My father was a young man of 23 and just married at the end of the great depression. Times were tough, and money hard won. My grandfather, who was an alcoholic, came to my dad saying that he had a job in Seattle if he could just borrow the money for the bus ticket. My dad gave him the money, but a few days later dad heard from friends that they had seen his father rolling down (literally) the streets of Tacoma drunk on the money for the bus ticket. Dad was furious. Two days later Grandpa Ole showed up at my parents house still drunk and wanting more money. My mother, a new bride and a naïve farm girl from North Dakota was frightened of him, and instead of inviting grandpa in said she would go get dad. To this Grandpa slurred “aren’t you gonna invite me in you little bitch”. My dad heard him. Mother said all she could see coming from the living room was daddy’s fist. He knocked grandpa backwards off the porch and when Grandpa stumbled to his feet he said “That’s a fine way to treat your father. You’ll never see me again!”. No one ever saw him again. We don’t even know where he ended up or how he died.
Forty years later I was performing at a fair in northern CA and staying at my parents ranch. I got back to the ranch, and thirsty after a day spent in 103 degree heat, I made my way to the fridge where I found an open can of soda and took a big swig. It was mostly vodka. My father by this time had inherited his fathers disease and had just gotten out of an alcohol abuse program, and that evening he was bragging to us about how well he was doing sober. Now it was my turn to be furious. I grabbed the can of soda out of the fridge, and slammed it down on the kitchen table yelling “then what the hell is this?” Dad bolted up out of his chair and out of the door saying (verbatim) “That’s a fine way to treat your father. You’ll never see me again!”. My mother turned to me and said “Word for word!” Dad was back later that night, but any good therapist will tell you that the family drama is either handed back (therapy) or passed on. The bible will tell you that the “sins of the fathers are revisited on the third and fourth generations”. However you say it, the damage is usually multi-generational.
When I think of the psychological damage done to children growing up with an alcoholic parent I cannot help but think of how much more damaged the child of a slave would have been. Even if you somehow escaped physical and sexual abuse, to have been sold away from the security and comfort of your parents, deprived of your culture and traditions and even your family name would be debilitating for generations to come. Yet in 150 years, only three or four generations, black Americans have come to excell in all areas of our culture, and even to occupy the highest office in the land. That isn’t just amazing, it is heroic.
I can’t believe that I never read Uncle Tom’s Cabin until now. It should’ve been insisted on in my childhood, and not just because of it’s political importance. This book by Harriet Beecher Stowe is an incredible piece of literature written at a time when women were certainly not taken seriously as writers. I am amazed by her ability to write equally well from the perspective of not only the slaves, but also from the perspective of both the kind and cruel slaveowners. It is no surprise that this book was so intrumental in the abolition of slavery. If you have never read it, it is time you do. If you read it as a child it is time to read it with your “grownup’s eyes”. It is available for free as an audio book from the app “Audiobooks”. Look for this icon:
Winter of the World by Ken Follett
At the beginning of this century, I made several trips to Lithuania for my church. I wanted to start an Alateen program over there, which i finally did, though i have no idea if it still continues. On my first trip over we visited a place called The Ninth Fort. it was a concentration camp created during World War II where thousands lost their lives. I won’t get into talking about The Ninth Fort here, because I could fill a whole blog with that, but I mention it because ever since being there I have been confounded by how much time, energy, and expense went into the creation of the fort and the transport of all of those people packed into boxcars. Just to kill them. It was an industry unto itself, and viewing it (once I had gotten numb to the horror of it) I couldn’t understand why the Nazis didn’t just take their victims out in the forest and shoot them. How much quicker and less expensive that would’ve been.
Until I read this book.
In the century trilogy by Ken Follett there is an English family, an American family, a Russian family, and a German family. The first book, “Fall Of Giants” takes place around World War I. (I highly recommend this first book for Downton Abbey fans by the way). “Winter of the World”, the second book, takes place during World War II. This is the first book I have ever read that attempts to give the reader a view of World War II through the eyes of several different countries. Raised as I was with the American prejudice and view of what transpired, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never given the European experience of the war much thought. This book had me thinking about it a lot. The hardships of the English family during the blitz, the frozen Russian soldiers trying to save their fledgling communist government in the chaos of advancing Germany, the American political tightrope going into the war, and the impact of fascism on the German citizen would all individually make for a great read. Combined they are riveting.
For me what was most incredible about this book however, was its ability to create an awareness for me of my own prejudice. Growing up in post WWII America, my view of the German people was formed in the back seat of an old sedan at the drive-in movies. It was an impression of a people that were cold and insensitive. It hasn’t at all jived with my experience touring Germany, where I found the German people to be warm, hospitable, and very generous. I see now, that It was not only hard for the Nazis to kill the Jews without demonizing them first, it was hard for we Americans to go to war against the Germans without demonizing them. I grew up lumping the German people (of the 40s not my contemporaries because of course racism is always selective) in with the Nazi government. While I certainly was aware of how fearful the Germans had to have been living under a fascist regime, I never gave them enough credit. The Nazis built those concentration camps because if they had marched innocent people off into the forest and shot them, the German people would’ve risen up and toppled their own government. This book isn’t just a page turner, it’s an eye-opener.