Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Reluctant Blogger Returns...

The Reluctant Blogger Returns

email from the Ozarks

(Vol. 2, No. 1)

Bradley David Williams

“Hi from Eureka Springs, Arkansas -- the funkiest little town in America and perhaps the entire world.”
August 21, 2008

I’m leaving in the morning for Denver and wanted to post the following essay about the convention, which I just read tonight at Poetluck, our monthly community potluck and literary salon at The Writers’ Colony At Dairy Hollow. It was the writers’ colony that brought me to this amazing place from Houston a year ago -- I spent six weeks in residence at the colony and am now in a wonderful living situation here in Eureka Springs, continuing work on a book of personal essays (it’s coming along slowly, but I’m hoping for a 2009 release date). I remain incredibly ambivalent about the whole blog thing, but felt inspired to share. And I promise to blog again with an update after convention. Enjoy…

President Obama and Me…

I stuck by Hillary through thick and thin, stomaching all the awkward moments and ugliness, most of it apparently caused by a few infantile fools in her inner circle. I wanted desperately for her to bow out on May 7th, the day after she lost in North Carolina and barely won in Indiana. That’s when the math became impossible, and I kept thinking how much better all those millions of dollars could be spent instead of continuing a campaign that had already been defeated.

But no, we had to have this “dance” -- where Hillary could take a second place victory lap and get the respect and recognition she clearly deserved and bow out on her own terms. There was apparently fear amongst the dinosaurs of the Democratic Party that if Hillary suddenly got out the minute the math became impossible, her most maniacal waitress-voter fans and aging “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar” feminist sisters might take to the streets, or at least refuse to get behind Obama in the fall.

I don’t agree with the pundits who say Hillary blew the race. Yes, her campaign was often a mess, but NOBODY could have predicted the Barack Obama phenomenon, something unprecedented in American politics. As for the general election, obviously a lot is going to happen in the next two months -- a month is an eternity in politics -- but if the Democrats manage once again to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, all hell is going to break loose and the Obama Nation may well demand sovereignty (I propose annexing all of New England).

I have decided to go to Denver for next week’s Democratic National Convention. I have an old friend in Denver I’ve been needing to visit (free place to stay!), and I need to make a brief, long-overdue return to Aspen, where I spent three crazy months in the aftermath of John Denver’s 1997 death in an ill-fated quest to write the definitive biography of the iconic troubadour (but I have very rich material for the John Denver essay that will appear in the book I am writing).

But I have a very personal reason for wanting to be in Denver to witness this historic event. I have had so many important women in my life, and right up there with Ann Richards and all the other divas I have somehow become personally acquainted with, is Hattie Nichols. Hattie, who died at age 96 in 2002, was not a diva, however. She was a humble, dignified, black woman in Bonham, Texas who helped raise me. She cleaned house for my family and for my maternal grandmother, Granny, who was born in 1904, the same year as Hattie, and who would say things like, “Yes, we love Hattie, but she’s always known her place.” Hattie always sat in the back seat of the car when Granny drove her home.

Hattie’s mother had worked for Granny’s parents, and her daughter worked for my mother for many years, and we think it’s likely that the history of Hattie’s family working for my family goes back to slavery. (Granny, an avid genealogist, would often say, “We were always good to our slaves. When they were freed, they didn’t want to leave.”)

I grew up hearing my mother tell the story of when she was a little girl and the family would take off in the roadster for a summer vacation in scenic Colorado. They would take Hattie along and drop her off in Denver, where she had family. On the long journey to and from Colorado, when they would stop at a roadside restaurant to eat, Hattie had to stay in the car and they would bring her food out to her. Some motels would allow “negro servants,” but only if they were dressed in uniform.

Hattie had a quiet elegance about her and was as sweet as anyone I have ever known. Far from the stereotypical southern mammy, she was tall and thin as a rail in the simple white work dress she wore, but she enjoyed making our family FAT with her amazing feats in the kitchen. Every Tuesday of my childhood summers, I got to have lunch at Granny’s and savor Hattie’s cooking. In these, my pre-vegetarian days, I lived for Hattie‘s specialties, which I would later come to know as “soul food” -- decadent staples like fried chicken, smothered steak, salmon croquettes, macaroni and cheese, creamed potatoes with gravy, apricot fried pies and her famous biscuits, which were small and delicate and sublime.

I was determined not to be a racist from a very early age. I have never understood racism -- especially the racism I have seen in the gay community -- because I identified so much with Hattie and all the black kids I went to school with. While I wouldn’t fully figure out my sexuality until years later, somewhere deep down I knew that I too was different and at odds with the bigots of the world. I admired Hattie Nichols as much as anyone I knew and the fact that she had been treated her whole life as a second class citizen, or worse, just did not compute.

When I was a Junior in High School, I chose Martin Luther King as the subject of my term paper. I worked very hard on it, got an A, and was very proud of it. I remember leaving it out on the dining room table for Hattie to see when she came for her regular Friday shift at our house. Years later, I would visit Hattie at her modest home and we would sit on her porch swing, talking about the changes she had seen in her life.

In the fall of 1990, when I was working on Ann Richards’ historic gubernatorial campaign, Ann traveled to Bonham for an event at the Sam Rayburn Library (Rayburn, the legendary Speaker of the House, was and is Bonham‘s claim to fame). I raced home from Austin to be there and was thrilled to see Hattie at the ceremony. My college friend Denise, who had accompanied me, took a fantastic photo of me introducing Ann to Hattie. I had it blown up, and Ann signed it, “To Hattie Nichols -- I loved meeting you in Bonham. Thank you for doing such a good job helping raise Brad.” It still hangs in Hattie’s house, where her daughter Bettie now lives.

So I will be thinking about Hattie in Denver when a black man accepts the Democratic nomination for President of the United States, something Hattie probably never even dared to dream possible.