Somehow a Tweet about Wigwam Villages showed up in my feed today. I have no idea why. For those of you who are too young or not lucky enough to live in Birmingham back in the 50’s, you may have no clue what I am talking about.
After we got our first car in 1949, my parents liked to go on Sunday drives around Birmingham. Because we lived in the west end of town, West End, to be exact, we were closer to downtown Bessemer than we were to downtown Birmingham. So, many of our Sunday drives took us that way. We would pile in the car – Momma drove since my dad did not know how – Dean and I in the back seat. We drove over to Lomb Avenue and followed it Southeast until we hit Highway 11. Bessemer Road as it was known then, a main drag if there ever was one. We would drive south past the coke plants and steel mills that so stunk up our air, through Bessemer toward Tuscaloosa, though I cannot remember ever going all the way there.
There was a restaurant downtown Bessemer owned by a friend of my father. We did not eat out often and when we did it would be a restaurant where we could get family-style meals at a cheap price. I cannot recall the name of that restaurant now, and I am sure it ceased to exist long ago.
But the highlight of the trip for Dean and I was the Wigwam motor hotel just about midway between the Alabama Fairgrounds and downtown Bessemer. You could not miss it. 15 silver teepees surrounding an even larger central teepee containing the restaurant. The Wigwam Village, as it was called, opened in 1940, the fifth of seven eventually built across the country. My understanding is it was torn down in 1964 when I was in my first year at the Academy.
Dean and I loved to argue with my father about the name. You see, Dean and I watched Hop-along Cassidy on our new TV and we knew that the “wigwams” were really teepees. Wigwams, we tried to convince my father, were short and squatty, not tall and pointed. But he never listened to us and just said, “Then why did the rich man who built Wigwam Village call them wigwams?”
Unfortunately, our arguing with him meant he would never agree to stop the car and let us explore them. So, we drove by, always missing our chance to go in a real teepee.
That is until one cold December day in 1951. My birthday fell on a Sunday that year and I guess my father decided to give in to our pleas because of that when we drove by the teepees on the way to Bessemer. Mother pulled into the gravel parking lot and parked by the big restaurant teepee.
“How would you like to eat dinner here?” he said. We were ecstatic and could not wait to get out of the car and run inside. I honestly cannot remember what we had to eat. More than likely, we had vegetable plates because they were usually the cheapest dinners on the menu. We gobbled our food down and ran around the restaurant looking at the sloping walls. Mom talked to the manager and he let us into one of the wigwam cabins. I cannot remember much about the inside – just a bed and a bathroom. But you could look up at the top of the teepee and see out because there was a window up there, just down a bit from the peak.
The photo below was taken Dec 6, 1951, just four days after we were there.
I know it is a trite phrase – unconditional love. So easy to throw into a conversation and everyone’s head nods to say they agree with how important it is.
But I think sometimes we do not realize just how much our family and friends depend on that unconditional love.
I think everyone, at least most of us, has days or times when we doubt our self-worth. Family stresses, job stresses, worry about the future can sneak in and undermine our feeling of being worthy of love.
I have been somewhat on the fringe of my daughter’s life these last 20 years, but my love for her has never wavered. Even during the darkest times when I felt my X had so wedged her hate between my daughter and me that we went far too long without communicating or seeing one another, I never stopped loving my daughter.
During those 20 years, my daughter has matured, married a wonderful person, grown in so many ways and now become a mother to a beautiful girl. Along the way, she has grown her professional life and is the primary “breadwinner” in her family. I know that my son-in-law stepped up and became the primary caregiver to my granddaughter, something that many men are reluctant to do. He grew into a great father and my daughter into a great mother. And I know that the situation that developed has put stressors on both my daughter and son-in-law as well as my granddaughter. But they do what they have to do, and I do not doubt their love for each other.
I still stand at the fringe, looking in as much as I can from 500 miles away.
I wish my own situation were such that I could lavish money on them and make it possible for them to not have financial pressures impinging on the way they live. But that is not to be.
So, all I can do is to try to communicate my unconditional love for them all. No matter what happens. No matter if changes occur which upend their lives due to things beyond their control. No matter if the changes come because they must initiate them to move toward new goals and be who they need to be, as I had to do 20 years ago.
I love them all unconditionally. My daughter, my son-in-law, my granddaughter. They are all intricately woven into my being. No matter what happens, I will love them unconditionally until my last breath.
I am still in shock over the presidential election, as I know many are. One of the things I cannot forgive our new president is his unwillingness to serve our country in uniform during the Vietnam War. Last year, I wrote a post about six of my Academy roommates and friends who were lost in that war [here]. Previously, I had written about my first Academy roommate, Jim Steadman, [here]. As a result of writing that post about Jim, I found Jim’s place on the Virtual Vietnam Memorial wall [here] and ‘placed’ that photo of Jim and I studying as lower classmen at the Academy on the virtual wall. To my surprise, I received an email from his daughter, Karin Mae, asking if I were the daughter or sister of Don, because as everyone knows, girls were not allowed at the Academy back in the ’60s. I summoned some courage and simply told Karin the truth, expecting to be rejected by her as I have been by most of my former classmates over my being trans. But that was not the case with Karin. She welcomed me into her story and updated me on the continuing search for Jim, including providing me links to the Owl 08 sites where the search continues today. The image below (borrowed from OWL 08) is of Jim’s grandson, Steady, finding Jim’s name on the real Wall.
This is what service to your country looks like, Mr. President-elect.
Golden Boys forever, Jim.
I have been very down these last 12 months. I really did not see much point in “keeping on keeping on.” But like so many of us, I am deeply troubled by the results of yesterday’s election. I worry about my daughter’s family – what does their future look like now? And I am especially worried about my granddaughter, Ellie, who is just 27 months old. So I am going to reinvigorate myself and rededicate myself to not leave this world until I do something positive to make the world a bit better for my little Ellie. I don’t know exactly what I will or can do. But I think I begin with a realistic assessment of what we have to deal with because of the president-elect.
An American Tragedy – The New Yorker
When President Obama was elected, he was proclaimed our first Black President even though his mother was white, and he was raised with an absent black father by a white mother and grandmother. While it is true many, if not most of us Americans, are of mixed race, including some black lineage, the passage of time and the fortunes of physical characteristics expressed have resulted in many ‘whites’ ignoring their black blood. But not for President O. He was tarred with the old 19th century ‘one drop’ rule (the Racial Integrity Act of 1924) since he had the audacity to be open about his black mother and to look a bit more black than white, but not white enough to not be forced into the black community when he went away to college. He became, in the minds of too many whites, an uppity black man occupying the White House and in power over them. That was something they could not stomach and thus they have seen fit to be disrespectful, vicious in their condemnation of everything he does or says, and almost treasonist in their open, though sometimes veiled, hatred of his being in office.
What would have happened differently if we had labeled him a “Mixed” president? Would we all have had to own up the fact that almost all of us are mixed too?