Our Family Is As American As Apple Pie

f3-DSCN2621This Fourth of July was looking like a washout for our family. Rain for days and days. No community fireworks. Beach trip a month from now. No baseball tickets or running the Peachtree Road Race. Our plans consisted of throwing some hot dogs on the grill and maybe getting in the pool if the rain let up.

But, by cracky, we are AMERICANS and I am The Mom, so we needed to do something special to mark this holiday. So I decided to teach Vivi how to make Grandmama Irene’s “Biltmore Apple Pie” from scratch. Can’t get more American than apple pie!

Her helping me lasted about halfway through peeling the first apple. Grandmama uses Rome Beauties. Daddy uses Arkansas Blacks for his apple pies. The Kroger didn’t have either of those, so I went with Jonagolds. Regardless of the apple, you need pretty big hands to work the peeler. Vivi switched to stirring dry ingredients and talking.

Making apple pie on Independence Day got me thinking about being an American. Grandmama Irene was an O’Neal of the Irish sort. She married Pop, whose family has been here so long that there’s a county in Virginia named after them. You had to get here real early for a piece of Virginia. I’ve been an American for a long time.

That peeler that was too big for Vivi’s hands? It was Richard’s. He was an American because his grandfather, Jack, escaped Jewish persecution in Russia and made his way to New York via Japan and South America. He met and married Sadie then their son married a nice Irish girl from New Jersey.

While we baked, G took a nap on the couch. He’s a real American too–by choice. He came to the US to go to graduate school, married a nice Midwestern girl and decided to stay. He took a test and made an oath to become a citizen. G and that nice lady created another American when they adopted a little girl from Brasil and brought her to the States. Victoria has the privilege of two passports–a green one from Brasil and a blue one from America.

Vivi has two passports also. She was born in America to two American parents then we did a lot of paperwork to make her a Brasilian citizen too. She’s been registered at the consulate in Atlanta, approved by the embassy in Miami, and her birth entered into the record books in Carmo de Minas, her great grandmother’s hometown. Her great uncles Wilson and William were the witnesses.

Carlos is an American, too, but not an official Brasilian yet because damn that is a lot of paperwork.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot ever since that South Carolina terrorist said he wanted to “take back our country.” Whose country? America doesn’t work like that, y’punkass. When it’s time to vote, G gets the same number of votes that I do. Me with my county in Virginia and him with his citizenship that’s younger than our daughter–we’re both Americans. This is OUR country.

Oh, and here’s my Grandmama’s apple pie recipe. I double the crust and use about six cups of apples. Arkansas Blacks, Rome Beauties, Jonagolds–you are free to choose because this is America.

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He’s Not Going to Fall

Carlos went to the movies for the first time tonight. Well, it was the first time he’s made it into the theater and watched an entire movie. I tried once before when he really wanted to see “Planes,” but the overwhelming noise from the previews scared the life out of him. Fifteen bucks for us to sit in the parking lot and eat popcorn that was still warm. Tonight, I brought along his magic headphones but braced myself for a meltdown nonetheless.

movie2I scored an invite through work to a sneak preview of the new Carmike Ovation theater in Athens (they remodeled the old theater on Lexington Hwy). We planned to go as a family, but G ended up taking Vivi to OTHER theater on the far side of town…so yeah. It was just Carlos and me on the red carpet. If the reporters ask, he’s wearing a shirt by Superman, shorts from the Target $5 mix and match counter, and a pair of shark sandals that light up. Oh, and he’s got on Marvel Avengers underwear, the ones with Hulk on the butt.

Ovation features in-theater dining and nothing keeps my boy happily in his seat like a big ole plate of french fries and a tall glass of lemonade, delivered right to our seats during the movie. I got myself an $8 glass of wine (served in a lovely mini-carafe and stemless glass) and a plate of Greek feta fries. I’d tell you what was on them but we were eating in the dark. There was something lemony, something feta-ish, something aiolish, and a thinly sliced herb that was probably basil. Way better than popcorn. Each wide leather seat has a table, a light, and a cupholder. I sat on the edge of my seat, waiting for Carlos to lose it.

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I leaned in close to whisper, “Do you need to go potty?” He shook his head, clamped in the grip of pink headphones. “Hold your drink with two hands, please.” He bent the straw down and nodded. His eyes never left the screen as a little bear who loved orange marmalade left the jungle of “darkest Peru” and made his way to London.

I first met Paddington Bear almost forty years ago, when my childhood friend Mollie got one straight from London when her dad flew there. Mollie had the most glamorous collection of toys–her dad was a Delta pilot so she had dolls from every country he visited. I remember her bringing Paddington to my house for sleepovers. In his blue coat with the wooden toggle buttons, and his slouchy red felt hat, Paddington was a toy from out in The Big Wide World that I had never seen.

Carlos finished his fries and let out a giant burp, then announced in that “I’m wearing headphones so I can’t tell that I’m speaking really loudly” way: “MOMMY! I BURPED!” We need to work on the whole whispering thing.

movie5I quit worrying after that and sank into this new thing that I can enjoy with my son. He’s growing up. He’s getting used to the world. For so much of his short life, we’ve kept him sheltered from crowds and noises and craziness, because they made him so miserable. But hiding from the world isn’t any way to live. It turns out, this kid loves an adventure. Instead of sheltering him from the noiser parts of life, I’m learning ways to help him cope.

He wasn’t afraid of the wild chase scene or the explosion in the kitchen. He didn’t get concerned when Paddington ran away into the rainy wilderness of London (Vivi would have been in my lap sobbing by then). He didn’t flinch at the site of the taxidermy knives or get worried when Mr. Brown climbed out on a ledge during the rescue. (Should I have said Spoiler Alert? This movie is 6 months old.)

My son was so chill about his first movie that I actually got to relax and enjoy the story, too. In the climactic scene, Paddington tries to escape the evil lady by climbing up an incinerator chute. As he nears the top and his climbing mechanism fails, I squeaked and yipped along with the kids.

That’s when a little girl in the row behind us shouted in a comforting way, “HE’S NOT GOING TO FALL!” The entire theater giggled with relief.

She was right–Paddington didn’t fall. He found a family. And the family found their joy again. When the evil lady got her just desserts, Carlos turned to me with a smile and said, “She’s the bad guy!”

He’s not going to fall. My boy is going to fly. He’ll find his way in The Big Wide World.

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Experiencing Otherness: My Trip to the Beauty Shop

I have this friend, Kathy, from way back in the 1990s. We met through work. She wrote software manuals and I developed training for the same systems.

Kathy and I got to be Friends-friends when she overheard me talking about playing Spades. Her eyes got all big and her hands started going all jazz hands (which is highly unusual because Kathy is very elegant and reserved). She confided that she loved playing Spades but hadn’t played in years, so that Friday night, four of us got up a little card game. And that was that.

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Her baby, Maiya, was the itty-bittiest baby I ever held, just about a week old. I got so scared holding that tiny little thing when she started mewling, but Kathy wouldn’t take her back. She said, “You gotta get used to it sometime.” Maiya’s almost done with college now. Kathy had two baby girls and a husband and a house and all those grown up things while I was just getting my legs under me. We stayed friends after I married and left town. Our little Spades group got together as much as we could. When Fartbuster and I divorced, Kathy talked me through it. When Richard and I met, Kathy cheered me on. When he got sick, she started praying for him. And for me.

A few months after Richard was diagnosed with leukemia, Kathy called me on a scorching hot summer day. She asked about Richard then I asked after her family. “You aren’t going to believe this when I tell you,” she said. “Vincent has cancer. Multiple myeloma.” I remember exactly where I was sitting on the edge of the bed, looking out over the backyard into all of that sunshine. How could this possibly be true? Two of us with husbands with blood cancer? Talk about being in the same boat, the one going right up Shit Creek.

Kathy and I kept in touch through the cancer journey. I told her what I knew about the path. Vincent had more options than Richard. His chemo worked…pretty much. I was ashamed to admit it, but there were some days back then when I couldn’t talk to Kathy. Her husband was getting better and mine was getting sicker. But I was glad for her and the girls and Vincent. It was just hard to have enough space in my heart with all that fear clanging around in there.

Well, Richard died. Kathy told me she couldn’t come to the funeral and I absolutely understood 100% why that would be too much. She couldn’t let the idea of dying into her mind when their hold on life was so shaky. I was glad for her family, that they had found a way out.

One weekend, I went down to visit and Vincent and I talked about painting (he was an artist and teacher). We were in his studio at the back of their house so he could show me some of his latest drawings. He pulled out a painting of a chanteuse, maybe Billie Holliday, done in purples and yellow. I commented on the range of colors that he used to create skin tone. He pulled out a companion painting of a young man in a bowler hat and bow tie, something reminiscent of the 1910’s. Yellow brought out his cheekbone, while purple made the hollow of the cheek. White wasn’t white–it was yellow. Shadows weren’t gray–they were red and purple. He tried to show me a crucial speck of green in the corner of the young man’s eye but the light in that room wasn’t strong enough. Vincent, so thin and cautious from the cancer, led me outside so I could see his painting in the sunlight. We marveled at how it touch so much color to make something as ordinary as skin. I stepped out of my own grief and felt alive that day, talking to a painter about painting. Learning again, feeling excited about the world.

Multiple myeloma is hard to beat. Vincent had a bone marrow transplant. It didn’t fix the cancer. Kathy and I talked more often but I couldn’t talk to her about being a widow. So we talked about the girls and the necessities and the good things.

Vincent died in October, at home. HIs students, his family, his friends–the whole town felt his loss. The funeral plans grew and grew and grew. When Kathy told me the date of the service, my heart sank. I was going to be out of state that weekend. She told me to go on the trip. She didn’t want me to miss any chance for happiness. But I didn’t want to miss out on a chance to help her through the hard days.

We came up with a better plan than me trying to be one more face in a thousand at the funeral. I took a Wednesday off work and came down to help her with all the things that had to be done. The girls were still going to school to keep things as normal as possible. I did the spare things–proofread the program for the service, helped her decide on a photo, zipped up his suit in a garment bag to take to the funeral home. She needed to run to the beauty shop to get her hair touched up but didn’t feel up for driving, so I drove her over.

The bell rang when Kathy pushed open the door to the beauty shop and every eye looked up to see us coming in. The owner gave Kathy a hug and patted her on the head. They started talking hair so I took a seat under the window. Once she was in the chair, Kathy introduced me over her shoulder and the salon owner gave me a small smile then got down to business.

That’s when a little girl sitting next to her mama on the row of dryers said, really loudly:

WHAT IS THAT WHITE LADY DOING IN HERE?

Her mama ignored her the first time. As the girl opened her mouth to ask again, her mama tapped her on the knee and shushed her. The whole place got quiet. I sat there alone with my magazine, trying not to be awkward.

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Many months later, Kathy and the girls came over for the weekend. In one of our late-night conversations, I told Kathy about that moment in the beauty shop and how it had stuck with me. At that point in my life, that moment was one of the first times I experienced my own Otherness. She assured me that I hadn’t been imagining the icy feeling in the salon–we had crossed a line. Kathy’s stylist gave her the cold shoulder for a few months.

I grew up in a small town where everyone knew me and my family. I went to a small school, a small church, a small hair salon. Everything and everyone around me was LIKE me. I grew up in a place that was still segregated by practice. Each half of town “kept to our own kind.” I enjoyed a position in the majority, in the ruling class (if you can call it that), so I experienced very little Otherness. That feeling of not belonging, of not being invited to the table, of trespassing.

When I wandered into that beauty shop–a place for black women, by black women–I did the trespassing and I realized I was Other.

What’s the point of this whole story?

Whenever we try to talk about racism in America, it’s tough because one side has a hard time seeing it–we’ve never been Other. And the other side has been made to feel nothing but Other. It’s our government and our schools and our lunch counter and our bus and our ourness. There’s us, then there’s OTHER.

Whenever some narrow-ass terrorist starts talking about “taking back our country,” that’s someone who is afraid of Other. The more I travel, the more chances I have to experience Otherness. The wider my circle of friends, the more I listen, the more chances I have to understand Otherness.

Racism won’t go away because we pray or legislate or circulate a picture on Facebook. Racism can only be overcome when we break down the essential idea that divides Us/Other.

That was a long one. I could use a scalp massage.

 

Front Row Seats At the Asshole Pageant

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, welcome to the Asshole Pageant! Welcome to Facebook!

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I joined Facebook six years ago after I bumped into Callie Waller at Kroger. We’ve known each other since elementary school. As we swapped notes on people we knew, she kept saying, “You’ve got to get on Facebook! It’s so much fun!” Oh, it was. I put up pictures of the kids at Disney World. I posted 25 random things about myself. I friended hundreds of people from all the decades of my life. I got to know people I had missed along the way. Back then, social sharing was about sharing our own stories. And cat videos, because DUH.

Now my Facebook feed feels like an Asshole Pageant where a long line of over-produced spray tanned freaks are vying for the prize of #1 Jerk. My entire feed is ads, memes, ads, cat videos, kid pictures, Buzzfeed quizzes, ads, and news stories that all of us are sharing. Those seem to get the most traction because they give us a way to talk about what’s going on in the world outside our own families.

My friend Wally is a retired journalism professor. I asked him once why internet news had devolved to Kardashians and 18-wheeler wrecks instead of in-depth analysis. He reminded me that news isn’t about what’s important these days–it’s about what’s INTERESTING.

And people find assholes interesting. Even moreso than cats sometimes.

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By the way, I’m afraid to google “asshole pageant” because, while I’m using it as a metaphor, there is probably a real live contest out there where people line up to rate their sphincters. And it’s probably in Florida.

Seriously, take a look at your news feed. I’ve been trying to write this story for two weeks, but the contestants keep coming out from behind the curtain, faster than I can judge them. There’s the tumbling cop from the McKinney pool party whose fellow officers agreed was out of control. There’s the white woman who started the fight by yelling racist slurs at teenagers. There’s the open carry gun nut walking through the Atlanta airport with a loaded AR-15 and getting all smarmy with the security officer when she attempts to speak to him. There’s the furor over Caitlyn Jenner deciding to be whoever the hell she wants to be. Then we have to decide what “brave” is because there is an award to be won. My only problem with Caitlyn Jenner is that she’s still a Republican. Come on, girl. That’s like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.

bullshitWe’ve got flesh-eating bacteria in Florida, Kirk Cameron filming somewhere in Georgia, lingering Duggars, memes about toddler girls hating their fat ankles. Oh, and the righteous indignation. There’s a blogger furious over a tattoo artist denying her a neck tattoo and some anonymous letter writer who objects to a yard that is “relentlessly gay.” Definitely out of the running for Miss Congeniality in our #AssholePageant.

And this week alone, we have Rachel Dolezal identifying as black (except when she sued Howard for discrimination because she was white!) AND Donald Trump running for President. If those two are in the Asshole Pageant, we’re going to have quite a nail-biter when it comes time to award “Realest Hair.”

Without Facebook, I would be hard pressed to find this many assholes in one spot (unless my football team is playing Alabama). So why put up with it?

 

  • At the same time people were making cracks about Caitlyn Jenner, Sawyer introduced their new name to us. We met a few years ago as Wesleyan sisters and I’m proud to call them my brother now. Tarence, another Wesleyan brother, posted a picture of a vial of testosterone and said, “First day of the rest of my life.” He got nothing but love in response, from family, friends and sisters all over the country. It’s good to have a forum where people can step out and say, “This is me. I am here. Hello.”
  • While we’re worrying about shark attacks and flesh-eating bacteria, Beth gave one of her kidneys to a stranger (she’s another Wesleyanne!). After the surgery, she found out that he’s a young father who has been on dialysis for two years. She gave him his life back. And those lucky enough to know her got to share her journey and see the possibility of living organ donation.
  • Even when #RachelTensions erupted this week, Facebook made it possible for me to hear from LuvvieJasmine, Kelly, A’Driane and Grace–actual women of color who had illuminating things to say about the experience of living blackness in America as opposed to performing blackness on the Today Show. Thank my stars for these protestors at the Asshole Pageant, who still have the energy to stand up and holler, “YOU ARE BEING AN ASSHOLE. TAKE A SEAT.”

So in the end…worth it. Save me a seat down front at the Asshole Pageant. I wonder who’ll be sitting next to us.

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A Flower to Say He Was Sorry

Jasmine lobbed out a great conversation starter today on Facebook: “Let’s play show and tell. Post an image in the comments then tell us something about it.” I love threads like this, so I checked my phone to see what pictures I had taken in the last few days.

An apology, twelve years after the fact

An apology, twelve years after the fact

I posted this picture of a white gladiolus that is blooming in the higgledy-piggledy overgrown strip next to my driveway. My story: “This is a scraggly lone gladiolus in my yard. I keep it because my late husband bought me the bag of bulbs in the Amsterdam airport as an apology for an argument we had at five a.m. in the Berlin airport.”

I’ve been hanging on to this flower (and his one wonkier orange cousin) for over a decade now. We had a vision of turning that dirt next to the driveway into a garden, but that never happened. But you know how bulbs are–you throw them in the dirt and forget about them until a year later. You enjoy them for a while, then forget that they are buried down there, still waiting for another time to bloom. Life moves on past the bulbs, so that every year, I am pleasantly surprised by daffodils, delighted with the grape hyacinths, then sentimental over the wonky gladiolus.

Richard and I didn’t argue much, maybe five times in four years together. And two of those happened when he was jonesing for a cigarette. Yes, he smoked. He HATED the fact that he was a smoker. Hid it from people, quit over and over. He was mostly 100% quit here at home (gave himself a pass during tax prep), but every time we went to Europe, he’d fall off the wagon again. As he put it, “Everyone smokes in Europe.” As soon as our plane landed in Amsterdam or Berlin or Paris, I would rush off to buy a pound of Leonidas candied orange rinds in dark chocolate and he would run in the other direction to buy Marlboros he could have gotten for half the price in Atlanta. But he only smoked in Europe–no fudging of the rules.

So we were in Berlin one time and on our last full day there, he finished the pack of cigarettes before dinner time. “You gonna break down and buy a new pack or start bumming them?” I teased. He had it all worked out. “I’ve got three left in a pack in the hotel. One for tonight, one for in the morning, one for at the airport.” Always a man with a plan.

But when we got back to the hotel, he couldn’t find the three cigarettes. He ransacked the room. He opened every pocket on his back pack and mine. He looked under the bed, in the bathroom, behind the curtains on the window sill, in the night stand drawers that we had never opened. He went through our luggage again.

When he started to grumble that the maid had probably stolen them, I said, “Why don’t you just go downstairs and buy another pack?” Nope. That was not the plan. He continued to stomp around looking high and low in our Ibis Hotel room that was probably 80 square feet total. He was bound and determined not to break down and buy another pack with so little time left on the Smoking Continent. He went to sleep, a bundle of bristly nerves.

He woke up the same way at 3:45 a.m. We stumbled around getting dressed and packing the last of the stuff. It was so early that the desk clerk had to call us a cab to Tegel. We didn’t talk much. Because he WAS FINE AND DID NOT SEE ANY REASON TO DISCUSS IT FURTHER THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

We got to the airport with plenty of time before our 6:30 a.m. flight to Amsterdam. It was still too early for much to be open, so I sat there hurting for a Diet Coke and four more hours of sleep. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Richard zipping and unzipping pockets on that godforsaken back pack, still muttering about the larcenous hotel maid.

“Would you PLEASE just go buy a pack of cigarettes?” I snarled.

He snapped right back. It makes me sad to realize that I can’t remember exactly what he said, but it was something along the lines of “I am a grown ass man and will make my own decisions.” After someone dies, even remembering a fight gets sentimental, because at least they were there and snarling at you. Together.

That was that. We flew to Amsterdam in silence. At Schipol, we found the gate to Atlanta and I plopped my ass down with a book, a Diet Coke, and a very high wall of GoToHellYouRatBastard around myself. He wandered off to buy cigarettes.

He came back smelling of Marlboros and carrying a mesh bag of flower bulbs. He held them out to me like a bouquet and apologized. “I would have bought you flowers, but we couldn’t bring them in through Customs. These will get past the sniffer dogs.” Ever the romantic.

That was the only spring we got to live here together. I planted the glads along the driveway. The next year when they bloomed for the first time, he was gone. I had my apology, but he was gone.

After remembering this story today, I did some research on glads. Turns out, Gladiolus (plural gladioli) is the birth flower for the month of August, Richard’s birth month. This spiky, colorful flower is also called the Sword Lily for its likeness to a gladiator’s sword. With its connections to fearless warriors, Gladiolus symbolizes strength of character, faithfulness and honor.

But here’s the fact I learned today that made my hand flutter up to rest on my heart. The Gladiolus flower signifies remembrance.

Every summer, I remember that morning in a strange airport, the smell of smoke, the way it felt to argue and the way it felt to forgive ourselves. It makes me glad.

 

The wonky orange one

The wonky orange one

Seabiscuit’s Best Pal

Have you read Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillebrand? I enjoyed that story of the 1938 Horse of the Year so much that I once rattled the silverware on the lunch table when I got so into a race scene that I was banging on the table and saying, “GO, BISCUIT, GO!”

Seabiscuit wasn’t supposed to be a champion. Even though he came from great stock….he turned out kind of wonky looking. He ran funny, with a gait that looked like an egg beater. He was small. In his early career, he had some tough times and they turned him a little bit mean. He was almost worn out before he really had a chance to shine. By the time he ended up in the care of the trainer who would take him to glory, Seabiscuit was 200 lbs underweight and so high-strung he spent most of his time pacing and pacing and pacing in his stall. He was a mess.

Seabiscuit and Pumpkin

Seabiscuit and Pumpkin

Then along came Pumpkin. As Hillebrand describes him: “Pumpkin was amiable to every horse he met and became a surrogate parent to the flighty ones.” High strung Thoroughbred race horses do better with a calm and gentle “lead pony” around. These companions keep the race horse company and walk with them out to the track to calm the nerves. Pumpkin had been a Montana cow pony–there wasn’t much he hadn’t seen but none of it had turned him mean. So the trainer knocked out the wall between two stalls and moved Pumpkin in with the Biscuit. After a little sniffing and conversation, the scrappy little champion and his soothing yellow companion remained bonded for the rest of their lives. And Seabiscuit went on to take his place in the history books.

Guess which one is the international superstar?

Guess which one is the international superstar?

American Pharoah, who won the fabled Triple Crown just last week, has his own companion pony, Smokey. This buckskin Quarter horse was the second most photographed horse at the Belmont Stakes. He goes everywhere with the champ, calming his nerves and giving him a shoulder to bump against in the crowd of flashbulbs. We all need somebody.

So why all this barn talk about lead ponies? I have a friend who is an absolute Thoroughbred. Just like these magnificently powerful creatures, she’s fast and strong and smart and beautiful. And sadly, like Seabiscuit, she hasn’t been cherished in her early life for the powerhouse that she is. She’s been used and pushed too far and almost got worn out. Her nerves are jangly and she’s pacing and pacing and pacing. She has so much potential and power but gets overwhelmed by the rush of it all.

When she and I talk, I imagine myself as Pumpkin, calm and amiable. I try to channel that unflappable cow pony who ain’t scared a nothin. I want her to draw comfort from my friendship, to feel the steady power of a companion who will always be right by her side. She has great things ahead and already possesses everything she will need to find her place in the history books.

Horses are so much like us in a way–sometimes it’s the mental game that holds us back. Having a few friends around you can make all the difference. They encourage us to run.

Am I writing about you? Maybe so. What’s holding you back, Biscuit?

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What Does Diphtheria In Spain Have to Do With Your Uterus?

Let me see if I can explain the connection between a couple of ideas that have been nipping at my brain for a few months. They’ve exploded to the surface this week and I get so mad thinking about it that I can barely speak…which means I need to write. Here goes.

Diphtheria_vaccination_posterDiphtheria–haven’t heard that one in a while, huh? That’s because this horrifying bacterial infection has been all but eradicated in the part of the world that enjoys access to modern healthcare. This disease has a 10% fatality rate–those infected die from heart and nerve damage caused by blood-borne bacterial infection. The symptom of this disease that makes me shudder is the white membrane that forms in the throat, choking its victims. Horrible, horrible stuff.

And it’s back.

In late May, a child in Spain developed diphtheria and he’s hooked to machines in an ICU in heart and lung failure, critical condition. His parents had chosen not to vaccinate him; they are devastated that they “received faulty information” and feel horrible guilt. Spain didn’t even have the medicines required to treat diphtheria because they hadn’t had a case since 1986. Luckily (?), Russia had some on hand.

Now EIGHT other children in his circle have tested postive for the bacteria but have not developed diphtheria, because they were vaccinated. They are covered in the stuff, but it cannot get a foothold in their bodies and take over. Their immune systems were ready for that shit and slammed the door right in diphtheria’s face. “Not today, asshole!”

I think many people who grew up in the post-vaccintation generation believe that these diseases are “gone.” Nope. The bacteria and viruses that cause diseases like smallpox, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and other diseases I can’t spell ARE STILL EVERYWHERE AROUND US. They are part of the natural world. Vaccination doesn’t kill the things that cause diseases. Vaccination cuts off the infection agent’s access to a place to set up shop. We are all walking around in a miasma of disease agents. Some, like the common cold, can set up shop anywhere in any body. So can diphtheria if there are people who can carry it around, incubate it, and introduce it to others.

I believe in the power and safety of vaccines. Since the 18th century, when Edward Jenner and the milkmaid Sarah Nelmes figured out that a little dose of cowpox could protect a body from catching smallpox, millions of bodies have been off limits to these organisms that share our world. As Dr. Gennaro Gama, our household scientist, noted “Vaccination is a product of the world’s longest running clinical trial.” For 300 years, we’ve benefitted from this practice. Oh, and Jenner was just the first to study vaccination in our part of the world–the Turks had been doing it for hundreds of years before him.

 

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This comic from Red Pen/Black Pen nails it. Those who choose not to vaccinate can still live with a relatively low chance of catching these diseases because all the vaccinated bodies around them ensure their safety. Everyone else is holding the umbrella so they don’t get wet. Fewer places for disease to set up, fewer carriers, lower chance of infection–for people who don’t protect themselves and people who CAN’T protect themselves, like those with compromised immune systems or infants.

So because most people did the work and took the risk, all people are safer from the threat of disease. But if we aren’t vigilant and too many people choose not to do the work of protecting from these diseases the germy boogers have more places to take hold and easier vectors over which to travel from person to person to person.

Now, to your uterus…(sorry to be exclusive, guys)

We all have to participate in vaccination to keep the boogers at bay. We all have to participate in women’s health issues to keep the boogers out of our business. Let me splain.

Just as I’m a big fan of the science of vaccines, I’m also a big fan of women’s access to healthcare and the power we have earned legally to make our own decisions about what happens to our bodies. Namely, I think birth control is fabulous and abortion should be a safe, legal, and accessible option to women. And this week, with the rulings in Texas that make a woman’s right to abortion very very hard to access, I realize that the rights I have assumed were a done deal are being eroded all around. Didn’t we decide this stuff in the 70s? Didn’t we enact laws that gave women these rights? Now anti-choice factions are fighting less about overturning a woman’s right to abortion and just chipping away at their access to the service. Legal abortion is a moot point if you can’t afford it, can’t get to it, or the doctor you were going to see has been harrassed out of practice.

I am saddened by the current story of Kenlissia Jones, a Georgia woman who couldn’t afford a safe and timely abortion so she turned to the internet for the pills that would end her pregnancy. She was initially charged with malice murder but the charges were dropped. A desperate woman’s attempt that harkens back to back alley coat hanger days. It’s an awful story.

RoeI grew up AFTER most of the landmark decisions like Roe v. Wade. I became a woman in a world where I could get birth control pills if I wanted them. I lived in a society where I could choose an abortion to end a pregnancy. I had the advantages of money and insurance. I didn’t have to be all that vigilant about these rights because a lot of other women had opened up the umbrella and were keeping the rain off the rest of us. I didn’t spend any more time worrying about access to health care than I spent worrying about diphtheria. I was innoculated! I was safe…right?

Nope.

Just like with vaccination, too many people are choosing not to participate in the work and the risk of protecting women’s rights, so our control over our own bodies is being eroded. I’m not even trying to change the minds of people who disagree. Those who would deny women our rights are part of the natural world–I can’t change that any more than I can change polio floating around.

votes-for-womenBut I can sure as hell make an effort to protect my position and to do my part to keep us all safe. If I believe in women’s health issues like keeping abortion legal and available and keeping birth control decisions in the hands of women and not in their employers, I have to step up and use my voice, my vote, my money, and my platform to participate in the work and the risk. I cannot take these rights for granted. Too many women fought too many battles to make it seem easy for us to enjoy our freedoms.

So this is one of those pieces where I was afraid to use my voice but I’m going to speak my truth. And money talks. For the first 50 comments on this post, I will donate $5 each up to a total of $250 to Planned Parenthood of Georgia.

I’m opening my umbrella. Step under if you need to. Open yours, too.