Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Growing up on Ohio. A long road to how the hell'd I get here?

    I was born, raised and lived the majority of my misspent life in Columbus Ohio.
I grew up in the late 50s and came of age in the turmoil of the late 60s. Like many of my Generation I embraced the values of all are equal, war is wrong and music is freeing to the soul. Unlike many I seem to have maintained my, what seems to be now,  naive and archaic worldview.
With the events of the last few weeks, writing this pressure relief valve, I have found myself becoming introspective.. How the hell did a white, blue collar suburban boy became whatever the hell I am now?
Think of it as a background briefing. What a long strange trip it's been.
I have talked with people I grew up with and can not believe we are contemporaries. The differences in beliefs and attitudes are staggering to me.
In the first half of the Twentieth Century there was a huge migration to the North by African Americans and poor agrarian Southern Whites. Both groups sought a better future in the Industrialized Northern States. Henry Ford was paying an unheard of eight dollars a day. Both groups wound up segregated.
The prejudice in the North was subtle and insidious.
Blacks had their neighborhood. The hillbillies had theirs. Both were expected to know their place.
The largest part of this migration, here in Columbus, came from Kentucky, West Virginia.and southeastern Ohio. Appalachia.
They were the butt of jokes. Stereotyped as ignorant, inbred hillbillies. It wasn't confined to Central  Ohio. Look at the original Mountain Dew label and marketing.  Li'l Abner. Hee Haw  The Beverly Hillbillies. (Here we knew they were from Arkansas)
African Americans? Our racism here was insidious and covert. That enabled us to preserve our moral superiority to the Old Confederacy. This was the mix and attitudes I grew up surrounded by.
I grew up in Whitehall, a blue collar, mostly white suburb of Columbus. A Cop I knew told me in Whitehall we don't even put blacktop down. In a class of 350+ there were three blacks. This is years after Little Rock.
I remember my Dad talking about an argument with a big Buck N****r. My Mom casually talking about that N****r Bitch. My Father in the mid-sixties told me, with a straight face, believing it, that the reason Martin Luther King Jr. was so smart was he was about half white. Looking back I find the casual racism in my environment appalling.
As to the Kentucky expats we joked about the three r's taught in school there. Readin, ritin, Route 23. Route 23 is a major highway connecting most of Ohio with Kentucky. The road to Columbus.
Somehow I rejected much of the ideas and attitudes I grew up with. Its my Parents and lilley white school system's fault.
I was instilled at a young age with a love of reading and learning by my parents. They always bought the encyclopedia volume of the week at the A & P. I fondly remember The Golden Book Encyclopedia. A slim twenty six volume set aimed at young readers. I read them like a collection of short stories.  Then there was Funk And Wagnalls. Made famous by Rowen and Martin on Laugh-In. Both were sold a volume a week as a promotion at A& P. My parents made sure there was a complete set of both in our house.  They purchased a collection of great books from a door to door salesmen. Before I was twelve I had read "Great Expectations", "Huckleberry Finn,","Tom Sawyer", and other seminal masterpieces of great literature.
Both my parents read. We subscribed to both Daily Papers here. I read Chandler,  Rex Stout, Erle Stanley Gardner and John MacDonald. Dashiell Hammett and Ross MacDonald also. I was exposed to the world. New ideas and points of view. My parents helped me escape my past never dreaming of where my mind would wander.
Whitehall City Schools aided me also. I  learned critical thinking. Amazing Social Studies teachers instilled a love of History. I learned who we are and why. A grasp of historical context that seems so rare in social conversation today.
Then there was the insanity that was the sixties.
Jack Kennedy was shot on my birthday. I was in sixth grade. On the news Walter Cronkite showed me Birmingham. Selma. Watts. George Wallace standing on the steps saying segregation now. Segregation forever.  James Meredith and Ole' Miss.  Viet Nam .  The Berlin wall. I saw Jack Ruby shoot Oswald, live. Martin, Bobby and Malcolm were murdered.
An uppity prize fighter changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali.
The College campus' across the country exploded in protest, anger and violence. Students were gunned down at Kent State. I was beaten and tear gassed at Ohio State more than once.
I talked and listened to the College students as I hung out as a High School student. I needed to understand. I embraced some positions. I rejected others. Hell, I met and talked with Bernadine Dohrn of the Weather Underground in an off campus apartment in Columbus in 1970.
I embraced the madness and change like a lover. My worldview was being radically altered. Eldridge Cleaver was asked what was the position of women in the Movement. His response was prone. I disagreed. I had developed a radical notion that people were equal. Equal meant equal.Color, religion and plumbing made no difference to me.
I asked my first wife how she could vote for Saint Ronnie in '80 with his views on women's issues. She looked at me like I was insane. We were divorced not long after.
I moved away from being politically active in the eighties. I just didn't have the passion anymore.  After Reagan and Bush the Elder my annoyance was powering. I was waking back up/ Attacking womens rights was becoming the norm .The demonization of the poor. The rise of the Religious right and their rejection of the Twentieth Century
I saw evangelicals trying to push into education their bible stories. I looked on in amazed despair as this virus spread never dreaming we would be where we are now. I  reengaged.  Volunteer work for Clinton. Gore. And 2000 reawakened the radical bomb throwing hippie of my youth.
Then came Twitter.
I found like minded people. I remembered how to think and express myself. I remembered how to make reasoned, cognitive arguments. I rediscovered I had a vocabulary as rusty and unused as it was.The friends I made there may have saved the shards of my sanity.For that I am lucky and grateful.
I seem to be color blind. I think women are people and equal. I really don't care who someone loves.
So I was talking to a friend of mine about the happenings of the last few weeks. He's gay. As we discussed things he saw my opinions and point of view. He told me I was a true progressive.  I  was flabbergasted. I really don't see myself that way. I feel I'm a reasonably smart guy. I feel I'm an understanding, basically nice guy.  One who understands how and why the world works the way it does. I know I understand historical context and perspective. I understand politics. I am a liberal. That's my idea of who I am. But a true progressive, Said like I was a fucking unicorn? I embrace that compliment. I will wear it as a badge of honor as if he were right.A goal to attain.
A long strange trip. Mistakes and regrets abound. On the whole though I like how I wound up. My evolution from a boy to a man. A liberal? Guilty.
A true progressive? I don't know. Jury is still out. I hope so. At least on the road. But I'll settle for being a  nice guy and a good father. What more does one need anyway?

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