My eleven and nine-year-old grandsons’ knowledge of cars amazes me. While we’re driving, they dazzle me as they rattle off makes and models. Me? Not so much. I don't know a suburban from an SUV or any of the differences among the sedans. And don’t get me started on cowboy Cadillacs. To be fair, I know a Rolls Royce when I see it, so there’s that. But a Pinto? I can spot that relic from a distance.
Of course, Ford doesn’t manufacture those anymore because a thing-a-ma-jig didn't work out. Boy howdy, fasten your seat belts as I regale you with tales about our Pinto adventures!
The hatchback hiccups. One December, we parked the hatchback at Steve’s workplace to fly up north in a twin-engine plane piloted by our friend John, also from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. (That’s another story.) Our oldest son, only six months old, never gave us a moment’s trouble during our flight. It was during the gas shortage in the late ’70s. John kept dipping down to find a place to gas up. Then he would swoop up again – and again. Perhaps that’s why Steve turned greener by the mile?
When we returned, the rain had frozen on our windshield. In Steve’s attempt to clear it off, he accidentally smashed the back window. Driving home in freezing weather from north Dallas to south Fort Worth with a baby was not my idea of joyful traveling. Life in the fast lane!
Later, when our two boys were tiny, Steve pulled out the back seat and fashioned a board to fit in that space. Topped with a foam pad, it made a tidy platform for playing and sleeping while we traveled 1,000 miles up I-35 to visit my family in Wisconsin. Even I crawled back there to rest by times. I know. I know. Gasp! No car seats. The beauty of fewer laws. The boys are in their forties now – alive and well.
Of course, I can’t forget about another December trip up north. It was a balmy 70 degrees in Texas. Typically, we left at 10:00 pm so that our three littles would sleep the first half of the trip. They did – thankfully. We packed their winter jackets and sped off.
Gradually, the temps dropped as we drove farther north. When I reached for Steve’s and my jackets, I came up empty-handed. With the warm weather and busyness of preparing for the trip, we left our jackets home. Imagine us tromping into an Iowa restaurant without jackets. Those looks.
Neither was our Pinto exactly toasty inside. We packed pillows next to the doors to keep out the draft. Fortunately, our friend John, the pilot, planned to fly up to Eau Claire the next day. When he arrived at my parent’s house, he stuck out our coats and announced, “Dummies.” Indeed.
Eventually, we graduated to a Pinto station wagon. Big time now. But it often broke down. Sometimes Steve asked me to push our Pinto down the street while he steered to magically start it. It worked every time. Don’t ask me for details. Instead, ask your mechanic.
Meanwhile, our three littles stared wide-eyed out the window while we disappeared down the street. One of them called his grandma because he was sure we had vanished forever – for all of two minutes. That was not a pleasant interchange when she arrived. Oh, well. Once our six-year-old joined me to give it the old heave-ho. Probably the highlight of his week. Maybe even the whole month.
One afternoon, I arrived to pick up Steve from work when the engine caught on fire. Now that was thrilling – if you like raising your blood pressure in unconventional ways, that is. Never a dull Pinto-moment.
Perhaps Steve should have walked home instead. This is Cleburne after all. Everything’s within walking distance if you’re into that sort of thing. With car calamities like ours, that’s a serious option.
When we moved sixteen miles out of town past the Cleburne State Park, I chose to grocery shop once a month. We only owned one car – our infamous Pinto. Or, aka, the jalopy as our kids and their friends dubbed it. Do you know that kids nowadays are unfamiliar with the word jalopy? What a shame! I make a point to educate them. Because really?
But I digress. Back to shopping. Of course, if we made plans, we drove Steve to work more than once a month. We weren’t hermits. Back to shopping.
Three growing kids need a lot of groceries. Needless to say, our Pinto station wagon was packed on those monthly trips. Just to keep us on our toes, the car broke down on Park Road 21. Only once, though. In the blazing summer heat. With cold food. And three kids.
Eventually, I nice elderly gentleman spotted us, who cordially delivered us and our groceries home. My father-in-law, a retired Santa Fe railroad man, towed our Pinto home and prepared to diagnose it. It stayed on its hospital bed for a season.
During that time, generous friends loaned us their van. The kids loved it! Air conditioning. Space. Luxury. Did I say air conditioning?
Because our Pinto lacked that amenity. Sigh. Our Pinto was especially challenging when we packed in several extra folks to take them to church with us. Drip dry clothes would have been nice in the ‘80s. We just pretended we were pioneers, trekking across the plains. Sweating it out. Pure joy. But my sarcasm is dripping – like sweat.
Pressing on to other Pinto adventures, we purchased our second Pinto station wagon in 1986. Why change, for crying out loud? It was a steal for a grand. In we piled again for our winter trek to Wisconsin in January 1987. With the back seat down, our kids - ages six, seven, and nine – stretched out with their gear to keep them occupied.
It was a great post-Christmas visit with my Wisconsin family, complete with sledding on seven bump hill. Unfortunately, though, there was surprisingly little snow that year. Quite remarkable for Wisconsin. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our stay.
When we readied to leave, we rented a U-Haul. With my parent’s plan to retire to Nashville, they were lightening ship. We inherited bunk beds, the family piano, books, and other items I have long since forgotten. On we journeyed toward home. Then a blizzard hit in Iowa. With a Pinto pulling a heavy U-haul, it took some knuckle-gripping, heart-pounding driving to make it through. Once we reached Kansas City, we called it a day.
Perched atop a hill next to I-35 lay a motel. Not wanting to veer too far off the freeway, we opted to stay there. Up we drove. With a heavy trailer. On the snow and ice. Then we were stuck. In hindsight, it’s a big duh. What else can I say?
To call a wrecker, Steve trudged up the hill. When it arrived and pulled us to the top, the driver asked where to park us. “Get us down off this hill!” I gasped. Thirty dollars later on level ground, we found another motel offering us a luxury suite for the price of a regular room. Delighted, the kids romped in the snow. The next morning we headed south again.
Finally, Oklahoma City. It, too, had received its every-ten-year share of snow. Choosing to call it a day, we eased into the motel’s snow-laden parking lot. No hill this time. The kids were having the time of their lives! More snow in OK City than in Wisconsin! What’s not to like? Eating out, snowball fights, sleeping in motels.
When we climbed into our Pinto the next morning, we could not get out of the parking lot with our trailer. Once again, we called a wrecker that maneuvered us onto the road. The weather was miserable. Foreboding skies leaked snow. Hoping to not careen off the icy highway, we inched up the Arbuckle Mountains.
Upon reaching the top, the weather abruptly changed: the north side was freezing, dark, and snowy, but on the south side, the sun shined in a clear blue sky with 70-degree temps. Woohoo!
Breathing a sigh of relief, we finished our final lap to Cleburne. We pulled into our driveway, parked, and unpacked. However, when Steve prepared to return the trailer, our car would not start. That trip burned out our transmission. Time for another father-son car repair challenge.
Later, after we had moved up in the world to a minivan, our oldest son dubbed our Pinto days the “Pinto Parables”. At family gatherings, our kids sometimes regale us with their versions of these tales. My daughter even claims that I hit an armadillo on purpose. Imagine that.
Snapshot of a Day in Venice By Terri White Chilly drizzles dogged us during our morning tour of Venice. Once through, the group parted ways to experience private adventures. However, I was chilled to the bone, still recovering from my upper respiratory infection. So we dove down a narrow alley in search of a hot drink. After meandering side streets for a few minutes, we found a tiny restaurant. At first, we ordered coffee outside. Then, eyeing the cozy indoor booths, we switched to the counter serving booze. I needed more than coffee to warm my inners. Brandy sounded perfect. Drinks received, we headed for a booth. But, oh no! The waiter fussed over us, insisted on bringing our drinks and found us a booth. Winking, he refused to charge us extra, which is customary when sitting inside. Did we look desperate?
Ahhh, dry warmth. Lovely. Soon a waiter directed an Australian couple to join our booth. What a great opportunity to visit with fellow travelers! We loved hearing their experiences and sharing ours. Perfectly charming.
Finally, the sun shone, so we headed to meet our group for a gondola ride. Nestled into a gondola, we meandered the canals, heard bits of Venetian history, and finally eased into the Grand Canal, which bustled with activity. What a sight!
For the rest of the day, our group split up to explore on our own. We strolled the cobblestone streets, gazed at the sights, ventured over bridges, and landed at a pizza place overlooking the Grand Canal. Seated outside, we drank in our surroundings as we sipped wine and savored our artichoke pizza. Yum.
As the sun glided toward the West, we hopped onto our boat-bus to meet our group for dinner. Thus ending another memorable day on our tour.
VENETIAN ADVENTURES By Terri White Once we left Austria, we wove through the southern Tyrol. Gazing out the window, I spotted tiny villages, isolated homesteads, and ancient castles dotting the mountains. What caused travelers to settle in this remote region thousands of years ago? No superhighway. No stores. No neighbors. No schools. Everything had to be produced by the family. No exceptions.
But back to traveling. We approached Italy, stopped at the ancient Bomarzo Park full of bizarre statues and then headed to Bolzano, a border city that both Germans and Italians have claimed over the centuries. Hence, German and Italian are commonly spoken there.
Our afternoon visit included a stroll through the open-air market so prevalent in Europe, topped with an outdoor meal of wagyu beef. Yum. Then on the road again.
Next stop Venice, the magical city built on water. Did you know that when the Germanic tribes invaded northern Italy around 500 A.D. that locals escaped to this marsh? Then they remained and figured out how to build a city on water. As in Holland, they drove millions of timber pilings into the ocean bottom for foundations. With age, they petrified, becoming like cement. Pretty amazing!
We stayed on one of the many islands comprising Venice that surprisingly had a few roads for cars. However, in Venice proper, there are no cars. The only transportation is by boat, bike, or walking because the entire city is sitting on water. Due to the lack of outdoor space, the city provides indoor playgrounds and sporting arenas.
Boat-buses transport visitors and residents alike. To maintain an 8-10 feet depth, the city dredges the traveling sea lanes regularly. Boats collect trash, deliver goods to businesses, serve as ambulances and police transportation, along with numerous other services normally provided by cars or trucks elsewhere in the world. However, most locals also own a private boat for recreation.
And don’t forget the gondolas! What a historic and charming experience, complete with a serenade – Frank Sinatra style. For hundreds of years, this one-of-a-kind tradition has been handed down from father to son.
Due to the many canals, bridges are everywhere, just like in Amsterdam. Strolling along those ancient cobblestone streets was inspiring.
Another tradition unique to Venice is the art of mask-making. Our tour provided a visit to a professional mask maker complete with the art, history and meaning behind various masks. Intriguing, each mask tells a story. Then across a tiny bridge, he sells them in his store. Interestingly, this artist is Iranian by birth. What a surprise!
During our tour through the Venetian streets and alleys, we saw laundry strung between buildings, open-air markets in plazas, historic statues, boats bustling with their particular services, and ancient buildings.
One of those buildings was St. Mark’s Basilica situated in the famed St. Mark’s Square. Like a jewelry box, the interior glitters with 40,000 square feet of golden mosaics with each tile depicting a Bible story. I questioned the extravagance when so many were likely poor, but at least the construction provided jobs.
Our two day tour slid to a close all too soon. As our bus meandered south toward our Tuscan retreat, I wondered what treasures that fabled area would hold for us.
“The hills are alive with the sound of music” rang in my thoughts as we approached the Alps in the Austrian panhandle. Breathtaking. Calming. Sublime. Our hotel, nestled in a quaint village, offered lofty views, cozy rooms, and cheerful hospitality.
After we settled in our rooms, we visited in the lounge overlooking towering trees, green meadows, and a sparkling lake. Then on to the dining room for not only a taste of Austrian fare, but also a traditional band, complete with costumes and an accordion. However, as the evening progressed, I grew ill.
Excusing myself, I headed to my room. Chilled to the bone, I crawled into bed heaped with comforters. I could not get warm. Soon I heard a tapping on my door. In walked one of our guides asking if I needed to go to the hospital. I begrudgingly agreed.
Since our tour only used a bus, our hotel owner kindly drove us the local hospital. Once there, the staff ushered me into the doctor’s room – one who spoke no English. That surprised me. Somehow we communicated. Then a tech whisked me away for an x-ray.
In the States, we undress in a booth and don a covering. Not so in Europe! The tech motioned for me to pull off my top. Baffled, I kept looking for a private place to undress. No such luck. Finally, he tugged at my top. So I removed it and stood in all-my-glory for a chest x-ray. Ugh.
Back to the doc who wrote me a couple of prescriptions for an upper respiratory infection. Then I paid a whopping $150 for my visit to the ER, and waited for our ride back to the hotel.
I figured that I would fulfill my script the next day, but not so. On the way home, the hotel owner stopped at the apothecary– at midnight. Apparently, the pharmacist lived upstairs and routinely answers after-hours calls. Once she returned with my meds, she grumbled, “I don’t know why he was so grouchy. He comes to the hotel restaurant regularly.” Kind of comical. Who knows what we interrupted?
The next day we were scheduled to tour the famous Neuschwanstein Castle – you know it as the Disney castle. However, that was not in my cards. Such a disappointment! Of all the castles I planned to visit, that topped my list.
What I really needed, though, was sleep. And sleep I did. Later, when I ventured to the dining room, the hotel owner hovered over me like a mother hen. She sent me to the infrared room, ordered a massage, and then announced that I needed some fresh air. Back home, I would not have risked the cool, damp air, but she insisted.
Once outside, I strolled the lanes of the village surrounded in lush meadows and towering mountains. Each house was in pristine condition and neatly landscaped, like a storybook setting. Finally, I reached the edge of town, plopped down on the grass, and wept at the view.
No, I didn’t miss anything. This quiet day was salve to my soul as I gazed at the unspeakable beauty. No regrets. But my massage awaited me, so I moseyed back to the hotel.
Readying for my massage, the masseuse, instead of leaving the room, waited for me to strip. Oh, well! Totally worth it, I reveled in those hot stones. Meanwhile, the tour group joked that I was probably enjoying a Swedish massage from a sexy male massage therapist. Only half right!
Although the Austrian Alps brought surprises that I never anticipated, I reveled in my own private experience. Who would have thought I’d need an ER visit in a tiny Austrian hospital, topped with a grumpy pharmacist? All gifting me with a quiet day soaked in peace.
Life – it’s what happens to us while making our plans. Just roll with it and enjoy the ride.
RHINE RIVER REFLECTIONS By Terri White The Rhine River flows from the Swiss Alps and dumps into the North Sea in the Netherlands. Although castles dot the landscape, one small castle was built in the middle of the river! Nestled on the banks, villages thrive from tourism. Vineyards with vertical rows of grapes drape the hills. Wherever I gazed, the scenery exuded charm. Our hotel, an ancient former railroad granary, lay next to the ever-present train tracks. Worried about noise? Not in Germany! It supplies all homes and business next to the tracks with quadruple paned windows to soften the noise. In fact, we never even heard a sound. Narrow staircases winding up four flights with our gear reminded me of mountain climbing. If you are out of shape, don’t even attempt to tour Europe. Whether stairs or hills, you will need energy to survive. Cobblestone streets meander throughout the villages. Vines, potted plants and window boxes overflowing with flowers deck the rows of stores and homes. On each store, a symbol, hailing back to the eras of illiteracy, represents the type of store: a pretzel for the bakery or a fishing pole for a sporting goods store. In every city and village, artists, musicians, and vendors gather in the plazas. Restaurants set tables outside on the sidewalks or in the courtyard at the back. Surprisingly, they never pipe in music, offering instead a quiet atmosphere for conversation, while the servers let you enjoy a leisurely meal. In fact, many times we thought they had forgotten us. Food! Frankly, we were not impressed with the classic German sausage, sauerkraut, and potatoes, but the atmosphere made up for its lack. In Europe, public bathrooms are available. To keep them clean, they charge about 50 cents. Sometimes attendants clean the stall after you use it; other times, automatic cleaning robots accomplish the job. Either way, we never lacked for clean facilities. Castles everywhere – 25,000 in Germany. Some have been converted into hostels or event centers. Preserved for their historical value, others offer tours; their history fascinated me. These fortified structures, built on strategic river crossings and passages through mountains, levied taxes on all travelers. If you resisted, you were lowered into the dungeon until you relented. Dark, no food, no water, nothing. I peeked into a few historic dungeons while listening to our guide’s captivating chronicles and wondered if those castle lords were just wealthy thieves. Has anything changed over time? After leaving the Rhine River, we stopped briefly in Munich, a city with centuries old buildings, numerous museums, and the celebrated Oktoberfest. About 20 miles away, though, lies the infamous Dachau concentration camp, but that was not on our itinerary. Instead, our tour opted for a more light-hearted day at a historic beer hall and outdoor market – just a glimpse of big city life in Germany. I even noticed the original Aldi Supermarket! From quaint villages to castles, Germany captivated us with its history, scenery and culture. There was so much to soak in as we eased out of Munich and headed for the Austrian Alps for our next adventure.
HOLLAND HOLIDAY By Terri White It was a dream come true: seventeen-day trip to Europe with a girlfriend. We started planning a year ahead. Where to go, what to do, how to get there. Since this was our first time in Europe, we chose a Rick Steve’s Amsterdam to Rome tour that included castles. It proved to be the perfect choice.
A history buff’s delight. With his website loaded with travel tips, we felt confident that we could navigate our tour. It even included details about the type of walking to expect at each destination. So, of course, the most important purchase was walking shoes.
With a size 11-1/2 narrow, the only store nearby that stocks my size is in Fort Worth, but that proved futile. After several unsuccessful purchases, and returns, I found the perfect shoe – Keens. Waterproof, cushy, comfy. I still wear them.
Next, I needed quick-dry pants and shirts. Eddie Bauer offered numerous choices at a hefty price. Nevertheless, they are well-made and may even outlast me. Throw them in my coffin, Junior! Money! How much to bring? Where to exchange it? Notify credit card companies of my overseas plans. Cell phone plans to accommodate Europe? No problem. Put my phone in airplane mode and only use it with the hotel’s Wi-Fi. Many hotels, actually. Bottom line? Pack light, forget the make-up, and enjoy! We did.
The day arrived. Dallas to London. Grab a quick lunch. Hop on the next plane to Amsterdam. While waiting to take off from London, Sherri whispered, “I hope some overweight person doesn’t sit next to me.” Soon a good-looking twenty-something Italian man squeezed in next to her and plopped down. Instantly, Sherri blurted, “Oh! I am so glad you aren’t fat!”
As she turned beet red, he announced, “We Europeans are not fat like the Americans.” We all laughed and settled in for our jaunt over the North Sea.
Amsterdam! A city abuzz with bikes, canals, bridges, and tall, narrow buildings steeped in history. I loved it! Just lounging in an outdoor café soaking in the atmosphere inspired us. On our own until our tour gathered, we hired a guide for the Red Light District, the oldest part of the city filled with . . . ah . . . curiosities. Indeed educational!
When parents walk their children to school in the Red Light District (Yes! Families live there!), the kids notice the women in the windows. “Mommy, why are those ladies in the window dressed in their swimming suits?” Every mother’s response? “They’re waiting for their ride to the beach.” Nothing to add here!
Longing for java? Don’t go to a coffee shop! What? At coffee shops, you buy marijuana for your smoking pleasure and goodies laced with the stuff. Not your thing? No worries. You can grab a cup of Joe at a café. I’m not making this up, folks.
Houseboats lounged in the canals. Bikes whizzed by with men and woman dressed for the office or with kids and groceries. Whole parking ramps were devoted to bikes! Shops stuffed with cheese, chocolates and pickled herring drew us in. I feasted on this city replete with a rich history and fascinating architecture. Anne Franks’ hide-away alone left us speechless.
Our Netherlands tour ended at an outdoor museum featuring life in a rural village from days bygone that included a windmill, paper mill, shops, sheep, pastures, towering trees, and the famous Dutch pancakes. Did you know the Dutch top their pancakes with anything from beef stew to spiced apples to syrup? What’s for dinner? Take your pick!
While our tour bus meandered down the fabled autobahn, my eyes drank in the hills rimmed with vineyards and decked with solar panels. My mind, already swimming from the richness of our Holland adventures, eagerly anticipated what awaited us in the Rhine River region.
“Mimi,” asked Tristan, “did you go to Woodstock?” “No, but I attended a similar rock fest in Wisconsin.” Without skipping a beat, Tristan responded, “Did they call it Cheesestock?” It was 1970 during my dad’s gubernatorial race. After a campaign event, I escaped with my friends to the Wisconsin boonies. They held it in a rural pasture with all the trappings of Woodstock – except no rain. Unseasonably warm that weekend, the temperature rose to 70 degrees. An April heatwave for us Wisconsinites.
Ahhh, the carefree years of young adults. Still in college and supported by parents, we worked part-time jobs for spending money. The late ‘60s and ‘70s music told the tale of the times. “The Times Are a Changing” rasped Bob Dylan. Indeed.
It was the best of times and the worst of times. The Vietnam Conflict raged while college students demonstrated against it. The Civil Rights Movement exploded. Black Panthers. Weatherman. SDS. Molotov cocktails flew. Heads bashed. Students and police clashed - tear gas hanging in the air the next morning. Jail sentences. Violence met with violence.
Many, though, worked peacefully to bring about change. Quiet, candlelit marches expressed our opposition to our involvement in Vietnam. My dad and others promoted “dove” political candidates running for various offices. Busses of northern college students drove south to participate in sit-ins for black civil rights.
To further racial understanding, the University of Wisconsin joined an exchange student program with Louisiana’s Grambling College, the famed all-black college in which Eddie Brown churned out NFL pros. Universities from Ohio and North Dakota joined the program as well. After a thorough vetting, I hopped aboard a Greyhound bus bound for Louisiana. The closest I had ever come to the South was driving through it on the way to Florida for spring break. I was in for a surprise.
What did I, a while middle class girl from the North Central Midwest, know of racial relationships? Only what my parents taught me: to respect all people no matter their race, religion, or financial status. But understanding the nuances of cultural differences? Nothing. Zero. No one talked about that.
So, totally unprepared, I dove in. Three other students from my campus and eight others from the other two campuses attempted to navigate the cultural cues. Meanwhile, the twelve Grambling students sent to the three northern campuses struggled likewise.
The Grambling students and staff were the black folks who stayed behind under Jim Crow laws instead of joining the 1910-1970 Great Migration to the North and West. These were the folks who endured. The ones whose relationships with whites were always more conspicuously on thin ice. Not the subtlety of northern bigotry. It never occurred to me.
Black migration? Jim Crow? To me, people were just people. But they’re not. Sure, we are all human with the same needs and similar desires. However, a culture’s history seeps into the DNA. The suffering. The triumphs. The abuse. The joys. The deprivation. The teachings. The struggles. The parenting, or lack of it. They are passed down subtly and explicitly.
Regardless of one’s ancestors, those experiences, handed down over the centuries, determine the culture of a people.
Enter this naïve 21-year-old, who takes people at face value – not picking up the nuances, expecting others to think like me. Why wouldn’t I? I had only experienced white, middleclass Midwesterners with rare exceptions.
There were kindnesses. Once at the student union, a fellow asked if anyone would play chess with him. I volunteered. Soon other students surrounded us. Within three moves, I realized I was in way over my head. Clueless about strategy, I only knew how to move the players. The game dragged on. Finally, defeated, I bowed out gracefully – totally embarrassed.
I’ve often thought about that day. Not long ago, I realized that my opponent knew immediately that I was out of my depth. So to not embarrass me, he took his time beating me when he could likely have won in three or four moves. A kindness.
When my girlfriend from UW visited me on spring break, we piled into a car with my Grambling friends to party elsewhere. As we chatted, Jo turned to me, “I can’t understand what they’re saying.” I had to “translate” the southern, black dialect for her. Interestingly, I don’t remember struggling with that.
My roommate, gone most of the time student teaching, was cordial, but we never developed a relationship. However, one of the other UW exchange students visits her Grambling roommate to this day. That remarkable friendship remains the touchstone of the program.
Our dorm provided the usual common area with comfy chairs and a TV. In those days, Saturday night featured iconic family programs, one of which was “All in the Family” with the infamous Archie Bunker. On my own one evening, I strolled into the room. Since it was packed, I sat in the only empty chair at the back. Oh, how I wanted to laugh! Because that program, if you understood the sarcasm, was hilarious. However, not wanting to offend the others, I remained quiet. Eventually, I eased out of the room, too uncomfortable to stay.
Cultural nuances. What were they? How to respond?
At the end of the semester, someone pushed me, shattering my right elbow. It never occurred to me to inform the college officials about it. Years later, I realized that even in 1971, Grambling could have experienced a backlash from the southern white community had I reported it. Fortunately, the incident was not racially motivated. Just a hothead who lost control of his emotions. The school provided transportation to the doctor. In a temporary cast, I flew home for surgery, ending my exchange experience.
I encountered the discomfort of being conspicuously the only white person in the room. Of not knowing the acceptable responses. Of not feeling safe in certain situations. All crucial to understanding the culture.
Then that summer, a friend from Grambling surprised me with a visit. Between letters and visits, he asked me to marry him two years later. By that time, I had graduated from college and was working as a school librarian in Virginia. He had secured a teaching job in Seattle. With all the best intentions, that ship had sailed. It was not to be. I returned to Wisconsin to reboot my life.
Recently, a friend affectionately called me a “rabble rouser”, stating that the truth is rarely popular. Indeed. Unfortunately, folks stuck in a mental rut never consider the validity of another point of view.
When I teach persuasive writing, I include propaganda techniques introduced in the 20th century Nazi regime. One tactic uses fear, a fundamentally irrational emotion. When a propagandist warns the audience that disaster will result if you do not follow a particular course of action, he plays on the audience's deep-seated fears. Practitioners of this technique hope to redirect attention away from the merits of another course of action that would reduce the fear.
Then propaganda became popularized when media sources, funded by advertisements, expanded. As a result, the general populace grew accustomed to the barrage of ads on radio, TV, and now social media. Without thinking. Without filtering. Without questioning.
Selling a boat? Place a sexy woman next to it. Selling corn flakes? Surround the table with a smiling family. Selling a diamond ring? State that it symbolizes forever love. Want people to vote for Mr. X? Give us lofty promises. And so forth. Get it? They sell love, sex, happiness, and promises. Quite frankly, I enjoy all three and hope for the best with candidates. So do you. But that’s not the point, is it?
Well, what is the point? Let’s return to my persuasive writing class. One of my assignments requires students to create an auto accident and write witness reports from the north, south, east, and west. Each report views the accident from a different angle. If we assume that we see the full accident from the north, we neglect to understand that the other reports see something not viewed from the north. Do you get my drift?
We are all limited by our perspectives. Consider a cartoon that I show my students. In the first frame, a scrawny guy on a dinky island, spotting a tiny boat approaching his island, shouts, “Boat!” The next frame reveals an equally scrawny guy in the tiny rowboat yelling, “Land!” That’s you and me. Boat! Land! Boat! Land!
Our 2020 crises provide an opportunity to develop our critical thinking skills. Because without critical thinking, we swallow the news hook, line, and sinker. Not everything is as it seems. We must dig deeper. We must open our minds to other perspectives to arrive at a broader understanding. Remember the north, south, east, and west assignment?
Truth is rarely accepted easily. Since we often stubbornly resist another point of view, we ridicule it. Following that, we sometimes violently oppose the truth. Sound familiar? Then finally – finally – it becomes accepted as a self-evident truth.
Throughout history, mankind has resisted truth. Looking back, we see more clearly. However, when in the midst of the controversy, we are often blind to it. Flat earth. No brainer now. But a few hundred years ago, it was the truth. Just because it’s truth to you, does not make it true.
What is happening today is no different. How will we proceed down the road of truth? Will we exercise critical thinking to find answers? Will we respectfully listen to others who share a different viewpoint (boat! land!)? If we don’t, our nation is in deep trouble.
I love people. All kinds of people. Young, old, and middle-aged. Freckled, tan, brown, white, not-so-white, black, not-so-black, pierced, tattooed. Poor, rich, middle class. Tall, short, skinny, fat. Those on the spectrum, those not on the spectrum, down syndrome folks, those with learning challenges. Strangers, new friends, old friends. Musicians, poets, accountants, clerks, doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, the homeless, veterans, bikers, carpenters, factory workers. The more the better. People make me feel alive.
I am one lucky girl because I have friends. A wide variety that infuses my life with pizzazz, comfort, stimulating conversation, and get-aways. What’s not to like?
As a girl, my dad changed jobs frequently, so I was often the new kid at school. I hated it. All eyes on me, stumbling around to find my place in the mix. Consequently, I was ever so grateful for that one person who befriended me. And as I grew more comfortable in my new community, I surrounded myself with girlfriends from all walks of life. Never cliquish. Always welcoming. The good life.
However, with so many childhood moves, it was challenging to keep up with old friends in the pre-digital era. Long-distance phone calls were expensive, so we wrote letters. But life gets busy; I attended college, started my career, married, and lost touch. Fast forward to the Internet era with smartphones and social media. Voila! Looking up old friends right at my fingertips. But still. It’s not the same as those face-to-face relationships.
What a pleasure to sit across the table with friends while enjoying a good meal or leisurely chatting over a cup of coffee. Sharing life’s tidbits, deep discussions, and laughing – a lot. Working together on a project or sneaking away for a girls’ weekend. Or to just quietly be. Then, too, friends provide comfort during troubled times. Friendship: it’s the splash of color in one’s life.
Life, though, is not always pretty. Friends come and go for various reasons, like the ebb and flow of life. Sometimes I’ve even experienced the unkindness of an “unfriending” (long before FaceBook) because I changed my views on life issues. Sigh. Sad, but true. After one such experience, a lost friend summoned me to her death bed to apologize for throwing away our 20-year friendship over such foolishness. Two days later she died. Really. I miss her. But all-in-all, life is filled with treasured friendships – old and new. Like a gardener, I work hard to maintain them. Friendships nourish me, enrich me. I love them. I love them all.