Saturday, April 10, 2010

Drummed In Your Ear

During the Great Depression of the 1930‘s, my Daddy worked for 50 cents a day. He supplemented his income in the pool hall, as a snooker shooter and numbers runner. By the time I was born in Atlanta, we lived in the Capitol Homes on Butler Street, directly across the from the Georgia Legislature and Governor’s office. I thought the Capitol lawn was a park for us neighborhood kids, because we played there and romped on the old cannons. The statue of Eugene Talmadge pointed a threatening finger across the street at the FDR New Deal Housing Project where I lived. My Daddy referred to FDR as “Rosenfeld,“ despite the housing project and the WWII GI Bill, through which Daddy went to trade school and became an air conditioning repairman and a first-time homeowner. My part of Butler Street was replaced by an Interstate Highway and parking decks for state employees. The Capitol still stands, as does the ominous memorial to Gene Talmadge.

In his final years, my Daddy owned a 1,700 square foot brick ranch house in Cornelia, Ga., as far as he could get from the increasing urbanization of Atlanta. That is not exactly how Daddy explained it; he used the N-word. He set aside 144 square feet of the cement floor basement for his workshop. He built a workbench and pegboard walls to hang tools, always cleaned and oiled when he finished using them. Before he died, he insisted that I take home with me the collection of wrenches, pliers, drills, hammers, saws, screw drivers, and air conditioning specialty tools, names and purposes unknown to me. I protested embarrassed, saying he would use them yet again. Eventually, I inherited them all, along with an amount of pride and pleasure in using them.

Some of my cousins, aunts, and uncles on my Daddy’s side tell me President Obama is a Communist. Or a Socialist, depending on whatever floats to the surface at the shallow end of the gene pool between Hatteras and Hattiesburg. They avoid using the word in their hearts and are unaware that all the Communist and Socialist countries have capitulated to capitalism, unable to resist the powerful lure of profit motive. I try not to get into arguments. They do not understand the way you can tell when President Obama is formulating a new policy initiative, because he gives away the store to his opponents, like when he approved off-shore oil drilling as an opening gambit for a new energy and environmental program. And just like he took the Public Option off the table at the beginning of the Health Care debate. Of course, this does not get Obama any support from the not-so Grand Obstructionist Party. When President Obama talks about bipartisanship, he is only talking about himself. The bipartisanship only exists within Obama, both Democrat and Republican, Liberal and Conservative. Classic middle of the road. Somebody at Harvard should have told him if you are standing in the middle of the road you get run over by traffic from both directions? Still, this does not calm the virulent opposition Obama gets, not so much based on anything he has done but just how some people feel, prejudice pure and simple, passed from generation to generation sociologically and geographically, if not genetically.

Oscar Hammerstein II wrote this South Pacific pearl:

You've got to be taught to hate and fear,
You've got to be taught from year to year,
It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!


Tina said...

All the fuss about health care from the right wing had little to do with health--it was just an excuse to revile the President. Health care is just not the sort of thing that one can get all emotionally bent out of shape about. They're just mad because he has brown skin and he's an intellectual to boot.

Paw Paw Bill said...

Absolutely. And thus far, President Obama has given very little indication of being more leftist than Gerald Ford.

wayne said...

This certainly brings back memories of Atlanta way back when! Also, I used to spend most of the summers in Cornelia with my next-door neighbors from the time I was eight till I was about twelve. Further I've always been attuned to "You have to be carefully taught." I can still remember how touched I was the first time I heard it in a Theater under the Stars production of SOUTH PACIFIC in Chastain Park in the 50s.

Finally, I keep hoping that Obama will do something so wonderful that even his 'opposition' will get it. Guess I'll just keep dreaming.

carl said...


Your mention of Gene’s statue made me remember a not so worthwhile piece of family history.

Sometime in the late 50s, after graduating Tech, my late brother David and two of his friends, Richard and Cathy, had one too many rum and cokes one night. Somewhere into the Bacardi, they determined that the good governor would look much better with a Duncan on his index. Gathering the necessary refills, er, supplies they made it down Peachtree and toward the gold dome without incident.

It was raining, North Georgia raining, lighting, thunder and whip winds. They planned their assault carefully arming themselves with a stepladder, raincoats, highball glasses and the sacrificial yo-yo.

They parked nearby and sneaked onto the capitol’s lawn. All went was well and Cathy, chosen for her dexterity and being the more sober, made her reach for the finger. She never made it.

“What the hell are you three doing?” came bellowing from one wet and unhappy of Atlanta’s finest who quickly rounded up the three fingerteers putting them into the back of his patrol car.

First establishing that it was not some oddball civil rights demonstration, but just three more drunk, if creative, damn fools, he moved on to ids.

‘I’m David Bergman. I’m an Industrial Engineer with International Consolidated Incorporated. ”

“I’m Richard Morgan, I own two restaurants and a record shop.”

“And you mam?”

“Do I have to say?”

“Fraid so.”

“I’m Dr. Catherine Morgan. I’m an Oncologist at the VA.”

“Oh, God, why me? Just get the hell out of my patrol car and go home and get sober. I don’t have time for this.”

So they did and confined their future escapades to more established excursions like climbing Stone Mountain and watching the sun come up. David, however, was shall we say unreconstructed. Every time we would pass the Capitol, he’d remind me that Gene just never looked complete.


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