Friday, November 22, 2013

50 Years On

On November 22, 1963, at a little after 1:00 PM, I was sitting in my 9th grade civics class, in junior high in the small college town in Minnesota where I grew up, when the PA system came sputtering on and the principal cleared his throat and announced that there was a report on the radio that President Kennedy had been shot in Texas. I was 14 years old.

The principal didn’t say anything about Dallas in that first announcement, and at 14, I pictured Texas as a vast, wild, plain, interspersed with occasional men in cowboy hats riding around on horseback. The father of one of my classmates had been shot in a hunting accident, so I thought perhaps the President had gone hunting there and been injured in a hunting accident. I assumed being shot meant he was wounded, not dead. The word “assassination” never crossed my mind, because that was a word that had only historical or foreign meaning for my classmates and me. Lincoln was assassinated, and in recent memory, Patrice Lumumba had been assassinated, but that was in Africa. Modern American presidents were not assassinated; people didn’t shoot each other in 1960’s America.

In those first couple of minutes, upon hearing that the President had been shot, our social studies teacher, a woman in her 50’s, became hysterical. Immediately after the first announcement everyone had begun talking. Of course this wasn’t allowed, and it contributed to her agitation. I remember her face got very red, and she began to clap her hands in a futile attempt to get our attention, and her voice got very shrill, and she began to shriek, “HEARSAY! This is nothing but HEARSAY! Listen to me; I’m telling you this is only HEARSAY!” She shrieked that over and over and over, but no one was listening. Always a skeptic, and analytical even at 14, I remember thinking the principal wouldn’t have turned on the PA and announced that the President had been shot if he wasn't pretty sure the report was accurate. I sat at my desk and looked at her and I also looked around the classroom. Some of my classmates were laughing nervously, but most just looked shocked. Within 5 minutes, the PA came on again, and the principal cleared his throat again and announced that the President was dead. Our teacher then gave up any attempt at trying to maintain order, and just sat down at her desk and burst into tears. Most of the girls and many of the boys in my class also began to weep. I felt very nervous, but I didn’t cry, because I didn’t want to cry at school.

We were dismissed early. We didn’t own a car, and even if we had owned one, Mom and Dad were both at work, so I walked home as usual. Normally I walked fast, but that day I walked slowly, because I knew that when I got there, I’d be alone. I remember I wished there would be someone at home that I could talk to about this. I was just beginning to realize there were families where, if you were a kid, your parents would talk to you about stuff like this, but that wasn’t my family.

I remember what I was wearing. It was an outfit that I'd sewn for myself in August: a long sleeved, cotton blouse, in a small, dark green paisley print, with a lime green, narrow wale corduroy straight skirt. I wanted to cut a swatch out of the blouse and the skirt,  and put them in an envelope to keep, but I thought Mom might not like it if I did, so I didn't do it, but I wish I had. We had a television set, so when I got home, I watched the TV coverage until Mom got home.

I wanted to go to Washington to see the President’s body lying in state. There was a special fare on the train; I think it was $25.00 round trip, Minnesota to DC. I asked Mom if we could go, but she said no. At 64, I understand all the reasons why she had to say no, but at 14 I didn’t.

On Sunday morning, I was watching TV when Lee Harvey Oswald got shot. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, that I had just watched someone get shot. It was as if everyone was going insane. And in a way, that was accurate, because America changed, in so many ways not for the better, on November 22, 1963.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


This is excerpted from a speech given by President Eisenhower in April 1953 after the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. Officially it's known as The Chance for Peace. The excerpt below is the part that is best known and the popular title harkens back to William Jennings Bryan's "Humanity hanging from a Cross of Gold" speech from the turn of the last century.

"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms in not spending money alone.

It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.

We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat.

We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."

Ike was probably the only president, certainly the last president who truly understood the real costs of war. The dead, injured, maimed, shell shocked soldiers and civilians are the most obvious costs. Ike highlighted the additional costs in what we could have had if we had chosen to follow another path.

(Ok he probably had help, most presidents do when it's time to write the speeches. But his name is on it. He gave it. And God help any Republican who tries to do the same now. Sixty years. SIXTY YEARS! And we haven't learned a damned thing.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

If I Shared What's Really Going On In My Head ...

This post started out on Facebook:

"I found myself wondering today what people would think of me if I shared what's really going on in my head. Pretty sure my parents did a great job raising me: If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.
Some days I wonder, where's the fun in THAT?"

Quoting myself.  Now that's fun.

After a busy weekend of activities for my twenty-four year old, youngest daughter who has Down syndrome, I found myself tiredworn-outexhaustedreadytodrop, a bit crabby and thinking about my life  (instead of hers). 

I know that she is the heart and soul of our family.  THE heart and soul.  Without her, my husband and I wouldn't be us.  Or would we?  Without her, the sun wouldn't shine as brightly.  Or would it?  Life would be boring.  Or maybe it wouldn't.

So as she reaches out to a milestone birthday just a little more than a month away with way more enthusiasm for it than I,  I find myself thinking.  Way.Too.Much.  I am freaking out.  Just a bit.  It's part of the maturation process, I am sure.

Where the hell did those twenty-four years go?  I swear, if one more person tells me what a great mother I am, I will weep.  For I fear that I am not.  That I never will be.  And I try every day to be.  I'll settle for good.  Great should be saved for mothers that aren't sitting with a cup of tea on that rare occasion when they have a moment to themselves, thinking, when am I going to get my life back?  

I've discovered that I don't like my friends so much anymore.  Yes, you read that correctly. It's because I am jealous.  I am jealous of their weekend plans with their husbands, sans adult children in tow.  I am jealous of their trips to the drug store, the grocery store, all on their own.  Jealous.  Of everything they can do, that I cannot.  

I am no longer the friend that you could call and say, 'hey, want to go to the mall for a while?'  Nope.  Can't do that.  I have to have someone stay with her.  Or I have to take her with me.  Don't get me wrong, I want to take her with me.  Most often I'm the one that wants to stay with her. In fact, I often prefer her company to that of others.  She's funny, witty, smart, clever, engaging, and entertaining. She doesn't have many complaints. She's a bright light in a long list of dark days.  She is an inspiration to me.  She is so much more than Down syndrome. She is also a child in a young woman's body;  it's not something you can overlook or forget.  

I yearn for an evening of appetizers and cocktails with adults.  In a bar.  With no time limit on when we get there or when we get home. (and maybe even a hangover in the morning) Without having to ask 'are you going to be home so I can go out?' or plan who will stay with her and what's on the agenda for the next morning.

I think it would be really nice if my friends took a serious look at me and just knew that sometimes I need help; that they could help me and that I would accept help. If only they would offer.  One time many years ago a friend told me she'd have my daughter stay over one Saturday night so that The Husband and I could go out for an evening or for a quick overnight stay out of town.  I was so appreciative of the offer.  But I would have appreciated it more if she'd actually, you know, followed through.  

Friends (and relatives) mean well.  They say nice things.  They tell me how great I am.  How "you do so much for her."  How she's so wonderful.  Did you know?  I am an inspiration.  Ha.

What I am is a sixty-year-old woman woman watching her friends send their children off into the adult world, dating their husbands anew, starting anew, traveling, retiring, attending college, downsizing, wintering in warmer climes.   I am happy for them.  But what about me?  

I promise, this isn't a pity party.  It is is a moment of darkness in an otherwise wonderfully funny, always interesting adventure growing up with a daughter who has Down syndrome.  We've grown together and because of that I am truly a better person than I ever could have been without her. I wouldn't want her to be any different or any other way. She has taught me so much.  She has been the inspiration of my days.  

Have I done enough for her?  Hell, I don't know.  I'll keep working on it. 

I'm sure my life will turn up again one of these days.