Boring Saga of an Old Guy Getting Older, Messages from Reality - Spring 2020

By Jack Riordan

July 1, 2020

I was wallowing in remorse that age was slowly taking away functions of vitality and relevance to the problems that were washing over the world I so loved.  COVID 19 crept into my many lives at the same time that my body sent urgent messages.  I was going to be limited by an invisible invader that could kill, mane, or make me very sick.  I would have fewer human contacts and be confined to my home and yard; I couldn’t take care of our home and acre along George Creek.  I loved living in this park, but age and health sent bold messages we must downsize closer to our daughter.

Post Script, at 83 I was no longer able to continue a job which gave me a sense of relevancy in the sandbox I had played in for 50 years in 3 jobs. 

PS 2, a much researched June trip to the Canadian Rockies and cruise to Alaska had to be cancelled.  My wife and I loved to travel, and I loved researching about the place we’d see. 

The week after getting out of the hospital from my seizure, Climate Change sent a wet missive, 4 inches of rain, flooded the basement that send a Post Script we could not sell our home until we solved the flooding. The repairs required the removal of prior owners’ efforts to hid the flaws which I had ignored for 24 years with my accumulated useless treasures for my potential projects, might need clothes, thousands partially read books, and hundreds of maps, symbols of hoped for, but unachieved knowledge. The accumulated stuff I thought I might need; I enjoyed fixing and making things with what I had on hand.  It all had to go.  It all went, thanks to my daughter, her husband and 4 grown grandkids into 2 dumpsters. The books are still in the garage waiting for the virus to allow 400 plus to go to the prisons and 300 plus on nature to go to the Audubon Center.  It wasn’t nostalgia that was thrown away, it was my future. 

Haphazardly stuffed in was luggage, camping and backpacking gear from countless trips and meanders, plus pictures and slides of family children sporting events which had to be examined before discard.  It all sent a secret message, I could not do what I wanted to do in the way I wanted to do them.

I was still wallowing in self-pity when my granddaughter called shocking me out of ME into the today’s reality, she had been pepper sprayed in the face while demonstrating the violent, senseless, racist death of George Floyd by 4 cops. After making sure she was OK; I cautioned her that when you decide to demonstrate you assume the responsibility of being harmed. I was proud of her and I told her about my demonstrations in Selma 55 years ago and sent her a copy of my front-page article in the Chicago Defender. 

I was back, it was March of 1965 I flew to Montgomery, Alabama from Chicago on my way to Selma, part of a group of multi-faith religious to protest the violent treatment of civil rights protesters by Jim Clark’s Posse and Al Lingo’s State Troopers. The drive from the airport to Selma at night in the rain was scary, but the Black people gave us an ‘open arms welcome’ and a cup of coffee in a china cup and saucer. 

My life was a mixed bag on racism beginning as preschooler playing in front of our apartment when a young Black kid walked across the street and a handful of us starting to taunt him with the “N” word: my grandma poked her head out a window and said, “Hush up, it aint nice, and they do not like it.”  I would learn much later that she grew up in Kentucky in a house with 2 full sister, 3 half-sisters, some step brothers and sisters and a former slave who grandma said was the source of the recipe for our Brown Betty apple desert.   

In Second World War, there were no Blacks in our Chicago neighborhood or our Catholic school, but in the early 50’s with the displacement from Urban Renewal, Blacks began to move in. My father said, “You just can’t live with those people.” So as soon as Mom could save enough, we bought a little house in the Austin part of Chicago. 

During football practice of my sophomore year, I learned that Coca Cola was hiring boys to work on the delivery trucks; three of my buddies applied and joined the regular helpers who were all black while the driver salesmen were mostly white. I got an eye-opening look at life in poor, black neighborhoods.  As soon as he could. my brother got a job and we were on the Coke softball team and got to know some of the black helpers. One was a new father of a baby boy and had an apartment on the top floor in new Public Housing.  He took my brother and I to show off his baby, wife, and the view from their kitchen; it was spotless, smelled of fresh paint and you could see the tops of the trees along Lake Michigan.

I benefited from racism at Coke; I got a chauffeur’s license when I was really 18 so I could drive the trucks and earn the commissions to help pay for my college expenses.  One of the first routes had a permanent helper who was in his mid to late twenties. I wondered why he did not get to run the route.  He seemed like a good guy and wanted to make delivers to some of the stores by himself, I said OK as long as he did not cheat the poor customers or me.  It was a few years before I realized that it was racism that let me get the commissions and not him.  For three summers my justification was, “I needed the money,” which has justified white suppression of blacks. Whites think they are superior to all other races. 

The year after Selma, I was smack dab in Vietnam, in a war I did not understand, living and working with Asians who were definitely not inferior to whites.  After 19 months in Nam, I went to work at HUD and met many blacks who were definitely as smart as or smarter than me. “The White Man’s Burden,” Rudyard Kipling’s Poetic gift to the USA to help us manage our new colonies taken from Spain is still the underlying political belief. 

Unfortunately, this racism that I demonstrated against in Selma is today being revealed in policing actions supported by whites across my beloved country.  Maybe today the young Black and White demonstrators will finally bury it with their voices and votes.

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