I do not know if you will ever read this. Your father David keeps encouraging me to tell my story and I resist, mainly because I do not feel worthy most of the time.
But this is springtime 2016 and I’m watching flowers break out in riotous joy everywhere I look. And that reminds me of your great, great, grandmother Bubba.
One flower always jumps out in my mind, the iris.
One of my first vivid memories was at our little house in West End. I can remember that the poor front yard was small and had no vegetation, mostly dirt and weeds. But on the side yard between our house and the wealthier Reeds, my mother had somehow performed a miracle and transformed the dirt and rocks into a wonderful garden. There were, of course irises, but also roses and daffodils and, in the summer, daisies and bachelor buttons.
We were relatively poor, with only the income my father made as a hair stylist, and there was no way my mother could have afforded to buy plants for her garden. So how did she get the plants?
When I was a lot older, Bubba and Travis finally were able to buy a home in Acipico that had room for Bubba to make a garden. Prior to that, Bubba and Travis had rented space from my great grandmother Big Momma Dean. I learned that my mother Frances was giving plants from her garden to Bubba for her new place. And Bubba had a tremendous green thumb. While Frances had been successful in growing the plants in her small garden, Bubba soon had a very large flower garden that dwarfed the one Frances had.
On one of my overnight stays with Bubba and Travis, I worked with Bubba in her garden and she shared for the first time more of her story.
Travis was not my blood grandfather, she told me. Bubba had divorced my ‘real’ grandfather Snow long before I was born because he was cruel to my mother. Your great grandmother, Frances, was a smart, athletic girl – she won three letters in basketball at Whitwell high school in Tennessee – and had wanted to go to nursing school. Back then, most southern girls did not think they could be doctors. But Grandpa Snow did not think girls should do anything except find a husband and work in the home. So he refused my mother and Bubba divorced him because of that. This is not to mention that Grandpa Snow had played around on my Bubba – he had. But when it came to her daughter, Bubba drew the line.
At the big house in Whitwell, Bubba had a large flower garden. But Grandpa Snow kept the house in the unfair divorces of the era, given that Bubba had initiated the divorce, and she lost her garden. Or would have except she colluded with a friend and raided the big house and ‘stole’ a large quantity of the flowers she was growing. Her friend transplanted the flowers at her home and promised Bubba she could have them when she found a new garden of her own.
After they moved to Birmingham, Bubba and Frances lived in an apartment house on Southside and, of course, could not make a garden there. But after my parents were able to get the small house in West End, Bubba’s friend would drive down to Birmingham with a trunk full of flowers and so Frances began her garden with the offspring of Bubba’s flowers. I’m guessing Bubba did her green thumb magic, because later when she and Travis were able to buy their own home, the flowers came home to roost.
Years later, we moved to East Lake, and after a few more years, so did Bubba and Travis. Both houses in East Lake soon had tremendous gardens that were unbelievably beautiful in the springtime. I spent many an hour helping Frances with hers, and just as many helping Bubba with hers. They had quite a competition going back then in the early 60s.
While I was at the Air Force Academy, my mother Frances finally found a way to go to nursing school. I to this day do not know how she found the money. But she did and by the time I graduated, she had earned a LPN, licensed practical nurse, associate’s degree. For the first time in my life, she had a way to make her own money and, shortly after I graduated, she divorced my father. They sold the house on 9th Avenue and most of the flowers found their way back to Bubba’s, as did my mother and brother Dan. Mother took over the second of the two bedrooms upstairs in Bubba’s house, and Dan got the new bedroom in the basement that I had dug with Mr. Grey the summer before I left for the Academy.
Your grandmamma, Cyndy, and I started a new home in Lake Forest near Mobile just before Bubba died. Frances soon began to insist that I take some of Bubba’s plants for our new house and I did, though I did not have much of a green thumb. Those flowers were lost when Cyndy and I temporarily separated when your mom was two, but after we built the house in Sans Souci, Frances again gave me offspring of Bubba’s to plant at our new home. I don’t have a green thumb, and most were lost, but enough lived and prospered to grow into a respectful garden on the back side of our garage in Sans Souci.
Unfortunately, that is where the story of Bubba’s flowers ends. When C and I sold the Sans Souci house, neither of us had earth in which to plant the flowers. So all were left to the new owners. Perhaps, if God is good, Bubba’s flowers continue to grow at that house in Montrose. Perhaps, someday, you can go to that house and ask the owners if you can take a cutting or bulb.
I have a number of younger trans folk on my friends list. And some of them are righteous in their indignation about the increasing number of people, some trans and others not, that are being called out as they attempt to use the bathroom of their choice. I’ve responded and, in some cases, been shouted down by young trans people.
I know many young trans folk, like all young people, know better than their “elders.” But I’m trying to make a point that could be important, if not lifesaving.
Back during the Vietnam war, we initially forgot the lessons of WWII and Korea and officers proudly wore the insignia of their rank. Enemy snipers quickly realized that those flashes of gold and silver on helmets meant a high-value target and we lost far too many officers. When I entered that war, I was advised to remove my rank before venturing into combat. Only much later did the military hierarchy begin issuing “camo” rank indicators, which are now standard.
If you want to challenge the gender binary, then have at it. Just make sure to carry ID that will back up your claim to the bathroom of your choosing. If you don’t have such ID, then make arrangements for a responsible friend to be ready to bail you out quickly if you are accosted and arrested. Unless, of course, you want to make some “points” by spending the night in jail with a possibly unfriendly jail populace.
Further, particularly in the crazy south, be aware that your accuser may just be carrying a gun and could resort to using it if you resist leaving the bathroom he (most probably a he) thinks you do not belong in. Don’t actively resist.
A friend writes a column on a local news site. Today she wrote one warning us all to shrink from confrontations in the public because of guns: “Assume everybody’s packing heat”
I am disappointed.
And so it has come to this – sage advice from an Alabama gun supporter: Just shut your mouth and slink away from any and all potential confrontations. Don’t stand up for your rights or your family because the opposing party may and probably is carrying a gun. And that person just may decide to settle the argument by shooting you.
How is this possible? How can we allow our society to be so dominated by gun-rights nuts that everyone must start packing their own gun and be ready to use it at the drop of a hat? How is it that no one seems to realize that encouraging this will inevitably lead to more gun deaths, and not just the primary protagonists, but also many innocent people who just happen to be in the field of fire.
What she is recommending is giving up your right to free speech. What she is recommending is giving up your right to enjoy a night out at a restaurant and engaging in a spirited debate of today’s issues. What she is recommending is going to a football game but not wearing your team colors or cheering when the opposing team screws up. What she is recommending, if you are a teacher, is not covering both sides of an issue and instead playing to the themes of the dominant group. What she is recommending is always pulling over into the slowest lane of traffic, and getting yourself blocked in, even if you are passing cars but not moving as fast as the fastest cars.
What she is recommending is to become passive and afraid of life because we have given in to the gun-nuts, the NRA, and the gun manufacturers who foment this just to keep selling more guns.
What are the red states to do now that they require ‘suspicious’ people to present their birth certificates to gain access to the bathroom?
I envision a new law requiring everyone anticipating going to a public bathroom to be issued (i.e. in republican vernacular: buy) a properly colored ‘magic band’ not unlike those you use at Disney World. The bands would be linked back to the database that Trump and Cruz are building to control Muslims and immigrants, a database that can surely be expanded to include direct links to state birth records and a newly required 23 & Me DNA test. And like Disney, the entrance to all public bathrooms would be guarded by a scanner that reads your magic band and sets off loud alarms and locks the bathroom door if you are not qualified to use that particular bathroom.Of course, “real” women would be locked inside, but republicans don’t really care about women anyway. After 30 seconds, if an ‘offender’ is still proximate to the wrong bathroom door, newly hired Bathroom Police would be dispatched.
See? It is not hate driving these laws.
The republicans are just stimulating economic development and new jobs after all.
I am one of those “freaks” who you do not want sharing a bathroom with your daughter.
I have worked a job essentially every day since I turned 16. I did all the things republicans preach you should do so that you are not a “leech” on society. I came from a lower middle-class family that could not afford to send me to college. I studied hard in school, played sports, participated in civic activities, went to church, and eventually won a scholarship to the University of Alabama and a congressional appointment to the United States Air Force Academy. Because we were then (and still are) in war, I chose the latter. I wanted to serve our country.
And I did. But I became frustrated by the politicians running the war and costing my friends lives. I left the Air Force and used the GI Bill to get a master’s degree. I found a job with a good company in Mobile and worked my way up from the drafting board to the board of directors of a large environmental engineering firm. I worked on or led many engineering projects that still are important, functional parts of the infrastructure in many cities in Mobile and Baldwin counties, and, indeed, across many southern states. But my boss found out I was trans and kicked me out of the company, destroying my financial stability and even my ability to get another job in engineering. I was blackballed for being “queer.”
After I graduated from the Air Force Academy, I got married to a wonderful woman, had a daughter who has out-shown me in her accomplishments and who now is a mother to the most perfect child of her own. I am still her father and grandparent to her perfect baby. But the love of my life divorced me, and continues to drive a wedge between my daughter and myself. I have not spent Christmas or birthdays with my daughter for almost 20 years. I know she loves me and is torn between her mother and me. But it hurts so very much.
To republicans and many so-called Christians, I am a freak who should not be allowed to use a public bathroom. I am a freak that can be refused service, a job, a place to live, just because I don’t fit their idea of a ‘normal’ person. Ted Cruz’s Christian supporters even believe it should be legal to murder freaks like me.
Though I was never afraid all the time I was serving in the Air Force, flying F4’s during the Vietnam War, I am now afraid.
And my closest friends, who are republican and will vote for either Trump or Cruz, don’t understand why I am afraid.
Although we freaks have made tremendous gains these past seven years, all could, and, most likely will, be washed away if a republican is elected president.
I have seen the dominos begin to fall, beginning with Kansas where they have placed a bounty on the heads of trans people, to North Carolina and Mississippi where they have passed terrible hate laws in the name of ‘religious’ freedom, to Louisiana, where the republicans have introduced a bill that doubles down on NC and MS and specifically targets overturning the LGBT anti-discrimination laws in NOLA. How can Alabama fail to follow suit?
Soon I will not be able to legally use a public bathroom in my home state. Thanks to my local probate judge, who told me that he would not accept my petition to change the sex marker on my birth certificate unless it was prepared and presented by a lawyer, I have not been able to afford to get my birth certificate to match my social security card and passport.
I have turned 70 this past December. My life is more behind me than in front of me. I wonder why I keep fighting to stay alive.
I went back to school after losing my engineering career, thinking I could get a Ph.D. and a job teaching. But I had not reckoned on the age discrimination that exists in universities. They will always take a young new Ph.D. in preference to a 65-year-old new Ph.D. every time. And, of course, being a trans-freak does not help.
When I was on the board of BCM Engineers, I helped to get the company to give a scholarship to Auburn’s Civil Engineering school. I got my masters there, served on the school’s board of visitors for almost 10 years, but was told that they would not accept me into their doctoral program because of my age. At least, they were honest.
So here I am at 70. A freak. Working multiple jobs as an adjunct for a pittance but enough to keep me off welfare.
And I am so very tired.
Sometimes I think the hate I see coming is just too much to endure.
But I will stand up and fight. I will not go quietly.
I am taking time away from my teaching duties – no I will never be able to retire – to voice some troubling thoughts I have been having.
I am distressed at the extreme polarization that I see because of the upcoming election. While I can understand and support people becoming enthusiastic for a particular candidate, I hate the obvious hatred that each side has for the other. We just cannot seem to debate these issues in an adult fashion. Everyone seems to have their heels dug in and refuse to open their minds to anything the other side has to say.
Still, I regret that politics has begun to drive a wedge between some of my dear friends and myself. I do not want to lose their friendship and have tried to purge my mind of the issues, but increasingly I feel the need to separate myself from them.
Perhaps my closest and dearest friend is a Republican. I have known her for almost ten years and we have survived many hardships by leaning on each other.
But her decision to support Republican ideology, specifically Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, has placed such a strain that I just cannot find the energy to raise my shields and spend time with her. She just does not understand why I feel threatened by the current Republican intent to drag us back to a time when non-white and non-traditional people were excluded and killed because they violated a distorted Christian view.
Republican dominated legislatures across the country are racing to see who can pass the most restrictive and regressive legislation against the LGBT community. All in the name of “religious freedom” to discriminate. Thankfully, some large companies have put pressure on a few governors to veto the onerous legislation, but even so the Republican diehards say they will try to override the vetoes. In my home state of Alabama, the extreme conservatives control the legislature and have fought tooth and nail against the rights of same-sex couples to get married. I expect them to shortly take up the example of North Carolina and Kansas who have unbelievably regressive anti-LGBT laws and bills. Alabama may be broke, but they can find time to spend on these hateful ideas.
My sweet friend intends to vote for either Trump or Cruz. Trump scares me because he is doing the things Hitler did to incite the base to hate people who are not-white or non-traditional Christian. Cruz is even worse because he has aligned himself with extreme evangelicals, some who advocate the legal murder of LGBT people.
I have this recurring nightmare where the right-wing police come for me and she stands silent. It hurts too much and I cannot understand why she cannot see this.
I watched President Obama’s talk to the Illinois Legislature yesterday and, among his points, was a call to stop the gerrymandering that is so predominant in our partisan country. Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing the voting district lines to ensure the desired outcome. Usually, that means republicans draw the lines to help republicans get elected and democrats draw them to help democrats get elected. That is nothing new on the political scene as it has been practiced a long time.
This political cartoon, published in 1812, depicts the result of the Massachusetts legislature efforts to favor the incumbent Democratic-Republican party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists in 1812.
Just thought I would take a moment and see what Google had on our old house on 9th Avenue. Turns out it is still there and for sale – a steal at $34k! Reading the specifications I am surprised how small the house is – about 1100 square feet, with two bedrooms and one bath. The house is hard to see in this Google photo and the one the realtor posted is the same one, but you can actually see the house pretty well here. The house on the right is the Jone’s rental house I told you about in my post on model planes. When we lived there, the lot on the left was vacant, and then came Jones the lawyer’s house. But I like being able to scan around from the street in front of our house, 9th avenue of course.
I have a lot of memories about that street and the hill that leads down to the Parrot’s house. I can remember (more…)
This morning while scanning the tv channels looking for something to distract me, I stumbled upon a “marathon” presentation of the 1950’s TV show “Death Valley Days.” What caught my attention was the theme song being played at the end of an episode from 1953. I immediately stopped scanning and waited to watch the next episode.
Hearing that song brought me back to my childhood in the West End of Birmingham. In 1953, I was eight years old and a fan of that TV show, Death Valley Days. So much so that my mother saved up box tops of 20 Mule Team Borax, or Boraxo as I remember it. (more…)
When I was very young, our (my older brother Dean and I) favorite Christmas presents each year came from my uncle. They were model plane kits, at first stick-built balsa wood and later Revell plastic kits. By the time I left for the AF Academy, my room was chock full of planes of all types. One of my favorites was this Stileto from about 1957.
I think my love of planes, and models, rubbed off my brother Dean. One Christmas, while we were still living on 10th street in West End, my uncle Jimmy, mom’s younger brother, came down from Chattanooga bearing presents. I don’t remember what Uncle Jimmy brought me, but Dean got a model airplane. It was really just a small box of balsa wood and tissue paper, but from it Dean would build an airplane that could actually fly. Glide really, but to me it was just wonderful and I wanted it.
Dean was all boy. As soon as he was old enough, he prevailed on my parents to let him join the Cub Scouts – there was a pack at my neighbor’s church, which unfortunately was not a Catholic church. As kids do, Dean kept after my parents until they relented and, on his birthday, took him to the Army-Navy store to buy a uniform and camping equipment. Even my grandmother Bubba joined in and bought him an aluminum canteen. While he gloried in his take, I was off to the side, jealous as only a sibling can be when your brother gets all the attention.
One of the first projects Dean worked on with the Cub Scout was a model airplane. He brought it home and my mother helped him assemble it – she could do just about anything but my father had absolutely no interest in helping Dean with the model. It took him and Mom a few days, but at the end Dean had a real airplane. At least it was real to me. It was powered by a rubber band engine and could fly across the room. We could not afford paints, so Dean left the plane plain, if you get my drift. And I was so jealous of Dean’s plane.
Flash Gordon rocket ships
When you are small, your imagination is wonderfully adept. All I had that year was burnt out Christmas tree bulbs, but I quickly converted one into a Flash Gordon rocket ship. Dean had his airplane, but I had a rocket ship and I stubbornly stuck to my vision of being able to shoot down Dean’s plane.
Back in the early ’50s, my family did not have a lot of money. We were lower middle class with only my dad’s hair stylist’s – salary to live on. But I did not know I was missing out. One year, along with Uncle Jimmy’s model planes, Dean and I got real English bicycles!
But that is another story for another time; back to airplanes.
When we moved to East Lake in 1955, I was 10 years old. Next door to our house on 9th Avenue, there was a family renting – as far as I know, my parents were buying our house. The father, Mr. Jones, was a distant relative of the Mr. Jones who lived on the other side of us. That Mr. Jones was rich, after all he owed two house and was a lawyer. The renting Mr. Jones was into model airplanes. And not just rubber band powered ones. His were powered by small gasoline engines that made a tremendous noise. And they were fast and maneuverable. They were called ‘control-line’ planes because you controlled them via two strings that came out of one wing and led to a handle that you could tilt back and forth and cause the model plane to go up or down. (always from the left wing, which made the plane go counter clockwise; I wonder if they go clockwise in Australia – have to ask David) The only problem I could see with those planes was that you could really get seasick from turning round and round to keep up with the plane.
Behind the rental house was a fairly large yard with no trees – a perfect place to fly control line model planes. And Mr. Jones did that as often as he could. Dean and I were enraptured with those planes and with Mr. Jones. (I was also enraptured with Mr. Jones’ daughter, Carol, with whom I was very smitten.)
That year for Christmas, Dean got a special plane from Uncle Jimmy – a control-line Beechcraft Bonanza model plane which was powered by a .049 gasoline engine. It was made of plastic and turned out to be crash resistant, which it needed to be. With Mr. Jones’ mentoring, Dean was soon flying the Bonanza round and round, zooming up and down. Dean even let me help him start the engine, which was a painful thing to learn how to do properly. We did not have automatic starters back then. You had to hook up a large battery to the engine’s glow plug and turn over the propeller using your finger. You had to learn to flick the prop quickly and get your finger out of the way. If the engine caught and started, the propeller would slam into your finger, causing a great deal of pain. But getting the little engine to fire required you to flick the prop over and over, until just as you got tired and slowed down your hand movement, the engine would bite you. But Dean loved that little plane, and he eventually let me learn to fly it too.
Although the Bonanza was a great starter plane, Dean soon wanted to build his own, larger, plane that would be powered by a much larger engine. That was the kind of planes Mr. Jones’ had. And Dean had his heart set on building a radio-controlled plane so he could break free from the control lines. This was about the time that Dean got sick, really sick.
I did not know it, but the pain in his leg that Dean kept complaining about turned out to be cancer. So one day my father brought home a large box containing the parts and instructions for a balsa wood model of a 1930’s trainer aircraft – I cannot remember the designation but I think it was a T6 Texan – and gave it to Dean. He had asked Mr. Jones for advice on which kit to buy and asked Mr. Jones if he would help Dean make the plane.
Balsa Wood Wings
The first thing Dean built was the wing, and it turned out to be the only part of the plane Dean was able to get done before he fell too sick to work on it. The wings were about 36 inches long and were made up of balsa wood. This was about as far as Dean got. Later, after he died, I tried to complete the plane and did get the wings covered with doped fabric with the help of Mr. Jones. And I completed the fuselage, mounting the gas tank and engine, which I saved my allowance to buy. With Mr. Jones help, I actually got the engine running, almost breaking my finger in the process as the much larger engine really could whack you. But I never got to fly the plane; I just could not scrape together the money to buy the radio control parts before Mr. Jones and family moved away to Kentucky.
I left the unfinished plane hanging from the ceiling of the bedroom I once shared with Dean and headed off to the Academy. The plane, alone with all the other models Dean and I built, remained in that bedroom until my parent’s divorced and sold the house. I never asked my mother what she did with those planes. I hope she gave them to some one who would love them as much as Dean and I did.