Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Other Than That, Mrs. Lincoln...

I met George Wallace once. At our county fair.

My grandmother took me--I must've been eight or nine--to the Lauderdale County fair. There was hay on the ground, rides, booths, and soda.

And bees.

In fact, a bee climbed out of the can of soda I was drinking, just after I took a sip, a fat, hairy yellow-and-black bee that shook itself off after it emerged from the can, then flew away.
Bees in honey drown. Bees in Coke flourish.
The thing about Alabama, back then, was that more time was spent in school on Alabama history than American history, or civics, or world history.

Might be the same now, really.

Back then, students were taught about the boll weevil but not about freedom riders. Students knew that Montgomery once served as the capital of the Confederacy, but they didn't know that Rosa Parks had ridden a bus along the same streets Jefferson Davis once walked.
The invention of the cotton gin was, according to our teachers, more important than the invention of the printing press.
So. George Wallace, still governor, making a grand tour of our modest county fair. He was in a wheelchair and was pushed across the muddy hay by a man in a suit.
The bee had just fled from my soda can, from which I had just drank. I had just pulled the can from my lips, and watched this horrifying insect emerge. Stand on the edge of the can. Shake itself dry. Fly away. I was holding the can in my hand and the soda in my mouth, afraid to swallow.

My grandmother gasped. Touched me on the shoulder. 'Now I can spit this out and cry,' I thought, assuming she'd noticed this rather disgusting turn of events.

"Wallace is here," she said in a quiet voice.

I spit the Coke out, and dropped the can.
Important thing to know about my family: They're not very political. Or hateful, for that matter. I've never asked, of course, what they were thinking when Bull Connor was hosing down African-American protestors. I've never asked if they were for or against the forced desegregation of local schools.

I did ask if boll weevils were still an issue (they weren't).
Years after I met George Wallace, Barack Obama was elected president. I sent out a mass email to my family recounting the event--I'd gone down to Harlem to see the celebration, and wanted to share my experience. One relative wrote me back: For God's sake, Marc, I voted for him too. Shut up.
The Civil War was our civics lesson in school. We learned that johnnycakes were important, and that slaves were treated as respectfully as could be expected. We learned that Sherman burned his way through our land, and that 'Gone with the Wind' was high literature on film.

We learned that States' rights were important, and that the federal government could intervene to make us do what the rest of the country wanted us to do.

Point is: when I met George Wallace, I didn't know much about him. When I met him, I didn't know about the history standing behind him. I didn't know a lot. I just knew a bee had crawled out of my soda can.
Went to see 'Lincoln' tonight, and thought it was okay.  The reviews of it are stellar, but I don't think the film is worthy of the reviews. The film is like a history lesson for Alabama students still being taught more about the boll weevil and johnnycakes rather than about Rosa Parks.
My grandmother pressed me forward. George Wallace extended his hand. Bees flitted around him but he didn't brush them aside as they landed on his hand, his face, his extended arm.

"Happy to meet you," he said.

"I like your chair," I replied, not knowing why he was in the chair.

"I like your shoes," he responded.

Check and mate.
I think about racism a lot. I think about where I am from, and how intolerant Alabama seems to the rest of the country. And Alabama can be an intolerant place. Little has changed, socially, since the days of Lincoln.

I am certain there should be a 'but' here, but there isn't.

It's hard to explain the South, so I won't bother. In that way, I am a total Southerner, because there's no way to explain how it's acceptable for bees and George Wallace to infiltrate a county fair, and boll weevils to take precedent over  the Civil Rights movement. What I thought, though, when I met George Wallace was this: A bee! A bee was in my drink! Did no one see that? A bee!
And what I thought while watching 'Lincoln': Dude, don't try to water this shit down. No one down south is gonna like it anyway, because you didn't mention the cotton gin.

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