Grandma Lee’s Funeral

Dress covered in wrinkles and iron juice, I try to seem as put-together as my cousin.

Dress covered in wrinkles and iron juice, I try to seem as put-together as my cousin.

My weekend might have been worse than yours. We flew to Athens, Georgia, for my grandmother’s funeral. Reed calls me the velcro member of “The Family” (the core family: my two sisters and our parents). I am the detachable/re-attachable obligation.

24 hours until the funeral:
Reed, Luc, and I arrive at Bob Hope International Airport relaxed, ready for caffeine, and determined to make the best of a funeral weekend. Michael, our Southwest ticketing agent, cringes as he breaks the news that we are at the wrong airport. Our flight will leave from LAX as scheduled, and we would need teleportation to board on time.

22 hours until the funeral:
The Great Wrong Airport Debacle of 2015 resolved (thank you, Southwest!!), we scuttle through security where I nervously present an expired driver’s license and my antique passport. A text from my sister pings that we should not stop by our parents’ house (both of my sisters are staying there) when we get to town because Mom is stressed. I figure she must only want family around her at a time like this. Oh wait. I am family.

11 hours until the funeral:
We hobble into the Holiday Inn of Athens, Georgia, at 1am. Luc is asleep. I am 18% alive. The empty bottle of saline surprises Reed anew, and he makes his monthly dash to a 24 hour drugstore.

4 hours until the funeral:
A text from my sister pings that we should not go to our parents’ house today before the funeral because Mom is overwhelmed. I figure she must want family around her at a time like this. Oh wait…

3 hours until the funeral:
A text from my sister pings that we should absolutely be on time for the funeral. The Family will arrive promptly at noon, and I’d better be there waiting. Or else. I silently question 5 hours of flying, 4 hours of laying over, and 3 hours of driving for this.

1 hour until the funeral:
The hotel iron is a union member who already worked 40 hours this week. My dress, covered in wrinkles and large ovals of iron juice, has reached a new level of suitcase chic.

11:15 AM:
We arrive at the church and debate parking in the spaces marked “Funeral.” My husband insists we can’t park there because “those spaces are for family only.” Really? Really?? Velcro Girl growls.

Noonish:
The Family arrives. Mom moves and speaks with a quiet fluidity. I think she is medicated. We file into a gargantuan sanctuary. Ambitious choice for a 99 year old’s funeral. Surprise baptism! My sister scheduled an adult baptism for herself. Today. An hour before our grandmother’s funeral. The Family is pleased and does not offer an explanation.

12:15 PM:
Miraculously, energetic, excited-to-see-each-other-after-a-whole-year 5 and 7 year-old cousins remain quietly pretend-somber. Sort of. Mom invites everyone to view a short, silent slide show of Grandma Lee through the years. It loops. And loops. For 45 minutes.

Grammy promises her fading grandchildren tiny, mysterious presents if they behave. Desperate parents hiss time-outs, shoot stink-eyes, and issue death threats to bring the impossible to fruition: happy, hungry, bored, quiet, calm children.

Post Funeral:
The service lasted in the neighborhood of 136 child-years. We file into a room with finger sandwiches and cookie platters. Luc takes a finger sandwich for show, and then shovels 80% of the cookies onto his plate. I pretend not to notice because, frankly, he deserves them.

Eventually we are dismissed and return to the hotel for food and swimming. A stressful, mandatory, The Family style dinner closes the day.

24 Hours Post Funeral:
Reed packed with an air of time abundance. We arrive at our gate hungry and just in time to board. Hopefully trail mix will satiate us for the next 5 hours. “Attention please: we have a passenger on board with a peanut allergy. No peanuts or peanut products will be permitted today. Thank you!” We survive on millions of pretzelito packs and thimbles of orange juice.

Was my weekend worse than yours?

Hammy the Hamster: My Inner Demon

Hammy.

Hammy.

Hammy is the belligerent, alcoholic hamster who runs on my brain-wheel. He claims his “PTSD vet” status excuses the violence, blackouts, and emotional abuse. It was Hammy who suggested that I compose my “blog prattling” in Word to avoid accidentally publishing “so much typographical puke.”

The folder with all my would-be posts is like a zombie cemetery. Hands of unexpressed ideas burst out of graves and try to wave me over. Meanwhile, at allisongarwood.com, crickets and tumbleweeds…

I’m resuming writing directly into the blog. And I’m giving myself a time limit.

Hammy: “So what? Who cares? Why did you write that?”
Me: “Zip it, Hammy. I need to make excuses for my writing.”
Hammy: “You are a loser.”
Me: “I know.”
Hammy: “Grab me another bottle of whiskey.”
Me: “Okay.”

HBCU is okay, but not HWCU? Why?

“For most of America’s history, African Americans seeking a college education could only get one from an HBCU.” –Thurgood Marshall College Fund (tmcf.org)

HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) were established through Title III of the Higheer Education Act of 1965. “Congress officially defined an HBCU as a school of higher learning that was accredited and established before 1964, and whose principal mission was the education of African Americans.” (tmcf.org) The United Negro College Fund website claims Cheyney Univeristy in Pennsylvania as the first HBCU founded in 1837.

In my opinion, the “H” (representing “historically”) removes wiggle room to argue discrimination in the term HBCU. On top of that, HBCU’s do accept non-black students.

HWCU would indeed be racist for many reasons. Many, many, many reasons. First, most colleges and universities are historically white. In fact, they only admitted white students until the 1960’s. More progress is still needed to achieve equal opportunities for people of color at most colleges and universities. In addition, to HWCU being redundant, highlighting “White” would send a message that only white people are welcome.

We white people don’t even need to acknowledge the existence of white priveledge to reap the benefits. And it is that white priveledge that tricks us into thinking that HBCU’s are in some way offensive or dangerous.

More (better) reading:
Howard University’s First Students Were White And Other Little Known Facts About HBCU’s

Do We Still Need HBCU’s?

** Please comment with your opinion. Agree? Disagree? Have something to add? **

Everything Bagel Life

Raisins ruin Everything bagels.

Raisins ruin Everything bagels.

I want an Everything bagel life. When onions, sesame seeds, salt, poppy seeds, and garlic each add their unique contributions, the result is an extraordinary bagel. The world is a richer place because of that collaboration.

But sometimes I feel like the raisins. Raisins aren’t invited to the Everything bagel party. Everybody knows that raisins would ruin the Everything bagel.

I found an interesting group created for inclusiveness in literature. It was thrilling to read their mission statement. “We recognize all diverse experiences…” They understood that having more books with a rainbow of characters would benefit everyone! This was the Everything bagel I’d been hoping for! But as I read about various grants and contests, I kept bumping into a familiar exclusion:

“Please note: … Being … a parent of … a diverse person will not qualify an otherwise ineligible applicant.”

It made me feel like a foolish raisin for once again trying to find acceptance in an Everything bagel.

My situation is tricky. I’m white, and so I have all the privilege that goes with being white. Is it because of white privilege that people judge me negatively for adopting a black child? We are routinely stared at, yelled at, scolded, mocked, threatened, harassed, bullied, dismissed, and excluded (see above).

What do I want? I’m not sure. My bio says: “An adoptive mom and former comic strip creator, I want to add to the diversity on the bookshelves by telling silly stories through a family that looks like mine: transracial and full of love.” I want to be a part of desensitizing people from the curiosity of uniqueness, and sensitizing them to a life of collaboration.

But, I keep getting scolded and told to go back to my Raisin bagel. On top of that, the Raisin bagel isn’t too sure about me anymore either. The raisin bagel thinks I wish I’d been born a poppy seed.

It always leaves me wondering, “Am I doing this right?”

Life Questioned: Did You Buy Luc?

When a conversation seems headed toward "orphanage," Luc shuts it down. Firmly.

When a conversation seems headed toward “orphanage,” Luc shuts it down. Firmly.

The other day, Luc and I were hanging out with a 7 year old family friend. Kind of out of the blue, she asked a blunt question. For the rest of the conversation, my only thought was, “Am I doing this right?”

Julie: “Did you have Luc in your tummy, or did you buy him?”

Me: “God brought our family together through adoption. Luc was not in my tummy.”

Luc: “I don’t want to talk about this.”

Me: “Fair enough, Luc. Is it okay if Julie asks me questions with her Mom when you are not around?”

Luc: “Not if she’s gonna come to me afterward with even more questions.”

Me: “OK. Julie, can we promise that I’ll answer your questions, and that you won’t try to talk to Luc about this unless he says it’s okay?”

(Silence.)

Luc: “She’s not promising.”

Me: “Julie, have you ever been through something in your life that was really hard, and you don’t want to talk about it?”

Julie: “Yes.”

Me: “That’s how Luc feels about this subject. Does that make sense?”

Julie: “Yes.”

Me: “So, can you two agree that you won’t ask each other about the hard stuff you’ve been through that you don’t want to talk about?”

Both: “Yes.”

Me: “Thanks, y’all. And by the way, Julie, I want to be clear about one thing that is absolutely true. I love Luc exactly as much as your Mom loves you.”

Julie: “I don’t know about that. My Mom loves me the biggest number.”

Me: “I know! And that’s how much I love Luc, too!”

Then Julie and Luc argued over which amount of love was bigger: infinity or googleplex. But how many zeroes does googleplex have? We would need to google it. “We need to Google googleplex.” Giggles. And we closed the conversation giggling about Googling googleplex.

Gimme a G-E-N-E-R-I-C!!!

Depression Adventures: Generic Medication!

Gimme a G-E-N-E-R-I-C!!!

Gimme a G-E-N-E-R-I-C!!!

Celexa costs $200 per month, with insurance. Citalopram (the generic version of Celexa) costs $7 per month, without insurance. What a bargain! AND! Citalopram not only costs less, it also comes with the hilarious puzzlement of figuring out which laboratory produces a version of Citalopram that will result in the fewest negative side effects for each particular human! But wait, there’s more!

Each month, pharmacies (Target, Walgreens, CVS, etc.) decide how much they are willing to pay to stock Citalopram. And, each month the various laboratories decide how much they need to charge for their versions of Citalopram. Sometimes Target Pharmacy and Aurobindo Labs are a good match. Sometimes not. If they don’t agree on a price, then Target Pharmacy might decide to stock Mylan Labs or Sandoz Labs instead. Maybe even Teva Labs. Who knows?! That’s what keeps it exciting! But wait, there’s more!!

Each time people who take Citalopram (we’ll call them The Wet Blanket Puss Crowd) get to switch to a new Citalopram version, they adventure back into their unmedicated state of depression! The descent can last around 1 to 2 fun-filled weeks. Near the end of week 2, The Wet Blanket Puss Crowd might notice a steady lifting of the depression! Unless, of course, they don’t. Because sometimes they won’t. I’m sorry to say that bang ups and hang ups CAN happen to… Ahem. Maybe the new version will work, and maybe it won’t! And, if it works, maybe it will work as well as the previous version, or maybe it won’t! And maybe it will cause unstoppable weight gain and fatigue, or maybe not so much! Wheee!

But one thing is guaranteed: ADVENTURE!!

Side effects may include: social stigma, stranger stink-eye, increased insurance rates, loss of patience by loved ones, declined life insurance coverage, expectations to cheer up, assumptions of insanity, receipt of recipes for health food, and death by zombie shark attack.

Frye’s Higher Geography (a textbook from 1895) – Page 33

Since I am a cartoonist, I understand my mental processing this way: Hammy (the abusive alcoholic hamster on the wheel that is my brain) is a cynic to say the least. He allows me to believe horrific truths only to a point. Even if I want to believe. Hammy forcibly blocks my access to emotional reality by throwing whiskey bottles at my “Medulla Incredulla.”

For example: When my uncle’s body was discovered two weeks after he died, I found myself compulsively Googling body decomposition. It took me months of research to fully wrap my head around what had happened.

Now that I have explained the inner workings of my brain, let’s move on…

My brother-in-law and his wife cleaned out the family storage unit. They found boxes upon boxes of very old family photos, books, letters, death certificates, and more. While visiting them this past week, I got to dig in, and I found “Frye’s Higher Geography: Georgia Edition” by Ginn & Company. It was written in 1895.

Finding a textbook that my husband’s family has been holding onto for over a century was a gift to me, and a blow to Hammy. I have been able to touch the pages and see with my own eyes a book that actually taught human beings to oppress our own kind: human beings. The method seems to have been based on grouping humans based first on global location, then flesh color, and then on similarity or dissimilarity to European culture.

A "negro" baby seems to be riding an ostrich in Africa.

A “negro” baby seems to be riding an ostrich in Africa.

“Illustrations: Nearly all the pictures in this book were engraved directly from photographs. To the selection and grouping of subjects for the photographs, the author has given fully as much time and care as to the text itself. The aim has been to present characteristic or typical forms that are educative.” — Alexis Everett Frye, Former Superintendent of Schools of Cuba

A "Negro." It looks like the young person who belonged to this book drew the "Negro" spitting up a white man's nose?

A “Negro.” It looks like the young person who belonged to this book drew the “Negro” spitting up a white man’s nose?

"If the long rivers of Africa were open to ships from the sea, the poor savages might more easily learn how the white man dresses, prepares food," etc.

“If the long rivers of Africa were open to ships from the sea, the poor svages might more easily learn how the white man dresses, prepares food,” etc.

"The Negroes of Africa have broad flat noses, thick lips and black frizzly hair..."

“The Negroes of Africa have broad flat noses, thick lips and black frizzly hair…”

“Such natives are very ignorant. They know nothing of books; in fact, they know little, except how to catch and cook their food, build their rude huts, travel on foot through the forests, or in canoes or on the rafts on the rivers, and make scanty clothing out of the skins of animals or fibers of grasses or bark.”

“Millions of black people have been taken from their homes in Africa and sold as slaves in other lands. The climate of their native land fitted the Negroes to work in the warm regions of the earth, and there they have been most useful, chiefly to the white people. In most places the slaves have been set free and have generally settled where they worked.”

One of the crimes of abuse tends to be the denial by the abuser of wrongdoing, or even of any injury at all. I hope that relief and vindication will accompany the deep sadness these excerpts cause. With that hope, I will continue to put posts together based on this textbook.

Helping Vs. “Helping”

The more I learn, the more I want to be helpful. “Helpful.” To me, that means I am busy physically helping things get better. I read this today:

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us — yes, establish the work of our hands.” — Psalm 90:17

At this point, I don’t think I’m supposed to dive in. I don’t know enough. Right now, I need to learn. Maybe apprentice. Watch, read, ask.

Still “Processing”

I am still trying to download my notes in an orderly manner into neatly compartmentalized blog posts. It’s going way more slowly than I’d hoped.

Last week, during a phone conversation, my mother said, “I think you are still processing this trip. You need to be careful who you talk to … and how you talk to them.” Maybe it comes across as a little harsh, but I totally agree with her. It was so much to take in. If I say yes to God for trips like the Civil Rights Tour, I can expect fundamental truths in my world to be obliterated and replaced with actual truth. It has left me questioning EVERYthing.

Civil Rights Tour – Day 1: Little Rock, AR

“You can’t fight the revolution in stilettos.”
— Phyllis Brown (sister of Minnijean Brown, one of the Little Rock 9)

Each evening, the team came together to discuss the day’s events and their effect on each of us. We were asked to share the “roses and thorns” of the first day.

Double painting (#2) at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, AR.

Double painting (#1) at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, AR.

The rose for me was a pair of drawings at the Mosaic Templar Cultural Center. When I first walked in, the painting struck me as being packed with an urgent message. But I couldn’t figure out how to decode it. The head of the museum gave us a tour. Her first stop was this pair of drawings. She gently and expertly helped us to pull the meaning out of our own minds! I’ve been chewing on the wisdom in that artwork all day.

Double painting (#1) at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, AR.

Double painting (#2) at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock, AR.

She had us study the paintings for a little while and look for the differences. The meaning is mostly in the differences. What’s missing in the first painting? Is it missing in the second? How does the missing content line up with the situation we know we are looking at. Are we sure we know what we are looking at?

Due to my passion for the Gye Nyame Adinkra symbol, I noticed that the backgrounds are composed of other Adinkra symbols. With a little research here and here, I figured out that #1 shows the Dwennimmen symbol, or “ram’s horns,” as the background. This symbol represents humility and strength. The background is more faded and washed out in the painting where her identity is that of a slave (painting on the left). Also, the pattern on her dress is prominent when her identity is slave. It displays the Adinkra symbol Bese Saka or “sack of cola nuts.” It symbolizes affluence, abundance, unity. But that pattern is draped over her baby when she is inhumanly prevented from being a mother to her child. Perhaps this lets us know that the baby’s father is the slave master.

The background Adinkra symbols in #2 are Adinkrahene (the 3 circles) and Nyame Biribi Wo Soro. Adinkrahene is the chief of all Adinkra symbols and represents greatness, charisma, and leadership. Nyame Biribi Wo Soro means “God is in the heavens.” It represents hope and is a reminder that “God’s dwelling place is in heaven, where he can listen to all prayers.” Notice that these symbols are not bold and prominent in both pictures, or at the same time. Also, they are not erased in either painting. They are still present, just seemingly farther from reach.

Mr. Brown was volunteering at the Mosaic Templars Community Center.

Mr. Brown was volunteering at the Mosaic Templars Community Center.

One thorn was learning the story of John Carter. It was a horrible, gruesome event. The details are below the warning at the bottom of this post. White perpetrators of crime against black victims are too seldom punished today. What’s worse is that they were never punished for centuries.

Minnijean Brown integrating Central High School in Little Rock, AR, in 1957.

Minnijean Brown integrating Central High School in Little Rock, AR, in 1957.

The other thorn was one that was unique to me. And, in hindsight, I see it more as a rose. After the museum, we had the opportunity to interview, Phyllis Brown, the younger sister of Minnijean Brown. Minnijean was one of the Little Rock 9 (the group of 9 students who met with extreme hatred when they were first to integrate Central High School in 1957). I clumsily asked Ms. Brown what her parents did to help protect the self esteem of their daughters during such a hard time.

IMG_0154

Phyllis Brown, sister of Minnijean Brown (one of the Little Rock 9).

Phyllis Brown, sister of Minnijean Brown (one of the Little Rock 9).

IMG_0156I don’t think I phrased my question well. And Ms. Brown seemed to think I was criticizing her parents handling of event, maybe even that I was blaming them partly for the atrocious violence that ensued in Little Rock. That was definitely not my intention or thought. So, I explained that my son is African American and attends a mostly white school. I think of his situation as a far less severe 2015 version of initial school integration in the 50’s and 60’s. My hope was that she could teach me how to help my son, and other kids in similar circumstances. In hindsight, I get that it was a naive question. And, with the help of one of the leaders, I can see that I was lost in a desperate, unrealistic search for the magical method for protecting my son, and other young boys, from something inevitable: how hard and painful it is to be a black man in America.

Ms. Brown asked why I have an African American child. At first, I assumed that she was scolding me for adopting a black child. Or maybe scolding the black community for allowing the crisis to escalate to a point where something so dire could occur as a black child being adopted into a white family.

Looking at the exchange with racial reconciliation lenses, I can now see that both Ms. Brown and I were re-experiencing the sea of previous personal attacks we had both endured over the years. Though our circumstances were worlds apart, both varieties of criticism resulted in our constructing solid, thick, protective, defensive walls around our hearts. These walls prevented us from really hearing each other. I felt hurt, mad, embarrassed, and basically like I wanted to crawl under a rock. Perhaps Ms. Brown felt hurt as well.

After the event, I made it my business to shake her hand and thank her for her time and honesty. She turned to me, sighed, and said, “You have a big job ahead of you.” I blurted out, “Don’t I know it.” But then I pulled my Gye Nyame Adinkra charm out of my pocket (it means “except God” as in nothing is possible except with God). And I said, “Except God is with us. So, I know that God will see all of us through this.” Then Ms. Brown’s face softened noticeably. It was as if she had discovered that I had my head straight enough to hand my life to God. She seemed comforted to know that the situation was in good hands, God’s hands.

Then she thanked me for adopting and saving a child. It breaks my heart every time somebody tells me that. I still struggle with putting it into words. All I know is that I don’t want anyone to think of my son as a charity project. If people aren’t going to thank a birth mother, I don’t want them to thank me. (I’ll never forget how thrilled I was when one lady told me how lucky I was to get to be Luc’s mom. And even better, she said it right in front of him!)

I summoned all of my courage, and told Ms. Brown with enormous respect that it hurt my heart when people thanked me for being my son’s mom. She listened, and she really heard me, and then she apologized. I told her I didn’t think there was anything to be sorry for, but I wanted to try to communicate with her, even though it’s not a logic that I’ve ever figured out how to verbalize well. And then we hugged. We had connected.

Ms. Brown and I didn’t fully understand each other at first. But I listened intently to what she had to say during our interview with her. Then, she listened to what I had to say as we said good-bye. In the end, we were able to see each other’s perspective a little better. It was a taste of racial reconciliation. It was a taste of the goal.

– – – – – – – – – –
Other notes from the day…

Notes from Ms. Brown:
The Little Rock 9 were NOT chosen, they had volunteered, and they were not from middle class families.
Some were self-employed, some were business owners. Their names were known and they began to lose customers and business. Minnijean’s and Collatta Walls’ fathers stopped getting work.
Newspaper published the names and the addresses of the Little Rock 9 in order to intimidate them into withdrawing.
Phyllis and Minnijean’s parents fully supported them. They thought their girls “could fly.” And they never said no to them. They supported Minnijean when she decided to be a part of integration, and they supported Phyllis when she decided to protect herself from the violence.
Ms. Brown was the first person we heard use the word “terrorism” to describe the treatment of African Americans, especially in the 50’s and 60’s. She mentioned the treatment of victims in Hurricane Katrina as “terrorism at it’s best.”
The kids never came home and told their parents about their experiences, parents could only learn of what happened if they saw it firsthand
IMPORTANT! Toward the end of our interview, the white owner of the restaurant asked our white leader (we had two leaders, one white, one black) what we were talking about. All the white people were excited that he was interested. All the black people were terrified that he was going to call some friends to follow us and punish us. The trauma of the terrorism is so alive today. Ms. Brown was visibly shaken. It took her into a flashback state.
Books:
Dog Whistle Politics (politicians use language to demean and identify: “thugs,” “riots,” “violence,” “looters”
Without Sanctuary (pictorial of lynchings)
The Untold Story of Minnijean Brown (documentary)
The New Jim Crow (speaks of the 3 Strikes law as punitive and aligned with slave owner mentality)
The Half That’s Never Been Told
Complicity
Just Mercy by Brian Stevenson (he also did an 18 min. TED talk) (represents minors around the country who are being tried as adults; recalculating actual lynching numbers and exposing that lynching happened outside of the South as well
Devil in a Grove (book about Thurgood Marshall)

WARNING: This story is very graphic and may not be appropriate for children or even some adults. But, unfortunately, it is completely true.
A man who was volunteering at the museum told us “the real story” behind John Carter, a black man who was falsely accused of a crime in 1927. Earlier in the day, a different black man who had been falsely accused of murdering two white women, had been taken into police custody before the gathered crowd could lynch him. As the mob made its way back from the jail, a white woman and her child parked their horse and cart on 9th Street. Just as they stepped off the cart, their horse got spooked, and sprinted down the street with the cart. John Carter jumped into the cart and was able to stop the horse. Unfortunately, the crowd arrived on the scene and decided that he had tried to steal the cart. As Mr. Carter’s “victim” tried to explain that he was helping her and begged the mob to stop, he was beaten severely. Next, the mob gathered wood and built a bonfire. After he was burned, John Carter’s body was tied to the back of the cart and dragged up and down 9th Street repeatedly. Finally, his body was hung from a light pole where some in the crowd riddled it with bullets. No one was arrested. Mr. Carter was 38.