Friday, August 13, 2010

OPINION: Experience As A Teacher

Magdalena Potluck
By Margaret Wiltshire

My grandpa, Poppy, was John Henry Alden and my mom’s maiden name was Priscilla Alden. In the northeast where I was born, this is a well known family, a Mayflower family. From that family came a lot of well known folk. The John, John Q. and Samuel Adams family, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Longfellow, Washington Irving and even Calvin Coolidge among them.
There is not much that is unique about being an Alden and you probably have met more then one, if you are not one yourself. The first three or four generations averaged 10 kids each, now that the 13th generation is growing up, it is quite a crowd.
A pretty “conservative” lot all and all and my Poppy was no exception. Here I am a crazy liberal and he is still my favorite mentor and roll model.
The first teaching about being an Alden was: don’t talk about it. That’s not easy in a family where saying what you think bluntly is the norm. However there have been many decades when any relationship to the Mayflower was socially looked down on. A condition earned from many decades of Mayflower snobbery. Not to bring grief to ourselves and with some feeling that others were not as lucky as we, we were to keep quiet.
It was an awkward beginning for me. Always curious, always questioning, I started driving most people crazy right away. Poppy was the adult who could handle me. I was his side kick whenever possible. This brought relief to many others in the family.
Most Aldens have been farmers, hard working tillers of the earth. Some have built ships, towns, politics and a number like to write, but many were farmers. It was these farmers that President John Adams was most proud of and so am I. Poppy was a farmer and an animal breeder. Together we traveled from farm to farm from the Catskills of NY to the Massachusetts border.
They say what you survive makes you stronger. Most of us have survived enough to make us quite strong. Difficulty in life is pretty democratic even among the rich and famous, and the “comfortable” middle class. Life gave me some of that strength but Poppy gave me a foundation.
He made “family values” real, and really valuable. Freedom is earned with the ability to take responsibility.
If you are not honest you do not truly exist. If you are not fair, you are not honest. If you don’t treat your land and animals well, you are nothing.
Any man or woman who works hard has great value. Excuses are weakness. Blaming is weakness. Pointing fingers at groups of people is weakness.
Cooperation and sharing is key to success. If you have nothing to share, you have nothing. What value a person has is based on what they do, how they live; and it is more important then skin color or ethnic-national history.
Poppy wasn’t perfect. Born in 1900 he had all the bias of white men of his age. However, “being fair, being honest,” he had an ever growing list of exceptions to his bias.
My Dad re-enlisted in the Air Force and we spent much of the early fifties in Texas, Florida and Georgia. Mom didn’t want me to attend base schools, she was a “civilian” and wanted it that way. While in Florida I became acquainted with the names and the taunting a “Yankee” could get. “Sticks and stones can break your bones but words will never hurt me.” Or so my Mom said.
Georgia provided the sticks and stones. Shunned as a Yankee, the endless, lonely recesses I spent watching battles between black and red ants, big ants and very small ants. Red ants and black ants killed each other equally well; but the small ants out numbered the much larger ants and claimed victory.
This was an all white school but not in an all white village. There was the other side of the tracks.
One day, I rode my bike across the tracks and into the black tenant farming area. I missed farms and farm animals. There was a small black boy with a rooster. I stopped and asked if he wanted to play. He ran into his house. I figured it was that Yankee thing again. I started home.
Passing a tobacco field, kids from my school started throwing stones and sticks. Eventually I fell from my bike and hit my head on a street sign. Unconscious, Dad’s wing man came by and picked me up. I did not forgive the state of Georgia for a very long time.
Bigotry raises havoc; but never wins. We should be more concerned about who WE are then who THEY are. We are all a “THEM” to someone.

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