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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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November 22, 2013

A Long Fifty Years

Filed under: American culture — by maggiec @ 10:35 am
Tags: , ,

Fifty years ago today, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Texas, changing the trajectory of America’s development.

I was just a toddler, and I don’t remember it at all. My mother does, of course, and I’ve heard the story of where she was many, many times. My mother is Irish Catholic, and the election of the first Irish Catholic president in America’s history was a milestone marking the culture’s “acceptance” into the mainstream. Mom’s older cousins remembered the “no Irish need apply” signs in New York City businesses, so this was a leap.

All too soon it was over.  And the hagiographies began.

I can understand–the handsome young war hero president who left a young widow, just 34 years old when her husband died practically in her lap, the two little children–both under six.  The hope he had held out to the new post-war world.  Gone.

Camelot was over.

If it ever existed.

I am not here to rip apart myths or build them up. I do believe that in modern times we are too soon to dig for the feet of clay in our heroes and too quick to lift up the unworthy as icons. John Kennedy had little time either to prove his worth or achieve much while in office, and thanks to a bullet, we’re left with many “what ifs”.

I just asked my students if they cared about this anniversary, and they were adamant that they do. The recent spate of documentaries and their lifetime of hearing conspiracy theories have convinced them that the government had Kennedy killed because he wanted to change too much, too fast.

So the conspiracy theorists have won the day and history has its story as documented on YouTube.

Still, today we remember a man and an ideal and mourn the loss of both.

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