Planning for end-of-life

As we grow older we keep trying to live like we always have lived. We keep trying to clean our houses, bake those cakes, whip up a big Sunday dinner, rearrange the furniture in the house, do that “big clean” that women used to do for their homes, put a new coat of paint on the house in the spring, walk a couple of blocks to the store from home, feed the animals on the farm, herd cattle, play competitive sports, or change a tire or the oil on the car, shop six stores until we find what we want  for our kids, then grandkids. . . the list is endless.

We live that way because all we can judge our future on are what our past experiences were. If we were prolific shoppers we can’t see how that would ever change. If we repaired cars all our lives, we never think that there will come a day when that’s no longer possible. We came from large families and had large families ourselves, and Sunday dinners were the way we met and grew up with our cousins and other relatives so we want to continue those traditions.

What we don’t envision is that our bodies, or our minds, and sometimes both, just . . . wear out. It’s our children, or younger folk who try to convince us that all those things are no longer possible, but we just keep thinking, my legs will get better, my back won’t hurt so much, I’ll feel better tomorrow, I’ll be stronger after I get some sleep, or the catch-all, I just need some rest for a couple of days.

Our minds won’t let us see that we’re winding down even though we probably recognized those same symptoms in our parents, or siblings, or our mates. And, from experience, I can tell you that this is the most frustrating time of life . . . that time when you have to convince someone to do what’s probably best for them while they still have the most control over their lives.

I remember when Daddy, who was driving from the time he was about 14-15 years old (early 1900s), refused to give up driving even though his sight was failing and my sister thought he was going to hurt himself or someone else. For years after he finally stopped driving, he kept up the insurance on his car, which was safely parked at my sister’s home, because he thought he might need it some day; he even kept it maintained and tuned and my brother-in-law would drive it just to keep it working.

My mother was another who wanted to control how she lived even though she lived with me for several years. When my husband’s job transferred him to another state, she was deliberately dragging her feet to stall our moving even after our house was sold. She never moved with me because, being from the south, and we were moving south, she was convinced that she didn’t want to live there ever again. She ended up in a nursing home, more alienated than comfortable, with her mind dwindling years before her body finally gave in.

My eldest sister thought she could stay by herself, but she was never really able to take care of herself so her oldest son and his wife finally convinced her to move in with them.

My sister-in-law tells me that after they convinced her to move in with her, her mother still tried to move the furniture around in the house, or cook big meals (she loved to cook), and walk to the store or around the shopping malls. No matter how many times they told her that she shouldn’t try that she kept trying.

We live according to how we experienced life. We may have bred the best cattle, or run the most lucrative business, or raced the biggest and best cars, or boxed and won weighted titles, but there comes a time when people around us are advising us that, although we had dozens of record hits on the charts over the years, we can no longer hold those notes. The changes in one’s body can no longer absorb those heavy blows of a 20-something-year-old when one is in their 40s or 50s. 

All that money we earned is now being siphoned off by people who are witty and charming and scam artists of the worst kinds, because we can’t see anything but loneliness and yearn for the comfort of a cuddling touch.

I’ve read about the vilest of predators alive. There are actually people who’ve never met you, but who are able to research the public records to find seniors and elders who have homes they still live in and lives they are still capable of managing, being suddenly made homeless. Seniors who become powerless because someone they never knew was legally able to go before a judge and get them labeled as incompetent, along with becoming their power of attorney. Now, with the help of a judge who gets some kind of profit from the process, people can have you evicted and take all your stuff. These horrid people remove the seniors from their homes, have them committed, and take all their property even though they have living children who look in on them to make sure they’re still able to take care of themselves. Even the children are locked out of the proceeds of the house and property because the judge has no honor in overseeing such thefts.

Each generation faces this and few of us are prepared. We don’t have our living trusts and wills done and checked each year to make changes according to the deaths of possible beneficiaries. We live as if we will live forever and some people, like my mother, even refuse to talk about death or preparing for end-of-life events as if ignoring them will keep it from happening.

My sister was recently widowed and I see her now in this horrible pit of decision-making and my heart breaks watching her falter and push back against those who are willing to help her secure the last phase of her life, because she can’t see how quickly her choices have narrowed with the death of her husband. Those around her can see clearly that she will probably be better off to sell her home, bank the money, move in with her daughter (who’s quite willing to take her in), and use that money so that she and her daughter can have fun, or travel, or go to movies, or decorate the homes of people in their community, or just . . . sleep in if they feel like it. Most importantly, she won’t have to pinch pennies for the rest of her life. Too, there’s no more frantic decisions to be made if the roof leaks on her home, or the basement floods, or something happens with the plumbing. But she continually stalls while she rearranges her things as if life will get back to “normal” when there is now a new norm, and she no longer has the control she long ago relinquished to her sweet husband and partner of over 50 years. It is SHE who now has to be the decision-maker and she needs to make the most important decision NOW for what happens in the few years she has left. She no longer has the luxury of being indecisive.

She, also, has a very close friend (they’re both in their eighties) who also lives alone and, although she has considered moving into a more secure environment, she still thinks she’ll be able to manage on her own for a while longer even though she has physical issues that may bring that to an end sooner than she plans. But, like my sister, she’ll walk around her house and away from her phone while people who love and care about her welfare have no way of knowing if either of them are safe as the phone rings on their end and goes to voice mail when they’re checking up on them.

Over the years I’ve seen where parents make changes in their lives to benefit their children while they’re more able-bodied and financially secure, and it has benefitted them all, so I know it’s not only possible, it’s beneficial. They moved in with their children, or moved to a senior residential area, and enjoyed a more carefree life. They removed the worries about their homes being in disrepair, or one of them falling and being unable to reach the phone they left on a nearby table as they lay there for days hoping someone will rescue them; or, someone breaking into their homes because they’re easy targets to nefarious beings who are observing them from a distance and planning to pounce.

I’ve always hoped I’d be a more sensible person when it came to that time of life. That I would have a house where one of my kids will come to live with us and help manage daily life until we were no longer able to do that, and then the kids will have the property to sell and split the profits because I was smart enough to do a living trust as well as a will (to cover what the trust doesn’t).

So, don’t wait until you’re old, or nearing retirement, or retired, or in ill-health, or suffering bouts of forgetfulness that’s actually the beginning of Alzheimer’s. And when someone dies that you have bequeathed something to, you get to remove those people from your trust and reallocate those things to someone else. Be pro-active and prepare your living trust, AND A WILL, and put it on your calendar to review it the same time every year so it becomes habit and when your time on earth ends it’ll be up to date and nothing falls into the state coffers, bypassing your children or loved ones. But most important, no one can come in and take what you’ve worked so hard for and leave you destitute when you need it most.

I sure hope my sister and her friend make those important decisions sooner vs later.



[See:, and also, and also, and also]

Key words: Death, living trusts, living will, elder abuse, end of life issues, elder predators, dishonest judges

who are you?

So, I am:

Ever curious

A dreamer and deep thinker

A person who feels loved

I’m an avid, voracious reader and always had, and will always have something to read nearby

I am a writer of unpublished works

I am the author of published works

I am a writer who can get stuck in the mire of unlimited editing

I absolutely love learning and education and feel most at home in a classroom environment

I am an educator who loved designing my curriculums more than students appreciated what was in them

I love, love doing research on many topics

I’m a poet and in my head a song writer

I like the exchange between people I’ve met on FaceBook and Twitter but know when to cut all that negative data off and re-energize what they can zap from my spirit

I love that second and third cousins have found me through FaceBook and we’ve developed relationships

I like my phone but it’s the first thing I put aside when someone is talking to me

I love that I will never stop learning and feel that childish response to learning new things

I am a keeper of secrets, but know that those particular secrets are only unspoken thoughts and not words that involve the lives of people I know

I love giggling babies, being needed, being useful, and being able to share knowledge

I love creating various forms of art, sewing, and crochet

I am a good cook, love to see people enjoy my foods, and am learning to experiment with different foods

I am not a vengeful person, but I am someone who will step quietly out of your life and remove all traces of myself if you deliberately hurt me because you don’t do that to someone you care about

I chose to surround myself with loving, fun, humorous people and have no use for mean spirited or violent people

I am someone who feels honored to have kids and young people CHOSE to include me as extended family by calling me “mom” and “auntie.” I’m adjusting to being delegated the new role of “Mama Carol,” and hope to earn the right to be called that before I return home.

I am a mother to all who ask that of me for as long as they need it

I am a mother who parents according to the needs of each adult in my life that I once called my child

I’m a mother who has loved her children during their worst moments

I am a wife of almost 40 years to a man I continue to make happy and successful in spite of himself

I love nature, rocks, trees in all their seasons, space, the wind, and songs from various genre’ and cultures

I do not clamor to be in the company of others as I’m comfortable in my own silence

I am different things to different people and marvel that I understand the depth of how humans are always in relation to one another and appreciate how true conversations, meaningful conversations have no beginning nor end, they are always somewhere in between.

June 20, 2019

Resumés and Journals and Tax Returns: Through the Eyes of an Elder

This conversation is going to transition, so be aware of that now.

I’ll begin by the thought that we don’t think much about having to redo our resumés when we’re looking for a new job. We pull out the old one and add the new information, drop off some of the old stuff (so we won’t look our actually ages on paper), and keep going.

There will come a time when you don’t have to worry about that any more then you’ll rethink what that means/meant to you to have a resumés, sort of like I’m doing right now.

What redoing my resumé meant was remembering where I started from, where I used to live, what skills I learned and when I learned them, who my old bosses were, how much money I used to make, how my income steadily increased with new jobs/responsibilities, when I got another degree, where and when I went to school to get those degrees, how I became my own boss—sort of, when I became a teacher and changed my professional trajectory. It’s like a tracking system of how we move and advance in life.

That teacher memory brings up another thought. When we lived in Cleveland, one day my mother sent me to the corner store (but I think it was further away than the actual corner). When I got the bread (Wonder Bread which promised “How to grow stronger 8 ways!”) and went to the counter to pay, there were two Black men there, one was the clerk and another was either another customer or a friend stopping by to talk with the clerk because business was slow. They told me how pretty I was (instantly discomfort in an unexpected compliment) and told me my glasses made me look smart. One said, “you’re going to be a school teacher one day,” and they both chuckled as they clerk gave me my change and I left the store in a trot; I later journaled that in my cot in the corner of the room I shared with my eldest sister and the crib my newborn nephew slept in. True to his prediction, I became a teacher—how odd is that!

That cot in the corner of the room (it was originally a living room, but there were a lot of us together) was also the place our alley cat, Smokey, would end up, under the covers by my feet when he finally found his way back at night and crawled through the window my brothers left cracked open for that purpose even in winter, especially in winter, on cold nights. When our neighbors killed Smokey because they weaselly-assed dog used to pick fights when him and Smokey would kick his butt, I became allergic to cats.

When you get to be an elder—Elder—you see things differently. I see these young people who don’t see their worth because they don’t remember how little they were worth when they started. I see people looking at jobs they have and complaining about the imperfections they have to deal with daily because the white workers work less and get better/faster raises and promotions and they’re left doing all the work, but they’re not remembering the jobs they USED to have and learned to do better. I see them complaining about making (for example) $15/hour when what they should be noticing is that the $15/hour is double what they made two years before. Resumés are a refresher, a look at what you had versus what you now want, and a reminder of where you want to be—eventually. 

I kept my tax returns from the time I first did them and looked at them with the same awe I now look at my old resumés, because they show how my job titles got better, my income increased, my deductions increased—then decreased over the years, where I live changed every ten years or so. But it’s like a financial skeleton of my life because what’s not seen is the number of people I’ve met and interacted with in those jobs of living situations, the many names I cannot even remember and wish I had journaled regularly so I could recall.

Oddly enough, this (free form) reflection brings up two interesting memories for me involving white men. In my late twenties, early thirties, I was on jury duty in the San Diego courts and during a break we were all sitting in the hallway waiting to be called back in. I, of course, was reading a novel (always carried books with me to read in odd times/places) when this white guy, middle aged, nice looking, came and sat down next to me and started talking to me with intention—like he knew me. In my periphery I remember seeing him zigzag his way through the crowd of jurors towards me sitting almost alone on a bench against the windowed wall. I was surprised, but responded friendly, yet in monotones because, although he looked really familiar (that “name on the tip of my tongue” familiar), I couldn’t place him. After each (non)response, I’d go back to me book and finally he got up and left, walking down the corridor away from the group of us jurors. My thought was that if he knew me why didn’t he say something like “remember me, we met . . .,” but he never did; that meeting haunts me today because I know he intentionallysat down to talk with me and I have no idea to this day who he was and why he singled me out.

The second time was when I got back to San Diego after moving back from Memphis in 2010. I was at Costco off Rosecrans in San Diego and someone called my name and I turned and looked at this white guy, maybe in his 60s, nice looking, smiling brightly at me. I’d been gone so long and as a teacher had seen/met so many people, but I just KNEW I knew him, although I couldn’t place him. At first, I thought he was Eric’s mate, John, and called him that, but something kept nagging me mentally that said that wasn’t his name. He never corrected me and just smiled when I called him John, and kept small talking with “haven’t seen you in a long time,” kind of chatter. He really didn’t say anything that gave me an idea of where we knew each other and we must have chatted 3-4 minutes, which is really a long time in a store aisle. Finally, I began to feel really uncomfortable because I couldn’t quite place him and subconsciously I knew “John” probably wasn’t his name, so I made excuses to leave and he hugged me and went his own way; we never even ran into each other in another aisle even though I looked for him again thinking I had gathered enough nerve to ask him if John really was his name.

These things, I think, are part of restoring memories—like journaling, like resumés, like tax returns. For every resumé I can remember where I was and mentally see my surroundings. My tax returns reflect the moves I’ve made over the years and when my family size increase and decreased, and when my name changed to join André’s. 

My journal attempts are spotty, but I learned as a kid to not keep them when my mother, after one of her surprised moves (came home from school to an already loaded truck) to another apartment, during which in the packing she found my journals and destroyed them along with the short stories and a novel I worked on constantly. She didn’t like what I thought or wrote, but they weren’t for her, and the sheer amount of work she destroyed (we lived on East 100thStreet in Cleveland) ruined journaling for me forever. She also ruined one of my daughter’s journaling efforts when she climbed the stairs (she was forbidden from doing that because of her health), and went through her room like some thief in the night, found and read her journal and after my “no, I won’t, it’s HER journal,” protests she kept insisting that it was a safety issue, so I caved. It wasn’t, rather it was something my daughter wrote that my mother didn’t approve of (just like she did me as a kid), but my daughter stopped journaling after that.

Anyway, this, in a rambling sort of way, is a connection of why we remember what we do and fail to remember what we don’t. For me, I wish I could remember all the names of the people I worked with, how much money I made in all my early jobs, all the addresses of the houses I lived in, and a white guy in the hallway in the San Diego Court on Broadway, and a white guy who stopped me in the aisle at Costco by calling my name.

Hiding our truths (aka becoming fully human)

There was a post going around on FaceBook that invited women to state their truths about how they are learning to love themselves so I used the post as a starter for my truths. Here’s what some reflections revealed:

I’m (still learning to be) in LOVE with the BRAVE WOMAN in this picture (a teenager dressed for senior prom), sort of like a late-term birthing.

In life I’ve betrayed her because I’ve not loved her at full capacity. From childhood I watched her, once terribly shy (until she had children), develop a public face, a smiling face, while holding her body passive, unthreatening, to the white world in order to pacify, mollify, coddle her white peers. 

I’ve fed her lies and too many times told her she wasn’t good enough. I’ve allowed her to be broken by her own insecurities, or the aggressions of others. I’ve allowed her to run through brick walls of the legal system and into battle for others within a system that won’t give her equal treatment. I couldn’t stop individuals from abandoning her, yet I’ve seen her still get up to be a light to the world and love others despite all. I’ve watched her fight for her life or to benefit of her children (or children she’s taken in) while my inner-self was paralyzed by fear as she faced fears alone.

I can remember her being trapped in a room in a boarding house as an elementary school-aged kid by a man who rented out a room off the kitchen and not knowing how to get out, and the relief she felt when her older brother found and rescued her in time to prevent a more traumatic outcome. And I can remember her brother’s intensity, mean, palpable, towards that man and her having only a vague idea of why he (only two years older) was so upset. She later described her brother as one of her earth angels, and I was proud of her for that.

There are so few things I remember being proud of her for as a kid and young person, but one was her intuition. I’ve recoiled at unwanted touches from powerful men, but felt I had to show a “societal” smiling face in order to allow the men to remain intact. I can remember her meeting prominent men in social situations who, when introduced to her (as a young adult), shook her hand in that secretive handshake men used to have when they would bend their middle finger in a handshake to “tickle” the palm of a woman to signal that they wanted her. Those feigned handshakes would always shock her, always shock her responses and make her snatch her hand away—all the while smiling and hoping they made a mistake, or she imagined it because they were worldly, well-known, prominent, and she was just… her, meek, mild, with a learned social smile, and quite unaware of her beauty and intelligence.

I can still feel her sorrow when, in her early twenties, she turned down a scholarship at Marquette University because it required three trips to a psychiatrist for his approval, because after the first visit he began to schedule the appointments after normal work hours and when no one was in the building, so she felt unsafe and knew no one would take her word over his—a white man—an old white man—and old professional white man—an old professional white man with an established career—if he decided to cross the lines of decency, all the while knowing he was holding onto the power he held in whether or not she passed his muster, but her strong intuition got the better of her and, out of fear for her safety, she stopped going into what she unconsciously felt was entrapment. I can still feel her sorry when she lost her scholarship because she trusted her intuition, but when questioned by the scholarship committee representative (who called her several times) could not tell them, nor her mother, why.

I remember her first day teaching when she questioned whether or not she could be good at it because she felt she knew so little; felt the sweat drip beneath her arms and stain her dress—she NEVER sweated. And even when she got good at it, she felt humbled by it all, always thinking others knew more, were better teachers, even when introducing a different style of teaching (more conducive to the twentieth century).

From deep inside her psyche I’ve watched her show a brave face when she tried to protest the mistreatment of other (white) women only to have them turn against her when they were questioned to her truthfulness of THEIR situation. 

I’ve quieted my inner voice from shouting that some child was harmed because I had no proof other than what I intuited through intuition so immediate, so violent that it took my breath away, all while watching a man grin in my face knowing I could do nothing; I’ve cried the tears of the helpless and prayed unanswered prayers. I felt her steel her body as youngsters shared their experiences of violence, rape, and the aggression of adults as she comforted them with her only tools—words of warmth, hope, encouraging trust.

For most of their growing years, I’ve watched her parent her children—all the while questioning every decision being the best for that particular child in that particular situation. I was proud of her when she learned to apologize to her children when she felt she overreacted, just as I was proud of her when she learned to discipline with time-outs and take-aways instead of whippings like her mother taught her.

I ask my younger self to forgive me for not going to war for her like one would do for others. I’ve accepted less-than the best behaviors from others around me for the sake of keeping peace. I’ve settled for peace when goodness was a better option. I’ve hidden my light to make the light of others shine brighter. I’ve withheld my truth to prevent others from correcting me with their experience or observations of that same event.

There are many things I’ve grown to love about her as she’s aged like when she approaches random women (usually while shopping) and tells them that their hairdo, or dress, or shoes, are beautiful, knowing that that compliment may be the only one they get to reassure them of their value. I love the way she remembers to tell her children and friends that she loves them when leaving their presence or ending a conversation, when that affirmation was never modeled to her by her mother. 

My younger self still sits in the background of her truth as she becomes an elder (a very reluctant one at that) and I love the way she tries still, even in retirement, tries to connect people with resources they need and will take the time to find out how to help them.

Yet, still, in some ways I fear her. I fear that one day she will cease withholding her thoughts, words, reactions to events around her and unleash all those thoughts, words and reactions she wanted to let go of decades ago. That she will reveal her inner thoughts that still pain her; secrets valuable only to herself. This, unfortunately, is because I know that she still fears being disliked for saying what she really thinks and feels, which is sad because she knows she has fewer years ahead than behind her. Perhaps she is still struggling to be fully human (as her Dakota friend describes).

What I now know is truth is that she is a queen, and this queen is a self-taught warrior. She’s not perfect but the Master has deemed her worthy! Gracefully broken but beautifully standing. Still healing and finding her way.

She is love. She GIVES love. She is life. She GIVES life. She is transformation. She pushes for the transformation of others into their better selves. She is grace. She is BRAVE! She stores her stock before there is any rain. Who wouldn’t fall in love with her for a lifetime? 

#IamShe #LoveThyself #SlowlyEmerging

What Purpose Do Men REALLY Serve?

I recently read an article (September 20, 2018) by Faima Bakar titled, “It is not a woman’s responsibility to make a man a better human being.” It hit me at an uncomfortable place, maybe because of where I am in my life right now.

The title, in itself, is so true and yet we’re taught that from such a gender age that we don’t even realize how imprinted it is on our psyche when we finally wander into our own relationships.

You hear about how some woman was credited with how she “turned her man around” and made him a good guy (didn’t Kirk Franklin say this when he was in deep do-do?).  What kind of stress does this put on women to feel as though they are totally responsible for holding families together?

And if my kids are happy, my guy is happy, the dogs are happy, the in-laws are ecstatic–who gets the credit for that—not the woman, for sure, because the happiness of a family is almost always attributed to the husband (he provides well; head of the house).

In this article, Third Force (aka Naledi Mashishi) Tweeted: “Ariana Grande being blamed is [symptomatic] of a society where women are expected to be mothers, housekeepers, therapists, and rehab centers for the men they date.”There is all sorts of truth in this as with her other insightful questions about our role as nurturers. Men are entitled, societally enabled to be weak because they surround themselves with women who need to carry them no matter the strain on the woman’s own personal health and well-being.
When I hear about that age-old happy wife=happy life adage I not only shudder, I wonder, too, what message did I send to my boys when they were growing up with me as a single mother? Did I make it look as if they didn’t need to work hard to make their mates happy because I made it look easy—that I could do it all by myself? If my son doesn’t help his wife clean the kitchen, sweep, vacuum, clean the toilet or shower or sink or back porch or windows without being told or directed, is that because I didn’t teach him well, or because I did it all?

When a man walks into an already formed family and sees the woman run the whole shebang by herself, is he more likely to become enamored with what he sees as having nothing to do, no physical role to take on or “receive” and not give because… strong Black woman does it all?

The question in Faima Bakar’s article, “Why do we not push men to be more nurturing of relationships?” is more than valid. We already know that we (women) are almost solely responsible for teaching our male children to NOT abuse women because so many boys are reared without a strong male role model and teaching presence. Now we have more responsibilities to make them that ideal guy for some woman they pick?

And let us not overlook the “strong Black woman” image. So many times we hear about the “strong Black woman” and the positive impact she was on her family–her kids. I wonder, when I see my girls trying to “fix” some guy to be his better self, I wonder how much I’m to blame for this. Was it my role modeling? Did I subconsciously say one thing but modeled another?

Who teaches our boys who are reared in a majority female household to NOT be abusive and to nurture their relationships, and NOT treat them to mother their own children, be their personal therapists, or rehab them when they are broken? And, when our girls bring them home with that big smile on their faces because they found “the one,” and we see behind that temporary façade the brokenness shadowing in the eyes of these newly minted grown men, how do we disentangle the messiness that is soon to come before much damage is done to our girl children?

WTF is the role of the males in our society? Are we merely succor for them in their weaknesses? Or, are they just responsible for taking and making babies for us to raise? And, just as important, why are women blamed when they bail just to preserve their own sanity?

[BTW: If you think you’re the exception, please don’t post something self-serving. Let’s have a real discussion. Thanks]






Hitting Your F**kIt Stage of Live

I recently spent an amazing ten days with my sister-in-law, Ferne, in Milwaukee as a treat from her for my XXth birthday. I don’t use the word, amazing, frivolously. Ten days that went entirely too fast.

Ferne Caulker Bronson is the founder and director of the Kothi African Dance Troupe out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which will be celebrating it’s 50th year in 2019. FIFTY years… for an African dance troupe in a (majority) white institution. That’s history-making!

From the time I disembarked from the plane, I understood the importance of Ferne. The aide who pushed my wheelchair (I’ve got back issues) from the plane to the luggage claim saw Ferne waving to me and said (in his thick African accent), “You know FERNE!” That surprised me and I said yes. He continued to inform me that “She is big in Milwaukee. BIG!” He embraced her when we met up and reminded her how he knew her. This kind of greeting happened almost every place we went, even in Michael’s crafts store. Each person excited to recall to her how or when they met, and who they knew in common. She is celebrated.

Most of my young adult years were spent in Milwaukee and I graduated from North Division High School back in the 60s. While there on this particular visit, however, I only reached out to one former schoolmate, but she didn’t respond to my call and text until weeks after I returned home, so other than my family, my time was spent with shadowing Ferne. Ferne, I found out, casts a very large shadow for such a small woman.

Ferne was my shaman (shawoman?) in that she pushed me to see through my reluctance to see what was right in front of me in how I was living my life; not so much as unhappily as it is just not as full as it should be at my age.

Every day she promised that the next day we would spend eating leftovers and sitting on the patio looking at the wildlife just arms length from her back door, but every day was a whirlwind of places to go, people to see, foods to experience, new African words for me to hear (I’ll never remember them all, especially for all the drum names). Living such a full life seemed like a distant, but enjoyable, memory and I thought about what I had given up to retire to a place that has no social connections for me, nor family nearby.

I’m living a rather reclusive life now where even the thought of working in some capacity at our church isn’t feasible or viable because of the distance to get there, and the lack of transportation to make that happen. I realized that how I live is not what I honed my skills for so long to end up doing. She kidded me with a job offer to manage her upcoming grant that will be funded next spring… or was she kidding??? I’ve got a few months to figure it out.

My after-visit thoughts center on what I want the rest of my life to look like, and I know it has to be, at the very least, completing my doctorate, which I can do here because of the quiet and lack of demands that once filled my life. I can remember any visit I made to Milwaukee in the past 55+ years that I felt it was as welcoming as it was this past trip; it really felt like home.

I have no children to rear, no volunteer work to do, no neighbors to visit, no immediate improvements on my house to make, no ramblings around to get to know the city during the day, no friends to see. Does one with all my education, skills, training, abilities, stifle all that to become a house maid in a house that feels like a prison in spite of the beauty of my surroundings. Is being unproductive enough anymore?

In my musings, I realize that being needed, or in service, lasts until the end. It doesn’t stop because of some magic age, nor circumstance in which one voluntarily posits themselves. It doesn’t have laurels upon which to rest. It is fluid… like life.

Ferne took me to African (for yummy oxtails), Indian, Asian restaurants, had me accompany her to watch her dance troupe practice (and I did so completely enthralled), forced me to be pampered with nails being done, and then on to her personal mate who adores and dotes on her, and who is still a full time, working master barber to do my hair.

We entertained with other family and bonded again over red beans, rice, cornbread, fried chicken, and caramel cake. Most of all we laughed and laughed and laughed; we cry-laughed and fart-laughed, and could break out in spontaneous laughter at nothing at all. It was ten days of living–experiencing–the antithesis of my life at home.

My sister/sista lives life to the fullest and continually bugged me with questions like, “what do you WANT, my Sista’?,” in her revived African accent, which always set me into the giggles as she pushed me to examine where I wanted to be in my life at this age.  It was jarring and uncomfortable at times, but necessary. Every woman needs another woman to push them with love. Every. Woman. Needs this. We should never live out our lives feeling like we’re missing out, or that we haven’t given all we were trained/experienced to give.

While there I felt free, unencumbered, necessary, cared for, loved in a way only a person who wants nothing in return but to see you happy can give to you. When I left I felt full with a lot to process.

Now I’ve got to work on having my life mean something; having it full; having it filled with laughter and occasional abandonment of mundane tasks; back into service. This is my #F**kIt stage of life and, thanks to Ferne, I’m working on myself.


The ammo used to shoot the lemon in this graphic is called a “Radically Invasive Projectile” (RIP, get it?); it is a copper bullet that explodes when it hits a target (i.e., a human being) sending pieces screaming through vital organs and clearing a path for the bullet’s core to travel deeper through a person.

I’d also like to add that the military group that this kind of weaponry is made for is FOCUSED on one thing, the enemy. When both the military and law enforcement train, they are focused on possible threats to their welfare, and if you’re already scared of Group A or Group B, you’re looking for something within that group that will trigger those fears (hence white cops shoot unarmed Black people).

Arming teachers totally removes their main focus and many will be led to perceive the slightest things as a threat. If a teacher works with kids from Group A, for example, and has taken a lot of guff from one of them, they switch their thinking to what they’ve been taught about “possible threats,” and that kid can become the enemy, a threat, in the blink of an eye.

There are many people, male and female, who make excellent soldiers and law enforcement officers, but wouldn’t make good teachers, and vice versa. Just giving someone a gun can NEVER prepare you for what it can do. Also, keep in mind that all who serve are NOT brave, nor heroes, just ordinary people trying to live another day.

The minute a teacher is in the midst of a roomful of screaming, panicking, injured kids, that gun will be the last thing on their minds, just like that deputy. That fear of being hurt is real and you can’t pay someone $40K(+/-) and expect them to do double duty as an armed guard AND a teacher; it’s not only not fair nor just, it isn’t on their job descriptions.

And, I have other questions like, how will the schools afford the liability of arming teachers? How will they afford the onslaught of law suits for drawing a weapon in a situation that wouldn’t ordinarily call for such extreme behavior?

Better yet: How can you prepare a teacher to KILL someone? In those cases of being attacked, that’s the purpose of a weapon (if you haven’t considered this) is to kill, not to maim, not to distract, not to disarm. KILL! And with death comes images that you will NEVER erase from your memory. That’s not TV stuff to see body parts scattered around you, that’s a life-altering event, one even law enforcement and military have to have therapy for to treat the PTSD that goes along with that.

Few soldiers come back from active engaged military duty and want to sign up for killing people again; most come back with PTSD from seeing all the blood and gore they experienced. Our country needs to STOP taking directions from a man (whose name I refuse to write here) who has never served a day of military service, nor law enforcement, in his life. This man has shot inanimate things, but I can’t believe that he’s ever seen a head, body, or limb, explode in front of him and be left with those images.

Like we see on many of the memes going around now (about low pay for teachers), if you can’t afford to pay teachers decent salaries, nor give them access to the newest books and classroom supplies, how DARE you say that you’re willing to spend $20-40K on EVERY SINGLE gun. How DARE you tell me that my kids and family who are teachers will become involuntary killers! That chit changes people–PERMANENTLY.

There Was a Time When White Men Were Brave

There has been a system of slavery evolving, no, maybe more like metamorphosing, since white men invaded this country beginning with Benjamin Rush, who one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (called the Father of American Psychiatry). It was Rush who believed that Africans “possessed illnesses that were peculiar to the Negro race of humanity” (Guthrie, 1998, p. 116), and when he went about publishing and speaking about such ignorant beliefs, he helped lay the foundation for the systemic war against Blacks and freedoms.

The first system to gain footing in the US was enslavement, which was made legal through laws created by white men. Secondly, there was a legal system instituted to incarcerate Blacks who fought against the system to be committed into asylums, and because one white man taught others that any slave wanting to be free was insane, it became a tradition and this (albeit irrational) belief was, again, supported by various new laws. Today, these institutionalized, systemic injustices are acted out in the form of incarceration of Black (mainly) men into prisons with sentences that far exceed many of the crimes committed—IF they actually committed a crime.

What all these systems have in common is 1) that they continue to allow Blacks to be held indefinitely and without being sentenced, 2) religion was and continues to be used to support the white right to commit these vile acts, and 3) the Blacks held captive under all systems were made to work for white owners, without remunerations, and mainly in inhumane conditions. All of them.

The numerous, complex and inhumane ways white people used to keep Black people in slavery probably can’t ever be compiled into one document, but they included heinous acts upon Blacks such as lynching, whipping, dismembering, maiming, branding, castration, encasing them in iron fetters, branding, restricting food, restricting nutritious foods, condemning them to work from sun up until sun down (sun-to-sun), being separated from their children and/or spouses, denying medical treatment (for generations), denying them clothing (including shoes) appropriate for the weather, instituting a system of payment for good and services that always kept Black workers indebted to whites, making it illegal for Blacks to leave the land of the slave owners by threat of imprisonment, cutting the Achilles heel(s) of any person disobeying the boundaries of the plantation by going beyond it, making it illegal to communicate with freedmen, beating or death, beating AND death, raping women and children, forcing the Black youngsters to do small tasks in the fields as soon as they could walk, and even using the Black children for alligator bait.

Because illiteracy was so widespread, many illiterate whites were taught to believe that if you whipped a slave long enough, and preached God’s word of obedience long enough, the slave would be brought to their senses, understand the evil of their ways, and correct their misguided behaviors; that belief was taught, re-taught, and passed on for generations.

In order to control the slaves, who were also largely illiterate, slave owners preached to them by reading scriptures of servitude and obedience on a regular basis. Sometimes the slave owners allowed Black preachers to come to their plantations to preach, but dictated what parts of the Bible they wanted to be used. In particular, they emphasized passages like “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5), or “tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect” (Titus 2:9). Christians who wanted to preserve slavery had the words of the Bible to back them up.

But for all this evil, there were occasional beams of bright lights of hopefulness, brilliance, amongst the weariness of the lives of slaves. For now, I’m just going to focus on just one of the many examples that stood out for me as a testament to what white men can do when they stand against the evils of other powerful white men; who actually outnumber the white men causing death and destruction in their wake.

Let me begin by explaining the basic thinking that went into the enslavement of Blacks. For many whites, slavery was an entitlement because Blacks were incapable of fending for themselves, and/or they were less than human. According to Guthrie (1998):

Supporters of slavery struggled to explain why slaves were running away… They attempted to prove scientifically that their earlier exhortations of the happy slave were truthful and that the South was a “rightful” milieu and that servitude was the rightful condition for the African. One such medical authority went so far to declare that the “Negro’s brain froze in cold climate, inducing insanity” and urged, “out of kindness to the Negro, that he be kept in the South.”[1] These supporters of slavery felt that servitude fulfilled God’s designated role because the African was cursed to be a submissive “knee bender” requiring the control of others. As frustrated slave owners searched to explain why supposedly contented and happy slaves would want to run away or escape bondage, accusations were leveled at the border state slave owners, claiming that they created the problem by being too lenient, treating them as equals, and “making little or no distinction in regard to color.”

This set the stage for another physician, Dr. Samuel Cartwright, to make remarkable claims that the slave’s running away indicated a mental disorder called drapetomania[2], which he said was common to Blacks and to cats.[3] (Guthrie, p. 116).

Dr. Cartwright advised slave owners to whip slaves who became “sulky and dissatisfied… as a preventive measure against absconding, or other bad conduct. It was called whipping the devil out of them.” (Guthrie, p. 116).

Although it was thought to have happened prior to this time, in 1897 a Virginia slave named Henry Brown arranged to escape from freedom by having himself shipped like freight in a small wooden crate from the plantation of his owner to be received by a Quaker merchant and several abolitionists in Philadelphia; it took 26 hours of misery for that journey. His escape involved white men for both sending and receiving his body.

Fast forward to 60 years later: In 1957, a Black man named Arrington High lived in Whitfield, MS. Arrington had been committed to the Mississippi State Hospital for the Insane solely (near Jackson, MS and the Terrapin Skin Creek) because he was leading protests against the ill treatment of Blacks in the south. It was common knowledge to whites that anyone seeking to flee the south was insane (it was medically labeled Drapetomania. It was also common knowledge to all, Black and white, that anyone going into that hospital never returned.

Arrington High was the publisher of Eagle Eye (a mimeographed flyer more than a newspaper) for fourteen years. His commitment to the asylum was due to him exposing the segregationists who were seeking out Black women prostitutes for sex at an establishment that catered to politicians. In October of 1957 he was committed to the asylum for “the remainder of his life,” he was 47 years old. The asylum was more than 15 miles from the nearest city, and Blacks had little to no means of transportation in (or to) that area (Wilkerson, p. 351).

Fortunately, and although it took four months to plan, a coordinated effort of five brave white men in MS arranged for his escape by driving five cars in a caravan near the asylum where they met him early one morning. He got into one of the cars and they drove him (careful to obey the speed limits) to the state line. He was told to get out and walk across to the Alabama state line where he was met with five different cars with Alabama license plates; four of those were driven by white men, the fifth was driven by a Black man so that there was no attention called to a Black man riding in a car with white men. Once in Alabama he was put into a pine coffin equipped with air holes, it was nailed shut, and he was put on a railroad car for a FIFTEEN HOUR ride to Chicago. While in the coffin he was unable to make a sound, was unable to turn over, and had to lay still. Once the train left the station, a Black physician, Dr. Howard, who was to receive the coffin, was telephoned with the code words, “The Eagle has flown the coop.”[4]

Even though this happened in the post-slave era that was just six years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is well documented that even post-slavery whites made it physically and legally difficult for Blacks to live free and without harassment

Now, 54 years later, there seems to be a political bent to revise these old beliefs and conditions by dehumanizing people of color, and by damaging, misdirecting funds, and/or gutting the education systems for the poor and making it available only to the wealthy. We must not let this prevail!


[1] Quote from S.A. Cartwright, “Essays, being inductions drawn from the Baconian philosophy proving the truth of the Bible and the justice and benevolence of the decree dooming Canaan to be servant of servants; and answering the question of Voltaire… From a series of letters to the Rev. William Winans… Vidalia, LA, 1893. [NOTE: The Baconian method was a means of studying and interpreting natural phenomena.]

[2] Drapetomania, defined by Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright in 1851, was assigned to runaway slaves as a mental illness (in the early editions of the DSM for psychological disorders) and type of mania for wandering behavior, given to one with an uncontrollable urge to travel.

[3] Guthrie, Robert V. (1998). Even the Rat was White: A historical view of psychology (2nd ed). Allyn & Bacon (eds). Needham Heights, MA.

[4] Wilkerson, Isabel (2010). The Warmth of Other Suns: The epic story of America’s Great Migration. Random House, Vintage Books, New York, NY.

Flashback of Walking While Black

From: “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson (p. 335)

FLASHBACK of this scenario (above): Twenty or so years after this incident happened to Ida Mae in Chicago, I’m in (nearby) Milwaukee, WI riding the bus, which I didn’t do that often (I had a car early on). Somehow, I missed my stop (don’t remember where I was going) and got off the bus to walk back to where I could catch a connecting bus on the right route.

It’s summer and I’m dressed real cute, but I’m lost in my own mental reverie when subconsciously I began, not so much noticing, but FEELING that people, white people, are coming out of their houses to stare at me as I make my way down the street. It was like someone had a telephone tree, or some secret signal that a Black person was walking in the neighborhood. I got more afraid the further down the block I walked while trying to find a bus stop or phone booth, but now I’m walking with my head up and ears alert because I’m scared shitless and don’t even know where I am; no phone booth in sight and the street looked miles long, but I’m trying my damnedest to look brave and fearless [I know I must have failed miserably].

Suddenly, a car pulls alongside of me and a Black man leans over, rolls down the window, and said, “you look lost, wanna ride?” Now I’m thinking I’m in a really bad situation and if I disappeared no one would know it was simply me getting off the bus in the wrong neighborhood.

I quicken my pace, but he keeps up with me and he says something like, “I know you don’t live around here. You don’t have to be afraid of me. Here… (he holds his wallet towards the window) you can see who I am and where I live. I’m not going to hurt you. I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”

I slow down, trying to keep from crying [I’m in my teens] and finally relent and get into the car because I’m seeing too many white folks, some holding rakes standing in their yards [perhaps they were gardening?] and I make a choice to trust this Black man and got into the car.

He said he would take me either to a bus stop or to my home, wherever I wanted to go, but he wanted to make sure I was safe. He asked my name, I only gave him my first name, and he took me back to a neighborhood where I knew my surroundings. I hugged the door handle [did that years earlier in my bio-father’s car—another story, another time] the whole I was in his car. By the time I got out of the car I was so stiff with fright that my bones were locked in place and you could have snapped me like a twig just by slapping me on the back.

I don’t remember his name at all, but when I got over my fright, I was thankful that he got me out of that scary place (that really wasn’t that far from where I lived at that time). I never told my mother because I was embarrassed to say that I got lost in the city.

What This Picture Represents


What This Picture Represents

This picture, or rather, pictures of Blacks in the south such as these, have been used for years to capitalize on how Blacks are incapable of pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps, as it were.

In reality, what this picture (and others like it of that post-slave era) shows is NOT how backwards Black people were, rather, it shows that no matter how little they had, they literally put sticks together to provide shelter for their families. They cut down trees to build their own cottages and shingled them as best they could.

What the pictures don’t say or show is how whites (#wp) have worked as a group (with a few outliers) to keep people of color (#POC) oppressed. For example, POC were routinely denied proper clothing so they learned to soften burlap bags (aka croaker sacks), dye them using natural coloring, and design their own clothes. Routinely #wp, pre- and post-colonial era, ran “tabs” of debts that they used to accuse POC, particularly Black people (#Bp), of owning them after their harvests, because as long as Blacks owed debt they were not allowed to leave (by law) that farmer’s property. Hence, Black people would work from sun-to-sun (sun up to sunset) and #wp would give them pennies on the dollar for their share of labor, whereas they would give white workers the standard pay.

Another example is if the Black worker (#Bw) picked 100 lbs. of cotton and cotton was valued at 25-cents per 100 lbs., the white worker would get the 25-cents for his 100 lbs of cotton picked, but the #Bw may only get 5-cents for the same 100 lbs. picked. Added to that, the farmer (plantation owner, slaver) would “supply” the workers with food and cloth, but charge exorbitant rates for their purchases so that after harvest the #Bw would still owe for the food, or tools, or cloth.

So #Bp would garden, soften burlap, and whittle or forge their own tools in order to survive. There was a time when #wp would charge #Bp, or even imprison them for cutting down trees for their shelter. When they became adapt at short-cutting, or circumventing, some laws or traditions controlled by #wp, often #wp would find a reason to riot. There was no law enforcement representative who would or could help #Bp fight for their rights (because most were white supremacists), nor courts to enforce any law suits against white landowners (regardless of whether or not they owned slaves). Additionally, Blacks were prohibited from owing guns (and sometimes knives) to protect themselves.

There were even more petty laws forbidding #Bp from looking directly into the eyes of #wp, laws restricting every way of life that made living worthwhile was used to dampen and defeat Black people, but they were resilient and circumvented what was in order to create alternative routes to accomplish what they wanted.

No, in my eyes, the picture doesn’t show defeated Blacks, as some might see, but shows their pride in being able to create a home and family amidst the cruelty of white rule.

[Picture from:]

Tiptoeing through the maze that is my mind

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