Thursday, April 16, 2015

Roadside Religion

http://www.conggiao.info/
Now that Spring is finally dawdling along to Ohio, Rick and I are weekending at the lake, which is in Ashland County, about a forty-five minute drive for us through small towns and farmland. And, apparently, judging by the yard signs we see, Proud Christians.

I am continually fascinated by this sort of Roadside Religion, this blaring Bible-thumping. My mother, St. Patsy, and I had a chat about it once when she accompanied me.

Nance: These God signs are ridiculous. Who puts a bigass sign full of religion in their yard?
St. Patsy: I know.
Nance: It's pretty lazy evangelizing, if you ask me. What if other people, like doctors, did their jobs like that? What if a doctor merely put up a sign in front of his office that said, "Take two aspirin and lie down" and that was it? What if I, as an English teacher, had simply put up a sign in my yard that said, "Apostrophes don't make plurals and go read the classics"? Those God Warriors are just taking the easy way out.
St. Patsy: (laughs; shakes head) Oh, Nance. Just ignore it.

My mother's stock answer for most things that annoyed me throughout my life has always been to Ignore It, from my siblings' torments to the sometimes hurtful retorts from my children to runs in my pantyhose to the random pimples on my chin. But I think it's pretty hard to ignore this:


And here's the other side of it, shot from the road parallel, the only place I could grab a decent photo:

As you can see, this is one bigass, preachy sign, the wording of which still escapes me. Exactly how does one Believe ON something/someone, anyway?  (St. Patsy assures me that this is Old Timey, Bible wording that she recalls from her Pre-Catholic Days.)  This sign is along a residential driveway, bordered by evergreens, and when I drove into said driveway to get the shot, it was peaceful and parklike, even eerily so. The other side's sentiment, stating that only Grace/Faith saves you, not Works, is a very Puritan sentiment. It goes all the way back to Predestination, that confusing doctrine that said your Final Destination (Heaven or Hell) was already decided at your birth, so no matter what you did, it didn't really matter. I still don't know why any Puritan bothered to behave at all. I'd have sinned myself ragged. (Of course, many did but the social and real costs were high.)

Lest you think that sign is the only one, let me present Exhibit B:


And its reverse:


This sign is much more subtle, of course, but is again in a rather nice and tranquil setting (the dead Easter plants notwithstanding). Across the street (where I parked to get out and get the shot) is a junky used car lot, and nearby is a railroad track. It is about two miles away from the bigass sign. And yes, that comma is killing me there.

This enormous and rather scary sign appeared over Easter. The bloody red paint presents a rather interesting and ironic contrast to its message:


Unfortunately, you cannot clearly see the small, also hand-lettered sign next to the bigass one. It reads "Do Not Come To The House." (Something the newspaper delivery person clearly took to heart, as you can tell by the newspaper lying in the grass.) This presents a wonderful paradox for me. JESUS LOVES YOU, but DO NOT COME TO THE HOUSE. Hey, they are into Jesus, but not so much what He was into.

The lakehouse is smack-dab in the middle of a large Amish enclave.  Right at the entrance to the lake community is an Amish farmhouse, and across the road is another one.  Several more are down the street.  They are easy to spot; they have no electric lines running to their homes, and their buggies and horses are often in view.  Once a week, their familiar black and deep blue clothing flutters on clotheslines next to white aprons and caps.

But the one thing you never see is overt signs of their devotion to their God.  They are quietly devout, silently living their Christian ideology. Their farmstands are shuttered on Sundays.

I'm a recovering Catholic; I am not religious, so I don't understand evangelical religions.  One thing I do understand, however, is that I don't like being preached to about pretty much anything, especially passive-aggressively.

A long time ago, someone passed this along about religion--I forget who--but I think it's a great analogy, however crude:  Religion is like a penis. It’s fine to have one, it’s fine to be proud of it, but please don’t whip it out in public and start waving it around...and don’t try to shove it down my throat.



Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Money Isn't Everything, And We're Worth Way More Than Twenty Bucks


Forgive me, Dear Readers, for this is certainly Old News to all of you, but I am only now hearing of the Campaign To Put A Woman On The Twenty-Dollar Bill. (I know; nothing gets past me for long.) Certainly this is something we need to talk about, and I haven't even sorted my own feelings about this yet. It's all terribly Grace Bedell-esque, isn't it?

In case anyone else has been similarly Out Of It, a little girl wrote to President Obama last year after doing a report on Anne Hutchinson, a Puritan woman who audaciously believed that God could speak to individuals, not just ministers, and who was termed a Jezebel by the local clergy for holding prayer services in her home. When this nine-year old student, Sofia, was watching other students give their reports, some of the others used paper money or coins as illustrations of their historical (male) figures. Sofia could not; neither could any of the other students who chose women. (Apparently no one chose Susan B. Anthony or Sacajawea.) She decided to write to the President and see if he could do something about this.

President Obama wrote back, albeit rather belatedly, and the Interwebs are now all aflutter with a campaign. Replacing President Andrew Jackson was the easy choice because of his tarnished reputation with Native Americans. ( The fact that he adopted two American Indian sons is not enough of a neutralizing factor.)  I'd rather we replace Benjamin Franklin because of his reputation as a known plagiarist and terrific bore, but no one asked me. (His reputation as a Big Deal among the French, especially their women, still amazes me, but then the French are quite fond of Jerry Lewis, too, so I have to say that they have historically Bad Taste In Men. Only their cuisine and wine save them. But I digress.)

Anyway.

The Interwebs got up a bigass poll as to which Historically Notable woman we want passed around by consumers in exchange for goods and services instead of President Andrew Jackson, and therein lies my Big Issue.

Obviously, I'm overthinking this. But the Principle Symbolism of passing around Eleanor Roosevelt, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, or Chief Wilma Mankiller in exchange for stuff is ... icky to me. I feel as if it defeats the Purpose of the thing. These women didn't traffic in a currency as low and mean as money. They stood for principles much more meaningful, much more important. They worked for Freedom, Equality, Rights, Dignity. I hate the idea of putting any of them on money.

Yes, I'm aware that my own Personal and Revered Hero, President Abraham Lincoln, is on two kinds of currency, coin and paper money, and for the most part, I've never given that much thought. But I do cringe at the commercials that use his likeness to trump sales for insurance in an undignified way, and caricatures or other likenesses on Presidents' Day. I hate it. It's sad when historical figures have no control over their names or likenesses (Don't get me started on the TV show "Salem." They should be ashamed and in court.) If I had my way, President Lincoln wouldn't be on money either. No one would be. Put the flag, the eagle, the purple mountains majesty on there. It's more dignified all the way around. (Look what happened in Canada with Spocking Fives.)

It's not that I'm against money. I like it, and I hope to see a lot more of it. But money should not be a monument. (To some people and political parties, it already is.) Money doesn't increase awareness of the people whose image it bears. That's easy enough to prove. Grab ten people off the street and ask them if they know whether Hamilton or Franklin was a president of the United States. (For the record, neither one was.)

Sofia, the letter-writer herself, seems to be unaware that we already have two women on currency. How much awareness of Susan B. Anthony and Sacajawea did those coins raise? And while a good argument can be made that the dollar coin is an unfamiliar and rarely used form of American currency, is a twenty-dollar bill really a teaching tool? Ask any nine-year old like Sofia to name who is on the nickel and who is on the quarter and see if she or he knows that they are two different presidents.

President Obama's response to Sofia is lovely and encouraging in just the right way. The response of the Interwebs is, in the words of William Shakespeare (not Benjamin Franklin, although he would steal them outright for his "Almanack"), "full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing."

Speaking for myself, I'd rather not have my life commemorated by appearing on currency. Its value goes up and down; it is passed around to hands of varying repute. It is used for things that I may never have foreseen or sanctioned. I would rather, if a person of note, leave my life in the hands of careful and kind teachers and historians.

Sofia can learn more from her report on Anne Hutchinson by following the example of Anne Hutchinson than she can from envying the lazy posters of her classmates. Become a keeper of the flame by teaching about notable women and become a Notable Woman herself. She has a lot of examples already to follow.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Getting Over It

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to a New Feature here at the Dept. of Nance, one we like to think of as a sort of Public Service/Therapy Session called Get Over It. I'm sure you'll figure out how it works as we go along, and we encourage you to offer up your own Subjects for Future Treatment, or you can provide your own rendition in Comments.

Let's get on, shall we?
"The Internet is so bougie."

1. Senator Lindsey "Old Lady Fussypants" Graham (R-South Carolina) proudly declared on Meet the Press to moderator Chuck Todd, "I don't email. You can have every email I've ever sent. I've never sent one." Oh, Senator, aren't you clever? And...sad? This past week, my mother, who will be 85 in June, picked up her new iPad. It is her very first foray into the world of technology. She learned how to use email, text messaging, the Internet, and some apps. She delighted in being able to FaceTime with her family members and add birthdays to the calendar. She can listen to Vic Damone on her personal Pandora station. You, however, revel in the fact that you eschew electronic communication as if you are a Puritan church elder who is denying the devil. Oh, Senator Lindsey Graham, Get Over It. Being a Luddite isn't virtuous, it's dumb. You might not send emails, but your staffers do, and those missives carry the imprimatur of your office. So do your Facebook page and your Twitter account. You even have a Web presence, here, and it includes a link to email you. You even have a YouTube page! So, again, Senator, Get Over It. You're sending emails and involved in the age of technology whether you "are" or not.

2. Can everyone check the date right now? We are rounding the bend and within striking distance of April. Yet, Some People are still displaying Christmas Decorations in their yards, on their homes, and in their windows. Hey, Holiday-Challenged Or Lazy Sods, Get Over It! Christmas is past, done, gone, and other holidays have come and gone as well. Even the snow is gone. There is simply no reason for any of this, all of which I photographed while I drove home from the grocery store and in a two-block radius from my home:
At left, a manger scene; Christmas lights are wound all around; they are illuminated most nights.

Confusingly, this Christmas wreath is in contrast to the bouquet of fake spring flowers at the door.

WTF is going on here?  Jolly snowperson out front; Uncle Sam next to the door with the US Flag Heart alongside.
You are hurting my feelings and annoying your neighbors. You are likely prolonging winter. You are devaluing the surrounding properties. This is, in a word, outrageous. What are you waiting for? If you hate this job so much, don't put this crap up in the first place. Winter in NEO is cold and long. Those decorations won't ever, ever take themselves down or put themselves away, and they end up looking pathetic and depressing. No one wants to see this in February, March, or at the rate you are going, April. Get Over It and yank this junk now.  My next-door neighbors just took down their plastic candy canes and inflatables on Sunday, March 22nd.  I thought I would die.

3. Hey, republicans--at least the eleven of you who are NOT running for president--Barack Obama is going to finish out his second term as the President Of These United States Of America. Get Over It. While I know that many of you still cannot do that, let me add that your continued attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act have passed Ludicrous and are on their way to Psychotic. Since you took over the majority in the House, you have put a vote on the floor almost sixty times in those four years, accomplishing precisely nothing. Yet, the first thing you use in any argument about Democrats being unable to effect legislation is the fact that "they had a supermajority" and yada yada yada. Looks like you're finding out what it's like to deal with a group of people who don't follow in lockstep with The Party all the time. Hate to say I Told You So, but when you courted the teapartiers, you invited disaster. Now, Get Over It. 
Lovin' those Grizzly Mamas and Evangelicals now, aren't you?

Probably some of my Dear Readers could smugly say, "Nance, you should take your own advice and Get Over It as far as these things go." To you I would say pleasantly, "I tried. For a Very Long Time, I have tried. Now my patience is at an end, and Something had to be said. I said it."

Now it is your turn. Who needs to Get Over It? Or would you like to have Your Turn and snark a little at the three I have admonished? Let fly.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

That's Okay. I'm Used To It; This Happens To Men Around Me Every So Often.

After the requisite Luxuriation Period In My Jammies this morning, it was finally time to face the Grocery Shopping. Luckily, only a few items were on the list, and it was really only a trip to get Cat Supplies at the pet store that was forcing me outside today. I stopped there first, then continued to my grocery store, noting with great satisfaction the number of empty parking spaces. This was going to be a quick trip, thank goodness.

I zipped in, grabbed a cart, and was immediately thwarted. An elderly gentleman was intently browsing the baked goods right next to the carts. He sidled up even closer to them, then began to bend low. I had nowhere to go; his cart was blocking the aisle, and he had one hand resting on it. I waited, trying to be patient, and he bent lower still, aiming toward the bottom shelf. Suddenly, he simply fell, prone and on his face, his legs completely stretched out towards me, cart veering off ahead. He was motionless. I bent down, and as I did, I yelled, "Call 911! An elderly man just collapsed. Hurry!" I tried to feel if he was breathing by holding my hand near his nose and mouth, and I was afraid to move him. I could feel warm breath, steady and definite. "Sir. Sir. Can you hear me? Sir, can you hear me?"

Another person knelt next to me. "We have to get him turned over," she said. I looked at her; she looked somehow familiar. She had black hair piled up on her head and large, dark eyes. She was about my age and height, and she was calm and capable-sounding. "Yes," I said. "Ready when you are." Carefully and gently we turned the man over. He was awake and blinking.

The young man from the Customer Service Desk rushed over and got behind his head. "Run to Closeouts and get him a pillow!" he yelled to a nearby employee. In the meantime, he sat with one leg askew so that his thigh cradled the man's head, slightly propped. "You're gonna be okay, buddy," he said in his heavy West Virginian accent. "The paramedics are on their way."

"Sir, what's your name?" I asked him gently. His blue eyes blinked and he focused on my face. "Silas Bell," he answered. "I'm fine. That cold air just knocked the wind outa me."

We all asked him if there was anyone with him. No, there wasn't. There was no one to call, either, according to Silas Bell. He was shopping alone today, as always. He had a daughter, but she lived far away.

"Sir, do you have a pacemaker?" the black-haired woman asked. He told her no. "Are you a heart patient?" Silas Bell had had a bypass in 2006. He struggled to sit up. "I'm fine. This happens to me all the time at home, and it happens to me here, too. I usually find a place to sit down until it passes. But this time, there was no place to sit."

"Please," I said, "please lie back and try to relax a little. You have a bump on your head and nose from when you fell. Let the medics check you out just to make sure that you don't have a concussion or anything. You fell pretty hard, and right flat on your face."

"Mr. Bell," said the black-haired woman, "does someone have your power of attorney? Are you sure there isn't someone we should call for you?"

"My girlfriend, Ruth Winters, has my power of attorney. No need to call her. I'm fine. I just want to get my groceries and go home."

As we waited for the ambulance to come, we all talked to Mr. Bell to keep him calm and relaxed while shoppers came in and saw him lying there. We found out he was 86 years old and that the black-haired woman was a career nurse. He was alert and aware, and he wanted to get his shopping done.

To my amazement, the paramedics walked in without a single piece of equipment. Neither did they take a single vital sign or attempt to ascertain much information about him with regard to his health history. They heard what happened, asked if he wanted to go to the hospital, and when he said no, they filled out a form and he signed it. That was it. As I pushed my cart away, I felt uneasy and upset.

This man was alone, had just had a fall involving his head, is 86 years old, and then was going to drive a car. None of that scenario merited at least taking vital signs? Asking about medications, diabetes, blood pressure issues, anything? Why did they come into the store with nothing at all? Wouldn't that have cost them precious time if the victim were bleeding, unconscious, having trouble breathing, possibly in other trouble?

As I walked away, I wondered if I should have offered to accompany Mr. Bell as he shopped, just until he was sure he felt better. But I know he would have refused. After all, the paramedics had signed off on him, giving him the reassurance that he was perfectly fine. Perhaps he was. But I still feel unsettled.

Faithful Readers may be experiencing a bit of déjà vu while reading this story. You and me both. While I am always glad to be of help (obviously), I'd rather not have to be The One in such cases. I will say, however, that I suppose I'd better hone my CPR skills. The men are getting older.

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Monday, March 09, 2015

In Which We Celebrate, For Things Do Get Better

Oh Frabjous Day! Callooh! Callay! Today NEO is basking in the sunshiny Upper Forties and the huge icicles have departed my gutters (or eavestroughs, as some locals here still insist upon calling them). I have seen wee margins of grass here and there as the monoliths of snow pull away from the sidewalks and driveways heated from the sun. And, quite importantly, today I wore only my lined raincoat to the grocery store.

So many lovely, lovely things are making me happy right now, and it seems like So Very Long since something has, so I would like to share.

My Latest Happies

1. My hair
2. Our Canada jaunt
3. The weather
4. President Obama's "Bloody Sunday" speech
5. A license plate I saw

Let me just tell you about those, and then you can chat about your Latest Happies in Comments.

1. My Hair is a constant barometer of my wellbeing. Last year, I decided to join the Pixie Movement (albeit late) and I was alternately pleased and horrified. Very sensibly, my friend Shirley over at gfeeasily said, "I think people are either Long Hair People or Short Hair People and just aren't happy being the other one." Well, my friends, I am a Long Hair Person. Period. My hair is finally grown out to a point where it is manageable and I no longer cry every other day because I Just Don't Know What To Do With It Anymore. The next time I say One Word about getting a haircut, I want every single person in the world to smack me hard. Thank you in advance.

2. Rick and I both knew we needed a change of scenery and that, despite the weather being identical to ours, the wine and comforts of Niagara-on-the-Lake would help us tremendously. So true. We had a lovely time this past weekend and brought home just under four cases, one being a gorgeous buttery Chardonnay. Our innkeepers took us as their guests to a winery party, and we had a very good time with tank tastings and nibblies. We even visited the newest winery, just opened, and because it is such a slow time, got a private tour. While in Canada, we politely asked that they keep their weather to themselves, and they said they would try.

3. What a lift to have temperatures higher than the single digits and teens! We are seeing the forties and maybe even a fifty or two in the next week or so. And sun...its effect on my mood and energy is incalculable. I know from living in NEO my whole life that this is merely a break in the action: our winter is far from over. But if we could get a full thaw and have all the snow gone, that would be terrific. I'm anxious to get back down to the lake and see how things are doing. It cannot be lake season soon enough for me.

4. I was in Canada for President Obama's delivery of his speech at the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma. When I got home, I had the full text in my inbox, and I read it. I did not get far before my eyes were full of tears. I am always happy when words can move me, and I am always happy when our President makes reference to great writers and great women. I burst into tears especially when he called on the great Walt Whitman, the chronicler of the American Journey, and paraphrased a line that I so often spoke in awe in my own classroom. "I am large, I contain multitudes." Politics aside, it is a beautiful speech. Please click here and read it in full. (Note: Time magazine's transcript is NOT the full transcript, their claim to the contrary.)

5. On our way home yesterday we drove through Cleveland, and I caught a glimpse of a license plate framed by rainbow-coloured peace signs. It read GETZBTR. All I could see of its male driver was a pale hand and sunglasses as we raced past the frozen lake headed into downtown. I hope that the license plate meant GETS BETTER, and that it was part of the campaign IT GETS BETTER, which was started to give hope to LGBT youth. Vanity plates cost extra and have to be renewed every year, so it would be a personal expense if he were spreading that message. I choose to think that he was. Cleveland hosted the Gay Games last year, and they were a rousing success. Ohio is still a DOMA state, and the governor and legislature are republicans. One look at Ohio's district map shows you how horribly gerrymandered it is, but attitudes are changing. The DOMA was voted by the citizenry, true, but so much outside money influenced it that it was criminal. But that license plate...my heart lightened instantly.

What has lightened your heart lately? Tell us and make us all smile.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Of Firemen And Flying And Snowfall: February IS The Cruellest Month

Scene opens on a living room. Nance and Rick are sitting on the couch watching a news story about a group of college students who are working as volunteers in one residential community. They are shovelling out fire hydrants which have been buried under icy four-foot drifts of plowed snow, presenting a very real danger in case of fire.

Rick: (outraged) That's just ridiculous. Why would you let that happen?
Nance:  Firemen have a lot of downtime. Why isn't there a team of firefighters going around, shovelling out those hydrants? Lots of them are just lolling around the firehouse playing cards and inventing chili recipes.
Rick: (if possible, even more outraged) Nance, they can't do that! They'd have to send out the whole truck with all the guys. What if there was a fire someplace? Those guys would be out someplace shovelling out a hydrant, and the rest of them would have to wait or go pick them up. It just doesn't work like that.
Nance: (losing interest now) I guess. The whole thing is a mess.
Rick: It should work like the emergency exit on an airplane. If someone wants to buy a house on a lot with a fire hydrant, they should have to agree to shovel the snow around it in the winter. You know, like the way the flight attendant asks you if you agree to be in charge of the emergency exit in case of a sudden landing and all that. If the homeowner can't handle it, then that's it--no sale.
Nance: (perking up) That is genius! It's perfect.
Rick: Have you ever sat in the emergency exit aisle?
Nance: Heck yes. And I was fully prepared to haul that door off and take control. Absolutely.
Rick: Did you ever see anyone refuse?
Nance: Yes, a frail little old lady, and I was glad that she did. We would never have gotten out alive. And I once saw a woman with a kid sit there briefly, and I knew there was no way in hell that was good for me. She'd get so wrapped up in finding a sippy cup or a blankie that we'd all die.
Rick: This is what I'm talking about. Only responsible people should have these hydrants in their yard. It's better for everyone.

End scene.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fireside Chat: Chapter Four of Watching And Thinking Of Blueberries

In spite of the snow and cold, the restaurant's closed-in porch was warm and pleasant. Surrounded by windows, we could see traffic churning at the busy intersection while the snow fell in fat, wet flakes. One absurdly tiny woodstove was keeping us all warm. It seemed impossible.

"Nance, we saved a seat for you right by the fire," someone said, and Rick and I took our places after a bit of requisite mingling. It was, after all, a company party, and the long table would keep most of us apart during dinner. I found myself next to the boss's wife, whom I like very much, but then, I like everyone with whom Rick works. She had recently lost her father, quite unexpectedly, and a party was the last place she wanted to be. In an effort to help them both, she had brought her mother along, and they were clearly struggling in this festive, happy environment.

In her grief, her mother could not sit still, but wandered back and forth behind the table. She stopped by the stove, trying to stay warm. She seemed distracted and flighty. Marielle, the boss's wife, drew her over and introduced her to me. As is often the case, I was her nephew's teacher. He is now a greatly successful financial advisor (mine, in fact). She was so happy to talk about him and his accomplishments. "Let's get you a chair," said Rick. "You can sit right here at the end of the table by the fire for dinner. Stay here and talk with us."

She did. She never left that chair. She could not eat very much, but she talked at length about her husband, being alone in her big house now, her plans, and what she does to fill up her days. "One thing I do is to volunteer out at Wells Glen. I go out there and run an exercise class for the old people. I--"

But I had stopped truly listening as soon as I heard "Wells Glen." I looked up at Rick, heart hammering. Tish lived at Wells Glen! He smiled. I waited patiently for a chance to ask if she knew of Tish, if she had any information at all about my former neighbor. She paused for a moment, chuckling a little about the ladies at Wells Glen doing their exercises.

"A former neighbor of mine lives at Wells Glen now, " I started, "and we've been wondering about her. Tish Cash, do you ever see her? The last we heard was--"

"Oh, Tish! With her glorious silver pageboy! She's great! She takes my class, and she goes to the beauty parlor every week. Her son...ugh. But yeah, she's fine. Her son took her car away, and she's a little forgetful, but she's great. She has a lot of friends and when the weather is good, she goes outside for her walks. She plays cards and all kinds of activities. You should come and see her. Yeah!"

It's entirely possible that she never noticed my eyes filling with tears during her entire recitation. Rick did, of course, and patted my hand throughout. I know I thanked her for telling me about Tish's life now and for setting my mind at ease; that we had no way of finding information and did not want to impose on anyone's privacy. That it was happy and reassuring news she had brought us about Tish.

By the end of the evening, many jackets had been shrugged out of and sweaters slipped off shoulders. One little woodstove had created enough warmth to comfort the entire room, and then some.

There will be no trips to Wells Glen for me; I was not a visitor in Tish's life when she lived across the street. We would have nothing to talk about, and I would struggle to keep from telling her about her driveway adrift in snow, her uncurtained, unblinking windows, the sad fate of her redbud tree. No, instead I will smile, knowing she is warm and happy--in her home.

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