Pieces of Family Stories

Tales of who you were will eventually be overtaken by a swirling fog.

All families have their stories. There’s the time Uncle Bob decided to throw his drink out the car window, only the window was closed. The time my father’s car overheated while crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, and the only liquid he had to put in the radiator was laundry detergent, so not only was traffic backed up for miles, but when he got moving again, he left a trail of suds. The time my grandfather went outside, pitchfork in hand, to have a calm, quiet talk with my aunt’s abusive husband, and the guy left and never came back. No one knows what my grandfather said, but I sure wish he had lived to have my back like that.

I know tons of stories about my parents and grandparents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and even a cousin or two. But it occurs to me that I don’t have any complete stories about great grandparents or any generations older than that. Little bits and pieces have come down to me, but they’re either incomplete, implausible, or disputed.

For example, I know there is a Prussian officer somewhere in the family tree. I’ve even seen a picture of him, sporting the spiked helmet and the monocle, but I’m not even sure where that picture went after my mother died. I don’t know his name or how he is related to me. And I vaguely remember my mother saying there was some Czechoslovakian in our bloodline way back in there, but I don’t know how or why, and it sure didn’t pop out when Ancestry.com analyzed my DNA. My mother once showed me the coat of arms of a distant relative, and there was a unicorn in it. Yet my cousin swears there are no coats of arms in that branch of the family tree. I have no idea how my great grandmother felt when my maternal grandmother left Denmark and went to America without speaking English or knowing anyone but the husband who awaited her. What did they say to each other when they parted ways?

Unless you come from a culture that makes a habit of reciting the family history from generation to generation, or carving it in stone, then all the family stories that don’t get written down have a finite shelf life. In my family, It seems to be two generations. Beyond that, everything is pieces and parts, surrounded by a swirling fog.

If you’re not famous or infamous, eventually, these tales of who you were and what you did will be overtaken by that fog. On some days, I actually find that comforting. On others, I find it a bit scary.

We are all temporal beings. We are all part of the eternal ether, even though we debate whether that ether takes on a spiritual, philosophical, or physical form. We are surrounded by those who came before us, whom we have never met, and we, too, will surround the generations that come long after we’re gone.

Will we know? Will they? I’m thinking probably not. But it’s impossible to say.

It was ever thus.

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Active Shooter Drills: The New Duck and Cover

When these drills are conducted, the kindergarteners are just terrified.

Here’s everything you need to know about our warped American gun culture: When looking up statistics for the number of mass shootings in this country, I was actually relieved to discover that, according to this report in Statista, since 1982, these atrocities have only occurred in 38 states (plus Washington DC). We’re still horrified by these events, but we’re also becoming habituated to them.

Of course, Statista goes on to clarify that they’re only counting those shootings that were reported. They also note that, “since 2013, the source defines a mass shooting as any single attack in a public place with three or more fatalities, in line with the definition by the FBI. Before 2013, a mass shooting was defined as any single attack in a public place with four or more fatalities.” So the numbers are probably a bit low. Great.

They also point out that, of the 137 incidents considered, 13 of the worst mass shootings in the United States have occurred since 2015. The vast majority of the shooters in these incidents were white males, and since 2000, police have intercepted 351 active shooter incidents in the U.S. Until we call these events what they are, domestic terrorism, they’ll never be taken seriously by this government. But this government is hesitant to call white males terrorists. Or rapists. Or anything else, for that matter.

When I was in public school in the late 70’s, early 80’s, one time, one time, someone brought a knife into a classroom. It was a huge scandal. The kid didn’t even use it, and he wasn’t even in any of my classes, but it took me months to feel safe again after that. It just didn’t occur to anyone at the time to bring weapons onto school grounds. Well, except for that kid. He’s probably the CEO of some major corporation now.

Little did I know that those were the salad days of public education. I fell in the sweet spot between duck and cover and active shooter drills. I was never made to crawl under my desk in anticipation of nuclear annihilation or bloody death. Not once.

Nowadays, kids are subjected to those active shooter drills along with their totally whitewashed and historically inaccurate lessons. I often wonder how that is fundamentally changing this generation’s perspective. It’s sad to contemplate. My research on the topic broadened my worldview to the extent that it is resulting in three posts, of which this is the first.

According to this article, as of 2017, 95 percent of all public schools conduct active shooter drills. They can be as mild as just going through the motions of turning off lights and locking doors to the extreme of playing gunshot sounds over the loudspeakers while actors dressed as gunmen roam the halls. I don’t know about you, but that extreme end would seriously freak me out, and I’m 57. I can’t imagine how a 7-year-old would handle it. A kindergarten teacher told me recently that when these drills are conducted, she tries to keep the students calm, but they’re just terrified.

The article goes on to describe a study that was conducted by Georgia Tech regarding active shooter drills. Just by comparing the social media texts of community members from 90 days before a drill to 90 days after, they concluded that there is a 42 percent spike in anxiety and a 39 percent increase in depression for months afterward, and not just in the students. The teachers and parents were similarly impacted.

Frankly, I’m of the opinion that drills, as we Americans conduct them, don’t actually prepare you for any catastrophic event. They don’t empower you. Our drills teach fear and panic. When the stuff hits the fan, if you’ve been living in a state of constant, low-grade fear as politicians make us do, all bets are off. You get primal. And quite often you make poor decisions. Now, throw hundreds of small children into that mix, and you have chaos. I’ll be offering suggestions as to how to improve these drills in my third post.

But these drills, in their current format and cultural context, are nothing other than safety theater. They allow bureaucrats to give the impression that they’re doing something, when, if they really wanted to do something, they’d be advocating against weaponry, beefing up security, and insisting upon more mental health professionals on staff. Instead, we want to look like we’re doing something, so we do something. Not the right thing. Not the reasonable thing. Not the thing that makes an actual difference. But, hey, we are doing something.

While wondering about the psychological effects of active shooter drills, I began to think about the duck and cover drills that, thank God, had just stopped being commonplace a year or two before I went to school. I really feel sorry for those who had to experience them. I probably would have been that child who said, “Why do you think our desk will protect us from a bomb? How stupid is that?” And then I would have done what I was told, because I may have had a big mouth, but I was still a good kid.

I happen to be a member of a Facebook group that is mostly comprised of women from the duck and cover era, so I decided, out of curiosity, to ask them what their experience was like. I did this a about a year ago. I don’t know why it took me so long to write this blog post. Perhaps I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t prepared for the amount of insight I would gain from these women. (I had good intentions of getting this done. I lugged about 150 printed out pages of their comments back and forth to work for months. My backpack is so heavy that it triggers my car to insist on a passenger side seat belt, such is the weight of my unfinished projects.)

My post to that group said the following: “I am just young enough to have missed those cold war bomb drills that children used to have to do. You know. Duck and cover, because your desk will save you. (Sheesh.) I was wondering how many of you remember doing that. What did you think as a child? Do you think it changed the way you view the world? Was there common knowledge that these drills were an insane waste of time back then, or was there a general buy-in of this concept?

Those questions must have hit a nerve, because I got 400 replies. I wasn’t expecting that. No two people are the same, so naturally there were a variety of ways that these kids processed the duck and cover experience.

I’d say that about 55 percent were either bored silly by these drills, thinking of it as a nice break from math class, and/or too clued in to think that duck and cover would do any good at all. At the other end of the spectrum, about 30 percent were seriously freaked out by the process. (I’m quite sure I would have been in this group, even if I had been clued in.) The rest seemed to have been confused by it all, and since the adults around them weren’t telling them anything rational or understandable or true, they didn’t know what to think. That’s a really unpleasant state for a child to be in.

The 50’s and 60’s were a high stakes time to be a kid in America. Most of that generation had no expectations of living to adulthood. During the cold war, the brinkmanship displayed made them feel like the inmates were running the asylum. And when they heard about Khrushchev pounding his shoe on the table, the kind of thing that really gets a child’s attention, that provided them with all the confirmation they needed that the adults in charge were crazy. (The shoe incident made such an impression on me, a decade after the fact, that to this day I could swear I’d seen footage of it, but no such footage exists. Isn’t that strange?)

That generation’s anxiety reached its peak during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Many of children concluded that the Russians hated them personally and wanted to kill them, but they didn’t understand why. They came by their reactions honestly. Here is some of the propaganda of the era that they were treated to every single day:

These kids also bore witness to the assassinations of Martin Luther King and both Kennedys. And, lest we forget, many of these children were growing up in the south and dealing with the KKK, segregation, and an utter lack of human rights as well, so they felt more anxiety from terrorists within the country than they did from communists a half a world away.

What follows are several points that the amazing women in my Facebook group proffered for your consideration. I’ll paraphrase the comments and avoid specifics so that I don’t have to track people down to get permission to quote them. (Sorry, ladies.)

Duck and Cover Drills came in a variety of forms. As the name implies, many students had to crawl under their desks with their hands protecting their necks and/or the backs of their heads. Others were ushered into hallways to hunker down in rows, facing the walls or the banks of lockers. Some went down into the creepy, dirty basements of their schools. One woman reported that her class had to walk single file, with the teacher at the head, and she’d drop them off at their houses, one by one by one. (I’m assuming this was a small town.) Not only was that hard on the teacher, but it must have been creepy for the last group of children on the route, thinking about radiation raining down upon them with every step they took. Location, location, location, as the saying goes.

There seemed to be a wide range of communication or lack thereof, about these drills. Some kids were told entirely too much, in my opinion. Small children should not be shown videos of mushroom clouds and disintegrating buildings and melting bodies. Eight-year-olds shouldn’t memorize all the signs and symptoms of radiation poisoning or be instructed on the best ways to build and stock bomb shelters. All that should be the realm of adults.

On the other end of the spectrum, a lot of children were not told anything at all, and were left to draw their own, sometimes funny, sometimes horrifying conclusions, including the following:

  • “Fallout” meant things falling from the ceiling, and therefore climbing under their desks made perfect sense.
  • The Russians would come and take them from their parents and/or they’d never see their families again.
  • Bombs must not be much of a threat if the solution was to hide under a desk.
  • Every plane that flew over had the potential to kill them.
  • I don’t want to die crouching in a hallway.
  • While we do these drills in school, are the adults doing the same thing in the bomb shelters?
  • My parents will be blindsided unless they keep the radio on.
  • These floors are really dirty.
  • The boys are trying to look up my skirt.
  • At least we don’t have to freeze outside like we do for fire drills.
  • How will I find my family?
  • Walking home was scary, because if a plane flew over you didn’t have your desk to save you.
  • Some were scared for their parents because they didn’t have a teacher to keep them safe like the kids did.
  • The Communists or some vague enemy would break in any minute, and that would be the end.
  • They only practiced these drills at school, so school seemed dangerous.
  • One girl, whose school had them pressing their noses against a wall, thought that the paint must be strong if it could save her from the bomb.

Some children comforted themselves with the belief that nothing bad was going to ever happen to them because they lived in America and that was the safest, smartest, strongest place in the world. Others thought that since Russia beat us into space, they must be more militarily advanced. Those were likely the same children who went home and tried to build bomb shelters out of cardboard boxes in their back yards or basements. One brilliant girl even surrounded hers with lead pencils, because she had heard that lead would protect her.

In hindsight, many women were grateful for the honesty some adults were willing to provide. Some kids were told how painful their deaths might be, and actually found comfort in the idea that they were at ground zero and would die instantly. Photographs from Hiroshima made it clear that immediate death would be preferable. One woman remembers being grateful for just being sent home to be with her family during the Cuban Missile Crisis. At least that was honest.

And I found this quite interesting. It seems that nearly everyone was told that their location was a prime target. They lived near military bases. They lived near factories or power plants or big cities like Washington DC, New York, or Chicago. They lived near a transportation hub. In the heartland, the communists would target their farms to starve the country. And everyone in Florida, to this very day, knows that Cuba is only 90 miles away.

Everyone seemed to believe that they would be the first to go. No one stopped to think that Russia couldn’t bomb everywhere at once. If they could, there would be nothing left of this planet.

No matter what they thought, these kids did these drills because that’s what they were told to do. Unfortunately, they were told to do some very insane things. I’ll discuss that in my next post, The Insanity of Duck and Cover.

Special thanks to the women of the Facebook Group Crones of Anarchy!, for revealing so much about their duck and cover experiences. You guys are awesome!

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A Meandering Route to the First Alphabetic Sentence

From language to writing to hopeful words on a lice comb.

As a writer, I’ve always been fascinated with linguistics, especially those studies that pertain to the social aspects of human language. Languages, after all, are created by people. Over time, the societies in which these people live shape the languages in which they speak as well as the way people write.

For example, it’s safe to assume that fishing cultures will have more vocabulary related to fishing than a culture that is desert-bound. Language is what we use to communicate, so words are created only if they are useful to the people in question. That makes perfect sense to me.

Through language, we can trace historic patterns of travel and trade. As people with different languages interact and attempt to communicate, they often adopt words in other languages and make them their own. Before the internet age, the dispersal of language tended to indicate the dispersal of people.

The history and culture of languages and the history and culture of humans influence each other, and that fascinates me as well. It’s almost as if languages live and breathe and grow just as we do. They certainly evolve like we do.

And humans have come up with several different writing systems to convert their languages into visual form. A highly simplistic way to loosely classify these systems is to break them down into three groups:

  • Logographic systems use a symbol to represent a whole word, as they do in China.  
  • Syllabic systems use symbols to represent syllables, and these symbols, together, make up words. A not-very-familiar-and-therefore-not-so-helpful example of this would be Cherokee. (Japanese, on the other hand, uses both logographic and syllabic systems.)  
  • What you’re reading right now is the Alphabetic system. In a gross oversimplification, suffice it to say that each symbol represents a unit of sound.

The current understanding is that the first alphabetic system was the Proto-Canaanite or Proto-Sinaitic, which then came to be the Phoenician alphabet. You might say it’s the granddaddy of all alphabets, including ours. It is so old that we don’t know its exact date of origin, but it’s assumed that it was as early as 1200 BC. The letters were derived from Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Clearly, we humans have been trying to communicate for a long time. It’s kind of sad to realize that we still aren’t very good at it. If we were, there would be fewer conflicts and more compromises.

Having said all that, I must say I was quite excited when I came across this article: Oldest known sentence written in first alphabet discovered – on a head-lice comb. Needless to say, I had to drop everything to read that one, and having done so, I’ve taken you on a circuitous route from language to writing to our final destination: words of hope on a lice comb.

It seems that this oldest alphabetical sentence in the world is on an ivory comb that was found in south-central Israel. The lettering is so faint that the archeologists found the comb back in 2017, but the writing was only noticed last year.

The fact that the comb was made of ivory means that it must have belonged to an upper-class individual, because ivory would have had to have been imported. Regular folks would have used combs made of wood or bone.

Scientists confirmed that it was a lice comb because there were little pieces of head lice membranes still stuck in its teeth. (Shudder. It makes my scalp itch just thinking about it.)

So, what words of wisdom did these bronze age people have to impart to us on said comb? What knowledge did they have to share? Well (and I can’t decide whether this disappoints or delights me), the sentence on the comb translates as follows:

“May this tusk root out the lice of the hair and the beard.”

From that, I can draw several conclusions:

  • The battle with lice has been going on for as long as humans have had hair.
  • Lice don’t care how rich you are.
  • People have been worried about hygiene and appearance for centuries.
  • People like to hope for the best.
  • Proto-puns are every bit as bad as modern puns.
  • We have been putting puerile instructions on products for as long as there have been products to sell.

This earliest known sentence links us to these people of the bronze age in that the above conclusions can still be drawn to this very day. We may think that we’ve modernized and increased our knowledge base over the years, but some things, like lice, are eternal.

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The History of Pono Kai

There is more to Hawaii than meets the eye.

Before visiting Hawaii, I had a very idealized view of what the place would be like. Tourism is Hawaii’s biggest industry and has been since the 1950’s, so the state does quite a bit to promote its brand to tourists. The travel industry creates jobs and brings in quite a bit of tax revenue. Given the constant drumbeat by those who promote the Hawaiian ambience, is it really all that surprising that entire aspects of this society are usually overlooked by outsiders?

I went to Hawaii expecting to see beaches and tropical fish and hula dancers and hotel rooms with lanais, and lots and lots of flowers. That’s about it. In all my years, the concept that people have to actually work to live here, and that the state has a rich culture and a complicated colonial history only crossed my mind while reading James Michener’s novel, Hawaii. I didn’t realize until just this moment that that book came out the same year that Hawaii became a state. But after reading it, I moved on to some other book, and my idea of Hawaii slipped back into that prepackaged, sun-bathed fantasy that I’m quite sure the vast majority of us indulge in.

Because I was in need of a reality check, I was really grateful that the first place we stayed was the Pono Kai Resort in Kapa’a, Kauai. Yes, this lovely place fit the brand that I had come to expect, and it made me excited for the rest of the trip. I could tell that the “product” I was receiving was exactly as described.  But then a brief walk along the waterfront altered my mindset entirely. In the best possible way.

Pono Kai is on the windward side of the island, so the seas are rough, and the wind can howl. It was obvious that despite the gorgeous view, we wouldn’t be swimming in this area, so rather than lying on the beach with a good book as planned, we decided to take a walk.

On the southeast edge of the Pono Kai Resort property, you come to a delightful foot bridge that spans Konohiki Stream. (Where I come from, this wide and deep waterway that wends its way from Kauai’s mountainous interior would be called a river, but who am I to judge?) On the other side of the foot bridge is Waipouli Park.

The footbridge itself has pineapple-themed railings and sculptures, and we soon discovered why. There was an informative sign that described Hawaiian Canneries, a factory that used to stand right on the Pono Kai property from 1913 to 1962. It played a huge part in the Kapa’a community, employing 295 full time workers and 1800 seasonal workers to grow and process pineapples. High school and college kids could count on a job every summer.

Suddenly I was looking at this place with new eyes. This wasn’t just a playground for tourists. It was a place where people worked for a living. It was a place once shaped by its pineapple crop, which was the second largest industry after sugarcane on these islands until tourism took over. It was a place where people took pride in their work, and a place where people dreamed about a brighter future. Here are some vintage photos I got from the Kaua’i Museum’s Facebook Group.

The Kaua’i Museum’s Facebook Group notes “the company finally folded in 1962 after announcing in Jan 1960 that they were planting their last crop. It was the first of the small packers to announce closure since the Depression… It was the largest pineapple plantation on Kauai with 295 full time workers and 1800 seasonal workers…[Upon closing] the company was even charged for moving and transportation costs associated with employees leaving the island or company housing.”

This heaping helping of history early on in my trip greatly enhanced my visit to Hawaii. Not only did I appreciate the stunning beauty of everything around me, but after that, I also made a point of digging deeper. I learned how the land was shaped, and how the Polynesians arrived and thrived on these islands. I learned about colonialism and how it altered the way people lived and worked, and how its existence brought new people to this place.

Standing on that footbridge on my first evening in Hawaii, my view of the place finally became more three-dimensional. I could see the resort (pictured below) as but one dimension. I could also see the cannery, flickering just beneath the surface tension that holds us all in the present. And that view enhances the value of the experience, forever altering it in the process.

Moving forward, I was more cognizant of the many factors that, for better or worse, have made this state what it is today. Now, when I think of Hawaii, I not only remember its beauty, but I also am overwhelmed with a desire to return and delve deeper into it’s intriguing past, present, and future.

If you’d like to dig deeper into the history of Kaua’i, I suggest that you check out the Kaua’i Historical Society’s website along with this page, which describes the history of Kauai’s Royal Coconut Coast.

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“I Don’t Like SPAM!”

Some Spam trivia for you.

Mrs. Bun, played by Graham Chapman in the1970 Monty Python sketch called Spam, has my sympathies. I don’t like Spam either. I didn’t try it for decades, but knew I wouldn’t like it based on its ingredients. And it’s smell. And the gooey gel stuff that glurgs out when you remove the product from the can. (Shudder.)

Spam is made of pork shoulder (which is the most unpopular cut, so it’s kind of ingenious, processing it into unrecognizability and selling it in a can) and ham, and then they add sugar, LOTS of salt, potato starch as a binder and sodium nitrite as a preservative. The gooey gel stuff is a result of the meat being cooked in the can at the factory. Apparently.

In case you were wondering, that’s 609 calories per 7 ounce can, and 80 percent of those calories come from fat. That little can also contains 112 percent of your Reference Daily Intake of sodium. The possible side effects of eating Spam include:

  • abdominal pain
  • nausea / vomiting
  • water retention / dehydration
  • swelling
  • edema
  • dizziness
  • stomach cramps
  • inflammation
  • weight gain
  • increased cholesterol
  • increased blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • cancer
  • diabetes (children)
  • damaged blood vessels
  • decreased oxygen flow in body

Still, when Spam was created, it was a godsend throughout the world. It came out in 1937 just as the world was on the brink of a devastating world war. (If you think the supply chains are screwed up during this pandemic, try getting your steak and toilet paper during the deadliest conflict in human history.)

Spam is convenient. It’s easy to transport. It’s relatively inexpensive. It has a long shelf life (3-5 years depending upon conditions), and it’s fully cooked, so it can be eaten without any additional preparation if you have no other choice.

In times of war, troops and war-torn communities are desperate for food. They don’t care where their protein comes from, as long as they get it. Gross food is better than no food at all. Under those circumstances, I have no doubt that Spam has saved many people from starvation.

Having said that, though, you’d think the world would have outgrown this health bomb in a can. But in fact, it still thrives. It even comes in a variety of flavors such as Spam Hot & Spicy and Spam Hickory Smoked. There was even a limited edition Spam Pumpkin Spice in 2019, which is said to have sold out within a few hours.

The reason I’m even thinking about Spam is that I recently came back from a trip to Hawaii, where this product is extremely popular. Just check out the Spam aisle of an Oahu grocery store if you don’t believe me. Talk about a shelf presence.

It is estimated that every Hawaiian man, woman, and child consumes an average of 5 cans of the stuff every year. It was first brought to the island by American troops during WWII, and since these islands are so isolated, the convenience of this product has continued to have its appeal. There’s even an annual Spam Jam in Waikiki.

There is also a Spam festival in Austin, Minnesota where the stuff is produced. Austin is also the home of the national Spam recipe competition. And if you’re ever in that neck of the woods, you might want to check out the Spam Museum. It’s free.

Some interesting Spam trivia for you:

  • Because Spam is basically everywhere, its name was co-opted to describe those annoying, pointless emails that clog up your inbox.
  • Wikipedia mentions a Spam Cam that is supposed to be an internet camera trained on a can of decaying Spam, but when I googled it, all that came up was a way to make a pinhole camera using its container. Go figure.
  • Dr. David Khorram, who also happens to be a very talented and humorous writer in my humble opinion, wrote two articles in 2006 for the Saipan Tribune when he was working in the Marianas Islands. Their subject was the horrible nutritional value of a product that he was forced to call an “infamous processed meat brand that starts with ‘S’ and ends with ‘M, and rhymes with ‘Pam” because, according to Wikipedia, the company that makes said product “threatened to sue the local press for publishing articles alleging the ill-effects of high Spam consumption on the health of the local population.I would laugh at the absurdity of this if, in fact, Spam wasn’t having those ill effects. But knowing that info makes it a little less funny. Still, I urge you to read Dr. Khorram’s two articles in the Saipan Tribune. The links are below.
  • For further laughs, check out the book Spam-Ku: Tranquil Reflections on Luncheon Loaf, which includes 150 Spam-themed haiku for your reading pleasure. Then hop over to Vimeo to watch a funny 4 minute video about a sad guy who discovers he’s won the Spam-ku contest and anticipates that his life is going to change for the better. A guy can dream, can’t he?

Okay. I’m prepared to admit that a lot of people actually like Spam. I can’t say that I understand why, but you do you, as the saying goes. Finally, about a year ago, I tried it, just to say I did. I discovered that my instincts were correct all along. I found it to be disgusting. But your results may vary.


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Aloha Shirts in Depth

They are not called Hawaiian shirts. They take that seriously in Hawaii.

To recap, Dear Husband and I got to go to Kauai and the Big Island of Hawaii for two amazing weeks in late April, early May. We brought back 15 pounds of souvenirs, per the weight difference in our luggage. I must confess that we went a little overboard buying aloha shirts. He got seven for himself, and, not to be outdone, I got eight for me. Oh, and our two dogs each got one as well. (I mean, who could resist?)

And here’s my first lesson of this post. They’re called aloha shirts, not Hawaiian shirts. They take that surprisingly seriously in laid-back Hawaii. Apparently, they have been called aloha shirts since at least the early 1930’s. This was news to me. I stand corrected.

I was hoping to write a post about the history of Hawaiian Aloha shirts, but it turns out there’s quite a bit of dispute regarding their origins. Entire books have been written on the subject. After my lazy Google research, I decided that this was a can of worms I didn’t want to open. For some interesting reading, check out this article and this one.

But here are some facts. Kind of. Sort of.

Aloha shirts came on the scene somewhere around the 1920’s or 1930’s. And yes, they originate in Hawaii, but there’s debate about the exact location. Originally, they were tailor made from printed cloth that was used for kimonos.

The popularity of these shirts has waxed and waned over the years. They were really popular around World War II, as US sailors brought them home. These colorful shirts also grabbed our focus when Hawaii became a state in 1959. And in the 1960’s California surfers made them cool again. (Oddly enough, The Beach Boys wore striped or plaid shirts during that era. Now you see them in aloha shirts all the time. But why, in my head, do I picture them young, wearing these tropical prints? Beats me.)

It was also in the 1960s that reverse print aloha shirts came into fashion. The vibrant color faces inward, and therefore the shirt has a more subdued coloring. We got a few of these. I wish they were reversible, though. Sometimes you want your colors to shine!

Celebrities made aloha shirts popular, too. Think Elvis in Blue Hawaii; Borgnine, Sinatra and Montgomery Clift in From Here to Eternity; The Brady Bunch Hawaii episodes; and Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I.

Naturally, tourism to the Aloha State has kept this industry grinding out the shirts even in the less popular years. How do you visit Hawaii and not come back with a splashy, colorful, tropical acquisition? It’s practically a requirement. And wearing one of these shirts in Hackensack says, “Hey, I can afford to live a life of leisure on a Pacific island. Sorry. Not sorry.”

Here are the shirts we came back with.

When choosing aloha shirts, if you want to be authentic, go for cotton, and make sure the label says “Made in Hawaii”. Otherwise, you might be getting a cheap knock off from Thailand or China, made of a synthetic material that does not breathe at all, which is kind of the most important freakin’ thing when choosing summer wear, isn’t it?  (Lesson learned.)

I’m not going to lie, though. These shirts, if bought retail, can be ridiculously expensive. If you want to avoid the sticker shock, do what we did. First, hit up some thrift stores while you’re in Hawaii. Next, go to a Hawaiian Costco. They have a huge collection of these shirts at reasonable prices. Then, and only then, consider splurging on a really nice one from a boutique.

But attempting to do the latter nearly gave me a heart attack. I saw the aloha shirt of my dreams in a delightful little shop. I mean, it was love at first sight. The print was really unique, and would forever remind me of our snorkeling experiences. But then I was told that it was $120. Here’s a picture of it.

Never in my entire life have I worn a shirt that cost $120. I’d be afraid to move in it. I’d worry about staining it with soy sauce or sweat, or I’d snag it on a door handle or something. As much as I loved this shirt, I could not bring myself to pay that kind of money. I’m glad I was able to find a picture of it on the boutique’s website. At least I can gaze at it fondly. Two ships that pass in the night…

Oh, and another great way to get aloha shirts on the cheap is to have a husband who has lost disgusting amounts of weight. His recent acquisitions are in a smaller size, so I got some of his larger-sized hand-me-downs when we got home. Woo hoo!

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Miraculous Macon

Living in this town must be a strange balancing act.

Miraculous Macon

Recently Dear Husband and I took a trip that we are calling “Autumn Back East 2021”. Our goal was to visit friends and family, and I wanted to show DH what autumn leaves really look like in a region that isn’t primarily covered in evergreen trees, and introduce him to our nation’s capital.

We flew to Atlanta, picked up a rental car, then drove to Alabama, North Florida, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and then drove to Washington DC by way of Virginia. Then we flew back home.

It was an amazing trip which lasted 15 days, and since I’m now only blogging every other day, if I gave you a day to day account like I have on trips past, it would take a month, and you’d be heartily sick of the subject before we even left peach country. So I’ve decided to focus on highlights, which I’ll do my best to keep in order. You can find the first post in the series here, and a link to the next post in the series, when it becomes available, below.

The next leg of our journey had us headed to Macon, Georgia to visit my sister and her husband. This is a rare treat, since we now live on opposite sides of the country. I was very excited and focused primarily on that visit, so I didn’t really think about being in Macon itself, even though I had been there once before, briefly, decades ago, and I remember thinking it was a pretty city.

We decided to splurge and stay at the 1842 Inn, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. But then most of that part of Macon seems to be on the registry. I hopped over to their website and started counting all the Macon, Georgia listings, and lost count at fifty.

The inn consists of an antebellum, Greek revival style mansion that was built in 1842 by John Gresham, a former mayor of Macon who was also a judge and a cotton merchant. A Victorian cottage was added out back by subsequent owners. There are 19 rooms in the main house and cottage, each with a different design and named for a different aspect of the area’s history. For example, our room was the Nancy Hanks, which was a local passenger train that was named after one of the most famous racehorses ever. I could get used to this place, with its four-poster beds and its beautiful artwork and its elegant complimentary breakfast in the parlor.

When you step out of this inn, everywhere you look, for many blocks, you see mansion after mansion after mansion. These stately homes are beautiful to behold, and suggest a genteel and romantic past, the past many Southerners prefer to remember, but these homes also come with the awkward fact that most were probably built by slaves or at least by the money they produced. Macon’s primary source of income, prior to the Civil War, was cotton. And the cotton industry at the time was dependent upon the labor of slaves.

As a matter of fact, we were staying at a home that once housed 8 slaves. And John Gresham had 43 additional slaves on his farm. I couldn’t help but wonder if our ground floor room at the back of the house, with it’s outside entrance, was once occupied by a house slave.

It’s a really odd dichotomy, admiring the beauty of a town’s historic district, and also being well aware of its dark and racist past. In fact, Macon’s historic train station still has a room off to the side which has engraved into the very stone above its door, “Colored Waiting Room.”  From 1916 to 1960, African Americans had to enter the terminal by that door. The sign was covered up for a time as the building passed from one owner to the next, but it was exposed again not long ago so as not to deny the history of the place. I am not sure how to feel about that. Is there a way to remember your dark history without being a constant source of pain for those who live in the present?

The building is symmetrical, so there’s another room on the opposite side of the station that is the exact same size and design as the Colored Waiting Room. It, however, says “Baggage.” Wow.

The Station itself is so grand that weddings are still held there.

Another startling visual is this stone that commemorates the now nonexistent Baconsfield Park, which was given to the city by a Senator from Georgia and was “for the sole, perpetual and unending use, benefit and enjoyment of the White women, White girls, White boys and White children of the city of Macon.

Living in this town must be a strange balancing act. Elegance and injustice. Hoop skirts with shit on the hemline. Bless their hearts.

But oddly enough, I have good reason to love Macon and to want to come back. Somehow, magically, it has transformed my sister. She and I have much in common, including the fact that we’re both introverts. She even more so than me. People are not our favorite things. They never have been. We are both childfree, and I credit her with giving me the courage to make that choice despite society’s constant criticism. She paved the way for me. It was the right choice for both of us.

We both lead relatively isolated lives even now, but ever since I moved out West and met Dear Husband, I’ve become a bit more social. Not that that is a superior state. It’s just how it is. And I know I’m much happier now, even when alone, and it’s obvious to anyone who looks at me. It took me 50 years to come into my own, and I was so focused on that, I think I overlooked the obvious hints that my sister was blossoming at the very same time.

It’s a wonderful thing, watching someone bloom, like a gorgeous Queen of the Night flower that shows its beauty but one night a year, and is therefore all the more stunning to behold. My sister, in Macon, is a rare flower, indeed.

We walked around the historic district, ate meals outdoors at places called Parish and The Rookery (try the Solid Gold Soul Rolls!), stopped in at the Hummingbird Bar, and enjoyed the quirky inventory of a shop called Travis Jean Emporium where I wished I could buy one of everything. People knew her. She talked to them. She was happy to see them. Even the homeless smiled and waved. Total strangers talked to her on the street. And I could tell that she was really and truly happy. And it was a pleasure to watch her husband look on in wonder after 32 years of marriage.

As a matter of fact, I have never seen my sister happy like this, ever. It was fun to watch this Yankee girl, taking up all the space she deserves in this Southern world. She has found her place. She has become the person I always knew she could be, and it brings tears of joy to my eyes every time I think about it. It also makes me want to say, with delight, “Who are you, and what have you done with my sister?”

For a while now, I’ve been trying to convince her and her husband to retire near me, because I miss having them close by and I love Washington so much. From now on, I think I’ll keep my mouth shut. It seems that for the first time in our lives, we both have things figured out. And at the exact same time, too! I do believe I’ll just bask in that knowledge for a time.

For the younger readers out there, never give up hope. Serenity can smack you in the forehead at any age. There’s no deadline. You just never know.

Life is good.

But wait! There’s more! While visiting my sister, we also went to the Tubman Museum and the Ocmulgee Mounds and saw some amazing public art… I’ll tell you about all that in the next post.

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The Lives of Statues

They keep their own counsel.

Statues fascinate me, because I always imagine them standing there, all alone at night, and throughout the seasons. Snow falling on them. Nocturnal animals skittering past, unobserved by Man. People telling intimate secrets in their presence as dead leaves and candy wrappers accumulate at their feet. Often they depict history, and history continues to be made all around them. Life swirls and eddies past their immovable effigies. They witness much, these statues. What must that be like, ever-stationary as the world moves all around them? They keep their own counsel.

Some statues represent a history of oppression, hate, and death, and they depict people who should not be revered. Confederate statues represent people who committed treason in support of slavery. Ours is the only country that memorializes the losers of a domestic civil war. We need to shed ourselves of their dark shadows, and fortunately that is happening more and more. I was thrilled to see the statue of Robert E. Lee finally get taken down in Richmond, Virginia the other day, amongst cheers. We can and will still teach our children about one of our nation’s darkest eras, but we need to strip away the myth that this was a noble, romantic war fought for states’ rights by brave and honorable men with pure and ethical motives.

Around the world, there are millions upon millions of statues that gaze down upon us from more benign pedestals. They are statues of love and kindness and dignity. They are humorous and inspirational and nostalgic and not intended to oppress or trigger anyone. They, too, keep their own counsel, but I wish some of them could talk so they could share their fascinating perspectives with us.

Here are a few statues from around the world that I’ve seen thanks to my Pokemon Go App. Enjoy!

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Seattle’s Embarrassing Anti-Asian History

Seattle has some awkward and shocking history.

Seattle, one of the most liberal cities in the United States, is a wonderful area in which to live. It was the first city in the country to have 70 percent of its population vaccinated for COVID-19. It is also a sanctuary city for immigrants, and was a constant thorn in the side of Trump during his brief and horrifying presidential administration. I couldn’t be more proud to live within this liberal bubble.

But just as with the rest of America, Seattle has some awkward and downright shocking history of its own. When I heard about this particular issue for the first time on NPR during my daily commute, I nearly ran off the road. But yes, this area was a bit of a white supremacist hotbed for a while, there. I am so glad I wasn’t around to witness that or I would have turned tail and headed back to Florida, where this type of violence isn’t as unexpected, unfortunately. At least I wouldn’t have to contend with the element of surprise. I’d only have to experience shock and horror. Cold comfort, indeed.

What I’m referring to is the Seattle riot of 1886. This was a shameful point in this city’s history. All riots, of course, are ugly, but this one took that to a whole new level.

According to Wikipedia, anti-Chinese sentiment was already at a very disturbing peak in the 1880’s, especially out West. People were having a tough time getting employment, so as is often the case, they went looking for a scapegoat on which to vent their frustrations. They settled on Chinese immigrants, who had been coming to this country since the California Gold Rush in the 1840s. After the gold rush, many came to the Pacific Northwest to work on the railroads and in the mines. They worked longer hours at much lower rates of pay, so they were quite popular with employers. This really rankled the whites in the labor unions.

The labor unions supported the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act which barred all Chinese immigration to the United States. (Chinese women had been banned since 1875.) This act was amended in various ways over the years, but was only fully repealed in 1943 because China became our ally against the Japanese during WWII.

Now white workers felt they only had to compete against the Chinese immigrants who were already here. Things really came to a head when Union Pacific coal mines started firing strikers and replacing them with Chinese laborers in Rock Springs, in the Wyoming territory. In September of 1885, a fight erupted and 28 Chinese were killed, and 14 injured. The rest had to flee the area as their houses were burned to the ground.

The anti-Chinese sentiment at the time was such that this massacre did not elicit any kind of governmental response until the rumor got around that the Chinese that had fled were regrouping and had armed themselves. We can’t have that, now, can we? At first, the troops deployed were only instructed to prevent a disruption of the U.S. mail. Finally, Chinese diplomats were able to convince the government to at least protect the Chinese if they experienced any further violence. Federal forces had to stick around for another 14 years. None of the rioters were ever punished.

Such was the atmosphere in the country when the Seattle riot broke out just 5 months later in February, 1886. A mob, consisting mostly of members of the local chapter of the Knights of Labor which had formed itself into a militant brotherhood, decided they were going to expel all Chinese from the city.

To backtrack a bit, the Knights of Labor, along with the mayor of Tacoma, decided that all the Chinese needed to leave by November, 1885. That did cause 150 of them to leave, but at the time there were more than 3000 Chinese in the Seattle/Tacoma area. The governor of the territory was alarmed by these expulsions, and called in federal troops. These troops, as the saying goes, stood back and stood by as tensions mounted.

On February 6, 1886, the Knights of Labor delivered an ultimatum. All Chinese needed to leave or they would be forcibly removed. The next day, the Knights started breaking into homes, forced the Chinese to pack, and brought 350 of them down to the dock where the Queen of the Pacific was waiting to haul them away.

Many other Chinese immigrants had run away, and a search ensued. The local sheriff, who was sympathetic to the Knights, did not prevent the driving of the Chinese toward the pier. He simply ensured that there was “no violence”.

The governor tried to disburse the rioters, but was promptly ignored. He then called in the federal troops. While waiting for the troops’ arrival, the Keystone Cops Knights discovered they hadn’t raised sufficient funds to ship all these Chinese off. They only had the fare for 97 of them. A U.S. Justice intervened for the 97 and required that they show up in court the next day.

The Knights tried to force the other 253 Chinese onto a train bound for Tacoma, but the sheriff, who by this time must have been coming to his senses, ordered the train to leave before the mob could get there. The next day in court the Justice informed the 97 Chinese that they had every right to stay in this country, but only 16 of them decided to do so. The rest went back to the ship. That morning, The Knights of Labor had managed to scrape up the fares for 115 more passengers, so they were stuffed in there as well and the ship set sail.

The Knights promised to raise funds for another 150 Chinese who would be shipped off at a future date. Upon seeing these 150 being escorted back to their homes, another mob formed. A battle ensued between the rioters and the militia. Two militia men and three rioters were shot. Martial law was declared. More troops were brought in. Martial law lasted for two weeks, and the troops remained for 4 months. No one was ever convicted for their violent acts.

I’d like to think that we’ve come a long way since this embarrassing stain on our history, but hate crimes still occur. There has been an backlash against local Asian-Americans since the onset of COVID-19, as if they were responsible for this pandemic. But as a bit of perspective, most well-established Chinese-American families in this city have been on this continent 50 years longer than my family has. If you look at it that way, they’re a lot more American than I am, and have just as much right to be here as I do, if not more.

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I Love Cemeteries

Many people find cemeteries to be creepy places, full of death and sadness. I, on the other hand, have spent many a pleasant afternoon in a cemetery. I think they’re fascinating. But I come by it honestly.

I was raised by a single mother, and we were quite poor. To keep us entertained, she had to get creative. One of the things we would do is pack a picnic lunch and go to a cemetery. Cemeteries are free. And sometimes they’re the only green spaces nearby when you live in the shabbier part of town.

Cemeteries are full of history. You can learn about various eras in which many people died young, and get an appreciation of vaccines. You can learn about local disasters. You can ask yourself why so many cemeteries are segregated. You can learn about local people of note. You have visible proof that war takes its toll.

Tombstones often have amazing artwork on them as well. And many have very thoughtful quotes. Others, like one of the ones below, take an opportunity to inject some humor into their eternal rest. You can often learn quite a bit about families and how they are connected when you see family plots. You can see what was most important to an individual. You can also make up stories about people just for fun.

For me, cemeteries are a place of respect and a place for those who are grieving, yes, but they also are opportunities for learning about your community and local and sometimes world history. They are places of beauty and peace and nature.

Here are some pictures I took on a recent visit to a cemetery.

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