Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thursday brings one more day of sleuthing -- wandering through this bonanza of historic photographs of black life in the S.F. Bay Area, 30's through 70's ...

Careth "Diddy" Bomar Reid, Electra Kimble Price, and moi (and others as they join with us) now devote 3 hours each week to excitedly pouring over printouts of old negatives; trying to identify literally thousands of brides, grooms, fraternity sisters and brothers, church goers, choir members, cornerstone layers, debutantes, etc., so that somehow, somewhere we'll begin to make a dent in this priceless collection of images of African Americans who were drawn to life in the Bay Area (mostly) from long before World War II through the Seventies.

What is becoming clear -- at least to me -- is that we're going to have to grow our little group to include more brains with attached active memories if we're going to come anywhere near to accomplishing this task within the next decade! I believe I have some ideas for how to multiply our numbers soon.

Today we came up with the 7th Street office address of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters; with 8x10 publicity photos of legendary blues singer, Jimmy McCracklin; with a marvelous picture of an event hosted by "100 Black Men" held at Slim Jenkins Lounge in West Oakland; with photos of Mrs. Vivian Osborne Marsh and journalist, Taria Hall Pittman; with the executive board of the Fannie Wall Home & Day Nursery on 8th and Linden; group photos of fraternity and sorority activities, etc. It was another satisfying day, but that's such a small number when one considers that there are more than 10,000 still to be processed! That there will be many WWII home front photos still to be recovered keeps me working breathlessly. The documentation for black history is under our fingers every Thursday from noon until 3:30, and only time (the one thing we don't have) will deliver those identities to us.

Tennyrate, the work and Dorian's balding has dulled the euphoria produced by the billboard announcement, and I'm back in the properly humbled column again. It didn't take much. However -- there were a few moments there -- yesterday -- as I walked across Frank H. Ogawa plaza -- away from a meeting with the director of the Older Americans Day celebration and toward City Hall and a brief meeting with a member of the Oakland city council where we were to talk a bit about historic sites in her district. Four young black men were passing nearby ... and as we crossed paths one of them said, "...she's a park ranger. That must be a great job. And she looks so good in that uniform." They were obviously speaking loudly enough for me to hear. I turned back to them and grinned, saying, " is a great job, and thank you kindly, sirs!" Felt good. This was the kind of tribute young black men are so good at delivering. It nudged alive young Betty. But my ego isn't strong enough to warrant such a tribute. It was surely the thought of such a job that rang their bell, right? But for just a minute there ...

I didn't feel a day over 65!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Maybe I understand after all ... So she's now totally bald! So...?

Do you suppose that -- given her mental retardation -- and, since her decisions must therefore be emotionally rather than intellectually based -- she's seized the lead in freeing us both from these past weeks of regression? She has always had these flashes of rationality that defy logic. I suspect that this is one of those times.

We'd gotten ourselves locked into a pattern that was destructive to her sense of self and relative independence. I couldn't allow myself to admit how guilty I felt at having left her behind to enjoy that great trip without. It's so hard to admit that I sometimes feel weighted down by the constant awareness of her needs.

Recently I've fallen quite comfortably into picking her up each day -- taking her to my apartment for endless and mindless television watching and mother-prepared suppers. She'd become glued to the Disney channel and little else as I read or poured over studies for my work.

Maybe taking the clippers to her head at the first opportunity when she was alone in her own place changed the pattern. She is too fearful to face me without her hair -- so can't possibly come home for awhile, right? I haven't seen her yet, though she's called several times today to tell me that she's sorry for "...doing a dumb thing."

It was a drastic move, but she accomplished something we both needed to have happen. She's free again. She's back home being the adult in her own household (to her two cats). I'm free again to return to my work and my usual busyness.

She is probably less lonely in her own surroundings than when she is with me as I'm off into my head or escaping into the Internet or conceiving some new outreach plan ... while she sits before the idiot box watching Hannah Montana -- hoping to understand a world far beyond her capacities but that charms her nonetheless.

Dori may have found the answer for us both; and I love her for it.

Maybe -- in a day or so when she's ready -- I'll stop by and pick her up to buy a new hat or some bright head scarves. After all, the media brings her visions of women of the world in head coverings every day.

We'll have dinner out; then I'll take her to her own home.

...then I'll return to mine.

Signed: A repentant mother.

Photo: Dorian with a painting in acryllics of her cat, Speedy Reid. We'd had to have her euthanized after a long life of being cherished . This piece was done to serve as the centerpiece for a lunchtime memorial service she conducted at NIAD (National Institute for Artists With Disabilities). Note the halo.
Earthday Birthday with its reminders of the fragility of the planet -- and Dorian's declaration of independence.

Nature could hardly have delivered a more perfect day for hosting an outdoor party for one whom I rarely take the time to think much about. Except for the monthly staff meetings that are held at John Muir National Historic Site -- I have little reason to wander those grounds or to be particularly aware of the Muir legacy. Living in the daily rich environment of the World War II period in Richmond has dulled my senses to the others of the four park consortium with which we're associated. The stories associated with them are varied and fascinating. I tend to think of John Muir only at such times as when I catch sight of the great photographs of Ansel Adams or see a Sierra Club poster. He just doesn't come up for me all that often.

Yesterday our staff from all of the area's national sites gathered in the town of Martinez to join with ecologists, preservationists, living descendants of the Muir clan, civic leaders, park volunteers, and -- the marvelous re-enacter of the great man (pictured above). His brief speech in the burr of Scotland ... after an afternoon of live music chosen for its relevance to his life and times blended with the plaintive sound drifting across the historic orchards from bagpipers in kilts ... a love-ly afternoon spent in the shadow of Muir House.

As an African American with a distinct tendency to view the world from that perspective, it is always startling and disarming to rediscover my country through the lens of other cultures -- other times in history. How rich are we! To feel myself yielding -- leaning in toward the sounds of bagpipes with a faint sense of recognition, somehow, but from where does that come? The sound of drums, surely; but bagpipes? Why, one might wonder, would I think of Hubert Laws playing "Amazing Grace" in that magnificent flute solo -- winding ever higher with each chorus until it sounds reedy and fife-like (bagpipe-like?) whenever I hear that sound. What on earth could be the connection?

Dorian and I have been at odds since my return from the Arizona trip. She had no way to understand where I was for two whole weeks since her perception of distances is not dependable. I've always been within cellphone reach, except for this time when there was no access and I'd dropped off the planet.

Since I've returned she has spent the major part of the weeks sleeping on a futon in my bedroom, only returning to her apartment across town to feed her two cats. I've been dropping her off each morning at NIAD (National Institute for Artists with Disabilities), allowing her to return to her place at 3:00 o'clock when her work day ends, and waiting for her to call to be picked up for dinner and an overnight. I've been waiting for her to voluntarily give up this arrangement and return to living independently again. I couldn't initiate without suggesting rejection. I felt that I had a lot to make up for. Guilt is a powerful motivator, and maternal guilt -- the worst!

On Friday evening -- finally -- she decided to stay at her apartment. I would drive out to have dinner with a friend that evening -- and fulfill my ranger role at John Muir National Historic Site for 3 hours on Saturday with the others. Before I left in the morning she called.

"Mom, I wanted to have a mohawk so I cut off my hair! It came out crooked, so I had to take it all off."

This may be where it was all leading. I now have a completely bald daughter who may have finally been able to express her rage at what she may have concluded was my abandonment. Perhaps now it's over.

It's now Sunday afternoon. She is still at her own apartment, probably a little fearful of having me see the results of her adventure (I was not "cool," guys) and -- frankly -- I'm almost afraid to see her. We'll have to live for months with the shaved head (I believe she used clippers) which means that this may be only the beginning of a major revolt!

Wonder how the great John Muir would hae 'andled this?

Oh well... .

Photo: "John Muir" giving his speech just before the cutting of his birthday cakes. Click on thumbnail for full picture.