Allow me to explain myself. I am located at the conclusion of a lengthy direct line of lineage piled up with (Carolina) Southern Dixiecrats and talcum-powdered ladies. I’ve lived my life as the lone Damned Yankee seeking to cauterize subtle family dissensions and outrageous stereotypical mind-sets, as in “enough is enough!” I admit that I judge myself as trapped in a one-of-a kind type of ethnicity in such a difficult to define breed that I am in a perpetual race to quell my own polarized tendencies. I struggle to find my original soul. I strive to function unsuccessfully as the diplomatic “missing link”.
On those long walks to and from a Hoosier grammar school in the 50s, I literally suffered, yet endured, misdirected prejudice and fiendish bias. Only a tall cold one in the form of an R. C. Cola, extracted from the “icebox”, would soothe my agonized psyche. Plopping onto the waiting “divan” — to pout as well as to watch after-school kiddie fare on black and white Tv, emphasis on the “T”, — calmed my nerves long about 3:30 every school day. MoonPies satisfied as tranquilizers.
Innocent phrases such as “my daddy carried us to Ft. Wayne Saturday to lunch at Gardner’s Drive Inn” nearly got me strung up, Clint Eastwood-ish “high”! Those harmless yet indigenous Southland words — “divan” for “couch” and “icebox” for “refrigerator” and “carry” for transporting via our old Ford — prompted gales of condescending laughter emanating from a few select classmates. Never beaten up but once, still I feared that one day I might be discovered in a lifeless heap before winding my way back to the safety of our little house. A replay version between Walnut and Line Streets, of the damaging War Between the States, seemed totally imminent. I languished in mortal terror until I left for a more representative and inclusive culture at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
Fiddle dee dee! I got born in Fort Wayne’s Lutheran Hospital — contrary to reports of having been discovered beneath a cabbage leaf somewhere — seldom straying far from my roots in Columbia City, Indiana, but I am a perpetual half-breed. How so?
A personal inventory reveals: As a Southerner I seldom wear shoes, do possess a hospitable penchant for “critters”, gush out way too many compliments, and would give anyone — who needed it — the very t-shirt off my arthritic back! On the other more Northern hand, I become knee-jerkily stubborn, detest phoniness, generally tell it like it is, and never forget a slight. Neither an ignoble two-faced Janus nor a Jekyll and Hyde, I move pretty fluidly from one aspect of my personality to the other …occasionally puzzling both camps, the Union and the Confederacy.
Sensing through my reading and research and experience that every individual, whether one likes it or not, lives out life as a virtual melting pot, I cannot fathom why each of us is not more understanding and tolerant of those with whom we come in contact. At our cores, we are truly so comparable yet all mixed up as well! The contentiousness, lately (or since the advent of time?) associated with politics and religion and sexual matters and those who believe differently from ourselves, is a sheer and utter bore and the resultant chatter qualifies as cacophonous. Nobody wins. Is compromise the answer then? Milked down, moderate compromise? Or flaming extremisms of every sort. Moderation itself seems a “far out” (Thanks, John Denver!) stance currently.
Ah, the conflicts and contradictions of functioning on the playground of life! As a fifth grader, I recall the academic introduction, via our well-worn history texts, of the topic of the Civil War between the agrarian South and the industrial North simplified justifiably, as well as controversially, to the issue of human rights denied to African-Americans. One very bright girl, freshly envious of my switch to an all new wardrobe due to my waking up nearly six feet tall at age eleven one morning, started a small town “sour-grapes”-vine-ish rumor that the Duncans had once owned slaves????? Hardly. She confused us with Thomas Jefferson or maybe Simon Legree. (As a devout Methodist, she also broadcast that my Southern-Baptist-Indoctrinated/ Switched-to-Lutheran dad most certainly must be an alcoholic because we housed a lightly stacked liquor cabinet?) Furthermore, our own Hoosierland lives in infamy as a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity. So there. Paradoxes abound. Yankees and their biases!
On the other hand, a handsome cousin — way down South in formerly Democrat-oriented Dixie — contends that Tarheels still detest JFK who disrupted their once thriving textile and furniture-making commerce. I know better. The truth? Both the Kennedy and Johnson administrations pushed through Civil Right legislation, and the South felt humbled once again. But not for long. Its clay earth turned redder-than-red-Republican throughout the lay of the land. So very fiscally SELF-conscious are most of those freshly Conservative states beneath the Mason-Dixon Line that now Nissan and BMW plants dot the landscape as the (maybe schizophrenic) South rises once again, Phoenix-like! Wealth and political power stirred into a recipe including that “old-time religion” have returned. Politicians of all varieties fall all over themselves to cater to Southern voters and to offer promises ranging from reasonable to outrageous. How ironic that while enthusiastically embracing foreign automobile manufacturers, “new” Conservatives — whose bloodlines I share but whom I barely recognize — have abandoned Detroit and our “bailed out” American automakers? Rebels and their saccharine confused/confusing feistiness!
I am a quixotic blend of that fictitious, infamous “Man Without a Country” Philip Nolan and Abe Lincoln who borrowed the Biblical concept that a “house divided against itself cannot stand” (especially with one foot up North and the other down South) and also Tarheel Thomas Wolfe – author of 1929’s “Look Homeward, Angel” (originally entitled ”O, Lost”) — who claimed via his 1940 posthumous novel that “You Can’t Go Home Again….”
During my college years, humorist/cartoonist Jules Feiffer wrote the script for a play and subsequent film entitled “Little Murders”, a black comedy which critic Roger Ebert declared “a definitive reflection of America’s darker moods…breaking audiences down into isolated individuals, vulnerable and uncertain.” Feiffer is also noteworthy for stating that “getting out of bed in the morning is an act of false confidence” and that “maturity is only a short break in adolescence…”
Having lived a relatively long life filled with fun, instructiveness, meaningful friendships, 5,005 glorious Facebook acquaintances around the globe, ironies, startling hypocrisies, and realizations of the ultimate importance of living and letting live, I wonder how we might rid this world of “little wars” whether they be among and between children, adults, political and religious persuasions, countries, or raging within ourselves. Peace! It’s wonderful — but for some peculiar reason, also elusive.