I find it interesting how our culture puts so much value on vintage things but not vintage people. Elders are often dismissed. Youth is revered. On a construction job recently a contractor told my 71-year-old husband that he was “outdated” -never mind that he finished his work smoothly and on time.
Us older folks? Beneath our innocuous, wrinkled, gray, balding exteriors is a wealth of experience and wisdom. The boomers of today were the changemakers and protestors of yesteryear. My body is more fragile now but in return is insight and wisdom. Contentment has replaced the incessant searching of youth. With a wealth of experience comes stories to be told. Want to be entertained? Drum up some conversation with an older person you would otherwise ignore
I let my hair go gray during covid ready to embrace my age. Why hide it? There is nothing to be ashamed about. This is me, I’ve survived and I have thrived.
Then, there’s something to be said of the people that can still navigate the world when the power goes out.
I came of age in the late 1960s/ early 1970s in the Bay Area of California. It was the age when women started to wake up from their subjugation in the so-called mans’ world. So began a rebellion of women demanding equal rights and opportunities that continues to this day.
In 1976 I headed up to Alaska for a summer job that morphed into a 10-year stay. Alaska was a perfect place for an independent, outdoorsy kind of woman to break down barriers. Nobody blinked an eye if you built a cabin, commercial fished, mushed dogs, hunted, and the like. Then in 1978, I met with my biggest obstacle- working in a sawmill as the only woman. This is my story…
On the first day of my new job, I drove the 6 ½ miles out the road with a lump in my stomach. My ’63 VW bug purred around the last bend and the sawmill came into view, a hulking, half- rusted sheet metal structure belching a billowing plume of steam from a tall stack. Shrieks and clanks of machinery inside clashed with the placid water of the canal and the misty islands beyond. This was not exactly in my life plan to work at a sawmill but there were no other options to be had in the small Southeastern Alaskan island town of Wrangell. It so happened when I needed a job, the 6 ½ mile mill needed an employee and a woman at that.
In honor of Black History Month in February, I listened to The Warmth of Other Suns, the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. This 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning epic by Isabel Wilkerson covers the previously poorly examined great migration of African-Americans to the northern and western cities to escape the racist Jim Crow policies of the southern states from 1914 to approx 1970.
The author follows three true characters during different times and from different areas of the south as they move north and west seeking better opportunities as well as a safer environment. She also includes a multitude of interviews from the thousands she conducted in the making of this book.
What this book did for me was to illuminate the racism of Black Americans in a way I never understood before. Growing up in the liberal Bay Area in the 1960s and 1970s and remaining in liberal areas (predominantly white at the time) I never understood what all the fuss was about. The Civil War was over a hundred years back. Hadn’t people moved on? Jim Crow? What was that?- Maybe a paragraph in my high school history book? Fast forward to Donald Trump and the murder of George Floyd. Talk about a wake-up call.
After reading this book I realized that enslaved African Americans never were truly freed in the south. Jim Crow laws enacted after the civil war ensured that they still had few rights. They could not vote or often could not earn enough money to buy land. Black citizens were intimidated, harassed, and often lynched. Even a move north could be life-threatening. It was difficult for me to read about the horrors inflicted by whites on black citizens.
The irony is even though the ones that escaped the South had more opportunities they dealt with their share of racism in their new homes that left many in a state of poverty to this day. The hate and frustration still bubble- on both sides affecting policy current policy- especially in conservative states and the Republican party.
The Warmth of Other Suns is a must-read no matter what race or color you are. It’s forced me to look at the USA in an entirely different context. It’s very readable and well worth your time.
Sometimes when there is a tragedy in a far-off place, the only thing one can do is perform symbolic gestures. My family had ties to Ukraine until they fled violence 200 years ago. Today people continue flee. Since the invasion of Ukraine, I find solace in drawing, writing, and mending forgotten tears with a needle and thread.