Lessons from Mom. Thoughts from Me.

Today I am babbling about freedom, rights and responsibilities from a personal perspective.

I’m 62 years and 4 months old. That’s the age my mother died. It took her a long time to do it, but she finally left her world of pain.

Mom as a little kid. Photo from my sister.

She died of lung cancer (spread all around), caused by a lifetime of tobacco use. She smoked through her pregnancies. She smoked while bottle feeding us Karo syrup or whatever poor people used to feed babies back then. She smoked in the car on every trip our family took. She smoked while cleaning the house, leaving long caterpillars of ash behind on the floor she’d vacuumed. She tried to hide her smoking. She’d smoke out her bathroom window. That led to the intake of our family room air conditioner. She smoked while on so much morphine that she didn’t see the burn holes in her polyester pajamas. It was her last pleasure. It was more important to her than her family or her own life.

I resented her for subjecting me and my family (especially my brother and dad) to her addictions. I wanted her love. She loved alcohol, pills, and tobacco more. Calling Dr. Freud!

I truly resented people who continued to smoke around me, knowing what my family had been through. What a relief when I could actually go to a restaurant or bar and not get sick from the smoke. What joy I found when my friends who were addicted started to only smoke outside, away from their children and elders.

I don’t blame the addicts; no one sets out to become addicted. But I sure am happy to see people behaving more responsibly about it. Sure, their freedom to smoke when and where they want to got taken away. And hey, not everyone they smoked around would eventually get sick. Not every smoker gets lung cancer, after all.

Nonetheless. Laws were passed and establishments made rules. Lots of people were pissed off, but they managed.

Today we have people who appear to care more for their right to potentially spread an extreme contagion more than they care for their families, friends, and communities. I hope it doesn’t take watching a loved one die because their lungs no longer work, like my family had to, to convince them otherwise.

Thoughts from me

Freedoms:

We’re free to drive cars, but not to run stop signs, speed, or go without lights after dark. We’re free to burn trash out in the country, but not when conditions are ripe for fire. We’re free to own guns, but not to shoot others just because it’s fun. We’re free to build a home, but not on someone else’s property. We’re free to worship as we want, but not to force others to do as we do. We’re free to love, as long as it doesn’t harm others. We’re free to hate, even in absence of good reasons to do so.

With freedom comes responsibility.

Note: I didn’t write this to judge you or anyone else. I am not telling you what to do. This is just to explain why I have strong reactions to things going on these days. People get to make their own choices. People have rights. With rights come responsibilities, though. It’s worth thinking about what responsibilities we all have to others.

Thinking about Classism: My Roots

This got long, so it’s going to be a two-parter. Here, I explain why classism offends me so much.

I think I’ve dealt with as much classism in my life as racism. Both of those practices get me all riled up. It has occurred to me (this morning!) that classism in the US, especially in small towns, is incredibly insidious – because it’s harder to see. The signs of who is in what class are often subtle. However, it’s easy to feel.

Child me, with Mom in her characteristic cigarette wielding pose in the background. Sarasota, Florida.

As a wee lass, I lived on a quiet street in a working-class neighborhood in a north-Florida college town. My dad had come up from extreme poverty in north Georgia/Chattanoga and was in his first job that would let him afford to buy a little concrete-block house on two lots (which he turned into a botanical garden, but that’s another story). My mother was from a family with deep roots in the area that had always aspired to be “classy,” I guess. They came from merchants, musicians, journalists, etc. They had maids who raised their kids,just like in The Help. She HATED that her surveyor father had made her live in Dixie County, Florida as a child, around all that “trash.” No wonder her parents didn’t like her marrying my dad; it took her down a notch in class. (Mom had many great qualities; I’m just not focusing on those right now.)

Trash, the People Kind

I heard a lot about “white trash” as a kid in the Deep South, as much as I heard pejorative terms for black people. (I normally don’t use those terms.) Apparently, thanks to Mom’s side of the family, we were not “trash.” Our neighborhood consisted of people who were not all that well off, but of some other, slightly higher, class. Well, except the Purvis family, whose women all had babies at 15, whose men wore overalls and sleeveless t-shirts, and who never took their Christmas tree lights down so that the tree grew around it (it may be noted that I liked them, played with their daughter, and loved their kumquat tree). The classes didn’t have formal names, but apparently everyone knew what they were.

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