Thanksgiving, Traditions, Native Americans and Evolved Self Definitions

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It’s that time of year again.  The heaviest travel day in the United States.  The time when family and friends gather to feast, mingle, catch up, argue and watch a little football. Since the expansion of social media, it’s also the time where we are reminded of the horrific tragedy that befell our original citizens, the Native Americans.  The memes are have been prepared with care, ready to remind America of just one of it’s original sins.

I get it.  As a matter of fact, I endorse the expressions of truth regarding the historically accurate facts of our nations history and hypocrisies.  Those that know me, know that I do that just about everyday.

But there is another side to this as well.  As a people, especially people who have been the abused, the tortured, the terrorized and murdered, those who have been placed in the under caste status; Those of us who have survived in spite of the fact that we are still in a battle for our lives; With our ingenuity and ability to adapt on the run, we have managed to turn what was originally a negative into our own divine positive.

I remember as a boy in school hearing that story about the pilgrims and the settlers.  I remember drawing turkeys by tracing the body and head around my spread apart hand.  Like every  other school kid, that part about the small pox blankets and slaughters were left out.  But you know what, growing up at MY house, we never talked about that crap anyway.  For my parents, grandparents, aunts and elders, it was about the fellowship around a meal that took several hours of hard work and dedication to perfect.  (Or at least try to perfect)

Listen, as a people, even as we come into new knowledge, we should also embrace our abilities to make lemonade out of lemons, sugar out of sh#!  And you know what, there is no need for us to apologize for it. One of my biggest realizations in life is that two things can be true at the exact same time.  Yes Thanksgiving as is being told to us traditionally is a farce.  One could compare it to the Nazi’s telling a false narrative of how they collaborated with Jews in Europe.  We should know that history.  Equally true, is that like many other things in life, we as a people have created our own narratives and definitions thereby turning a tragedy upon its head and making our empowering choices work for us.

I’m a social and political warrior.  Many of you are.  Even in war time, troops get leave, rest.  In order to fight the long game and not die of exhaustion, you must come away.  Traditions are neither good nor bad. They are the product of who and what we decide to make them to be.  Though I am mindful to thankful everyday, there is something good about much of our activities stopping, folk taking the time to slow down, be present and enjoy a few moments where we are all focusing on the same things.  I can do that and still fight for and stand with Standing Rock.

Bless You All~

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Throw Back Thursday – Dedicated to My Grandparents

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PHOTO: Christmas circa 1981 in New Kensington, PA (suburb of Pittsburgh) I was 14, to my left was my father Otis McCaleb, (R.I.P.) Below L-R Grandfather Leo “The Lion” Moore, Grandmother Georgia Moore, (R.I.P) and my sister Darcel (McCaleb) Tyson.

This was the last time I saw my grandmother alive. Still breaks my heart that I couldn’t be present to help lay her to rest. Grandma was a strong willed woman who loved cooking and Falstaff Beer. When my sister and I visited her every summer, she cooked every single night except Friday. On Friday, it was ‘Mustgo.’ I used to ask, “Grandma, whats Mustgo?” She’d yell, ‘Whatever didn’t go yesterday, MUSTGO today!  It took me years to figure what that meant because she phrased ‘MUST GO’ as one word!  She rocked a gold cap on her upper tooth, smoked and drank on the weekend listening to The Bucs (Pirates Baseball) on KDKA radio.

Grandma never missed a Sunday Service either.  Deeply religious and equally superstitious, she would never let me split a pole when she and I often walked to the ‘5 and 10 Store,’ downtown.  (Yea the 5 & dime she called it.  Used used to buy me those pajamas with the feet in them. Loved those things.)   But I digress: She would never ever allow a female to be the first person to walk through the front door after the New Year.  She said that was bad luck!  As New Years struck the year pictured above, I had the pleasure of walking out the back door and around to the front to ensure the year wouldn’t be doomed towards destruction! The night of January 1st however, I thought the opposite was going to happen after Dan Marino thew that 35 yard touchdown pass to John Brown to beat Herschel Walker and Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.  I jumped with joy thrusting my fist in the air shattering a bulb from her prized chandelier!

Grandma - Georgia Moore

As far as discipline goes, she was the bad cop!  And she did it well too!  No matter what I’d try to get away with when she wasn’t there, she always, and I mean always found out about it.  She worked at a nursing home by day.  I wasn’t allowed to go outside or have company over till she got home from work.  But my girlfriend Vonda lived next door.  As a matter of fact, we each lived in a brick double-connected 3 bedroom townhome that her grandmother owned.  Her grandma, Lucille Brooks lived at 490 McCargo St.  Our side of the building was 488.  Our families were literally close like family, not just neighbors.  Anyway, I would check, check, double-check all of the windows and peek around the doors, give the all clear signal and my girlfriend would bolt form 490 through my back patio door.

Sure enough, at 4:15 when grandma walked in the door, she’d come home and be like, “Christopher Keith?!!  (I knew I was in trouble when she started using my government) “Didn’t I tell you not to have that girl over here?  Yes I did… and yes she was!  You had her over here from from 11:30 to 2!”  I’d try… “But grandma, we was just watching game shows.  Like The Price is Right, and the $20,000 Pyramid!”  She’s come back, “The price is right for me to beat yo ass with a pyramid!”  I’d think to myself, “Now how in the hell?”  I swear I think that nursing home thing was a front.  She had to be NSA!  I mean, just look at her picture above.  Does this woman look like a joke to you?

One of the reasons I love old people today is because of my granddaddy. (who we called Leo as kids)  After serving in the Korean War he was a race car driver in his hometown of Meridian Mississippi! When I was a shorty, before he got into buying luxury cars, he had a bright red 1970 Ford Torino stock racer that was his everyday coup.  It still had all the racing gages and stuff in it too.  (Like some Fast and Furious stuff!)  And yes he drove it around town like he was his name was Wendell Scott. 

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During the week, Granddaddy was straight laced to the bone because it was a work night.   In the evenings, he’d come home, read his newspaper, eat dinner, watch Gunsmoke and Bonanza, calling it a night promptly at 9pm.  He wasn’t mean, but you couldn’t get more than two sentences out of him at a time.  He was just that locked in.  Now come Friday night?  That was another story.  It was like a metamorphosis.

If you’ve ever seen the movie A Soldier’s Story, two of the characters were at extreme odds against one another.  Sargent Waters, (the upwardly bound Negro looking to forge a new way for Southern Blacks through discipline, becoming Eurocentrically bourgeois, and less backwoods colored) vs. CJ Memphis (the good ole simple country boy who loved to sing, dance, and entertain people.  CJ loved everybody.  And everybody loved CJ, except Waters).  My grandfather was Sargent Waters during the week.  But instantly transformed to CJ Memphis from the moment he clocked out Friday night through Sunday before going to bed.

He’d sit me on his lap and sing songs to me;

“Goodbye Joe, you gotta go, meo-myo!  Son of a gun we gonna have fun on the bayo!”  or “Imma dance with the girl with the hold in her stockings and her knees keep a rocking!”

I mean he was the funnest dude in the world!

Waters

He took me with him on his many trips to the local bars and taverns. He would say, “Come on grandson. I’m going to get a shot!” We’d roll and in those days you could walk an 8 or 9 year old right up to the spot. (Always in the day time of course) He would get his ‘shots’ and I would listen as the old men told stories while laughing with one another…which I just LOVED!  I’d look at their faces and as far as I was concerned, they could have been from the 1800s.  Their faces held such distinct characteristics with the various shades and wrinkles.  I pretty much thought they knew EVERYTHING!  Add to that the fact that these men of distinction always treated me with such high regard and respect.  They’d talk to me to see how if and how I’d speak back.  Did I smile, was I unafraid, yet respectful?  Saying things like, “Oh your grandson is smaaaart!” or He gone be something…(looking at me) aren’t you young man?”  ““Yes sir!”  We’d bar hop for several hours doing the same thing…. every weekend!

And don’t let it be a week where I had to go to the barbershop.   That meant an excuse to stay out a couple more hours long way past the time it took to actually cut my hair.  Which meant more bars and taverns!   The guys in the barbershops told awesome stories themselves.  They’d pat me on the head, tell me to keep my grades up and be something!  

Of course when we’d get home and granddaddy was lit up like a Christmas tree, she would give him all he wanted!  “Leo you old crazy fool!  Drunk ass!  Git yo hands off me!  I don’t want no kiss!”  Grandad would say something like, “Now Georgia stop all that damn fussing at me!  I’m grown!  Fix me some dinner!”

This was standard operating procedure every weekend and all summer long!  And it was the best of times!

CJ

Grandma died in 1984 after doing some Thanksgiving grocery shopping.  She collapsed at the local Food Mart while waiting on a cab.  She never drove a car.  My grandfather was at work.  Oh do I miss her till this day.  She never got to see me as an adult, or to see any of my own children.

Granddaddy has since remarried, and has long retired as an electrical engineer from ALCOA Steel.   His wife Judy, who is a lovely woman, is an AME Minister in Pittsburgh.

Of Parenting, Fatherhood and Grace

It was June 5, 2010.  My son Christian had just graduated from East Paulding High School in Dallas, Georgia.  The ceremony, held outdoors at the athletic field was hot, crowded and awesome.  It seemed like more than a thousand graduates.  Caps and gowns covered nearly the entire field.

 Soon after the festivities, I told my son Alex (one year younger than the older graduate), “Just think, this will be you next year.  And you will be wearing the white robe and sitting in the front where the honor students sit.”  Alex said, “Well dad I don’t know about that.”  I assured him that there would be no doubt. 

 Alex is my fourth of 5th biological children.  And it seemed as each one began to grow up, I became a better father and a better teacher.  I don’t know if I helped my two elder daughters at school much at all, other than to offer encouragement and help with a homework assignment or three.  Not that I wasn’t interested.  I went to parent teacher conferences, showed up at whatever activity they were doing, and followed up on all of their progress.  They were motivated young women in regards to their primary education. 

 Charelle

 Charelle, for instance, was always a “Five-Tool” type of player. (To borrow a sports analogy)  She was excellent in math, science, english, reading, art; you name it.  I recall checking on her progress with her teachers in high school.  One teacher in particular looked at me and said, “You’re Charelle’s father right?  Don’t bother wasting your time.  Nothing I can tell you about this girl.  She’s got it!”  In addition, she was tremendously popular too; something I never was in any level of schooling.

Chrystal, talented in her own right, I recall being especially great at art.  My biggest challenge with her was fighting over what items she created that I could keep for myself after the art exhibits.  I wanted them all.  She was also popular and was able to hang with literally any crowd and thrive.  Something I also could not do at her age.

Back to Christian, he was always a decent student.  But he seemed to thrive more on the creative.  He could get an A in any given class if he wanted to; if he was interested enough.  What was really impressive about the time of his graduation is that his journey was featured in a local newspaper detailing what it took for him to graduate overcoming many obstacles.  Oh and did I mention, he too was very popular among peers.

 Chrystal

By the time I had any clue of what I was doing to help with my kid’s education; since Charelle and Chrystal were already accomplished, my focus was on Alex and Christian during their latter school years.  While I wasn’t sharpest knife in the drawer and half of the work they did was way past my expertise, I focused on what I was good at.  Simplifying the process and helping them to see the big picture of life lessons and personal accountability.  These are what I would offer them: 

  • By the end of the first week of school, you should know exactly what it takes to get an A out of each class you take.  If you don’t know by the end of the first week, ask.

  • I honestly could give a damn about whether you make an A or a D.  The issue is to never ever cheat yourself.  Never be lazy or content.  If you got an A only because of your ability but did not maximize your efforts in the class, it doesn’t do anything for you in the long run.  But if you got a D and worked your ass off, you can be proud of it.  Only YOU know the difference.  And that’s the person who counts.  Just be excellent and let the results speak for themselves.  This is what being a leader and not a follower is all about.  Be a leader!

  • Some teachers are great, and some suck.  Those that suck still have the pen that you will be graded with.  That grade will follow you.  So you must learn to make the best of those classes as well, if for no other reason than to get your grade and get the hell out.  Teachers are like bosses and co-workers.  Even with the ones that suck, you still have to learn to work with them to be successful in life.

Christian

Thus were the abiding principals I would hammer home regardless of the situation or circumstance.  Every year we would have long conversations revolving around these somehow. I tried to capture their imaginations.  I wanted my sons to envision themselves as adult men in life, not just boys in school.  Most times I couldn’t tell what they thought of it.  And I didn’t spend too much time wondering.  I felt I did my job and gave them what I had.  Ultimately they had to decide for themselves.

Then it happened on May 30th 2011.  I’m back at East Paulding for Alex’s graduation.  The ceremony had just wrapped up. There were several hundred students, parents and family members walking on the field taking pictures and celebrating.  Alex seemed as pleased as I was to soak up this moment.  Then he pulled me to the side and offered this to old dad. 

“Hey!  Remember what you told me last year?  You said that I was going to wear the white robe, sit in the front and be an honors graduate.” 

“Yes I do remember,” I told him.

“You also said no matter what you do, always be excellent. I can’t believe I graduated with honors.  It was hard work man.  But I did.  I always listened to you, though I know most years I didn’t act like it.” 

We both laughed.

That moment for me was one of significance because it dawned on me not only how important it is for fathers to be in their children’s lives, but how important I was to my children.  That through all of the struggles, mistakes, and second guessing I’ve done as a man and a father, my presence and support in my children’s lives makes a difference.  Then I wondered what would have happened if I had not been there.  What if I never taught my sons to be leaders and not followers?  Wow, my job has been important.

I have four adult children from ages 18-24 and they are all in college.  I give them way more credit for making their own breaks and striving for their own goals than anything I’ve done for them.  I give credit to their mothers who were there day in and day out.  I’m very proud of them all.  With each of them as well as the ones still coming up, my focus is always to train them to be adults on their own making their own contributions.  I consider myself very blessed to be a part of their lives and being able to witness their transformations.

Alex

Daddy, Daughter, and Transitions

I’ve always looked forward to my children being adults.  That’s what I train them for.  In everything I do I do it with the purpose of seeing them be free and successful as adults. 

I also look forward to relating to them as adults.  Sharing secrets and grown folk talk.  Respecting them for being adults while still bonding with them on this new level.

For the first time such the occasion happened over the weekend.  My daughter and I got to hang out as adults.  And it was beautiful.

I have so much respect for her as she is extremely both mature and free.  A wife and a mother, she is so far ahead of where I was at her age.   She is wise and sure about herself in ways that amaze me.

Through this transition in our relationship I am also understanding a new how much she loves me and how protective she has always been of me.  What a blessing she is.  I tell you what:  All of my children are so special and they each hold their own special places within my soul.  The experience I had with her last night and the transition to the next level of our relationship is truly something every parent should be able to experience.

(Pictured: me and Chrystal)

The Hidden, When Resentment Comes Rushing Back

It’s been a rough go for some members of my family lately. 

My sister is facing some health issues.  I have a young cousin who was visiting from Minnesota and caught double pneumonia, was medically sedated for a couple weeks and we are blessed to see her coming around again.  Visiting with her Tuesday night, she seemed like her normal playful self again.

Another cousin my age also caught pneumonia and has congestive heart failure.  We believe she will be ok too but she definitely needs to make some lifestyle changes that we hope she adheres to.

While visiting both cousins who are at the same hospital, I learned yet another cousin’s father died over the weekend.  I am not terribly close to this cousin and I never even met his father.  But what came rushing back to me when I heard the news after the initial feelings of, “I’m sorry to hear that.” was the memory of this cousin’s words after my own father died a little over 10 years ago.

When my dad passed on, this cousin said that he would not go to the funeral because, “I don’t want to go somewhere and hear a bunch of lies.” – for those who may not be clear, he felt that it would be one of those funerals where everyone said great things about a terrible guy. 

Well for one, my dad definitely had his faults as we all do but he was not a terrible guy.  Second, he was a minister and as such we didn’t even have a typical funeral that spent all of the service talking about how great he was.  To the contrary we celebrated his life and talked about his faith and how he had it when it counted most upon making the decision to have the heart surgery that would bring on his demise a week later.

This same cousin lost his mother to a horrible bout with lung cancer.  We all stuck together and supported he and his brother as well as my mom and other aunt.  When my turn came to grieve, he basically spit on my father’s memory and said some things I wonder if I will ever forget.

Now here is the thing.  It’s not like I think about this every day.  I can’t remember the last time I did think of it until I heard the news of his father.  I have seen the guy a few times since and most of the time it still didn’t cross my mind.  But the other night it did.  It stung again and I was resentful.  I wonder if I will ever let it go, since I didn’t know it was still there to begin with.

I’m not interested in holding this thing in my heart.  Perhaps I never really dealt with it.  Perhaps it’s my way of protecting myself by not allowing this person to be close to me and take a chance that he would say or do something else that would violate my confidence.   I don’t know.  I wish I did. 

In spite of my ill feelings,  I will call him to offer him my support. 

I guess the best thing for me is knowing that the hurt was still there.  And I will have a chance to explore myself and resolve it.

Love Passage, By Gabbi

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Making her blogging debut… this is my youngest daughter, my baby, Gabbi!   She wrote a piece on her interpretation on 1 Corinthians 13. 

Love Passage

Love will stand in line and wait it’s turn.  It doesn’t always want what others have and it doesn’t brag about what it does have. 

Love is polite even when the other person is rude.  It doesn’t always have to be first.

Love doesn’t get angry over the small things, and it doesn’t remember one thing after another to be hurt.

Love isn’t happy when someone else fails but is happy with the truth. 

If I am very smart, almost a genius, if I can figure out the hardest math problems, but don’t love others I am nothing.

Love never gives up. 

Preaching will stop someday.  So will speeches.  Knowledge will come to an end. 

Today we only know part of what there is to know.  We can preach and speak only with a small part of understanding.

But when perfection comes then what is imperfect will go away.

Of Love and Relationship Roles ~ A Running Debate

Ok let’s talk.  I want to have a serious discussion about relational roles of a man and a woman.   This discussion comes on the heels of both a radio program I listened to recently, as well as a running debate I’ve had with a good friend of mine who happens to be  a very progressive and liberal thinking woman.  This is a person I deeply respect.  A great thinker.  But every time this subject comes up, it’s battle stations ready! 

Now before I pose the questions let me put down the ground rules so we can eliminate side arguments and certain defensive posturing.

1) In the relationship scenario – we are using as an example a good man and woman who are loving,  responsible, and respectful.  No need to say, “Well if he is a dog hell naw I ain’t submitting to him.” 

2) The author of this post truly honors and respects the worth of a woman.  Her contributions cannot be counted, and her abilities are almost limitless.   There is no sexism involved that says a woman cannot do such and such.

3) These are general principles and should be taken that way.  No need for extreme rebuttals on particular words and phrases.  Please take the theme in perspective and give the author the benefit of the doubt.  You may comment on the lines drawn in the sand areas.  There are only one or two at most.

On to the discussion of the day:

As progressive of a thinker as I am, I still hold to some old fashioned values of chivalry.  For instance I believe a man’s first priority towards his woman is to protect her.  That could be interpreted physically, mentally or whatever.  If a burglar were to enter the premises,  I would not ask my woman to “go check on that.”  She can be a combat expert in karate, M16s and explosives – doesn’t matter.  I don’t think it’s her “role” to protect me in that situation.  (Now if we are all fighting in some Bonnie and Clyde circumstance in public, that may be a different thing.  I believe in opening doors and pulling out chairs in a restaurant.  I believe a man should also love and cherish his woman.  He should listen to her and do all he can to understand her as she develops and changes.  I believe he should provide leadership and vision – providing a specific direction regarding the goals of the family etc.  Does this mean that the woman is not providing ideas, feedback etc.?  Of course not.  In this day and age especially, the 21st Century woman is more versed in the general affairs of society than ever before.  Her voice is vital and her contributions priceless.   In the idea situation, the woman will compliment her man by having gifts and talents that he does not possess to add to the value of the relationship.  He will do the same for her.

I believe a man’s purpose is to provide for his woman.  Not that she can’t make money.  She may even make more money than he does.  He should not be intimidated by her career or her goals in the marketplace.  He should support them.  At the same time he should be looking to provide for the day to day needs.   Depending on the lifestyle a family wants to live, nowadays it takes two incomes combined to make it happen.  Still it should be his goal to better himself to the point of being responsible just in case she can’t produce for whatever reason, i.e. childbirth, sickness etc.  This to me would be idea.

In terms of functioning day to day – couples should work together to make the household go round.  Take advantage of one another’s talents and gifts to make things as smooth as possible.  For instance, whichever person is good with organization may be the one to physically pay the bills.  If she loves yard work, perhaps she will cut the grass or rake leaves.  Just as well he may decorate the house if he has a visual perspective for decor.   The roles for day to day ops, should not be delegated merely by gender.

Here is where it gets sticky in the aforementioned debate.  I believe that a man should be the leader in the household and in the direction of the relationship.  If he is smart, he will recognize the strength and wisdom of his woman and receive her input as vital.  If he is leading in a direction that she does not approve of, he could be an emperor with no clothes.   Men have blind-spots and his woman should be a partner of ideas of valued discussions.  Still he is responsible for the safety and welfare of the family.  Both man and woman should be “equal partners” in terms of value, but do not foster equal roles within the structure.  Everyone is happy when they can agree, but if the couple don’t agree and a decision needs to be made he should make it after careful consideration.  Being “the man” to me merely means being responsible for the overall direction and course of the relationship and the family structure.  If it fails its on him unless he did all he could and his woman simply rebelled or decided not to follow his leadership.  Again this is assuming both parties are totally committed to the success of the relationship and family.

Furthermore, in my opinion a discerning woman will realize that her brilliance is never undermined when she accepts these precepts.  As a matter of fact, any man will tell you if his woman is not happy, the whole house is not happy. Any leading that he does she has to “let” him do anyway.  She can in her wisdom and love build him up to be the greatest leader he can be, or she can tear him down and attempt to make mincemeat out of him.  Like it or not, James Brown said it best.  “This is a man’s world.  (directional functioning) But it wouldn’t be nothing, without a woman, boy or girl.”  I’ve long had a saying, that God’s great equalizer to a male dominated society is a woman.  Because I don’t care how much a man accomplishes, his greatest desire after his purpose it to be loved, needed, appreciated, and respected by his woman.  Period.  So she is invaluable – and as I said women today especially are more skilled, sharp and able than ever before – and have carried men for a long time, especially black men in the midst of the struggle we have faced within society post slavery, Jim Crow, self identity crisis etc.  What a woman has to do and what a woman should be doing to me are two different things. 

The benefits of the progressive woman are obvious.  The advances have come hard fought and well earned.  Our society is still not progressive enough in my view in appreciating, protecting, and valuing women.  But the downside is this competitive paradigm for a power struggle.  Equal partners in terms of input and value does not mean equal parts of functionality.  I believe most women accept and even embrace the theory.  The problem becomes an issue of trust because of a negative track record with immature, ignorant, (ignorant in the derogotory as well as the without knowledge sense) and selfish men.  (Of which I have been in my day)

My friend thinks this is a sexist way of thinking.  That equal partners means equal everything.  There are two chiefs and no one is more in charge or responsible than the other. 

So chime in on this discussion.   What do ya’ll think??  Are my Fred Flintstone ideas merely prehistoric?  Is the old school way the best way? 

Please respond with love and intelligence as I have presented it with such.