“Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for.”
This statement has long been a favorite quote of mine, especially since it’s attributed to one of my favorite Americans (a triumvirate that includes Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln). But while I heartily agree with this sentiment in general, there’s one sinister exception in particular unrivaled in American history—namely, the Confederate cause during the Civil War. The Confederacy’s effort to establish a separate nation in order to preserve, protect and defend slavery is the most shameful hour in our nation’s life—an effort that must not be forgotten, but also one that should never be celebrated. If ever a cause deserved to be lost and stay lost, it’s this one. It was a cause, Ulysses S. Grant said, that “was, I believe, one of the worst for which people ever fought…”
But don’t tell Shelby Foote that. According to him, “The “Confederates fought for some substantially good things.” Yes, some good things, folks, except of course for that whole pesky preserving slavery thing. But hey, no system is perfect, Yank!
Shelby Foote (1916 – 2005) was a talented American writer from the South in the tradition of William Faulkner who started out writing novels and then spent 20 years of his life from 1958 to 1974 writing a massive, three volume narrative history of The Civil War. But Shelby Foote is probably best known for his participation and 89 cameo appearances in Ken Burns’ landmark PBS Civil War documentary, which aired in 1990. The series turned Foote into a reluctant celebrity, but it also made him a millionaire with his Civil War trilogy reaching a whole new audience.
Although I love American history, I must confess that I didn’t see Burns’ celebrated documentary until about 2 years ago. Like so many viewers, I was initially charmed by Mr. Foote. With his Mississippi delta drawl and air, he looked and sounded like the perfect Southern gentleman right out of central casting–or a bourbon ad. I enjoyed the series very much. But a day or two after finishing it, I found myself thinking about a lot of what Shelby Foote had said during those 9 episodes and something didn’t sit well with me. More about that later…
Watching Ken Burns’ documentary got me interested in checking out Shelby Foote’s celebrated three volume history of the conflict entitled simply: The Civil War: A Narrative. As a history buff since 8th grade, I’d read my share of Civil War books already and knew what had caused the war, so a narrative approach of the events appealed to me. I was genuinely looking forward to reading Volume 1 when I brought the dog-eared 800 page paperback home with me from our local library. So, that was my mindset when I opened this book.
I couldn’t get past the first 50 pages, folks.
For me, the trouble started almost right away where it seemed that Foote spent the first twenty pages doing back flips trying to make a hero out of Jefferson Davis. I suppose when your opponent is Abraham Lincoln, you do whatever you can to prop your guy up. Here’s an example: Foote relates how Jefferson Davis was selected by Franklin Pierce (routinely ranked by real historians as our 3rd worst President) to be Secretary of War. At least we were more honest about the job title back then. Anyway, Foote then goes on to say, “Whatever his reasons, Pierce chose well. Davis made perhaps the best War Secretary the country ever had…”
This declaration is made all the more absurd by the fact that there wasn’t a war going on while Davis held the office and was being all fabulous. This is kind of like saying Jefferson Davis was the best fireman the country ever had, although he never went to a fire.
Of course Davis would have a very real war on his hands less than 10 years later with less than stellar results. Still, I guess Foote could also say Jefferson Davis made perhaps the best President the Confederacy ever had.
Yet another example occurs in the same opening chapter where, within the confines of a single paragraph, Foote manages to compare Jefferson Davis to both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Davis has just become President and is assuming his duties in Montgomery, Alabama, the first capital of the Confederacy. Foote writes,
“Rising early, he worked at home until breakfast, then went to his office, where he often stayed past midnight. He had need for all this labor, founding like Washington a new government, a new nation, except that whereas the earlier patriot had worked in a time of peace, with his war for independence safely won, Davis worked in a flurry against time, with possibly a harder war ahead. Like Washington, too, he lived without ostentation or pomp. His office was upstairs in the ugly red brick State House on a downtown corner, ‘The President’ handwritten across a sheet of foolscap pasted to the door. He made himself accessible to all callers, and even at his busiest he was gracious, much as Jefferson had been.”
What a guy!
To me, it wouldn’t be any sillier if Foote had written this paragraph instead:
“Similar to Washington and other earlier patriots, Jefferson Davis walked upright and breathed oxygen. Like Washington, too, Davis required sleep every night, with possibly a harder time getting any. Davis also found that he farted on occasion, much the same as Jefferson had done.”
Oddly enough, even in a literary sense, I found this book hard to read. Foote’s style struck me as very off-putting. I guess I was expecting a little more eloquence; instead I got anaconda sized sentences that contained more twists and turns than Lombard Street in San Francisco.
But it was just two scant paragraphs later, on page 42 of my library copy, that I ran up against the sentences that made me close Foote’s book in disgust forever. As he talks about the Confederate Constitution and how similar it is to our original Constitution, Shelby Foote actually writes these words:
“One important oversight was corrected, however. Where the founding fathers, living in a less pious age of reason, had omitted any reference to the Deity, the modern preamble invoked ‘the favor and guidance of Almighty God.’”
Oh, goodie, the Confederates injected ‘Almighty God’ into their sacred Constitution—the same holy document that enshrined slavery and made it permanent. The Confederate Constitution says expressly that slavery can NEVER be abolished. NEVER. This vile document also decrees that any newly acquired territory is automatically slave territory. Yes, Mr. Foote, your beloved Confederacy certainly righted a wrong there, correcting those backward age of reason heathens. I bet George Washington and his bunch didn’t wear flag pins, either. I’m sure the Deity was pleased to be invoked in the founding document of a budding slave republic.
In the paragraph before this, Foote does mention that the Confederate constitution protected slavery in the states and any acquired territories on a FEDERAL level, but he fails to note the utter hypocrisy of this, especially since the South was supposed to be all about states’ rights. Now this is what I would call an important oversight. As actual historian William C. Davis pointed out: “To the old Union they had said that the Federal power had no authority to interfere with slavery issues in a state. To their new nation they would declare that the state had no power to interfere with a federal protection of slavery.”
Clearly we see just how little the Confederacy cared about states’ rights compared to how much they cared about protecting slavery.
I got your states rights right here, Shelby.
If I had even one iota of guilt about judging this book too quickly after reading less than 50 pages of it, that guilt was erased when I flipped to the very back and found this last sentence in Foote’s “Bibliographical Note”:
“If pride in the resistance my forebears made against the odds has leaned me to any degree in their direction, I hope it will be seen to amount to no more, in the end, than the average American’s normal sympathy for the underdog in a fight.”
Call me kooky, but I think the real underdogs in this fight were African Americans. I’d also like to think that the average American would have little sympathy for the side fighting to keep 4 MILLION souls in permanent bondage. But hey, maybe that’s just me. I guess I’ve always marched to the beat of a different drummer.
All of this brings me back to Ken Burns’ landmark Civil War documentary. Less than twenty minutes into the first episode entitled ‘The Cause’, Shelby Foote tells us that the Civil War happened “because we failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise.”
And just what was it that we failed to compromise on? Gee, I wonder. What could it be? Could it be the thing we’d been compromising on ever since the writing of the Declaration of Independence? The answer is slavery, of course, but Shelby Foote never tells us that. Just like when he uses the term “Southerners” he fails to mention that he’s talking about WHITE Southerners.
And just what form would any further compromise take? Would the slaves get weekends off? A half day for Jefferson Davis’ birthday? I’m pretty sure any new “compromise” would’ve still kept 4 million people enslaved. What an effing joke, Mr. Foote.
Slavery was the one issue that, in the end, could no longer be compromised on. That’s why it was the root cause of The Civil War. Abraham Lincoln knew this 3 years before civil war began, yet Shelby Foote still couldn’t seem to comprehend this over 100 years later. As Lincoln said in his ‘A House Divided’ speech in 1858: “I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slaves and half free… It will become all one thing or all the other.”
Slavery was the lightning to the Civil War’s thunder. Without it there would have been no war, period. The same cannot be said of any other single issue or combination of issues that also caused sectional strife between the North and the South. Did John Brown try to lead a tax revolt? The Confederacy proved Lincoln right when they tried to become all one thing. Secession was the South’s final solution.
A mere twenty minutes into episode 2 Shelby Foote pops up again to tell us a little story. Foote relates that early on in the war a Union squad closed in on a “single ragged Confederate who obviously didn’t own any slaves and couldn’t have much interest in the Constitution or anything…” The Union soldiers ask Johnny Reb “What are you fighting for, anyway?” To which the rebel soldier replies, ‘’I’m fighting because you’re down here.’’ “Pretty satisfactory answer” says Foote with a gleam in his eye, like this was some sort of Confederate drop the mic moment.
Um, no, Shelby Foote, that is actually not a very satisfactory answer. It’s just another example of phony victimhood. I’m sorry, but you can’t start a war and then claim you’re being invaded. This logic reminds me of a story Lincoln told about a boy who killed his parents and then pled for mercy on the grounds he was an orphan. It makes it sound as if the South was just minding Her own business and these vile Yankees swooped down and attacked. Forget that the South defied a Constitutional election and then seceded from the Union; forget that the South didn’t even put Lincoln on the ballot in ten states; forget that the South started the war by firing on Ft. Sumter and the American flag–a Federal fort paid for and maintained by ALL the states, not just South Carolina, by the way. This was just Shelby Foote’s coded way of calling the Civil War ‘The War of Northern Aggression.’ The War of Northern Aggression… Now there’s a phrase that surely made George Orwell jealous.
As I stated in the beginning, Shelby Foote said that “The Confederates fought for some substantially good things.” In the year 2000 came the first debates on South Carolina’s display of the Confederate battle flag over their courthouse. The flag was put up in 1961 to commemorate the centennial of The Civil War. Originally there was a plan to take it down after 1961 concluded, but this proviso never made it into the final bill and the rebel battle flag flew all during the Civil Rights movement until 2000 when it was removed. But a compromise was struck and they flew a smaller one over by the Confederate monuments until July of 2015.
PBS News Hour aired a program in 2000 on this controversy and who do you think appeared as a guest on this show? Why, Shelby Foote, of course! One of the things Foote said during the program was this: “The Confederacy stood for a great many things other than slavery… It was other things, many other things.”
Wow, okay. Let’s see if we can find some things other than slavery the Confederacy stood for, shall we? I’d think a great place to start would be to look at some of the Southern states’ declarations of secession. Let’s begin with Shelby Foote’s own home state of Mississippi:
A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union
In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
It refuses the admission of new slave States into the Union, and seeks to extinguish it by confining it within its present limits, denying the power of expansion
Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property. For far less cause than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England.
Sheesh, not really seeing too many good things there, Mr. Foote. If you want to read the entire declaration, do so. But every sentence in it is about slavery and nothing but slavery.
But you’ve got to love the part at the end where Mississippi says they have more of a cause to leave the United States than the Colonies did to break away from England. Well, they might be right, since that revolution was over taxation not SLAVERY.
Hey, let’s check out Texas’ Secession declaration… Maybe we’ll find some of those good things the Confederacy stood for in that document.
DECLARATION OF CAUSES: February 2, 1861
A declaration of the causes which impel the State of Texas to secede from the Federal Union.
Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated States to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility [sic] and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery–the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits–a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?
In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color–a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.
Nope, not seeing any good things in that document, either, Mr. Foote. Pretty hard to get past the passage where Texas is berating the Northern states for “proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color—a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law.”
Slavery is God’s Will, Yanks!
Surely we’ll be able to find some of those “substantially good things” Shelby Foote says the Confederacy stood for in Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone” speech, right? This speech was given shortly after the Confederate government was formed and just a few weeks before Lincoln tricked the Confederacy into firing on Ft. Sumter. Vice President Stephens tells us:
But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”
Ooops, well, maybe here is the good part where Stephens gives us the corner stone of his new nation:
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
You see, the actual people who were doing the seceding had no qualms about telling us it was to protect the institution of slavery. They weren’t worried about legacy or how awful this might look later on. Hell, a lot of them thought they were going to win the Civil War! Nobody goes to war thinking they’ll lose. It’s pretty hard to justify any public celebration of the Confederate cause if it was all about preserving slavery, which it was—as the above documents illustrate so clearly. It’s pretty hard to take pride in such a horrible cause, so the attempt has been made ever since to pretend the Civil War was caused by everything BUT slavery. Their favorite red herring is the weasel phrase ‘states rights’. Notice they never elaborate any further on those so-called states rights. This is probably because the ONLY ‘state right’ they cared about was the right of White people to own Black people.
On the eve of secession, wealthy Mississippi plantation owner Richard Thompson Archer declared it was time for the South to stand “united… in defense of the God given right to own the African.”
Yeah, it was all really about tariffs, huh?
Saying that slavery wasn’t the cause of the Civil War is like doing Hamlet without Hamlet.
One of the most exasperating things about Shelby Foote is that he was not an ignorant, overt racist. As Tony Horwitz relates in his book Confederates in the Attic: “But Foote had bucked the Southern trend and supported integration early on. He also quit his Sons of Confederate Veterans’ chapter when it chose to honor George Wallace on a visit to Memphis, and later abandoned plans to build a home on the Alabama coast because of a strong Klan presence there.”
That being said, let’s return to the 2000 PBS News Hour program. Here’s what Shelby Foote said when asked by the host what the Confederate battle flag meant to him:
SHELBY FOOTE: “The flag is a symbol my great grandfather fought under and in defense of. I am for flying it anywhere anybody wants to fly it. I do know perfectly well what pain it causes my black friends, but I think that pain is not necessary if they would read the confederate constitution and knew what the confederacy really stood for.”
His ‘black friends’??
Talk about putting your Foote in your mouth. This sounds like something Donald Trump would say. If only Mr. Foote’s ‘black friends’ would read the Confederate constitution they wouldn’t be pained by the rebel battle flag?? Were you on acid, Shelby Foote? Seriously.
Yes, if only black people would just get off their butt and read that dandy Confederate constitution! If they did, they’d see that it’s only real difference with the original was the sentence where the glorious new Southern nation declared that “no law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.”
THAT’S what the Confederacy really stood for, Mr. Foote. Sounds to me like YOU were the one who needed to read the damn thing. Boy, I just can’t imagine why your ‘black friends’ would have a problem with that. Some people are just so sensitive! Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure that anyone who uses the term “my black friends” doesn’t have any.
Oh, another difference between the two constitutions was that a Confederate president would serve but one 6 year term and have a line item veto. I’m sure this would be a great comfort to Shelby Foote’s black friends.
Continuing with his historical acid trip, Shelby Foote then says this about the Confederate battle flag:
“These things have got to be understood before they’re condemned. They’re condemned on the face of it because they take that flag to represent what those yahoos represent as – in their protest against civil rights things. But the people who knew what that flag really stood for should have stopped those yahoos from using it as a symbol of what they stood for. But we didn’t – and now you had this problem of the confederate flag being identified as sort of a roughneck thing, which it is not.”
I’m sorry, but this statement borders on the psychotic, in my opinion. I think he even manages to out Orwell Orwell with this one. Shelby Foote is actually trying to say that this wretched flag once stood for something “noble” until Southern racists of the 20th century misused it and turned it into a “banner of shame and disgrace and hate.”
But don’t just take my word for all this. Let me introduce you to William Thompson, editor of the Savannah, Georgia newspaper Daily Morning News. Thompson designed one of the Confederate battle flags that was accepted and approved by the Confederate government about halfway through the war. Here’s how Mr. Thompson summarized the Southern cause: “As a people, we are fighting to maintain the heaven ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race…” Thompson also went on to say his new flag design would “be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG.” By the way, Thompson put that in all caps, not me.
I hate to break it to you, Mr. Foote, but this flag has ALWAYS been a banner of shame and disgrace and hate. As a matter of fact, this symbol was never more shameful than when it originally appeared. This notion that the Confederate flag only came to symbolize white supremacy and racism during the civil rights movement is beyond ludicrous. It’s also historically false. I mean, how much more anti-civil rights can you be than fighting a war to establish a separate America where slavery was forever? As hateful as the white supremacists were during the civil rights struggle, at least they weren’t trying to keep FOUR MILLION souls and future generations in eternal bondage. If that’s not a “roughneck thing”, I don’t know what the hell is. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley also put her Foote in her mouth when she said that the racist killer of the Emanuel 9 had a “sick and twisted” view of the Confederate battle flag. Wrong, governor, the flag itself is what’s sick and twisted and has always been. It is our American swastika.
Now before anyone says I’ve gone too far by whipping out a Nazi reference, I believe such a comparison is entirely apt. I really don’t see much difference in 6 million people being exterminated because of their race and 4 million being permanently enslaved because of their race. A holocaust by any other name is still a holocaust.
HERITAGE, NOT HATE?
But by far the biggest weasel word used by Confederate flag apologists is the word “heritage”. Of course this is just another slavery dodge like “states rights”. Those who use the word “heritage” hope like hell nobody asks the logical follow up question of “And what heritage would that be?” The heritage of seceding from America in order to preserve slavery? Nazism and the Holocaust are part of Germany’s heritage—and that was only 70 years ago, not 150. Yet you don’t see Angela Merkel declaring a Nazi History Month and you don’t see a swastika flying from a government building in Berlin, do you? It’s somehow sadly appropriate that the only state flag in the Union that still has the confederate battle flag within it is Shelby Foote’s home state of Mississippi.
Finally, here’s what Shelby Foote had to say about the original removal of the battle flag atop South Carolina’s capital in 2000:
SHELBY FOOTE: I don’t object to any individual hiding from history, but I do object to their hiding history from me. And that’s what seems to me to be going on here. There are a lot of terrible things that happened in American history, but we don’t wipe ’em out of the history books; we don’t destroy their symbols; we don’t forget they ever happened; we don’t resent anybody bringing it up. The confederate flag has been placed in that position that’s unique with an American symbol. I’ve never known one to be so despised.
How the hell was removing the Confederate flag from a state capital building hiding history from you, Mr. Foote? How is that wiping ‘em from the history books? Although no swastikas fly atop German government buildings, I’m pretty sure we all still know who the Nazis were, jackass.
Shelby Foote died in 2005, at the age of 88. In their obituary of him, The Guardian noted this about his three volume set Civil War: A Narrative:
There has, perhaps, never been a history, even a popular history, so devoid of ideas, or economic forces. Few historians today share Foote’s blindness toward the considerable role of blacks in the war. He scorns northern extremists, blames the abolitionists for provoking the war, and has a fondness for the murderous cavalry exploits of Nathan Bedford Forrest, whose granddaughter he met as a boy, and who permitted him to swing Forrest’s sabre above his head. He did not mention that the notoriously racist Confederate general became one of the founding fathers of the Ku Klux Klan.
Shortly after Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary ended, Shelby Foote said in an interview that “Black contribution to the war has been overemphasized.”
Yeah, like HE would know.
But I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on Foote for turning a blind eye to this. After all, it’s pretty hard to notice Black contribution to the war when you’re busy swinging Nathan Bedford Forrest’s sword about your head.
If anything has been overemphasized, it’s Shelby Foote.
Another thing I’m quite sure Mr. Foote never knew is that more men from his home state of Mississippi fought for the Union than the Confederacy. How’s that for heritage?
Shame on you, Shelby Foote. He couldn’t or wouldn’t face the truth about what the Confederacy really stood for. And shame on Ken Burns, PBS and any other serious outlet that treated Foote like he was some kind of authority on The Civil War.
It seems to me that the person who hid from history was Shelby Foote.
Remember when facts were facts and lies were lies?
We have a serious problem in this country, rampant misinformation. Pitting brother against brother, family against family, friend against friend, what we have here is a telecommunications civil war.
This civil war has created a divide in our country that may never mend. It’s too vast and too personal. No one wants to say, I was wrong, I was deceived. It’s deeper than political leanings, it’s bordering on psychosis, a giant national social psychosis.
Thanks to 24 hr cable news, the internet, twitter and facebook, there is no one central information system that ALL Americans can agree on as where we get our facts. Every day things happen, every day news happens, but depending on what source you use, the reporting of events is wide and varied.
In the past, in the good ol’ days there was the evening news. At 6 pm the family gathered around the TV for Walter Cronkite or Huntley and Brinkley to inform the public of what happened that day. There was one set of facts. And everyone agreed, yes this happened today. Maybe Democrats and Republicans were at odds in their reaction to these facts, but they still accepted facts as facts. Everyone had one jumping off point on which to base a RATIONAL discussion. Discourse is good, discourse is healthy, but it is only possible when all parties start with the same information accepted as fact.
We’ve always had the lunatic fringe who was recognized and dismissed AS the lunatic fringe, the 3 am radio crowd who in dark corners of the country whispered and reassured each other their madness was not madness.
Now every nutcase and conspiracy theorist has their own news source (see Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc.) to confirm their paranoia and now these nutcases (see Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, etc.) are running for office and WINNING.
The lunatics are running the asylum.
In an effort to bridge the gap and restore oneness of information, we have fact checking organizations who do nothing but try to give the public what it needs to be sane, the facts. Snopes.com and Factcheck.org are two of the most reputable, but in this time of misinformation, even they are scorned as ‘liberal’ leaning. The reason Snopes.com is more often accused of bias by conservatives than by liberals is that facts have a notoriously liberal bias. Facts are facts and lies are lies.
Stephen Colbert was right. And that’s a fact.
I’m getting damn tired of hearing people say “Pray for rain, or Thank God for the rain we got today”. Here we are in the 21st century and there are people who are still attributing weather to a god in the sky.
People, that stuff worked back in the days of Roman and Greek mythology because even though they were more advanced in their thinking than we are now, they still did not have scientific reasoning. Climate is a scientific matter. It is complicated. It is not dictated by a sky god with an iPad manually manipulating storm clouds for those who prayed the most or the best.
Never mind that Texas Governor Rick Perry held a big ol’ Texas size event last year with all the power prayin’ people in attendance to pray for rain for Texas. Guess what? It didn’t rain. I guess God just wasn’t listening that day.
You can pray all you want for rain, but the GLOBAL jet stream has been affected by climate change, also known as global warming, you know that fake scary hoax Al Gore perpetrated on all of us just to make money on new green technology.
If you feel you really must pray for something, pray for HUMANS to wise up and listen to the scientists before it’s too late, if it isn’t already.
By Don Millard
Growing up as an only child, I always knew I was adopted. My parents told me this as soon as I was old enough to comprehend it, which was a relief as I must have known it instinctually because I always felt something didn’t quite fit; having blonde hair while both parents had jet black hair probably had something to do with it, too. After finding out I was adopted, I felt luckier than other kids who weren’t. I knew that I was really wanted and I loved to hear the story about how they “got” me.
My mom, Amalia Anne Millard, a full blooded Italian, told me of how I started drinking right out of the bottle when she first picked me up in her arms, which shocked the people at the adoption agency, because they had had a lot of trouble getting me to eat. I like to think that, even at that age, I knew a good woman when I saw one. As I would come to find out soon enough, I couldn’t have found a better mother. I was the luckiest kid in the world.
Knowing all this at such an early age, the subject of my adoption was the easiest thing in the world for my parents and me to talk about, even joke about. Whenever I was being a particular pain in the ass, I would tell my parents, “Hey, you guys picked me out.”
The full ramification of being adopted didn’t hit me until 4th grade, when we were assigned to do a family tree. I remember being panicked about getting a bad grade because I didn’t have a family tree; I had a stump. My mom tried to soothe my fears by saying that I did indeed have a family tree, even though I wasn’t related to it. But in my head, I knew that didn’t count and I was missing a heritage.
My mom quickly diagrammed her side of the family, tracing her relatives all the way back to Naples, Italy.
This isn’t going to be so bad, I thought.
Then I brought the diagram over to my dad, who was asleep in the chair, watching BARRETTA. After explaining the project to him, he grimaced and said,
“I don’t know, Donald. Jesus Christ, I’m trying to watch this. I think we’re French or somethin’.”
Thinking back on it, I think we just made up his side of the tree.
My mom was directly responsible for my first political memory as a kid. It was August, 1974 and we were on vacation in Cape Cod. As we were walking around Provincetown, my mom heard that Nixon was going to resign on national television. I remember her saying to my dad, “I want Donald to see this. This is history.” Even though we had already had lunch, we started to search for any restaurant that had a TV. We quickly found a luncheon place with a television and took our seats in a booth. We ordered something just so we could sit there and see the 37th President of the United States resign in disgrace. This was my introduction to politics.
My mom was and still is the greatest person I ever knew. Her character was summed up by the quote she chose for her high school yearbook.
“Private sincerity is a public welfare.”
As a young woman, she was a very talented pianist who wanted to go to Yale School of Music but couldn’t because it wasn’t open to women yet. She ended up becoming a secretary, transferring the dexterity of her fingers onto the keyboard of the typewriter. Those who heard her type would stop in amazement at her speed and skill. She was a staunch Democrat who proudly voted for Adlai Stevenson twice. She listened to talk radio in the afternoons and hence, so did I. It was a call in show out of New York City and I remember one of the hosts she particularly liked was Barry Farber. She also founded a local political action group in Clinton, Connecticut which she named ACCT (Association of Concerned Clinton Taxpayers). As her son, it was impossible not to be aware of and interested in the issues of the day, both local and national.
As I got older and my interests in history, art, writing and reading grew, the closer we became. In her world, poets, writers and artists occupied the highest station in society and she always encouraged me to follow my dreams. We would have long philosophical discussions about every subject, including religion.
My mom was a devout Catholic, and she raised me as one. She was one of the few true Christians I’ve known. She was too busy being a Christian to tell everyone how Christian she was. By the time I was a senior in high school I had to tell her that I was an agnostic. Instead of lecturing me she said, “You’ve done a lot of original thinking about religion, which is more than most people your age do, so I respect your opinion.” I truly believe there couldn’t have been a more perfect match if I had searched the world over five times for a mother.
After a year and a half of college, I decided I wanted to see some of the world. If I was ever going to be a writer, I needed some real life experiences besides puking in a dorm room. I had already written 2/3 of a screenplay and was stuck on how to end it.
“He wants to have an adventure,” my mom said to my dad, who was asleep in the chair.
With a friend, I vagabonded around Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales, and finally ended up penniless in Paris. The year was 1985.
When I returned home, I found out the very next day that my mom had cancer. The doctors told us the tumor was highly treatable and they were optimistic about her chances. I took her to all of her treatments for chemo and radiation, but her recovery was not to be. She died almost a year to the day of her diagnosis. She was 56 and I was 21.
A few days before she passed away, she cleared everyone out of the hospital room by telling them she wanted to talk to me alone.
“You have to tell me that you’re a survivor. You have to tell me that you’re going to survive this.”
Of course I said yes, even though I had no idea whether I could hold up my end of the bargain. I was just scared and numb.
She had always told me and others that she hoped I would know my birth family and roots later in life.
This was the last thing on my mind when she died.
Two years passed and my dad was selling the house and we were moving to Florida. As we were going through a safety deposit box, we came across a paper from the lawyer who handled my adoption back in 1965. As I read the letter, I was stunned to see the following sentence which read… “the infant named Terry Lee Wichael.”
Terry Lee Wichael? WTF?
I can’t express how it felt to read this strange name and yet know that name was once mine. My first thought was, if things had been different, I’d be driving a pickup with a gun rack, sporting truck nuts. Silly or not, this was my first thought.
I put this piece of paper away in a drawer with the thought that one day the time would come for me to pursue this.
I don’t know how to explain it, but in 1993, something told me it was the right time to try to find my roots and more importantly, my birth mother, if she was still around. This is not a decision you can enter into lightly. You have to get to a point that you know that once you embark on this journey, there is no turning around, no matter what the outcome. You have to accept that you might not like what you find.
It was the hardest decision I ever made. You can’t un-ring that bell.
According to my long form birth certificate, I was born in Harrisonburg, Virginia, at Rockingham Memorial Hospital. Sorry, but I don’t remember the room number, Mr. Trump.
Being a history buff, this lack of knowledge about my own heritage started to weigh on my mind, more than it ever had before, especially with the thought of someday having children. I thought I had no heritage to give them. I also realized I had no medical history, which was kind of scary on its own. My doctor had told me I had to write my birth hospital to get my medical records, which I did.
In the screenplay of my mind, I had this Hollywood hope that somehow they would forget to black out my mother’s name on my records. Upon receiving the records in the mail, I saw that everything was, in fact, blacked out. It might as well have been a CIA document. I laughed at myself for thinking that somehow I would get critical information leading to her identity. Then I happened to look at the photocopy of my own request page and noticed some faint writing going up the top right hand corner of the page. There, before me, was the name “Junelle Anne Wichael, moth.”
Someone at the hospital, for whatever reason, must have written my mother’s name on another piece of paper and it happened to transfer to my cover letter. The odds of this happening have to be pretty slim. I took this to be a good omen.
Turned out, my birth mother’s sister was the head pediatric nurse at the hospital where I was born. She confirmed to me over the phone that Junelle was indeed my birth mother and then gave me her phone number. She also told me the circumstances of my adoption; of how my birth mother was stood up at the alter by my biological father even though he knew she was 4 months pregnant. My heart went out to her and I hoped with every fiber of my soul that none of my father’s cowardice was in me.
It was jarring indeed to realize that the charmed life I had been given was the result of such heartbreaking conditions. It was my first glimpse into how truly unselfish my mother’s decision was. My first thought was the hope that I could in some way erase her pain by thanking her for my life.
Her life had been as hard as mine had been easy. Giving me up had left her feeling as though no man would have her. She married a man who had always pursued her, but then abused her. She worked as a school bus driver. She would later tell me “I could haul everybody else’s kid but my own.”
I talked to my mother for the first time on New Year’s Eve, 1993. It was so strange to hear a gentle, Southern accent on the other end of the phone and yet know that this person was the one who brought me into this world. We talked for two hours and watched the ball drop together.
About a month later, I went to visit and see her in the flesh, to make sure this was all real. It was real. Real country. Despite the cultural divide, there was an immediate connection. People couldn’t get over how much we looked alike. She looked like a mini-me. I was happy to find out she was funny and that she was the kind of person that young people were drawn to. She got a kick out of me being left handed, as she was the only lefty in the family herself. The first night we stayed up all night just talking. I got to thank her for my life and tell her how good I’d had it. She was very happy to hear this and it was a comfort to her. She was so relieved to know how close I had been with my mom in Connecticut. All my life, she had worried that I would harbor ill feelings toward her for giving me up for adoption. I was reminded once again that all the pain of my adoption had been on her side; although I wondered about my heritage, I wasn’t really missing anything, whereas she was missing EVERYTHING. If a person is capable of a more unselfish act then what she did, I don’t know of it.
I felt like my role was to heal the pain in her heart and to make right what once went wrong. I felt like I was starring in my own personal episode of QUANTUM LEAP, without Al.
The hardness of her life was laid bare in that visit, as I saw how her own kids treated her and I heard stories from others about what she had endured from them.
She wanted me to live there straight away but I resisted for a time, for many reasons, not the least of which was the exact opposite universe that I would be moving into as well as a complicated family dynamic.
But then it hit me. It was time for me to be unselfish.
So, a spoiled Connecticut Yankee moved to redneck Virginia and it all somehow worked out, despite the expected ups and downs of any upheaval. This decision gave me every day moments with her I would have never had if I’d stayed away. I was so glad I made this decision because I didn’t know it at the time, but I would be spending the last 10 years of her life with her.
My mother was diagnosed with ALS in the fall of 2003.
As bad as it was when she told me the diagnosis, I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else on the earth but where I was.
She knew she was facing a death sentence, yet her humor and bravery remained intact. She wanted to know everything there was about Lou Gehrig, When I told her about Lou Gehrig’s famous speech at Yankee Stadium where he said that he considered himself the luckiest man in the world, she said,
“How’d he figure that?”
In true fashion, the weaker she got, the more she cared about others. Towards the end of her own journey, she found out about a friend she had known all her life who had committed suicide. Even though she could barely get around or barely speak, she told me in tears,
“She should have called me, I could have helped her.”
I was never more proud to be her son or share even a strand of her DNA.
She passed away in April 2004, at the age of 61.
So, on this Mother’s Day, I give praise to TWO Moms. One who nurtured me, and one who gave me life.
The window in my office rattled as I heard the explosion and I immediately went outside, looking south toward the airport, thinking a plane must have crashed. Then I looked to the east and saw black smoke rising from the downtown Oklahoma City area. I ran back inside and hurriedly turned on the TV to the local news. And there it was.
First reports were sketchy and reported few casualties, but those numbers didn’t hold up for long.
I worked at the Lions Club State Office in Oklahoma City and on that day, April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh took the lives of 168 men, women and children and seriously injured hundreds more. Yes children, as he so callously attacked a building which housed a day care center for the children of the men and women who worked there and in the downtown area.
Donations from Lions Clubs all over the world began coming in and in the weeks and months following that day I busied myself with helping survivors, acting as liaison between my organization and the Red Cross. I attended meetings, visited the site, weeded through applications for assistance, dispursed funds. Even then, in my head I had not processed what had happened. I had not cried.
For almost a year, I was consumed with the aftermath and what we could do to help. Then we received a $50,000.00 donation from a club in Boston, Massachusetts, asking us to use the money to build a memorial playground in honor of the children who perished that day. I worked alongside other club members, volunteers and city workers to ready the playground for the one year anniversary. I still had not cried.
On April 19, 1996 we all gathered at the playground at Lake Hefner with some of the families of the children who fell victim one year earlier. As they unveiled the red granite stone, marking the dedication of the site to the children, I saw them; the tiny handprints engraved into the stone. Two perfect tiny handprints… and then I cried.
I cried a year’s worth of tears and felt a year’s worth of pain and anger. This man, who so brazenly acted so selfishly, so full of hate and vengeance, had taken the lives and hopes and dreams of 19 children that day. He took mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and grandparents. He had broken the hearts of families and friends and even those who didn’t know them personally… like me.
And what did he accomplish? Nothing.
Today I still think about those tiny handprints. And today I still cry.
By Don Millard
It all came to me at the Dollar Store.
As I stood there rubbing the prickly two day’s worth of beard poking through my skin and making my face feel like sandpaper, I stared at the prices of razor blades in disbelief.
Of course this was not the first time I’d been appalled at these ridiculous prices, but the sheer rip off factor of it all really hit home. But, absurdly, I’d hoped that Family Dollar might, just might be the last bastion of reasonable prices for replacement cartridges for my multi-blade razor. Oops, I mean my “shaving system.” In the bullshit parlance of shaving industry advertising, razors are no longer called razors. Prices for replacement blades seem insanely expensive? But, but this is a “shaving system”! Silly me. I’d just come from cursing the prices of such blades at Wal-Mart only to find that the situation here no different.
“I don’t fuckin’ believe this,” I said out loud, almost as though I were expecting a reply.
There was no response, save for the sound of a child being spanked in another aisle. There’s always a kid getting his ass beat at a Dollar Store. It’s one of the constants of consumer life, like getting a shopping cart with a bum wheel or the person in front of you in line writing a check for a Zagnut.
It seems like only yesterday that a razor sporting 3 blades was the latest so-called cutting edge technology in the “science” of shaving. In 1998, Gillette rolled out the Mach 3, the world’s first triple blade razor, like it was the Porsche of razors. The introduction of the Mach 3 was also accompanied by about a 30% mark up on the replacement cartridges needed for this “shaving system.” But Gillette knew that Americans would pay this inflated price for the privilege of having the latest “advance” in a razor. Of course once the Mach 3 came out, Schick and other razor manufacturers had to follow suit. I’d held on to my Gillette Sensor twin blade razor as long as I could because I was able to get generic replacement blades for said razor. But those days were over, and my particular twin blade Gillette Sensor shaver was now as obsolete as an 8 track tape. Consequently, I had to make the switch to a triple blade razor or be relegated to using plastic razors in a bag. So, faced with this choice, I grudgingly started buying 3 bladed shavers and paying more for the blades. But now, just a few years later, my once advanced shaver was now suddenly the PONG of razors, with new “shaving systems” that featured 4 and even 5 blades. And, now I couldn’t even find decently priced generic blades for my prehistoric triple bladed shave stick. Can you say planned obsolescence, anyone? The way it is now, the average guy almost has to take a second job just to afford shaving. In 2003, Gillette’s Mach 3 razor was the most shoplifted item in the world. Criminals love razor blades because they’re easy to sell and easy to re-sell. The brazen racket of it all disgusted me to the core.
Though I have fairly light hair, I’ve always had a pretty heavy beard and needed a halfway decent razor to get a close shave. But now, even THIS was a luxury. Yes, I’ve tried electric razors and all they do is burn my face. I’ve also tried those BIC disposable razors and all they did was cut my face up. They should stick to lighters.
I can still remember when I started shaving and what a thrill it was the day my Dad took me down to the drug store to get me my own razor and shaving cream so I could get rid of my peach fuzz sideburns. I was 16 and couldn’t wait to shave. I think every guy feels this way. It’s one of those classic rites of passage that boys treasure almost as much getting your driver’s license or the day when you can legally buy alcohol. But, thirty years later, shaving was not only a dreary chore, it was also a financial burden!
Like a typical consumer sucker, I wondered: Gee, why are new blades so expensive when the razor was cheap? More than once I’ve bought the same razor twice just to get the blades cheaper. I bet you have, too. Then it hit me. Today’s razor manufacturers are like drug dealers–give away the razor and a blade or two for a taste. The first shave is free…
The more I thought about it all, the angrier I got. Here I was, with two of the same razors and no blades. My blood pressure spiked as I looked at the names of some of these “shaving systems” with 4 and 5 blades. They all had names that sounded like sports cars; names like “Fusion”, “Mach 5 Turbo”, “Hydro” and are hawked by star athletes–probably because they’re the only ones who can afford the blades for them.
Thoroughly pissed off, I left the Family Dollar store without buying a thing. As I drove away, I decided there had to be a solution to this problem besides buying a bag full of cheap plastic razors made in China or joining ZZ Top.
There had a be a third way. Had to be.
Turns out there is such a way, and it was (no pun intended) staring me in the face the whole time…
One of the few television shows I like to watch is AMERICAN RESTORATION on the History Channel. It’s a show where old items are restored and brought back to life. It also has slightly more historical value than MUDCATS. Or ICE ROAD TRUCKERS. Or AXE MEN. Or SWAMP PEOPLE. Although I’m the least mechanical guy on the planet and can barely roll up an extension cord, I enjoy the technical aspect of the show as well. But what really resonates with me is the show’s opening words by restorer Rick Dale: “Remember back in the day when things were made by hand and people took pride in their work?” Watching this show makes me mourn for all that we’ve lost in the name of “progress.”
Just as our infrastructure is crumbling in the name of eternal tax cuts, so much of our manufacturing base has been sacrificed on the altar of Wal-Mart. So many times, it seems, we’d rather buy the same cheap, crappy item made overseas 10 times rather than purchase a quality product made here once for a few dollars more. Of course corporate greed and low wages have also played a part in this transformation.
What does this all have to do with shaving? Well, a LOT.
Just a few days after my shaving meltdown at Family Dollar, I came across a box of about 6 or 7 vintage razors I’d collected about 10 years ago. I’d forgotten I still had them, actually. Seeing them again after all this time, I remembered why I collected them in the first place. They looked cool and were pleasing to the eye. The razors I’d collected were the original Schick Injector razors, first made from 1935 to 1946 with gold-plated heads and short Bakelite handles. Although even the modern injector razor is no longer made, Schick still makes blades for this shaver. In fact, injector blades made today not only fit the last model of this particular razor, they also still fit the very first injector razors made in 1935. Now THAT’S a “shaving system.”
A little history…
The injector razor and the electric razor were the brainchild of a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel by the name of Jacob Schick. A veteran of both the Spanish-American War and World War I, Schick spent five of his Army years between the wars stationed in Alaska coordinating the construction of more than a thousand miles of communication line in the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System.
A stickler for always being clean-shaven, Jacob Schick viewed daily shaving as a must for any civilized man and saw it as a sign of self-respect. It was during this time in Alaska that Schick first got the idea of designing a razor that would solve the problem of shaving in Artic climates as well as the danger of handling razor blades in subzero temperatures. He also wanted to devise a “motorized” device for “dry shaving” when hot water–or even cold running water was not an option. The time Schick spent in Alaska led to his two most famous inventions–the injector razor and the electric razor–kind of the way Jack London’s time in Alaska inspired Call Of The Wild, White Fang, and numerous short stories.
A year after being discharged from the Army, Lieutenant Colonel Schick invented a new kind of safety razor in 1921. He called it the ‘Magazine Repeating Razor’. This new type of razor was modeled after the repeating rifle Schick himself carried in the Army. In Schick’s new shaver, the replacement blades were stored in a clip that could be fed into the shaving head with a lever, thereby removing the hazard of handling the sharp blade with human hands. These magazine repeating razors were made in three models between 1926 and 1935 and were the forerunners to the razors I had in my box. The only real difference in the razors I had was the separate magazine clip that held the blades that are to be injected into the head of the razor. The mechanism works by pushing the old blade out and injecting the new blade into the head of the razor all in one motion. The Schick injector razor was and still is the only razor in the world to ever have an automatic blade changer.
The razors themselves were like a work of art. I remember even seeing one of them in the American History wing of the Smithsonian. But though they were pleasing to the eye, the semi-exposed gleaming blade in its gold-plated head told you this was a MAN’S razor. You could tell they were old because they were built to last, not fall apart in a few months. In fact, in 1941 Schick guaranteed each razor for 20 YEARS.
Even though I’d put new blades in these razors years ago, I never had the nerve to try to shave with one of them. Once or twice I’d gone as far as to put the razor up to my face. As I felt the cold steel of the blade against my cheek, I wondered how any man shaved with one and lived to tell about it. Someone told me that shaving with one of these beauties was as close as you could get to shaving with a straight razor. This alone had been enough to keep me from trying the injector out. I wanted a close shave, but I didn’t want to have to call 911.
Speaking of straight razors, by the way, how do you get good with one without cutting your own throat first? My birth mother told me that my grandfather shaved with one all of his life, never even switching over to a safety razor. He died in 1974 (not from shaving) at the age of 72 in 1974, but I never got the chance to know him.
Anyhow, I decided that if my grandfather could shave with a straight razor his whole life, I could try to shave with my 70 year old vintage Shick Injector razor at least once.
My decision made, I read what I could on the web and even watched a few videos for tips on how to shave with an old school razor. I learned very quickly that basically I’d have to un-learn all of the bad habits I’d picked up by shaving with a multi-blade cartridge razor. In particular, the one thing I warned not to do was the one thing I always did: PRESS DOWN on my face with the blade. Applying pressure and pressing down on my face had become my signature style of shaving. This habit was due mainly to crappy plastic cartridge blades that become dull almost right after the first shave. Because of the expense, I was forever trying to extend the life and save money by shaving with a dull ass blade as long as humanly possible, but my face was the one paying the price with terrible razor burn, especially the red irritation around my neck. I might as well have been trying to carve a turkey with a butter knife.
It was time to shave.
For my maiden voyage into manly shaving, the injector razor I chose from my collection was the one with the art deco butterscotch Bakelite handle. It was the oldest of my old razors. Here’s a picture of it:
As I held the vintage razor in my hand, I couldn’t help but wonder about its original owner. Since the model I going to try to use was made from 1935 to 1938, I thought about this pocket of time in our history and the man who originally put this razor up to his face… Was this the razor he learned to shave with? Did he shave with it during the dark days of the Great Depression? Was he shaving with it when he heard that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor? Did he go to war? Was this razor waiting for him when he came home? Or was he killed in the war and his widow didn’t have the heart to throw out his razor? Who knows. But no matter what its history, this razor had surely survived its first owner and, eight decades later, was now in my nervous 21st century hands. Thinking about it all, it was kind of an honor just to hold this thing.
To really experience a truly old school “wet shave”, I needed shaving soap and a shaving brush to work up a lather. Since I had neither, I had to use my canned chemical shaving gel. But, rather than just splashing my face with warm water like usual, I applied a hot towel to my face instead. The steamy cloth felt good on my face and I could feel my facial muscles relaxing. When the towel cooled off, I ran more hot water over it and repeated the process for about another minute or two.
As I now spread the shaving cream on my face with my hands, I kept reminding myself not to press down on the blade once I started shaving. I also had to remember to try to keep my wrist locked so I wouldn’t change the proper blade angle–assuming I could find it to start with, of course. Just let the razor do the work, I told myself. It was easy. All I had to do was NOT do what I’d been doing for 30 YEARS.
I tentatively put the razor to my cheek, using my left hand to stretch the skin tight in the area I was about to shave (or slice open) as if I were using a straight razor. Here we go, I thought…
At first there was nothing… I was neither cutting myself nor shaving whiskers off my face. I braced myself as I angled the handle away from my face at what I hoped was a 30 degree angle as I’d read you’re supposed to do. I hoped my geometry was right as I began to roll the blade slowly down my cheek. Suddenly I heard the classic unmistakable sound of whiskers being sliced off cleanly. I’d never actually heard this sound except in the movies; movies like RIO BRAVO and the scene where Angie Dickinson shaves Dean Martin with a cutthroat razor. Until now, I thought this wonderful old school sound was just a movie sound effect. But it was real. This was the sound of a man shaving, not some lazy guy blindly hacking away at his skin with a cartridge blade designed to self-destruct after the first shave. You only get this sound by shaving with a single blade razor.
Inspired by initial success and the lack of carnage, I shaved on. My nervousness started to disappear and it sounded like I could hear every single hair being removed from my face. Still,
as I shaved on, I also reminded myself that the goal on this first “pass” was beard reduction, not beard removal. Therefore, I used short strokes rather than my old method of shaving from right below my ear to my throat all in one swipe. Strangely, I found the concentration this all required to be relaxing rather than stressful or laborious. My first shave with an old school razor was a little easier for me than it might be for some others because I have a goatee, which saves me from having to shave my chin & moustache area, two of the trickier regions to shave.
After finishing my first pass, I wiped the residual shaving cream from my face and applied a hot towel to my face again. I could feel that there were still a few rough patches of stubble on my face in the usual stubborn spots, but the rest of my face was already SMOOTH. Lathering up once more, I prepared for Round Two.
During the second pass, I was even more comfortable and confident with my new old razor. I even shaved against the grain, in a South to North direction to defeat the toughest stubble. When I did this, the remaining whiskers fell away cleanly and smoothly as well. I had done it.
Because I’d shaved with only a single blade, one of the most enjoyable parts was that the whiskers from my beard didn’t get clogged in between the other blades every twenty seconds. When you shave with three, four, or even five blades, you end up spending half of your time trying to knock the clogged hair loose by banging the razor head against the sink. And sometimes when you do this, the cartridge comes apart from the razor and you pray that it didn’t actually break off as you fish it out of the sink. Fun. This entire exasperating ritual had been eliminated by using just one blade. What a concept.
Amazed, I wiped my face with a towel and saw that there were no cuts on my face, not even a nick. Seeing that my face was unharmed, I rinsed my face off with cold water to close my pores. It was invigorating. Fittingly, I finished my old school “wet shave” off by splashing Pinaud Clubman after shave on my face for that classic barber shop smell.
I couldn’t believe what a close shave this vintage razor had just given me. Far from being cut up, my face was baby smooth, but I prefer the term girlfriend smooth. My face was as smooth as it had been before I ever HAD to shave, way back in the Reagan administration. Not only was my stubble removed, but gone too was the usual razor burn around my neck that I thought I had to live with because of my heavy beard.
All of this was a revelation to me. Armed with a 70 year old razor and only one blade, I had just given myself the best shave of my life! I felt like a new man. I knew right then that I would never shave with a plastic multi-blade razor ever again. I knew that I’d also never waste another dime on costly replacement cartridges as well. I was going cold turkey and my face was already thanking me for it. The days of me being a sucker on the corporate shave train were over.
Sure, my wet shave had taken a little longer, but some of that was because this was my very first shave with a single blade old school razor. My girlfriend smooth face and the total abscence of razor burn more than made up for the extra time involved. Even though we live in a microwave society, some things should take longer than 90 seconds. Furthermore, I felt like I had taken part in the same ritual as my father and grandfather before me. Somehow, SOMEHOW they’d managed with just ONE blade, not Three or Four or FIVE. As I write this, there’s now even a razor with SIX BLADES. Gillette and Schick (the Coca-Cola & Pepsi of the shaving industry, respectively) each now have a battery powered version of their latest wonder that vibrates. What are we? Shaving with vibrators now? How many blades will the next generation shave with? TEN? TWENTY?
Speaking of vibrators, Gillette is now owned by Proctor & Gamble since 2005 who also manufacture Duracell batteries, so the Gillette vibrator comes equipped with that brand of battery. Shick, on the other hand, is now owned by Energizer Industries, so the Schick vibrator comes with–you guessed it–Energizer batteries. Call me old-fashioned, but vibrators belong in the bedroom, not the bathroom.
A few days later I got myself a shaving brush and some shave soap in order to go completely old school. Working up a lather took a tiny bit of effort, but I enjoyed the tactile sensation of the lather on my face with a brush. I noticed, too, that the lather didn’t dry out on my face right away like the pressurized chemical goop in a can I usually used. Using a shaving brush also helps lift up the whiskers on your face, thus making shaving easier no matter what kind of razor you use. Try it sometime and see.
For me, one shave with shaving soap was enough to convince me to abandon the flammable aerosol can. Also, it’s more eco-friendly because there’s no can to dispose of, the only waste is the soap that goes down your drain. The blades themselves that vintage razors use are easily recyclable, too, whereas the modern plastic cartridge blade is not and is just one more thing clogging up a land fill. So, by going retro, you can get a much better, closer shave and go green at the same time.
Although I was even able to find new injector blades at a local grocery store, they aren’t that much cheaper than the cartridge blades. You’re also forced to shave with an old injector razors, as Schick no longer makes the injector razor. If you really want to a great shave and save a LOT of money, a safety razor is the way. Yes, the heavy safety razor that uses a double edged blade that’s been around for 100 years–the same one your grandpa used, and probably still uses if he’s still living. You can save some serious coin doing so, since the average cost of a good, double-edged blade is 25 cents or less. The average cartridge blade cost $2 or $3 or more apiece!
Despite my new found love of the vintage Schick injector razor, I wanted to save money as well as get a close shave. Accordingly, I’ve now switched to a new safety razor made by Edwin Jagger in England. For about $35, I now have a classy, well-made razor that will last me the rest of my life. I won’t have to buy it twice to get a better deal on new blades, either. I can order a carton of a good quality not made in China for around $15 (including shipping). The price for FOUR replacement cartridges for the FUSION “shaving system” is $20! A good double edged blade will give you about a week’s worth of great shaves, so that’s basically TWO YEARS worth of blades.
Yes, there is a bit of a learning curve in using a safety razor, but it’s not rocket science. I’ve been using mine for about two weeks now and haven’t cut myself once. I’m getting the best shaves of my life and won’t have to buy blades for another two years. And even if I do get a few nicks along the way, that will be nothing compared to the nicks my wallet has been enduring for many years. By far, the worst cuts I’ve ever got came from using disposable plastic razors made in China.
The multi-billion dollar shaving industry has been fooling its customers since 1971, when Gillette introduced the twin-blade razor and the shaving wars began. Guys have been tugging at their face and irritating their skin by scraping multiple blades across it instead of slicing their stubble off smoothly with a single blade ever since. Everything you need for a fantastically close and comfortable shave was perfected in the early 20th century.
By Don Millard
In February of 1994, after 28 years of life, I was about to hug my birth mom for the very first time.
As my mother got closer to me, I could see my face in her face and my smile in her smile. Until recently, she had been a complete stranger, even
though she had given me life. Everything seemed to be in slow motion now as we got closer and closer till we finally embraced each other in a giant hug. Although it was a cold February night with snow and ice on the ground around us, I wasn’t cold at all. I was very warm. It really did feel like a scene right out of a movie.
Although most movies that end in a freeze frame usually suck (see COCKTAIL), I really must do my own literary freeze frame of this moment in order to do it justice. This moment was the culmination of my search as well as a beginning of the rest of my life. It was a moment of pure joy that life could never take away from me no matter what happened from this time forward. There was also an ever greater joy and satisfaction of seeing my Mom’s happiness. My adoption had been a heavy burden and a secret heartbreak that had crushed her spirit since 1965. To know that I had taken away some of this pain and sorrow from her heart after all these years made me a very happy man. I felt like I was in an episode of QUANTUM LEAP and I was trying to put right what once went wrong.
The best way I can try to express how this moment felt and what it meant to–what it still means to me–is to reference yet another movie. If you’ve ever seen MY FAVORITE YEAR, there’s a part at the end of the film where the narrator and character Benjy Stone says of the swashbuckling hero loosely based on Errol Flynn played by Peter O’Toole:
“I think if you had asked Alan Swann what was the single most gratifying moment in his life, he might have said this one right here.”
When my Mom and I finally let go of each other, the normal speed and sound of life seemed to resume. I now focused on the other people in this biological receiving line. I saw that my half brother and sister as well as my mother’s sister and her husband made up the rest of the people there to greet the long lost Terry Lee Wichael. I’d spoken on the phone with my brother and sister a bit and recognized them from the photos my mom had sent me. My brother was wearing a flannel jacket and sporting the official hat of the South–a baseball cap. He may have been wearing a hat, but his curly orange hair was still billowing out of it in much the same way his shirt was hanging below his jacket. He sure didn’t look like a bit like his mother–or his father, for that matter. But, as we shook hands, he seemed genuinely glad to meet me. From what my mother had told me, he seemed to enjoy the idea of suddenly having an older brother. When he first learned of me, he said, “You mean I have a brother older than Sissy?”
Next up was my sister, or “Sissy.” She too had curly hair, but it was light brown like mine. She looked a little bit like Junelle, but as I would discover soon enough, that was where the resemblance began and ended, especially on the inside. She was wearing a leather jacket and had a country and western look about her right down to her cowboy boots. But even with with her cowboy boots, I doubt that she was 5 feet tall. My mom had told me that she loved horses and horseback riding. What she lacked in length, she made up for in attitude.
By the way, I would’ve already been in Harrisonburg a few hours earlier if not for Calamity Jane insisting that I not arrive until she could meet me when I got off the bus. In order to do this, I had to go back to Richmond and then take a different bus so I wouldn’t get to Harrisonburg until SHE could be there. The last thing I wanted to do in the world was add even more hours onto my bus ride, but for my Mom’s sake, I honored this demand.
As I approached my sister, I thought it would be kind of silly to shake her hand. We had talked on the phone and she’d been very nice, even though I had already heard some disturbing stories about her and how she’d treated Junelle. As I went to hug my sister, she immediately recoiled and took a step back as though I were a leper or something. It was very awkward, and I felt like saying to her, “Thanks for the 100 extra bus miles, bitch.” For the first time since getting off the bus, I felt cold.
After this Hallmark moment, I walked over to Junelle’s sister, Janet, we hugged. I could be wrong, but I think Janet might have hugged me even tighter than Junelle had. Then I shook hands with “Mo”, Janet’s skinny truck driving husband who was wearing a belt buckle bigger than my sister’s head.
Once I had retrieved my big black bag from the belly of the bus, it was time to get out of the cold and into a car. My sister had driven her and my brother to the bus station, so my Mother and I climbed into the backseat of her car for the 20 mile ride back to the house my mother and brother lived in, while Janet and Mo followed behind us in their car. My sister lived closer to town with her boyfriend of several years, but he hadn’t come along.
We hadn’t been driving but a few minutes when we came to a complete stop on a dark country road. My sister looked at my brother.
“Do it, Sissy. Do it,” said my brother.
“How do you do it again?” she asked, wanting to know how to do the latest redneck burnout involving the emergency brake.
“Sissy, don’t!” exclaimed my mother.
Our wheels spun and the tires started to squeal as we remained in the same spot for a few moments until we shot out onto the main road. This little stunt upset my mother, but when she had protested, the two of them just laughed.
“That didn’t bother you, did it, Don?” my brother asked me.
I said nothing.
“You see, Momma, that doesn’t bother him,” declared my brother.
As we sped down the country road toward my mother’s house, I hoped her house was near, as I wanted out of this car as soon as possible.
Thankfully, my sister soon slowed down and hit the brakes as we approached a modest brick home set off a bit from the road amongst a group of pine trees. We pulled into the long gravel driveway, and I could see my mother’s shiny school bus parked beside an outdoor garage which housed a monster truck as we came to stop in front of my mother’s house. As we were all getting out of my sister’s car, Janet and Mo turned into the driveway and parked next to us.
“Didn’t mean to leave you in the dust back there, Mo. It was Sissy’s fault,” my brother said with a grin.
“I had a cramp in my foot,” replied my sister.
I could clearly see how this had upset my mother and so could my brother and sister, but they seemed to enjoy that it had done so.
When I entered my mother’s home for the first time in my life, I was greeted by Floppy, Junelle’s rust-colored miniature Daschund who instantly made me feel more at home.
“Who’s that, Floppy?” asked my mother, as he wagged his tail and I began petting him.
“Yeah,” said my brother, “that’s Floppy alright. If that little bastard bites me again, I’m gonna put a cap in his ass.”
“You leave that dog alone,” replied my mother.
Floppy, my mother told me in one of her recent letters, has been a surprise Christmas gift from my brother and sister two years ago. He was about 5 years old, as they had got him full grown from a previous owner. My Mom had told me that she was sure he had been abused by the father of the little girl who had to give him up. She told me of how the little girl would still send the dog a birthday card every year and it would be addressed to “Mr. Floppy”. If there is a Hell, one of the hottest spaces should be reserved for those who abuse animals. Anyone who can’t treat an animal right won’t treat YOU right, either.
“That dog does not like me,” my brother said.
“I wonder why,” Junelle replied.
“Watch this,” said my brother.
My brother began talking to the little dog by simply saying “Floppy” a few times in a normal, non-threatening tone of voice. From the very first time my brother said his name, Floppy started to growl and each time my brother said his name, the dog’s growl grew louder and louder until at last his teeth were exposed.
“Stop it!” said my mother.
“That dog does not like me,” my brother said again, with seeming admiration for how mean the dog had become in a matter of seconds.
“Man, Floppy don’t like you, Bungy,” said my sister, calling my brother by his nickname and laughing.
Anyone could tell by Floppy’s reaction that he had likely been abused in the past just as he was now being abused in the present.
It was about this time that I saw the special cake that had been made up for this occasion sitting on the kitchen table. It had white frosting and was in the shape of a heart with purple lettering that said, “Welcome To Our Home Don.”
The next thing I noticed in my mother’s house was all the antlers on the walls. The house had originally been the hunting cabin of Junelle’s husband and he and my brother had furnished it in Early Death Panel. Sarah Palin would’ve felt right at home.
My brother quickly took me on a tour of all the dead animals in the house, with particular emphasis on the ones he had somehow miraculously managed to kill with a high powered scoped rifle. I’m not a hunter and have nothing against hunting per se, but killing Bambi with a high-powered rifle does not make you Kit Carson.
As I was having to look at all the dead animals on the wall, I spotted a very old, very cool crank phone hanging on the wall as well. I asked about it and my mother told this has been the original phone that had been in use in her parents’ home when she grew up. Hanging up on the wall near this antique phone was a beautiful, old calendar clock from the late 1800s. My mother explained to me that it had hung for years in a local bank in town and proudly told me of how she had won it in a silent auction when the bank closed years ago.
I love antiques and always have. Probably one of the reasons for this is because I love history as well. I had to smile when Junelle told me during our first phone conversation that she liked antiques. I guess it’s in my blood. My Mom also had a lot of other collectible figurines around the house and in a curio cabinet as well as some Depression glass. She told me that whenever she got depressed, she’d go to yard sales. She had amassed quite a collection of antiques and collectibles over the years. My brother and sister must not have inherited her antique gene because they referred to it all as “Momma’s junk.”
Junelle once asked my brother what would happen to all her antiques after she died. He told her he would back a truck up to the house and take it all to the dump.
As we all settled in, my brother introduced me to his favorite beer, OLD MILWAUKEE. I’d drank my share of cheap beer in college, but had never tasted this brand before. After one sip, I discovered that it was a notch below PIEL’S or MEISTER BRAU. Oh, well, I needed a beer–any kind of a beer–at this point. The OLD MILWAUKEE we were drinking was a perfect compliment to the deer jerky I was eating out of a green Tupperware bowl. My brother had made it, and it was actually pretty good. I’m pretty sure this was the first time I’d ever eaten deer meat.
It was starting to get late and my sister was the first one to leave. She reminded everyone that SHE had to work in the morning, as if she was the only person on the face of the earth who had a job. I had a sneaking suspicion that she was related to that other incredibly unique individual, the one who declares, “I pay taxes.”
After saying it was nice meeting me, my sister said to Junelle: “Bye, Nellie.”
WTF? Who the hell calls their mother by their first name? And not even her first name, but a nickname made from it. This struck me as just about the most disrespectful thing a child could do to their mother. My adoptive mother’s name was Amalia and she went by “Molly”, but it was her HER choice to be called Molly.
If I had ever tried to call my mother “Molly”, I probably would’ve been slapped in the mouth by her or my father–or both–not that it would have ever even occurred to me to address my mother in such a brazen way. I would have no sooner called my mom “Molly” than I’d call the First Lady “Shelly.”
“Junelle” was a beautiful name. My mom had told me that she’d always liked her name because it was somewhat unique, so I was pretty sure she had no desire to be called “Nellie” by ANYONE, let alone her her own daughter.
Junelle and Janet had already told me some disturbing stories about my sister before I’d even left Florida, but I was trying to keep an open mind. Junelle had told me of how my sister had called her a “hussy” when she tried to quiet her in church. My mom said my sister was about 7 years old when this took place. She would later tell me that Janet had once said to my sister, “When your mother dies, I don’t want to see any tears from you, as bad as you’ve treated her.” I’d already seen enough with my own eyes to know that my sister made the girl in THE BAD SEED look like Pollyanna.
Once my sister left, it was like all the air came back into the room and everyone began to relax and even enjoy themselves. I noticed, too, that my brother started acting better. We even shared a few laughs together and I found that he, unlike my sister, at least had a personality. Quite frankly, I already hoped this was the last time I’d see her on this visit–or ever.
After Janet and Mo left and my brother went to bed, my mother and I sat there at the kitchen table and stayed up all night talking, talking. Talking and smoking. Junelle hadn’t wanted me to know right away that she smoked, much the same way I hadn’t wanted Frank to know right away that I smoked. I guess you could say we were a little bit alike.
Junelle wanted to know everything about me and my life for the past 28 years. I did my best to fill her in while deflecting any direct questions about my health. I can’t tell you how great it was to be able to give some of my baby photos to my actual mother. We must have gone through every photo album of hers that night. She also showed me the albums she’d already put together of the photos and letters I’d sent her.
While we were sitting there talking, we suddenly noticed that it was getting light out so we finally went to bed. It had been an amazing night. I slept in my sister’s old room and hoped that none of her rubbed off on me. There wasn’t there much danger of that happening since they only think left of my sister in the room was a horse calendar that she’d left behind. As I looked at it, I thought maybe if my mother had been a horse, my sister would have treated her humanely.
Junelle had arranged for a substitute bus driver so she could have the week off. Finding somebody to do this wasn’t easy, but I found out that my mom was well-liked and even loved by just about everyone in the county–everyone, except her own kids. Well, that was about to change, at least with me.
My Mom and I spent much of that week visiting and talking with some of her oldest and dearest friends. I could see how each of them had helped her deal with her troubles through the years, even though they never knew that she had given me up for adoption in 1965. I saw how all of them had an ever deeper understanding and respect for my mother after finding out the original source of her pain and the terrible burden she had carried with her for nearly 30 years.
My brother threw a party at the house on that first weekend of visit and invited every redneck in the county. My brother had just graduated from high school the year before and my mother allowed him to party at the house. She said it was better and safer than making him do it somewhere else. He partied in a building his father had built just 20 feet or so from the house. His father had been working on the wiring of that building when he’d dropped dead right in front of Junelle. Perhaps because of this, the building had never been completely finished or furnished. There was no heat in it, but it did have electricity now and a pool table. In the winter like now, party goers would drink and stay out there for as long as they could stand it, then come in Junelle’s house and warm themselves by the roaring wood stove. I still remember us all laughing when one drunken teenager staggered in and set his beer on top of the red hot stove.
But thank god for that pool table. It was the only bridge between my world and my brother’s. I’ve always loved to play pool since I was a kid and learned to play on a friend’s warped table. Playing pool was the only activity I could do with my brother and his friends that didn’t involve guns or a 4 wheel drive truck. I’d never seen so much flannel or heard so much Lynyrd Skynrd in my life. I’m sorry, but there should be a thousand year moratorium on playing FREE BIRD. If I never hear that song again, it’ll be too soon. I tried to fit in as best I could with my brother and his friends–even chewed a little tobacco to blow their minds. But it was hard. I’d never heard the word “reckon” used so many times in all my life, either. Actually, I’d never heard the word used in real life at all. The last time I’d heard the word “reckon” was when we read HUCKLEBERRY FINN in school. I knew I was in for this kind of culture shock ever since The Guns of IGA. I couldn’t change who I was. I was Don Millard, not Terry Lee Wichael.
If I had been abducted by aliens and taken to another galaxy, I don’t think I would’ve have felt any more out of place than I did right here in rural Virginia. Indeed, Junelle told me that Frank had already warned her not to get her hopes up about me moving here by saying, “Now, Cuz, he’s a real city slicker, so don’t expect him to ever come live around here. But he’s also just about the nicest young man I’ve ever met. You’ll be very proud.”
When I was trying to describe my suburban Connecticut upbringing once again, Janet asked me if I’d ever picked potatoes.
“Yeah–aisle 8,” I replied.
During the second week of my visit, my mom asked for and received another week off from driving her school bus. Junelle took me with her to meet her boss who told her she could certainly have another week off considering the circumstances. He told me that my mom had endured a hard life, but had really stood up to it. I could think of TWO reasons in particular why her life had been hard.
On Valentine’s Day, I took my mom out to dinner at the Buckhorn Inn, the old, rustic country buffet restaurant where she worked on the weekends. I told her she could be my Valentine this year. Her co-workers were very happy for her that we had found each other. When one of the waitresses came over to refill our iced tea, she smiled and said, “You’re both left-handed.”
It was true. Growing up, I’d always wondered why I was left-handed when it came to writing and eating since I was right-handed when I played sports. Junelle was the only lefty in her family and I was the only one of her children who was left-handed.
A few days later we had a happy visit with Frank and his family, which meant a lot to me. While we were there, I thought, why can’t my brother and sister be like Frank’s kids?
Although I loved and cherished the time I was spending with my mother, the hardness of her life was laid bare during this visit. It broke my heart.
Junelle told me about my brother and sister’s father, the man she DID marry. She spoke of how he had always liked her and had pursued her ever since high school and how she wasn’t interested. But after being left at the altar 4 months pregnant with me and then giving me up for adoption, she felt as though no man would ever have her now. So, when my brother and sister’s father learned what had happened, he saw his opening and came calling for again and this time my mother accepted his marriage proposal. She said he was a good, church going man, but that he also had a terrible temper, a temper that my brother had inherited along with sky high cholesterol. She told me of times when he’d knocked over a table where she was working on a jigsaw puzzle when he got mad at her. I shuddered to think of the things he’d probably done to her that she didn’t tell me about. She then talked of the things my brother had broken or damaged in the house during his own fits of anger. She’d married a man who’d always pursued her, but then abused her when he got her and gave her two kids who grew up to mistreat her in the same way he did. And, in a way, all because of the shameful act of my birth father who made this all possible with his cowardly act.
My mother’s life had been as hard as mine had been easy until my own personal medical nightmare in 1989. It made me sad to realize that my happiness had come at the expense of hers. Growing up, I had thought of my birth mother in vague, sketchy terms. I thought of her as just the vessel who had brought me into this world; as someone who was probably in high school and didn’t even want to pregnant so young. How wrong I had been. This was my first real glimpse into just how much my mother had suffered and how truly unselfish her decision to give me up had been.
But she was so happy now that I’d found her. How could I ever tell her about my horrible medical condition now? She had endured so much pain and sorrow in her life already, how could I lay my nightmare at her doorstep? I knew telling her what really happened to me would break her heart for good. I didn’t want her to know how much I was suffering or how it had my illness had robbed me of my life without so much as leaving a clue as to what it was. Yes, I’d told my mother I had some serious health issues, but there was no way she could imagine how truly horrific it was. How could anyone? I was the only one trapped in my body and suspended between life and death. Whenever my mother probed me about my health–which was often–I simply told her that I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and it had finally been diagnosed a few months ago. How could I tell her that my entire body had shrunk right before my eyes in the span of a week? How could I tell her that my symptoms matched nothing ever recorded in the annals of medicine? How could I tell her that I thought it was a fate worse than death? And how on Earth could I tell her that I STILL feared that it might be all my fault? No, I couldn’t tell her this–especially not right now. Best to just crack another OLD MILWAUKEE and have some more deer jerky.
I guess I didn’t a good enough job of hiding the inner torture and sadness that this caused within me because Junelle said to me one night out of the blue,
“You’re keepin’ something from me. What is it?”
I couldn’t tell her. I just couldn’t do it.
I had originally planned to spend about a week in Virginia and had told my boss/roommate as much. but my mom had begged me to stay longer and I couldn’t say no to her. She had missed the first 28 years of my life. What was I supposed to say to her? No? Or, sorry, Mom, but I have to cut my visit short because of my dynamic new career as a telemarketer? I knew job would be there waiting for me no matter how much time I took off. After all, I had already shown them I was management material by showing up two days in a row on numerous occasions.
But after two weeks had gone by, however, I told my mom that I really did have to think about getting back to Florida soon because my rent would be coming due shortly, as well as a few other bills. This was all very true, but it wasn’t the only reason. I didn’t have the heart to tell my mom how out of place I felt in this area, nor could I dare tell her that the thought of no longer being around my brother and sister made me almost ecstatic.
As I was getting ready to finally leave for Florida, a heavy snow was fore casted for the very day I was supposed to leave. My mother told me that she was praying for a blizzard and a blizzard is what we got–almost a foot of snow. This act of God gave us nearly another week and my mother was so happy.
The evening before I was to leave for real, my mother snapped another picture of me as my brother and I were sitting around the kitchen table.
“Dammit, Momma!” my brother shouted as his face turned red. “I’m sick of it!” he yelled.
He got up from the table, grabbed the camera out of my mother’s hand, and smashed it against the counter.
Junelle burst into tears and I just sat there, stunned.
I had never been around behavior like this and sure as hell didn’t want to be around it now. You can’t talk someone out of having a violent temper like this. This was his nature. The sins of the father… After this last incident, I couldn’t get on that bus fast enough. I wanted to spend more time with my mother, but by the same token, I didn’t want to spend another second around my brother and sister.
Throughout this visit, I had tried to be mindful of my brother and sister’s feelings and wanted to cut them slack despite some of the stories I’d heard about them. I was no angel. I tried to put myself in their boots and imagine how I’d feel if the situation was reversed and my mother was suddenly lavishing all of her attention on a long lost son no one had known about for 28 years. This wouldn’t have been easy for me, either, and it was only human nature for there to be some jealousy and resentment. But the kind of behavior I’d seen went way beyond this. Furthermore, the two of them had mistreated my mother for YEARS–long before they ever knew I existed. Their words and actions were just the latest manifestation of the same malignancy and it was never going to change. There was nothing I could do or say that was going to alter their course. As Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”
It was time to go. At least for now. I needed some time by myself to let this all sink in and wrap my head around it. I almost wished I was only child again.
As we drove to the bus station the next day, we made a quick stop at the local mall so I could say goodbye to my sister who was a hairdresser there. I had only seen her twice in the whole three and a half weeks I’d been there. I would’ve rather had a root canal than see her again, but I did it for my mom. As we left the beauty salon, my brother showed up. He had a bag in his hand, which he handed to our mother, saying: “Open the bag, Momma.”
Junelle opened the bag, reached in, and pulled out a brand new camera.
“Thank you,” she said.
The cycle of abuse was complete. I couldn’t help but wonder how many other things my brother had to buy to replace what he’d broken. I had a feeling that this was a sad ritual between the two of them. My brother had also bought film for the camera which he promptly loaded for her.
After arriving at the bus station, I checked my big black bag in again and got ready for another hell ride courtesy of Greyhound. When it was time to get on the bus, I kissed and hugged my mother and told her not to be sad. I told her I’d come back to visit her again as soon as I could. She took one last picture of me with her brand new camera. When I disappeared behind the door to get on the bus, I looked back for a moment and could see that my Mom was already crying.