Thursday, April 2, 2015

Sounding off on Sound-offs

  Opening the local newspaper, I often turn first to the "Sound Off!" feature on page 3, where residents anonymously take aim at whoever and whatever they like or don't like.  
   It's not just that as a columnist I'm sometimes a target.  I just find the entries interesting; and they help me keep current with what some folks may be thinking who don't necessarily think as I do. 
   I read one not long ago that took aim at calls to rescue a local cemetery (where blacks were buried at a time when apparently their bodies weren't welcome at some cemeteries).  The Sound-Off caller pooh-poohed the idea that the community should care, adding, "Their ancestors should take care of the cemetery!"
    Their ancestors?
    I lack space in my Sunday column to deal with "Sound-Offs", but might as well start posting occasional blog entries -- sharing some of the Sound-Offs with folks who missed 'em, and commenting on 'em.  Just for fun.

April 1: HARBISON COLUMN: While Mr. Harbison's Vietnam revisionism probably serves some psychological purpose, it would be good to keep in mind that those who best served America were those who had the courage to say no."

Harbison is a local figure with whom I thoroughly disagree about most things political.  But in person -- e.g., as a guest on my radio show when I had one -- he's a fine gentleman.  He also knows a lot more than I guessed maybe he did from his columns every couple of weeks.  He's a Viet Nam vet, as he often mentions.  As it happened, in 1965 I'd read just about everything you could read about Viet Nam, discovering that it was a war we had no business fighting.  That period happens to be something I know a little about.  To my surprise, Harbison, as a young soldier on leave before going to 'Nam, had read many of the same books (which almost no one else read in those days) and understood that maybe the war was a dumb idea; but he came from a family of soldiers, and he was a soldier, and he put his knowledge about the politics of the thing in a pocket and went off to fight.
I respect that. 

I appreciate the "SOUND OFF" caller's appreciation of those of us who made sacrifices to fight against the war; but I'm not the sort (and it's awfully late now) to make it a contest, who contributed more to the U.S., who was a better person, etc.  I did what I did, no doubt partially because of my own background and education, and so did Jim.   Sure, what I was saying turned out to be more correct than what our leaders were saying; but while I took some risks and got persecuted some, Jim took far bigger risks in those days. 

It irritates me when vets (or arm-chair soldiers) take shots at those of us who happened to see some things clearly and fell compelled to act on them; but I'm also not inclined to take shots at contemporaries who didn't happen to see the truth or weren't in a position to say no.  They too did what they had to do.  Whether they believed the lies our leaders told them about the war or just got dragged along like most grunts, they deserve to be honored.

Although the culture worships war far too much for my taste,  I don't hold with overreacting by denying the realities of veterans' suffering or the fact that many were heroes. 

April 1: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: What in the world is wrong with you people?  Don't business people have any rights at all anymore?  If they don't want to serve you, go someplace else."

Thanks, pal.
I read that and vividly see a night outside a restaurant near Somerville, Tennessee.  Summer, 1965.  We've been there once already.  Two white civil rights workers and a local girl, a Negro as folks said in those days, although another form of the word was more common where we were then.  When one of us asked the girl about the flavor of ice-cream soda she'd gotten, and took a taste from it -- that is, drinking from a paper cup a Negro girl was drinking from -- dozens of people made noises indicating disgust or shouted insults.
This night we're there again.  But although the place is normally open another hour or two, they suddenly lock the doors and turn off the lights and tell us the place is closed.  Other patrons still sit calmly inside, enjoying the spectacle.
I think too of a local kid who was going away for the rest of the summer to a school.  We wanted to celebrate.  We asked where he wanted to go.  He named a place we hadn't expected, the greasy-spoon diner where they'd knifed his brother for trying to eat there a few months earlier.
We went, though.  They let us in.  They tossed the menus on the table brusquely, and damned sure didn't welcome us.  We ate our hamburgers.  They'd put an awful lot of extra hot-pepper in the burgers, but we ate 'em without letting on we noticed.  At the end, when we were ready to pay, the lady kept waving off my efforts, shouting "The nigger pays, the nigger pays!" over and over.
So I don't agree with you that business people have a right to discriminate that way, or that the folks you're talking to should quietly "go someplace else."

More guiltily, I also see another moment.  A fellow I'd known here in 1969-1972, when we were a small band of young folks who were pro-integration and anti-war.  I met him again years later, when I visited here.  He confided then that in the old days, although we'd all been great friends, he'd felt uncomfortable, because he was gay.  He'd see me lounging out in front of Corbett Center and idly caressing my girl friend -- and dream of caressing his lover too, except that he'd have gotten the shit kicked out of him.  Not by us; but he did feel so uncomfortable that he didn't dare tell us about himself.  I think it wouldn't particularly have mattered to us.  But I look back and question whatever in me gave him the impression -- incorrect, I hope, but based on something he saw in me -- that I'd have canceled our friendship or something.

Fortunately opinions like yours are dying out.  I too would have been prejudiced some against a gay person in high school, although I quickly grew out of it.  Beautifully, most kids nowadays just don't give a damn.

Your kind of "religious freedom" is a great stride backward.  

April 1: NATURE: We just had our first hummingbird visit.  Time to put your hummingbird feeders out."

A day or so ago I saw a similar Sound-Off.  Timely.  I share your joy.  (A friend who lived on our land in Derry for more than a quarter-century kept notes, and said the hummers always returned on April 1.)
But we're blessed.  The last few winters, a small number of our little guys have stuck around all winter.  We worried the first time that maybe by providing food so late in the season we were misleading them into a disaster.  But they stuck it out.  I don't know just how.  There were mornings the bird-bath was frozen and the hummingbird feeders looked questionable; and some mornings we had to put the frozen hummingbird feeder in the garage and replace it with a warmer one that had spent the night in the garage, waiting; but they stuck around, a skeleton crew to keep us entertained.

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