From my very first post I wanted to pay homage to the speech which inspired the title of my blog, Ain't I aWoman? by Sojourner Truth. Such a beautiful speech, such a beautiful name, such a beautiful woman. It is one of my favorite pieces. I strive to emulate this style in my own work. Poetic and powerful. Honest and unafraid. Memorable. And I like brevity. It too is beautiful. This is the standard I wish to be held to as I explore the question with you ~ ain't I a writer? "Obliged to you for hearing me, and I do have a few things more to say..."
"A storm you say?" The cowardly lion, wringing his tail and trembling, cried,
“I am afraid – so very afraid, … of those
who don’t look like me, of those who don’t pray like me, of lions and lionesses
who get better jobs than me, … of all sorts of things that may not be real, but
still, they terrify me.”
The tin man stood there, overheating in the ever warming
climate of his armor, and spat in a rusty voice, as facts binged off his tin
like limp bullets, “I just don’t care. I just don’t care about other stuff, and
don’t bother me with facts and stats. I care about one thing. Oil. Fill my can.
Mine. Lubricate me. I don’t really care about you and what you need. Unless, I
fall down. Then I need you to help me get back on my feet. But once I’m up, get
the hell out of my way. I need to fill my can.”
The scarecrow watched all of this. He had been watching for
a while. He scratched his head, which happened to be crawling with bugs,
all competing for space. “I don’t know what to believe. Every crow’s caw sounds
so angry, and convincing. Some of them seem sinister. Some of them seem
sophisticated. Some of them seem to care about me, and my relentless plight
here in the cornfield. I'm obsolete, making a feeble attempt at getting something done. I get confused,
and I ramble, and nonsense comes out of my mouth. I feel empty inside, and
itchy for something new and different. Something needs to change. I’m not sure
of anything. I can’t do anything. I’m stuck on this pole.”
Dorothy gathered all of the men, pieced them together, shored them up. It is scary for a woman to
travel alone, and befriending strange men is a risk too, but she had been on
other brick roads before and thought these ones might not grab her and laugh
about it later on a bus. She is even more frightened by the winged monkey types. The
ones she knows mean her harm. The ones who might tear her to pieces.
She'd fall in line with these sad, broken men, and skip off to a new
place, an emerald city where everything is shiny and sparkly and bad stuff is
hidden behind big walls. She assures the broken guys, “You don’t have
to get along with your sister there, you can just melt her and take her house.
There is a guy there, the great and powerful Wizard of Uz, he says he can fix
everything, he can fix us! And only he can do it. No one else. He is a
tremendous man and his emerald empire proves that.” She doesn’t share what she
is really thinking … I suppose his
promises are magical, and maybe I know he is hiding behind his tweet machine,
and even a silly little dog could pull the curtain back to see him for what he
... but I want to believe.
I just want to get in the balloon, inflated with his hot
air, and float up - and back - to that homey place - that I think I remember,
My dear second cousin Barb sent me an old photo (sixty-seven years old!) this week and I have been marveling at it. It features two people I never met. They are my great-grandparents.
I've been thinking a lot about them in this time of great turmoil in the country that they went to great lengths to call home. They, like so many of my ancestors, were immigrants.
She was Rose Ramos, born in Terceira Portugal. the "third" of the Azorian islands, known for lilacs and volcanoes. He was named Anthony Mederios, and is thought to have been from the same island though they didn't meet and marry until they were here. He came at the age of fourteen earning his passage by fueling the fire on the ship which landed him in Providence, Rhode Island. He arrived at the turn of the twentieth century. Soon after he felt the need to change his name to William Mowry. Not sure why he chose that particular name, but there is no need to wonder why he felt he had to take a new one. It is a milky white old English name few could take offense to. He worked two full-time jobs all of his adult life in factories. Rose stayed at home raising their children. They sent their sons back out on that ocean to fight for this country in World War II.
In the photo the couple is posing with their four grandchildren, each holding a baby. My great grandmother looks pleased and is wearing a corsage. I wondered at the occasion. My aunt Rosemary, the twelve-year-old girl pictured, remembers it as my great-grandparent's 50th anniversary over which the family made a big fuss. My great grandfather doesn't look happy, but proud and serious, and completely at ease holding a baby. The lad beside him is my father and this photo was taken close to his fifteenth birthday. That was the year he moved from Ohio to Rhode Island and was probably very unhappy. My aunt said, "Those were trying times for our little family."
They are all standing in front of the house that my father and his sister sold out of our family just recently. It was a three story walk up with enormous three bedroom apartments located on a corner lot in Pawtucket. My father was raised there from that summer on and my grandmother lived there from the year this photo was taken until her death in her nineties. It is the scene of many childhood memories for me, including quite a few thanksgiving dinners.
I wish I knew more about my great-grandparents. I wonder about the corsage. I wish I knew if he pinned it on her and what they might have said to each other when he did. I wonder about the jewelry; my great-grandparents are wearing none, while the baby is, and I wonder what my father is holding. I think I see a little star on a string, but am not sure. I wish I knew what was served at the celebration dinner that must have followed. I note that my great-grandparents are not turned toward each other even though the day was about them, but instead each is turned toward a grandchild, the future. I wish I knew what that grandfather might have said to his fifteen-year-old grandson that day, a boy given the name he had given up, Anthony. Maybe they listened to a ballgame on the radio that afternoon. Maybe President Truman addressed the 48 states about his Fair Deal Program. If he did I bet my great-grandparents were listening, and think my father probably was too.
I wonder what they would have thought about that boy growing up to vote for this anti-immigration president. I hope they can rest easy in what has come to be and in what is yet to be. That grandson is now the great-grandfather and two days ago was gifted his sixth great-grandchild, a beautiful baby girl. She carries their DNA in her tiny little body. The DNA that sailed here, alone, fueling fires real and imagined, with sweat and hope and trust, that the future would be good and safe for the babies that may come, in the years ahead, in the melting pot of milk and honey, the land of opportunity, a place they would have called the Estados Unidos da America.
A sight from the island that my great-grandparents left behind.
My artist friends have been saying we must use our work to move forward. I don't feel ready to do that, I feel swallowed and paralyzed. But I heard them and I trust them. And this poem came a few minutes ago. So I post it here. It is my first step I guess. I have nothing else to offer.
Today I attended a memorial service for a woman that I had a great deal of respect for. Her name was Joyce Volk. It was a beautiful celebration of a life well lived, by many people who cared for and admired her. It occurred to me while I listened to the speakers, that in the end there might be nothing better than having your grandchildren read from great prose and poetry that you had inspired them to love. Except maybe to have your ashes co-mingled with your life mate's and buried on a beautiful piece of property of your choosing under a rock inscribed with only one word - LOVE.
Joyce was one of my beta readers. I valued her opinion about my historical novel not just because of her deep appreciation and knowledge of American and Portsmouth history, but maybe more so, because I knew she would tell me the truth, without sugarcoating, about what she thought of my book.
She spoke highly of my novel and had even offered to write a blurb for it. She said that no one had written about slavery the way that I did, and that it was an important story that needed to be told.
We never got to the blurb, but I am glad we had that last discussion. It was a good one. And so was she.