The Politicization of Leslie

We’re coming to the end of another election season and, like almost everyone on the planet, I’m glad this miserable contest is almost over.  The mud-slinging, innuendo, and overall nastiness of political rhetoric have made this a loathsome campaign year and the parade of contradictory polls is exhausting me.  But I will vote on Tuesday, as I have in every election.  I can’t help it.  I was politicized long before I could read and my parents deserve the credit/blame.  That’s what happens when you’re kissed at a young age by presidents.
My mom had a button like this in her
jewelry box for decades
See, my mom was a big fan of John F. Kennedy in 1960.  YUGE fan, another candidate might say.  Well, what wasn’t there to like?  He was young, attractive, and charismatic, enough to charm any woman in her early twenties.  And my mother was never tepid about politics.  She paid fierce attention to the news and loved or hated most people in public service.  So when she heard JFK and his running mate were arriving at the Wichita Falls, Texas airport, she had to be there to greet him, along with me and Dad.
Now my Dad was always interested in current events, although he never got drawn into fandom, like my mom.  I think he would have preferred to stay away from candidates and the crowds that followed them.  But Mom insisted, saying it would be a memorable experience for all three of us.   
That’s me, a Presidential Pin-Up Girl!

Sorry to say, it wasn’t memorable to me; I was less than 18 months old at the time and nothing of that day hangs in my recollection.  But Dad said he held me on his shoulders at that windy airport and Mom said that no one could tell from Mr. Kennedy’s speech that he and Lyndon were ever political rivals.  After the speech, the candidates worked their way through the crowd and Mom said both JKF and LBJ kissed my cheek, the way they probably kissed a million kids along the campaign trail. Knowing how she felt about JFK, I’m surprised she washed my face afterward.

After that, national politics was always personal in my family. Mom wept uncontrollably when President Kennedy was assassinated but I went on to Kindergarten, secure in the belief that Lyndon’s tenure in the White House meant the eyes of Texas really were upon me. (Hey, what does a 5-year-old know!) Mom preached civil rights from her kitchen and, during Watergate, called President Nixon and his staff everything but a Child of God for their actions. Dad didn’t say as much but always knew the background on every issue and was willing to discuss them rationally.  Rational political discussions, there’s something I miss almost as much as I miss my parents.

So I will go to the polls on Tuesday, same as I have for every election for more than 30 years. It’s part of my role as a citizen, like my jury and military service were.  Even if I don’t like who is running, I can’t help participating in the process.  Like Girl Scouts and Sand Hill Plum Jelly, democracy is in my DNA.

To Believe in Yourself

Self-esteem is a tough nut to crack for most people. Very few people think they are perfect and those that do can’t see what the rest of us know.  So we all have weak spots in our self-confidence.  But, if you are overweight, as about two-thirds of American are, or even obese (which is a third of the American population right now), being self-confident borders on the impossible.  Despite these numbers, anyone carrying extra pounds is continually subjected to the suggestion that skinny people are the only ones who really count.  Size is always a factor in the entertainment industry; marketing and fashion campaigns use skinny models and the rest of us chase endless ideas on how to modify the bodies we have right now.  With all of this subliminal propaganda, do you wonder why folks get depressed?
Enter Jennifer Dome King, the blogger behind Stellar Fashion and Fitness and the author of Fat Girl Power: How I Built Confidence through Body Positivity, Fashion and Fitness.  After chasing the Holy Grail of everyone else’s approval, Jennifer went after a more difficult but rewarding goal.  She learned to love and believe in herself, just as she is, and debunk society’s myths about weight-limitations.  You’ve got to admit, that takes guts.
Let’s look at one of the myths Jennifer battles: that overweight people must be inactive. Yes, carrying extra pounds can sap a person’s natural energy but, in Jennifer’s view, that  only increases the importance of regular exercise.  Physical activity helps keep people healthy and happy, no matter what size they wear. And she doesn’t just talk the talk.  Last year Jennifer created, “The Makeshift 5K” for everyone who wants to take a step toward health for themselves.  There are no stopwatches, no ribbons and no criteria for entering.  Just participating is enough to get you accepted.
Acceptance, particularly self-acceptance is a big part of body-positivity because it is a problem that people of all body types have.   After spending more than fifty-seven years on this earth, I’ve met people with different sizes, shapes and skin tones, but I’ve rarely met one who accepted his or her body, just as it existed. Instead, I’ve seen people starve, neglect, overwhelm and torture themselves to meet some arbitrary, impossible standard. Body-positivity doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take care of the blood/bones/skin and tissue packages we spend our lives encased in.  Rather, it means we recognize the strong relationship between our physical and emotional selves and quit using one to beat up the other.
Jennifer says that the philosophy of Body Positivity can be reduced to the phrase “Love Yourself”. Yes, and her essays remind me of another loving teacher: Charlie Smalls, lyricist of The Wiz.
Believe in yourself, right from the start
You’ll have brains, You’ll have a heart
You’ll have Courage, to last your whole life through.
If you believe in yourself
as I believe in You.

Jennifer believes in the entire world. I hope the world returns the compliment.

The Old, Family Porch Rocking Chair

Great Uncles and Nephews
(The only record of my family on the porch)

The bare edge of the rocker is at the left

My dad’s family lived in a house with a front porch they never used. I mean they never used it during my lifetime.  When we visited, we always parked in the side yard and used the kitchen door for our exits and entrances. (Some farm families do that; the kitchen is the heart of the house and everyone’s go-to spot before and after the fields.)  All the indoor rooms were lived in but the front porch, with its wrought iron supports and cement floor was just not a comfortable place. The only decorations I remember seeing on the porch were some Elephant Ears growing out of coffee cans and the only seats were some wooden rocking chairs that could put splinters in your thighs if you sat in them. These chairs were hard and unfinished and the antithesis of comfort. Alone, they were enough to turn me into someone who hated porches.
Luckily that didn’t work because my adult home came equipped with a porch that I wouldn’t change for the world.  Running the length of the house it feels like acres of space and from the first, I wanted to equip it with rockers; big, beautiful, polished, wide rockers like they sell in Cracker Barrel stores.  Of course when we moved in, we couldn’t afford Cracker Barrel’s furniture but I was willing to wait.  Someday those generous machines for sitting would surely grace my porch.
The porch rocker in its natural state:
distressed but not depressed.

In June my husband claimed he had found me the perfect birthday present.  No, it wasn’t what I asked for (he said) but it was exactly what I wanted.  He was sure of it.  Then, he presented it with all of the pride of a little boy showing something he’d made in Scouts.  It was a wooden rocking chair,  narrow, unpainted and splintery, just like the ones on the old front porch.

So how do you tell a husband you hate his present?  How do you point out the differences between your dream chair and what he found for you?  I’ve got to tell you, I couldn’t.  Instead, I coated it with spray paint, stuck it on the front porch and mentally declared I’d never sit in it.
Then Hurricane Ivan hit.  
You may not believe it, but when a Grade 3 storm hits the coast, we feel it 280 miles north.  The wind and rain took out the power and the only place to wait out the storm with enough light was on the porch.  I sank my rear end into the depths of an Adirondack chair and stared at the world now over my knees. Hubby sat down in the chair he gave me and began to rock. For hours I tried to converse with a spouse whose head was three feet above mine. I was miserable but he was obviously comfortable. And, because he was wearing blue jeans, he seemed immune to splinters.  Was I wrong about the old porch rocker?

Ready for another 10 years of weather

Of course I was, on so many levels.  Not only was I ungrateful brat when my husband was trying to please me, I was ignoring the heritage on both sides of our marriage.  Both of our families grubbed a life from the land, his in Alabama and mine in Oklahoma and neither one had money for polished, front-porch rockers. When the long days were finished and they needed a breeze, our grandparents rested in rough wooden porch rockers like this, at least until they got air-conditioning. They hoped we’d find an easier life and we have, but at base, we are still country people and my husband’s chair was the perfect choice for the porch. It’s a part of our lives.

My birthday rocker still graces the front porch and today he got a fresh coat of paint. Nothing too fancy because he is what he is, a chair designed to withstand rough weather.  He’s actually quite comfortable and sturdier than he looks.  And now that I’ve lost some weight, it turns out he’s not  narrow at all.  In the decades he’s spent with us he’s held cats, friends, guests, tools and groceries and I expect he’ll hold us for the rest of our days.  It turns out, I didn’t need to get the porch rocker I valued.  I just needed to grow up enough to value the porch rocker I have.

A Thoroughly, Old-Fashioned, Kid’s Book

Now that Halloween and it’s cornucopia of scary stories is past, it’s time to look at the final part of the year, when the shadows lengthen early and the evenings run cold.  These are the evenings when it’s good to snuggle up with a few, warm comforts as we step into the long nights of the year.  So, pick up a warm drink, a good companion and a nice, old-fashioned kid’s book, like The Railway Children.

It makes sense that the Industrial Age created “the Cult of the Child” and Children’s Literature. Before then time, working and middle-class kids went with their parents to the fields and shops and started helping as soon as they could stand.  Children weren’t read aloud to at night because many of their Georgian-era parents lacked the energy, or ability to read at the end of the day and they had no money for books.  Then came the era of machines and their descendants started working indoors. The money was better but these Victorian parents were often absent from their children’s lives and they missed the little ones they labored for.  It’s no surprise Victorian children were read aloud to in the evenings and that their stories often dealt with children learning to function without their parents.  Enter Peter, Roberta (Bobbie) and Phyllis: the Railway Children.

As the famous first line says, they weren’t railway children to begin with.  At first they were just a brother and two sisters, tolerably decent as children but not the examples of perfection the Victorian age wanted.  They squabbled at times, their morals weren’t perfect and they were used to a standard of comfort.  Then, their father is taken away and everything changes.  The servants are dismissed, the house and fine furniture are sold and Mama says they have to “play at being poor” in the country.  Mama changes from their supervisor and playmate to a woman who stays shut up for hours, writing stories to keep up with the bills.  And the children, left to themselves, become fascinated by the trains that run through the valley below their ramshackle house in the country.  The adventures trainwatching leads them to paved the way for Jane and Michael Banks, the Pevensie children and other heroes of British kid-lit.

The story must have had a ring of familiarity to it for its author, Edith Nesbit. As a child, she lost her father as a child and endured several family moves.  Later, she became one of the era’s few working moms, writing fiction to support her own brood of children and her unsuccessful, philandering husband.  Chained to her desk by necessity, it would have been easy to Edith to remember the free if lonely days of her own childhood or imagine what her own unsupervised kids were getting into.

It’s what my grandmother would have called, “a thoroughly English book” and I suspect The Railway Children was one of the stories she grew up with.  There’s an editorializing narration, plenty of strange and wonderful coincidences and (I’m sorry to say) characters painfully distrustful of anyone not English.  Still, Peter, Bobbie and Phyllis carry the philosophy that everyone deserves kindness (at least until proven otherwise) and, as the heroes, their beliefs carry the day.  It’s a lovely belief to hold onto at night or share with children, even if it is thoroughly old-fashioned.