I was born and raised in the American South. Some of my earliest memories are of my neighborhood in the mid 60's when I was a young child. Walking to the neighborhood store and even school. One my childhood friends came up to me one day in Walnut Park Elementary in Gadsden, Alabama. A more innocent time for sure. My friend was laughing and said he wanted to tell me a secret. He had learned a new word. Now, I know in this era of HBO and Netflix and Tic Tock and Facebook it's hard to believe but we honestly didn't know as much about stuff as we would soon learn. In just another couple of years all our innocence would be gone. But, not yet.
What word? He whispered the "F" word and I asked "But, what does that word even mean?" He said "I don't know but, I heard it and said it to my mother last night." What happened? I got in big trouble. He may have elaborated but 55 years has clouded my memory of the event. You would have had to be there.
I am now my 60's and I don't know where the time went. I flash forward to my preteen years and I'm about to enter the most turbulent times of my life. But, first. I'm standing in the Baptismal Pool at Cherry Street Baptist Church in Atalla, Alabama. I'm wearing white and a man is standing in front of me with a bible asking me to look at him so the congregation will see me looking out as if over them as the preacher puts his hands on my forehead and the small of what was then my young, small back and prepares to push me under and bring me back up a new being.
Being a devout child I was praying in my mind something to the point of "Jesus, I'm not looking at him. (meaning the man in front of me just out of sight of the congregation) I'm looking at you. Now 50 years of so has certainly clouded my memory. But, I always felt like the baptism worked. Some people now might not think so. But, then again I'm not looking at those people. I'm looking at my own spirit and for the one source that I come from.
I'm now in my early teens. Watergate is on TV news every day and even on regular TV we see the hearings. Can you imagine? News on all day long? What will happen next, 24 hour sports? I know. Crazy right?
But, anyway I was very young so most of what caught my attention. Because honestly I didn't pay it much mind at all back then. But, there was a tall attractive blonde lady who was married to some guy named John Dean. He was some kind of big wheel in Nixon's administration. I didn't know and didn't really care just what. But, every time the camera was on her I for some reason got interested. My young male attention was suddenly on the screen.
Anyway, these stern faced men were talking back and forth about how Nixon had broken his oath of office. Had dishonored the office of the President of the United States of America and betrayed the trust of the American people and it had to be answered for. The thing is I saw (when I did decide to notice at all apart from Maureen Dean) I think that was her name. But, I digress. As usual.
Anyway, stern faced old men with a dignity and a seriousness about them talking about the good of the nation. Even the Republicans which were the party of Nixon talked about the honor of the United States of America. How one man no matter who he is can not be placed above the welfare and security of the nation. Being a young person with no real political leanings at that time other than the quiet conservatism of my grandparents who were still FDR Democrats and not overly concerned with political matters since thanks to Roosevelt they had survived the hardest times Americans had ever gone through. But, they didn't worry much about politics. My grandmother just made sure I was in church when I was at her house.
I'm at the Birmingham Airport with my aunt and uncle. It's before watergate and teenage years. My cousin is coming home from Thailand where he is stationed with the United States Airforce during the Vietnam War. He steps off the plane. He's my hero. Dress blues and I'm looking at him as if he's magic or something. This is pride. In family, in country. In something that says "We are American."
Flash forward to the 70's. Just a toke. Don't worry you won't die or lose your mind. Are you sure? Come on dude. Okay. Puff, hack. Laughter. Wow, I'm still here. That's not bad. I'll try again.
I'm on a school bus again before the previous memory happened. A really good looking girl says "so your from Gadsden. How did you end up out here in West End?" Divorce and I'm living with my grandparents. "Well, what kind of music do you like?" Alice Cooper, Bad Company, Marshall Tucker Band, Jackson Browne. That's cool she says. What about Lynyrd Skynyrd? My youthful mind heard "Leonard Skinard" and I had no clue. So of course I said "He's pretty good." She looked at me funny and later once I heard Skynyrd and loved them I was really embarrassed. How am I ever going to look at her now? It was okay. She wasn't looking at me anyway.
So, there you have a small example of Americana. Awkward and innocent and sure that God was in his heaven, The United States was the good guy's and there was order in the universe.
Flash back to childhood. I turn on the radio in my grandparents house. Such a high number of casualties today in Vietnam. There were protest in Washington today and in a town called Berkley in California. But, I was pretty sure America was doing the right thing.
Flash back. really early 60's. Really young child. black and white stark images on TV. A coffin draped in a United States flag. A horse drawn carriage. A big room and people with sad facers walking by the coffin. Such a great president. Cut down in his prime. But, we got the "one" guy that did it you know. Those stern faced old men were in charge and they were adults. We would be okay.
But, I wonder now in my old age where the adults went. Now, the people that told me to look out at the congregation are gone on to wherever we go when we leave here. Now, the party that told my young self when I was staring at Mrs. Dean "Look , this is America and we honor our fallen hero's and our sacred oath to our nation and to our God and to our people. They seem to be gone. A man that openly gives people he doesn't like derogatory nicknames and acts like a spastic in making fun of a young man's handicap is glorified and held up as a shining example of "God's Man." While his followers say "Who you going to believe? The orange man of God or your own lying eyes?" A man who said "We are going to gather in Washington and Stop the Steal The voting and the very foundation of the United States system is corrupt and only I and you know the truth.
Again, when it goes bad his followers are quick to say "He didn't do it." His people didn't do it. Even though they are all over the place with their threats and records saying they were going to do it and did do it. The vote was a fraud. But, senator you won on that ballot. OH, well that part was honest. But, Senator it was the same ballot. OH, Well Shut up you godless commie socialist.
But, I digress. The bottom line is I'm still here. All my faith hasn't been completely shattered. But, I no longer really believe people who say they honor the military while they mock POW"s or support a man who does. I no longer quite believe people who say they follow a poor crucified rabbi but support a man clearing a peaceful crowd out of his way so he can have a photo op in front of a church while holding a bible upside down before being told to hole it upright. "Who's bible is it MR. President?" asked a reporter. "IT's a bible." came the retort.
So, now here I am at the end. I still think there is a purpose and we are still on an eternal journey. My faith in country isn't as strong as it once was. My faith in God is more inward now not the "just so" faith of my childhood. Not dead and not gone. Just more. Just more inward and I protect it fiercely in my own spirit and own way. I no longer believe people when they say they are pro life but healthcare and shelter and food is a privilege and if you give the hungry a morsel they won't appreciate it anyway and don't deserve it. After all "taxes:" you know.
Still, I'm going to keep on going as long as I'm left here. I will tell you one thing. I won't fly a Biden Flag or a Confederate flag. I won't tell you that it's God's will that you blindly support a political party. I won't look the other way and defend the Democrats and even lie for them I just won't.
So, here we are. A new day and a new President. I don't care if you claim him or not. I don't care if you vote him out if you can or if he gets eight years. I do care that if you say you love the nation that you embrace all of what that means. That if you say you love the military that you call out people. Even orange people when they disrespect it. John Mccain fought for your right to belittle him. Donald Trump made it all about himself. Still, I'm done finally with trying to make sense out of it.
Flash back. 1963. A flag draped coffin. A little boy even younger than me. Salutes the coffin. Why did he salute mother?
We always salute the flag and we always know that America is the good guy's Steve.
Flash back: What is Cuba? I ask my aunt. what will happen if the Russians try to bomb us? I'm scared.
Why don't be scared Steve. If they try that "Our guy's" will get in their planes and fly up and Rat- a - tat-tat. Shoot em down. We are American after all.