My parents were hillbillies. Mom from Philippi and Dad from Junior, West Virginia — both coal towns that are as depressed as you can imagine and had been for 50-60 years, since the mines first started closing.
My uncle died of black lung and two of my cousins were killed in an underground explosion outside of Morgantown. Many folks from there, like my family, moved to the Akron, Ohio area to work at the tire factories after mines closed, which eventually shut down as well and moved to Japan.
Dad and Mom were the only educated members of their families. He earned a masters in biochemistry. Mom a bachelors in nursing. Philippi, where we usually stayed on visits from Ohio, was a racist, sundowner town. I remember walking down Main Street with dad as a little kid, just learning to read, and seeing a sign in every store window that read, ‘White Trade Only’. I thought the only thing for sale in them was white and when I asked him why they only sold white stuff he said he would explain it later. I could tell the question upset him.
Dad died when I was 11 from a service connected disability he contracted while in the Navy. He was a ships cook, and a picture he was proud to show me was of him in the ships kitchen with the other cooks who were primarily African Americans, his arms around a couple of their shoulders, all with big smiles. A picture that would make his Klan member brother-in-law’s skin crawl. Dad hated racism, and being an intelligent, educated man didn’t need a reason. He made it a policy in our home that the N-word was tantamount to the F-word and forbidden, and removed anyone, even my uncles, from the house that used it.
Mom went to nursing school in New Jersey and had a similar experience, but was innately a kind and loving person, despite being raised by an abusive, hate-mongering father. She taught nursing for 30 years and didn’t recognize color or race of any of her students who were frequent guests in our home.
I recently saw an unfortunate photograph of a group of men on the steps of one of the states capitals, at a so-called “liberate” protest, waving Nazi and rebel flags, both of which represent a terrible history that defies human understanding.
The Holocaust killed millions of innocent human beings that happened to be different than the self-deluded “authorities” obeying a maniac, not to mention a war that involved an entire world. That one’s easy to define.
The rebel flag, just as reprehensible and apparently flown under the guise of some sort of anti-authoritarian pride, has a personal disgust. I wonder if anyone that flies that flag has actually witnessed or been a part of the degradation of another part of our society, or has read about Emmet Till, seen pictures of lynched men, or has even been to that part of our country where a black jogger is assumed to be a thief and shot down in the street.
Once, in Philippi, walking with my grandfather downtown, a young black man who was walking towards us, stepped off the sidewalk and into the gutter, bowing with his hat in his hand. My despicable grandfather said, “Boy, don’t let the sun set on you in this town.” This poor man just answered, “Yessir.” That was 1959, and we still have people waving and wearing a flag that represents that attitude and rebellion, for the sake of inequality or worse.
Dad moved the family to California for a lot of reasons in 1959: better jobs and weather, and a more tolerant world.
The divisiveness and conspiracy-mongering today in America is heartbreaking, fertilized by websites, news organizations, bloggers and talking heads. While so many of us are removed from friends, family, and unfortunately for some, work, this may be a time and an opportunity to clear our heads from the opinions of advertising shills pretending to offer news. Turn off your screens for a little while; no CNN, no Fox, no MSNBC, Rush, Maddow, or any so-called expert that wants your loyalty.
Read something enlightening. Some history of what made us a great nation, even though we do have some warts. Let’s be honest, generous, compassionate people — like my folks were, and I hope to be. The preamble to the Constitution is a good place to start.