“My Indian Name is Runs With Beer”, an example of racism.

Before I even launch into yet another example of mainstream racism, I have to ask: At what point did “political correctness” – or being “PC” – become a pejorative?  By its very definition, it’s a mechanism for cultural sensitivity to protect minorities from being marginalized.  Now I see kids on the Internet every day using it like a slur against one another.  Respect is becoming extinct.

The purpose of today’s piece is to expose an example of racism towards indigenous peoples and why it’s not okay.

This morning, my friend Michelle texted me a picture and her commentary on a cooler design she found on Facebook.  The page is a closed group, called “The Cooler Connection”.  She described it to me as being a page that largely consists of sorority girls sharing cooler designs (presumably for college drinking and whatnot).  She added me to the page so I could see its content: Most posts share designs of coolers people have done, some posts ask for advice on cooler painting, and there are even posted guides to how to paint your own cooler.  Although the idea of college students dignifying all things binge-drinking terrifies me, I also see the page as a neat way to add creativity to ordinary objects.  It’s like an interactive, DIY Pinterest board of cooler art.

Seems harmless, right?

Wrong.

Michelle’s reason for sharing this page with me to day was so I could see a cooler design by student/artist Jess Merry of Appalachian State University.  Miss Merry, from the Raleigh/Cary area, went to school in Boone in western North Carolina – i.e. the heart of Indian Country.  The Tsalagi, in particular, reside in this area on the Eastern Band of Cherokee reservation.  You would think anyone spending considerable time in this vicinity would be privy to cultural sensitivity and the concentration of an ethnic minority in his/her area, but sadly this does not seem to be the case.  I say this because Miss Merry’s design was an example of racism against the indigenous American race:

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“This is gorgeous, but that is INCREDIBLY offensive!!” wrote my friend in a flustered response.  And she’s right: The artwork should be commended, even the Papyrus handwriting, but the truth behind it is none of its content is acceptable.  Well, it shouldn’t be acceptable.  But, as evidenced by the commentary on the post, few people seem to grasp exactly why.  Instead, virtual eye rolls and accusations of “here we go with the PC comments” and “get over it” statements alternated with ones saying “this is not okay”.

“For all of you that don’t understand why it’s offensive [you] are what’s wrong with this country right now,” Michelle continues.  She is referring to the attitude that cultural sensitivity needs to die out and that too many people voice opinions about “getting over it” when there are social-economic-cultural crises so deeply rooted in historic trauma and perpetuated prejudice that there is no “getting over it”.

Not only was Michelle addressing the problem of stereotyping indigenous peoples, desecrating a headdress and chief nobility, and having no respect for one another’s’ culture, she also calls out the unacceptable treatment of ceremony.  “To put it simply, it’s disrespectful because you’re mocking a Native American tradition,” she writes.  She’s referring to “Indian names” – or really, naming ceremonies – which is a very important custom in some, but not all, groups of indigenous peoples.  Mocking this ceremony is not only a religious assault, but it continues the stereotypes through pan-Indianism with which Western film culture has brainwashed the ignorant.  In other words, the design was borne out of a racist interpretation of a homogenous indigenous culture – which simply does not exist.

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Okay, so I’m going to break this down and try to explain exactly why we should be upset about this cooler:

1. Racism.

Before everyone gets all bent out of shape about me using this word, let’s bring up the definition and then see how this fits snuggly into it:

racism

[ ˈrāˌsizəm ]

NOUN

noun: racism

the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.

All members of each race meaning we are looking at the overarching, identity-stripped, cultural whitewash that we call “Native American culture”.

Possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race meaning we are using a stereotypical profile (like those being removed currently from mascots across the country), we are blaspheming religious symbols and ceremonies to a limited number of cultures and also applying them broadly and stereotypically (“pan-Indianism”), and we are insinuating alcoholism is an inherent part of “being Indian” (and paralleling it to a religious name-giving custom).

Especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races meaning the ideas entrapped in this cooler design, which are all rooted in outdated stereotypes from Western films and past “Indian policies” (explained in the subsequent points), exist purely as remains from a culture that believed indigenous peoples to be savage, uncivilized, and an amalgamate race far inferior to whites.

So to conclude, this design does in fact perpetuate racism.  What’s even worse: not everyone understands why it is racist against a marginalized race of people in this country, and people continuing to act out of ignorance – that is a very damaging thing.

2. Cultural appropriation.

Cultural-Appropriation3

Race relations is still largely a problem in the United States – in fact, as I experienced through the US’s Universal Periodic Review at the UN this past week, our country is largely frowned down upon for its backwardness in race issues.  In the United States, we tend to look at race rather than at culture and individualism.  This is, in my view, still a product of past, racist policies where someone could be marginalized simply because of his/her skin color.  Slavery is the prime example of this.  So our society still has a lot to learn about culture and cultural sensitivity, which is all exemplified by the cultural appropriation we see talked about more and more these days.

Sure, America might be a “melting pot” and cultures might influence one another, but cultural appropriation takes it a step further.  Cultural appropriation is when a dominant group exploits the culture of less dominant, less privileged groups, often without any kind of understanding and respect for the latter groups’ histories and traditions.  Therefore this cooler, too, is appropriating culture that is not in any way understood by the party-goers who would likely be using this decorated piece.

3. Pan-Indianism.

I will keep this simple: Indigenous cultures are incredibly diverse.  “Indian”, by the concept of “Pan-Indianism”, refers to indigenous peoples from the northern Arctic coast down to the southern South American tip.  Now explain to me how something like a stereotyped “Indian” profile and the contents of the cooler design are not a perfect example of Pan-Indianism?  And the problem with Pan-Indianism?  It washes away cultural identity, eliminates individualism, and allows for stereotypes to branded all over anyone who falls into the category of “Indian” – without any regard for accuracy or respect of someone’s traditions.

4. Alcoholism stereotypes.

If only I could count all the times someone used Cromagnum English to tell me about “white man” bringing over the “fire water”…. Well, actually, alcohol did exist in many of cultures for centuries – maybe even thousands of years – before any “white man” arrived on Turtle Island.  Yet we are constantly making jokes about Natives by building off of these stereotypes of alcoholism in Indian Country.  But none of it is even true.

This is not to say that Reservations don’t face an alcohol problem, because they do – but surely this same trend can be attached to any other traumatized demographic, including those in chronic economic despair (and the majority of some Reservation populations live in poverty).  According to studies by the NIAAA, white people (especially men) are more likely than any other demographic to drink regularly, by a younger age, and drive while under the influence.  A bit ironic since this demographic is also more prone to perpetuate such stereotypes about indigenous peoples.

Furthermore, indigenous populations have the highest rate of alcohol abstinence of any other ethnic group.  Many Reservations and tribal lands forbid the sale of alcohol.

The stereotyping of indigenous peoples in regards to alcoholism, as done by this cooler, is just that: stereotyping.  It is only funny if you believe it is true, and if you have no heart or care about real-world people and real-world consequences of perpetuating such misconceptions.

5. Cherokee royalty defends it.

Any time someone (who does or doesn’t identify as indigenous) states “this is offensive”, a whole slew of people suddenly find red in their veins.  “Well I’m Native American and I’m not offended!” they’ll exclaim, failing to see fallacy in their statements.  I say “Cherokee royalty”, because 9 times out of 10, these people have a great-great-grandmother who was a Cherokee princess.  Well, they claim they do, because there are no “Indian princesses”.  This demonstrates how they either are completely BS-ing, going off of mainstream phrases about “Indian identity”, or they are so disconnected with their might-be culture that their opinion is absolutely 0% indigenous to begin with.

“Indianness” isn’t a costume, a trend, or even a blood quantum – it’s an identity, an identity that includes everything from participating in your heritage, knowing your clan/blood line, enrolling if enroll-able, and promoting your culture.  When you promote your culture, you’re also protecting it.  You understand the true histories about “Indian policy”, you know the current struggles of your tribe and also many struggles of other tribes, and you are familiar with the pieces of “Rez life” that don’t get romanticized by non-indigenous America: commodity cheese, HUD housing, and corruption within your own government.

Furthermore, I consider stating your blood quantum to be a rude attempt at weighting the value of your voice by western society’s concept of how “Indian” you are.  It gives the ignorant a chance to take a stab, saying things like “Well you’re only 50%, so you’re not a real Indian” or “You might be Navajo, but you’re also 50% Lakota, so you can’t have an opinion on anything Navajo”, as an example.  If you’re a dual citizen, you just say your citizenship.  What’s sad is, even when I do this, I find myself inserting “Indian” into my statement to address the blank stares I get.  The flipside to stating blood quantum as a way to identify yourself is when people who are most likely not genuinely indigenous at all (but rather fantasize about the “cool” parts of being Indian, sans marginalization, etc.) make statements like “I’m 6% Native” or “I’m part Native American”.  Umm, what?  Just…just stop.  I already know I have no interest in what you’re about to say.

6. There’s no one left to offend.

You wouldn’t be comfortable making fun of someone to his/her face for something he/she can’t change (physical appearance, religion, etc.), yet this cooler mocks religion, race, and culture.  Therefore we can only assume that this cooler was shared because it doesn’t occur to mainstream society that Indians are not in fact dead, Indians are not in fact savages incapable of technology, and Indians are in fact on social media like any other American sorority girl or other on this cooler page.  This ties directly in to all the studies being done to prove how mascots stereotype and further marginalize indigenous peoples – especially youth – who have to face perpetuated misconceptions of who they are in everyday life, from school to what they see portrayed through national sports team mascots.  Even when these mascots are meant to be “positive”, they still impact these peoples negatively.

If you’re interested in these studies, here are some links to what has been discovered as psychologically damaging to populations that already suffer disproportionate amounts of historic trauma:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2014/07/22/indian-mascots-report-washington-nfl-team/13006145/

http://espn.go.com/pdf/2013/1030/espn_otl_Oneida_study.pdf

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/report/2014/07/22/94214/missingthepoint/

7. Hate speech platform.

Let’s be real: No one using this cooler has any interest in educating people on why they find humor in it despite the grave realities behind why its humor is rooted in on-going racism.  You’re not going to go to a party and find people saying, “Oh, hey, funny cooler!”  “Oh, yeah, thanks – it’s actually stereotypical, culturally appropriating, etc., but it’s funny because most people don’t know the truth behind why it isn’t funny!”  Nope.  In fact, given my experience, if anything comes from it there will be a following of more stereotypes, like wawawawa, dancing around like idiots, perpetuating this noble savage interpretation of real living human beings.  And, to add to bullet 6 above, all of this would be done as if it were impossible that someone in the room could possibly be indigenous.

examples
Search: My Indian Name Is Runs With Beer for many more examples.

As I conclude this piece, I have learned that the cooler was apparently already removed from the page.  Regardless, I am alarmed that this is not a rare occurrence.  (See relevant post on Newspaper Rock: http://newspaperrock.bluecorncomics.com/2011/01/aim-fights-runs-with-beer-t-shirt.html)  I am also alarmed that too many people have come to defend the racism behind this example.  I hope that the time I have spent writing this piece will speak to two audiences: 1) I hope indigenous friends and allies can identify and roll their eyes at the classic examples of rhetoric used in defending yet another classic example of racism being widely misconstrued as acceptable; and 2) I hope all of the others have found this piece an adequate summary for why we shouldn’t be taking such things so lightly.  Again, I don’t think “political correctness” should be used as a pejorative.  But I also believe such an example steps well beyond the limits of what is or isn’t “PC” and enters the realm of intolerable racial tension.

110% human.

When I go to an Indian Country event, this is the kind of dialogue I encounter:
“So are you native?”
“Yes.”
“Which tribe?”
“Potawatomi.”
“That’s cool, I’m Dine.”

When I discuss my passions for improving the health of native communities with “outsiders”, this is the kind of dialogue I encounter:
“–and I’m really passionate about it, partly because of my grandfather and my Potawatomi heritage.  I’m especially concerned with–”
“You’re Indian?”
“…um, yes.  But it’s really irrel–”
“Feather, not dot, right?  But you have light eyes.  You can’t be full blood, can you?”

Until two years ago, I never networked with other tribal students.  I never experienced positive conversations like the first.  I only knew conversations like the second.  And to be honest, it made me extremely insecure.  I almost didn’t want to be a part of the community because I thought anyone who wasn’t a part of my family would ostracize me like that.  Because I didn’t fit some stereotype.  Because I wasn’t full-blood and I didn’t grow up on a reservation.  I began to understand why my brother feels uncomfortable acknowledging his heritage.  I might have light eyes, but I have my grandfather’s features and a darker complexion.  My brother, on the other hand, inherited blond hair from some mysterious, hidden gene pool in our family history.  We don’t look anything alike.  He doesn’t even look like our parents.

Well, I’m really glad I got over my looks because, quite frankly, I probably inherited a proportionately unbalanced amount of traits from my grandfather’s side.  I’m not full-blood Indian; of course I’m going to look like all of the many things that I am.  And that’s just fine, because it’s what I am.  I don’t need to live up to someone else’s stereotype, especially if that’s going to keep me from doing what I want to do.

My experiences with AISES really opened my eyes to that.  That first conversation was actually part of a real conversation from a trip in Alaska in 2012.  No one cared what my blood quantum is.  When heard the word Potawatomi, they didn’t interrogate me about its validity; they asked me to explain my culture.  They explained to me theirs.  I learned that many of my friends were also from very, very, very diverse backgrounds.  Some were 100%, sure, but some were 10% with a heavy dose of Latino, or Chinese, or German.  Many friends had French last names for the same reason I have one.  (My one friend even jokes that anyone from our region’s “got some kind of French in there somewhere”.)  Probably the best part from the first conversation is when my to-be friend took in the word Potawatomi and said, “Wow…I can see green in your eyes.  They’re so beautiful!  You don’t see too many of those here.  So are you in the research competition?”

This was so not a conversation #2.

That’s one of the reasons I really love the diversity of my AISES community.  We’re all so different, and yet so similar.  We all have crazy histories, and some of us are still living crazy, oppressed lives.  But we come together and we share and there’s no comparing or edging one another out.  Maybe that’s why there’s so much oppression on the outside; others look at groups of people and make it all black-and-white, talk them down, crush them if they pose a threat.

I actually really hate the blood quantum rules.  I mean, each tribe is different.  Some are certainly more lenient than others, but not all tribes are even federally recognized and even less have reservations.  While I think it’s necessary to protect minority communities from undeserving people who might raid any benefits, the rules also make it difficult to have an identity that is separate from a label.

I’ve had people ask me: “You’re like, what?  50?  20?  10% native?  Why do you even care?  You don’t live on a reservation.  It’s not like you need anything.”

Right, because I’m perfectly fine living an ordinary life while other people who share many of my histories are suffering so that you can have your freedoms.

How can I not care??

I’ve worked twice now in Cameroon on an Engineers Without Borders trip.  I flew a bunch of construction boots over to donate this last trip.  No one asked me to, I just saw a need and filled it with the means.  I’m not Cameroonian.

I’m traveling to Haiti in December on a social justice trip that will help impoverished communities with their farming techniques.  I don’t get paid for the trip, I will just gain experience.  I’m not Haitian.

Why do I need to be FROM something or AFFECTED directly by something to justify caring about it??

That is why I have decided on a new motto, a new mantra that I will think about every time I am discourage in my fight for social justice among rural, native, whatever communities:

“It doesn’t matter if you’re 100%, 50%, or 0% by blood.  You just have to be 110% human.”

Because being 100% human apparently doesn’t mean being humane, compassionate, or caring anymore.  You have to be that little bit more, and you have to act on it.  And that’s what I’ve decided I am.  I am 110% and x, y, z% a million other components, but I will still continue to work on my projects and I will still dedicate my time to US Indian Reservations and native communities.  I don’t care what percentage anyone is.  It doesn’t matter.  It shouldn’t matter to care.  In fact, (ridiculous example, but) the US Census Bureau could call me today and say “There’s been an error, you’re actually 100% Blackfoot.”  They could call me and say “You’re actually 100% Polish and all of those other census records were forged.”

I DON’T CARE!  Either way, I would continue my work.  I don’t care.  And NO one should care.  NO one should have to justify being 110% human, and that’s the identity I choose to live with.

ribs.

This dream isn’t feeling sweet
We’re reeling through the midnight streets
And I’ve never felt more alone
It feels so scary getting old

We can talk it so good
We can make it so divine
We can talk it good, how you wish it would be all the time


I want them back (I want them back)
The minds we had (the minds we had)
How all the thoughts (how all the thoughts)
Moved round our heads (move round our heads)

Did you know nostalgia is sometimes just an exaggerated memory, like somewhat of a figment of your imagination mixed with reality?

We make things we remember feel better than they are.

Those summer memories weren’t as sweet as you remember them.

But what makes us? If our bodies are replaced completely every 5 to 7 years with nutrients from the food we have eaten, we aren’t even the same person we were. If you haven’t seen someone for 10 years, they’re literally a new person.

Yet if our brain cells are all rebuilt as well, what are memories made of? How do they stay? Does replacing the material actually cause alterations that lead to those exaggerated feelings, to nostalgia?

I believe we are our memories and experience more than we are ourselves in the physical sense. A little scary. A little invisible, we are, if we are only our imaginations, our minds.

It makes our decisions and choices seem so much heavier if we are what we do and not what we exist as.

And we are getting older. Rebuilding. Elements perpetually changing. How can we cling to what we are? To have a sense of identity which provides belonging and, in turn, purpose?

In other news, I made so much OT money this week that I bought myself a pair of Toms. Many of my shoes have holes in the bottoms or their soles stapled on. And I couldn’t stop thinking about my little ones in Cameroon and their shoeless feet.

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Now someone somewhere will theoretically have shoes and it’s not like it cost me much to buy mine. Besides, it’s all relative. And I’m feeling better giving myself purpose and making a difference, no matter how small.

Remembrance, Emotion, and Human Follies.

I love referring to emotion as the greatest folly of mankind.  I believe that our intellectual capacity increased as a compensation for our physical ineptitude in the realm of survival, thus we tend to “outsmart” other creatures in order to overcome them by means other than one-on-one combat.  It helped us survive up until this point.  However, that intelligence fosters the ability for us to overanalyze, hesitate, and even remember things not crucial to our survival.  This mental clutter, to me, is a flaw rather than a blessing.  I like to think very pragmatically, so I see emotion as being a hinderance to instinct.  Yet that doesn’t keep me from remembering things.

I look at my cats and I wonder how much they remember, think, and feel.  I believe they do feel emotion because they express love and fear and gratitude.  I’m not so self-centered to think that is some superior quality that only humans have, to feel.  I used to think that cats really didn’t remember too much, like they had some kind of short-term memory.  When I moved to Ohio and their crates opened for the first time in my new apartment, they had total fear in their eyes and suspected everything because it was unfamiliar territory.  I expected the same thing to happen after they got used to my place and we visited Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving.  I was wrong.  I opened the crates and they came pouring out and ran to their favorite baskets or scratching posts as if they’d never left months before. I confirmed that cats do remember over at least a span of several months.  However, also I do know that cats have a lack of attachment, and memory is certainly different from emotion.  I’ve seen cats meow after their lost kittens for a few hours, then move on as if nothing happened.  It’s life.  They don’t intend to have another litter because they probably aren’t conscious of how they end up with one, but, when they do have another, it’s the same instincts that take over.  It’s all about survival.

The only creatures not fixated on survival appear to be the humans so enamored with the idea that Mother Earth is living hell, that God will save them, and that they’re only getting by here to reap everything in heaven when they’re done.  Because humans think too much.  Because animals live in the present.  Animals inherently and naturally understand what it takes to be a successful, integral, non-destructive part of this planet. I try to imagine what my life would be like if I could have more animal-like thinking patterns but still live in this artificial human bubble of protection where all it takes is a turn of a dial to change my room to a comfortable temperature setting.  I can confirm that I’d have less personal growth.  I would be less transfixed on intelligence and self-improvement because those would get me nowhere as an animal and somewhere only as a human functioning in a human-made society.  I would essentially live the life of an innocent child who speaks without thinking, tells no lies, and sees things for exactly what they are, albeit everyday murmurs or something completely jaw-droppingly amazing and inexplicable.  I wouldn’t search for reason; I would accept and move on.  I wouldn’t question why I am here, what that moment means to me, or where I should be going.  I wouldn’t contemplate right or wrong because those things would be null to me, completely moot to survival.  I would just live.  Aren’t we all just meant to live? Instead, I am stuck with a crippling ability to feel.  I overanalyze, I dwell, I suffer.  I cry when I am not physically wounded.  I cry just because I haven’t cried for a long time and I feel like my body needs it.  BUT WHO DOES THAT?  Humans, yes, but only humans?  I think only humans.  My cats don’t cry.  My cats don’t miss their family.  My cats don’t go to funerals.

I think that’s when I started thinking the most about remembrance, when my cousin died this week.  It made me start to recall memories of my family and all of the things I’ve done this year and all of the people I may never see again, whether they’re alive at the time I post this or long gone.  I try to think of the “purpose” to all of these moments and then I try to decipher whether or not such things have “purpose”.  What is “purpose”?  Is it only a spiritual thing?  When my agnostic mom tells me things happen for a “reason”, what is the “reason” of which she speaks?

I don’t have many memories from my family outside of my direct line.  My cousins have never played a large part of my life, but I do keep cousins whose families haven’t had common ties with mine since the 1700s – because we are few, far-flung, and in need of someone who understands us.  Too many family quarrels have limited even my most direct ties so that, essentially, I am left with siblings, parents, and grandparents to go to.  That means I have my grandma and little else.  But that wasn’t always the case.  And so in recalling my cousins who I knew less than I’d wished, I start to think about those moments I don’t have any longer, the moments of remembrance that define me as a human.

I can’t imagine who I would be if I didn’t have either houses of my grandparents’ to visit.

On my one side, I used to have both grandparents – and many of their siblings – but that all drastically changed in the course of just one year.  Without those grandparents, I wouldn’t have my grandma’s perspective on religion, my grandpa’s indifference, the obvious love that glued them together, their passion for the outdoors, or even that community spirit where we need to work together to improve ourselves and search for something more.  I would say those grandparents made quite a life out of what they were given.  The gardens, the knowledge of how to live off the land, long bike rides through thickets of trilliums (my grandma’s favorite flowers), singing hymns, watching the 8’o clock flowers bloom, sipping sweet tea on the gazebo with a mason jar of lightning bugs, a day of fishing, making salad from grandma’s homegrown loveage, swinging on the same tree mom swung in, feeding the birds, writing poetry on the typewriter, making crafts in the cellar with the musty smell of dried flowers and moss, putting giant magnetic spots on grandma’s car (because she was, after all, “Lady Bug”), listening to grandma storytell, PapPap grouching when we tell him to leave the football game in the TV room and go mow the lawn, his “jungle” garden and train set, the smell of their air-conditioning in the summer (they were the only elderly people I knew with air-conditioning), trying on grandma’s square dancing dresses, playing Pass the Pigs on the porch, the smell of grandma’s homemade biscuits in the kitchen, imagining my mom, her brother, and her sister living in the same rooms, falling asleep to the sound of distant cars and their headlights flashing on the ceiling (the only house I knew near a road), running out to meet the mail woman when she came down the lane, realizing I never saw the attic, wandering through the greenhouse and trying to remember the outdoor garage when their horse Bootsy lived there, crates of Coke bottles, Christmas and Easter when it actually had a meaning, skiing in the front lawn, the mantel clock that chimed a hymn, all the things that we could have done and they could have seen if only we had had more time…

On the other side, the farm.  Driving until we were in the middle of nowhere, then taking a turn into nothing and driving some more.  The lane that wasn’t a driveway but supposedly a “road”.  That road splits into four, and I still go there when I visit home.  One lane now jogs over to a temporary home for our friends.  Another shoots off into the forest, having once served the oil companies.  A third lane runs along the bottom of grandma’s garden and splits, one side going to her garage, the other continuing past a series of buildings that make up the abandoned pump station she bought years ago.  That lane continues through a cornfield until it dissipates from lack of use.  The last lane also splits again, heading up towards grandma’s house and then going either left to the dog pens or right towards the brick-layed yard that divides grandma’s two large barns.  I remember years ago when grandma still lived with her half-brother and how he was always mixing concrete in a trough between the barns and feeding his pigs.  My brother and I would play on the play set he concreted into the ground, then jump on some old rocks surrounding the chicken coop, toss rotten apples that fell off grandma’s tree into the well beside the house that had a broken plywood cover, chase each other through the pastures catching butterflies (or lightning bugs, at night), go “bale surfing” (when we would run across the tops of hay bales and try to get them to roll), run across steel beams Uncle Mike had laying around the barns for his new construction, chase kittens and stray cats that grandma feeds daily in her barns, climb in the hay loft to look for kitten holes or make “castles”, poke the corn bin in search of a black widow, stir leaves and sand in a giant rain catcher every time it rained, paint any window we could find with a Rose Art kit, draw grandma’s dogs with chalk on the patio, climb a tree that we didn’t realize our great-grandfather had planted in the sixties for our dad, roll down the hill in the front yard, sneak around the abandoned buildings in search of treasure, follow our parents to the open dump and jump on piles of tires and furniture before we realized open dumps are actually illegal, walking food over to our neighbors a few miles down the lane, hearing Joel come over to crank up the tractor or a bailer, listening to the crickets at night, grandma flipping on the lottery at 7 each night so she can interrupt the Wheel of Fortune and write down numbers in a book she keeps in the candy door, the clicking of the fan, the smell of the old rooms with furniture dad used when he still lived here, photos of a grandpa we never knew, pierogies, nut rolls, chicken noodle soup, coco-wheats, coffee with cream and sugar, corn flakes with sugar on top, motorcycle helmets for our toy bikes that we took racing down the gravel lane, grandma’s stash of Coke in the basement, feeding the dogs “dog lasagna”, cooking in both the upstairs and the downstairs ovens, filling buckets of water during hurricane season and lining the halls with them, boiling water in kettles to wash my hair because the heater was broken, stories of all the cool cars grandma bought while she worked the factories, trips out to Uniontown and the mall, those sweet summer nights with dogs and bubbles and a setting sun,…

I even remember the days when I would go to grandma’s sister’s.  It’s not the way it used to be.  Now her husband has died and her son has moved back in and my brother and I no longer play at the baseball field in the summer.  But we used to.  And we used to stay after games, watch our uncle do crosswords, sneak Skittles from his dispenser, watch TV on my aunt’s 4″x4″ black -and-white kitchen screen, eat Fudgesicles from the basement freezer, throw powder in the fireplace that made the flames blue, do puzzles, ride the stationary bike, lay on the tweed couch, play Don’t Break the Ice on the red carpet, poke at the overweight dog, sit on the porch pouring too much pepper on our fresh and local ears of corn, tying up tomatoes in cages in the yard, trimming the bushes by hand while dressed as the Ingall sisters in sunbonnets and dresses, climbing the backyard tree, watering plants out of the rain barrel, doing something that earned a spot on my aunt’s photograph-littered cabinet, pushing wheelbarrows of mulch, sitting at the bottom of the drive with a cardboard sign that said “vegetables for sale” and selling the vegetables, the feeling of the grass when we rolled down the bank just after it was mowed, the hot asphalt (and the only asphalt I knew), playing computer games for the first time (the only old person I knew with a computer!), the squishy toilet seat, packing my “Going to Grandma’s House” suitcase for my aunt’s house and her forgetting that I wasn’t actually her granddaughter, being called my mom’s name, the neighbor kids’ awesome new shed (I had never seen a store-bought shed before, so I would hang out in it with the neighbors and my brother), sloppy kisses, the smell of my aunt’s onion for breakfast, chocolate Nesquick milk, the Clap-On lamps, the Russian doll set, the impossibly white carpets, getting TY Beanie Babies for Christmas, family visiting from Virginia and North Carolina,…

These memories make me remember the little things so that I always appreciate them.  I don’t want a big, glamorous city life.  A small life where I can remember vegetable sales and the way a couch feels is enough for me.  Nothing compares to the feeling of a summer night of playing catch, jarring lightning bugs, and sipping homemade tea.  That’s a good thing, when those memories make me appreciate silly things.  But it’s also bad.  Because now I’m stuck far away, out-of-state, with people who don’t understand my background and who don’t have the same country experiences that I do.  Baking, cooking, farming, gardening,… those are all huge parts of my family time.  A lot of people here, in this drab city, don’t have those things in their past.  They look forward to a much different kind of thrill, the kinds that you don’t get in the woods, on a hunt, just being outside.  I think about that a lot and I convince myself that I cannot stay here, in this urban Ohio.  Not permanently.  But, in the meantime, it will make me appreciate what I left behind.  The mountains, the freedom.  And as for the people, many of them gone, I can’t forget those times – I doubt I can ever forget them.  As much as I could let it bring me down, maybe I can also let it pick me up.  I can hope for a future that will be filled with those same emotions, with people that I can share those times with in another place and another generation.

Memories can bring us so quickly out of the present.  It makes me wonder, where are those people now?  Those times?  It’s so easy to say those people are in heaven and those times are never forgotten but, in reality, I say neigh.  Those people are gone, there is not heaven – that is wishful thinking.  They are gone, and that realization is what makes us appreciate them the most heart-wrenchingly way possible.  You cannot take the present for granted because it is so fleeting.  To think there is redemption, that is foolish naïveté.  To hope for something better when you’re done here is greed and a wholesome lack of appreciation.  Things are meant to be seen simply and fully, like the animals around us see them.  We’ve been granted with the ability to perceive perhaps even more and so we need to use it.  That perception can help us define ourselves and better ourselves whilst we are so transfixed on how we are perceived and how we are changing our own lives. So not everything on this planet feels as much as we do, but we do feel it and we have to learn to live with it.  In the meantime, we can practice remembering those things that we want to carry with us and use them to spark us for the better.

There’s no use in trying to forget an integral part of your past, but dwelling on moments won’t progress you either.  You have to strike a balance.  For that reason, I’ve decided I need to accept what is here and what is gone, take away from it what I can while I can, and then continue to withhold my traditions because that is, in essence withholding a deep part of myself, the static part I want to keep as I continue to grow.