Sunday, July 31, 2011

Down the river

Here we go again. Another day and definitely not another dollar. Life moves on as if it were a river and I am in that river, but not in the mainstream. No, I am bobbing along in the current near the shore. I get hooked on snags every once in awhile but then I’m free and I sail along with the others once more. Until the next snag. Looking downstream, it appears as if there are quite a few snags so I will have to be careful if I want to continue the trip.
Here it is, the end of July and that means that in just another month I will be seventy one years old. Seventy one. Who knew! Now what’s the average life span for US citizen males? I think it has dropped to seventy eight and it’s still sliding south as our health care system evaporates under the harsh sun of a Republican/Tea Party Congress. Perhaps I should be moving north to Canada instead of east to Chico? I would have a better chance for a longer life. No, I suppose not. Even though I love most things Canadian…except for their Conservative government, with Stephen Harper, Canada’s answer to Ronald Reagan, as Prime Minister. Truth is, I could be run over by a car in Canada just as easily as I could in Chico. 
I was mowing the orchard yesterday, an hour long chore that will soon be just a memory. And as I mowed, I was thinking about the sale of our house to a local rancher. I have met a lot of local ranchers, farmers, etc in this area and I don’t hesitate to brand the majority of them as racists. That doesn’t mean that the new owners here are…I haven’t met them and don’t plan on meeting them. But racism is a big part of the Glenn County culture. Brown people are supposed to work here but they are not encouraged to be part of the community. Blacks and Asians are rarely seen. Separate but not quite equal. Anyway, back to the sale of the house. We have a black neighbor. A rarity. They are a very nice couple and we have shared dinners, backyard advise and most important, we have shared power tools! And then it struck me that seventy one years ago, in the State of California, I would have been fined if I had not disclosed to the buyer of my house, the fact that Black people lived nearby. Can you imagine that?
I was blessed, growing up, by the fact that my mother was a Roosevelt Democrat and a Socialist to boot. I was instructed early on that ALL people were equal. It made sense to me. Still does. Unfortunately, living in Manhattan Beach, there wasn’t a single soul that was different from the rest of us. I never saw an Hispanic until I was in high school and then I learned that they lived in North Redondo and that was a place we shouldn’t go. When I was 15, I met the first Black person that I would know by name. Jesse. He was hod carrier that worked for my dad and I had heard his name many evenings at the dinner table. My dad had a very high opinion of Jesse and would tell us about him often. Anyway, Jesse had a 1930 Model A four Door Town Sedan that he was going to sell to me for $15. One Saturday, he drove out to Manhattan Beach, we met, we shook hands and $15 dollars was exchanged. He took his tools out of the back seat (It was his ‘daily driver’) and dad took him back home in the company truck. I was so innocent then. I had no idea that Jesse had to live in Compton and could never live in my neighborhood. Despite the fact that I thought he was a pretty neat guy.
What I didn’t learn on my own about social justice, my mother taught me. Even my father taught me that, he just wasn’t as vocal about it. But even so, when living in a ‘white bread’ community like Manhattan Beach, racism was just a concept. And then I joined the Navy. Wow! This was cool! I lived and worked with Black, Brown, Red and Yellow sailors. I enjoyed it and it felt right. Until I was sent to Jacksonville, North Carolina. The home of Camp Lejeune. There were over 50,000 Marines and some sailors living there; those of us who worked in the Base Hospital and those Navy Corpsman assigned to various Marine regiments. Officially, in 1960, there was no segregation in the armed forces. Unofficially, it existed. The fact that North Carolina, and especially Jacksonville, was segregated, made silent segregation almost inevitable on base.
When face to face with segregation I have to say that I was confused. My social idealism was threatened and being an INFP personality type, I was not going to be the one to try and change things. I had a Native American bunk mate; unfortunately, he became the stereotypical angry drunk and had no friends.  I did try to keep the few Black friends I had made and encouraged friendship with others but it was almost impossible as the Whites and the Blacks slowly drifted apart. The Blacks found bunking together was more comfortable and who could blame them? And most of them stayed on base during their tour. Why would they want to go to Jacksonville or beyond? On base, they could enjoy some dignity because of the shared uniform. Off the base, they were just another black face to be disrespected.
In late 1961, I was released to the West coast and some sanity as far as race relations…or so I thought until the first Watts Riots occurred in 1965. Even though I was shocked by the violence, I knew why it was happening. It’s that tribalism that we are all cursed with. And it continues today.
All of this while I was mowing…I hope I didn’t miss any spots.

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