 1827 when my mother's greatgrandmother, Celestine, was born (estimate).

Then there was the hurricane. The year was 1927 and I was 6 years-old. It was horrendous! I've been phobic about lightening and thunder all my life, and for good reason.

It happened on Good Friday (ominous religious implications, right?). It lasted for days, (it seems) and left me with images of my bed stacked on orange crates with water lapping just below. The house filled with the tide and everything lost. Dad building a square-bottomed boat and ferrying neighbor to and from wherever they needed to go for supplies, with Marjorie and a little boy cousin going along to bail water as they rowed.

Quiet desperate grownup conversations, and -- when the water receded -- worms everywhere and the smell I will never forget. It returns whenever I see footage of Florida in such times, of late. It was life-changing. It was traumatic -- impossible to forget.

The rice mill where Dad was working stood idle with machinery hopelessly rusted away. Everything was lost. Mother packed all that was left (three little girls and the crucifix, I believe) and headed west to join her father, Papa George. The western branch of the family now had three sons and my mother's younger sister who had followed him. Aunt Vivian was a student at the University of California at Berkeley. Uncles Fred, Lloyd, and Herman had all found work with the Southern Pacific Railroad and Papa George was a waiter at the then-exclusive Oakland Athletic Club. Dad would follow after things were settled back home.

I remember the train trip but mostly because poor little Marjorie had left home wearing a green taffeta dress that was a costume mother had made for some special occasion. It had disintegrated into green ribbons by the time we reached our destination.

Grandfather "Papa George" met us at the Sixteenth Street Station in Oakland, California, in his new Model T Ford (black, of course) with a rumble seat!

Life in California had begun... .
Of course ... !

I could hardly be aware of race in the environment of New Orleans when everyone living "Downtown" (Creole section) would have been similar to everyone else. The reason that I didn't know the word "grandmother" was because the adults were bi-lingual and spoke Creole most of the time. And certainly this was the language of gossip.

Skin color was no big thing since Creole's come in all colors and types, and were the offspring of Blacks and Whites and lived in a kind of racial limbo, somewhere between -- both socially and racially. We were the romantic quadroons and octaroons of the times, and in many instances, the paramours of the upper-class white population, though that's surely less true in more recent times.

I do know that there was a regular crossing of the color line for better paying jobs. There was always some regret, but also a tacit agreement that no one would inform on family members who took that route. I'm still aware of cousins who married and disappeared into the greater population without a trace.

Some years ago my father's youngest brother, Melbourne, came to spend a few days with us.
My late husband's friend (and our best man) and his wife were invited to dinner to meet Uncle Mel, and as a gift presented me with a program from the San Francisco opera that they'd attended the night before. Listed in the cast of Madame Butterfly was Patricia Charbonnet, who played the lead. Leonard knew that this was my maiden name. He'd known my father and was fascinated by Creole culture. He and Bill videotaped Dad on the subject for many hours at the university, before the students in the Dept. Of Public Health and but two years before Dad's death. I said to Leonard at the time, "...but she's surely not related to us. She's obviously a member of the white branch of the family." Uncle Mel snorted but held his peace until they'd gone. Then he followed me out to the kitchen as I cleared the table and said, "...I wanna tell you something. Huey Long had a sayin' that you could feed all the real white folks in Louisiana offa one chicken!"

As I grew older and had visited our family home in New Orleans several times, and from stories Dad told to us, I was aware of the loose but very real connections between members of the white and black (Creole) families. My Dad's branch were millwrights, building contractors, craftsmen, and engineers, for the most part. The white side were lawyers, judges, and a state senator or two. This was reversed in later generations. One of my cousins (Creole) became a state senator representing the area that holds the famous French Quarter, and Bourbon Street. He's my contemporary but is no longer in the legislature. His father, Louis, (my father's second-to-youngest brother) was a building contractor and mortician (Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home). By an agreement of many years, he and his (white) cousin, Paul Charbonnet, also a contractor, split the city in two. One handled all of the jobs on the east side of Canal Street and the other handled the west. Because (Creole) Uncle Louis and his building craftsmen brothers were not allowed to sign contracts in many cases in earlier times, Paul Charbonnet's name appears on many, as an enabler, obviously.

According to Dad, when one of his 7 wilder brothers got into trouble and got themselves arrested, (white) Judge Charbonnet would give a mild scolding and send them home to be properly reprimanded by their own father. Southern justice of a sort.

This was during the school busing wars after Brown vs. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court. I was watching the television news with mother. Here were hundreds of angry women pushing and shoving and screaming in protest at the integration of a school in New Orleans! This was unlike the protests in other parts of the country, where crowds were mixed but mainly male. These were largely females. Mom's comment at the time, "...I just don't see why they're having so much trouble integratin' the schools. We've had integrated bedrooms for years!" She was so right. Looked at from that angle, it was ironic.

But the pain for those white mother's must have been deep. It would mean that both the white and colored children of their husbands would now be educated within the same institutions. Unthinkable! Inevitable. Fathers ordinarily recognized both families, a custom that came with them from France centuries before. Once the women of the aristocracy had given birth to as many children as she wishes to produce, or, if her health would not permit more, husbands took on a paramour and a second family that also bore his name. It's hard to think of women of color as birth control devices, but that may be the awful truth. And this may be simply another expression of white privilege that formed the basis of much of the racism we still must fight against, even in the year 2003.

Hope I'm not over-stating the case, but I don't believe so. At the level of Jung's theory of the Collective Unconscious, those women in Walnut Creek -- during the Fifties -- may have been responding to similar emotions in the viciousness that greeted us when we moved among them to build a home and raise our family. Makes about as much sense as anything else... .