Friday, December 28, 2018

And I've still not written about my life-changing trip to SUNY Broome ... .

Some months ago I'd received an invitation to speak at SUNY Broome Community College in Upstate New York.  Not feeling comfortable accepting commitments that lie far in the future (I believe this would have been for Commencement) but really excited and flattered at the invitation, I passed the request along to my agent in NY for consideration.  She explained my reluctance despite interest, and explained that I would be on the East Coast for another engagement quite soon (this was the Glamour event) which opened the possibility of  adding a visit to Bloome to my itinerary
Plans were immediately made for a day or two extension to accommodate the trip to Bloome.

It was a 3-hour drive for a 1-hour commitment, and -- as it turned out -- worth every moment.

After a lunch at a local cafe we drove to the nearby campus to be greeted by a member  of the administrative staff who turned out to be a FaceBook friend who had been reading my posts and blog for a long time, which ended in her bringing about this invitation that placed us on this campus on this freezing day in Upstate New York.  You never know, right?

She met us in the parking lot and -- and in that strange way that social media has of brushing away the irrelevancies so that one is allowed to start in the middle of the 10th paragraph with total strangers, we came together.  We met as old friends and proceeded to a small auditorium filled with students and faculty -- waiting.  And, as usual, I had no idea of what I would say, nor was I regretting that I'd not prepared notes for this important occasion.  I'd just be Betty again, in public, and important things would happen.  I've learned to trust that.  It's what I do.  Especially in recent years as I consciously age into the unknown with this clarified sense of the preciousness of time and of these human interactions toward the common good.

There is something vitally important as one ages -- the sense of no long becoming -- but be-ing.  One needn't prepare, make notes, anticipate, for that.  In the moments left to me, I tend to skip the preliminaries and just BE!

Intuitive soul that I am, there were no more than a few minutes -- after the introductions -- to feel the deep despair in that room.  It was palpable, tangible, heavy ... .

I spoke for about an hour - including the Q&A -- and that feeling left the room with me, hung over me through the drive back to Manhattan, and remained overnight and throughout the flight back to the Bay Area.

It was strange in that I felt both saddened and elated, simultaneously, as I re-visited Broome in my imagination over the days ahead.  Wondered if what I'd felt in that room was the general angst of the young who are living in these days of  chaos, uncertainty, and gloom; of the dire predictions of global warming and climate change; of a sense of no one of consequence or maturity at the helm of an out of control government ... .

Elated because -- as I left that room -- I'd felt the warmth, the humanity in those hugs, in a firm sense that somehow, despite all, we'd touched souls that day, and that I'd made a difference.

And that's a story that needs a space of its own ... because the difference it made was not in that audience, but in me.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

So much life has been lived over past months ... . 

... life that was so all-consuming that the time to write about it simply never turned up, and the events were so unimaginable -- so "over-the-top" that I've just told myself that no one would ever believe it anyway, so -- like the tree-lighting ceremony with the Obamas that happened in Washington two years ago -- I'd just pretend that I'd dreamed it all ... .

And, yes, months ago I learned that I was being named one of Glamour magazine's "Women of the Year," and that I was being flown to New York for what was described as "the major event of the year!"

It was fortunate that it was all under wraps, not to be revealed until announced by the magazine when it hit the stands.  Who would have believed it anyway?

I learned that two of the other honorees were Senator Kamala Harris and Oscar winning actor, Viola Davis.  Of course there was the Red Carpet experience (you simply would not believe!) with a gauntlet of every known print and online publication known to man, all against a backdrop of sponsors (Conde Naste, Mercedes Benz, Loreal Paris , etc., etc., etc., and all clad in finery pre-selected by "my stylist!" and driven from all of the assignments in a Mercedes limo with banners attached announcing "Woman of the Year."  How on earth could I possibly feel worthy of so much attention, even considering that I've lived long enough to have entered the status where I'm awarded trophies and proclamations just because I can still tie my own shoes! (Hold the Velcro!)

This was the most exciting week I've lived since the last time it happened.  And it seems to be my new normal -- but why so late?  Having lost all sense of "future", and now firmly mired in NOW, it's heady and waaaaay beyond any known limits!

The only discordant note was that on Sunday morning, just before appearing as a speaker for the Glamour's Summit, I was scheduled for a televised segment being interviewed by two young girls (9 and 12, I believe) for the company that  manufactures Barbie.   Mattel?

Betty in borrowed finery
Arrived on time and was led to a portable studio to my two interviewers only to discover that the research staff had misled them.  No one among the many professionals gathered to capture this as media content had realized that the first question out of the box was irrelevant.

With a collection of variously-costumed Barbies displayed on a small table between us, I was asked to talk about some of my childhood experiences  with Barbie.  With the cameras rolling I could only announce that I had no Barbie experiences since I was older than Barbie, and that she didn't exist when I was a child!  Oops!  I was unwilling to fake it, but did find some related chatty things to talk with the children about, but down deep I was all "a-giggle", imagining how this would read when I blogged about it later.  It was a little like the time that I was in the room with countless celebrities and the only one I recognized was Miss Piggy!

Finding myself far out of context much of the time these days, but if you, at 97, have a chance to be dressed by a New York stylist for an evening that starts with a walk up the Red Carpet?  Take it! It beats hell out of Friday night Bingo at the local Senior Center!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Backstage with Maestro Morgan, Dr. Morrow, and a member of the chorus.
Photos by Fabian Aguirre
Lessons learned ... .

Leading up to the big debut of my song last weekend I'd experienced a great deal of anxiety, both about the concert, but mostly about singing again after so many years.  Could hardly recall when I'd experienced such feelings of resistance.

The producer/director had been coaxing with increasing pressure for months.  My son, Bob, whose opinion I value, had concurred in the belief that this was something that I could do, and that my fears were without cause.  "You can DO this, those throat muscles only need to be exercised and the vocal tones will return."  Nothing they could say was convincing enough for me to whomp up enough desire for trying to slip back into that younger Betty's persona, especially since I'd been re-introduced to her through those rediscovered 50-year-old tapes -- and was intimidated by her talent.  She could have done this with ease, but not the aged present-day Betty.  That was impossible.

I'd taken my guitar out of the case on more than one occasion over recent weeks and tried to find that voice ... .  It was simply no longer there.  I was convinced that those around me were fooling themselves, and that I was being led into the "cringe zone"!

Nonetheless, the film was becoming more and more dependent upon this scene that would be staged at the magnificent Paramount theater, and I could certainly understand how dramatic that might be to have me leading that huge audience in the singing of my little hymn -- what a statement this might make.  But could we not simply get one of the soloists from the chorus to step into that role?  Would not that be fairer to my deserving little song?

I had enough ego to fantasize myself wistfully into that scene, but each time the occasions arose that moved it closer and closer, the greater the panic grew until I could feel myself having difficulty breathing deeply enough to maintain any sense of calm whenever I tried to imagine myself into that role.

On Saturday evening, on the eve of the concert, there was a breakthrough.  It was an "Aha!" moment, and I told the filmmaker that I needed to speak with the director at the rehearsal scheduled for the next day.

I had figured out the problem, and how I might meet the expectations of all concerned.

Working thru the barriers with Dr. Lynne Morrow, Symphony Chorus director
It was that I'd learned while meeting with the chorus a few days earlier that my introduction would be through the Maestro followed by Dr. Morrow taking over to tell the audience how the song came about. I was shaken by that since I'd assumed  up until that moment that I would present my song and its genesis.  I now knew what needed to happen.

Suddenly I felt at peace:

I am not a singer.  I once was, but that identity had been long lived away, and there would be no stepping back in time.  I am a storyteller.  Even in my songs, this is who I've always been.  Over time this is who I've become in my work with the Park Service, and if Lynne Morrow told the story of my song, I would enter from stage right as a "has-been" singer.  My voice may now be unpredictable and unreliable, but that doesn't matter one whit to Betty the Storyteller.

I would meet with Dr. Morrow at this final rehearsal and explain the breakthrough.  I could not perform comfortably unless the story of how "Your hand in mine" came into being was allowed to be a part of my performance.  It would take no more than two minutes to tell, but would allow me to present myself more honestly, as the storyteller that I've become.

And by claiming the right to define myself, the anxiety disappeared and the performance lived up to my own expectations.

It only took a few minutes to find that this would be possible, and that she would notify Conductor Michael Morgan of the change.  Both graciously accepted my last minute program change.

Problem solved.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Oh MY!

Click on photo to enlarge for full effect

Here 'tis ... and can you imagine that my little hand-holding song written in protest in 1964 would be sung to life after being hidden away for all these years -- no, decades? Not only this, but there were 3 separate choirs who were also singing along, breathing life into the moment with me.

It was surreal ... .

It was a moment in time when the world stood still sharing with me in this incredible remembrance of the fearless, embattled, unbelievably courageous Fanny Lou Hamer facing down the entire Democratic Convention of that year against an intractably crude and vulgar President Lyndon Baines Johnson who would crush this upstart black woman who might threaten his hopes for retaining his southern block constituency.  I'd learned by this time from words revealed by his African American long-time driver  (his name was Robert Parker, I believe) that -- as it was moving through the legislature toward passage in 1965, he would always refer to his long-awaited Voters Rights Act as "mah Nigga Bill"!

Only a short time later that same conflicted Lyndon Johnson -- after passage of the most enabling civil rights legislation -- after being psychologically bruised and battered by Vietnam resisters on the nation's streets and on our campuses -- after the life-changing assassinations of the Kennedys and Dr. King and Malcolm X -- in his plea for unity in the country, he appeared on television dramatically ending his impassioned speech with the words "... and WE shall overcome!"

I'd watched him through tears of rage -- standing before the nation expropriating this sacred rallying song that had seen us through some of the most horrendous years we'd ever lived.

All of the women that I'd ever been stood there with me on on that stage on Sunday -- reveling in the splendor of that magnificent space -- and feeling every moment of it in every fiber of our being!

Caught from the audience by
Uche Uwahemu
The next day this young mother's response was to create a new alternative hand-holding song, "Your hand in mine".  I would no longer sing We Shall Overcome.  Not ever again.  My little song was never published, but took  its place among the others in the "shoe box" in the back of my closets, but now it would live.

And it did!


Sunday, December 09, 2018

Your hand in mine ... .

On Sunday, December 16th, the Oakland Symphony under the direction of Maestro Michael Morgan, the Symphony chorus led by Director Lynne Morrow, and I, will premiere one of my songs from long ago at the annual Holiday Concert at the Paramount theater.  Can you imagine?

Met with the arrangers (orchestra and chorus) on Tuesday for the first run through, and it was overwhelming.  On Wednesday evening I met the full Chorus.

My voice is no longer predictable, and the connections between brain and whatever made possible the lovely music that I can still hear from that young Betty on secreted tapes and recordings now available on my cell phone(!) is nowhere to be found. I open my mouth, position my lips for delivery, and what comes out is unrecognizable by this elder woman with whom I now share this body.

Were it not for the filmmaker's urging, I could never have agreed to do this, truly.  They're envisioning a climactic closing scene in the 90 minute documentary in progress, but it seems foolhardy at best.

I might have found a solution, though:  By posting the lyrics here it's just possible that I can guide my Facebook friends to download them and join me in the singing.  Since I will be singing with the full orchestra and chorus who will be with me on stage, and I will be miked, of course, they may not be able to drown out the scratchiness -- but I will feel supported by the most forgiving audience on the planet, and I'll know it!

Make no mistakes, the song is quite beautiful, I believe, and deserving to be out in the world after being hidden along with others (to be introduced in the film) when released.  I'm able to hear the beauty and relevance in my music -- in the third person.  The years of silence, of the shutting down of my artist self, has ended now.  I'm excited and loving every minute of the new revelations.  But that doesn't mean that I'm not nervous and apprehensive about how the echoes of young Betty will be received; that's probably unavoidable as more of my vulnerabilities are exposed ... .

If you'll imagine this as being played in 3/4 time (as a waltz), and that the music is simple and readily learned in the singing of it on Sunday.  There will be a brief explanation of what inspired the writing of it before we join hands for the singing

We gather here ... I feel you near ... on this beautiful night
your hand in mine ... this simple sign of love
we span the miles ... we wear the smiles born of sharing this day
your hand in mine ... this simple sign of love

Your fears ... like mine, can be left behind ... close the spaces between,
let our love flow free... in this moment be as one
though our prophets say ... each a different way, of this truth they'd agree
your hand in mine is a valid sign of love.

We've traveled far from beyond a star along paths of our lives
still we found our way to this lovely day now here
in our hearts we know peace on Earth can grow from these fingers love warmed
your hand in mine ... this simple sign of love
your hand in mine ... this simple sign of love
your hand in mine ... this simple sign of love
your hand in mine ... this holy sign of love.                             

Sunday, October 14, 2018

(I must learn the name of this brilliant artist)
After more than a dozen years on the job, I finally hit the place so long dreamed of ...

My audience held a black majority made up of local people for the first time.

I knew that we were expecting a group of 30 at my two o'clock talk, and I'd questioned the wisdom of allowing such a large group to reserve seats in a little theater that only holds 50 people at-a-time, and when -- since Saturday talks are by far the most popular -- (we're currently "sold out" into late November!).  In addition, I'm in the theater on both Tuesdays and Thursdays, but Saturday continues to be the day and time most in demand.

When I asked why such a large group had been allowed to take up most of the seats when I'm perfectly willing to schedule (at a separate day and time) for such, no one seemed to have the reasons just why that was.  I quietly thought about it for all of a hurried 5 minutes, and decided that -- for today we'd simply go with it, and then tighten up the process in the future.

Imagine my surprise when shortly before walking down the back stairway to head for the theater, I happened to look through the gallery window and catch out of the corner of my eye a large gathering of African American women approaching the entrance to the Visitor Center.  I realized that this was my audience for "Of Lost Conversations," and that, since the arrangements had been made by telephone, apparently someone knew but had quietly made the exception.  And I was so grateful, for whatever reason.

Add to that the fact that these were mainly women of the Richmond community, people I'd tried to reach out to for more than a decade, but until this moment had failed to attract, at least in significant numbers.

Given that the black home front history in this city is so important, and without it there is simply no way to account for the demographics of Richmond in the years following the end of WWII.  In the year 2004 when I moved to Richmond, the African American population was at 40% with the Latino population at 20%.  Those  numbers have since reversed, largely due to an in-migration over the decade plus gentrification due to economic factors.  It's complicated.

And of course there are the little known facts that the SS Harriet Tubman, the SS Ethiopia, the SS John Hope, the SS Robert S. Abbott, the SS George Washington Carver, five historically black colleges, etc., were all built and launched in the Kaiser shipyards, and that few were aware of it until now.  That 17 victory ships had been named for noted African Americans, and that not only our children had no knowledge of that history, but those who teach them have been completely unaware, at least until this national park was created to honor it.

Without changing a word.  With no compromise because of the racial makeup of my audience, yesterday I was able to share those stories with 30 black women of the community mixed in with members of the general public!  What an honor ... .  In today's audience were the direct descendants of that generation, yet the City's memory has excluded their history from curricula taught in schools so that their children and grandchildren are bereft of the pride those stories would surely have inspired.

I could see the pride in those faces yesterday; see the lights go on behind eyes so long blinded by the lack of inclusion in the nation's narrative.  I wanted to savor it; to linger with them in that place where I'd worked so hard for so many years to achieve.

But it was not to be.

David was waiting in the parking lot to take me home in time to meet Dorian for our usual weekend Disney film on Netflix ... and this day would have made a history of its own in my personal narrative, and that should be enough,  at least for now.

Maybe it's in the Disney-fication of our democracy that the problem lies.

I need to think on that ... .

Friday, October 05, 2018

Yes, that's just who you think it is ... Gloria Steinem!

... and it's about all I can think about today, or at least would be if events of the day weren't threatening to blot out everything of importance in our country and world.

Woke to the panels on CNN and CSPAN preparing  us for the Senate vote for cloture; all in preparation for tomorrow's next steps in the process of seating Judge Brett Kavenaugh on the Supreme Court.

I'm not certain just why it was that I was still clinging to the notion that sanity would yet prevail, and that those old white men would finally see the error of their ways, and would show respect for Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford by honoring her truth.

It was not to be.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine, on whose shoulders rested the fate of that decision, finally gave her 45-minute statement that said all the right words, but little of the truth they were meant to convey.  She tried hard to cover all the bases by granting Dr. Ford a nod of acceptance that "... something had surely happened to her, but that it surely wasn't Brett Kavenaugh!"

Over the next 24 hours the final vote will be taken, but I know longer hold any thoughts for the hoped for outcome that every sensible and frustrated woman in the nation is screaming for.

But I need to tell you that I've known for several weeks that three friends I'd met while attending the Makers Conference in Hollywood last spring were flying out to attend my talk at the Visitor Center.  When I first learned of it from Amy Richards (of Soapbox Productions, NY) it sounded just too good to be true, so I held the news for a few days until it felt comfortable to share.

I finally trusted it enough to tell Tom Leatherman, our superintendent, but withheld it from the rest of staff. Then a plan formed, and it felt right.  I announced to our lead ranger, Elizabeth Tucker, that their visit on October 4th was confirmed, and that I needed our staff to work with me to make it work for us all.  We entered the three under the name, Amy Richards, in the reservations book in order to not disclose Gloria's name in print.

First, my talks have remained fresh and new for me over time by my being able to look into the faces, eyes, of an audience for whom the stories are being heard for the first time.  After so many months and years of telling those stories 3 and sometimes 5 times-a-week over a number of years, that has become the way that the excitement of sharing those long-forgotten truths without becoming numb to my own telling is maintained.  Without that aspect being honored, the work would become robotic, and I'd probably not be able to continue to do it.  There's an emotional component through which I find the energy to keep it real.  Without the authenticity the work would be impossible.

That meant that we needed to keep Gloria's visit under wraps, to not disclose her visit lest the theater become filled with docents, friends, relatives, and I'd be robbed of the "new eyes and faces" that were so vital to my work.

The secret was successfully kept, and the audience was made up of about 20 elders who arrived on a tour bus, plus others who had made their reservations with no knowledge of her anticipated presence.

After a lukewarm start -- since I'd had a sleepless night before due to a flu shot that created some discomfort -- but before the end of my talk I hit my stride when the energy kicked in and "Truth" weighed in with its usual force, and it all worked out.

Gloria, Amy, and Blaine, appeared to be moved by both the short films and my talk, and a leisurely conversation over lunch afterwards.  Amy was back on the Red Eye flying back to NY last night.  I can't imagine doing that ...  .

I will see them all again soon when, in early November, when I take off for NY events.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Another milestone past, and another item off my bucket list ... !

This has been a week like no other, starting with a flower-strewn 97th birthday that was celebrated quietly with Dorian -- watching Netflix movies and eating lavishly buttered popcorn.

Quiet was a gift onto itself, in the middle of another fraught-filled daily schedule that defies custom, practice, or even common sense!  What other woman approaching the century mark would dare to even attempt the life I'm leading?

And next week, month, year, holds promise to deliver more of the same, since "The World"  doesn't appear to be slowing down one iota, and I continue to rise up to meet it, sometimes foolishly, I suppose.

I'm enjoying the book readings/signings, and audiences seem to be as well.

Note:  "Of Lost Conversations" is the title of my talks that occur 3-5 times weekly in our theater at the Visitor Education Center at Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park.  Reservations are necessary due to limited seating, and can be arranged  for by calling (510) 232-5050 x 0.  Groups over 20 can arrange for a special presentation at another day and time in addition to those listed below.  Lead Ranger, Elizabeth Tucker, schedules such events.

Tuesday        October 2   "Of Lost Conversations" (2:00-3:00)
Wednesday   October 3    Radio/video interview for Manufacturing Radio NJ
Thursday      October 4    "Of Lost Conversations" (with special guests!)  (2:00-3:00)
Saturday       October 6    "Of Lost Conversation" (2:00-3:00 pm) (11:00)
Sunday         October 7     Phone interview with two middle-school girls in W. Palm Beach, Fla
Sunday         October 7     "A Community Conversation" (South Berkeley Senior Center)
Monday        October 8     Phone interview with S.F. Weekly re S.F. Litquake (11:00)
Monday        October 8      Book Signing at Book Passages in San Carlos
Tuesday        October 9     "Of Lost Conversations"  (2:00-3:00 pm)
Thursday       October 11   "Of Lost Conversations   (11:00 am-12:00 pm)
Saturday        October 13   "Of lost Conversations   (2:00-3:00 pm)
Monday         October 15    Storytelling at "Litquake", San Francisco book festival
Tuesday         October 16   "Of Lost Conversations" (11:00 am-12:00 pm) for high school class
Tuesday         October 16   "Of Lost Conversations  (2:00-3:00 pm)
Thursday        October 18   Interview re Port Chicago tragedy with journalist
Thursday        October 18   "Of Lost Conversations (11:00 am-12:00 pm)
Saturday         October 20   "Of Lost Conversations (2:00-3:00 pm)
Sunday           October 21    Fly to Irvine for book/signing reading for Orange County Librarians
Tuesday          October 23   "Of Lost Conversations"  (2:00-3:00 pm)
Wednesday     October 24    Facebook live interview with Sheryl Sandburg (all day)
Thursday        October 25    "Of Lost Conversations"  (11:00 am-12:00 pm)
Saturday         October  27   "Of Lost Conversations"  (2:00-3:00 pm)
Sunday           October 28    Into the studio to record the audio book for Hay House
Monday          October 29    Into the studio to record the audio book for Hay House
Tuesday          October 30    Fly to Southern California to tape Steve Harvey Show (all day)
Wednesday     October 31    Into the studio to complete audio book for Hay House
Thursday         November 1 "Of Lost Conversations"   (11:00 am-12:00 pm)
Thursday         November 1  Book/reading/signing, San Leandro City Hall (5:00-8:00 pm)
Saturday          November 3  "Of Lost Conversations"  (2:00-3:00 pm)
Sunday            November 4   Kensington Unitarian/Universalist Church, Berkeley (2:45-4:30 pm)
Tuesday          November 6  "Of Lost Conversations"  (11:00 am-12:00 pm)
Wednesday     November 7   AAUW Book Signing,  Pleasant Hill, CA
Thursday         November 8  "Of Lost Conversations"  (11:00-12:00)

Then I'll fly to New York and the East Coast for events associated with Glamour Magazine to be held 11th, 12th, 14th.  Will return around the 16th.  More about this as the dates approach.  Very exciting, I promise, but not to be revealed (on orders from Glamour) until the December issue hits the stands on November 6th.

As an aside, half the fun of having these incredible experiences is sharing the anticipation with those near and far.  Having to keep secrets about such things is both difficult and, at times, virtually impossible.  Spoils the adventure in some ways.  I've only been reasonably successful, but not completely.

Monday         November 19  Town & Gown Club book reading/signing , Berkeley
Saturday        November 24  "Of Lost Conversations"  (2:00-3:00)

Break for Thanksgiving

Saturday       December 8      "Of Lost Conversations"  (2:00-3:00)

Dates in December will be erratic and at this point unpredictable, what with it being the holiday season, and by then fatigue will surely have set in, and it will be time for me to "... rest ye with those merry gentlemen" or collapse totally!

In December there will be the introduction of one of my original songs by the Oakland Symphony on the 16th at the Paramount Theater in Oakland.  The National Parks Conservancy Association West Coast annual meeting in San Francisco to which I'm a participant.  The Berkeley Public Library Association is holding their Authors dinner at which I've been invited to participate in February.

I will copy this entry to the "Sign my name to freedom" pages, and will add to them as needed.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

New "old" edges to grow from ... .

It was the Democratic Convention when the indomitable Fanny Lou Hamer made her courageous attempt to seat the Mississippi Freedom Party but failed against the ruthless resistance led by Lyndon Johnson.  I'd watched on the small screen with alternating hope and horror, praying that the nation would rise up to this daring challenge, but was not surprised that we didn't.  This was at that time the ... state of the Union, unapologetically.

Skip to some time later, when then President Lyndon Johnson, after the tumultuous Summer of 1964 and the Birmingham Church Bombings, the discovery of the bodies of the brutally slain 3 civil rights workers in Mississippi by the KuKluxKlan; the fire hoses and police dogs crushing attack on the valiant marchers at the bridge in Selma, Alabama; and -- finally -- Johnson appearing before the American people and the watching World to announce the "New Order" that would usher in the long-delayed social changes that would culminate in a new era for people like me  -- the final fulfillment of America's promise.

I'll never forget how that speech ended, with the same man who had worked so hard to prevent Fanny Lou Hamer from succeeding at that convention -- and on the world stage -- ending his historic speech with, "... and we SHALL overcome!"

I felt deeply offended.  Unforgiving.  Not willing to accept this travesty, this expropriation of the anthem that held such meaning for so many over that tortuous and horrific decade.

It was shortly thereafter that I was asked to sing at a Unitarian Universalist Church service, and was still stinging from that dreadful usurpation by now repentant Lyndon Johnson.

I needed a hand holding song, but "We shall overcome" had been forever tainted for me.

I wrote and sang this on that Sunday (after asking those gathered to join hands):

We gather here,  I feel you near, on this beautiful day
your hand in mine, this simple sign of love 
we span the miles -- we wear the smiles born of sharing this day
your hand in mine, this simple sign of love 
Your fears, like mine... can be left behind ... close the spaces between 
let our love flow free ... in this moment be ...  as one ... 
                     though our prophets say ... each a different way ... of this truth they'd agree 
your hand in mine is a valid sign of love.   
We've traveled far, from beyond a star -- along paths of our lives 
still we found our way to this lovely day ... now here 
In our hearts we know peace on earth can grow from these fingers, love warmed 
your hand in mine, this simple sign of love 
your hand in mine, this holy sign of love.

The song was never published, nor did I ever sing it again after that first time.  However, it was burned into my brain, and can be called up as if it was written yesterday.  The issues continue to be unresolved with voter suppression still with us, and 'We shall Overcome' now rarely heard but still meaningful in many parts of the country.

I learned last night that this song may be introduced on December 16th at the annual concert of the Oakland Symphony under the direction of conductor Michael Morgan.  It may involve the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, under the direction of a long time friend, Terence Kelly.  At the moment I'm being urged to join the choir in the singing of it, but that's still something I'm feeling resistant to, but being tempted at least.  My voice is no longer the instrument it once was, and the only thing I have going for me is the fact that it would be one more item from my fast-dwindling bucket list, and the fact that I probably would have the most forgiving audience on the planet!

I cannot imagine a more glorious way to end this fabulous and magical year, can you?

Monday, August 20, 2018

Confessions of an unrepentant rebel ... .

Those last two posts are wildly speculative -- rash, maybe even unreasonable, but it was only after sleeping on the idea for several nights, I decided to just go for it,

When these ideas first occurred to me, it was at a time when I was living among classical academics as a faculty wife at the University of California, Berkeley.  Our home was an informal gathering place for many of the "great minds" at a time following the Sixties conscious-raising period; after the assassinations of Dr. King, the Kennedys, Malcolm X, the resistance to the de-segregation of the public schools, and the birth of the Human Potential Movement with Werner Earhardt and EST, Fritz Perls and Charlotte Selvers at Esalan -- the new "Valhalla."  We were a part of all of it.

It was in that setting that I was introduced to Tarthang Tulku, Rinpoche, and Tibetan Buddhism.  To long mind-altering weekends in retreats at Padma Ling or Odiyon, the beautiful Monastery high above the Russian River in Sonoma County.  To the cutting edge of the explorations of the physicists who were exploring the interface between eastern religious thought and the western sciences.  And, no, I didn't practice Buddhism, though Bill was a serious student of both, and of Tibetan Buddhism, specifically.

It was in those years that my life had been impacted by -- not only the Civil Rights Revolution and rising black nationalism -- but by the likes of the irreverent and colorful author, Ken Kesey, and UU ministers, Aron Gilmartin, Paul Sawyer, and Starr King School for the Ministry president, Bob Kimball.

It was into that melange of exciting change that I was dropped unceremoniously through my somewhat hasty and impulsive marriage to Dr. William Soskin.

It was a heady time of redefinition.  We were all so open to change, and so vulnerable to possible mis-steps.  Fortunately, the experience was mostly at a time of exciting positive growth.

After 35 years of marriage and motherhood in an entirely different social environment, here I was in a world with as much to learn as to teach -- and in a social setting conducive to both.  I was re-building a life after a painful divorce, but on the cusp of rejuvenation for the second half.

Leni Riefenstahl's amazing photo book had arrived as a Christmas gift that year at a time when I was still in the throes of personal redefinition.  I was redefining myself as a black person in an almost totally white world; no small task.  Re-definining myself out of Suburbia, the Black community, and into University life.  Testing my ability to move out of my racial identity and into my "universal" self.

The Village of Kau was instrumental in achieving that transformation.  However, these images deepened my racial identity, markedly, and helped me to develop a greater understanding of where the human differences lie, and a better sense of when I was operating from "inside the circle" and when I was not.  And the awakening of an ability to demand acceptance not despite those differences, but because of them.  

Left Brain/Right Brain theories were commonplace as a subject of conversation in my new world where boundaries were being crushed against the walls of the New Age.  I was a witness to psychedelic experimentation and the fast-approaching Information Age would be upon us soon. Those big brains who were peopling my world at that time were busily creating the "New Age."

Those last two posts have been lying dormant in my brain for decades.  It was raised during that time of redefinition -- when I was having to 'splain and justify my existence in this new world of the Academy when there were no academic underpinnings to support me there.  I'd never attended college, though surely was an avid reader over a lifetime.  I'd arrived at the halfway point of my life with curiosity ablaze!

It was this Right Brain orientation that explained (to me, at least) the vast differences between Eastern and Western development.  The Lamas, refugees from the Chinese takeover of Tibet were moving in and out of our lives on a regular basis, and contact between our home and Katmandu was a common occurrence.  To those Lamas, mental telepathy was an ordinary usable tool.  To the western scientists the practice was still a mere unprovable but tantalizing theory.

Those fascinating brain theories explained some major differences in the social development of African Americans who had been forced to live under slavery for nearly 300 years while completely out of context of what would be "natural."  Maybe it would take another 300 years to regain the threads upon which black life was based.

I was relatively silent in the eighties at a time when I was surrounded by those big brains, and too unsure to express such revolutionary thoughts aloud (except to Bill, who humored me).

Then I watched Panther and the work of Ryan Coogler, and it all came rushing back.

Found myself dreaming of what might have been ... of all of the potential greatness snuffed out by poverty and injustice; by need and brutality, by deprivation and denial; by expropriation and exploitation ... .

Went to my living room book shelves a few days ago, to dig out the Riefenstahl book, and in thumbing through those extraordinary photos, began to cry!  All of it came rushing back, Bill, those brunches in our Berkeley home at the top of Grizzly Peak Boulevard where the original thinkers who were pushing us into a future rife with opiates and imagination (and, no, I never succumbed to drug use or Tibetan Buddhism) -- and the excitement of those times descended with a dizzying force.

Spent most of the day on Sunday re-living those fantasies, and reveling in the headiness of it -- headiness that I'd not allowed myself in those years; the headiness of daring to speculate and let the intellectuals prove me wrong.

I'll just put it out there.

... out there for others to argue against or build upon.

Prove me wrong, if you can, but know that as I approach my 97th birthday, I intend to only speak (and write) in declarative sentences!  Go on, give it your best shot ...

Maybe this is one way in which new pathways into inquiry are discovered.

There was this crazy man who insisted that the earth was not flat ... remember?

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Wondering if I've taken on more than I can extricate myself from ... ?

Yet, it's too late to back out now.  The Grim Reaper could appear almost at any moment, and I might have failed to make my case:

(it may be helpful to read the last post, below, before reading this one.)

So I'll continue:

These masks have always fascinated me, ever since I ran across Riefenstahl's remarkably exciting coffee table book back in a time before the millennium.  I was fascinated when reading the description of her  visits to the Village of Kau every two years for many years, and that she'd studied the villagers at a time long before their rain forest settlement had been invaded by European forces (scientists, archeologists, anthropologists), and long before the influences brought with them began to drastically erode the culture.

I remember tears of sadness when reading that within about 3 years after this book was published, she'd returned to Kau to find those lovely black bodies clothed in Levis, and most of the brilliant cultural effects muted by western "civilizational" overrides.

I was married to Bill Soskin at that time, my brilliant psychologist husband, when I first met the people of Kau through this amazing book, and doing so strongly influenced the way I began to view black culture.  I remember -- while analyzing some data gathered by Bill's research project with which I worked at the University -- that maybe we were a Right-Brained people being test-assessed by a Left-Brained system.  Could it be that the instruments that might measure what Black people were good at had simply never been created?  That we were being mistakenly measured by tests that would never provide any real information about who and what we were, and what gifts we brought with us into the world?  And that we would always have our intelligence and talents under-estimated by those left-brained analytical social scientists whose work would continue to over-estimate their gifts and talents simply by default?

Have you ever had the chance to watch little black girls jumping rope; Double Dutch?  The physical/mental skills needed by that childhood game  would challenge any lesser human beings who tried to blend the complex elements required for success.  Elements of rhythms, songs, intricate footwork, agility, the coordination needed is so daunting that one stands in awe.  What is demanded by this simple children's game puts shame to anyone whose psyche didn't include the "jazz" element, the gift born to most ordinary black children, and genetically passed along through the generations.

We see those same gifts illustrated on the basketball courts of the NBA, in Track and Field activities, on the stage in chorus lines, all serving as raw materials to the (European) coaches, choreographers, artists and athletes, who expropriate what they can use and toss the rest and black folks with them!

The analytical Left-Brainers break apart the elements, analyze, re-assemble the steps (strokes, notes, etc.) into an often reasonable facsimile of the original, and "own it."  And as often as not, set up the inevitable competition to establish dominance.  They re-define the "it," and critique it into something that those who created it have seldom reduced to mere words, but who can look into the eyes of another "sistah" or "brotha" with an instantaneous mumble of understanding and connection.  They may give it substance by assigning the over-used word, "Soul," or "Amen!" and are content to let it go at that.

I've always cringed at the sight and sound of superb black "back-up" singers and dancers fronted by less than spectacular "Stars" who gloried in the stolen spotlight.  A well known folk singer "fronting" that magnificent South African choir, Ladysmith Mambazo, comes to mind.

And what does all this have to do with me?


When I think back to the mystery of my late-blooming attention-getting fame in these final years, and wonder just why it happened, I've come to many explanations over time.  Could be because my life as recorded in these pages provide for the searching aging Boomer generation a reasonable alternative to the adulation of youth culture so common in this country.  Could be.  Could also be that the candor with which I deal with all that is a novelty.  Could be.

Lately a new rationale has risen to the surface, one that feels more likely;

The magic may be that -- for reasons unknown -- I've remained contemporary for my entire life.  Always a creature of the hour, living in the "Now!" This has been my true state of being since childhood. That's still where I'm positioned on the Spectrum of Life, and that may be best reflected in my work.

Instead of nostalgically looking back at the world of 1942-1945 -- the period celebrated by the Rosie the Riveter National Park site -- I'm interpreting that period against the canvas of "Now!", relating it to the environmental changes occurring in these critical years; seeing them in the context of generational challenges that share at least one thing -- the urgency that will wait for no one.

How my generation met the challenge of those hazardous years is a dramatic and gut-wrenching dilemma that today's youth are again being forced to confront.  It's another "Do or Die" era, and there are models for facing what lies ahead as the Earth continues into climactic change.  The threat is equal to and may surpass the terrifying times my generation has already lived through.  We have a duty to provide those models for the survival of the species, and I'm still around to participate in doing just that along with those of my time who are still alive.

Having lived into the future that I, along with millions of others, helped to create 50 years ago, I'm doing it in truth, and with the support and blessings of a federal agency.  I'm able to do it because of the "Jazz" element that may be our people's gifts to the world. Because we're willing and able to drop the guise of feigned innocence ("I've never owned any slaves; get over it!").  To challenge the concept of White Supremacy and the insatiable hunger to maintain Empire over the entire known world; as humanity assumes the responsibility of entering into this period of the Grand Improvisation that will be essential if we're to survive into the unknown future.

It does no good to look to the past for answers, at least not until we've heeded and absorbed the warnings from the scientific community.  Those answers lie in questions still to be developed by as yet unknowing professionals of all of the disciplines; they, who must rise to the crucial, troubling, and urgent needs now forecast by the futurists of the scientific world.

The entire world may now be entering the world of


because the worlds of the fundamentalist past have profoundly and utterly failed us.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

There is the germ of an answer to one of life's important questions just forming ...

and I'm not sure that it's ready to be expressed, but maybe ...  (but then there's that running-out-of-time thing to consider now.)

It seems to me that it's an important insight -- one of those things that occurs as original thought -- one of those things that seems so obvious that surely some wiser person has already thought of it, right?  And one day I'll read it in a book written by some genius and "aha!" will rise to the sound of trumpets, but I'll never own it, just accept it as confirmation of some universal something that I've known all along down deep, but that others have as well, and that I should have realized ... .

It's this:

It's that Jazz is a black genetic attribute.  It is born with blackness and colors everything we do, think, act upon, how we interpret life as we live it as a people.  It's something that can be learned, copied, and  expropriated, but that cannot be fully understood by others as a basic element in everything we (black folks)  think, touch, feel, or express.

It begins with a fundamental difference between white and black cultures.  I seem to have always known that white culture rewards all that has gone before and sets its standards by what are assumed to be expressions of past perfection.  Therefore great musicians (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, et al)  provide the standards by which all of today's classical artists are measured by and against -- to assess their level of "greatness".

It is so with the genius balletmasters, the musicians, choreographers,  visual artists -- all measured by what has gone before.

With black culture it's just the opposite.  In our world greatness is measured by novelty, newness, originality, innovation, spontaneity, improvisation, so we're always leading in the creation of language, dance, music, the arts in all its forms, and they're (whites) always following.  We've always been out there at the edge of change.  As soon as others catch up, we've moved on and are busily creating the next art forms!

We have little to value in our past -- a past that includes slavery, Reconstruction, rejection on a world scale, scarcity and poverty, Jim Crow, struggles against social injustices, environmental degradation of our communities, the deconstruction of families, etc., so we have little to be nostalgic about, and little to look forward to, except for hope.

Has it occurred to anyone that there is very little in world history for non-Europeans to want to recall?  That history in any of its forms bears unbelievable pain and shame for millions, and so much to regret over which we were powerless for generations?  That the struggle has still not been won?

White culture is constantly busy researching, studying the past, writing the new rule books (there are always rule books), and codifying and adapting what others have created.  While black culture is trying painfully to avoid anything connected to a heart-wrenching past.  We're in a constant process of dropping the old and "doin' it!"; creating the new.

When the nation's public schools still had music departments with student bands and orchestras and instruments to lend, our legendary Jazz players were finding their way into the theaters, clubs and cafe's, "Houses of ill repute," and creating Jazz; "America's greatest art form", that bled out across our borders and out into the world.  Their art was being expropriated by white sidemen, singers, rock&roll artists, who covered our songs and arrangements for huge profits while young black musicians went begging and with scant recognition.  Their creations ever used as "raw material" with which to create the nation's "newest and greatest art form."

As public education began to suffer crippling budget cuts, our young were left with nothing more than their mouths and bodies with which to produce their sounds and beats.  And despite all, with few instruments at hand, they made their music with their body parts, and later with scratching on turntables!  Those young created the irrepressible rap and formed the Hip Hop world, which has become a universal culture  that now dominates the arts in all its forms, and where it only recently emerged fully mature to re-energize the Broadway stage with "Hamilton", and to redefine greatness!

One cannot look at these historic photographs of the painted masks of "primitive" African warriors and not see in them the inspiration provided to 20th Century visual artists, Pablo Picasso and/or Modigliani, and a myriad of other European modernists who plundered black culture without credit, and for great profit.  The African influences in European modern art are inescapable.

For me, it's all Jazz!

(How am I expressing it in my life and late-blooming career?  More tomorrow.)

Note on photos:  These are taken from a book published in 1976 of the works of the famous and infamous photographer/filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003) of Berlin.  These are the People of Kau from the book of the same name.
In the 21st Century, in an era of body piercings and tattoos of every description, would one consider these "primitives" behind or a full century ahead in the development of the arts?  The fact that their remote African village was in the middle of a rain forest would surely make their use of mud as a decorative profoundly important, environmentally practical, and purely and sacredly natural.  

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Another icon gone  ... .
Producer Melvin Reid with young Aretha

Sadness abounds!

I remember Aretha as a 16 year-old young woman who was visiting the Bay Area with her father, the celebrated Reverend C.L. Franklin.

My husband, Mel Reid, was a promoter of gospel artists at that time, and was bringing all of the greats to perform at the Oakland Auditorium along the shores of scenic Lake Merritt -- before the huge audiences of African Americans who'd so recently migrated from the southern states of Texas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, to produce the ships for Henry J. Kaiser,  and armaments of WWII.  They brought the richness of black culture with them, and our lives would be forever redirected.

Rev. Franklin was of one many who were presented before the roughly 6000 attendees who gathered for amazing and exuberant gospel concerts on those memorable Sunday afternoons.  Among those were Rev. James Cleveland, Shirley Caesar and the Caravans, the Five Blind Boys, Soul Stirrers (with Sam Cooke), Mighty Clouds of Joy,  the  Clark Sisters, Mahalia Jackson, Lou Rawls, Rance Allen, and later the legendary Hawkins Family and the other local legends of the black gospel world.  So many who would form the bedrock of the world of black gospel, taking all of us with them, and catapulting Mel into prominence in that world.  It would be Mel and his young uncle, Paul Reid who would bring black gospel to the West Coast.  It would be Mel who would bring that huge crossover hit, "Oh happy Day!" to the world with the Love Center Choir.

On that particular day when Aretha and her father were here (pictured above), I was off on some child-centric activity, while Mel took Aretha to lunch at  some signature Bay Area restaurant, probably one of the new ones on the Berkeley marina ... .

Our lives were already showing signs of separation, but we wouldn't be aware of it until much later.

As I recall, Aretha was 3 years older than our eldest son, Rick.  And it was her father, Rev. Cleveland, who was the big star.  Aretha was just on the cusp of the greatness she achieved over an illustrious lifetime career as a world renown entertainer, political activist, great Mom, leaving her mark on all who were ever fortunate enough to be in her audiences.  She provided the soundtrack for several decades of my life, but that was still in my future -- the dynamic and life-altering Sixties when the Civil Rights Revolutions moved into front and center -- and moved me, body and soul, into an era of soul-searing growth that still resonates whenever I hear that arresting powerful voice singing the "Songs in the Key of Life", that have been filling my head and heart all day as the nation mourns ... .

It is now many decades later.  I'm approaching my 97th birthday in a month, and today the great Queen of Soul passed into eternity.

Thinking of just how many of us touched lives in that innocent past, before either we or the world would have any idea of where destiny would take us ... .

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

How on earth does today's elder Betty explain this to young, naive, unknowing young Betty of long ago?

(click to enlarge)

She, of course, still shares this old bod with its current occupant, and rises to take over when events demand it.

This beautiful quilt appeared in my life only two days ago when -- without warning -- it popped up on the screen of my computer from an unknown Facebook friend.

The tears of humility, pride, and gratefulness streamed uncontrollably as all of the pieces slowly fell into place:

The decision of benevolent strangers to include my image in this incredible art piece; the long hours spent in bringing it to life; the casual talk that must have included whatever considerations that go into such choices; and all without solicitation or consultation.

Such tributes ordinarily happen only after death, and seldom before, at a time when the assessments that go into the creation of an obituary ... .

No, not this time.
Quilters Pat Sigler and Johyne Gerar

Apparently, this amazing work of art was installed in the permanent collection at the California State Museum in Sacramento on August 12, 2018.

It is the work of the SQC (Sisters Quilting Collective), and I'm hoping to visit sometime soon, just to see if it's real and not something dreamed of just before deep sleep ... .

Saturday, July 07, 2018

I was aware that the reunion planners had included a gathering for Sunday Mass at Corpus Christ ...

... how could we not?

I don't remember being particularly concerned, nor aware of any long-held trauma around the issue.  Those feelings had faded over time, and by 2018 it would be simply one item on the itinerary of a memorable weekend, and nothing more.

David and his two daughters, Alyana and Tamaya, and I, walked up the aisle to be seated by the usher in the third row from the altar.  I did notice that the pews were not as I'd remembered them (it's been a long time since I was last in this hallowed space as a teenager).  There had been no middle aisle, but a large middle section with aisles on either side, and side sections where people of colored were seated.  But, of course, over time those pews surely had been replaced, and the sanctuary reconfigured.

I sat, grateful to be in the home of my family, in the church of our ancestors, and surrounded by all that colorful Charbonnet history ... .

No matter how far life had taken us all, the Tremé was and would always be home.

While musing, I was startled by a tap on my right shoulder and looked around to see Wendy, a cousin I'd only become aware of over the past few days, but suddenly here she was, whispering in my ear, "You're to participate in the Offertory, Betty.

So much had changed since I was that teenager, and I'd left Catholicism so long ago that I  had no idea what the "Offertory," was.  Obviously, it had to be a part of the worship service, and was probably connected to the passing of the collection baskets in some ceremonial way.  So much had changed since I was that naive child -- applause at the end of the priest's sermon would have been unheard of.  The mass would certainly have been delivered in Latin, and with a far more mysterious affect.  Missing was the wafting from the gleaming brass canister with the attached chain -- the incense which gave the entire service an unworldly and exotic feeling.  There would have been much more kneeling as I remembered, and the priest would be offering the mass to the Lord Jesus, and -- with his back to the congregation -- simply letting us observe that process.  Always making our case before God, speaking in our names as an intercessor. This mass was unfamiliar and a great deal less formal.

(click to enlarge)
The image of my father suddenly rose to consciousness -- as one of the men who passed those long-handled baskets during the mass, and that it was he who -- as the president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society (men's group) at St. Benedict's in Oakland -- who was in charge of counting and reporting the amount of the collection to the priest at the end of the worship service.

Of course, there was no time to explain that I was no longer a Catholic, and why, so there was nothing to do but wait until summoned at that point in the ceremony.  Awkward.  But those facts paled in the face of the fact of "family," and of that honored role to fulfill.  This was all that mattered, so all else dropped away as I waited to be "called to service."

It was only a few moments before I was led from the pew near the front of the church, through the side aisle sections, to meet the few stalwarts who would form the small but important procession.

Behind a white robed altar person carrying a tall metal pole upon which was impaled --  the image of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and side-by-side with another elder, cousin Phyllis, carrying a flacon that held the wine to be used in the communion service, and I carrying "The Host," an ornamental small round box filled with communion wafers; the "body and blood" of Christ.  And suddenly, the sanctuary was filled with the heavenly music of the choir and there we were, there I was, marching up the center aisle toward the priest who stood waiting at the Altar.  I am bearing the most precious element of all.

And all in, Corpus Christi, my grandfather's church!

Not even the outrageous awfulness emanating from Washington could cut through the magic of that moment.  The centuries-old injustices and inequalities, the harsh realities that had destroyed my belief system completely since that fifteen year-old girl child had last visited that hallowed space.  Nothing could have diminished this moment in this year 2018.

The film that is being made about my life; the two filmmakers who'd come along to capture these moments of my most improbable life -- had no idea of the depths of this experience.  How on earth would they know what it meant?  Who on earth would believe this if written in a script?  I silently vowed to gain the footage and include it here, in this record of my remarkable life that seems almost too theatrical to ever be believed.

Was it enough to bring down the Gods from Heaven to reclaim this errant child?  No.  No blinding insight.  No contemporary version of the burning bush, thank you.  But there was a kind of peace that descended.  I knew instinctively that this may have been the greatest "book end" moment I would ever live, and that it was almost poetic in its simplicity.

Would I not absolutely LOVE to have been able to share that moment with Dorson Louis Charbonnet, my father, and his, Louis Charbonnet?

But maybe among those inexplicable moments that are beyond explanation and defy logic, they knew and had guided me toward my completion -- in this my final decade.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Book ends to a long and amazing life ... 

Long ago, when I was a curious and less than adventuresome adolescent, I was sent to Louisiana to  participate in the annual ritual of celebrating my maternal great-grandmother's birthday.  Since our fathers and uncles were largely employed as red caps and/or Pullman porters at that time, we enjoyed and took advantage of the Southern Pacific railroad company's family passes program -- few of us could have afforded those trips home otherwise.  It was my turn that year, to represent the West Coast branch of the family.

My parents prepared me for that visit to New Orleans with an itinerary that would include attending Sunday services at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, the Charbonnet family's great source of pride since my grandfather, Louis Charbonnet, had designed and built that great edifice as one of the last projects before he passed on in 1924.  He also built the high school that stood adjacent to the church.

Corpus Christi High School
I was reminded of his eminence in the Treme.  That his casket was held at the altar for two days before burial to allow the community to pay its respect for the prominence he'd brought through his many great works over many years as a leader of influence and service to all.

On the long train trip from the West Coast, I'd dreamed of seeing that structure, and made my way there on the first Sunday after arrival in that historic city.

Imagine the shock when -- after dipping my hand in the font of holy water and making the sign of the cross as folks were gathering for mass -- then entering through the heavy double doors to find the usher guiding  me to the side aisle where people of color were seated.  The middle section was reserved for whites, only!  This, in my grandfather's church!

What kind of God would allow this?  For a youngster who'd grown up as a second generation Californian, there was no way to process this outrage.  This was the birth of cynicism for me, and probably caused the disenchantment with religious orthodoxy in general, and with Catholicism, specifically, from that day forward.  With the innocence of youth, and the same kind of non-compromising attitude that probably characterizes my entire life, I could not accept what my parents had not seen as important enough to prepare me for -- prior to the experience.  There had been no warning.  Racial segregation was simply the reality, the "normal", that their generation had lived through and survived.  They did not question.  I could not accept.

Oddly enough, I can't recall ever mentioning how that encounter with the system of segregation had effected me.  Not then, not ever.  Perhaps that's a part of the problem, and the why it is that we've never quite conquered it.

When such practices become normalized, they become embedded in the culture, and are no longer questioned.  Maybe there's a lesson in there somewhere for what's occurring in this nation of today, maybe.  A caution to be ignored at our peril?

That would have been around 1936.

That was then.

Now scroll forward to June 24, 2018, and though I'd not ever visited Corpus Christi again despite the fact that I've been home to New Orleans several times since then.  Over the years the memory had grown to symbolize something abhorrent, and completely unacceptable.   This time I was there as a minor character, though the matriarch of my huge family -- participating in our first ever Family Reunion (245 attended from across the country).

... and what an experience it was!

Read on ... .