Monday, August 31, 2009

Good Morning, Mama

Mom and Pops Reddick cut a rug at my sister's wedding

“Mama may have, papa may have

But God bless the child thats got his own

Thats got his own.”

“God Bless the Child,” Written by Arthur Herzog, Jr.

Good morning, Mother. How are you and Dad doing this morning?

You know I thought of you often last week, more often than usual. I thought of all those times you told me that someday I would wish I were back in your house, under your roof. I remember you told me that someday reality would finally catch up with me, and I would long for those days when you and Dad were there to make sure all my needs were met, when you and Dad would suddenly swoop in and clean up all my messes. Well, that someday was last week.

Not only did I wish I were back in your house, several times I peeked outside the door of my office and around the corner, wishing I would see you coming around the corner with that big Bible with the picture of White Jesus on the front, fully prepared to clown on my behalf, to defend me, like you did when I was in school.

And several times, I even picked up the phone to dial your number. One or two times I even dialed the area code and the first two or three digits of your number before I hung up.

I know you would have welcomed the call. I know that your voice would have been warm and soothing. I know you would have said all the right things to comfort me. I know I would have felt the love radiating even through the phone lines. And I know that sometimes everybody needs to feel they are somebody’s child.

But, in the same instance, I know you would not have wanted your grown son, your oldest son, to call you whining and complaining because he faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles, because things were not exactly going his way, because he felt maligned and misused by those around him. And I know this because you did not raise me that way. So, I did what you would have done, what Dad would have done.

I simply smiled your smile (Everyone seems to think I have your smile.). And I grunted Dad’s peculiar little laugh (Everyone seems to think I got that laugh from him.). I stood up straight—proud and erect, and I stuck my chest out. And I took on each and every obstacle that stood in my path. And when things did not go my way, I simply grabbed the snake by the head, as Grandmother used to say, and I kept working with it until I bent it to my will.

And for those people who maligned me, who wished to misuse me, your smile and Dad’s laugh and my upright carriage proved enough. When they saw they could not discourage me, when they realized they could not dissuade me from my goals, my purpose, they simply slinked away, cursing themselves.

But I still wish I were there in your house right now having a cup of coffee with you, enjoying the morning meal with you. That way I could feel your kiss and accept your embrace and feel Dad’s firm hand on my shoulder as I told you of how I faced self-pity and certain defeat but came out victorious. And then I could look in each of your faces and see your pride in the man that I have become.

Love always,

Maxwell René

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Mote in Your Eye, and the Beam in My Own (I'm Back!)

"It’s been a long time, I shouldn’t have left you

Without a strong rhyme to step to."

Eric B. and Rakim, “I Know You Got Soul”

I know by the many messages I’ve received that many of you have noticed my absence over the course of the past week. Thank you for thinking of me. I assure you that I am okay, and my family is okay. However, the school year started in earnest and so did the sixteen hour days, and I suddenly found myself overwhelmed and disoriented. By the end of the week, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. But after a good night’s rest and a little TLC, I am much better now.

This blog was originally intended to be a summertime distraction. For the first time in years, I planned not to work or travel on behalf of work during the summer. I instead opted to do a little blogging, complete a long list of tasks, and just spend time with my wife and children. And I sat down and planned it all out.

Well, I managed to do a whole lot of blogging, but in the meantime, my list of tasks fell to the wayside. When I complained to a friend that I didn’t feel as though I was accomplishing anything, she posed before me a number of questions that put it all in perspective.

She asked me if, during the course of the summer, I had been up and actually paid attention to the sun rising. Had I laughed so much that my stomach hurt? Had I on occasion slept well into the afternoon? Had I ever taken the time to just sit and think and ponder all those questions I never had time to ponder before? Did I delight in not having to be anywhere at any specific time and using my time as I chose?

And the answer, of course, was yes to all of the above. My carefully made plans went out the window about the first week of summer. And soon thereafter I quit checking my work e-mail altogether. Of course I felt guilty and irresponsible at first. But then I began to enjoy myself. For the first time in a long time, I really began to enjoy myself.

I spent my morning composing blog posts and dialoguing with readers. And I spent my afternoons exploring Northeast Florida with my children. Though I’ve always taken time out for my children, it was so much different when they were my only focus, when my mind was not occupied by job pressures and issues, both real and imagined. And I thoroughly enjoyed all the time I spent with them; I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know them all over again.

And sometime during the summer, sometime while doing nothing, I managed to find my way back to me.

So, I have said all of that to say this. I’m back, and I’m back for good. Never will I stay away so long again.

The sixteen hour days are a thing of the past. I’ll have to learn to politely but firmly say no to a lot of people; I know that I’ll have stop chasing every dollar. But I’m recommitting myself and redoubling my efforts so that each and every day I will be here. Each and every day my mission will be to enlighten, to inspire, to entertain you to the best of my ability, and if I do my job well, each and every day I will cause you to think.

I only wish to help you with the mote in your third eye even as I work to extract the beam in my own. Join me on my journey of discovery and self-awareness. Together we gone work this thang out.

Who is with me?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Love Yourself, and Be a Blessing to Somebody: A Charge to My Son

I cannot write this morning. I can hardly even think. The excitement is just too great. This morning my youngest son begins high school, and I am, perhaps, even more excited than he. But no one seems to understand this.

I had every intention of meeting his bus at school so that I might video tape his arrival. But he protested vehemently, and my wife finally dissuaded me, especially given that in my pride I had already posted his naked baby butt on yesterday.

So, in lieu of an original post, I’ll just post the conversation I had with him on last evening. Because I don’t speak well off the cuff—I end up leaving out all the most important points—I always have to write things down.

Son, I need to speak to you briefly before the morning. I just wanted to take the time to try to be a blessing to you because whether you know it or not, you have indeed been a tremendous blessing to me in ways that you could not even imagine.

But allow me to begin by sharing with you what I believe to be the keys to a happy, successful life based on my experience: Love yourself, and in everything you do, try to be a blessing to someone each and every day. Allow me please to explain.

Believe it or not, I have not always loved myself. I cannot explain to you how difficult it is to grow up surrounded by blight, by baneful wretchedness, and not internalize it.

My mother loved me. My grandmother loved me. And they held me tight to their bosom even into my adulthood. But for some reason, they never quite taught me to love myself.

And for a period during my early adulthood, my actions, my demeanor, reflected this lack of self-love. I used people and allowed myself to be used. I did many horrible things and put myself in horrible situations that could have, that perhaps should have, lead to jail or even greater still, death.

To this day, I wonder why I was spared. To this day, I sometimes awake at night expecting someone, something, to come pull me from my bed and force me to answer for my past.

And I did not begin to love myself until I met your mother. She had it together. So was so beautiful, so intelligent that I could not believe that she would even be fooled up with me. But she brought out the best in me. She showed me my gifts and talents, but most importantly, she believed in my gifts and talents. And with a loving, caring hand, she gently pushed me, cajoled me to put them to good use.

She made me want to be a better man. And just because she loved me, I began to love myself. When you settle down and seriously begin to consider a mate, find someone who loves you and believes in you as much as you love and believe in yourself.

And then came you and your sister. You can’t imagine how much time and effort me and your mother put in naming the two of you. We finally settled on Asa for you, meaning healer or better still, God’s perfect physician. And for your sister, after much debate we chose Aja, meaning life.

This should be the end of the story. This should be the “happily ever after” part, but it didn’t happen that way.

I took a look at your mother, and I looked at your older brother and sister. And I took a look at you and your sister, and the few material things I had amassed at that point. And I said to myself, look at what I have created. How absolutely great I am.

My self-love hardened to arrogance. I began to bully people. I began to purposely hurt people, I began to draw people in only to shove them violently away. And at the very height of my arrogance, we found out about the impending birth of your brother.

Your mother and I put as much care and effort in naming him as we had you and your sister. However, when the time came, I arrogantly insisted, against your mother’s wishes and my own heart, that his first name be Aedan, meaning fiery one, and for his middle name I chose none other than my own.

This was not the name your mother and I agreed upon; this was not the name we were given for him. It was a name growing out of my arrogance. It was a name meant to say to the world, “Indeed, look what I’ve created. I am great.”

At that time I learned the price of arrogance. You know the rest of the tragic story from here; the following day your brother died.

And in the days of overwhelming crushing grief that followed, I thought I would hate myself even more. I thought I would never forgive myself, my arrogance. But miraculously, when I could finally look at myself in the mirror again, I loved myself even more. However, I did so with the realization that the gifts I was given, the blessings I was given, were not mine to have and use as I so wish, but emanated from someone, something much greater than I could ever even imagine myself to be and were to be used accordingly.

So this is the charge I give you today, son. This is what I ask of you; this is all I’ll ever ask of you. As you enter into manhood, love yourself, but at all times, in all things, endeavor to use your gifts, your talents, to be a blessing to somebody. But in doing so remember this as well: I’ll always love you even more than you can love yourself.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Reader, Please Indulge Me on this Morning

Reader, please indulge me this morning. I have a lot of wonderful things planned for this week, but tomorrow my youngest son begins high school. So, I would like to take the time to encourage him as well as have a little fun at his expense.

Over the course of my life, I have been blessed and mightily so. I have no idea why I, among others, am deserving of such favor. And of all my many blessings, perhaps I am most thankful for my four children. I have been blessed with four very beautiful, very intelligent children, who never cease to bring me joy. And tomorrow one of those children reaches a milestone in his life.

My youngest son, the irrepressible Aaron Beaste, begins high school tomorrow. That is him up top wearing the orange tights with the band-aid on his little noggin. I try to stay away from clichés, but I just have to say it. The time has gone by so quickly.

I remember bringing him home from the hospital. He was my wife’s first child, and she absolutely doted on him, devoted every waking hour to him. She insisted that he sleep in the bed with us until he was maybe eighteen months when I insisted that he sleep in his own room in his own bed. That first week or so was rough. He was in one bed crying while my wife was in another crying, but it was past time he made that move.

And young Aaron Beaste had to have been the very cleanest baby in the whole world. My wife bathed him after meals, after changing his diaper; anytime he might have gotten the least bit dirty. And she bathed him in the kitchen sink which I never could figure out.

Let me take the time to throw in the obligatory “naked baby pictures.” I’ve got an album full of them. Evidently, people think that’s cute.

But anyway, I have to admit even if it is my own son, he was a cute baby. I remember being at a bar-b-q when he was maybe two or three years of age, and this older matronly lady just kept staring at him. We could not figure out why and began to get a little uncomfortable, but she finally informed my wife that with those long eyelashes, and that fine curly hair, he was so pretty that he should have been a girl.

It’s hard to believe that same cute little baby boy with those bow-legs is the same hairy teenage sleeping in the back bedroom of my house and wearing a groove in my floor from his room to the refrigerator, and leaving a permanent dent in my couch. It seemed so much easier to love him when he was small and cute and could not talk.

But, Aaron Beaste, you already know the expectations of me and your mother. We only expect you to do your very best and give your very best one hundred percent of the time. And since you have been blessed with many substantial gifts and talents, your very best will take you very far indeed.

Remember the lessons your mother has taught you. Remember the lessons I have taught you. Remember to smile and laugh and thoroughly enjoy your life when the time calls for it. However, also remember to put your nose to the grindstone when the time calls for that as well. And always, but always, seek to make the right choices; do the right thing.

And yes, your mother was a part of this. In fact, she showed me where she kept the “naked baby” photo album. You know I had no idea where it was.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Flukie, call your aunt!: The Fine Art of the Nickname

So, yesterday I arrive home after a long day, and my children are walking around grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Well, I knew something was up, but I wasn’t going to bite so quickly. Finally, I just had to ask them what was so funny. Then in their best down home southern accent, they begin to say,

“Flukie! Fluuuuukie! It’s your auntie, baby. Call your auntie!”

Then they would erupt in laughter.

Then I realized what had happened. It seems like my aunt from back home that I have not talked to in quite some time had called and left a voice mail message. And for some reason, she thinks that for a voice mail message to be heard, she has to shout at the top of her lungs. It sounded as if she was calling me out of the yard or something.

But they were not laughing at my auntie. They were laughing at my nickname, Flukie. It just cracks them up when they hear someone refer to me by my nickname. But I am proud of my nickname. That nickname was given to me so long ago by my grandmother.

For the first few years of my life, I wore corrective orthopedic braces. Consequently, I was a very clumsy child, always falling. So my grandmother began to call me Flukie. Over the years, some people have remarked that it seemed awfully cruel, but coming from my grandmother, I knew it was all in love.

But back then, everyone seemed to have a nickname. I have known people for years without knowing their real name. When I was growing up, there seemed to be a fine art in nicknaming, and nicknames told so much about a person. They gave them personality.

Of course you had your common nicknames. For instance, James was shortened to Jim. John became Jack, and Henry became Hank, and so on. That was pretty straight forward. But I never could figure out how they derived Dick from Richard. I had a frat brother named Richard who I insisted on calling Dick, and his response was not so fraternal.

And then there were those nicknames which, like mine, were derived from physical attributes or character traits. My cousin Anthony was always small for his age, so he was called Lil’ Bit. Smiley smiled incessantly for no apparent reason. And Happy was interminably happy. A distant cousin out of East St. Louis had three inexplicable lumps on the crown of his head, so we just called him Lump-Lump.

But sometimes those physical characteristics change over time, and the nickname becomes a gross misnomer. I had a cousin who was a rather portly, round child, so everyone referred to her simply as Fat. It didn’t bother her self-esteem any I don’t think. But in her mid teens she began to grow up and not out, and finally became a rather shapely, beautiful woman. But everyone still referred to her as Fat.

And there is the tragic case of my cousin Slim. Growing up, he was always thin as a rail. But at some point he developed a glandular problem which resulted in him being almost as wide as he is tall. It seems like a cruel joke to continue to refer to him as Slim.

Then there were those names that told of your place in the family. My mother is the oldest sister, so she is referred to as Big Sister. My aunt, the youngest, is referred to as Baby Sister. See how that works? My Aunt Lucille’s oldest boy is named after his father, so he is Junebug.

But perhaps the funniest nicknames are those produced by regional accents or just gross mispronunciations. For instance, I had a childhood playmate who everyone called We-mare. Only after we started school did I recognize that We-mare was just a bastardization of William Errol.

And then there is the curious case of my Aunt At-lay. Up until my early thirties, I referred to my aunt as Aunt At-lay. Then at a family reunion, my wife pointed out a name on the program which she didn’t recognize, Adelaide Snipes, so she asked me to point her out. But I didn’t recognize the name either.

But when my Aunt At-lay approached the mike at the time allotted for Adelaide Snipes, my wife had a ephiphany:

At-lay? Adelaide? You men you have been mispronouncing your aunt’s name all this time?”

Who knew? She had to leave the service so as not to disturb it with her laughter.

For now, yes I am Flukie and very proud of it. It harkens back to a time and place long forgotten. And when the day comes that no one still calls me Flukie, when my grandmother’s name for me is forgotten, it will be a sad day indeed.

I think I will call my aunt back now.

Do you have a nickname from your youth that you are proud of or maybe ashamed of?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Black Children/White World: How Do I Make the Journey Easier?

“For not only must the black man be black; he must be black in relation to the white man.” --Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

Please forgive me if this runs long. I composed it months ago, and have since revised it to the bare bones. But I really need your help on this one. Please stay with me until the end.

The questions began very early, even before I was prepared to deal with them.

At the time, my son was one of only a few African American children in his school and the only African American child in his kindergarten class. I accompanied his school on a trip to the zoo during a week set aside for the local schools.

His school, with its long line of white children with only a few specks of color here and there, stood in line next to an all black school. My son looked down the long line of white children in front of him and behind him, and then looked over at the long line of African American children.

Then he turned to me and asked me, “Why are all the white kids over here and all the little brown kids over there? And why am I not over there with the little brown kids?”

I was not prepared to deal with that question, and can’t recall exactly what I said. However, I do remember rattling off some abstruse, recondite theory that he would have never been able to understand at the time and then trying to redirect his attention elsewhere. But for the rest of the day, he was uncharacteristically reticent, and often I found him gazing wistfully and curiously at the little brown kids whenever a group of them came near.

Now, both he and my daughter have grown accustomed to either being the only African American child or one of only a few African American children in almost every setting they find themselves. But as they grow older and the relationships and social situations become more complex, I find myself having to revisit the racial question with them all over again.

In a World Surrounded by Whiteness

In their world surrounded by whiteness, I am more worried for my daughter than I am my son. My son is more than secure in his blackness. He is almost arrogant in his blackness even. He wields his blackness like a club, beating those who underestimate his ability, his mental acumen, about the head and shoulders with it.

His friends represent numerous races and ethnic groups. In fact, his current crew is made up of a Jew, a mixed race black/Hispanic, and a mixed race white/Hispanic. However, it is important to note that his crew occupies the middle and upper middle class economic stratum.

But my daughter is not so confident. Often she downplays her abilities. And all of her friends are white. She has had black friends, but they have never been long term friends. She says that the young black girls that she comes into contact with are simply too loud and boisterous, their behavior too outrageous. They are, in a word, too ghetto.

Her last friendship with a young black girl ended abruptly when that friend got into a rift of some kind, and she expected my daughter to assist her in fighting. When my daughter refused, she turned on my daughter and ridiculed her for some time. My daughter was heartbroken.

And I am just being honest when I tell you I am troubled every time I enter her room and practically all the faces staring back at me from the many posters on her wall are white. At this point, she seems to have immersed herself in whiteness. And from my own experience, it may come back to bite her.

I, too, grew up surrounded by whiteness. Most of my friends were white. And it was all fine until we grew older and began to compete for educational opportunities and jobs. Then they grew resentful of my blackness. Then they felt my blackness gave me some unfair advantage.

The first time I was ever directly called a nigger was by my white best friend at the time. Not only did he call me nigger, he moved to attack me in a violent, drunken rage. While he was being restrained, I promptly hit him in the head with a desk lamp.

I learned a lesson that day. I responded by adjusting my world view accordingly. But I was always aware of my blackness and my precarious footing in the white world, and I was confident, almost arrogant in my abilities. However, my daughter seems to be not so aware, not so confident. How will she react if she is ever confronted by a similar situation?

Coming to Terms with So-Called Black Culture

My children and I were out about town recently, when we witnessed a group of black teenagers acting a complete fool. They were loud. They were boisterous. They were profane. So much so that a security guard backed up by the local police had to escort them from the premises.

My son and daughter looked on mildly amused, and when the ruckus had subsided, I heard them joking to one another about the scene that they had just witnessed. I became very upset, however, when I heard them referring to the group of black teenagers as coons and spooks and “ignant knee-grows”.

I was perhaps more upset with myself than with them. I immediately recognized where the pejoratives coons and spooks and “ignant knee-grows” came from. That came straight out of my mouth. If you are ever curious about the faults in your children, examine yourself first.

But at that moment it became plain that my children have created a dichotomy between themselves and their social circle of acceptable African Americans and African Americans of questionable mental acumen, social graces, and moral and ethical standards. They have divided African America into good negroes and bad negroes.

But in all fairness to them, the so-called “bad negroes” have rejected them as well. So many times and for so long they have been ridiculed, sometimes by close family members, for being “too white.” They have been ridiculed for “talking white.” They have been ridiculed for “acting white.” They have been ridiculed for “having white tastes.” They have even been ridiculed for getting good grades and loving to read which incidentally falls under “acting white.”

How do they then reconcile themselves with a culture that rejects them? How do they respect a culture with values that seem to run so contrary to their own?

The Summation

I have attempted to teach my children who they are, what they. I have attempted to instill in them pride in who they are, what they are. But often I cannot find the right words. Often I am faltering in my speech. And too often I contradict myself in words and deeds.

But in the meantime, I fear they and other African American children like them are sinking gradually into the frigid depths of a cold naked abyss, and I am unable to find a rope long enough or strong enough to throw down to them and pull them to a place of safety.

What advice to you have for me?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Write me something sexy (My pathetic attempt at erotique noir)

Often I get requests from readers to explore a particular topic or to simply write something for them. And sometimes I take them up on it.

But recently I received a rather challenging request from a reader. She had a simple request:

“Soulbrother, please write me something sexy.”

Well, I like to experiment with a variety of genres, but I don’t think I have ever written anything sexy. Besides, “something sexy” is very broad. So, I wrote back to ask her to be more specific.

So, she explained…

I am a middle-aged professional woman living alone in the Midwest. I have been single for sometime now. I have not been able to find a suitable suitor. But don’t think I am one of those bitter single women. I keep myself busy with work and other pursuits, and I know that someone will come along shortly; I am patient, and I will not rush it. But every now and then, I need a little sexy in my life.

I have read a number of other things you have written, and I believe that you can do it. Nothing vulgar or profane though. Just something sexy. And it doesn’t have to be a long post, just so it touches upon all the major, most important points, hits all the right notes.

And don’t tell me when you are going to post it. I want it to spontaneous, to catch me completely by surprise. I probably will resist reading it at first. I probably will be tired from a long day. I usually am.

But it should slowly wear me down—draw me in, seduce me—until finally I go back to where I have bookmarked your site and reluctantly give in and read it. Your words should touch me, caress me, put me at ease. And then embrace tightly, hold me, make me forget my day, make me forget I am sleepy and think only about what comes next.

Your post should start slowly, deliberately but then slowly build to a crescendo. And as I am reading it, it should cause my heart to pound, cause me to sweat, so much so that I curse you in the morning for ruining my hair, for causing me to sweat my roots out.

It should make me gasp, breath in short, quick breaths, and clench and unclench my fists. I want to have to close my eyes tightly and bite my bottom lip. And it should cause my toes to curl so far under that my feet appear to make a fist.

I want to have to beg you to stop writing just long enough for me to catch my breath, but I will not mean it; I really want you to continue writing so that I might continue reading until you run out of words, and I have reached the very end.

And you don’t have to use big words. Big words are fine, but they don’t always do it for me. Most of all, I just need you to know how to manipulate language in such a way as to get your point across, know how to use language well enough to make me feel what you are trying to communicate and feel it very deeply.

And when I am done reading, I want to feel spent. So spent, in fact, that I sleep late the next morning and am almost late for work. I want it to stay on my mind. I want to think about for the whole of the next day; in fact, I want to be able to think of nothing else.

I want to have something to tell my girlfriends over lunch that will make them blush and giggle. And I want it to impel me to want to come back to your site again and again, day after day, waiting impatiently and hopefully for you to write me something sexy again.

Can you do this for me?

I wrote back to tell her that I would work on it.

[Anonymous, will this suffice?]

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Something like... (The Beautiful Post)

My wife glanced at yesterday’s post and just sighed. She explained that she did not like it when I composed pieces like that. She told me that it seems that as I grow older, I am rapidly becoming more and more cynical, and my writing reflects this cynicism.
She went on to say that she enjoys reading my compositions much more when I don’t write anything angry or fearful or threatening, as has been my main output as of late. And she alluded to when, at one time, I seemed to find beauty even in the most unlikely of places, at the most unlikely of times, and dug deep, deep, deep within myself to find, to discover , the language—just the right combination of words—to represent that beauty in prose.
She reminded me of something I had written on our wedding night. Something I had insisted on reading aloud even as we both waited impatiently and nervously to consummate our wedding vows. Something that managed to bring us both to tears. Something that imperfectly and clumsily--yet splendidly she recalled—gave voice to the emotion of the moment.
“Can’t you,” she asked imploringly, “write something beautiful like that again?”
She wondered out loud what had happened to that idealistic young man she began her adult life with in that tiny little apartment in Riverside when we were plenty broke, yet plenty happy. When the only furniture we owned was a second hand king-sized water bed and a pair of papasan chairs. But how convenient for newlyweds.
She reminded me of a time when I spent every moment that we were separated documenting each and every one of my thoughts, my feelings—every emotion--, in the margins of my class notes, in the empty spaces of those blue examination booklets, wherever I found room to write. And at night, I would read them to her as we waited for the Arsenio Hall show to begin.
“All the stuff you wrote then was so silly, so corny, but so beautiful,” she laughed.  “When we are apart, do you still dominate your every thought now?”
Then she dug out a baby memory book from the top of a closet somewhere. She dug out a delicate, yellowed napkin which I vaguely recognized. She gingerly unfolded it and passed it to my teenage daughter, who just happened to be passing through.
“This is what your dad wrote to you shortly after you were born when we waited night after night in the preemie unit, hoping and praying that you would develop properly, that you would gain enough weight so that we might just be able to bring you home with us. But you wouldn’t stop moving, fidgeting, and you had to be swaddled just so you would not burn off what food you were given. You were unctuous even then.”
My daughter read it once.  And then again. Then she handed it to me with a wistful look in her eye.
“This is so absolutely beautiful, Dad. When did you become so angry?  You should write more stuff like this.  I would devour every word.”
And then my wife reminded me of the obituary I had written upon the occasion of the death of our youngest child. The obituary I had struggled through even though with each and every line my heart broke over and over and over again. Even though it was difficult to even see the page through my tears, which caused the ink to smear and run.
“That,” my wife told me, “was perhaps the most beautiful thing you have ever written, despite the balefulness of the occasion, of the moment, and even in its pitiful, sorrowful, simplicity.”
Lastly, she reminded me of the impending change of seasons when the summer reluctantly gave way to fall. She reminded me that at one time this had been my favorite time of year. She reminded me that at one time the change of seasons, signaling the movement of time, a perpetual cycle of decline and rebirth, awed me, inspired me to write so many beautiful things, most of which I now seemed to distance my from by packing them away in boxes in a storage facility somewhere.
As she prepared to leave for work, she playfully admonished me, “When I get to work and check your site, I would like to read something beautiful. Write something beautiful for me, something like you used to write so long ago.”
So, she left me sitting there, staring at a blank page, trying to figure out just what to write when I suddenly realized that the most beautiful thing that I have ever known or experienced, that I could never have imagined, dreamt up out of thin air—given all the good and even the bad, the positive and even the negative—defied language, and I lacked the requisite talent and skill to ever capture it with words. 
The most beautiful thing I have ever known or experienced, that I could never have imagined, dreamt up out of thin air, is our life together, the life we have made for ourselves.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Woke Up this Morning, and Got Myself a Gun (Pondering My Next Move)

Some time ago I resolved to begin each Monday on a positive note. However, events of this past weekend have pushed me completely in the opposite direction.

The tension out there is getting thick. On Saturday morning, I awoke to find in my local morning paper an article about a local businessman who is absolutely enraged that local authorities will not consent to him hosting a “Leaded Tea Party” over the Labor Day weekend on property owned by his business. [See original post.] Celebrants were to be able to fire weapons on a shooting range he set up on the property.

He has reacted by banning all government personnel from the property and erecting barricades and employing security personnel to enforce the ban. This is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Perhaps I should not be surprised. In fact, I actually expected this kind of reaction in this area sooner. After all, North Florida is but an extension of South Georgia. But I am cautious, perhaps overly so because I know these people are reacting not out of anger but out of fear. Yet, fear can make people react in ways in which they normally would not react and make decisions they will later regret. And with the hysteria stoked by the lies and propaganda from the right, anything is possible.

However, my wife’s reaction to the whole situation is what really disturbs me.

I am baffled by the whole gun culture. There is a segment of this country’s population who has enjoyed a long running love affair with guns that does not make sense. I have tried to explain it, but I honestly cannot. I have an idea that he has something to do with the power a gun suggests.

Though I have never owned a gun, I am more than capable of using one. When I was in the military, I qualified as an expert on a number of weapons—the M-16, the M-60 machine gun, the grenade launcher, the .45 caliber pistol, and the shotgun. However, I believe guns in the home are more trouble than they are actually worth; stories of catastrophes caused by guns in the home abound. And there is no conclusive proof that the presence of a gun in the home increases the safety of the home’s residence.

And my wife is even more strongly anti-gun than I. She vowed long ago that we would never possess a gun. So, imagine my surprise when on Saturday as we stood in the front yard, and I showed her the article alluded to earlier and casually joked that it might be time we armed ourselves.

She looked warily toward our neighbor’s home, the one outside which an oversize Confederate flag flies, and who drives the pick-up truck replete with anti-Obama and anti-Socialist bumper stickers. And then she looked either way up and down our street perhaps remembering that we were one of very few minorities in the area.

And I think I saw just a hint of fear in her eyes when she said, “I think it is definitely something we should talk about.” Her capitulation to the no gun rule by even considering bringing a gun into our home caught me and my children completely by surprise. It is not an overstatement to say we were unsettled by it.

And I did recognize the look of fear in my children’s eyes as they looked first at each other, and then at my wife, and finally at me. And I did recognize a slight twinge of fear of my own as I considered the possibilities and pondered how I might protect them if worse comes to worse.

Later when my wife and I were alone, I thought of broaching the subject with her again just to see if she was indeed serious, but I thought I would wait a while before mentioning it again.

I did not want the two of us to make such a serious decision out of fear. Because I know that fear can make people react in ways in which they normally would not react and make unwise decisions that they will later regret.

But today I think I will stop and price a few guns on the way home just to be on the safe side.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Addicted to Race Blog Talk Radio Broadcast

This week Tami Winfrey Harris of What Tami Said and Anti-Racist Parent offered me a unique opportunity to guest host a broadcast of the Blog Talk Radio show Addicted to Race.

I was a bit nervous and got tongue tied at times; however, I really enjoyed the opportunity and look forward to more like it.

Please take a listen to the broadcast:

You can also listen to the broadcast on the broadcast page and leave comments at Addicted to Race.

And I certainly appreciate the opportunity and would like to extend my sincerest, most heartfelt thanks to Ms. Winfrey and co-host Carmen Van Kerchkhove. I hope I fulfilled your expectations.

Brother, please call me when you get this message

My younger brother L.G. Reddick of whom I am very proud.

Brother, please call me when you get this message. I really need to speak with you right now.

I called your home phone, but there was no answer. And when I called your cell, your message box was full.

I originally meant to have a little fun this morning at your expense. I was going to clown you.

I was digging through photo albums searching for those pictures you took when you came down that time, and we threw you an impromptu birthday party. Do you remember those? You were wearing a suede vest with no shirt underneath, and it was about a hundred degrees outside, and everyone was laughing and trying to make sense of it all.

But then, as I was looking, a stack of old photographs of our grandparents and many of our aunts and uncles cascaded to the floor. And as I picked them up, it suddenly dawned on me that many of them are no longer with us.

Our grandparents are gone. Our grandparents’ sisters and brothers are gone except for only one or two. And our parents and aunts and uncles are aging quickly.

Not until Grandmother’s funeral did I notice how completely mother and father had grayed. Only then did I notice how slowly they moved, how they needed assistance to sit down, to get up, to move about.

Only then did I notice our eldest uncle’s hands. As he sat there in the wheelchair, his body ravaged by a stroke, my eyes were drawn to his hands. And those long beautiful black fingers that had gained mastery over the piano keyboard were drawn and gnarled into unrecognizable, unusable hooks. The deep baritone voice that had entertained so many for so long was now reduced to a whisper. And that sharp mind and wit struggled to find an answer to the most mundane of questions.

And shamefully I turned away. Shamefully, I tried to avoid him. But my heart was broken, and it was all that I could do to keep from breaking down, to keep from weeping like a child who has been cast away.

The seasons are quickly changing. And the protecting canopy of the leaves in the uppermost branches is changing colors, drying up and falling away. And soon, sooner perhaps than I would like to imagine, we will have to assume their position, their roles, at the very top of the tree, and this frightens me. This causes me untold anxiety.

How can I ever be the men our grandfathers were? How can I ever be the men our uncles are? The awesomeness of the responsibility of trying to replace them, of trying to become them is daunting indeed.

Right before Grandmother passed, she told me that soon I would have to stop running from reality. She told me than soon I would have to stop hiding in books. Soon I would have to deal with something other than characters I invented and could easily manipulate, plots and storylines over which I had complete control.

She told me that as the eldest child, as the eldest grandson, soon I would have to return home and assume my place of leadership within the family, and she chastised me for having left you with the responsibility for so long.

But you were always the more courageous brother. You were always the stronger brother. While I fled from trial, from tribulation, you faced it head on. While I always sought compromise, you stood steadfast.

But Grandmother was right. Soon I must return home. I feel the tug and I hear the call wresting me from my place of security.

I now know what I have to do, but I feel I lack the courage, the strength to proceed. And I am frightened and filled with great trepidation. Please lend me your strength, your courage so that I might complete this task.

And please, brother, just call me when you get this message. I have tried desperately to get in touch with you all morning, and I cannot. And I really need to speak to you right now.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Leaded Tea Party--Now Tell Me It Ain't Getting Absolutely Crucial Out There

I woke up this morning only to find out that the whole Tea Party/Town Brawl foolishness has reared its ugly head in my own backyard.

It seems that a local businessman who also serves as the new Florida Chairman of Americans for Prosperity and organizer of the “Loaded Tea Party” is miffed that county code enforcement officers moved to block his plans for a Labor Day celebration on his business’ property that would have featured a gun range on which celebrants could fire their weapons.

In response to the county code enforcement officers’ actions, he subsequently banned all government officials without warrants from the property. To enforce the ban, the businessman erected barricades and posted security personnel to check the ID’s of all desiring entrance.

Labor Day, liquor, and loaded guns—to say that this is a bad situation is an understatement. It’s one of those Waco stand-off situations waiting to happen.

Now you cannot tell me that it’s not getting crucial out there. Anytime the nuts bring out the guns and begin target practice, it’s time to re-assess the situation and prepare your response. Even I underestimated the reaction to a black man assuming the reins of power.

To read the whole story, just click the link below:

"Leaded Tea Party" organizer wants to be able to fire weapons |

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If These Seven Foods Existed, I Would Reconsider Becoming a Vegetarian [Happy B-day Skeptik One]

A couple of years ago, my son and I watched a television documentary on the raising and slaughtering of animals for consumption. The program so upset him that he decided to do some follow-up research. And after watching the program and conducting his research, he vowed to never eat meat again, and thus far, he has kept that vow.

I am immensely proud of him for this. In an age when so many young people stand for absolutely nothing, he did the requisite research and decided to take a stand on something. Not only that, I took the same vow not to eat meat. But then the next morning I awoke to the smell of bacon, and my resolve just broke completely down. I guess I’m just too far into this meat game to give it up now.

However, I have noticed a number of soy-based products on the market that act as meat substitutes. For breakfast my son is able to enjoy soy-based bacon. And for lunch there are a number of soy-based cold cut products such as Tofurkey. And of course you have the old mainstay, veggie burgers, that he enjoys immensely.

And recently he has begun to enjoy a soy-based chicken nugget type product, and we have even been able to find soy-based riblets that actually don’t taste all that bad.

So, this got me thinking. There might be a chance for me to become a vegetarian after all. There are a number of dishes that I just can’t do without. And if someone found away to make a reasonable substitute for them, I would gladly get on board as a proud, card carrying vegetarian. Here is a list of suggestions:

1. Spiral Cut Honey Baked Tofam

I could not imagine a Christmas or an Easter without a spiral cut honey baked ham. I just cannot do without that sweet, succulent goodness. So, if someone could take a big hunk of ham flavored tofu, use the same glaze that is used for the regular ham, and then spiral cut it so that each portion falls off in delicious, delicate slices, I am down.

2. Ham Tofocks

I love greens, all kinds of greens. But to make a good batch of greens, you have to season them just right, and this includes the correct seasoning meat. I prefer to use nice fat ham hocks to season my greens. And so that I can continue to enjoy my greens in the style that I have become accustomed to, I need this product. No one likes bland greens.

3. Roast Suckling Topig

I don’t get this exquisite treat but once a year, the Fourth of July. And I don’t want to give it up. This one seems very simple to create. All one must do is sculpt a tofu pig, roast it all night over an open pit fire, stick an apple in its mouth, and put it in the center of the table. Umm-umm good!

4. Filet Mignon-fu

Okay, all we need to do is to get someone to locate the tenderloin of the tofu, cut the short end of the tenderloin into portions, and then wrap it with a slice of soy-based bacon. The technology to make this dish is already available.

5. Southern Fried Chicken-fu

It may be the stuff that stereotypes are made of, but I enjoy me some golden fried chicken. So, if we could shape tofu into reasonable facsimiles of chicken parts—breast-eses, thighs, wings, drumsticks—season them just right, batter them, and then fry them until they are a deep, golden brown, then we might convince even more people to become vegetarians.

6. Tofutterlings

Check the concept--vegetarian chitterlings. For as long as I can remember, I have celebrated New Year’s Day with a meal consisting of black-eyed peas (for luck), greens (for money), and pork chitterlings (just because I’m country like that), and I don’t want to break that streak.

And as our president said during the election, if America can put a man on the moon, there is no limit to what we can do. And that includes making a soy-based chitterling product. Get to work NASA.

7. Smothered Tofu Chops

I did a lot of research on this one, and discovered that there is no substitute for a good, well-cooked smothered pork chop. So for this one, we’re just going to keep the pork chop and call it by a vegetarian name to assuage any feelings of guilt one might have from actually eating meat.

And a big happy birthday goes out to TheSkeptikOne, one of my all time favorite vegetarians! She is the one who convinced me that a soy-based chitterling product is indeed possible.

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