Hidden Figures, 1962

I slipped away from work in the middle of the day and went to see the movie Hidden Figures. I splurged—got popcorn, diet cherry Coke, and peanut M&Ms. After all, it was lunch, too. I found an aisle seat and settled in. I kind of knew what to expect from the movie, but it was way more than what I expected. It was set in my time of growing up in the South. My children have no idea what it was like, and my grandchildren certainly have no clue.

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It was 1961-62. I was a girl, in junior high, trying to step up from girl to teen. It was the year of the black leather jacket—if you didn’t have one, you were out. It was the year I had a royal blue knit outfit—tight skirt and matching top. I wore it with royal blue Piccolinos. Piccolinos were like little fairy shoes—flats with severely pointed toes and a whole lot of toe cleavage, and this was so long ago, you can’t google and find a picture of them, but all the girls had Piccolinos in every bright color. It was also the year that girls teased their hair. Even Barbie had a bouffant.

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It was before Kennedy got shot, before the Beatles came, before Vietnam was a living-room word; it was the year James Meredith integrated Ole Miss with the help of the National Guard. It was on the cusp of outward racial turbulence and the fight for civil rights, because in this free county, black people had no rights. They had separate public bathrooms and water fountains, separate schools, separate beauty shops and funeral homes. They could not use public libraries, and they did not vote. People had to pass a test and pay a poll tax to vote back then.

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It was also the time of an intense race for space—outer space, that is. President Kennedy wanted a man on the moon during the decade of the 60s, and we couldn’t seem to get a man off the ground and into orbit. But the Russians could. Their 1957 Sputnik 1 was the world’s first satellite to orbit the earth. They were far ahead of us in science and technology. With their early Sputnik launches, they proved 1) they were winning the Space Race, and 2) they had rockets capable of launching nuclear weapons right on top of us.  So the next year, 1958, NASA was formed, and the US committed men, money, and technology to competing and winning the Space Race. And IBM developed a mainframe computer that NASA installed right at the time of our first manned flight into orbit to compute the needed mathematical data. All these issues collide and overlap in the movie.

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Before IBM’s involvement, all the math by NASA to figure launches, trajectories, and splashdown coordinates was done by human “computers,” or mathematicians. The movie is about a group of female Colored Computers, and it focuses on the stories of three African-American women. Hidden Figures is a true story about 1) women, 2) black women, and 3) black women in a world of white men / engineers only, giving viewers complex and complicated layers of issues to understand and follow. These three women cross all gender, race, and professional barriers as they dream big and push forward to go where no one else has ever gone.

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Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson step up to the task, each in their own way, but all beginning as Colored Computers at the space flight center who commuted to work together. At the leading edge of the feminist movement and the civil rights movement, they rise in the ranks of NASA along with the country’s greatest minds, tasked to calculate the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit and guarantee his safe return. [Spoiler Alert] Katherine was assigned to the room of flight engineers who did the launches of Atlas Friendship 7, the moon launch, and the later space shuttles. It was her calculations that got Glenn safely into orbit and safely home. Dorothy realized her job was going to be taken over by a computer, so when she wasn’t allowed to check out a library book on computer programming, she stole it (she paid taxes!) and became the expert and trainer on NASA mainframes. Mary became the first African-American woman engineer by going to court and getting permission to attend classes at an all-white school.

These women are real American heroes and an inspiration to all, regardless of gender, race, or profession. It takes a special kind of person to stand up, step up, speak up, trust herself to go into the unknown, and push herself to make history.


Simple Goals for 2017

I haven’t heard much about new year’s resolutions this year. I haven’t made any. Has anyone? I think I’m still reeling from 2016. But hey, here we are, and life goes forward spinning round and round as the world turns. Perhaps, I should just think about what I want to accomplish in 2017 in terms of goals.

Goal. A desired result or possible outcome that one envisions, plans, and commits to achieve.

At the top of my list should be to bring kindness to my world. Not only to bring it, but to look for it in others.

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I feel a need for my own sanity to avoid toxic people who continue the trend of 2016 to spread political untruths, to engage in name-calling, to manipulate others into seeing things their way. I’m a writer. I will continue to write and read and explore for understanding. That is how growth comes. Growth comes from way down deep, from thinking, from questioning, from soul searching, from seeing things the way that only I do. I’m a writer. I see differently. I don’t bury my head in the sand and ignore. I work it out. I write to know.

Some other things I would like to achieve:

  1. Finish the novel I’ve had in the back of my mind for maybe 15 years. I’ve made three attempts to start it. I remember sitting in downtown Nashville at a restaurant around the new millennium and talking to Charlie about it. Maybe I let all the steam out. Write a chapter a week.
  2. Write an essay every month. The new month starts today. I should get busy.
  3. Plant garden foods I will eat. Take time to work in the gardens and flower beds. Tame my yard. Maintain it better.
  4. Live with less. Get of rid of old things I don’t need. Pack things to save in bins and label.
  5. Go to a movie once a month.
  6. Spend time with Puppy Heidi on Franklin trails.
  7. Reach out and make a friend in the neighborhood.
  8. Go to the beach—with or without the new little camper I want.
  9. Blog more. Ten years ago when I started blogging, I committed to two or three times a week. When Charlie died, that went out the door. I had to go to work full time and support myself. Maybe now, two or three blogs a month. At least.
  10. Rethink social media. Remember why I got on Facebook ten years ago. Get back to that. I didn’t want any old friends or family. Just the writing community. Facebook for marketing and keeping up with other writers and new books and writing support. I need to tighten my boundaries. Say what I want to say and leave the room.

Okay, that’ll do it. I’m in. Foot down. New year. Go!


Remembering…at Christmastime: A Story for My Grandchildren

When I was a little girl, the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalogue came every October. That’s how I knew Christmas was getting close. It was a shiny, red, magical book, with Christmas tree lights, maybe a rosy-cheeked Santa, and little boys and girls in warm PJs on the cover. I’d sit on the couch and turn the pages through this “wish book” and dream of all the toys, from sleds and ice skates and bicycles and dolls—all sizes, all kinds—and doll wardrobe cases and dress-up cowboy and Indian outfits. There were microscopes, rock polishing kits, toy pianos, teddy bears, and train sets. There was much to pick from.

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On Christmas morning, at barely light, the living room would be full of toys under the tree. Its red, blue, green, and yellow lights made all the presents sparkle and shine. My little sister and I, awakened by our father, barely had our eyes open, were shy at first, just standing there and looking at all Santa brought.

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Oh! It was a wonderland of new perfect and pristine toys! My daddy would dive right in, laughing and picking up each toy, playing with it first. He had more fun than we did. I remember a blue bicycle the year I was seven. One Christmas, we got a merry-go-round. A pogo stick was one of my favorites. We got dolls—lots of dolls. There was the Bannister Baby, the Madame Alexander, the 36-inch doll, Chatty Cathy, and then the Barbies came along. There were pop beads, jewelry boxes (I still have mine!), pearls, roller skates, and boxed games. In our stockings were candy canes, chocolate Christmas candies, and oranges. To this day, when I see a lighted Christmas tree, I still remember those long ago Christmas mornings in my little house on Deering Street, with my mama and daddy and sister, and I still get that funny-happy feeling in my tummy.

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When I got a little older, my daddy told me that when he was a little boy growing up on the family farm at Hardy Hill in Kemper County, Mississippi, all he got for Christmas every year was a toy wooden car, a handful of firecrackers, and a couple of oranges. My daddy and mama grew up during the Great Depression in the 1930s, when people didn’t have any money, some didn’t have any food, and they certainly couldn’t afford Christmas presents. Dad seemed happy, though, remembering what he got. I could picture those bright-colored oranges down in his soft red-felt stocking hanging from the fireplace mantel. Maybe oranges were rare and special back then, and it was a treat to get one, all sweet and juicy and colorful. So I carried forward the tradition. When I grew up and had two little boys, I always put an orange in their stockings.

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I wonder now if my daddy’s parents, my grandma and grandpa, were so old that they were close to the old traditions and grew up with legends that I didn’t know about.

The Legend of the Oranges

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

“A Visit from Saint Nicholas”

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Once upon a time in a faraway land, there was a man named Nicholas, born in a village on the Mediterranean seashore in the country we now call Turkey, 270 years after Jesus lived not too far away. Nicholas inherited a large sum of money, but spent his life giving it away to help the poor and the persecuted, and eventually became a bishop in the Christian church and a saint.

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One day Saint Nicholas heard the villagers talking about a poor, widowed man who had three beautiful daughters but was having a tough time making ends meet. The father worried that he wouldn’t be able to find suitors, or husbands, for his daughters because he didn’t have money for a dowry. It was a custom in days of old for girls to give money, called a dowry, to their husbands upon their marriages. Saint Nicholas wanted to help, but he imagined the man might be too proud to accept charity. One night, he went to their house, climbed up on the roof, and tossed three bags of gold down the chimney while the family was sleeping. One of the bags of round gold coins landed in the toe of a stocking that was hanging from the mantel. The girls had washed their stockings and hung them up by the fire to dry.

When the family awakened in the morning, they found the gold, including the bag in the sock which had turned into a ball overnight—a shiny bright golden ball. Because of Saint Nicholas’s generosity, the daughters were now eligible to wed, and their father was happy.

So, Hardy and Jillie, the bright-colored oranges your great grandfather, your grandmother,  and your father got in their little-boy-and-girl stockings were a symbol of the shiny bright gold left by Saint Nicholas in those long-ago stockings hanging by the fire. Giving the orange is a way to celebrate generosity and caring for others, without thinking about a gift in return.

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Today, maybe there’s a lesson for you. If you get an orange in your stocking, remember Saint Nick, the poor father, and the three beautiful girls. Remember the gold. Believe. Believe in the random kindness of others. And believe enough to let yourself be moved to show kindness to those in need. Give a hug to your grandma; give a kiss to your mama and daddy; give a smile and nice word to your friends. When you share the sections of an orange with someone, you are sharing the gift of you, sharing what you have and giving from your heart. For giving is the true Christmas spirit.


Silence Is Acceptance

I shared this on Facebook because I thought it was powerful. This is someone else’s story – not mine – but in 7th grade, I would have never spoken up at all. Would you have? Would you now?

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“A few of us choked out some words . . . but were immediately squashed.”

Silenced.

Everybody I know has basically told me to shut up. Some of them hate what is happening in our country and are hurting and disturbed, too. Some are loving it. Some just plain have no clue and are happy to have a new Savior that can heal everything from a headache to lack of a job. Some just vote for the R Party no matter who’s running.

I keep telling them that I can’t be quiet and I can’t not say anything if I see something distressing. Something wrong. Something completely against the Bible I grew up with and the teachings of my parents and church and school. Something that makes a mockery of the way I raised my children and the stands I took as a classroom teacher.

I believe SILENCE IS ACCEPTANCE.

One little thing happens. One lie is told. You sit back and let it go. Another lie, another ill-meant action, and you turn your head and pretend not to see. Another and another. It becomes easy to slide into a pattern of silence, of closing your eyes, of ignoring wrongs, of taking the position, “It doesn’t do any good to say anything.” It becomes easy to just smile and sit back and let your character melt at your feet.

I read Anne Frank’s diary several times in junior high and high school. Every time I read it, I thought: How could people let this happen? How could they hate this one group known as Jews? How could the rantings of one madman lead to so much destruction and death, when there are so many good people out there?

Now I know.

I also thought: This kind of thing could never happen in my country.

Now it is.

SILENCE IS ACCEPTANCE.

“Don’t ever let anyone tell you that what you see with your own eyes isn’t happening.”

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I’ve climbed those narrow steps behind the swinging bookcase up to the secret annex in Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. I looked out the window at a tall church steeple nearby. I refuse to go back again to a place created by hate, fear, and silence, so near to God.


Should I?

I’ve been thinking about it and thinking about it, and I’m getting more serious about it. Should I? Could I?

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If I’m going to, now’s the time. What would it be like to hook up my own little ultra light white and blue camper and take off for the coast? Park it right on the beach. Listen to the waves all night. Just sit there and be lulled by the waters, watching the waves come in one after the other. Just me and the dog. Getting in tune. Peace. Quiet. Nothing but the sound of waves crashing in and the softness of puppy breath.

I’m thinking I would love to go to the mountains, but I’ve done that…without a trailer. I’ve driven up a high, steep mountain, 5 mph, scared, trailing behind me a mile-long string of cars. If I can’t do it without a trailer, maybe I shouldn’t with one. Or maybe a small mountain.

I love the idea of always having a roof over my head and taking my “roof” with me. Of packing the basic necessities, and a laptop, of course. Writing on the road…

I’ve upped this dream to the top of my mind. Yes. It’s a dream. And dreams can be made to come true.

Come spring.


Chaotic Mangling of the English Language

As a teacher of ninth-grade English, I never had to deal with the incoherent, inarticulate rambling in written papers as found in the following New York Times interview transcript. After all, I was teaching children who were fourteen and fifteen years old – children who soaked in world and national issues and were eager to understand and discuss, children that were quite capable.

The interview question had to do with mixing personal business with the role of President. And here is the answer:

trump“As far as the, you know, potential conflict of interests, though, I mean I know that from the standpoint, the law is totally on my side, meaning, the president can’t have a conflict of interest. That’s been reported very widely. Despite that, I don’t want there to be a conflict of interest anyway. And the laws, the president can’t. And I understand why the president can’t have a conflict of interest now because everything a president does in some ways is like a conflict of interest, but I have, I’ve built a very great company and it’s a big company and it’s all over the world. People are starting to see, when they look at all these different jobs, like in India and other things, number one, a job like that builds great relationships with the people of India, so it’s all good. But I have to say, the partners come in, they’re very, very successful people. They come in, they’d say, they said, ‘Would it be possible to have a picture?’ Actually, my children are working on that job. So I can say to them, Arthur, ‘I don’t want to have a picture,’ or, I can take a picture. I mean, I think it’s wonderful to take a picture. I’m fine with a picture. But if it were up to some people, I would never, ever see my daughter Ivanka again. That would be like you never seeing your son again. That wouldn’t be good. That wouldn’t be good. But I’d never, ever see my daughter Ivanka.”

Now, honestly, as a former teacher, if I had had five classes of thirty students each and 150 essays like this one to grade, I think I would have pulled my hair out and then closed the grammar book and started over on a first grade level, teaching how to think…how to focus in on one pertinent nugget of information that satisfies the answer…how to work through a thought process in a logical manner…how to write thoughts in a clear, concise way, staying on track and avoiding repetition. I can’t imagine passing a student on to the tenth grade with no better command of the English language than in this answer. Moreover, I cannot imagine students entering the workforce with no ability to communicate…except by stringing unrelated words and clauses together in meaningless chaotic rambling, like you know, you know, that wouldn’t be good, no it just wouldn’t be good, because I just couldn’t, you know, I’d need red, I’d need a lot of red, just a whole lot of red, or maybe crayons, and maybe wide, bigly wide what do you call those things–margins, yes, you know, margins, so I could write in and I’d run out of red, yes, on the page there on the paper, there wouldn’t be enough, so I’d run out of ink, and I would never see my family again.

And just think…the writer of the passage above in quotes will be on a world stage in front of world leaders and informed people and intellectuals, and he will have to speak in front of the whole world, and he will be sitting in private talks with rulers of other countries, talking about his bottom line and our bottom line, running his businesses and our business, and making decisions that will affect him and his businesses and us and our way of life for the rest of our lives.

 

(Copied from dailykos.com story on a New York Times interview transcript with President-elect Donald Trump.)


Sunday After Thanksgiving

The Sunday after Thanksgiving is the last breath out after the gathering of family to eat and share and affirm, and then two days of saying good-bye, left-overs, and a houseful of desserts that can’t be denied. The next breath in will be in preparation for Christmas—putting up the tree, shopping, wrapping, baking (again!), and making more plans. So as I rested on Sunday morning, I mixed it all up—undid the usual, did the unusual.

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I got my first cup of coffee and sat in the living room. I turned on the TV for the local news about thick fog covering up downtown Nashville, a house fire off Briley Parkway, and a wreck with multiple fatalities on I-24. I never turn on the television in the morning. Can’t stand the noise.

I did some quiet planning for the next scene in my novel . . . Chapter 9 about Betsy’s Trunk, and I must admit that this was much fun.

I cooked breakfast, and we ate together, the dog and I. We had eggs, left-over Sister Schubert’s rolls, and “cookie-later.” Cookie-later, said as one word in a high-pitched voice, has a story behind it. Recently, when the pup was in Canine Good Citizen class, we learned the week before the final test that no treats are allowed when commands are completed during the exam. Dogs work for treats, and the better the treat, the harder the dog works. So I had to do something creative. The week before the test, I bought and cooked bacon and taught her that bacon is “cookie-later” and during practice, after she completed a command successfully, I’d say “cookie-later.” Afterwards, I’d give her tiny pieces of bacon. For the test, I rubbed a little bacon on my fingers and after she completed each of the ten steps of the exam, I told her “cookie-later.” She worked like a dog for it.

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I pulled out the crock pot and dropped in all the freshly washed produce not used over Thanksgiving. Soup sounds good for the week: green beans, kale, carrots, onion, celery, leek, and tomatoes, along with some brown rice and already baked chicken breast.

I put all the silver away in its chest. It’s only used once, maybe twice a year. Before Thanksgiving dinner, our new bride put the Wallace sterling forks, knives, and spoons at each place setting. With her recent “I do,” the silver became hers. It was given to my son more than thirty years ago by a woman in our church who had no children to pass it on to.

I folded the clean napkins, kitchen towels, and potholders and put them away. The guest towels and sheets are drying now. The china and wine glasses have been returned to their places.

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Lastly, I’ll store the two pumpkin decorations: the fragmented glass pumpkin and the block of cedar carved into a pumpkin with a chainsaw. I love that pumpkin, mainly because of the unique color of its stem, light creamy green.

I can’t begin to think of Christmas yet. But the next breath in will come soon, and I will gear up.