Let My People Go

I am either 1/64 or 1/128th or 1/256th American Indian, depending upon which genealogy records you believe and various other

assumptions one might make about the reliability of the white man’s records at a time when denying the purity of an Indian’s blood was a profitable endeavor.    Six generations ago there was a Cassman who tangled with the central government, fought business enemies, fathered a bunch of children, made some bad decisions, drank too much, and….well, ended up dead in a hollowed out tree in central Indiana in a snowstorm.

A quote from the Indiana Historical Magazine:

Such facts as are known of him do not honor him in his distinction as the first recorded land owner in this county. He had the Indian thirst for whisky, and had neither the thrift nor industry to develop his land and become a factor of civilization. Examination of documents, however, seems to reveal the more complex picture of a bewildered Indian trying to cope with official red tape, unresponsive agents, and Jacksonian policies in handling Indian affairs. Cassman was hampered by his poverty, lack of education and business acumen; by the white man’s prejudice, greed, and impatience to possess the land; and especially by his own frequent intemperance. Cassman obtained whiskey at stores kept by white men who then hypocritically condemned his use of it.

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well, that explains things”.  Perhaps.  My father and his father and his father all seemed to be hardworking, law-abiding, humble Midwestern folk who … Read the rest

Johnnie Went Home

He called to me from across the enormous, open bay at the bottom of the stairs where the  blacks would gather to cook, laugh, scheme and taunt one another and where he would sit by one of the few working radiators to keep his feet and hands warm.  He was 71, obese, illiterate and suffered from diabetes, prostate cancer, recurring heart attacks, arthritis and the insolence of the young blacks whom he said “don’t know no better”.

Johnnie was from a poor farming town in central western Mississippi on the river with a population smaller than the prison camp in which he now lived.  He had innumerable brothers and sisters that I imagined all ran barefoot around the cotton plantation on hands-on-bars1which they were, essentially, sharecroppers.  He was 12 when Emmit Till was murdered in nearby Money, Mississippi, and quickly joined the ranks of many of the peaceful protesters and activists of that generation.  He knew Medgar Evars and marched with Martin Luther King, which as far as I can tell, every American black and most whites living in the United States, did at some point.  He couldn’t understand my disdain for Sharpton and Jackson, although he granted they seemed to be more interested in politics and making money than helping “poor folk”.

He eventually moved to Memphis, married his childhood sweetheart, had a bunch of children and was active in his church, community and Democratic politics.  I enjoyed his company immensely because I felt like I was in the … Read the rest

He called to me from across the enormous, open bay at the bottom of the stairs where the  blacks would gather to cook, laugh, scheme and taunt one another and where he would sit by one of the few working radiators to keep his feet and hands warm.  He was 71, obese, illiterate and suffered from diabetes, prostate cancer, recurring heart attacks, arthritis and the insolence of the young blacks whom he said “don’t know no better”.

Johnnie was from a poor farming town in central western Mississippi on the river with a population smaller than the prison camp in which he now lived.  He had innumerable brothers and sisters that I imagined all ran barefoot around the cotton plantation on hands-on-bars1which they were, essentially, sharecroppers.  He was 12 when Emmit Till was murdered in nearby Money, Mississippi, and quickly joined the ranks of many of the peaceful protesters and activists of that generation.  He knew Medgar Evars and marched with Martin Luther King, which as far as I can tell, every American black and most whites living in the United States, did at some point.  He couldn’t understand my disdain for Sharpton and Jackson, although he granted they seemed to be more interested in politics and making money than helping “poor folk”.

He eventually moved to Memphis, married his childhood sweetheart, had a bunch of children and was active in his church, community and Democratic politics.  I enjoyed his company immensely because I felt like I was in the … Read the rest

How to Be Miserable, Forever

I have known many envious people in my life, and never found their company pleasurable.  While hatred can be satisfying for a envybrief time, even entertaining when its excess boils over into comical antics, envy burns somewhat more discreetly but far more insidiously.  While hatred often reveals itself in violent and stunning flashes, envy eats away predictably, consistently, eternally and often serves to cover up it’s owner’s shame because the emotions it brings forth from that well of victimization which it has carved out serve to block whatever remaining conscience the owner has remaining, leaving them in a perpetual state of self-inflicted pain and pity.

This life we live here, satiated in every physical way and yet so desperately hungry in the ways that matter, serves as a frequent exhibition of this pitiful vice.  I am reminded of it often as I hear petty criticisms spew forth from the mouths of those who, having been failures in whatever pursuit they began, find pleasure only in lamenting others.  No matter how far they have fallen, they always find something to resent in another, usually, more quietly suffering individual.  I am not immune from it, in fact, I am the worst of them, because having been granted by God greater fortune than most, I still find the time to wonder, indeed, seethe, why it is that I cannot compose prose like Hemingway, or music like Mozart or thoughts like Aristotle, although I would not desire any of their lives.  I am merely … Read the rest

I have known many envious people in my life, and never found their company pleasurable.  While hatred can be satisfying for a envybrief time, even entertaining when its excess boils over into comical antics, envy burns somewhat more discreetly but far more insidiously.  While hatred often reveals itself in violent and stunning flashes, envy eats away predictably, consistently, eternally and often serves to cover up it’s owner’s shame because the emotions it brings forth from that well of victimization which it has carved out serve to block whatever remaining conscience the owner has remaining, leaving them in a perpetual state of self-inflicted pain and pity.

This life we live here, satiated in every physical way and yet so desperately hungry in the ways that matter, serves as a frequent exhibition of this pitiful vice.  I am reminded of it often as I hear petty criticisms spew forth from the mouths of those who, having been failures in whatever pursuit they began, find pleasure only in lamenting others.  No matter how far they have fallen, they always find something to resent in another, usually, more quietly suffering individual.  I am not immune from it, in fact, I am the worst of them, because having been granted by God greater fortune than most, I still find the time to wonder, indeed, seethe, why it is that I cannot compose prose like Hemingway, or music like Mozart or thoughts like Aristotle, although I would not desire any of their lives.  I am merely … Read the rest

Special Night With Dad

As often as possible I host “Special Night With Dad” for each of the kids.  It’s their opportunity to have one on one time with me, doing something they enjoy together, or just watching a movie, or in the case of my teenage sons, my watching them set speed and quantity records at a local restaurant.

When you have a big family, the little ones fight for attention, and so often times their “Special Night With Dad” involves a lot of them talking to me and asking questions.  This happens even during the course of the movie they may have picked out to watch.  In the most recent case, it was Paul’s “special night” and he had chosen to watch “Hobbit 2:  Desolation of Smaug” and at the end of that movie, well past his bed time, he continued the conversation.  I thought some of you all might enjoy the very entertaining conversation that ensued.  Thanks to #1 for editing help.

 … Read the rest