harriett beecher stowe
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: