Compound Pondering

My asthma has been kicking me around a bit this spring, and I’m tired of it. Tired of wheezing and congestion. Tired of limiting my activity. Tired of staying inside when I want to be out. I remember my trip to ASAP, Vanderbilt’s Asthma, Sinus, and Allergy Program, the one where they stuck me with a hundred needles, trying to find my special and personal allergens. They didn’t find much. The one thing that would even suggest that it might elicit a response was cat hair, and my reaction wasn’t strong enough to be called an allergy.

The nurse practitioner sat in a chair facing me. “I would have sworn you’d have ten or twelve of these just off the chart…and there are none.” She told me about the cat hair. Her final summation was, “Diana, you aren’t allergic to anything, but you are highly irritated by oh, so many things.”

I answered her with true sincerity, “You. Have. No. Idea.”

In the Compound, it’s hard to make any room for irritations that might get me down. I don’t want to go down–and if I have to, I want to come back up kicking and screaming. Actually, I want to be up and at ’em all the time. I want to dig in the dirt and shove boxes around in the garage. I want to redecorate rooms and paint furniture. I want to be a good partner for Dave, and to be (cheerfully) available to Mom and Dad. I want to do more Grammy-ing.

We have a new grandbaby, one Evan Gabriel Revell, son of Darrin and Dana, and we have another on the way, Savannah Grace Graham, to Jade, Anjie, and big brother Jaxton. I’m longing to see Jaxton. I’ve babysat Evan once now, and am in the process of sewing a three-tiered ruffled crib skirt for Savannah’s room. The “old” grandkids, Jameson and Carly, haven’t been here for Grammy Night in more than a month. We’re all missing that.  And then, we’ve started planning for a possible summer visit from the Montana grands, Bri and Zack.

Evan was a big surprise early in March when Darrin and Dana were chosen to be his parents. He came into our lives with a wallop to all our senses. Evan is African American. We’re all white…sort of. There are those three little boys we got in Montana, Jimmy, Jerry, and Johnny Wong, three brothers of a Chinese father and a Native American mother. They’re certainly not white. They’ve been men for a long time now, their years adding up at 56, 57, and 58. We tease Jerry that he’s getting old. He’s good-natured about it.

There’s more I want to do. I want to do more writing. I want to be able to put the pen to what I feel and think, clearly and kindly, but without timidity. Facebook posts just don’t get it. I’ve never seen anyone’s mind changed by either an email or a Facebook post. Most of the time, an opinion expressed on Facebook makes somebody mad.

I’m not mad, but the posts about Baltimore are getting to me and my visceral response is less than pleasant. The first two things that confound me:  1. The most viral post seems to be the one where the mother of one of the kids on the street doing what we all wish the kids on the street wouldn’t do grabs him up and lays into him with her hands. 2. The most immediate response to the rioting and looting is a name-call, “Thugs!” I keep wondering if there couldn’t be some story, some meme, some editorial somewhere that could help us all to think, and then to do what needs to be done to make sure there’s not as much reason for a bunch of our people–Americans–to be this desperate.

The Compound bunch has a long cumulative history of working for civil rights. My dad and I both got in trouble more than once in the 60’s. But don’t get me wrong, the residents of The Compound here are not unbiased. We can’t be. We’ve had privilege for so long that there are instances where we couldn’t find its resting place to exhume it for identification. We’ve called rioters thugs. We’ve asked,  “Why would they destroy their own community?” A couple of us even cheered that mother on, one of us saying that’s what mamas should do and then Baltimore wouldn’t be going through this mess; although, the other said this wasn’t discipline, but a mama doing anything in her power to get her black son out of danger.

All of us here remember what it was like to live in Montana when the Wong boys were kids. Dave was not part of our family at the time, of course, but he was born and raised in Montana. Native Americans were low on the social strata, to say the least. And when some parents realized the Native American side of the ancestry, “those Indian kids” did not get invited for playdates. It always hit me as a bit odd, even rude, when some person asked my dad, “What are they?” What are they? They’re kids!  It floored me the day I came home from work to find my mother teaching my youngest brother to deliver a right-hand punch. They’re calling them names and grabbing their things at school. Nobody is doing anything. They’ve got to learn to take care of themselves.

One of my little brothers went to a Tennessee prison when he was in his forties. I learned a lot about the justice system during the fourteen months he spent in a county jail, waiting for court action. At the end of that time, he was given a plea deal and began his prison career. He started out at a special-needs facility in Nashville–because he is mentally challenged–and served five of his five-years-and-eight-months there. I was his frequent, Monday-night visitor. I learned a lot about the prison system during both the first five years and the last eight months. I learned that most of the prison population is minority, predominantly black. My brother fit in a class somewhere between black and white, more toward the black end of the structure. One night, while we played Old Maids, he assured me that he was “better than the Mexicans and Mexicans are better than the blacks.”

He learned to cast his lot toward the white end, in spite of his very dark skin placing him squarely as a man of color.

Do I think he would have served prison time had he been white? Maybe, but the statistics say he would have been less likely to be arrested in the first place, less likely to be convicted, might have been offered a better plea bargain, less likely to serve time, and, if he did serve time, likely to serve less time than what he got. His mental challenges just upped the stats.

I hugged, kissed, and cuddled Evan yesterday while his dad went to the dentist. He is warm, sweet, squeezable. We’ve been so blessed that Evan has joined our crazy family. He’s new, but he’s already pretty much like all the rest of the grandbabies when they’re new–loved, welcomed, and doted on–and, in the next couple of months, Savannah Grace will jilt him out of his newest baby place for her ride in the latest-baby sun.

He’s like all the rest…except that he’ll cause me to ask questions that would never come up for the ones with whiter skin and straighter hair. I’ll wonder how his parents will teach him about his ethnical heritage. What a big job! I’ll wonder how he might develop pride in his blackness. I’ll wonder how much privilege, how many points, he’ll gain for growing up with white family. And I’ll always wonder about those times when someone looking at him doesn’t know Evan ‘s heart nor his family and sees only someone “less-than,”  someone to stay away from.

I’m always going to be thinking about how to keep Evan safe.

In the midst of trying to explain how I feel, I came across an essay in Salon by a mixed-race woman that so resonated with me that I must encourage you to read it. I hope you will, if for no other reason than to help me understand myself.



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