I mailed my letter to President Donald J. Trump on our way out of town Friday morning. Timberley and I didn’t watch yesterday’s inauguration live, choosing instead to watch its highlights on the CBS Evening News. And today we participated in the Women’s March on Morganton.
Taking those topics in reverse order—since most things dealing with Trump seem backwards to me, anyway—I’m really proud of our hometown and the county’s Democratic Party for organizing the event in support of women’s rights and civil rights. Around 600 women, men and children from Burke and surrounding counties participated in the local march, which included a rally on the historic courthouse square.
The protest was peaceful. The worst behavior that I witnessed came from passing motorists—like the blond woman in the Lexus who gave us a thumbs-down as we waited to cross East Union Street so that she could continue through the intersection when the light turned green. At the same time, many other motorists waved. We saw many friends from here and elsewhere, some that we hadn’t seen for months and even years, and we made some new friends.
Morganton’s march coincided with other protests and vigils across the state and nation, the largest and most highly publicized, of course, being the Women’s March on Washington. I hope the march to preserve all our rights doesn’t end today.
Ever since I learned how to address an envelope—something most school-aged kids don’t know how to do now—I’ve written fan letters to my heroes. Not emails. I’m talking about honest-to-goodness, pencil-chewing, hunted-and-pecked, forehead-creasing, lower-lip biting, pink eraser and Wite-Out smudged fan letters. Emails ain’t got no soul.
And I’ve actually received some personal responses, from people like home run king Henry Aaron and his Atlanta Braves teammate Ralph Garr in the 1970s; Nobel Prize-winning novelist Saul Bellow and science fiction pioneer Ray Bradbury in the 1980s; and, as of today, President Barack Obama, who, to me, is the best U.S. president of my lifetime so far.
I was an eighth-grader at Happy Valley Elementary School near Lenoir, N.C., in April of 1973 when I decided to write to Hank Aaron, my favorite player, who also happened to play for my favorite team. He was chasing Babe Ruth’s Major League record of 714 career home runs, and I wanted to tell Hank how much I admired him, so I wrote the letter in pencil on lined Blue Horse notebook paper and zipped it off to my hero in care of the Atlanta Braves. I’m not sure how I got the team’s address, maybe from an Atlanta telephone book at the public library. The Internet didn’t exist back then.
My 98-year-old aunt Clara Ellis Duckworth Clontz died in her sleep last Saturday, the last day of 2016. Her preacher reminded us Wednesday at her funeral that her bedtime prayer for some time had included a request to die in her sleep. We all had heard her say that but must have secretly hoped—I had, at least—that she would live to see 100.
As I noted in this column last week, the deaths that especially touched me last year were not the losses of celebrities but were the passings of old friends and family members—like Aunt Clara—whose lives were celebrated for reasons much more personal than fame, fortune or artistic talent. To hope that death takes a holiday this year would be futile. As Chaucer wrote, “Time and tide wait for no man.”
Yes, 2016 has sucked out loud, and I won’t even try to list all the celebrity deaths that have scarred the past year for our celebrity-driven culture. I also won’t note the death of civility in public and political discourse, thanks in large part to social media’s prominence in our nascent “post-truth” civilization.
And I won’t say anything disrespectful about Donald J. Trump, except that he is the perfect president-elect for the glass-half-empty class of people we have become. He’s our latest model American, I guess, until we’re at least half full again and can take more pleasurable roads than the expressway to perdition.
I have always heard that books are portals to other times and places. But when Timberley and I went Christmas shopping last week at Barnes & Noble, I wasn’t expecting to step into a time machine and revisit the 1970s without even opening a book.
That’s what happened, though. It really was deja vu all over again, triggered not by the written word or by a smell, as is often the case, but by the sight of something I thought I’d never see again – a roomful of record albums. LPs. Big, beautiful, shrink-wrapped sleeves of cardboard bearing veritable works of art and enveloping the greatest sounds ever pressed into vinyl or committed to any other medium.
Our heroes – old and young alike – are dying. Our new leader is a liar, and we who elected him – even we Christians who champion truth – knew it. Our choices aren’t choices at all. Everything seems inside out, upside down or backwards. Nothing makes sense. We can’t be sure of anything anymore.
In case you noticed, I didn’t upload a column last week for the first time since the end of August, not because I didn’t want to write something but because my AMC Gremlin of a computer wouldn’t let me. Like so many other beaters, it veered off the Information Highway and crashed into a virtual brick wall last week, and I didn’t get it back on the road until yesterday.
Lest I forget, I want to thank the guys at PeopleCentric Computers on West Union Street, Morganton, for coming to the rescue again. Back in September they helped me bring this ancient Toshiba Satellite laptop back to life by adding some RAM, selling me a whiz-bang USB WiFi adapter, and helping me get the Microsoft Windows monkey off my back for good. It all cost only 40 bucks.
Yesterday, after fiddling with the broken-down laptop for a week, I finally decided that, yes, I needed to replace its hard drive. Sure enough, PeopleCentric Computers had the hard drive I needed for only $20. It took me only about 10 minutes to install the drive after getting back home. Then I installed the Linux Mint operating system – not the latest version, but new enough for me – and here I am.
The other night Timberley and I stopped at Krispy Kreme for a doughnut and cup of coffee. It was Sunday, the day we’ve decided to take a break from our low-carb, low-sugar, low-salt, low-taste, low-down diet. Besides, the “HOT NOW” sign was lit. So it was their fault.
I’m the one to blame for the diet. Since I’m overweight, hypertensive and prediabetic, we’ve spent the past four months watching what we eat and drink, and we’ve tried to get more exercise. My most recent doctor visit last month was encouraging, as I’d lost 15 pounds and had better blood test numbers.
But I had trained for that three-month checkup as if it were my own personal Olympics, and my results were less impressive than expected after all the dietary sacrifices we’d made. I was Eddie the Eagle and the Jamaican bobsled team—happy to be in the competition but definitely out of the medal race.
A couple of weeks ago Timberley and I were watching an interview with Jeff Kinney, author of the best-selling Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series. He mentioned how important the illustrations are in his books, especially for children with autism. They give struggling readers “an island to swim to,” he said.
Even before the election, that image of a man lost at sea swimming toward an island on the far horizon resonated with me. It is an image of both hope and salvation. Since the election, the same metaphor has been applicable to various segments of our society that feel displaced by hate and ignorance.
Over the past few years I’ve been wondering about the value of fiction in our lives. That’s right. Fiction.
You know what fiction is—short stories and novels that describe imaginary events and imaginary people. Made-up stories about things that aren’t real. While that may not seem like a personal crisis to you—to wonder if playing make-believe on the written page is important—it is for me for at least two reasons.
First, I worked as an English teacher for 25 years, and I had to decide from one semester to the next how much emphasis to place on the various types of literature that my classes studied. Of course, the curriculum requires that certain literary works be taught, but the average classroom teacher does have some latitude in what she teaches and how she teaches it. After all, she is a professional educator.
Since the arrival of President Obama’s Common Core initiative, English teachers in public schools have been pushed to assign less fiction and more nonfiction for their students to read, since only nerds, geeks and little old ladies in reading circles buy books now, right? But the rest of us do read newspapers and magazines and textbooks and owner’s manuals and all sorts of other written. . . . Oh, please.
No, to be honest, now most of us read Facebook. Or whatever else we can suck from cyberspace into these black holes we call smartphones. You’re probably reading this on a smartphone, whose name is the 21stcentury’s best oxymoron until Jan. 20th when we’re introduced to President Trump. Our phones suck everything in, and they don’t distinguish good from bad. That’s left up to us.