Is That Ethical?

A few years ago, I wrote an essay on the roots of my family’s ethical principles. My family has deeply ingrained ethics, that have resulted in a group of people, each of whom is good but not perfect. My brother, Johnny, probably comes the closest to perfection. He eats right, exercises daily, is a hard worker, caring husband and grandfather, and keeps a house so clean you could not only eat off of the floor in the house, you could eat off of the floor in the garage; but don’t, because you might get them dirty.

We are a thrifty lot, hopefully without being greedy or selfish. We learned thrift from my Dad. He made sure that we knew the cost of everything, including leaving a light on (perhaps this was part of my motivation to get solar). He told us of a makeshift stationary bicycle he had as a child that he would peddle to produce enough energy to power a radio. Today, people pay a gym to peddle a stationary bike and listen to music (with a mask on, of course). Thrift dictated our diet. Instead of milk, we drank Kool Aid with every meal (sweetened with cyclamates). Lunch was ALWAYS a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich. To this day, I cannot tolerate grape jelly; however, I do prefer that my wine taste like Kool Aid (sweet and fruity – grape jelly is sweet and fruity too – but it’s bad). Excessive thrift can result in a very unsophisticated palate.

Back to the family ethic. As I look at it today, it is full of the politically incorrect; and perhaps, the unethical. For all of that, here it is.

I grew up listening to the stories of my family’s life as homesteaders in the Estancia Valley of New Mexico. Memorial Days were spent driving the sixty miles from Albuquerque to Estancia to tend the family plots. It was hot and dusty, but always entertaining. My Granddad was a natural storyteller and had many stories to tell. His life and character were shaped by the difficulties encountered while working to “prove” their homestead.

Their first years in the Valley, while they were building their home, were spent in a three-walled dugout. This was during the first decade of the 20th century and land disputes were common. My great-grandfather, John Block, was somewhat of a legend in Torrance County. One of the stories my grandfather would tell involved the hard feelings held by many earlier settlers towards homesteaders. It was during the time of the Estancia Valley Land War – a classic case of sheepherders verses cattle wranglers ending in shootouts. A final determination by the New Mexico Court of Private Land claims declared the land involved to be public and open to homesteaders. In the story, as told by my grandfather, a settler who had married into one of the families involved in the land-war shootouts along with his three grown sons, came to visit Mr. Block. The visitor told Mr. Block that he and his family shouldn’t waste any more time building a home, as they wouldn’t be staying. According to the story, my great grandfather, who was well over six-feet tall, grabbed the man by his collar, pulled him off of the buckboard and gave him “a good whooping.” He then set the man back on the buckboard and invited him to Sunday dinner saying, “You and your family would be welcome to Sunday dinner seeing as we’ll be staying.” The lesson: stand up for what you believe in, fight if you have to, but don’t hold it against those who believe differently.

Lot’s of the stories involved “whoopings” which surprises me because I can’t imagine my grandfather taking part in whooping-worthy behavior (at least not intentionally). He told of a time when he hid in an attempt to avoid an inevitable whooping. When he was found, he got the whooping of his life. He taught us that when we did something wrong, we would have to pay the price, but if we did something wrong and tried to hide it, or blame someone else, the price paid would be greater. The lesson: always accept responsibility for your mistakes and don’t ever try to hide them or blame someone else.

In the forties, the price of pinto beans, the Valley’s main cash crop, dropped to near nothing. Many families, including mine, had to sell off their hard-won homesteads to pay their debts, including property taxes. There were years when it would cost more to bring in the beans than they would bring when sold. Although it was painful, they truly felt that they had no alternative but to “sell up.” When all they had was their word, they were not willing to devalue it by not paying their debts. They left the Valley with their reputation and good name intact. The lesson: the only thing in an individual’s life that he or she has control over the value of is his or her word. Don’t underestimate the negative impact of manipulating the truth.

Some of the principles that governed family beliefs and behavior resulted from not one experience, but from day-to-day hard work. Everyone in the community worked hard and did their share. They accepted help when needed, because they had given help when needed. The lesson: never ask more of anyone else than you’re willing to do yourself.

These were plain-living people (I have the pictures to prove it). They avoided the appearance of pride. I never heard my grandfather talk about his accomplishments or successes, but he was quick to acknowledge other’s accomplishments. The lesson: give credit where credit is due – your own accomplishments should speak for themselves.

There you have it. My accomplishments speak in a low whisper. No Twitter-worthy accomplishments or tales of personal-perfection in my resume. I lack the courage of not only my ancestors, but the greats of our day, like John Lewis, who we lost this month. What I do have are GREAT friends and a great, if imperfect, family (and a house with solar – telemarketers can quit calling me). Life truly is good.

Granddad (the storyteller) and his great grandson (my son, Zach).

I Was Born in the Same Hospital My Mom Was Born In

I was wondering why, whenever someone asks me where I’m from, I reply, “I’m from Albuquerque. I was born in the same hospital my Mom was born in.” I think it’s because I want to claim more ownership of place than my birthright alone would grant. Ironically, that same attitude frustrates me when other people adopt it: “My family has been here for 22.5 generations.”

I do want to be more than a “one-off” Albuquerquen. My understanding of place is rooted in my life’s stationary existence. I know Albuquerque. If my knowledge of place was musical, it would be the rhythmic beating of a drum, not a sweet floating melody.

BOOM, I, BOOM, know, BOOM, Albuquerque. My opportunity to introduce melody drove away yesterday. I sold the Chinook to get money to make much-needed home repairs, replenish my savings, and to free it from its solitary confinement to my driveway.

My dream, when buying the Chinook, was to become a storyteller, and travel around the country to Storytelling Gatherings in my cozy little RV. The Gathering organizers would pay for my camping spot and I would just be out the gas money. At night, we would all sit around a campfire, sing songs and tell stories. When I dream, I dream big and in color – BOOM. Participants would become lifelong friends and we would travel to each other’s homes (in our cozy little RVs), expanding our life’s melodies and adding lyrics to our songs.

I sold the Chinook, but I haven’t stopped dreaming (or storytelling). I have wonderful lifelong friends: Shari in Utah, Linda in Florida, and a bunch right here in Albuquerque – Jeri, Terry, Andrea, Ronnie, Eileen and Carolyn. I should get one of those fire pits for my backyard. Once we’re free from social distancing restrictions, I bet we could tell some great stories around it.

I’m from Albuquerque. I was born in the same hospital my Mom was born in. Albuquerque is full of story material. Life is good.

Bye, bye Chinook.

In Search of Inspiration

I had no idea of what to write today, when the morning paper offered inspiration. That was very nice of the morning paper. As I was reading, I came across an article on the inspirational impact of “funny pet videos.” The article even referenced a funny pet video that I had seen: “Two Cockatiels Dancing.” It is inspiring. In search of additional inspiration, I turned to the fountain of inspiration, GOOGLE, and typed “funny pet videos.” I was surprised when I was given the option “funny pet videos – clean.” My first thought was, who would post dirty pet videos? My second thought was, what kind of sick-o would coax pets into dirty-pet performances? My third thought was, I only want to see clean funny pet videos, so that was the link I clicked. Sadly, the videos weren’t very funny. Where were the dancing cockatiels? There were lots of cats meowing, which intrigued Cinnamon, but as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t speak Cat, so the jokes were lost on me.

I thought, perhaps nature (minus funny pets) might provide my sought-after inspiration, so I went into my backyard (I am again sheltering in place as Coronavirus cases are on the upswing – and on a more impressive scale). My tomato plant is heavily burdened with tomatoes, and my squash plant is heavily burdened with squash bugs. The thought of eating fresh tomatoes inspired hunger, but the thought of inadvertently eating a squash bug quickly quashed that inspiration. I decided to sit on the deck, but the buzzing of mosquitoes (we’re in a drought here in New Mexico, so the presence of mosquitoes is an enigma) inspired me to scratch the mosquito bites I already had and to return to the indoors where my search for inspiration continued. I looked everywhere.

Heavily-laden tomato plant

Dust bunnies inspired me to Swiffer. Stacks of paper inspired me to sort and shred. Creative inspiration was nowhere to be found. I’m retired; I have time, so I decided to sit (inside to avoid mosquitoes) and meditate on the ripening of tomatoes: ohm. Suddenly, a large red orb of inspiration appeared in my mind’s eye. It was frightening; it was intriguing; it was… a tomato (yes, I realize this is a stretch, but the funny pet videos didn’t deliver). The moral of the story is that you don’t necessarily have to be inspired to write a blog post. Inspiration does increase quality, but sometimes, all you’ve got is a tomato (which you can eat when you’re done writing). Life is good (okay, it’s mediocre, but I’ll take it).

Cinnamon, contemplating the meaning of tomatoes.

Turtle Pimp in a Bubble

I have historically envisioned retirement Jennie living in a secluded cabin, writing, growing vegetables, baking bread, talking to the animals and generally being one with nature. The bubble that is this vision has been popped by reality brought home by Coronavirus social-distancing requirements and my aversion to witnessing the more violent aspects of nature. I am left with sticky bubble excrement, stinging my eyes and blurring my envisioned existence.

As a result of observance of stay-at-home Coronavirus-related orders, I have realized that I don’t handle long-term isolation well . No Cross Creek for me. I will not follow Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings into rural isolation to allow for introspection and personal reflection that leads to creative success and adulation by the masses, while I reside in a quiet, peaceful environment. This realization was pin-prick number one to my dream. As I meditated on the beauty of nature and solitude, I was hoping the pin prick wound to my dream bubble would be of the self-healing variety.

Sadly, as I meditate on nature, my meditating mind is invaded by visions of the sometimes brutal aspects of the cycle-of-life (cycle-of-life in retirement – the cycle of work life was always, and continues to be, brutal). Even in my backyard, where I am spending a lot of socially-distanced time, I’ve come across turtle carcasses where turtles ventured into the circle-of-life with a raccoon, hawk, or roadrunner. The presence of roadrunners, I understand – they were here first – but I thought raccoons and hawks lived in the remote areas of nature that I envisioned myself retiring to. Obviously, the turtles did not make it out of the circle alive. For the turtles, it was a circle of death. I had brought the turtles to this circle. The roadrunners, raccoons and hawks came uninvited. This brings another pin: death (it’s a big sharp one), close to my retirement dream bubble. I have now had to take on the role of turtle pimp, in an attempt to find circles of life that do not include roadrunners, raccoons and hawks. Turtles are hot little numbers and I had no trouble finding turtle takers (not mean ol’ turtle Johns).

Contemplating my retirement dream bubble, has generated some questions. How might native-nature inhabitants react to my invasion of their “neck of the woods?” Might I be moving into a circle of life where I’m the prey? Boom! My bubble popped. I do grow vegetables in my backyard. I do talk to my cat. If I could find yeast in the grocery store, I would bake bread (well, once daily temperature highs are under 100 degrees). I have solar, so I’m leaning towards off-the-grid. I will stay where I am. Truly, life is good here; a little lonely, but not as lonely as it would be in a secluded cabin in the woods. Cinnamon and I are going to head out to the turtleless-backyard now. As cycle-of-life warriors, we will battle squash-bugs. They are a quickly-reproducing adversary, but we are tough. We will prevail, because we can always pull up the squash plants. We’re tough almost-off-the-grid residents!

My backyard, back when it housed turtles.

Ms. Interpretation

Just call me Ms. Interpretation. In my haste to interpret all that is going on around me, I often get it wrong. It’s as if I’m channeling Gilda Radner’s Saturday Night Live character, Emily Litella. I start stating my concerns with self-righteous indignation, only to be told that I got it wrong. That I, Ms. Interpretation, totally misinterpreted the situation.

My son, Zach, took on the role of the SNL Weekend Update news anchor, to my Emily Litella. He called, just as I turned the newspaper to a page with a photo of a young person wearing a mask with the words, “I can’t breath,” on it. Before reading the article, I said, “If I see someone wearing a mask with the words, ‘I can’t breath’ on it, I’m going to tell them that a little discomfort is a small price to pay to protect the health of others in our community.”

There was silence on the other end of the line. Then Zach said in his gentle my-Mom’s-losing-it voice, “Mom, that’s not about masks being uncomfortable. That’s in response to George Floyd’s unjustifiable death.” I replied, “Well, that’s different. Never mind.”

Truly, that’s different! I have more time in retirement. I need to take a break from mask making (NOT from mask wearing!) to hone my socially-responsible behavior and sensitivities.

Friend Shari and husband Steve sold their camp trailer last week. Their self-proclaimed “Redneck Honeymoon Cottage on Wheels,” had facilitated many a good time. I loved receiving postcards from their various destinations. Shari shared news of the sale via an email with the subject line, “…end of an era.” Shari and Steve were comforted by the purchasers’ enthusiasm and delight at having found a camp-trailer in such pristine condition. Wouldn’t it be great if we were at an end of an era of hate, misunderstandings, prejudice and racism. We could be. It’s up to us.

Postcards from the “Redneck Honeymoon Cottage on Wheels” era.

Whether working or retired, I still have a lot to learn. Life is good, but it can get better.