Most of my former classmates are apt to remember me as the very quiet girl with long dark blond hair who usually sat near the back of the class hoping to be invisible. Or they might remember me, if they do at all, as the girl who was absent almost more than she was at school. Where was I? At home dealing with my own mental health issues caused, in part, by a mother with serious mental health issues. We didn't talk about that in those days.
They aren’t likely to remember me as the first Girl Scout in the New London area to earn the equivalent of the Boy Scout’s Eagle Scout award. I had to argue with the local newspaper to publish my accomplishment. Although they routinely published Eagle Scout achievements, mine wasn’t seen as equally noteworthy.
Nor are they apt to remember me as the girl who circulated a petition to try and eliminate cigarette smoking in the student restrooms. Despite my shyness, I took my cause to the school board. I brought evidence of a garment that I’d left in one restroom for one day. It was in a sealed bag. When the board members opened the bag, two of them gasped at the odor. I didn’t accomplish my goal, but I tried.
They may remember me as the girl who was pushed down a flight of stairs by other students and was in a cast for weeks on end. That injury still plagues me today. Chances are, however, very few remember me at all.
Thinking back to these lessons learned at Ledyard High School, I can see the foundation forming for how I have lived my life as an adult. Attending college as an adult and bringing the realities of life into the classroom was transformative. By the time I’d taken women’s studies and the required public speaking classes, I had things to say. A lot of things.
Like everyone of our age, I’d already witnessed the horrors of Viet Nam on television. By happenstance, I’d been in Washington, DC in 1968 with my Girl Scout troop. We were there following the shooting of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the protest that was known as Resurrection City. The Poor People’s Campaign, which was the formal name of the protest, created a life altering shift in my 13 year old brain and soul. That shift evolved into the first recognition of my own ethical code vs. that of my parents, teachers or friends.
Later, moving to a Tennessee town in 1977, I saw members of the Klu Klux Klan holding rallies, burning crosses, and soliciting donations at stop lights. Yes, they were in full regalia, including young children. Yes, it was appalling. Yes, it was terrifying. Yes, I wrote letters to the newspaper. That’s what we did then. Nothing changed and my vehicle was followed by ratty pick-up trucks for a year until I moved.
As a plus size woman, I have often faced discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination wears many masks. Society has begun to recognize this as truth, but we still aren’t sure just who deserves our protections.
Most recently, the social fabric of our country is being torn to shreds. Immigrants, including children, at the borders are treated inhumanely. White nationalists are dubbed “good people”. We no longer trust that either side of an argument is being truthful. We are the generation that had the greatest opportunity to affect change in America. How do you think we’ve done?
No where has this divisiveness been more evident than the town of Weatherford, Texas where I currently live. I have witnessed, protested and been an active participant in activities focused on humanity and equality. The major focus in my town has been the removal of a statue on our county courthouse lawn of a Confederate soldier. This is such a hot topic, that despite the Civil War being 160 years ago, the mere suggestion of removing the statue brings out the flag waving, tactical geared up, armed militia from a several county area. I do mean armed, as in semi-automatic weapons, knives, brass knuckles, and pitchforks (for real) and when you know you've been directly in their sights, from just across the street it's frightening. It's not so amusing when the police's tactical response vehicle gets called out. So, you may wonder, what was the most important lesson learned all those years ago at Ledyard High School? It is the very same lesson that caused me to try and answer (in full essay form) Mrs. Serena Mowry’s burning question; what does “Hunger is the Best Pickle” mean.I failed several times, but I didn’t give up. I still can’t explain that one.
I have definitely had something to say at times in my life. I still do.