What A Year!

In Columns, Features, Pieces to Peter's Puzzling World by Peter Webster

What a year it’s been, eh? The external world is wobbling like a drunken top-seems like more than usual, but I’ve been looking back over my life span and I remember things have been equally whacked before, many many times.

I was born in 1938: that was a tumultuous time. The Spanish Civil War ended with the fascists (Hitler’s buddies) defeating the loyalist government.

The curtain came down on the first act of World War Two. Within three years, the war came to America.

My memories of the war itself aren’t much, a collection of old newsreel fragments (we lived in Los Angeles): air raid alarms, blackout curtains, big aircraft plants covered with camouflage netting, surrounded by sand-bagged anti-aircraft gun emplacements; beaches strung with barbed wire, and more gun emplacements along the shore bluffs.

Many people appeared, suddenly, missing arms and legs. And other people were just missing. One of my Aunt’s boyfriends went down over Germany.

Windows showed little red-bordered flags with gold stars in the middle, indicating a lost loved one. But, wartime was basically all I knew, and I didn’t see anything unusual about the way things were.

Spending a third of my time in bed, half my time in casts, and much too much time in hospitals was all I could deal with.

Once the big war ended, the world slipped into the Cold War. That lasted so long it seemed normal, too. There weren’t “air raid shelters” anymore: they were “civil defense shelters.” Sounded much less threatening -only there were all these TV shows about “Duck and Cover” when the warnings came.

Students were told to hide under something and avoid the blast danger. Just to show that nuclear weapons were all that bad, we saw newsreels of troops marching into A-bombed areas in the desert.

Nothing to be afraid of: just an extra powerful explosive, that’s all. People in Las Vegas and on Nevada highways would watch the detonations. Even stand and watched the dust clouds blow over them. That was normal, too.

Nobody said things could be any different. Life went on. But “things” were different at home, I remember that: from what I heard, America was supposed to be nearly over-run with saboteurs and spies, all working for Russia, which was some sort of monster that would eat the world if we didn’t stop it.

I remember my grandfather calling the FBI to report some neighbors who were socialists. We all new that socialists were maybe worse than communistic Russians, because they used another name to achieve the same evil ends. No difference between them.

Fifty-seven varieties of communists! It was their fault Russia had the atomic bomb: like they couldn’t have figured it out on their own.

By the early 1960s, I began hearing stories about some sort of secret war the US was involved in. A friend of mine was a Russian translator in the Navy and he’d been sent to Viet Nam.

Over there, he never wore a uniform and had a “job” as a librarian for Aid for International Development-but actually worked in the U.S. embassy eavesdropping on various organizations.

It began to feel like the world was barely staying in orbit, soon after that time. I met a “freedom rider.” He was a white guy who had ridden Greyhounds down to Mississippi along with a groups of others protesting segregation. He showed me the scars he had from police beatings.

I thought he was really brave and almost wished I could do something like that. The TV had plenty of news footage of black-and white- people getting clubbed and mauled by police dogs, knocked down with fire hoses, even, finally, bodies being recovered.

Our secret war wasn’t secret anymore: American troops were actively deployed in South East Asia, fighting people in pajamas and rubber-tire sandals. Napalm and white phosphorus were very impressive on the TV

I knew that outstanding numbers of black and brown Americans were being sent over there to fight that war. “Ain’t no Viet Cong ever called me ‘nigger!'” was a phrase I heard more and more often.

It seemed like a lot of people started getting killed here in America.

Big cities had big riots. They were scary. Because most of my friends and I were poor, we lived in cheap neighborhoods. Those were the neighborhoods where black and brown people lived, of course. We stayed indoors much of the time, especially after dark.

It didn’t matter what we thought about racism: our skin color put us on the enemy side. It was scary and crazy at the same time.

Politicians ranted about riots being caused by “outside agitators.” We saw how the riots started. They started just the way a fire starts when you light a match and drop it into gasoline. Those neighborhoods,
“ghettos” back then, were very combustible.

What we saw happen, and what the politicians told us happened, were examples of cognitive dissonance. We knew one thing but were told it was something else. That was something that just kept on happening more and more.

What we saw, and see, are just very different from what was and what is.

There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance these days. Every time I turn on TV news I see more of it. Everything is just ducky here, other than some stuff about traditional moral values.

I’m still trying to figure out what that means-apparently it only has to do with people who have sex with the wrong people, and who do acts that offend some religious sects.

For me, moral values are acts like telling the truth, not starting wars, electing
politicians who are smart and who really care about what’s happening to people here in America, making sure there aren’t hungry kids and old people, getting health care to folks who really can’t afford it. Stuff
like that. I guess I’m really out of touch with 21st Century life.

The world around me wobbles. My interior world was terribly shaky, earlier this year, with my son’s death. It’s still difficult to talk about the feelings I’ve had about that. I do know there are well over one thousand American families are also having trouble dealing with their losses and who hurt every bit as much as I have hurt.

I haven’t seen any little flags with gold stars, but I know they’re out there. Maybe 100,000 Iraqi families are in grief, too-we’ll never know how many. I’m lucky to have stout friends to hold my hand as I blunder my way through it, and a spiritual place inside me where I can find consolation.

But, you know, Thanksgiving turned out to be much less painful than I anticipated (the last few days and nights before the holiday were hard, though). We had some of Beth’s family here-her foster sister, brother-in-law, and their two children.

They came down from the Reservation for some Indian bowling tournament. They call us Auntie and Uncle. Sometimes, the kids call me Grandpa: that’s pretty nice. It melts my heart.

Life goes on. And on, yes. And Audacity goes on, too! Hooray for our side!

Everybody: survive Christmas, that’s a heart-felt request. It isn’t about spending money; it’s about love. God is love, remember?

Skinny Butt