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Fresh Snow, Dreams Deferred, Two Young Friends of Decades Past, President Obama, the United States, and the Inauguration of 2009

roadskater's picture
After some days of often solitary study, testing, learning, failures and some successes (think Ubuntu Server, Apache, MySQL, PHP, Nginx, lighttpd, Memcache, Varnish, Squid, Alternative PHP Cache), I drifted to sleep as though it were the night before Christmas. Would there be snow? Would there be joy? So I awoke early on Inauguration Day 2009 with anticipation, and yes, my world had been treated to a fresh forgiveness of snow outside. I knew it wouldn't last, so I wandered about in my fuzzy clogs in the middle of the street before dawn, reveling quietly in the hug of silence and peace of dampened reverberations. I had heard the 3 a.m. train in the middle of the night, thinking in the rush of rails how a few blocks away, my house is connected to Union Station, a few blocks of downhill rolling away from the heart of the United States on this particular day to come...the United States Capitol. Now, standing in the flurry, all was silent except for the sound of the wind flowing southward down the canyon of the street, and while my loosely made plans for the day were changed, I was happy for the brisk blanket settling over the road, melting on my skin and soul, already warmed for the approaching sunrise of at least one day of hope, perhaps more. I had thought of traveling to Washington DC for the inauguration in hopes of experiencing it all on skates with skaters somehow, or of spending the day with my parents, or perhaps of skating my pursuit of happiness in downtown Greensboro to stand in skates near some outdoor television screen, where I could very happily become uncomfortably numb from the cold. But I was fine with letting all plans go, and with sharing the unfolding day virtually with the world, and with the rest of the United States of America, via television and the internet. From these first moments in the snow and later as people began to arrive on the mall, even well into the night as the galas continued, my greatest joy tinged with slight regret was imagining what two formerly young former schoolmates of mine were feeling. Among a series of many friends of my life from toddler to teen, each was, briefly, at different times, the best friend of my childhood self, before our family moved to another town. Each was lost to me when I left those towns, as was typically the case in my youth, and that was OK and felt natural enough. But these two fine fellows have never left me, and they've guided me as an adult, often. So it was all day on Inauguration Day I hoped, no matter what might happen, how badly or well the day might go, how badly or well the next Presidency might go for our country, that these two fine friends of mine would feel the power of the day in their lives. And even were both no longer living in the usual sense, this was one of many days since our friendships that their childhood selves lived again in me, and the child in me burned with joy and tears and hope for them and for the United States that are on the continent of America. Decades ago now, I can barely remember young Stevie, six years old or so at the time, and ever thus in my mind, but we played baseball and football in what felt like the the biggest front yard in the world, and around the grounds of the church next door. We watched the mountains beyond the creek, beyond the road, beyond the old fuel depot, beyond the railway, up to the sky as we toddled and tumbled fearlessly on the lawn. We sometimes wandered over to the weeping willow, on which we briefly dangled ourselves, at least in my mind as I remember it now, all mixed up with summer afternoons of kool-aid and ice cream and the smell and sound of leather, the crack of the wooden bat, or more often the thud of the ball hitting the ground when we missed. The spot where I often played dead to see if traffic might stop was second base, as I recall. We played ball games for two or three kids most likely, the sort of game like "five dollars" as we called it, where you'd earn points for catching the baseball on the fly, on the bounce, while rolling, or by throwing the ball to hit either the bat upright or lying on the ground. When you got your five dollars worth of points, you got to be the batter. Who knows if we knew how to keep score right, but it was silly simple fun. I'm sure we burned off energy with other baseball and football games, but honestly I don't recall any details. I believe I went to Stevie's before having him come over to my house, but I don't actually recall what it was like. It didn't matter to me, of course. I just wanted to run and catch and throw and swing and have fun and get tired and get a snack. Not much has changed since then, except my athletic pursuits are mostly confined to inline skating these days, though I would love to be able to play baseball and basketball in the ways I could as a child. My brief experiences playing these games with adults were not what I'd call fun, being more like a morality play of retaliation against people who were no longer there wherein I played the part of individuals who had slighted these other adults but were no longer around to take a beating. The sad part of the story of friendship with Stevie is what I learned later. In the early sixties in the mountains of North Carolina, it never occurred to me not to invite Stevie to our house, but it had indeed occurred to his mom to ask my parents if it REALLY was OK if he came to play at my house. The sight of us playing in the yard at my parents' house could have and perhaps did cause a stir in our small town. Looking back, I guess that at the time, he and I could not have played on the same teams in organized little league baseball (I think we were too young to be in the league anyway), though these rules dissolved later as integration left it up to the kids to get to know each other directly and make up their own minds about prejudice and individuality. As time passed, it also turns out that Stevie was quite the celebrated athlete in organized sports, as the desire to win at football and basketball especially overcame the desire to be racist, ever so slowly, throughout the South, and in fact, everywhere else in the slow to become United States. Slowly. I had other friends along the way, but on this particular Inauguration Day I also thought of David, perhaps my best friend in the eighth grade, though not the one I spent most of my time with over several years as a pre-teen and early teen in the piedmont of North Carolina. But somewhere along the way in the seventh or eighth grade we started hanging out together, and he came over to visit me mostly as I recall, me having the better yard in which to play as I recall. I remember I had one of those electric football games with the vibrating table and after sundown and on rainy days we'd play that. I still think that is a very cool thing: a game that hums along with players who dance around in mostly uncontrollable ways, pushing each other around until some arbitrary pattern of lines and objects occurs and we chant "Goal!" and feel so proud of ourselves. One day when we had installed ourselves on the carpet in the study of the house to play electric football, David pulled out a little bag and said this was his football team. Wow. As he gently retrieved each player, one by one, I saw that he had the most amazing set of hand-painted plastic players he had decorated to look like the Detroit Lions! I'll never forget the awe I felt when he brought his own team and set them up on the bright green game board against my monotoned crew. My guys had not one bit of adornment...they were just manufactured molded lifeless plastic sports soldiers with injected hints of pads, jerseys, shoes, and helmet, frozen in anonymity, adopting a pose. His guys were players, individualized now by art and gorgeous imperfection, given meaning and power by craft and care and joy and talent and effort. In my mind from that day on, his team won even if I had a higher score. There was just no denying they were better, even if not Bart Starr and the Green Bay Packers...at least they were a team because they had jerseys that matched, and skin that didn't match their jerseys, or each others' skin, for that matter, as I recall. David had made his team diverse and individual, and I could feel it before I could even think the terms in my head. We mostly played in the front yard, in a somewhat smaller yard than the one at our previous house, across the street from a different church, this time with no mountain stream out front and no view of the Blue Ridge, but still within earshot of a railway, somewhere on the other side of which David's family lived, just in case anyone were to forget we should be separate. Usually nobody else came along to join us but I never thought much about why. Again it never occurred to me we might be the object of commentary. We were content to play our small games rather than go find a crowd of wild kids banging into each other over a ball and over petty fights of who is really the most loved or hated, best or worst, most or least popular. They would still be there later and I'm sure we each went to the fields and courts in our own neighborhoods, too, separately, but our time running around the yard was more about skill games again, I'd say. We used to play a kick return game we made up, which was based on football onside kicking techniques and short accurate punts and returns, but not so much on tackling. I think we played one-hand tag on this as I can't imagine I could have ever caught him much less made him tumble to the ground. We didn't have enough room to punt or kickoff with full force, so we confined it by devising rules until we had a pretty fun game that nobody else in the world knew which let us kick, punt, return and run without getting mad or upset or mangled, which with other playmates seemed to end the fun too often and too soon. It was great, free, fun. Surely we played basketball too, shooting games of H-O-R-S-E (not the drug, of course, the hoops game of challenges) and one on one, listening to the portable 8-track player and such, but I don't recall playing basketball as much with David as football-based skills games, though. I don't remember going to David's house, but it may have happened. I had the impression he might have been embarrassed, either about his house, or perhaps about me. It might be his parents didn't want him to visit me or me to visit there, but I have no reason to think it. Maybe he wanted to avoid criticism for being friends with someone not from his community, as might've been said at the time. Of course, it just depends on what you think is your community, and as far as we were concerned, we definitely came from the same place...we went to the same school, so what's the problem? At the time, things were pretty bad over at the high school, with unrest and protests and such, but we were luckily a bit young to be involved in any of this. While things were tense at the time, I walked to school on this other side of the tracks and found everyone to be kind and generous on my route to school, including the little diner where my other pal, Bruce, and I would stop in for gum or candy or a Coke. I know it was more upsetting for kids who were a bit older, but it turned out OK for me. Of course, we left that town to go to a different town in another area of the North Carolina mountains the next year, and who knows what might have happened in the years to come in that high school, because change was happening there, and some didn't want it. I should say I had lots of other friends when I was six and fourteen, most of whom nobody would have thought twice about because we looked so much alike in most ways. These other friendships up to ninth grade or so had some quality of convenience to them. They happened only because we were alike, or our families were alike, or our families had regular interactions, or we were in the same miserable class of students year after year (more miserable the longer we were in the same class together, sixth through eighth grade!). But Stevie and David were my friends based on what we had in common inside, a resonance found on the playgrounds at school during recess as likely as anything, and since we were lucky that nobody told us not to be friends with each other, we spent many hours running around in yards after footballs and baseballs and basketballs and most likely, puppies!...burning up the energy of childhood while developing the assumptions of adulthood. Simply put, I think I enjoyed these friends because of who they were, who they thought I was, and how they approached the world. The playground is a pretty good place to notice character, as so many know from adult sports, including skating, cycling and even the business form of golf, where you get to see how someone acts about competition, courtesy, self- and other-honesty and perhaps, rules. They wanted to play, and liked to win, but if they tried and then didn't win it was OK, and they wouldn't have won by cheating because it simply didn't occur to either of them. Perhaps later they changed, but I would still be surprised to hear they turned out to be anything other than great adults. I am sure they had great families and we were lucky that our parents let us choose our friends instead of letting society choose them for us. I'm sure it wasn't easy, but our parents made it look easy to have my friends over, finding it more important how they acted than anything else. So as I watched and listened to our new President yesterday, I was just as much listening to the fulfilled promise of a grown up Stevie or grown up David, a person of our generation...the generation who grew up together in school. I was looking for them in the crowd, having no idea what to look for, and certainly no expectation of seeing them, and I was seeing images of other students in my class, friends that I had, there in the crowd celebrating their lack of belief in color as anything other than the beautiful decoration of individual adornment among members of a team. Mostly, I was feeling certain that somewhere my two childhood playmates were looking up at some television, seeing a slightly more possible world, a slightly more United States. I was happy for all of us, that they could finally say it could be them up there on that podium, and I could finally say that good people, great people, need not be wasted because of their skin. I pretended it was Stevie and David delivering a message that was a mixture of possibilities and responsibilities, to all of us. And I thought how it might have just as easily been our first woman President up there, had just a few things been different. And I look forward to that celebration too, before long, when the right one for the right time comes along. This is not the story of how I was so great or different. It's not the story of how pure my thoughts were and are. I will leave it to you to discover my so easily found flaws. This is the story of how I am just part of a wave, certainly cyclic, but with a direction...a wave of which I am merely a particle...a wave touched by growing up together in school. It's the story of how I believe the United States took a step, just one of many yet to take, to picking our Presidents the way we'd pick our quarterback, or our point guard, if we wanted to win. And it's a story about how we define winning. Most of all, it is the story of two young men who were an example to me in my life, the embodiment of love over fear, that I so often wish others had been so lucky to have. It is the story of my hope that our President can be that example that calls all of us to our better selves. To me the importance of the day is not the man or woman we might have chosen, but the coming to fruition of seeds planted so long ago in our county, culminating in an electorate who grew up with little friends of all backgrounds, who didn't believe what they were told by some about whether one of these children could, for example, ever be a quarterback, a foreman, an orchestra director, a boss, and have seen those lies gone to waste long ago. It's the story of an electorate who looked at the choices and found this person to be the best of the choices available at this time, for this time. Yes, the snow melts (and it comes again). Yes, politicians say more than they can do, and do differently than they have said. But what is important is not the politician but the message that resonates with the electorate. And this electorate has reconsidered their choices and wants to try another way. Melted snow aside, politicians aside, our country has changed, and it will cycle back and forth, no doubt, between love and fear, selfishness and generosity. But the direction over decades and centuries seems OK to me, if awfully slow. But it's in the generations that change takes root. It's the children that heal us and teach us. I have certainly never forgotten what good friends Stevie and David were in thin but rich slices of my life: such great kids, such good people waiting to happen. I can only hope these dear childhood playmates were feeling something as powerful and meaningful (to them, at least) as what Beyonce expressed after her performance at the Neighborhood Ball. While I think the President's Inaugural speech better each time I read or heard it again, and his speech at the Lincoln Memorial at the concert has at least two really fine paragraphs, Beyonce's extemporaneous comments were the most important of my day, it turned out, for they are the words of a dream deferred, but now come true, bundled up with the power of music, and no matter what may happen, that moment can never be taken from her or from anyone else who felt it on January 20, 2009. Skateylove y'all. ___________________________________________ See Beyonce's interview here... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I88lC9qeRwU The New York Times site has an incredible page of previous inaugural addresses, with tag clouds for the most used words, linked to their use in context in the speeches, with timeline bars that show the usage of each word over the years in inaugural speeches... http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/01/17/washington/20090117_ADDRES... This is a truly worthwhile "timewaster," and I read much, including all the summary content, and the entire front page of the New York Times from Lincoln's first inauguration (PDFs of many front pages are linked above), and parts of some of the speeches. Apparently, the United States flag split in two before Lincoln's first ceremony, even as the Union was about to be split at the Potomac River, only a couple of miles from the festivities. While many had hope that day that the split could be avoided, the tone of that front page makes it clear it was a thin hope indeed. I found the text of the speech from the pre-inaugural concert on the mall and it has some fine paragraphs in it... http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/us/politics/18text-obama.html?_r=1&pag... President Obama's Inaugural speech is here... http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/20/us/politics/20text-obama.html?_r=1&pag... It should be noted that I find much of President Bush's 2001 speech to be excellent, as well. For me, what resonates still most strongly is the message from Obama's 2004 DNC speech that we are the United States, not the red or blue divided states, of America, and what happens to any of us, happens to all of us. This just happens to fit my skateylove principles, so I'm sorry if it's not what others feel. The snow is gone, now. But the muffled hug of windy predawn flurries in the street remains in my soul, to be remembered when it snows again, and we get down on our knees and pray we don't get fooled again. We'll see if the new boss is the same as the old boss. No matter. We are forever different as a nation, and even in frightening days, moving toward inclusion at least for now, it seems. Let's keep it going. Skateylove again, y'all.


MikeB's picture

So Very Profound, Inspirational, and Powerful

WOW. What can you say, but WOW. Thank you so much for sharing those memories. It's so strange but while reading your words and imagining the settings and happenings, (which was easy to do since you paint such clear pictures), it took me back as well. Back to a much simpler time, in the mid 60's and through the 70's, on the south side of Chicago. I'd give up a lot to go back to that time and place. The fondness only gets stronger as the years go by. But yet we forge ahead, breaking new ground in our lives and in so many ways. You can take heart that those day to day happenings and upbringing has made us what we are today, just as today's happenings mold us into who we'll be in the future. You are one fine human being. Thanks for being you. Truly.
eebee's picture

What he said.

Comparatively incoherently I say 'hear hear' to everything MikeB said about your writing, Roadskater. For my part, I was touched at how the rest of the world joined in our inauguration celebration, and I explained to my parents in the UK how this historic occasion profoundly affects me. No easy way to do that in a 'stiff upper lip' fashion, so I just blurted it out. It's not really appropriate or repeatable here but lets just say what a wonderful turn of events. Not having been a Who fanatic, the lyric "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" is one of my all-time favorites. Particularly because he's fooling us again by leaving us hanging, instead of launching into another verse.
roadskater's picture

Democray in China...for Class Monitor...Spongebob Wouldn't Last

Among other great things I've seen lately, and while democracy and elections are running around my brain, here's a link to another PBS show, from the Independent Lens series. It's the story of a class of kids in China who have an election for class monitor among three candidates preselected by the school. I really enjoyed seeing all the kids in this documentary, not just the ones running for office. There was much emotion, sympathy, empathy, talent, skill and manipulation at work. The kids were so involved and expressive, it was clear this meant a lot to most of the members of the class. I was impressed (mostly) with how much the teacher let things go to without controlling them too much. It was fascinating to follow the progress of the election, to see the parents working behind the scenes, to see what the kids did and didn't take from their advice, and to see how the election turned out. As is often the case, debating skills were important! The first link is to YouTube and the second to the official website. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOiL6hN5mXg&feature=PlayList&p=E182DE083A... http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/pleasevoteforme/

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