DID YOU SEE THE PICTURE?

A Marriage Equality Story, by Rich Paschall

When Eddie went into the army, Marge and her husband Edgar decide to leave the Midwest and head for Arizona.  As each year went past, Edgar found the winters difficult and the summers impossible.  When the spring and fall brought allergies on and the summer humidity brought increased breathing difficulty, the decision was easy.  It was time to go south.

Marge received a transfer to a Mesa, Arizona store and Edgar was sure he would find work if only he could breathe easier.  They took their daughter with them although she had reached 21 years of age.  She did not know what she wanted to do in life and a change seemed like a good idea.

Eddie had worked for two years after high school and then decided the army would be his best start in life.  After the army, he would use his benefits to go to college and make his life better.  While in the army, he lost weight, matured and became a handsome young man who made his parents proud.

Even though Marge was a rather conservative type, she learned to use social media and followed along on facebook and twitter hoping to see more of Eddie.  He was on facebook, but actually used it very little.  When he posted some pictures from a Middle East cook out with his fellow soldiers, his proud mother shared the pictures all over the internet.  Eddie did not post much after that.

Marge spent some time each day, and a lot of time on her day off, posting on facebook and reading internet articles.  She would “like” things she thought were good and sometimes comment on postings and news stories.  Although she did not consider herself very political, she did seem to agree more with Republican postings than anything else.  Her friends started avoiding posting political items to her page.  It was better that way.

Whenever Eddie was on leave from the service, he visited friends in Chicago and then went on to Phoenix to see his parents.  When Marge would ask Eddie what he did in Chicago and who he saw, she got vague answers.  Eddie said little about his personal life.  He told next to nothing about friends or the service.  His mother thought it was just a phase that young men went through.  She figured he would tell her a lot more when he got out of the army.

When he was nearing the end of his time in the service, Marge asked Eddie if he would join them Phoenix or return to the Midwest.  He told her he would move to Chicago.

“Chicago!” she exclaimed.  “Why do you want to move there?  It is not safe there.  It is expensive to live and the job market is not the best.  You can get a job here.  I can help you.”

“I want to go to school there,” Eddie explained.  “I have friends there.  I will get a job, don’t worry.”  He spent months assuring his mother he would be fine until the day came when he got his discharge and went to Chicago.

Eddie saw his mother’s facebook postings on a regular basis and that only convinced him to keep his personal life to himself.  He got an apartment, a job and made friends.  He enrolled in a city college with his army benefits and was happy with his life.  He assured his mother that all was well.

After following along on facebook, Marge decided she did not like the direction the country was headed.  She did not like the liberal policies and she would definitely vote a more conservative ticket next time.  It was easy to find friends online who agreed.

One day, an old friend from the Midwest called Marge.  She was excited about the latest news and could not wait to talk to her old friend about it.

“Hello Marge, you must be so excited.  I must tell you I was so surprised.  Did you see the picture they just posted?”

“Picture?” Marge asked.  “What picture? What are you talking about?”

Her old friend just laughed.  “Why, the wedding picture of course!  Did you know they were going to city hall?  Did you know which day it would be?”

“Who are you talking about?” Marge demanded.  A long silence followed while Marge’s friend wondered if the whole matter was actually a secret.  It seems that Eddie was tagged in pictures by others, but he had posted nothing himself.  The friend thought carefully about what to say next.

“Oh, it is something I saw on facebook.  Perhaps you should go look at a few pictures that Eddie is tagged in and we can talk later.  OK?”  After some vague promise to call back soon, the old friend hung up and Marge raced to her computer.

The PC started slowly and facebook seem to take extra long to load up.  It was no different than usual, but this time the wait was maddening.  Finally Marge got online and found the pictures that her old friend referred to.  There was Eddie at City Hall getting married.

Photo by  Giovanni Dall'Orto

Photo by Giovanni Dall’Orto

The fact that Eddie married without telling her in advance was upsetting.  The fact that she did not know the other person at all was also upsetting.  But the most surprising part of all was that the groom took another groom.  Her handsome, white, middle class son had married a handsome Hispanic man of about the same age.  In one picture, they were looking deep into one another’s eyes as if they were truly in love.

Marge was stunned.  She had no idea that Eddie was gay or loved the young man she had seen in the photos.  After she stared at the pictures for a while, she started reading back through her facebook posts and “likes” to see if she had said anything negative about Hispanics or gays.

WHAT FAMILY DOESN’T HAVE ITS UPS AND DOWNS?

Eleanor of Aquitaine, “The Lion In Winter” (1968): “What family doesn’t have its ups and downs?”

Marilyn asked me to write something last night because she was running low on creative juices. I agreed but wasn’t sure what to say because I wasn’t in the best of creative or emotional places.

Yesterday, Marilyn posted a piece featuring photographs of my familyBingo! The light went on.

Family!

Garry Kaity Divot RiverBend

We are in the midst of dealing with our respective families. It’s difficult and challenging. We love them all but brokering some of these situations often leaves us in “loud conversation” with each other. Which is not fair. It isn’t even our drama.

We don’t have Mom and Dad, Gramps or Gramma, Uncles or Aunts to consult for help. We’re it!

July 1963

July 1963

So, I look at the old photos of my family from long, long ago. I wonder how they dealt with these things. They look so young and carefree. I know things were not always easy for them as my brothers and I grew up. I still recall “loud conversations” between Mom and Dad.

1990 in Ireland

1990 in Ireland

I wondered why they didn’t resolve things easily as they did on those family TV shows where father knew best and Ozzie was always at home to deal with family stuff. I even once asked my Mom why our house wasn’t like Donna Reed’s home. You can guess how she replied to me.

Family!

I look at my granddaughter Kaity ready to go off to college. I’m proud of her and wish all the good things in life for her. Like so many grandfathers before me, my memories of a younger Kaity fill my mind. Why didn’t the clock stop?

Why didn’t the clock stop for Marilyn and me when we were younger and healthier with some of those beloved family members still around to talk to us.

Silly and naïve questions, I know. We’re the “old people” now. Family begins with us. It’s disconcerting.

JAMES ZERNDT – THE KOREAN WORD FOR BUTTERFLY

“Americans. They think everybody is snowflake. Only one snowflake. Only one you. But in Korea we think like snowball. Everybody snowball.” Yun-ji packed an imaginary snowball in her hands, then lifted it, palms up, as if offering Billie a present. “You see? Snowball.”

Both of them looked at Yun-ji’s hands holding nothing.

“Snowball,” Yun-ji repeated, then looked at Billie, at her unhappy mouth, at her face that looked like it had been bleached, and she pictured that soldier sitting in the tank, listening to head phones, maybe reading a Rolling Stone magazine, then the call coming in over the radio, the hurried attempts to think of an excuse, some reason why he didn’t see two fourteen-year-old girls walking down a deserted country road in South Korea.

“Never mind,” Yun-ji said and dropped her hands.

KoreanWordForButterfly

There are a lot of levels to this book. It’s a book about cultures and differences, but it’s also a book about the similarities that underlay human societies. In the end, our humanity trumps our differences and enables us to reach out to those who seem at first unreachable.

It’s about women and men, their relationships, their failure to communicate. The endless misunderstandings arising from these failed efforts — or failed lack of effort. It’s also about the assumptions we make based on appearance and how terribly wrong are the deductions we make based on what we think we see. And how we use bad information to make our choices.  And finally, the pain that results from choices — even when the choices are the best available.

The story takes place in South Korea. Billie, a young American woman, is in the country to teach English to grade school children. She has come there with her friend, lover and partner and shortly realizes she is pregnant. It’s as wrong a time in her life to have a baby as there possibly could be and probably the worst possible place she could be — far away from her home and isolated by distance and culture. The story is told in the first person by Billie as well as two other first person narrators, both south Korean.  Yun-ji is a young woman approximately the same age as Billie who also becomes pregnant and a man named Moon who is divorced and suffering through a painful separation from his son.

All the characters deal with problems springing from damaged relationships and miscommunication, misunderstanding, problems with parenting, pregnancy and abortion. Despite cultural differences, in the end the pain is very personal — and remarkable similar — for each.  There are no simple, happy answers.

It’s well-written and held my interest from start to finish. Whether or not the book will resonate for you may depend on your age and stage in life’s journey. For me,  it was a trip back in time to the bad old days before Roe Vs. Wade made abortion a viable choice. Of course, one of the issues made very clear in the book is that the legality of abortion doesn’t make it less of a gut-wrenching, life-altering decision. Anyone who thinks abortion is the easy way out should read this. Whatever else it is, it’s not easy.

It’s a good book. Strongly written, presenting highly controversial issues in a deeply human context.

The Korean Word for Butterfly is available in paper back and Kindle.

UH OH! MOM’S GONE ALL KAFKA!

Mom, now that you are 104 years old, this one’s for you!

Gone Kafka

My mother hated cooking. I always wanted to tell her to relax. We would make our own food. No one would starve if she didn’t make dinner. Mom, go back to your paints, sewing, sculpting. The things you love and do so well.

Not all women were born for the kitchen.

REMEMBERING DAD ON HIS 100th BIRTHDAY

I planned to write an epic piece about my Dad who would have been 100 years old today. But my body has staged a mutiny, so I’ll be brief.

Dad must be smiling.

William Benfield Armstrong was the real life Quiet Man. I’m the oldest of three sons who realized that Dad meant what he said — just by the look on his face.

75-edited-GarryMomDad-WW2-300

My Dad was a handsome guy. Tall, lean and with a smile that dazzled women and men. I always thought he could’ve been a movie star, rivaling Clark Gable and Gary Cooper.

Dad rarely showed emotions. He kept it all inside. The day I left for basic training in the Marines, I saw something rare. Dad was crying as he put me on the train.

My Father didn’t talk about his experiences as an Army Staff Sgt. in World War Two. We knew he saw action in Germany but he never offered any details, always giving us an annoyed look if we persisted with questions. I finally got some answers a short time before Dad passed away in 2002. He told me about seeing his best friend killed in a jeep explosion, just a few yards in front of him.

He said it was an image he carried for the rest of his life. Dad talked and I listened. It was the longest conversation we ever had. When he finished, he just looked at me with a sad smile and patted my shoulders.

75-GarryWMom-Dad-1990

After my Father died, my two brothers and I were going through his possessions. We found, buried under clothing, several medals he had been awarded in that war so many years ago. My Dad was a hero! We always knew that but never understood or appreciated him in that larger context.

So here’s to you, Dad. At 100, you’re still a ramrod, tall and proud.

SPEAKING A NEW LANGUAGE

Un nouveau langage, par Rich Paschall

What if you could wake up tomorrow and be able to speak a new language?  Suppose you did not have to work at it at all.  There would be no boring repetition of words and phrases.  You would not have to study rules of grammar.  You would not have to learn to conjugate.  You would not take home lessons to write out.  The language would just be there at your command.  Your speech would be fluent and your understanding clear.  What language would you choose?

My best guess is that most people would consider a language of their ancestors.  If they came from Poland, then Polish might be their first choice.  In a city like Chicago, with a large population of Polish immigrants and descendants, this would make perfect sense.  If you have a relative that speaks the language, wouldn’t you be pleased to speak to them in their own language?  Your Polish grandmother would be so proud, and you, of course, would take great joy in this.

My elementary school was largely populated by kids of Irish descendent.  The Irish priests and an Irish American Bishop, who was also pastor, of course attracted a large student body made up of blond and red-haired children.  I can not say I ever heard any Gaelic, however.  I suppose some spoke it.  Many had a brogue so thick, I could not understand them.  Still, I can not say I was interested in knowing Irish language.

For much of my life, I lived in a German American neighborhood.  My maternal grandmother spoke German and would sometimes gossip (I thought it was gossip, anyway) with other old German-speaking neighbors.  The parish we lived in after the grade school years, was largely German American.  It was started by German immigrants who built the church.  For decades there was a mass in German.  I thought it would be cool to know this language, especially years later.  I was encouraged to take Latin in high school.

This proved to be a big disappointment as we grew up and took part in German fests.  There was Mai Fest and Oktoberfest and Rosenmontag and more feasts then you can imagine.  We learned songs in German and sang along at dances, festivals and anywhere a band was playing.  Unfortunately, my conversation was limited to Guten Tag, Auf Wiedersehen und zwei Bier bitte!

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Years later as many Hispanic groups arrived and there were many more Spanish speakers, it seemed to me that learning Spanish would make far more sense.  The old Germans I knew were dying out, my grandmother was gone and I had less occasion to speak German.

Clearly, there would be a large Spanish population from Puerto Rico, Mexico and a variety of Spanish-speaking countries.  I have neighbors from Guatemala nearby.  There are ethnic restaurants all around and in the summer, Spanish music fills the air in our area of the city.  There are so many cultures I could learn if I knew this one language, it seemed like a logical choice.

What is the second language of your community?  Is there even a second language?  Perhaps you are in an area where you only hear English and there is no immigrant population or descendants to pass along another language.  Even if this is so, would it not be great to learn another language and travel to countries where this language is spoken.

In recent years, the desire to automatically know German, Spanish or even Polish have given way to another.  While all of the above would be interesting and certainly useful, not just if I travelled to countries where these languages were spoken, but even right here in our local communities.  I still have a different interest in a language I would never have thought to learn just a decade ago.  Friendship has become the determining factor.

My previous job brought in interns from other countries, particularly France.  As a result I made a number of friends from France and even got to know other friends and family members of these co-workers.  It was not just that I learned some of the culture.  Yes, we went to French restaurants and talked about their local communities.  Of course, we talked French politics and sports.  Indeed I learned about the regions that were home to many of my young French colleagues.  But in the process, something important happened.

This way?

This way?

Now one of my best friends in the world is a Frenchman.  We have gone on many adventures here and in Europe.  I have visited his home and the home of his parents.  We have visited all across Alsace.  For six years, France has been on my vacation list.  It turns out that the language I would like to know tomorrow when I wake up is French.  It is not about the neighborhood I live in, the ancestors I have, or the neighbors that have recently moved in.  It is not about my grandmother.  It is not about my parish.  It is not about countries I may someday visit.

The language I would like to know is all about my friends.  In fact, it is about one of my best friends, and it does not matter that he is fluent in English.  My friends and community are all French and I wish I could more fully participate in our adventures whenever we meet.  Is there a better reason than friendship to know another language?

WOULD YOU LIKE TO STAY FOR DINNER?

CELEBRATING THE FAMILY WE NEVER MET AND MAYBE DON’T WANT TO

“So,” says Uncle Shmuel, who having appeared out of nowhere, now miraculously speaks vernacular American English — albeit with a heavy Yiddish accent, “Nice place you got here. I see you keep your animals in your house. That one there sounds like a pig but looks like a dog.”

“They are our pets, Uncle Shmuel. The oinker is Nan. She just makes that sound. She’s kind of old. I think that’s the dog equivalent of ‘oy’.”

“Pets, shmets. Animals. In the house. What’s next? Toilets? Never mind, your life, your choice. Oy.”

“Can I give you something to eat? Tea? Coffee? Cake? If we don’t have it, I can go out and buy some.”

“Are you Kosher?”

“Uh, no. Not Kosher,” and I shiver, remembering the bacon that has passed through our kitchen. “Oh, wait, here’s my husband. Uncle Shmuel, I’d like you to meet my husband Garry.”

Shmuel looks shrewdly at Garry, then at me. “He doesn’t look Jewish.”

Garry’s eyes twinkle. “But really I am,” he says and deftly pulls a yarmulke out of his pocket. It say “Joel’s Bar Mitzvah” across the back in big white letters. Fortunately, Shmuel doesn’t notice.

“So,” Shmuel continues after a pregnant pause, “You have problems with the Cossacks?”

“No Cossacks, but lots of politicians,” I reply.

“Cossacks, politicians, there’s a difference?”

“Not so much,” I admit.

“And for a living you do what?”

“We’re retired. But before that, I was a writer. Garry was a reporter. On television.”

“What’s a television?”

I look at Shmuel, realize we are about to embark on an extended conversation, so all I say is: “Oy vay is mir!” Which seems to sum it up.

Oy vay. Can someone set the table?