immigration, Love, parenthood, Politics, Racism, Uncategorized

A story of other Donalds: You cannot have this nation

tafoya-potWhen I was younger, my eyes were directed toward the future. With age, I look to the past with more curiosity than I once did.  Now that my parents have died, I want to ask questions I didn’t value in prior years. That is one of the barbs of grief; there are no more questions. What has passed is past.

I grew up without grandparents. My father’s father, who died a dozen years before I was born, was Hugh Donald Stewart. Hugh’s parents were immigrants from Scotland and England. His mother died at 31, leaving five sons, the youngest just eight days old. He was drafted into the US Army during the First World War. His gravestone notes his service: PVT, Company B, 116th Supply Train. He lived and died in Missouri, married a German Catholic, and was the father of six children, the eldest named Donald.

His story is an American story. His nation is one of service and perseverance through tragedy.

My father was named Raymond Gerard. He was 19 years old when his brother Donald died. At his mother’s behest, he followed Don’s footsteps into the Catholic priesthood. In his late 30s he left his vocation to marry and lead a nonprofit treatment center for alcoholic adults. He supported past clients with his ongoing friendship and patronage. Our Volkswagen Beetle was always serviced by Jesus and Tibor, two such men.

His story is an American story. His nation is one of humble faith and friendship.

My son is named Anthony Raymond. He is my father’s only grandson. When he was two weeks old, my father had a heart attack. My father was not well for any year of my son’s life, but Papa recovered and continued on, recovered and continued on. Anthony possesses my father’s gentle heart and ease with affection. Those two were pals. My father declared it so. “We’re good friends,” Papa assured him. “Really really good friends.”

Anthony’s story is an American story. His nation is one of gentleness and nurturing.

These are white men, one still a boy, the descendants of Christian European immigrants. Their nation may not be what you predict. Their nation never stays the same. Their nation grows wiser and wiser. Their nation learns; it is kind.

My parents bought a modest tract home just a few months before I was born. The back yard seemed vast to me as a child, the trees on the lawn forming three bases for baseball: weeping willow to apple to ash. My father was a tinkerer and fond of books, and he kept his religious faith his entire life. He had his own soft-cover copy of the Bible in which he wrote notes. From Psalm 145, he underlined: “May our sons be like plants well-nurtured in their youth, our daughters like wrought columns such as stand at the corner of the temple.”

My parents began to collect handmade art from native peoples when I was a child. First they bought a Navajo rug. This rug, they explained, was in the Two Grey Hills style. Their collection then expanded into pottery, first Hopi and Santa Clara Pueblo. Maria Martinez of the San Ildefonso Pueblo, they told me, was one of the greatest potters in all the world. Her creations were a marvel. We took a road trip to native land to purchase pottery from artists. My father asked one such artist, named Madeline Tafoya, if he could take her picture posing with her work. She agreed.

Their intersecting story is an American story. Their nation is one of reverent study and mutual respect.

My father coached youth soccer for many years. My mother was into it too; she rooted unapologetically from the sidelines (“Kick it kick it kick it!!!”) and helped my dad plan player substitutions on soccer fields drawn on yellow legal pads. Years later, when I told my parents that my friend, a star defender on our team, was in a same-sex relationship, neither said a single disparaging word. My father didn’t grow up in a world of rainbow flags; he was a young adult in the 1950s, after all. And yet he continued to welcome and support the woman he had known as a determined little girl.

He and my friend together have an American story. Their nation is one of love.

In my father’s penultimate year of life, he and my mother were tended to by a professional caregiver named Fay, a woman from Iran who often read materials in Farsi during her stays in their home. My father thanked her often. One day while she and I sat in an emergency room corridor, Fay told me a tender tale: she had helped my father with his shoes, and as she knelt before him, he kissed her head in thanks. At the estate sale for my parents’ condo not long after that day, I gave a desk, lamp, several pots and pans, office supplies —  even a Peruvian tapestry — to an Iranian father who came by. He was a new immigrant to the US. “I have nothing,” he said. He paid me a small sum in exchange for the many items. My father would have done the same.

That immigrant’s story is an American story. His nation is one of hope and opportunity.

My father circled this in his Bible, from Proverbs: “Hatred stirs up disputes, but love covers all offenses.” His father before him, and he, and my son, and the potter, the soccer player, and the immigrant now cooking with my parents’ pots — all have American stories. They are the Donalds and the Raymonds, the Madeline Tafoyas and the Fays. This is their country. No one can take away their nation.

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Love, Politics, Uncategorized

Thoughts on What Awaits Us

ugly-couchMy thoughts on what awaits us:

Not long after my dog and I set out on a late afternoon walk today, we strode past the home of the childcare provider who cared for each of my children in past years. It being around 5:00 and therefore pickup time, there were three cars in the driveway. Two of the moms engaged in a familiar ritual: standing with the car doors open while chatting. In the third car, I noticed a toddler buckled into her car seat. She was waving repeatedly, a low and anguished wave, moaning “Bye, bye, bye.” Her face was scrunched up in outrage.

Sigh. I can relate, little baby. I have felt like that for weeks, seeing story after story of farewell speeches from the Obamas, last gestures, that Medal of Freedom the president gave Biden. Now I’m buckled into my car seat and despondent and my hair is a mess and my nose is running and I’m just on autopilot saying bye, bye, bye. I opened my back patio door the night Obama first won in 2008 and screamed in joy. I freely acknowledge that I’ve been crushing on Michelle Obama for, what, a good nine years now. I know if she were a mom I met through our children of the same age, and we ended up chatting at a school function, I’d be grinning well past the time we parted. I might stop to think, gosh, I am still grinning. I have been grinning for a *while* now.

I’m still grinning. That woman is glorious. But times change. My 42 years of life have seen plenty of changes. My childhood photos now uniformly look a bit orange and grainy (was anything ever in focus?) and we’re all wearing huge and high collars and swooping lacy hems that now look ridiculous. My parents had two sofas in a row that may qualify for the ugliest piece of furniture ever produced, featuring big brown plant-like shapes with rust accents and then deep, fuzzy, stone-cold-serious plaid. When I was pregnant with my first child, we decided that we should probably go ahead and get a cell phone (!) for my husband. This prudent precautionary measure would ensure he could be reached if I had an emergency. Mark Zuckerberg was a high school kid at the time. The other day my son, always full of middle school silliness and possessing his own sharp sense of humor, joked that he hadn’t done something “Since ‘Nam.” What? Hey child, I was the one who grew up in the shadow of the Vietnam War era and made joking references to my ‘Nam years. Last week, a tiny but hardy PHONE BOOK was delivered to our driveway. This deeply aspirational offering made me stop and stare. Valuable coupons inside, it promised. I wanted to take selfies with it and cradle it like a baby but instead I left it on the driveway and my husband chucked it into the recycle bin. Times have changed. Apparently, not everyone gets all the memos.

Watching the changes on the sociopolitical scene unfold these past two months still seems like watching an entertaining but derivative movie in which the good guys are threatened by the sinister forces who want to do away with everything that seems, well, somehow not that controversial – low-cost healthcare clinics women can access, not coldly turning away cancer survivors and diabetics who want to purchase health insurance, keeping public schools open and thriving, supporting the arts, letting LGBT people snuggle into adorable urban lofts and plan weddings and put a ton of sunscreen on their toddler children. I’m expecting a scene soon in which a heartbreakingly precious baby owl is juuuuust starting to fall asleep in its nest and then some sort of bulldozer comes and the owlet’s eyes pop open and it flaps and flaps and flaps its little owlet wings while the bulldozer pushes the tree down. While watching this movie I might think, well this is a bit campy and over the top and, it now being 2017, unrealistic. Jabba the Hutt debuted decades ago and that oversexed gross villain thing has been done to death by now.

But here we are. Times change. Apparently the pendulum swings back. There’s been a lot of consternation among many people I hold dear. I don’t know what to say except that well, here we all go. Six and a half years ago I was on one of my rare solo travels, visiting my beloved Colorado like I am wont to do. I left a visit with one dear friend and headed south toward Denver to visit two other dear friends, Allison and Jill. Midway there, on the Boulder turnpike, suddenly I was braking and then I was actually spinning, turning the wrong way. I remember thinking, oh wow, so this is me having a car accident. This is real life happening right now.

My trajectory ended next to a concrete boundary on the side of the highway with me facing approximately northwest when I had been driving southeast. I didn’t really understand what had happened. I think I even explained that I had hit the concrete, except that I totally hadn’t. A witness pulled over and did not help the situation by becoming upset on my behalf and asking repeatedly if I was hurt. All that happened to me was that some water spilled and I broke a toenail. Then there was a traffic jam forming, and police officers and an ambulance and me assuring everyone everywhere that I was uninjured. Of course I cried. I apparently called Allison and Jill, because within what felt like a mere 17 seconds there they were. I can still feel my relief. My god. Familiar faces. Competent faces. One of them laughed at the fact that I had frosted mini wheats in the car. Thank you and thank you for teasing me for my frosted mini wheats.

So now here we all are, and stepping into this new era feels like the brake and spin of that moment of my life. We’ve all together been hit by an unlicensed driver in a Ford F250 while driving a tiny rental car and now we’re spinning and this direction is for sure not the direction we were just going in. I take solace in the fact that on my 300-degree spin, I managed to hit no other vehicle. That still seems implausible – there had been a fair amount of traffic heading into Denver at rush hour. And while I was a confused and tearful mess, soon my friends were there. I don’t know at all how they drove up from the south and turned around and navigated the traffic jam and were there to hug me within 17 seconds and then handled everything while I pretty much contemplated clouds and the sun setting. I was okay. That poor rental KIA only had about 700 miles on it before it was totaled but I was okay.

So I think, while we all wave dolefully at the outgoing administration and murmur bye, bye, bye, bye, that we really are going to be okay. The mama owls are going to get enraged and even the owlets are gonna be plucky and put on goggles and come back at the bulldozers. We’re all talking. We’re realizing some stuff. We’re marching. The background music is starting to take on a triumphant tone and the montage is coming in which the diabetics and the gay dads and the little girls and the disenfranchised and the people fielding the threats at the JCCs are all going to join the righteous owl mamas and turn again in the direction every heart knows is right, where there is equality and voice and respect and access and kindness. First the Ford F250 with the unlicensed driver was tailgating us, and today it hit and we spin. Here we all go. We spin together.

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