I feel as though inspite of everything there existed certain advantages in my childhood, among them the nation I was born into and the ability to be something of a feral child whose favorite haunts were the forests, mountains, and rivers.
I was loved and wanted where other children have not been.
A child isn’t aware of poverty or disenfranchisement unless there is something to compare it to.
They are capable of understanding the lack of enough food to go around, shoes and jeans with more holes than fabric or leather, or the lack of adequate heat in the winter, yet in this lack of comparison believe it to be the norm.
My first real glimpse of the land of plenty towns were thought to be came when I was about five.
My grandmother and I had gone to town for a reason long since forgotten, an experience difficult to process as we passed window after window laden with all manner of wonders.
Loaves of bread, stacks of canned goods, bowls of candy, clothing, shoes, hardware, all kinds of appliances, and even toys.
The purpose of a theater requiring an explanation of stories being told in pictures that moved and talked, the art work of posters awash in color and words I could neither read or understand featuring heroes and villains, damsels in distress, scantily clad women, and monsters to be wary of.
And with this a seed of understanding was born, that more than one world existed where comparisons became unavoidable.
I had been taught that I , and as a people, we, were different than others but in a good way, that there were those who agreed we were different but in a bad way.
A difference made manifest by an encounter with a man who we were standing next to telling my grandmother to get that “god damn kid out of the way”.
Realizing I was the god damn kid and thinking I had offered no offense I was stunned, maybe even fearful, but not so grandmother who reacted with a clenched fist and literally put the man squarely on his bigoted ass.
Silence reigned as grandmother stepped in front of me protectively with clinched fists, seconds that seemed like hours passed before someone laughed then another and the tension passed.
I appreciated her response but it wasn’t until later I came to fully understand the risk she had taken, how she had put herself on the line.
It seemed like the return trip home took hours, a time passed in silence with neither of us mentioning the days events.
Shortly after our arrival as I was sitting outside with one of the resident hounds ruminating about what was both an awakening and a personally new experience grandmother came out to join me.
Neither coffee nor sugar were abundant commodities but she handed me a battered tin cup of coffee that was equal parts coffee, sugar, and milk.
Savoring my good fortune I nearly forgot offering to share, but when I did she smiled, thanked me, and said it was for me, she had enough coffee for the day.
Had I of thought about it I would have understood her intent as there was no such thing as too much coffee for grandmother.
Almost as an afterthought she miraculously produced of all things a candy bar, turning it over a time or two in her hand she offered the opinion that I might not actually like candy and if that was so she just might be able to make a trade with someone who did.
A pregnant pause as I searched for the right words and then grandmother asked with a twinkle in her eye did I like candy or not, she couldn’t quite remember?
Candy being more rare than coffee and sugar I said I did and she handed it to me, when she had I asked for a knife she always carried and without questioning she handed it to me.
I then cut the candy bar in equal halves, one for her and one for me.
Being more perceptive as an adult she understood my intent and accepted. I then cut my half into halves and when grandmother asked if I meant to save some for later I told her no it was for my mother.
Gift giving among the nations is seen as an honorable thing with no strings attached, especially when there isn’t much to give, and it’s bad form to question or refuse.
Now some might say grandmother’s declining to share in the coffee violated those tenets – taken in context they didn’t, it was another act of giving.
Or failing to do likewise with her share of the candy, but that could have been interpreted as competitive diminishing my act of gifting – might sound confusing but ultimately it is a sign of respect and culturally easily understood.
So we sat enraptured by the experience of eating our candy engaging in minor conversation about the weather, the hounds, and how the garden would fair that year.
The combination of candy and coffee was a comfort, might have wound me up a little as well as I thanked grandmother saying I was going to take my mother’s share to her.
As I stood up to go grandmother rose, took me by the shoulders staring deep into my eyes as her’s began to moisten and said this is what she meant when saying different in a good way.
We hugged and I headed for the house as grandmother began singing a warrior’s song intended for me – I didn’t make it to the house before tears began flowing from my eyes as I attempted to choke them back.
My mother hearing grandmother’s song stepped out on the porch and as I wiped the tears from my eyes and handed her the candy she began to cry and joined grandmother in singing.
I’ve related this story in the blog before but never to this extent as it is a memory that at times threatens to bring tears to my eyes again and right or wrong there’s that man thing about it isn’t a man’s way to shed tears I’ve adhered to – a sort of vow I made following a beating by my drunken father that there would be no more tears, and if there were to be they would be confined within my heart.
I like all others am the sum total of my experiences and the manner in which we allow them to influence us.
An influence that at one point led to a lot of anger, but an anger set aside to be replaced with passion in the beliefs, opinions I hold, and the things I do – to live not tepidly but as though I mean it.
A passion to do what is right, to be caring and loving in relationships, to work hard and not be dependent, to not lay down in the face of adversity and inequities, to confront wrong and defend what is right.
To forgive when warranted and to hold accountable when it is not, and to be equally accountable if the need arise.
I am born of a woman and a man, but the land is also my mother and I will defend both equally no less than I will my own people, my own family, and make no apologies for doing so.
Have I been ranting? Maybe, but not my intention, merely an attempt to flesh out the “about” others have urged me to and having been read by the “gatherers” and encouraged to post I’ve done that, any shortcomings in doing so or the way I express myself are on me.
I neither seek nor desire expressions of sympathy, the conditions we experience either weaken or strengthen us- I believe they have made me stronger and in a way you may not understand I am grateful for whatever measure of strength I have.
No sour grapes intended, just telling it like was and is.