Nana and Henry

Don’t you love those nostalgic memories that seem to pop up at the oddest times?

When I was in the first grade at Adams Elementary School on Franklin Avenue at Bloomington Avenue, four long city blocks from where we lived above our little store at 1119 East. Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis, MN., I had to walk to school every day.

Now don’t start ragging on me about it being only four blocks from home. It was in Minnesota where winter starts right after Labor day and ends just before Mother’s day (sometimes), and I was only five years old. Between the street cars, the diesel buses, the other cars, and trucks spewing gasses and dust filling my lungs with all kinds of stuff I didn’t need, it was a challenge just walking down the sidewalk. Winter wasn’t so bad because the snowplows piled the snow up on the sidewalk so tall I couldn’t see over them. If the store owners got out early and shoveled, then it was relatively smooth sliding along on the ice because the wall of snow sent the smog above us. The sad part was that we always had black and brown snow because of all the crap in the air.

So, I would walk to school on the South side of Franklin Avenue and return home on the North side so where the Old Dutch Potato Chip company had a plant. Oh my god, if you haven’t smelled fresh potato chips on a cold winter’s day, you haven’t lived. We, my buddy Henry who walked to and from school with me, would stand in front of the big window and watch the chips being bagged by the machine. I think the imprint of our lips and drool are still on that window if it’s there.

Even today, 68 years later, when I smell fresh potato chips I think of Henry, one of the best friends I ever had, but he was a Negro. That seemed to be important to people sometimes cause when we would be walking home from school, they would make nasty comments about a white boy and a nigger walking together.

I once asked my Nana why people, especially my mom didn’t like Henry and she said it was only because he “is a knee-grow” and “those people were wrong because they don’t use the brains God gave them. Your friend is no different than anyone else, in fact, he’s better than most cause he let you be his friend.”

But Nana,  his mom is white, and his dad is black!

“So, what does that prove? Do they take good care of your friend? Do they love him? Are they nice people?”

I think so, yes.

“Then, their skin color makes no difference, does it?

But Nana, how can he be black like that when his momma is white, and his dad is black – shouldn’t he be like a zebra?

I think Nana, and maybe Henry too is still laughing about that one.

I never did see his knee grow, but that’s ok, because he was then, and remains in my heart as Henry, my bestest friend ever.

Nana said I was a gifted little boy because I saw people “through the eyes of a blind man” and heard their words “with deaf ear.”

“When you look at Henry, you don’t see his skin, you know his heart.”

Nana, though you are gone, yet remain. Your words still echo in my mind.

I miss you both.

The Wisdom of My Nana

As a child, I often sat with my grandmother beneath her grape arbor in Mankato, MN, there to talk and listen to her stories of nature. She was not a learned person in the sense of a formal education, but she was a sagacious woman in the ways of the world. Tragically for me, and the world I lost her when I was fifteen.

Before she died, she had to have one of her legs removed because diabetes had shut down the circulation and she was developing gangrene. I lived in Minneapolis, MN, at the time so I went to Mankato, (90 miles) and stayed at the hospital with her from the night before surgery, during surgery and most of the day after, when I had to leave. That was the last time I saw her or heard her voice. Her last words were, “we will share our love of nature under the arbor again one day.” I miss her wisdom.

Starting yesterday, and continuing throughout the night and into today, St. Louis, MO is experiencing severe storms. The thunder rages like the sounds millions of buffalo stomping over the plains in the days that were. Lightning, the arrows of Father Sky, piercing the darkness,   illuminating their way while torrents of rain assail their path. These were the visions my grandmother gave to me. She made me understand that nature is not science, nature is alive.

When I would ask her why storms came, she would tell me about how she had to do the spring cleaning of her house and that Mother Nature was no different.

“Mother Nature’s house is much bigger than ours.”, she would say. “She has more work to do, so she tells Father Sky he has to help her.”

“Make the Sky Buffalo run over the cloud prairies to warn all the creatures that we are going to clean. Wake them with the light of your arrows that they may prepare and seek shelter.”

But Nana, the wind blows so hard it shakes my brain to pieces!

“Child, pay attention, it is rare that the wind begins by blowing that hard but if it should then you best hide down in the root cellar cause a tornado may be coming. You don’t recall cause you were only two, but a big twister came through the town in 1946  killing eleven people and injuring a hundred or so more. They are very dangerous.”

Does Father Sky send tornadoes to hurt people?

“I don’t think so. I’m not sure what causes twisters but, like everything else in nature, they serve a purpose. Perhaps it’s a way for nature to make sure humans know who is really in charge. An old Lakota lady once told me that twisters were nature’s way of cleaning out the weak and cutting new paths for the strong. Heard tell on the radio that cold and warm air crashing together cause them. I just do not know.”

What happens to the animals when a tornado comes?

“Sadly, many animals are killed by twisters because they have nowhere to hide from them. Humans, at least the smart ones know enough to find shelter when they can.”

Nana, does the Sky Father always send twisters when he sends the winds?

“No darling, sometimes he just sends the big winds to clean out the old nests and dead branches from trees so there can be new ones.”

But Nana, if he does that, he might hit me on the head with a big branch or nest!

“That is possible, yes but most of the time the Sky Father will send warnings such as gusts of wind, thunder and many times the temperature will suddenly drop just before the storm to warn us. Course, nowadays, we have the weather guessers who might be able to predict a coming storm.”

So the Sky Father makes the wind blow and the rain fall to help the Earth Mother clean her trees and stuff?

“That’s right hon, he washes out old branches, nests, leaves and even dead animals then rinses the trees to wash away the dust.”

And the Earth Mother likes for him to do this?

“I believe she does for aren’t we all a part of her? Don’t the minerals contained in decaying branches, leaves, and animals return to the soil to help fertilize it?

But Nana, if it rains really, really, really hard all that water will fill up the creeks and rivers to flood stuff!

“Yes, that is true but what happens when there is flooding?”

I dunno know.

“Just like the trees, when Father Sky sends his rain down upon Mother Earth, the water washes away natural debris and vegetations into our streams and rivers. There, the debris-filled water will carry its burden to larger rivers such as the Mankato River which in turn, flows into the Mississippi River. As the rivers fill with water and debris, they will overflow their banks and fill the land. When the water recedes, it leaves the sediment which is a natural fertilizer. I heard that this happens every year in the Nile river in Egypt and it may happen in your lifetime. “ (Nana, if you’re listening, it occurred in 1993 – worst flood in history.)

Nana, does the Earth Mother have a big dumpster or trash can to put stuff in?

“She certainly does, she has seven of them – the Seven Seas.”

But Nana, what happens to all that sediment stuff that goes into the seas?

“That which can be recycled by Mother Nature will be. That which cannot becomes deltas such as we saw down in New Orleans.”

I remember, but we saw stuff like soda bottles, and glass and stuff down in the delta place.

“Sadly, you are right. There are things that even Mother Nature cannot rapidly fix. It is a tragic mistake of human greed and indifference that produces the filth and poisons we see on our Mother Earth every day. Perhaps one day people will wake up before it’s too late and realize what they have done.”

Nana, I miss you and love you more now than ever before.

Who the hell is in control of this world?

I am not one for organized religions based on human-constructed ideologies professed to be handed down by a supreme being.

I have faith, yes but it is not to one found in any building or any words created in the minds of humans.  It is a faith instilled in me over my lifetime by powers greater than me who allowed, perhaps even planned challenges I had to overcome to teach me the lessons I needed to learn.

“Why did “God” let this happen?”

Ever heard that phrase? I have, thousands of times. The answer I have most often heard to that question is, “God” works in mysterious ways” which is a cop-out to me.

There is nothing mysterious about God; there are only truth and logic both of which escape most of us.

Since his inauguration on January 20, 2017, a relentlessly vilified President Trump has been working very hard to rehabilitate America, yet there are those who still cry out, “God, why did you let this happen?”

My opinion is “God” did not let it happen. “God” made it happen.

Neither Russia nor any other foreign power interfered with our election – “God” did.

I believe that “God” decided it was time to remove the blinders from those who proclaimed the “liberty” of America and show them the reality. “God” chose to expose the hypocrisy of the elitists and the damage they have done.

Perhaps “God” felt it was time to demonstrate the true meanings of love, faith, and equality of all peoples in a world beset by ignorance and fear.

Whatever the reason, if people truly believe in “God” they must always remember, “God” is in control.

 

Mitakuye Oyasin

In the winter of a life

Oft borne by bitter strife

A man ponders who he was.

 

Battles fought, victories won

Children born, he lost a son

Continued he the cause.

 

Final thoughts, soon at hand

No new trails span the land,

He waits, he remembers.

 

“What was I?”, his plaintive plea

“Where eternal shall I be?”

Challenges now but lasting embers.

 

Spirit adrift in serene repose

New visions emerge as eyes do close

Ghosts of the Plains come to greet.

 

Two-leggeds and four dispel the mist,

Relations of all that sun hath kissed

Now comes the time, he lived to be.

 

One with all – Mitakuye Oyasin!

Americans All!

 

Please help me, my friend,

Have we come to an end?

Has reason deserted our land?

 

Many fight for the right,

Guaranteed by our laws,

Then deny it to others out of hand.

 

Please join me, my friend,

Our rights to defend,

Battling this vile new disease.

 

For Americans, are we all,

Unwilling to face downfall,

Our freedom not built on our knees.