Reflections on Nanahood

Childhood’s End

It is so easy to say the world was a different place when you were born in 1951, as I was, and that claim can sound, so often, like an old person looking at the past through rose- tinted glasses, but the world WAS a very different place after the war. I have been working on a children’ s novella that takes place in the early 60’s and as I look back at old news clippings from Jet Magazine, a magazine that was about the black community, I find myself moving between feelings of nostalgia and feelings of relief, relief that young people don’t have to sit in at lunch counters, or be attacked by police dogs because they are protesting injustice, and nostalgia for the willingness and courage of young people to protest coupled with a longing for the simplicity of life back then. The juxtaposition of the Civil Rights movement and scrutiny of all previously held beliefs with the vibrancy of music coming out of Motown and out of England flung us out of the world we had known and into another world of unimaginable possibility. Had our parents not laid some sort of foundation for us, we might have all been lost, and some were, in a haze of drugs (“If you remember the sixties, you weren’t there.”) There was ground to stand on. The values of post-war Ohio were not complicated. They were unquestionably unfair to women and minorities, but within the circle that was my world, a black middle class neighborhood, there was a system upon which we could rely. Dad was in charge. Neighbors looked out for everyone’s children, doors were often left unlocked, and church or church events were held more than once a week. There was no reward for doing the right thing i.e. getting good grades, respecting adults. My own house was on a fault, but that is another story, for we inhabit many worlds simultaneously and I was aware of them all, of what I was called to be in each one. By the time I was a teen, I did not believe in doctors, priests, or the government with the blind faith of my parents. I distrusted them all.  I measured what my parents and authority figures said against what I saw. I am grateful that my parents gave me something to question. I am glad that they held their beliefs close, even if I rejected those beliefs later because I know now, at 62, that so much of who I am came from beliefs they taught to me and many of those beliefs I still hold as good and true. My parents were not my friends; they were my parents, entrusted with my care. They were the adults and, with all their flaws and vulnerabilities, there is something to be said for their acceptance of that role. They did not need to be my friends. The passing of the mantle of adulthood and the handing over of the earth’s stewardship is not marked by ceremony and so, I suppose, it is not surprising in a world where adults dress like teens and teenagers dress like adults, that the roles have been confused. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a closet conservative seeking a return to a patriarchal society, but what the left got wrong in the Bush years was a failure to understand the idea of family values, whatever those might be. What is right and just is not relative. There is such a thing as right and wrong and it’s the same as it has always been. There is no such thing as a relative morality, in spite of what our politicians and celebrities want us to believe. “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.” ‎1 Corinthians 13:12 – ‎10 – ‎King James Bible I take this to mean, not that we lose a childlike sense of wonder, but that we put on the mantle of adulthood and get about the business of stewardship acting with the maturity and sense of responsibility that we are called to bring to that role. It is a sacred trust and it is time that we saw it as such. 



Dames with Doilies

When I was growing up, we occasionally would visit the homes of old ladies. I’m sure I’m not exaggerating when I say they were old. As children we learned to be respectful of our elders. I sat up straight, didn’t dip into the glass candy dish unless candy was offered, and spoke little. This was good because I was always observing the world around me. I was fascinated by the “props” old ladies had. I mean, their scenery and mine was quite different. They had breakable objects a mere few feet off the ground. They had knick knacks, and china cabinets. They had high backed wooden chairs situated fairly close together. They had floral printed overstuffed chairs and they had antimacassars and doilies. The white lacy kerchiefs were draped over well padded backrests lending the most masculine of chairs a feminine charm. More than once, I, standing, carelessly leant against a chair and watched its doily slip down to the seat. I would quickly pick it up and try to find the “up” end of it as my mother scowled. I hoped my placement of it was near enough to how it had been hanging when I had arrived. Old ladies liked lace, apparently. Their curtains were lace. Doilies adorned occasional tables and sometimes the ivory confections were hung over lampshades. What is it about lace they loved? Old ladies’ homes were packed with doo-dads and whatnots. They put African violets on their sunlit window sills and always had salt and pepper shakers sitting on a sideboard at the ready. Their treasures were still lives. They kept in full view the most fragile items. They and their mementos were breakable. One never knew how old the Brach’s were in an old ladies’ house, but there was something special about the rituals in which these elderly women engaged. Looking back, I appreciate the studied movements, the spiral of smoke from a green china teacup, the sunlight falling through the lacy drapes, the willingness to celebrate the space between the knots.

A Tale of Two Kings

The debate on gun control would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. The inalienable rights of people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the bedrock of the Constitution. That people consider their own rights to own something (Hmm? where have we heard that before?) so important that they would rather die than give it up (This is sounding strangely familiar)  indicates a tragically flawed perspective on the rights of the individual and the good of the nation, as if the these two ideas could not co-exist. Apparently, these rights do not include the right of a parent to see their child reach the age of seven. Americans don’t always seem to understand that there is a hierarchy of rights. We operate within many spheres of entitlement. How do we honor the rights of the individual while protecting the sanctity of the community? Ironically, these laws shouldn’t even be a concern for anyone who is a law abiding citizen. So why the rhetoric?  It is worrying that the media has allowed such a serious debate to become a circus by giving air time to the most extreme proponents of some sort of renegade militia because our own army isn’t good enough? Isn’t the act of taking arms against the government a treasonous act (Timothy McVeigh)? At least the king considered it so. Are people advocating a revolution? Against what? Would the basis of this revolution be so that people could own weapons that only law enforcement and the military should have? These same people probably opposed benefits for veterans and supported Bush’s search for weapons of mass destruction. They created the Patriot Act and anyone who opposed that was considered un-American. Now, the very actions they supported when Bush was president are considered an abuse of executive powers. Do they realize that everything they say is on tape somewhere? Enough, people. If you can’t respect a Black President, and I absolutely believe this is part of it, respect the office. I don’t believe these crazy people speak for the majority of the people, but my fellow Americans, you’ve got four more years. Shift the focus from yourselves and what you think you have lost, what you think you have to fear, to this nation because old white dudes aren’t in charge in anymore. I am not advocating violence and much to Larry Ward’s (Gun Appreciation Day) surprise, neither did Dr. King, but I can see why John Brown got so frustrated. Yet, he did not create the divide. His actions merely (if one can use that word) fanned the flames of secession that already burned. Ward might want to get out his history book to see how the Harper’s Ferry Raid ended.

Grandparenting and the Right to Indulge

I held my first granddaughter about twenty minutes after she was born. I heard her first cry. I was not in attendance at the birth of my second granddaughter. I have seen her only once, when she was about two months old. I had already seen Abby two or three times by the age Arwen is now. I feel a bond with my first granddaughter that I do not feel with the second. I care about her. I love her, but I don’t know her. A very tight budget and a disabled husband make visiting difficult. It is a long drive for one person. I have spent hours with Abby, imagining all kinds of worlds and she is always game for whatever adventure we want to take. I can remember promising to play trains with her. I’m not sure why her parents were anti-train this day, but she cried when she thought we weren’t going to play. I explained that dinner would make us stronger for the game and she stopped crying. We played for five minutes before her father made us put them away. You see, it’s a grandparent’s right to indulge, to shamelessly love a child without needing to justify it. The kind of love I feel for Abby, I never felt as a child. This grandparent love is indulgent, brazen, boundless. I never understood how deep was my loss, as a child who never met her grandparents, until I became a grandparent myself. It’s as if someone added another huge cable to the great bridge that is family. I have done a lot of research on my ancestors, hitting the 1865 wall most African Americans hit, and I have stalled at my great great great grandfather on my mother’s side. I have to find my way back to Ireland for one branch. In this way, I seek to reconnect with them. How I would have liked to have sat on their laps, heard their stories, stories that would make my own parents real to me, that would flesh out the flimsy frame with which I was left! I hope I can

be to my grandchildren, the grandparent I wish I could have known.


The New Birthday Party–When Did We Forget How Simple It Should Be?

Recently, my granddaughter celebrated her third birthday. We couldn’t attend though, almost 50 people attended. I’ve never had 50 people at any birthday. Well, it’s true between Christmas and New Year is not the best time, and when you share it with a twin, it’s doubly difficult. There were few birthdays I can remember. The fifth one took place on the neighbor’s lawn across the street. There’s an old Super 8 somewhere of my sister and I in our little party dresses. We played “pin the tail on the donkey,” had cake, opened presents, played musical chairs. It was simple. A first birthday seems important, but one I see as somewhat private. Until four or five years old, I don’t think children remember such things. I don’t understand the emphasis parents today put on these parties. I object to the materialism of them, the need to top last year’s event. Is it because we had low key parties for our only child, simple budget-conscious affairs? Does she feel a need to do more for her own child? Is it just that she enjoys being the hostess? Or is it the chance to get together with other parents? Does it become a strain to buy presents for all the parties? No parents ever stayed at a party when I was a child. They dropped off the children, the presents, and left. I want my granddaughter to enjoy her birthdays, but I liked the simplicity of the old days. I liked that the parties of the past were about children playing. I think that having the party at the park was a wonderful choice. My granddaughter loves the park and my daughter is so good about getting her outdoors. No bouncy houses or complicated equipment. Still, I think there is something to be said for the old days, for the simplicity of a little party with a few children singing songs, playing games in the back yard.

Where I stand

As a teacher, I am interested in how children and young people learn. Even at the university level, I have found the process fascinating. Students come to the classroom with such different experiences of life, of books, of how we perceive other people. There is so much learning that takes place outside of the classroom. In fact, the most important lessons are learned outside of school. We watch those around us interact with each other. We take note of what our parents say about people who hold different beliefs, who look different from us, whose principles around parenting are at odds with what our parents practice at home. We learn how people settle differences, or don’t. How they compromise, or don’t. How they reconcile, or don’t. It’s amazing how our world is so shaped by all the gestures, tones of voice, and postures that we come to understand as having a certain meaning…at least in our world. How quickly we learn them! We get a sense of where we stand by assessing where we are in relation to the others who make up our community, whose signals we know how to read. The failure to move from one spot to another, to admit that the view might be different from another place, is the basis of all misunderstanding and all bigotry. Even the slightest turn reveals a new vista replete with a new set of possibilities and with signals that might hold completely different meanings than the ones they hold in our community. As I watch my granddaughter grow, albeit from a distance, I think of what she is learning. I am not there to see that learning take place, but I trust that this critical stage of her development is as full of open mindedness as my daughter’s was. I want her to know that the world is big and miraculous and full of all kinds of people. The more children become aware of the wonderful diversity the universe displays, perhaps the more open they will be understanding why diversity is our natural state. To give our children less than that is to cheat them, not only of beauty and variety, but to rob them of the skills needed to live in such a diverse world.

Why Public Education Matters

Having been an educator at every level of school for many years, I am always pondering the state of public education in our nation. I currently teach at a state university where I have been for 6 years. I was priviledged to have received a top notch education at a college prep city-wide school from 6th to 12th grade. My K-6 was also quite good. Attending only two schools in my young life was stablizing. I had a chance to “grow up” in a school, to go from being the rookie, to being the graduating senior. My big brother had preceded me. There was a sense of safety in that someone else had sort of primed the pump. In the black community, and especially in my father’s family, education was key to success. It lifted a person out of servitude and into citizenship. My aunts were teachers, librarians, pharmacists. They wanted to shake the dust of rural Georgia off their boots in Cincinnati and become people whom others could, at least professionally, respect. Coming from a family who considered public school an honor, it is difficult to accept recent trends in education.Charter and homeschools do not fix the admittingly ailing public school system, a core of American democracy and whose purpose was to give everyone an opportunity to particpate in the decisions that direct our nation. The homeschooling movement concerns me because I want to know why 1) people don’t want their children mingling with other children (it’s mainly white middle class families who homeschool) and 2) in what way are these parents qualified to educate their children? The fact that people in our country think just anyone can teach is an insult to the profession. Would they fix their children’s teeth or mend a broken leg? The truth is that teaching is the one profession that was acceptable for women and Blacks. Is it any wonder that higher education got left to white males? We are shaping not only our childrens’ lives, but our world through what we model and through what we teach our children. I am sure there are wonderful homeschool teachers, but I wonder about the world of tomorrow being run by children who are not familiar with how to negotiate a world of people with different cutures and beliefs than theirs? I give my daughter credit for exposing my granddaughter to other kinds of children at the local park before she attended pre-school. It is true that my daughter attended an alternative school for six years before going to the fine public schools available to us when we moved. She even attended a private school for a year. I sent her there to protect her creativity, which I felt would be compromised in the public school. Like most parents of color, I wasn’t happy about the lack of diversity, but I believe it did enable her to be the creative person she is today. Might she have done the same thing in the public school? Possibly. The school wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t send her there to keep her away from other children who might be different than she.To raise a child in a world that is a pale imitation, a mere shadow, of the real world is to cheat them of the skills and joys of difference. We must realize that education encompasses all that our children learn. We need to understand that paying our teachers decent salaries, and acknowledging the contribution they make to the present and future at every level of schooling is critical to not only what our children are, but what they become.

On Manners and Compassion

I always find it interesting to watch parents and their children. I taught elementary school for many years. Most of what we believe about how human beings should relate to other human beings, especially those different from us, elders, the disabled, is communicated non-verbally. In other words, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do. I have observed parents who have taught their children how to say please and thank you treat other human beings disrepectfully. I have been on the end of that disrespect more than once. The 50’s were a different time. Not to wax nostalgic about a time when people routinely discriminated against women and minorities, but we were taught to respect our elders. At the university where I teach, students usually hold the doors open for me. I take it as a compliment, not a sign that I look really old! Either way, I appreciate their kindness and believe their actions reflect back on their parents in a positive way. To say that rudeness shocks me is an understatement. At its core, rudeness reflects back on the family of origin and more importantly, shows a lack of compassion for other human beings. Manners are a form of semi-institutionalized compassion. It’s not about using the correct fork at the table, or about how you eat your soup; it’s about honoring the sacredness of living beings. I think we all want our children to grow up to be compassionate beings, but they can choose friends and mates with different values from completely different backgrounds than the ones in which they were raised. Our influence is limited. I recently saw a family on an outing. I wasn’t even sure they were a family at first. The young parents hurried ahead with their child. Not once did they turn to check on the elders, one of whom had a cane. In fact, I don’t know that I even saw them look at the same exhibit together. I wondered why they were even there together. It was sad, because it was a message to the child that this is how you treat the elderly, the frail, the slow. Manners without compassion are empty vessels. I am always impressed by kind children and they are out there. Their behavior is a tribute to their parents. I lived in a strict household, and that way of doing life still guides me in my choices, but mostly I send thank you notes and let the elderly have my seat, because I believe that we honor other beings, even if we don’t like them, by being kind. In doing so, we are better people. Model kindness and the manners will follow.

Of Whales and Class Photos

Water Lilies (Photo by nanachronicler)

Recently, my husband heard from someone in England who was seeking help in identifying the grammar students in a school photo. This was from 1947. Surfing around, I found a website from my elementary school in Ohio. A string of comments reminded me of the place that shaped my life as a child in the 50’s and 60’s. Hearing the names of teachers and principles, and reading recollections of the Little Shop of Horrors dentist who, I am sure, is responsible for not only my own fear of dentists, but apparently many of my classmates as well, summoned up my own memory of what it felt like to be small. I juxtapose the small shy girl I see in my class photo with my belief that our souls come into the world fully grown. It is our bodies and psyches that strive to catch up with our souls, entities that are naturally  expansive. Knowledge of how large we actually are would be terrifying to a small body and a mind unfamiliar with the material world. Yet, I think I always had a sense of that largeness. Perhaps all children  are aware of this potential power to be, in a Buddhist sense, one with all things, the alpha and omega, yin and yang, microscopic and megalithic, the volcano spweing fire and the long tendriled lotus blossom floating serenely on a quiet pond. Such a revelation is terrifying…and wonderful. My granddaughter’s birthday present to me was a picture she had drawn of a girl whale, a boy whale, and a big girl whale. My daughter is expecting a baby in the spring, and I think Abby has learned that she will be the big girl then, no longer the baby. I was delighted by the grandness of her vision. She can imagine whales, and bigger whales and draw them. To be able to see beyond the boundaries of ourselves is our greatest achievement. It has made possible scientific discoveries and brilliant art, wondrous thoughts and life changing solutions. I will do my best, as her nana, to keep her in touch with her soul, as I did with my daughter. That is my gift to her.


Living long enough to see the generation after that of your own children is a privilege. I suppose living long enough to see your own children grow up is a privilege when babies die, children starve, diseases decimate, and bombs fall making rubble of civilizations. I was at the cemetery where my mother is buried. I visit every six weeks or so. I go there to keep a sense of my roots. She is in the columbarium, but the fall day beckoned as we walked outside, my husband and I. The maples were all scarlet and the tombstones and family crypts seemed lovely, if melancholy; honest and tender. We walked the vast grounds reading inscriptions, daughters and sons lost too soon, “Lived 18 years, 6 months and 26 days.” We saw veterans of wars, Scots, and Welsh people, Jews and Catholics. We saw the stones of families from New York, or Boston, who came to California for reasons we will never know. We saw mothers next to infants, and grandmothers and grandfathers. All here, turned to dust, the sacredness of all life honored by the marker bearing their names, places of birth, relationship to others.

Part of me resents this waste of land. Another part of me is grateful that there is some place I can go to find my mother, though her spirit is everywhere with me and the drive is a good hour. It has been thirty years since her death. I miss her. I wish she could see her great granddaughter. I wish she could officiate the family squabbles. We need an elder, someone with a sense of the total picture, someone who is vested in our continuance. I see the difference between my daughter’s attitude towards elders and mine. Is it generational? Children marry later and have children later and I think this has changed the dynamics of family life. Younger marrieds seem more likely to keep family ties. Older marrieds are in a completely different place in their lives, a sort of proving ground, a consolidating place. I don’t understand Generation X. I am not sure what they hold sacred. They have lived in unstable times, but so did we, and so did our parents. I want my granddaughter, not just to be polite, as her parents are teaching her to be, as I was taught to be, as I taught my daughter to be, but to be compassionate. I want her sense of justice to be grounded in something greater than us. I want her to understand that we are such small fires in the cosmos. We need to burn with purpose. Looking at the maples, shivering crimson, and the poplars shedding their leaves of gold, I thought about how important it is that we hold fast to our roots, that we remember.

Autumnal Scene at the Cemetery

Post Navigation