Saturday, August 05, 2006

Dining in Fredericksburg, Texas

I heard a lot of laughter coming from my director's office yesterday as I was heading down the hall. Boss Lady (BL) was laughing, hard. She was telling a co-worker about her dining experience in a small neighboring town called Fredericksburg.

BL is not a native Texan, in fact, she's been here quite a while, but some things still strike her as funny. The experience of eating at a Chinese restaurant in Fredericksburg, Texas struck her funny bone as being peculiarly Texas-ass funny.

Not that I have anything against Fredericksburg. In fact, it's a very pretty town. Situated in the rolling hill country west of Austin, it has small vineyards and peach orchards, wonderful limestone ranch houses and picturesque artist cottages built by the hard-working Germans and Czechs who settled parts of central Texas in the 1800s. It’s not too far from Johnson City, site of the LBJ ranch.

Apparently BL went into a Chinese restaurant in this small town for lunch. It looked Chinese in the traditional decor one comes to expect on the outside and was even run by Chinese owners. So far, so good. But the owners had made some small accommodations to the locals.

The first thing BL noted inside was the abundance of deer heads on the walls, which clashed starkly with the traditional Chinese decor. The other thing that struck her as odd was the presence of cream gravy on the menu. Apparently, many Texans found that they had extra rice at the end of the meal and wanted some cream gravy to top it off. Just their version of soul food.

Ah, Texas, gotta love it. Time isn't the only thing that gets distorted here.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Time a Jew Partnered with the Klan for Justice

I published his back in March when I was just beginning to blog.
Since I had few visitors then, I'm guessing that few of you have read this. So I'm reposting what I think is a fascinating true story!

I swear this story is true. In her final years, I met and befriended a sweet old Jewish woman named Miriam, who is no longer with us in this world. Or perhaps she is, and I can just no longer see her. Miriam died about 5 years ago. She was 93 years-old when she passed from this life and I still remember what a big heart she had. She loved to tell stories of her childhood and parents and the people she knew and loved. The year before she died, I visited her in Corpus Christi, and we sat together on her sofa and talked. She told me this story, which I am now about to pass on to you.

When Miriam's father, Hiram, and her mother, Hannah, emigrated to this country, they entered through Ellis Island, like many refugees from all over the world. After being processed and checked for head lice and other contagious illnesses, they were allowed to pass through customs, and, mingling with the many other tired strangers, they headed for the train station.

They bought train tickets with their meager remaining money and headed south, having no other intuitive or directional compass. They did not know anyone in this strange new country, but they were determined to make a new life for themselves.
When the train finally reached the end of the line, they found themselves alone, standing by the tracks in a small rural decaying Mississippi town.

Without anywhere else to go and very little money, Hiram and Hannah decided to stay in Mississippi and raise their family. It was a time of anxiety mixed with expectation and hope, each day taking their feet further along the path into the unknown and away from their past, but they had faith.

After they settled, they discovered that there was another Jewish family living there, also immigrants from Eastern Europe. The father of the other Jewish family hired himself out as a handyman. Times were tough, but they all got by, and were always able to put some food on the table.

This small Mississippi town was all-white and all Protestant, except for these two Jewish families with their strange traditions, odd way of dressing and thick accents. And although many in the town looked down upon these two families, they were tolerated because they had skills the community needed.

The Black families, most descendents of freed slaves, lived in their own community a few miles down the road, not being encouraged or allowed to settle near the whites. Catholic immigrants, especially the rowdy intemperate Irish and noisy Italians, were looked down upon with suspicion as well. These townspeople didn't especially cozy up to Pope-lovers either. There was a pecking order. The Southern culture shimmered with an inbred quality reminiscent of Narcissus, who saw his reflection in the mirror, and fell in love with himself. What was familiar was what was tolerated and encouraged.

Miriam's father was a cobbler, and after a time, his hard work paid off and he was able to open a small shoe store. They co-existed peacefully with their neighbors, maintained a humble profile and kept to themselves.

There was a bit of trouble once when Miriam was a teenager. She was given the title of Tri-County Beauty Queen, and was the most beautiful girl in the three neighboring counties.

Miriam didn't exactly brag about her youthful good looks, she was beyond that when we met, but I saw a picture taken on her wedding day, and she was quite lovely.

The town had never selected a Jewish girl as the County Beauty Queen before and some Klan members were not happy with the election results, especially those who had daughters of the right age. These men and some women saw Miriam's reign as an insult to white American womanhood, saw Miriam as taking this title from their own girls.

Some muttered that the coveted position of Beauty Queen was something that defined the town, and should be given only to white Christian girls. They felt her winning was as if something pure, some part of their tradition was now lost to them, as other Southern traditions had been lost in the Civil War. The Civil War always lurked in the background of their psyches, never to be forgotten, never to be forgiven. It was an invisible cord that both bound them together and strangled their ability to change and move forward.

When the radiant Miriam rode in the parade float down Main Street, triumphant and somewhat giddy, she was unaware of this ill-feeling toward her. In an instant, she said, she went from ecstatic to terrified, as the float was doused with kerosene and set ablaze by one of those unhappy hate-filled men.

The hem of Miriam's dress caught fire, being one of those ruffled Southern confections. She nearly burned, but for the quick-thinking efforts of a classmate, a young Christian man who grabbed a blanket and smothered the flames on her dress, leaving her with only minor burns.

But the fact of Miriam being set on fire for rising above her station is not the story I want to tell. This is a story about domestic violence .

Making a Deal with the Devil

One day when Miriam was a small child, years before the Beauty Queen incident, she was playing with marbles on the wooden floor of her father’s store. She was young, about 6 years old at the time, so this would make it around 1913, right before World War I. When the other Jewish family came into the store to buy shoes for their children, Hannah noticed that there was something wrong with the Jewish man's wife. His wife kept turning away and hiding her face.

Hannah quietly went over to her, to ask a question, and saw the dark bruises hidden beneath her headscarf. Her question died away and she said nothing, when, looking into the woman's eyes, she saw her shame. She knew what caused those bruises. Hanna knew, in the way, that women sometimes know these things, that her husband was beating her.

Hannah was disturbed. Jewish men were not supposed to beat their wives. It was wrong and made all Jews look like animals. Back in the old country, the extended family, the community and the Rabbi worked together to stop this sort of thing, but there were no Jewish relatives, community or Rabbi here, only these two families.

The pieces came together in Hannah’s head. She had visited the woman a number of times over the years, bringing food and other small gifts, as she knew they were poorer of the two families. In this farming community, poor was always a relative term.

The woman always made excuses not to visit her back, but neither Miriam, or, I suppose, her mother Hannah, took "no" for an answer, both being strong, determined women with a stubborn streak. The woman finally confided that her husband didn’t like her to leave the house and got very angry when she disobeyed him.

She told Hannah that she knew a good wife was supposed to obey her husband, so she couldn't leave the house without his permission. Besides, she added, it only made it worse, because he drank and took it out on her and the children.

Hannah knew she had to do something, but didn’t know what. She prayed for guidance. Then she talked to her husband, asking him to reason with the man, but Hiram refused. Hiram said it would do no good, the man was a brute. But Hannah persisted and kept pestering Hiram until he threw up his hands in resignation and decided to take drastic action if only to get some peace and quiet at home.

It was in the late summer when the local sheriff came into Hiram’s store. Hiram approached him because he knew the sheriff was a Klan member, if not the leader. In small Mississippi towns, there are many secrets and no secrets.

These were not good times for a lot of folks economically, and this man had five children. Shoes for five children cost a lot, relatively speaking. Hiram asked the sheriff if he would like free shoes for all of his children to help them start school. The sheriff, not a stupid man, understood that Hiram wanted something, and they talked. In fact, they came to an understanding and the sheriff went home that night with new shoes for his family.

A few nights later, there was a burning cross in the front yard of the abuser’s home. The Klan members called the drunk Jewish husband out into the yard and hit him a few times, not enough to really damage him or keep him from working, but hard enough to hurt and to mark him. The Klan leader, in full regalia, told him that if he ever hit his wife again, they would kill him and burn his body in the woods. They put the fear into him and left him trembling and crying.

And after this "come to Jesus meeting" he never hit his wife or children again.

And that is how Hiram stopped the cycle of violence in that family with a strange, unholy alliance with the Klan, using, as it was, the only available tool he had to work with.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Oh, MY! Follow the Yellow Brick Road!!

I had a wonderful surprise over the weekend. The Fat Lady Sings nominated moi for the Perfect Post Award. Yes, the One we all read and look up to, who is herself an icon for writing, that other goddess of blogdom! I was nominated for my post about Sojourner Truth titled, Are You Ready For Truth?

I am honored and flattered and feel a speech coming on, but will not get tedious with all the thank yous to the people in my life and in the blogworld who have been so supportive of me since I began writing publicly just last February. And a special thank you to TFLS for her recognition and support.

So hurry on over to the Perfect Post Awards site and read all these other posts that are ripe for recognition. Just follow the Yellow Brick Road!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

MELtdown of the Week

Well, Mel Gibson has done himself in, at least with a certain part of America that has now begun to distance themselves from his anti-semitism.

As many of you have heard, he was drinking and driving. And there's more.

What happened when has was pulled over, goes something like this:

Ah. Now where to begin? According to REDIFF news:

Peppering his speech liberally with the F-word, Gibson began his tirade by threatening the cops, refusing to get into their car telling them that he 'owns Malibu' and will spend all his money to 'get even' with the police officer in question.

Then followed the racial slurs (pun inevitable) of an unbelievably anti-Semitic nature.

Suddenly venting fury on Jews, Mel abused them colourfully and said they were 'responsible for all the wars in the world.'

Turning to the cop, he asked, 'Are you a Jew?'

When not indulging himself in Jew-abuse, (read all the unprintable details here) Gibson used the choicest of profanities on the cops present, and highlighted the moment by insulting a female sergeant, yelling 'what are you looking at, sugar t**s?'

Well, the reaction has set in and the focus groups have spoken.

The ABC television network has cancelled a mini-series about the Holocaust it was developing with Mel Gibson, after the actor launched into an anti-Semitic tirade during his arrest for drink-driving.

So for those of you looking for a great example of the definition of irony, read no more.

He gets drunk, is verbally abusive, makes ethnic and religious slurs AS WELL AS SEXIST COMMENTS (which I've seen few comment on) and we are supposed to believe that it was the result of his drinking. Oh, my MEL-tdown, no you were carrying those 'tudes around with you when you learned them at your daddy's knee.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Hasta La Recount, Baby!

There's trouble brewing in Mexico. Remember Mexico, the country recently shrouded in turmoil over immigration law, and more recently, loud cries of election fraud?

In the recent attention to the war(s) in the Mideast, there has been less attention to news coverage of our neighbor to the south.

Here's a synopsis. The PRI, party of Vicente Fox, is out. Mexico recently held a close election, as close as the one we had a few years ago when Bush stole it from Gore.

And in a deja vu experience, once again it was the leftist, or liberal party left out in the cold, by an allegedly slim margin. No mas!!

The liberal forces, led by Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador have come up to fight for their election rights against the winning candidate, Felipe Calderon of the conservative ruling National Action Party, Calderon said yesterday that elections are won at the ballot box and not on the streets. Coincidence? How did Bush win? Because there sure was no demonstrating in the streets here, just a Hush! Hush! Let’s keep it civil and not make waves approach.

But Obrador has spoken up for the people! He has approximately 200,000 voters by some estimates rallying in the streets of Mexico City. They have closed off the business district, shut down traffic, and are demanding a recount! This is Lopez Obrador's third mass protest following the July 2 election in which he lost by 244,000 votes with more than 41 million cast.

Tapes have allegedly surfaced showing ballot boxes being tampered with by election workers favorable to Calderon. Is there a revolution in progress just beneath our noses?