Friday, September 29, 2017

Jaki Jean on to Kneel or not to Kneel

During the last days, surrounding the very public debate about what is a very complicated, passionate & all too divisive issue created by our Apricot in Chief, I have been thinking.

As those close to me understand, Jaki Jean thinking is a very dangerous & often disturbing thing.

And I have also been debating with myself.  Trying to put into words my position in a controversy designed to appeal to the Apricot’s base.   Designed to draw in otherwise rational human beings in order to divert the nation’s focus. 

To divide us, divert the nation from the Russian investigation, the failure of those controlling Congress (& ostensibly the Executive branch) to pass any health care reform that would benefit American citizens.  Actually, the failure to pass any substantive legislation that would benefit the majority of American citizens.

What complicates the debate for me is that I understand both sides of whether to kneel or not to kneel.
And I understand that it is so complex, even without what I firmly believe was intended as a distraction by the Apricot.

It is not a Liberal vs. Conservative, Patriot vs. Rebel, Democrat vs. Republican, proud American vs. Ungrateful, Privilege vs. Less. 

It is about so much more.

About symbols that mean respect for those who have served & continue to serve in the military, family history, personal experience.  And about the First Amendment.

It is about something that has pitted Americans against Americans

At least on social media.

During the social media discussion, two of my friends, a mother & her son, disagreed. 

Reading & watching how that disagreement played out between two loving individuals over something about they disagreed was amazing.

And in the end, two people deeply connected, respected the Other’s opinion.

Or at least that is how Jaki Jean read it.

What has been forgotten & lost in the passion & complexity of the debate to kneel or not to kneel is that the actions of why those kneeling in protest of the treatment of people of color by too many police departments.

A symbolic act protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The entire debate brought me back to my own private act of protest.

No doubt influenced by the Civil Rights movement & growing up in a home with parents who did not pass on a legacy of racism to their children.

And three too many assassinations.

At some point, in the later years of elementary school, I began to doubt the veracity of the words of the Pledge of Allegiance.

So, I began my own act of protest & resistance during the required daily affirmation of reciting it each morning of school.

I began to edit the Pledge.

Sometimes, I left out the most disturbing phrase for me, inserting a blank space with an ellipsis . . .

Because I did not believe the country of my birth, the country that indoctrinated me to believe it was the New Jerusalem & the light on the hill, was a country of “liberty & justice for all.”

Sometimes, I simply rewrote the disturbing phrase & recited “with hope for liberty & justice for all.”

I liked that revision.  I still do.

Because I want desperately to believe in the hope for “liberty & justice” for all.

During the discussion of my two friends, mother & son, her son asked his friends on FB:

So, my mom and I had an interesting discussion this morning about the NFL issue. Ultimately, our thoughts on the issue revolve around what the flag and anthem mean to us. That one central definition colors our perspective on the issue as a whole. So without giving away what either one of us thought... what do those two symbols mean to you?
And please keep this civil. Attacks on anyone else commenting will be deleted.

I had to think about & ponder his question.  And the understanding he expressed:

Ultimately, our thoughts on the issue revolve around what the flag and anthem mean to us.

For me, the flag, the anthem, & the pledge are a promise of achieving what I believe the United States stands for & fights to protect.  All of it. 

Beginning with the First Amendment.

What strikes me as something missing in the contentious debate is the unfortunate truth that civil discourse is no longer the norm for debate & disagreement.

Not from the Apricot-in-Chief, not on social media except when individuals request it or delete the posts by those who refuse to follow the request.

So, what is my position on to kneel or not to kneel?

Everyone has a forum – family, friends, church groups, in these days, a Facebook page. 

In my world, a blog one writes for one’s own survival & sanity.  I

Everyone has the right to use the forum they possess.  Under the First Amendment.

Those who have a forum with a far greater audience have the same right.

Those of us who may or may not disagree with the act of kneeling, the use of the forum, have the right to disagree.  Or not.

Would I kneel during the National Anthem if I felt strongly about what I believed was an injustice & inequality?

As the granddaughter, daughter, sister, niece, cousin, aunt, of so many who served in the military & are still serving  for what I believe is the promise of the United States, I would kneel for that promise of the anthem & the pledge & the flag.

Because I still feel assured that someone kneeling or standing next to me would help me to rise again.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Jaki Jean on Cotton Centerpieces, Collards & Cornbread & Stories

My royal blue (as in the Kansas City Royals) friend Marianna posted an article on the ill-conceived centerpieces & culinary choices made by a college president (or his staff) to give African American students the opportunity to discuss their experience at the private liberal arts school.”

The centerpieces were made with stalks of cotton – stalks of cotton are not in & of themselves offensive, but perhaps not the most appropriate or sensitive choice considering the invitees & our current all too divided political climate.

Cotton is a profitable crop in Tennessee, home of the predominantly white university with the college president who forgot (or his staff forgot) to take into account the political climate & the possible family histories of the students invited to share their experiences as African Americans in a liberal arts school over dinner.

A dinner that included collard greens, cornbread & macaroni & cheese.

As I mentioned to my royal blue friend Marianna, there are myths & stereotypes about everyone & everything Other than one’s self & experience.  Including a stereotype that all Others with a common history & tradition only eat certain foods.

And I was reminded that the perpetuated myths & stereotypes are not limited to privileged Others who were born faded & sometimes freckled.

I grew up one of four children by two people from East Texas.  Our mother Jean grew up on a farm, with a Church of Christ minister for a father & a quilter & reader for a mother.  Our father Jack grew up differently, but still East Texas style. 

His parents’ only child, he & his mother often lived with his grandparents while his father worked out of state, rebuilding America & writing long, intense love letters to his wife.

I found those in a tin box after my grandmother died.

Contrary to the myth that all Texans owning land raise cattle, my maternal grandparents had milk cows, pigs, chickens, whatever the boys shot or trapped, Spam & canned salmon.  And what they grew.

No cattle for beef.  In fact, the first time my mother Jean ate a T-Bone steak was on a date with my father Jack.

In our childhood, we ate meat.  Fried chicken, fried pork chops, fried fish, chicken fried steak, pot roast, hamburgers, steaks on the grill.  And salmon patties made from a can.

No Spam.

We also ate meatless meals.  Pecan waffles on Sunday nights after Training Union & evening service.  Macaroni & cheese with sides of French fries & Le Seur green peas.

And meals of pinto beans or black-eyed peas, collard or turnip greens or cabbage, yams, pickled beets & yes, cornbread.

My father used to enjoy cornbread crumbled up in a glass of cold buttermilk.

I, however, had no desire to develop a taste for crumbled cornbread in a glass of any temperature buttermilk.

But I loved those meals of greens & beans & cornbread & sides.

During my rather inexplicable transition from English nerd to computer operator to bookkeeper to accountant, I left my first job at a CPA firm for more money, better benefits & new & fascinating horizons.

The choice proved to be a disaster.  And gave me a moment of what wonders sharing a meal can bring.

I took a position at a newly acquired division of Exxon Mobil, located a decent commute for my place in the inner-city area of Montrose, but along the Gulf Freeway.  My job duties included processing the printing of accounts payable checks.  Once a week.  The rest of the days at work were spent staring out of the window. 

The highlight of the day was when the food truck (in those days food trucks were called Roach Coaches – no resemblance to the wonder of food trucks today) entered the yard below & men exited the production floor to buy sandwiches & chips & cookies & soft drinks.

A huge departure from my life living & working inside the Loop.  Lunch inside the Loop was an adventure, an hour or more of a perk benefit to eat barbecue or Mexican food or visit a deli or have burger with sautéed onions & blue cheese dressing or treat oneself to a visit to Ousie’s Table, which was then near the art museum & the menu on the chalkboard changed daily.

In those days, the journey down the Gulf Freeway from the inner city to Galveston was not what it is today.  I had driven it many times & would drive it many more – to get to Galveston or Freeport or to San Leon & sailing, but I was only familiar with one restaurant.

Which was, at the time, one of two Indian restaurants in Houston.  And too far to go for lunch in the days before “to go” menus.

As I mentioned before, the view of my desk was over a concrete yard located between the production shop & the offices.  I had two constant companions in the office – boredom & my peer.

A young, tall, impossibly lithe & gorgeous woman of color.  With impossibly impressive, long nails in a time when NO ONE I knew got their nails done.  Nails that clicked at 100 times the speed of my stubs on a keyboard or typewriter.

And whose entire countenance radiated resentment.

Because I have an intense need to connect with Others, even back then when other to me was a word, an adjective meaning additional or further, I tried reaching out, only to be rebuffed.

Silence & boredom & loneliness & a sack lunch were the staples of my days at a division of Exxon Mobil along the Gulf Freeway.

It was during the time before the Internet, not to mention Google, when computer operators worked in DOS & IBM ruled the computer industry.

One day, the very beautiful woman emanating resentment turned to me & asked,

Why do you make more money than me?  Who do you know?

I knew that my peer, who was working so much harder than me, had been with the company before Exxon Mobil bought it out.  I knew she did not like me or my presence next to her in front of the windows that looked out onto the concrete yard.

Looking back, I was so young, the times were different.  I didn’t ask her how she knew my salary.  I tried telling her I had no idea what she was talking about, but I am a really poor excuse for a liar.

While I did not know that I was making more money than she was, I did know exactly why I was hired.

She kept at me & I finally I asked her:

Are you familiar with SEU?  Source Entry Utility?

Because that was why I was hired.  I had a skill that the powers that be that ruled that newly acquired division of Exxon Mobil anticipated it might be necessary during the upcoming computer upgrade & conversion.

I knew going into the job that I would have very little to do at first, until the conversion.  I knew I had a skill, had been trained by a passionate computer programmer.

I explained to her that I was very familiar with & adept at SEU, an IBM utility that allows a user to update a source in a database or add records between existing records.

It is strange & oddly amusing to remember that young Jaki Jean, who wanted to be a computer operator & write.  It may explain my eldest son & his status as an IT / computer geek guru.

After my explanation, my office companion mellowed.  We talked more & one day, she asked me to lunch.

I never knew where she went to lunch – not the Roach Coach.  Because I ate out of my sack lunches at my desk.

So I went & she took me to a drive through a soul food restaurant along the Gulf Freeway.  

In spite of the thaw in her frigid resentment, I still wondered if it was a test or a perceived punishment for making more money while doing far less work.

I perused the menu in the drive through & when my lunch companion asked me what I wanted, I replied, beans, collards, fried okra, cornbread & a jalapeño.

She looked at me, with the same look I am sure I get when I reply to a comment or a situation I cannot fathom & said, “Seriously?”

I replied Seriously.

We returned to the office & sat at a table somewhere to eat.  As we both buttered our cornbread & I sliced up a jalapeño with a plastic knife & scattered it across my beans & greens, we talked.

My office peer was blown away by the fact that I grew up eating beans & greens & cornbread.  

I, of course, told her stories & then she told me stories & long after the buttered cornbread was gone, the beans & greens & fried okra consumed, we kept talking.

Every day. 

Because we once shared a meal we both grew up eating.

Which led to sharing our stories & finding out that the Other was not so very different.

P.S.  I also like mac & cheese. . . 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Jaki Jean on Lingering Encounters . . .while driving a grocery cart


Almost every morning, I take a short journey somewhere – to the library, to a store for groceries, to a garden center.  Sometimes to pick up breakfast.

I take these trips entirely for myself.  Because each trip brings an encounter with something or someone outside & Other than my(Self).

And I have a face, or an aura or a something that invites people to respond to me & share a conversation.  Even when I don’t initiate the encounter.

This ability, no doubt driven my an internal need to connect, is not new.  It has been true throughout all the six decades of my life.

Maybe everyone has these kinds of encounters & I just remember them, save them to the storage discs in my memory & allow them to linger.

This morning I went for more Naproxen Sodium because I have self-diagnosed (with my non-existent medical degree) that I am suffering from arthritis in my left hand.  

All my life, in my constant attempt to learn to be a southpaw, I have used my left hand as often as possible.

These days, that is proving to be a challenge.

When I queued up in an open check-out lane (no longer worked by my favorite cashier Ashley, who I hope has moved onto bigger & finer opportunities – but by Cindy.  Who wears glasses, has a beautiful smile & does not know the difference between Hatch & Anaheim chilies) - & found myself behind a young woman & her elderly mother.

As they conversed in Spanish, I understood a bit – the young woman wanted to take her mother to a place in the store to sit down & wait.  At first they left the card & I watched as the daughter led the smiling little lady with her hair tied in a ponytail toward an area off the in-store deli. 

Mama returned alone, smiling at me & began to move her daughter’s cart, indicating that she wanted me to go in front of them.

I cursed the fact that I have neglected my Spanish studies & tried to reassure her that I was in no hurry, that it was unnecessary, her daughter was coming – there were others in front of us.

When her daughter caught up with Mama, Mama has begun to take control of my basket & move it ahead in line.  The young woman apologized, explained that her mother had Alzheimer’s & was confused. 

I told her to put their cart in front of mine, that I was in no hurry & I had a Mama at home.  Who was 82 & suffered from Parkinson’s & the dementia to which an 82 year old is entitled.  (After all, my mother Jean’s stored memories have taken up room for over eight decades.)

I asked how old her Mama was & learned the smiling little lady with a ponytail was 77.

Fourteen years older than me.

As Cindy the Cashier who speaks fluent Spanish, but inexplictcably to me, does not know how to differentiate between chilies, rang up their transactions, I gathered that the young woman did not have a Randall’s card so I whispered to Cindy use mine, just in case in gives them a better price.

Cindy took my number & smiled, telling me that it did, indeed, lower their cost.

Then the card reader malfunctioned & a supervisor was summoned.  As Cindy & a supervisor grappled with the malfunction, Mama continued to smile at me & blow me kisses.  I blew kisses back.

An older man came to the end of the check out counter & took their basket of items purchased.  The young woman led Mama toward an exit.

Mama paused, flashed a smile & sent me another kiss before allowing her daughter to guide her to their car & return home.

As I walked to my car, I again cursed myself for neglecting my Spanish studies & vowed to carve out time each day to sign onto Destinos: An Introduction to Spanish & watch at least two telenovelas a day.

The entire drive home, I wept.  For a woman who will not remember me, but who will linger in the cobwebs of my memory.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Jaki Jean on My Love Affair with Aurora Teagarden

For what seems like forever, or at least decades, I have steadfastly refused to pay for cable TV.  Until 18 months ago.

Challenged by the poor reception our rabbit ears gave us on our flat screens (the best reception was, & still is, the oldest retro TV taking up way too much space in one of our front rooms.)

Since the days since Jack & Jean built this house, when we existed & thrived with only one television, that room has always had the best reception – rabbit ears or cable.
When the poor reception became intolerable, I bit the bullet & got Basic Cable. 

And now I have morphed into Jon Kemp.

Jon Kemp, my brother-in-law David’s golf partner, is married to a woman he describes as his “Red Hot Smoking’ Wife” – (also known as RHSW) Dottie, who is my sister Janet’s dear, dear friend. 

Jon Kemp, a former gymnast in college, loves his RHSW, the Astros, the Cowboys, his two daughters, his two granddaughters & grandson named Jon David, the Lord & the Hallmark Channel.

I think Jon has read The Hunger Games series, probably the Twilight series & records Hallmark movies on his DVR.

I am guilty of all three.

Part of me feels corrupted. 

I knew, from experience, that if I had access to cable programming, I would lose sleep, reading time, important time folding clothes & using the Swiffer Jet on the tile floors & baking Sweet Potato Brownie Bites.

What I did not expect, even after the times Jean & I have been together in hospitals with cable, to become an avid observer of The Hallmark Channel or Hallmark Movies & Mysteries.

In the beginning, I would watch (always under guise of sharing the experience with Jean) & analyze.  I began to critique the plots, the formulas, the scripts, the characters.

All of which amused Jean.

I did not expect to fall in love with Aurora Teagarden.

One of the things I have observed about the multiple mystery series on Hallmark Murders & Mysteries is that each series features a woman – beautiful, smart, independent & obsessed with mysteries & murder.

As an avid mystery fan, I could relate.

One of the Hallmark mystery heroines is a mother & married – she owns an antique store.  Then there is the baker, the chef, the book store owner, the tormented ex-attorney turned counselor, the not so tormented ex-attorney who owns a flower shop & a part-time librarian.

Aurora Teagarden is the part-time librarian.  It is a good thing that Aurora’s mother Aida is a successful real estate agent & Aurora only has to work part-time with her Masters in Library Science. 

Because, like Jessica Fletcher, people die around Aurora Teagarden.  (At least once a body fell out of an airplane on her lawn).  It takes a lot of her time to solve mysteries & murders.

Aurora is currently the president of The Real Murderer’s Club.  Which drives the police department crazy – Aurora always solves the case before them – one of her ex boyfriends & his wife are part of that department she drives crazy.

Aurora has a season worth of exes – the cop, the preacher, the writer.
And now, at last, a recurring love interest – Martin, ex-CIA turned mogul & persistent suitor.

In the interest of transparency, I was pleased to see Aurora finally has a steady suitor.

I blame my childhood for this obsession with Aurora Teagarden.

It was watching the soap operas my mother & paternal grandmother Helen watched – I should be embarrassed, but am not, that I remember those plots & characters as well as I know beloved narratives & characters from cherished books.

The plots & narratives & characters on the Hallmark channels are predictable, familiar, a known formula.  Like those soap operas.

That predictability & familiarity represent the known.  And comfort.

In this crazy, upside down, inside out world we are currently know as our reality, moments of comfort, however brief, are welcome & needed.

And that is why I fell in love with Aurora Teagarden.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Surviving Hurricane Harvey Day Five

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Once again, we woke up, not to a peaceful sunrise over waters in the Gulf, but  to sunshine, dry pavement & mobility.  

If not for following Facebook, email & news reports, it could have been any other day in the house that Jack & Jean built.

Except for two things, both related to the dissemination of information spreading like a persistent wildfire on social media.

As my newsfeed filled with rants against Joel Osteen, pastor of the mega Lakewood Church & brutal comments about Melania Trump’s stilettos, I found myself in the uncomfortable, thankless & ironic position of defending two people whose existence simply does not determine the direction of either my spiritual journey or daily fashion choices.

And found myself attacked, in the ways one only experiences when interacting with people commenting from behind the Wizard Curtain of the Great Oz of Facebook.

So, I decided that this is my last comment on Pastor Osteen & on a woman unfortunate enough to make the dubious decision to marry the Apricot.

I learned a social media lesson during my tenure as Defender of the Virally Maligned.

It does not matter to people who choose to rant in the face of all reason & reality that I am not, never have been, never will be, a fan or supporter of either Joel Osteen or the elusive Melania Trump.

I learned that it does not matter if I am a liberal or conservative or a progressive Southern Baptist or radical right-wing fundamentalist or Democrat or Republic or Other or a reasonable human being or an absolute fool.

The rant matters.  Once it begins, it does not cease without fierce interference.

I know something about that – note that I am still ranting about the rants about Joel & Melania.  It is not in my nature to willingly let go of a rant or outrage.  Real, perceived or imagined.

Each day, I struggle with this particular character flaw, drawing on every ounce of self-control & self-discipline I desperately want to possess.

My brother-in-law David Douglas posted an article from Christianity Today about the streaming rage & rant over the Osteen / Lakewood response to events that began over this past weekend.   It is a fine read & reading it does not require absolute solidarity with the author.

Some Christians Hate Joel Osteen More Than They Love the Truth. And That's Wrong.

As I read the article several times, I remembered a very recent discussion about the Lakewood response with my dear friend Muriel.  Muriel said she did not agree with his preaching, that she did not feel his messages were scripturally based.  But –

But if it moves one person to move closer to God . . .

Lakewood Church, like many churches in affected areas in & outside of Houston, did not open for services this past weekend.  Lakewood’s press release about the church closing, possibly not well vetted for the scrutiny of social media, began the raging rants against Osteen, Lakewood & even its congregation.

Lakewood Church, the former home venue of the Houston Rockets, is located inside th Loop.

For those of you unfamiliar with the layout of Houston, inside the loop is a distinctive, older area that includes Downtown & the inner-city neighborhoods of Houston.

All prone to flooding during ordinary rainfalls.

Ask people holding season tickets to the Rockets in the days prior to Osteen’s arrival in the neighborhood.  Ask about those cancelled games due to flooding & hazardous conditions.

Even if the Church building itself did not flood, the streets & routes to it would.  Stocking a facility the size of Lakewood required amassing a core of staff members, volunteers & essentials for housing & feeding those seeking shelter.  Arrival of needed personnel & delivery of essentials required access to routes unaffected by the flood waters.

Having worked in a building that overlooks what is now Lakewood, I have hunkered down during at least one Hurricane with co-workers in our sixteenth-floor offices, unable to drive home to our families.

Grateful for the office kitchen, the stocked deli downstairs leading to the underground parking, & the fact our company was owned by a French firm.

The French always stock liquor & wine in their offices.

On Friday night, as people prepared for the worst possible outcome of Harvey’s arrival, it was not possible to know the exact depth of the storm’s wrath, beyond This is not going to go well.

Trust me, this ranting defense of Osteen (the irony of which does not escape me) is closing down.

Once the facility was deemed secure, staff present, the church put out a call for volunteers & donations to house & care for those in the area needing a safe shelter.

Because this is Texas & because it is Houston, & because it is Osteen & Lakewood, the response was swift & overwhelming.  People are receiving care.

Like everything else the region faces & will continue to face, the timing of responses can be evaluated, judged, assessed & plans rewritten later.

Our shared regional reality is still very much focused on rescue & shelter.

And that, for those of you patient enough to read this far, is my absolute response of this particular social media rage.

Now, about those stilettos.

I don’t give a fuck about Melania’s stilettos.

The picture that went viral was taken as she boarded transportation to Texas.  She changed clothes on Air Force One & descended in Texas in an outfit strangely color coordinated with the Apricot’s gear.

Wearing shoes that looked very much like tennis shoes. 

With everything happening in that moment of arrival, I & most of us worried about the fate of our loved ones & neighbors & fellow Texans facing disaster, I promise the nation that we were worried about much greater issues than FLOTUS’s fashion choices.

Jaki Jean does not, cannot, will never navigate in stilettos.  The shoes I wore to my eldest son’s wedding were two inches high.  (I measured them.)  They lasted exactly as long as it took me to walk down the aisle, pose for pics & get them off my feet into blinged out flip flops.

The bride’s lovely mother simply removed hers for the reception & danced barefoot.

But the remnants of my younger self admire anyone, including my beloved daughter-in-law, who can.

I do not pretend to know how Melania Trump envisions her role as First Lady of the United States.

Just as her husband is unlike any President in my lifetime, she is unlike any FLOTUS I have observed.

I have come to admire each of the First Ladies of my six decades.  

But I have no expectations of our current First Lady.  I find that sad & regrettable for the nation. 

First Ladies impact our national culture & identity.  First Ladies visit foreign countries & impact their view of our national culture, identity & global connection.

Melania may surprise me. 

After all, she can walk with grace & ease in those stilettos.  Under an umbrella.

Meanwhile, I am working on what is, in my small corner of this complicated post Harvey world, my thoughts . . .