Friday, August 18, 2017

In Big Daddy's Garden

Walk with me in Big Daddy's garden.

The abandoned shovel, trowel, and rake. Amongst the rows of neatly organized, pruned and tended fruits and vegetables, not a thing out of place, it was clear that someone had hastily departed. Dozens of cantaloupe lay ripe and warm, already detached from their stems. Tomatoes hung heavily from stems that were trained onto carefully constructed supports. Clearly, the gardener was missing.

What are these huge green things?

I was there because I'd offered to help weed the garden and pick the veggies. The garden's owner is a man who has been a part of our community for eleven years, and he's the husband of a good friend, a friend who probably saved my son's life with a phone call. She is very dear to me, and we are currently working together to start a Black History Society in the county we live in. Her husband, Benjamin Valdez, is from Mexico, and despite the fact that his paperwork for a green card is almost complete... he is in custody after being picked up by ICE over a week ago.
I don't know what the sharpened wooden posts are, either!

He's being held in Boone County, several hours away, so Pansy, who doesn't drive out of Springfield, and their foster daughter, who is devoted to Benjamin, and has been through desertion and trauma too many times to count, can't visit him, and he doesn't have his asthma medication.

The tidy and immaculate arrangement of everything was reminiscent of my father.

My initial reaction was envy. How could someone have so few weeds and bugs after a week's absence? Then I realized that no doubt Big Daddy (which is the name everyone uses for Benjamin, and I'll use from now on..) doesn't have an organic garden. I took one of the melons home, and ate it, still warm. It was nirvana. I have to admit that I began to wonder whether organic farming is worth it! I've spent the entire summer battling weeds and pests.

Even the debris is perfectly ordered!

But soon, as I tried to find a weed or two, and then resorted to picking what was ripe, and taking pictures, my mind wandered to Big Daddy. I don't know him well. I don't know a lot about the adult children he has in Mexico. I know he is a devoted church-goer and a hard worker, a foreman in the tobacco fields and an agriculture worker during other seasons. Last time I saw him, we talked about gardens and tomatoes, and he asked about my son... who no longer lives in the county. After I told him how well he is doing, he asked me if he goes to church. His English is heavily accented, and I couldn't understand church until he said iglesia. When my son was struggling with addiction and alcoholism, there were so many people who loved him, cared for him, and prayed for him. I will never forget that. And I am praying for Big Daddy, Pansy, and Pupcake (the daughter's nickname, and I have one, too. So does my son, and everybody in the Black community.)

These are strawberries.

Grapes. I ate one, and it tasted exactly like the grapes on my father's grapevines, of which he too was very proud. I started to think about how much he'd approve of Big Daddy's garden. And yet, and yet: to my father, born in 1909, Mexicans were the people who came around in the summer and worked in the farms. I'm sure he never met one otherwise. African Americans were inferior. While I never heard racist slurs from him, there is no doubt I learned and lived White Privilege.

The garden is terraced, and from the top down we have grapes, strawberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, eggplant, tomatoes, squash & more. As you ascend, a breeze stirs and lifts around you, even on the hottest day. I try to feel what it must be like for Big Daddy, especially compared with grueling, numbing work of tobacco fields in Kentucky heat.

Nonetheless, my father hated Nazis. He lived through two World Wars. He actually instilled a dislike of  Germans as strongly as that of Jews, Catholics and people of color. I had to look at my knee-jerk aversion to Germans! I don't know how he'd react to all of this. But in Big Daddy's garden, I saw the evidence of a man who must have found order, calm, peace and joy in his contact with the earth, his ability to grow something from nothing, his assurance of filling his family with good food. Much like my father.

I think they shared this.

My father, also an inheritor and (I would say) victim of white privilege, worked for the now-closed Frankford Arsenal during the Vietnam War, and until the mid-seventies. I think this troubled him. I think many things did. His garden, I am sure, gave him solace.

At this time during which we are being asked to stand up and take sides, I know that my father's daughters and all of my children are already standing with people of color, with Jewish people, with immigrants, and with the disenfranchised and the disempowered people of this land.

Everything was stacked and tidied to perfection. 

Pansy is optimistic. She feels certain that Big Daddy will not be deported because he has a lawyer and his paperwork is in order. He's one step away from his green card. I share this walk with you because you may not know a person who has been picked up by ICE and is being held prisoner in a country in which they've been a productive and peaceful citizen for more than a decade. A person who is going through all the steps to become a legal immigrant. 

So when you hear Trump or Jeff Sessions or others talk about "illegals" who bring drugs and rape people and who are criminals, think about Big Daddy. A person who plants, strawberries, takes his foster daughter to the pool, worries about my son, is loved by his community, is a man of faith and integrity.

I know Pansy and Big Daddy would welcome prayers and thoughts. Thank you for taking this walk with me. Please share.
Rake, left behind.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


It's a newish saying, this "I have no words." Never a problem for me. But at present I have words, and no pulpit. It also intrigues me when people say, I have no words. No words=silence, and that's the last thing we need. If we ever needed speaking up and out, it's now.

In the wake of Charlottesville, what will you do?

Carry on, perhaps shake your head or shed a tear for the young woman who was murdered standing up against Fascism and bigotry, then get back to your Sunday routine?

Or will you add a new dimension to your thoughts and prayers, your wondering about the future, whether you will be here or not? Will you spend some time reading up on the history that was referred to yesterday, Kristallnacht, Fascism, the KKK, David Duke, Robert E. Lee, and even the racist legacy of Thomas Jefferson? Most important, will you seek out the persons of color (POC) that you know and check to see how they are doing? Most are feeling eviscerated as these events unfold, and especially as they see the President seem to sanction police violence and other forms of extreme bigotry with a wink and a nod. Will you go to church today? Will you confront your pastor if she doesn't mention Charlottesville? Will you counter words posted on Facebook that in any way support Trump's "many sides" narrative?

If not: don't wonder what you would have done if you'd live in Nazi Germany. This is how it begins. No, I don't think it will happen here. Because I still think Americans are too kind, compassionate and courageous to allow it. But it's way past time to show that conviction.

I was more troubled than anything by the youth of the white supremacists: most were in their twenties. My daughter's age. I am beyond touched by my adult children's anti-racism. No, they are not just "not racist." They would all go to the mat to fight racism and bigotry. My eldest son is particularly big and strong. He's also busy and doesn't follow all the news. Half joking, I texted him early Saturday, and said, I just want to send you to VA to beat up these Nazis! He says, definitely. Then, I have no idea what you are talking about, but I'm always ready to beat up a Nazi (again, kidding, but no hesitation.) His life long best friend is Black, and unlike people's "I have a Black friend," he just lives his beliefs.

My daughter posted a most beautiful statement. She works now and has worked against oppression for many years:

I stand with those in Charlottesville putting their bodies on the line for justice. I name the demonstration in Charlottesville as as domestic terrorism, radical, violent racism, as a hate crime. I stand against white supremacy, though I have and will continue to benefit from it. I am on my knees in prayer.

My youngest child, who is Autistic and would have been destroyed by the Nazis, came to me the other day and said, "I got a new avatar (in Pokemon) and I named her Pansy (a friend from the local Black community) and made her brown, to fight against racism."

This touched me, because I started to think about my kids and how they all four have fought for justice and fairness in a lot of ways, not perfectly, but because they saw a living example of service and involvement. Also, far from perfect. But they see that I never stopped trying.

So, finally, I ask parents to look inward and examine their own behaviors and their own lives, choices, and commitments. This mother of the terrorist who murdered someone with his car was shocked. Really? He even TOLD her he was going to this rally. It's not enough to tell your kids, "Don't be racist." You have to actively teach them, not just with words, but with your choices, your actions, and most important your sacrifice, what that means.