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Posts Tagged ‘Just the Facts’

Most of the things I’ve been accused of, I did do. Not terrible things. Normal, living day-to-day things. I once got into trouble for walking into the larger-than-life, under construction, sky barrel that would later become the water tank for the little subdivision I grew up in. I wanted to hear how it would sound to yell inside the green tank. Would it echo? Fall flat? I must have been only 9 or 10. I got in so much trouble when my parents found out. It scared them to know where I had been, what might have happened. I did it, I did.

I wish I could think of something ruthless or edgy that I’ve been accused of. Or even done. I can’t. I’m mundane, run of the mill ordinary. Yet I’ve done some extraordinary things. I thought about this topic while driving through yesterday’s snowstorm. The 35mph winds nearly blew the pickup off the road. At one point, I had to do three of those turn-into-the-curve corrections when I hit a patch of black ice on a freeway curve. Thank goodness no one was near me.

On a snowy backroad, I started to wonder what kind of people get accused of things they didn’t do. What about the American who recently was found guilty of murder in Italy for a crime she says she didn’t do. Is she guilty? Innocent? Who are we to believe.

What about Tiger Woods. Is he being accused of things he did or didn’t do? Are all those women lying? Or is it his wife. I have to admit, when I heard about the early morning jog off the road, the crash and burn, I immediately thought “domestic situation.” And wondered what he had done. I noticed he seemed angrier this year on the golf course, less focused, throwing his clubs around. No wonder. Who can keep all that pent up inside?

I don’t think I have the kind of thick skin it takes to be accused of things I didn’t do. Maybe it led me to play it safe. It makes me seem boring, even to my own self. Where’s the drama? Like I said, when I was accused of things, I often did them. Have I ever lied about what I’ve done? Yes, on occasion in order to get out of a messy situation. But not as a rule of thumb.

I’ve been accused of being quiet, moody, crabby, over-emotional, shy. I’ve been accused of being fearful. Are those things true? At times. When I was in second grade Mrs. Hamrick took a ruler, bent the palm of my hand backwards so the inside of my hand was taut and facing up, and slapped my palm with a ruler. She did the same thing to my friend Melanie. We were cracking up in class over the word “smelly.” It was the way Melanie said “smelly” that had me in stitches in the middle of class.

Should I have been accused of laughing too hard, too loud, too much? I don’t know. But I was. And the ruler stung. I rarely got in trouble, rarely got a spanking. Why was I so goody two-shoes? Always running down the middle line, playing it safe. I don’t know. I prefer to be accused of being the good guy than the bad. Yet I like the tough guy rebel reputation. That just doesn’t make sense. Nothing makes sense in the world of false accusations. Nothing makes sense in the world of truth. Everything is subjective, even the way facts are presented. I’ve been accused of being too detailed and long-winded. That’s a good reason to draw this practice to a close.

If I took the time to list all the things I’ve been accused of over the years that I did do, it would fill another writing practice. Most I’m not proud of. I’m flawed, human. I used to be a jealous person. I feel like I’ve dulled down in the area of personal relationships. And that’s where all the drama is. I don’t step in the mire as much as I used to when I was young and trying to figure out what made relationships tick. I crossed boundaries, stepped through quicksand, threw a few tantrums. “Throwing a tantrum.” Where do you throw one. Out the window, across the river, slithering through the psyche of a loved one?

Pitching a fit. That’s an old Southern phrase. I used to say it. I hear it still when I visit the South. “Don’t pitch a fit, Shug.” Or “She’s fixin’ to pitch a fit.” I love that phrasing. There is something more colorful about the Southern dialect. Descriptive and loose. Uncontained, visual. You can not accuse Southern dialect of being stilted or canned.

Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do? Lawdy-mercy, no.




-Related to topic post WRITING TOPIC – 3 QUESTIONS. [NOTE: This is the second of three questions mentioned by actor and writer Anna Deavere Smith in an interview with Bill Moyers (see link). She talked about the questions in the context of interviewing people and listening to them. The three questions came from a linguist Smith met at a cocktail party in 1979; the questions were, according to the linguist, guaranteed to break the patterns and change the way people are expressing themselves. QuoinMonkey, ybonesy, and frequent guest writer Bob Chrisman take on the three questions by doing a Writing Practice on each.]

-Also related to posts:  PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by ybonesy), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (by Bob Chrisman), PRACTICE — Have You Ever Come Close To Death? — 15min (QuoinMonkey), PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? (by Bob Chrisman), and PRACTICE: Have You Ever Been Accused Of Doing Something You Didn’t Do? (by ybonesy)

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On the early afternoon of November 22nd, 1963, I was sitting in 3rd grade at a wooden desk drawing hearts with a BIC pen. It was 2:13 on Friday. I couldn’t wait for the weekend. My 3rd grade teacher, Miss Wells, wore pleated skirts that flowed behind her and she was tall, with slender limbs, but she had a kind, round face.

I was 9 years old. I didn’t know what I was about to find out – at 1pm CST, 2 o’clock South Carolina time, President John F. Kennedy had been pronounced dead at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, Texas. He’d been shot, half hour earlier, while I was coming in from recess.

But let’s backtrack a little.

By 1 o’clock EST, I had finished lunch served on gray plastic trays by hair-netted, uniformed women: Tater Tots, Velveeta mac and cheese, a pint of whole Borden’s milk (sporting a daisy-ringed, smiling, Elsie the Cow), and all American apple crisp with brown sugar, oats, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, flour, water, salt, and lemon to taste.

At 1:30, the moment Kennedy was shot, I was being called in from recess. When the bell rang, I stopped romping on the wooden planked teeter-totters, playing hopscotch in the dirt, and jumping through the wiry, jute ropes and tall metal swings of the 60’s. I walked toward the brick school building and flirted with freckle-faced Billy while we were standing in wobbly 3rd grade lines waiting for Mrs. Payne.

Mrs. Payne was on playground duty, just about to pull up her lanyard to blow her trademark silver whistle so we could walk single file back to the classroom. I loved Billy because he could rabbit wiggle his nostrils like me, a recessive gene trait we shared. The very act of flaring our nose holes, simultaneously, on command, endeared him to me.

By 2:00, when Kennedy was pronounced dead, Mrs. Wells was preparing to teach the afternoon lesson, South Carolina history. South Carolina, the Palmetto State, dressed in dark blue silk, a white crescent moon and silhouetted palm, was one of the 13 Original Colonies. Can you name the others? A 5th grader probably could. And in 3rd grade, I knew the following about South Carolina:

State Capitol: ColumbiaSouth Carolina Flag
State Bird: the Carolina Wren
State Beverage: Sweet Iced Tea
State Snack: Boiled Peanuts (hmmmm)
State Fruit: the Peach
State Motto: “While I breathe, I hope”

 

Around 2:15, out of a worn brown speaker cover high on the wall, dotted with symmetrically punched holes, the principal’s voice floated, disembodied, out of the public address system (remember the tinny, boxy sound of the PA?) I can’t remember the principal’s name. Just that she was stern, with an apple shaped, peasant stock body like me, curly short hair, and hard-soled pumps that clacked along the waxed linoleum when she snapped us to attention.

But this afternoon, she wasn’t snapping. In a quiet voice, the quietest I’d ever heard, she slowly announced, “Can I have your attention. I’ve got some sad news. President John F. Kennedy was shot today at 12:30 CST. He died at 1pm from gunshot wounds. Let’s bow our heads in a moment of silence.”

We sat there in our seats, stunned, looking up at lanky Clara Wells for direction. Miss Wells stared up at the speaker, blankly, but only for a few seconds. Then she quickly recovered and led us through the moment of silence. I don’t remember what, if anything, she said. I only remember the sinking feeling and the sadness that swept over me like a shroud.

Later that night, on the black and white Zenith, my parents and I, along with 189 million other Americans, relived the day: Walter Cronkite’s low jowls, Jackie’s pink pill box hat and Chanel suit, the raised right hand of Lyndon Johnson’s “do you solemnly swear.” It played like a dream sequence. My young mind could not comprehend the full impact. But I knew something big had changed.

 

When I went back to the South in 1999, Belvedere Elementary stood in the same place, along the scrub pines and dirty salt and pepper playground, across from the Methodist church. The Baptist church that my best friend, Susan, attended every Sunday was still on the opposite corner of the street. The school wasn’t open that day. I peeked in the windows but couldn’t see much. I took some photographs.

The place seemed smaller than I remembered it. But the memories, huge. I did a lot of growing up in that place.

A few weeks ago when I was doing Internet research for a presentation, I ran across Bryan Woolley’s account, The Day Kennedy Died, from a 1983 article he wrote for the Dallas Times Herald. The story is based solely on the facts. In this case, the facts are enough. The facts are powerful.

That day in 1963, this country had the breath knocked out of it. Something died: our collective sense of well-being and hope. Back then, I was the next generation. And the seeds of fear took root in my 9 year old heart.

But while I breathe, I hope.


Wednesday, November 22nd, 2006

———————–

Here’s Bryan’s story. Just the facts, M’am. Just the facts.

———————–

Volume : SIRS 1991 History, Article 02                               
Subject: Keyword(s) : KENNEDY and ASSASSINATION
Title  : The Day John Kennedy Died                                            
Author : Bryan Woolley                                                        
Source : Dallas Times Herald (Dallas, Texas)                                  
Publication Date : Nov. 20, 1983      
Page Number(s) : Sec. Sec. 2-3 

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