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January 21, 2017

Childhood Flashbacks

As I have said many times on this blog, I am a child of the 60s. I was born in the opening months of 1961, and I have been blessed and cursed with a long memory. My earliest memories are of early 1963. I’ve been blessed and cursed with intelligence, so I was processing things faster than some of my peers. And right now, I’m having flashbacks to that era.

Unlike many people, I’m not a fan of nostalgia. The good old days weren’t all that good. My earliest childhood memories of the world are Vietnam, civil rights marches and abuses, National Guards shooting college students and the Cold War. Sure, I had fun playing with my friends, but my bestie and I discussed what we’d do when we learned the bomb was coming. We really thought there was a good chance we’d die. We were going to run to Our Lady of the Lake Roman Catholic Church and be near the statue of Mary if we couldn’t get into the church. These were serious conversations held by 8 year old girls.

We weren’t alone in those fears. Soviet children grew with fear, too. I know that my Swedish husband had no fond Cold War memories. Vietnamese children lived out many of our fears, of course. Bestie and I were relatively safe in our little New York City suburb.

Things changed. Vietnam ended, civil rights were almost fully codified into law, and the Wall came down. My fears died down, and I moved on to actively trying to change the world and keep the dream of a better world alive. So did my bestie, who after all these years is still my bestie and still fights for human rights and justice and a better America every day. We matured into True Believers and our 60s values of equality and justice for all races, creeds, colors and, a later addition, orientations have just grown stronger. We do not walk alone in this country, but there are far fewer of us than I’d like.

But everything old is new again. Today, the war has moved west to the Middle East, civil rights marches are still needed and happening, government authorities are still killing young people, and I actually saw the phrase Cold War 2 in print this week, written by a professional writer. Today talking to my adult son, I felt myself choking up when relating my flashbacks, because that’s what’s happening. The violence and hatred of that era is alive again. Much of what we fought for, and even in the 60s I fought, is gone.

Those childhood impressions run deep, and my childhood fears are reignited. But I am no child, and I know I must not only fight the fear but help the young ones, as well.

Today ushers in a new era, one that is terrifying me more than Reagan’s inauguration and later GW Bush’s. These are two presidents whose policies I believe harmed America. Lest you think me fully partisan, I also think President Obama’s financial policies harmed America. I shall miss him, but I wrote a fair share of letters of complaint to the White House during his tenure. But I fully believe all three men had a clear set of principles. Pragmatism, as well, and a too-large debt to the wealthy of this country, but principles. I admired them on some levels. OK, admire is strong, especially for GW Bush. Pity has always been the dominant emotion there. But while I feared what might happen, I never thought it a massive turning point in the history of my country. Obama’s election was historic and a great step in our country’s maturity, but I didn’t think it would bring a sea change.

But we have turned a corner and found ourselves back in the Gilded Age.  Almost. America in the Gilded Age had high wages, much higher than Europe, and that brought in waves of immigrants. Well, we do have higher wages than developing countries, which is bringing many immigrants, but wages for our middle class have dropped when adjusted for inflation. I know as a professor overseas, I made a comfortable wage. I’d never be rich, but I earned a wage that allowed me to work one job and use my summers for scholarship and learning new technology and methods of teaching. In the US, I’ve never held a college teaching job that has made that possible, and I’ve even had to turn down three positions because the salaries they were offering were literally not enough to live on in the urban areas the schools were in.

I’ve said it before. If we adjust for inflation, in America, I have yet to make an annual salary equal to what my father, the high school dropout, earned in the decade before he died in 1972. He was a heavy machine operator in NYC, a union man who helped build the original World Trade Center, the Verrazano Bridge, Madison Square Garden and countless New York skyrises. Yes, his job took skill. Yes, his job was dangerous—he operated the cranes up on the scaffolding—but my job takes skill, as well. And education. And in today’s world, it can be dangerous. I have been threatened with a beating by a screaming student (while pregnant), stalked for a while by another angry student, and threatened with murder by a very angry student. As an urban teacher, I’ve taught in schools where shootings have happened on the sidewalks outside our buildings and knife attacks have happened in the school.

And I’m not alone. One of my high school friends is a crackerjack secretary. Her grammar and spelling are above the level of the freshman I teach in college. She’s organized, professional and cool under pressure. Earlier generations of executive secretaries made good wages. She doesn’t. Many of my friends are teachers. Teachers are the lowest paid professionals in the country, and their pay has been stagnant for almost a decade. We have an education crisis because teacher burnout is so high and many people just can’t afford to stay in the profession. Even many of my lawyer and doctor friends aren’t making what they thought they’d make when they went into the professions.

These are the angry people who just want a square deal. But instead of Roosevelt (and I mean Teddy, the Republican, not his cousin, the Democrat), we now have as president Donald Trump.

I can’t tell the future. I don’t like the signs I see, but as the eternally optimistic idealist, I have hope. I’m trying not to worry because worry only makes us suffer twice. But I am concerned about my “kids.” In fact, I’m concerned about all kids. I don’t want any child anywhere growing up in fear. I’m worried about my country.

Today was a surreal day. I’ve avoided social media, only popping on for a few minutes before I left in disgust. Too much hate and nastiness from both sides. In remembrance of my 60s values, I wore my best tie dye.  I also wore my “courage” and “wisdom” bracelets, not because I think they give me anything, but as reminders that what we need are wisdom and courage so that this country that I love so much emerges from this dark period stronger and wiser than we’ve been since the beginning of this century.

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March 30, 2013

Childhood flashbacks

Filed under: children,New Broads,war — by maggiec @ 1:05 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Last night, I frightened myself by reading the news about North Korea threatening South Korea and the US. I was mad at myself for feeling fear, but I’m a Cold War baby. We drilled for nuclear attacks in my grammar school. Who remembers sitting under desks? Or filing out in the hall, lined up, faces to the wall, arms over heads to protect us from falling debris?

I actually thought about where I’d go if the bombs were coming.  We knew there would be a warning.  I remember discussing it with my best friend, Katherine, when we couldn’t have been more than 10.  I couldn’t decide if I’d rather be home or at church. I didn’t think God would specially protect me in church, just that if I had to die, it would be good to die in a church, praying.  Closer my God to thee and all that.

As a teen and college student, I remember being chilled by Doctor Strangelove and The Day After. Then I was positively shattered by Threads, a 1984 BBC mock-documentary about a nuclear bombing which was much more realistic than any Hollywood production. In college I protested nuclear arms, and in many ways the threat of nuclear war marked my childhood and young womanhood.

The Cold War ended shortly after my son’s birth, but Pandora’s Box was still open. “Renegade states” either had nuclear capability or were trying hard to get it.  Frankly, I don’t want any country to have it, my own included, but so it goes. “Poo-too-weet,” as Vonnegut wrote.

Today I seem to be the only one I know worrying about North Korea if Facebook is any indication. Maybe I’m the only one saying anything.  Tomorrow is Easter, and there’s a lot to do. Maybe I’m just avoiding grading papers so irrational fear is better than grading.

Or perhaps it’s the post-9/11 sensibilities at work.  We’re constantly reminded that we may be attacked at any time. Our large bags are searched, I can say “if you see something, say something” in two languages (Si ve algo, diga algo), police are very visible in crowded places. When I go to Penn Station or Grand Central to catch the subway, there are machine gun toting soldiers paroling.  Usually I’m quite blase about it, but every once in a while, there’s a frisson of fear.  But for the past 10 years, Americans, especially New Yorkers, are used to living under threat. And most of the time, we totally ignore it.

But I’m not enjoying the memories seeing the articles are dredging up. This is one of the downsides of living back in America. Living in rural Sweden, I felt mostly untouchable. No one attacks Sweden!  Living in Geneva, where I lived for the actual 9/11 attacks, also felt very safe. Everyone has money in Switzerland, good guys and bad guys alike. No one is going to attack the banking state, not even terrorists. They need money for arms the same as everyone else. At least that’s what we told ourselves, and we believed it.

I know this fear of war is nothing new. We’re bellicose creatures humans.  Nuclear war is scary, but really, getting hacked apart by a claymore doesn’t sound much better.

Funny where the mind wanders.  This started as a short little post for another blog I write, my “crunchy granola” positive thinking one.  This isn’t so positive, and it got a tad out of hand.  I realized this slightly longer look at Americana belonged here.

The sun is shining. I’ve lived through saber rattling before. (Once memorably in Taiwan when the ROC was threatening to invade, I had a five year old and a leg broken in three places. Americans were leaving in droves, but I was confident we’d be fine.) And that’s what this is, saber rattling. And having written down my fears, I’ve greatly managed to dispel them.  Thanks for listening!

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