My Dusty Memory Bowl

As children, we could make my baby brother cry simply by chanting the words, “Okie! Okie! Okie!” Isn’t it amazing how prejudice is learned so innocently and so early? We loved our brother but it made us feel more powerful when we teased him.

Nowadays, that kind of “naming” cruelty is called bullying and it is usually aimed at people of color. In the  decade of the Dust Bowl, desperate migrants to California were mostly blonde and blue eyed.

Watching the The Dust Bowl  documentary was fascinating for all four of us kids since we were part of that great exodus from the mid-west to the promised land. We were very young (7,6,4,and 1) when we left Oklahoma in 1939. Now we are all in our seventies and times have changed.

The Dust Bowl story was peripheral to our personal stories. My parents were not farmers although they were both born in a small Missouri town and most of their neighbors did farm.My mother’s family were the richest people in that little town and they lost everything in the Depression. My Dad was simply travelling through and the two of them continued travelling after the wedding in 1932.

Like most immigrants, they didn’t talk much about their past. I’ve never been clear about how they survived the Depression. I do know they moved a lot. The four towns – McAllen TX, Waco TX, Beaumont TX and Tulsa OK – where their four kids were born were just the tip of the iceberg.

In 1939 they piled their four kids, and my Uncle Bob in the car and drove to the land of orange trees and hope. I remember Hoover Dam but everything else is second hand. The younger kids remember nothing.

My Dad had lived in California for part of his high school years and really wanted to return. My mother wanted to be with my Dad. My handsome young uncle wanted to be a movie star.

Money was always an anxious subterranean subject so I had no idea where it came from. I do know we lived in a small house and there was enough food. I also know my uncle worked as a singing waiter in a Pasadena Hotel because we heard him and the others sing on the radio every Friday night.

If my family talked about the more destitute migrants, I don’t remember it. Were the attempts to block indigent migrants from entering the state mentioned? My memories are all mystery. For some reason, I knew that being an Okie was bad. It took me a long time to work through childhood shame and money issues.

When World War Two started, my Dad went to work as a lathe operator in a machine shop. My mother sold dresses. My uncle was drafted and fought in the South Pacific for four years.

My real memories begin when I was in sixth grade. We lived in a government housing project. Most of our neighbors were fellow immigrants from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and Mississippi. My mother felt she was far above her neighbors and, although she was an open-hearted woman, she worried about our grammar and manners.

I grew up thinking California was the best place in the world and everyone who had good sense lived here. I still hold some of that prejudice, although I now have wider experience to back it up. California really is the land of possibility.

When I watched Ken Burn’s The Dust Bowl, I enjoyed the retrospective. I learned quite a bit about those days and it helped me review some of my old feelings. If you get a chance, I recommend it because it was an excellent work of art.

It also allowed me to look at the shame I felt as a kid about not being a California Native. I thought about where prejudice comes from and why, in this day and age, people still cover their feelings of inadequacy by seeing  the “other” as wrong or dangerous. We know that bullies are full of negative beliefs about themselves whether it is  seven year old taunting a one year old or Hitler hating the Jews.

Of course, it is a long way from simple school yard pre-judgment and bullying to out-and-out war but the line from one to the other is unbroken. The first step in any war is to see the opponent as “the other”. We must despise the enemy so we create distance by calling them  names like Okie.

The questions are not, “Why are people cruel to each other?” or, “Why is there war?”. The question is, “How do we outgrow the shame, fear, and suspicion that creates the conflict?” Whether it is a move to block the gates to California or the current mid-East border bombs, conflict can be prevented.  The first step in healing conflict is nearly always to stop looking at people on the other side of the border as “different” and “less than.”

It is not enough for you and I to condemn cruelty and war. We must find ways to establish love and peace. Whether it is global or local, our consciousness of peace and possibility is already a help. Holding the light of wisdom high is a help to all people.

One step toward opening hearts and minds up locally is to bring the arts back into the schools. Art education helps more than you can imagine even if it cannot be measured on achievement tests. I  suggest we each speak up for the importance of the arts in the schools.

I believe the arts serve an important function – they illustrate our commonalty as humans. Although we are unique, we are also universally one with God. The arts teach this better than anything. That’s what drives me nuts about the cuts in school arts programs.

Long before I found Science of Mind, it was the arts that opened my mind and heart in a very powerful way. The arts helped me feel something in common with others and also helped me dissolve the shame and prejudice about who I was and where I came from.

As a former high school teacher, I know this is a nearly-universal experience. It is so amazing to a young person who has learned to detest her grandmother’s quilts to see very similar quilts on the museum wall.

My first artistic discoveries from the Depression years were Dorthea Lange photographs in the  books I found in the in the 7th grade library. The dignity and beauty of people who travelled toward the Promised Land helped me see my past in a new way.  The books that came out of “hard times” of the Depression made me see that those hillbillies my mother feared were real people with real stories.

The music of the depression years is the backbone of our American musical heritage. Whether it is gospel, blues, bluegrass or just plain country, it is great. We are still singing many of the songs in church. Some of us learned them in elementary school. If you don’t know the music of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly or Hank Williams, you should check it out. It lives!

I love the way art helps us explore our own beauty and self-worth at the same time we discover our love for our neighbor.  Today’s school children deserve to explore the richness of their cultural heritage and to learn about other peoples special artistry.

Write to your local school officials and to your State Boards of Education. Let your views be known. Technology and facts are important. There is no conflict and the arts are what make us human. Keep the faith!

Ask Yourself

What were my first experiences with art?

Do I agree that art programs are  really important?

Is there anything I’d like to do about that?

What artistic expressions delight me these days?

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Happy Days

 

I enjoyed a perfect birthday. I am very happy I was born in April and I have especially enjoyed it since “they” named April 22 the official Earth Day. I know it has more to do with Spring and blooming flowers than me, but it feels personal. Then there were all the flowers, cards, messages and gifts from family and friends to remind me that my presence here on Planet Earth does make a difference.

Mother Earth and I are One – we are in perfect accord. I stop and smell the flowers, I smile at the blue skies, and I visit the ocean often. Like RW Emerson and the other Transcendentalists, I find God in Nature.

Did you know that more people are born in April than any other month? We are closer to our animal nature than we might like to think. We pop out and announce our presence with gusto, just like little sheep or goats. We are on the same schedule as the spring flowers and go through the same process of youth, maturity and old age as they do.

In my heart, I am the same person that I was at age 11, 18, 35, 50 or 65 but this was birthday #79. That makes me old and I notice it physically. However, I find the ageless Jane is a very active part of my emotional and spiritual nature. I am One with all the different ages of Jane.

Memory is part of what makes me different from those little goats and sheep. Since I am human, I can think about the past and the present as well as the future.

I have memory and I am capable of thought and belief. I think and believe that I am one with a Power For Good that is eternal and greater than my physical body. I am One with Life.

Birthdays are great days for reflection and as I have aged, I have become more reflective. This year felt very special to me, partly because I have more time and partly because writing this blog has made me pay more attention to my life.

My birthday seemed perfect in so many ways and I did focus on the many blessings of the day. There were some surprises but no disappointments. I was surprised my coffee maker died but I was happy that I had an answer when my daughter asked the proverbial birthday question. “I want a new coffee pot,” I answered. “I want one just like the old one  – with no fancy buttons – just on and off.

So I got a coffee pot and everyone was happy! I also got to choose a restaurant for lunch after church. When the Greek restaurant had a sign on the door that said, “Never on Sunday,” I got a second choice and that was Mexican. I probably would have gone for Chinese if I had to come up with three wishes but two were enough.

Today, my house looks like a florist’s shop. The church sent flowers home with me. My nephew gave me an orchid. A friend who lives a long way off sent me a big lovely bouquet by telegraph. I love flowers and have taken up drawing them as a new expression of my art hobby.

Perhaps the best gifts of all were the ones from my artistic friends. Leah Oviedo gave me her new book about building your own affirmations. It is filled with delightful illustrations and ideas suitable for young adults. To see her book, go to writewhatyour know.wordpress.com

My friend Jo sent me a set of note cards that featured her brilliant photographs. I will probably keep them all because they seem too precious to use.

My brother John sent me a new link to his enlarged website. I love the way he has developed into a serious (if non-traditional) outside artist. You can see some of his work by checking out  theartistjohn.com … but be warned that it is neither sweet nor pretty. It may startle you and/or make you think.

I started out as an art teacher many years ago and I’m now illustrating a book with my friend, Gina Ogden. Although I’ve always been interested in art, this is an entirely new venture for me. They say it is good for the elderly to do new things and I guess doing the drawings for a pillow book about love and sex is a new thing.

Old age is more than a time to recite your health problems or count your money. It is a time to do new things and more importantly, it is a time to reflect on the blessings in your life. I took Sunday afternoon and evening to reflect on some of mine. If you are reading this post, you are a blessing in my life and I am grateful for you.

One of the gifts of maturity has been to see how well people actually do over the long haul. About twenty years ago, I began to see that my friends and family really were like the characters in novels. They may have struggled through heroic trials and tribulations, but they achieved a great deal. I have learned that you should never give up.

I have learned many lessons in life. One is that perseverance pays off. Another is that the aging process brings a lot of joy. I count my blessings nearly every day and I am truly grateful for how well most things have turned out in my life.

If you were one of the many people who sent me a birthday greeting, thank you. If you didn’t then next year will be even better because I’ll be entering an exciting new decade. Imagine that – I once dreamed of being grown up and now I am. Isn’t life amazing?

Ask yourself

How do I feel about age?

Am I grateful for my life so far?

What are ten things I am grateful for?