Tuesday, June 9, 2015

I Am Somebody

“I may be poor
But I am
         Rev. Williams H. Borders

Civil rights activist William Holmes Borders wrote “I Am – Somebody” six decades ago while pastor at Wheat Street Baptist Church in Atlanta.  In 1957, following the Supreme Court decision that desegregated the buses of Montgomery, Alabama, Borders and five other ministers were arrested for sitting in the front of an Atlanta bus; they successfully appealed their case to the Supreme Court.  Reverend Jesse Jackson adopted his moving poem in countless speeches and as part of a PUSH-Excel program to motivate young people.

The mistreatment of children is a recurring theme in the novels of Toni Morrison, whose latest work, “God Help the Child,” features young black kids who, according to Francine Prose’s New York Review of Books essay, “Growing Up Too Black,” “have nothing: no power, no agency, no protection from the unfeeling or predatory adults around them.”  Morrison is a treasure, but I don’t plan on reading “God Help the Child.”  I get my fill of reading about predatory adults from the newspapers, starting with child molester Dennis Hastert.

Jane Pauley profiled actor Ben Vereen on Charles Osgood’s Sunday morning CBS show.  In 1978 the “Roots” star paid tribute to vaudevillian Bert Williams in concert with the Boston Pops.  In 1981 he reprised the act – complete with bug eyes and black face – at Ronald Reagan’s Inaugural gala.  African-American critics piled on.  Missing the irony, Earl Calloway of the Pittsburgh Courier called the performance sickening and degrading.  Vereen believes the incident stunted his subsequent career opportunities. 

Bert Williams, I learned from Edward White’s “Tastemaker” (2014), was one of iconoclast Carl Van Vechten’s “all-time heroes,” an example of what the Twenties cultural critic came to believe as an essential truth: that, (in White’s words) “in its primitivism, blackness contains the essence of modern art.” Booker T. Washington said of Williams: “He has done more for our race than I have.  He has smiled his way jnto people’s hearts.  I have been obliged to fight my way.” The native of Nassau in the Bahamas partnered with George Walker, and the team of Williams and Walker became vaudeville headliners.  Later as a solo act, Williams starred in Ziegfield’s Follies and recorded numerous hits, including “Nobody,” which Bing Crosby, Nina Simone, and Johnny Cash covered.  Written by Williams and Alex Rogers, “Nobody” contains these verses:
When life seems full of clouds and rain,
And I am filled with naught but pain,
Who soothes my thumping, bumping brain?
[pause] Nobody.
When winter comes with snow and sleet,
And me with hunger and cold feet,
Who says, "Here's two bits, go and eat"?
[pause] Nobody.”
W.C. Fields called Williams “the funniest man I ever saw – and the saddest man I ever knew.”  Ben Vereen paid a heavy price for evoking the man behind the mask.
NWI Times photo of EC Central graduation by John J. Watkins

At graduation Dave told East Chicago Central’s Class of 2015 to consider North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano’s advice on what to do each day:  find humor, use your brain, and have something move you to tears.  As “Jimmy V” put it at the first annual ESPY Awards less than two months before he succumbed to cancer, “If you laugh, think, and cry, that’s a heck of a day.”
 flooding in Hebron

Daughter-in-law Beth Satkoski paid an overnight visit after a business trip to Baja, California.  Unfortunately, I had a bad cold in addition to a sore back and ribs and was pretty anti-social.  I didn’t even answer calls from three good friends, Tom Wade, Paul Kern, and Dick Hagelberg.  Toni drove Beth home to Carmel despite torrential rains and tornado warnings.  Miranda spent her twenty-first birthday at an Italian bar where customers serenaded her.

Future teacher Aza Braner visited a second grade classroom one day a week; she also taught  Sunday school to pre-schoolers.
March 19: Today is my twenty-first birthday! I am officially legal.  I must admit, I am a “goody-goody.” I did not drink before today and have no intention of getting drunk, but I am excited to try different kinds of alcohol.  When my mom and sister enjoy a casual glass of wine in the evenings, I have wanted to join them.  Now I can. Unfortunately, I have been sick all day!   Tonight I might try one of my brother’s Angry Orchard ciders.  My sister is planning me a “Sparkle Party,” an excuse to put sparkles all over the house!
March 21: Went out with my brother, sister, and uncle, the “party engineer” who compiled a list of places we might want to go.  We started out at a small Chesterton bar called Upper Deck, on the second floor of an old building.  We all sat at a tiny table and my brother ordered cranberry vodka.  It was HORRID.  It tasted like cough syrup.  My brother explained that it needed to be stirred; after that it tasted much better and made my ears very warm.  The second drink was a rum and coke, my brother’s favorite.  It was good, but really just tasted like a slightly creamy coke.  The last, chosen by my Uncle, was an amaretto stone sour.  It was delicious! My Uncle called it a “danger” drink because it didn’t really taste like alcohol.  At Duffy’s in Valpo we got three drinks; none compared to the amaretto stone sour. I shared them with my two siblings and didn’t feel hardly anything.  I am not sure I understand why people spend so much money on alcohol. 
March 22: My boyfriend came home for the weekend to celebrate my birthday! We didn’t do a whole lot, but he did take me out to dinner.  He is the most thoughtful man I have ever met. He doesn’t plan romantic dates or say a whole lot of romantic things but is reliable and always gives the best gifts.  Over Christmas break, I had told him that I wanted to go on a picnic and wished it were warm outside.  He set out a blanket in the basement and made us sandwiches and bought me flowers.  For my birthday he gave me my own picnic basket! It was totally unexpected and beautiful!
Aza with boyfriend and sister

March 30: My sister Tae is getting married this fall! I am so excited.  She is my best friend and I am the maid of honor, which is super exciting but also a lot of work.  My duties have included calling bridal boutiques to schedule appointments, calling florists to get flower estimates, attending bridal expos, creating timelines, and lots of shopping.  The first big order of business was the wedding dress.  My sister had always wanted a full lace fitted dress but didn’t like the feel of any she tried on and bought a one-shouldered tulle ball gown! I was so surprised by her decision, but she looks beautiful in it.  We knew it was the right dress when she, my mom, and I started crying.  She originally wanted the bridesmaids in long flowing purple dresses.  We ended up deciding on a short wisteria (dusty purple) dress with a sweetheart neckline and sheer collar with sleeves.  It is really pretty and comfortable.  The next order of business will be flowers.  Speaking of flowers, for the shower, I am creating over 600 paper flowers! We are having a “tea party” theme. My mom and I will make favors and prizes like tea towels, aprons, and homemade vanilla extract.  My summer is going to be very busy!
March 31: All this wedding stuff got me thinking about my own wedding.  I can’t wait to get married and start a family.  I once thought that I would have only my sister as a maid of honor and no bridesmaids, but I’d like to recognize three friends who have been there for me.  One is a spunky girl who is always happy and enthusiastic; I’ve known her for 14 years, and she is my rock.  No matter how long we have been apart we can pick up right where we left off. A second I met in middle school.  She makes more friends in a day than I could in a year.  The third, I have only known for three years but we are both passionate about loving children and teaching needy kids.
IUN student Trisha Miles received grievous news in March of 2015, her journal reveals:
  March 12: After an appointment with an oral surgeon, I found out I need surgery to remove this huge lump on my gums. They aren’t too sure what it is.
  March 16: I’m doing my volunteer hours at Lafayette Elementary School in Hammond.  Many students live in poverty, and for some school is the only time they eat breakfast and lunch.
  March 17: My mom is 100% Irish and goes all out for St. Patrick’s Day!   In the morning Andrew and I went fishing off the docks in Cedar Lake at the marina down the street from my house. It was very windy; we didn’t get a bite but had a good time. For dinner my mom and I made shake´n bake chicken and of course green mashed potatoes and milk dyed green.
  March 21: It’s a Brooklyn weekend! Brooklyn is my 6 year-old cousin.  Her dad passed away 5 years ago, so my mom makes sure we get her at least once a month.  At the mall we interacted with the clowns that were with the Easter bunny.  Brooklyn had her face painted and got a flower balloon made.  I took her to Toys R Us to pick out a birthday present. She chose Legos.

  March 23: Since I can’t eat or drink anything, I cleaned my 10-gallon fish tank to keep busy. Normally I don’t clean all the rocks and water, but I haven’t done it in a month so today is the day. I have one guppy, one platy, one bottom feeder (a catfish), and two tiger barbs. My gum surgery went well: I was in a little pain but feel good. Not being able to consume hard food sucks; I’ve been eating mashed potatoes and cottage cheese.
 March 30: I drove all the way to Chicago Heights for surgery results to learn that they didn’t have them.  The trip wasn’t a complete waste of time.  I did visit the gravesites of my mom’s parents and my uncle and cousin.
  April 1: For my surgery results they requested that a parent came with, which I thought weird since I’m 22, but I was glad my mom was there.  I found out that I have cancer; the lump in my mouth was a tumor. This is the worst day of my life. The doctor said that we should go to the University of Chicago and gave us some names. For now all I really know about it is that it’s in my glands. I broke down and cried in the doctor’s office, but the hardest part was telling Andrew, my boyfriend of almost 5 years.  When I broke the news, he was in shock.  He was grabbing something out of his truck and kept doing so till I asked him to hug me. That’s when he started to cry. It was a long hug.   I know that he’s going to be strong for me and stay with me through it.
  April 2: I have done so much crying by now that I’m almost cried out. I told a couple other people that I thought should know.  Andrew texted his cousins who are away at school; when I called to tell him I was on my way, I could tell he was crying.
  April 3: Today should have been a lot better because most co-workers know by now, but it wasn’t.  It’s the last Friday of lent for tilapia and mac and cheese for dinner.
  April 5: I woke up and ate Easter candy and it felt great. I hadn’t had I such a treat since lent started. My dad made my favorite breakfast, hash browns and eggs.  I spent most of the day at my uncles.  They didn’t drill me and waited till after I left to ask my mom about my cancer. With Andrews’ family we played ultimate Frisbee and it was a blast. Andrew just got a GoPro so we recorded it on there. I talked to Andrews’s aunt about everything.  She is a nurse at Rush in the children’s cancer wing. She’ll look into some doctors for us. I ended Easter laying in bed with Andrew talking about life.       

My heart goes out to Trisha and pray her gum cancer comes under control.  I complain about sore ribs and back muscles but am fortunate to be ambulatory and capable of keeping an entertaining blog.  Eight years ago I learned I had prostate cancer.  I got help, and it’s in remission.  Because of Trisha’s journal I knew a Jeopardy answer in the Fish category for bottom feeder: catfish.

On campus I recognized incoming Vice Chancellor Mark McPhail walking through IUN’s Redhawk Café and introduced myself.  He had recently sat through his first Council meeting, Chuck Gallmeier told me.  Chris Young’s two sons were on their way to attend Samuel A. Love’s class on Still Photography, offered as an experiment to both kids and seniors.  I hope to sit in from time to time.  In the Archives Ken Schoon was researching Region events held on the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970.  Chuckling, he read from an article reporting that the Daughters of the American Revolution decried Earth Day as subversive and passed a resolution condemning pollution, not of the fragile planet, but of the mind.  The women quoted, such as Mrs. Samuel Neill and Mrs. Henry Norsen, went by their husbands’ names.     

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