Saturday, January 10, 2004

Saturday's come again, ...

and time to let my mind wander back in time ... .

Thinking about one of those periods in time when there was just enough absurdity to keep life in perspective when all else was precarious and beyond personal control. It was a time when Bobby and David were still very young and when the neighborhood children had broken through the social barricades and were spending much of their time playing in our driveway. Their curiosity won out over whatever prohibitions had been placed on them by adults, and the sounds of play had echoed out of our yard all summer long.

I believe that David was not yet in kindergarten when Georgia Wiseman came to work for us. Despite her very Jewish name, Georgia was a tall energetic African American woman who served as both cleaning woman and great friend to this rather lonely young mother living in hostile country. Georgia came on Tuesdays and Thursday every week and handled the bunch of us like the "professional" that she was. She was with us not only through those critical years, but -- after my first marriage failed -- years later, she came back to work for us for several years in the Berkeley home shared with my second husband. My kids were all grown up by then, but Bill and I were both employed by the university. Ours was an enduring friendship.

I can feel my throat tighten when I remember the day that we learned that Dr. King had been killed. It happened on a day when Georgia was not due to work. I was devastated! I was alone in the house. There was a knock on the door around ten o'clock and there she was. "Thought I could catch up on some ironing," said she walking past me with tears flowing. She'd driven over 20 miles from East Oakland because she felt needed. This was Georgia Wiseman. She knew that I would be sad but also frightened.

But that was also a time when a beautiful black Belgian Shepherd moved into our lives. He turned up one morning with a stone in his mouth. He greeted me when I opened the front door, front legs down, hips high and tail wagging. The signal was clear. I picked it up and threw it as far as I could. He dashed off and located it easily and brought it back for a re-toss; an endless game that went on for weeks. When I could toss no more, he'd lie down on the deck and wait for the boys to leave home to board the school bus down the road. He walked them to the bus -- and greeted them each to day to be escorted home. He'd adopted us. Had no idea where his owner was since there he was until late in the evening when Mel drove down the driveway to be escorted up the stairs into the house. I was careful not to feed him for fear that his (unknown) owner would think that I was trying to steal this lovely creature. It went on for weeks. He would arrive early each morning as if to his "job," staying until Mel checked in each night.

After some weeks, the mystery was solved. One of the neighbor children was overheard calling the dog by his name, "Nig!" It was Georgia. Of course, it was impossible for the owner to call him home. How on earth could he/she stand at the edge of our property calling out " Here Nigger!" It was preposterous. It was also very funny! It was also a problem.

Coincidentally, at the time there was a construction job underway in front of our house -- pipe-laying of some sort, in deep trenches -- with workmen from the utility company (both Black and White) spending much of the day digging and pounding with their machines. Here they were working in front of a fine  home obviously owned by an African American family who owned a big black dog named "Nig." They could hear the childrens' voices calling out his name as they played. How could this be?

Georgia could hardly stand it. She finally insisted that we have the children use some other name. Only problem with that was that I couldn't find any sensible way to explain to my little ones the reason for doing so. Nig was simply the name of a creature they'd grown to love and at the time the word had no other meaning. Would he even respond to any other? My kids weren't familiar with it, and the other children were probably equally as innocent. These were really pretty young children. Georgia's embarrassment at being the housekeeper for such a family in plain view of the African American workmen was unbearable. She ceased to see the humor in the situation after a very short time.

After some weeks, I finally caught a glimpse a young woman across the road in front of a tiny rented cabin. Nig was standing beside her. Walked over and introduced myself. She moved quickly up her stairs as I arrived and was now standing behind a closed screen door. She was not unfriendly, but not very responsive, either. I told her that I was concerned that her dog was not being fed, that I'd not known where he'd come from or how to report our "find." Told her how much we loved him but wanted her to know that we were not trying to steal him. Made no mention of his name.

She told me that she'd recently moved from a ranch where there had been children for Nig to tend, and that, since moving here, she had accepted a job that kept her away from home much of the time. He was lonely for a family to tend. She was sorry if he'd been a burden to us ... but that she was planning to move soon.

We lost Nig. We never did manage to work out a solution, but we had one happy housekeeper when Nig moved away. Then we went back to laughing at the absurdity of it all!

It was then that we found a reliable breeder and bought Helsa, a German Shepherd pup, who quickly healed the pain of losing our cherished friend, something I'm not sure would have happened without the experience.

What's in a word? I'm not sure, but I suspect that some of the toxins may have been removed for my little ones -- if they can remember... .

Photo: Bob with Dorian under the big oak at our home in Walnut Creek.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Am back at work with a vengeance ...

with few empty spaces on my dance card ... .

Am acting as an adviser to two candidates for city councils in two cities in our district. That's in addition to a quickening of action around Loni's re-election campaign for a second term in the State Assembly. She will be running virtually unopposed in the March Primary (two little known men have filed) but it still means fundraisers and public events to attend where our district crew of five will take turns staffing her. It's an exciting time, but also wearing.

Still haven't gotten into the writing of my speech (this weekend, I promise) for the King Day event. Learned a little more about the Henry J. Kaiser Oakland Museum Exhibition, though. Found that Loni will attend the opening on January 31st and I'm assigned to staff her on that evening. I haven't found a way to tell her that -- included in the exhibition -- is a 1-minute audio clip of yours truly accompanying a film clip taken from the U.C. oral history project. Have warned our chief of staff that this is happening, but Loni's been in the Sacramento Follies all week, and we've not seen her since before Christmas. Maybe I'll just let it happen. Would hate to appear to be trying to upstage a legislator. Maybe she won't notice. It will flit by quickly, I'm sure.

When the clarifying call came yesterday (I'd called to ask why the clip was being used at all -- and what possible relevance could it have to telling the Kaiser story?) -- I had mixed feelings:

"You were very eloquent in your description of the migration of those who came west to work in the shipyards...". Got to thinking that I also had made quite a point during that interview of the fact that my role had been pretty insignificant in the war effort and that, in fact, I was a lowly clerk in a Jim Crow union, an important point in the telling of that story. I fear that a 1-minute clip taken out of context will do just the opposite of what I feel is the important point of my personal war front history. My image will be used to show how wonderful was the Kaiser contribution to the making of America in a time of monumental social change. But then that little piece will be but one of many, I'm sure, all making up the mosaic of the time.

There will have to be other ways to tell my story -- when the university ever gets around to doing the editing needed to tell it in its entirety. But this is the way that history gets revised, and about how we acquiesce for the sake of ego or whatever else such an experience offers. Maybe just the fact of being a part of the Henry J. Kaiser exhibit will serve as a way to begin to open that history to the public, and my tiny piece will give significance to the later release -- if ever.. . I'll probably be long gone when that oral history project is open to public view. Two and a half days is a lot of taping. I suspect that its use will be simply for scholars seeking information about those war years or the western migration. They will have access to the materials from the archives. Maybe that's the only purpose for the collection of those personal stories. (The university has promised to see that I have copy a some point, though, so if you're reading this, Bob, remember to pick it up some decade in the future when you're working on the family story.)

As I've said before, I had no idea I'd live long enough to BE black history!

Sunday, January 04, 2004

Seems as if I've written reams over the past day or so,

all to avoid my main task -- that of getting a first draft done of my January 15th Martin Luther King speech in Walnut Creek. As it is with all such undertakings, the words are probably percolating in the back of my brain and will all fall into place sometime in the last few days before delivery. Maybe I'll just choose selected pieces of my blog and just read them to the audience. Nah. That won't do, surely. Needs to show some effort, at least, and carry some punch, I suppose.  Meanwhile ... .

Noticed when reading my Sunday NY Times that the article on the Mars landing doesn't show up until page A17. Can you imagine? The front page was taken up with the Egyptian plane crash and a sad item on how the proposed budget cuts in the state budget will effect a young cerebral palsy patient. All very important, but surely not mind-boggling like the Martian probe, or am I not getting the point here? I plan to turn off Mac and spent much of the rest of the evening trying to see what the astronomers, the SETI people, and the big names in the world of space exploration have to say about all this. Should be a fascinating couple of months, almost as much so as when we first landed on the moon -- or when the Hubble telescope gave us that first glimpses into deep space.

There is the chance, surely, that the news from the Middle East is so frightening to me that I'm choosing to escape to a place above the ozone layer, at last for a little while. It does all seem so utterly hopeless.

I believe, at times, that one of the primary gifts of the aging process has to do with the fact that -- in all those earlier years one could find solace in the fact that there were thousands of brilliant savants and scholars standing between you and the gaffs of ignorance. As I've entered my eighties, it's become painfully clear that there's an awful lot of ignorance out there masquerading as wisdom, and that my own common sense is emerging as a pretty good gauge of the scope of human intelligence. Being an octogenarian also has added the quality of candor that not only allows me to entertain such thoughts, but to voice them when it seems appropriate -- or not -- as the case may be. But there's little comfort in such thoughts since it then places the responsibility for acting in support or opposition squarely on one's own shoulders. As in the old hymn, "There's no hiding place down here."

Now, back to the Orange Alert... .
There's no way to remain in the past ...

while ramming into the future by way of the Mars probe, completed so successfully last night. The magic of it all is staggering!

Here I was lying in my bed in a condo on the Pacific Coast of the USA watching -- not only the anxiously-waiting scientists at NASA headquarters -- but simultaneously connected with the anticipated arrival of the new Mars lander any second! Could hardly sleep as I marveled at just how far civilization has come in some respects -- just during my lifetime -- but at how horribly behind we are in others (brutal genocidal wars rage on!).

How can it be that this morning we're seeing this monumental scientific feat sharing equal sound bites with Brittany Spear's aborted marriage in Las Vegas, and a new baby-in-the-crocodile-pen abuse in Australia? Our sense of scale has been seriously distorted, right? Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, Kobe Bryant, Martha Stewart, and a-flight-through-the-tail-of-a-meteor-while-being-expertly-photographed and a Mars landing with another planned for in three weeks -- all being given equal time CNN!

How on earth will my grandchildren ever be able to gain any sense of wonder with this kind of bombardment? How on earth will this grandmother ever be able to adjust to this rate of change and the anomalies it's producing? I have new respect for the experience of Papa George who was born before the automobile (1870's) made its appearance and died (at 96) after having flown by jet to visit his old home in New Orleans. This should be comforting in that it proves that the human animal is capable of absorbing such extremes without disintegrating. However, I'm not all that certain that Planet Earth has the same resilience. After all, there are those melting glaciers, horrific mudslides, wildfire, earthquakes, disappearing rain forests, holes in the ozone layer, and avalanches to consider ... .

Makes this Atheist long for some divine presence that might monitor this planetary dilemma. It's more and more apparent that the world has totally lost its way. There are too many developments on too many fronts for us mere mortals to keep up with. The voice of science -- bravely leading the way into the future -- is being drowned out by those of the arms manufacturers and corporate raiders, and it's terrifying!

Can't help but think that Albert Einstein, Steven Hawking, and Ray Bradbury were closer to the answers than Billy Graham or Pat Robertson ever were. Maybe the race for survival is between Ariel Sharon, George Dubya, Tony Blair and the world's scientists. Makes one feel very small, indeed.

Would that there really could be some Heavenly Auditor/Monitor up there somewhere with the power to pull us back from the edge in time ... but to wish for such answers is surely as foolish as the wishes and prayers of those who are filling the pews each Sunday waiting for the Rapture.

Maybe we've had just about as much free choice as we can deal with, Lord!

Go get the Evil Doers! (smile)