Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Early Years: Grandma's House

The Early Years: Grandma’s House

The heat waves were visible to me as I ran in the garden of my grandmother’s home. The large field behind her home contained corn, beans, cherry trees, peach trees, tomatoes, okra, peas, squash, lettuce, cabbage, collards, and wonderful lush, green grass. The clean sheets popped in the wind on the clothes lines as I ran between the clean clothes smelling their clean scent. With my pitch fork, I planted and dug up plants and developed a love for vegetables that sticks with me to this day.

My grandmother with her white skin and long gray hair that went down below her waist, stood there hanging up clothes as I played and worked in the garden in my tender preschool years.
My grandmother’s home was magnificent. It towered above that back yard in white majesty. A long driveway came back to the multiple car garages.

Smokey, our dog frolicked along with me in that garden of my grandmother. His shiny black coat glistening in the sun. The crickets and grass hoppers buzzed in the hot Alabama sun as they issued their mating calls. During the evening, wonderful fire flies came out glowing in their yellow, blue, red and green hues.

The afternoon rains would come and leave a clean scent and rainbows. I put my face close to the leaves and licked the moisture from them. The rich red clay soil nurtured our large garden and yielded a bounty of large healthy crops. My love affair with tomatoes began here.
I learned that if I grabbed the white butterflies, a white powder would cover my hands, bees would sting and I better stay away from the wasps.

Beautiful blue jays and red cardinal birds would land among the green plants and spread their wings in magnificence. How I miss seeing them since I have lived in southern California.

The tall buildings of Birmingham rose above the field in the back yard in stark contrast to the farm like setting I enjoyed in the midst of this modern city. Beyond the tall buildings, Red Mountain loomed with its lush greenness and a statue of the mythical Greek god Vulcan. Vulcan was given to Birmingham by France for steel production contributions during World War II. Vulcan held a light in his hand. When that light was red, there had been a traffic fatality in the city that day. When the light was green, there had been no traffic deaths.

A white sign with WBRC would flash at night on top of the mountain that was adorned with antenna used by television stations. I was aware that the Bozo the Clown show, Popeye the Sailor and Captain Kangaroo shows came from these stations. I imaged that they lived their and wanted to visit them. The stations sponsored birthday parties for kids where we were televised. I got a chance to have my party there and it was terrifying.

A blue haze often hovered over the city many days. People were allowed to burn their trash in the backyard inside of large barrels or metal trash cans.
My sisters with their shiny black shoes and flowing dresses, made earthen pies with their kitchen toys and cute little tea sets. They had a play house and wore cat glasses with pointy tips as was fashionable in the 1960’s.

They would say “Make the monkey face” and I would happily oblige as they erupted in laughter. I was embarrassed recently as I tried to make the monkey face as a 60 year-old and a friend told me it looked like I was having an orgasm.

A long stair case led up to the back of the house. The entry revealed a large screened in porch that housed a large sewing area. The women in my home produced beautiful clothing including dresses and magnificent costumes that I wore for Halloween and other events. I spent many hours in this room playing with my favorite toys, army soldiers, while they were sewing.

I loved the days when it rained and a cool, clean breeze would come into this room.

Adjoined to this room was a large kitchen. Wonderful smells came out of this area. My mother grandmother and sisters prepared magnificent meals.

Food was plentiful and good. I watched my mother prepare meals in a focused way. I loved liking the icing and cookie dough from the spoons. She told me that she was going to teach me to cook and take care of myself. How thankful I am that she did this. The skills I acquired served me well throughout my adult life and my travels. I would later share her recipes with friends I met in Europe, Asia and other parts of the world and they were delighted. 

A table was in the large kitchen overlooking the greenery of the backyard and the skyline of Birmingham. There were always oranges and bananas, grape cool aide and gingerbread. The fried chicken and collard greens were frequent staples along with fresh tomatoes from the garden that I picked with my little hands.

The delightful corn bread with golden buttery softness melted in my mouth.
A large breakfast nook was in the next room. There I enjoyed large breakfasts with my sisters including Canadian bacon, oatmeal swimming in butter, sugar and evaporated milk with soft, fluffy eggs and orange juice.

My uncle’s room was near and he often got drunk and stumbled in. He was my mother’s brother. They looked so much alike. Later, I would learn that I was very much like him. He was the uncle that showed up with a dog, a swing set a bike, just for me.

On the other side of the breakfast nook was a full bath and an entrance to my grandmother’s bedroom. There my grandfather whom we called Pop lay on his back in the bed. He was bedridden. He called me Water Boy and when he called me, I would run happily with glasses of water.

Often, I would examine his medals and decorations from World War II. He had been an artillery commander in the war in Europe. He was injured when the black troops were put into action in Italy against Monte Cassino. His unit was left without replacements or ammunition for a long period. Left in the open elements, he suffered a back injury due to being in a fox hole with water up to his chest for long periods. Now, he was a disabled vet. I wiped his forehead with cold towels and helped him drink water. Holding his decorations and medals were always special moments for me. I ran my fingers along his buttons on his uniform and head gear. They were tarnished with age.

The other side of my grandmother’s bedroom led to a large family room. There, I spent many hours learning to read and count at a very early age. There were tables and sofas along with a TV set.  A large chandelier hung down from the ceiling very high up, several flights of steps. It was magnificent. I spent many hours staring at it, dreaming. There were four flights of steps and large landings with chairs and tables in this regal southern home leading to the upstairs area where three more bed rooms and a bath were. This included my mother’s room, my brothers’ room and my sisters room. I slept with my mother in a crib until my oldest brother left for college. A red patterned carpet adorned the steps and the landings.

There was a closet underneath the large steps going upstairs. I was often locked into this closet by my grandmother who often told me that I was never going to be anything but a black nigger just like my dad. Often, I would cry myself to sleep in the darkness of this closet. My sisters would come and get me and argue with her when she protested my release. I was placed in the closet for punishment and, just because I was me.

Later, I would tell her “You wait and see. I will be something.” I nearly destroyed myself trying to prove her wrong. I became an overachiever. It was not until I was 38 that I learned to stop living to prove her wrong. I learned to see the situation through her lenses and to forgive her. My relationship with my grandmother was complicated. She did love me. She made sure I had silk socks and nice blazer tops, ties and nice shoes. I was very young wearing Florsheim shoes.

My grandmother had a large porch that wrapped around the front of the house. It had gray paint and splinters that would stick into my foot if I dragged them along the surface in rough areas. The porch was adorned by tables chairs and swinging sofas.

Tall hedges separated her property from the neighbors and the street. Adirondack chair and table sets adorned the large front yard near beautiful rose bushes. My sister and I would lay on our backs and look up at the star filled sky and dream. I dreamed of being a sailor. Popeye was my favorite cartoon and I ate my spinach enthusiastically. On one of our rare trips, my father took me to Mobile, Alabama where I saw USS ALABAMA, a battleship. I saw the guns, the sailors, heard the whistles and I decided that I wanted to be in the United States Navy when I grew up.

We had to take chicken wrapped in aluminum foil on these trips to Mobile. My mother had to squat down next to the car to pee along the side of the road as we traveled. We could be killed if we went into the wrong places that did not allow black people. I was sheltered from this for a time until I became aware. By a very young age, I knew that we were negros and people wanted to kill us because of it. My sisters and I watched cartoons in the afternoons that gave way to the news that depicted negros being beaten and arrested by police in large numbers. The people being beaten and killed looked like me and my family.  I remember asking “Mommy, are we negros?” Her answer shattered my innocence and I began a lifelong struggle to survive this hypocritical dilemma. I had to look at myself as a negro, not just a person if I wanted to avoid trouble. This became a lifelong necessity if I was to survive. It was not until James Brown came out with the song “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m proud” that I began to call others black and not negros. We could not call people black before then. That was an insult.

Once, a lady who had a very dark complexion asked me “What color am I?”, my mother chuckled as she recounted the story. I had been told NEVER to call people black. My mother, a nurse, had told me that babies would eventually turn the same color as their ears. Many babies would have light complexions and dark ears. I was afraid to tell the woman that she was black so I told her that she was “Just like her ears”. My mother would laugh so hard when she told this story. How I wish I could hear her tell it again. I lost her in 2010.

©Copyright by Walter Davis 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

I thought I Was a Freedom Fighter and Learned That I Was a Storm Trooper: The Bombardment

The Bombardment
            I kissed my new bride and headed down the hallway to the elevator. Little did I know that I would be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people later in my shift at the command center in Naples. It would also be one of many times that I would make plans to travel with my family and not come home for days or months.
The eleven-story ride ended in the modern lobby of our seaside apartment building. The ocean hissed nearby as I exited the lobby and hopped into my convertible BMW on a brisk winter day. My Navy dress blues neat and pressed; bell bottoms popping in the wind. I was proud to be in the Navy and especially proud to be on an admiral’s staff.
I negotiated the large heavy gate at the entrance to the Military housing complex and descended the narrow road near the sandy beaches that gave way to white washed shops and pine trees in Pinetamare, Italy. The beach side resort was a great place for a new couple to start out. A broad, curving road winded past luxury condos and stores. It gave way to the Tangentiale, the freeway. There was no speed limit enforced. It was fun being able to drive at high speed on the freeway. My thoughts drifted to how wonderful it was to live in Italy and how lucky I was to get an assignment that allowed me to work four days and get four days off.
The pungent smell of the ancient volcano Solfatara greeted me as I exited the freeway after the 17-mile drive. Humpty Dumpty, a well-known prostitute sat on the wall she was so famous for.She offered her services near the freeway exit and the military bases. She was not attractive at all as her name fit her well. I approached the gate at the Navy Annex and saw many Marines with scared faces walking the parking lot going to and from the hospital and the headquarters buildings. They had been injured during an explosion at the Marine Barracks in Beirut. Little did I know but I was to become an integral part of this battle and I would not be going home or sleeping for many days.
I clipped on my security badge and saluted as I passed the quarterdeck and entered the elevator at headquarters. The long white hallway lead to the control center. I entered the code on the push button security lock and it buzzed open the door.  The ultra-modern computers (for that time) whirred and the control room was frigid. A large wall was covered with charts of the Mediterranean and it was adorned by magnets with ships names attached displaying the locations of NATO and Soviet vessels all over the area. Multi colored tape revealed the locations of surveillance operations being conducted by elements of Commander Fleet Air Mediterranean.
I began gathering my information necessary for my daily reports following my turnover briefing. The relieving watch was elated to get off and enjoy four days off in southern Italy. I loved gathering information on the system that later became The Internet. Emails were called Swixes and I had a whole stack of them coming in from units all over the world.
We had great camaraderie in terms of display of humor during briefings. A Russian ship called KRUZNETSOV was called “The Cut Your Nuts Off” during briefings. There was the “Scratch and Itch 3” rocket. Twenty years later I would be using this technology to shop, do business, seek romance, everything.
I was not expecting the Vice Admiral to come in. Suddenly he was there. His broad gold rings around his sleeves and chess full of ribbons put my three to shame. I began to stand up at attention, he motioned for us all to be at ease. This was the commander of the Sixth Fleet standing there, now directing me to type messages for him to be emailed out to the fleet. I was so happy that I had taken typing in high school and I could type at 76 words per minute. I typed his messages flawlessly. I knew lives were at stake and a typo could end up costing the lives of innocent people.
He asked me to establish secure communications with USS NEW JERSEY surface action group. I went to the red phone and it buzzed as I established the connection with the task force commander. I handed the phone to the Vice Admiral and he began to issue orders after a brief conversation. “Fifteen rounds, target A, 16 rounds target B” and so on. “Commence firing” he barked calmly. My computer terminal began to light up with reports including the phrase “U.S. ships have opened fire on Beirut”.
The battle went on for days. I did not go home. In 1980’s Italy, it cost $6000.00 to get a phone and the waiting list was longer than my tour in the country. It did not make sense to try to get a phone. Cell phones, texting and personal emails were not accessible then, so, my wife did not know why I did not come home.
The admiral loosened his tie and began to lounge in the control center as we followed the progress of the battle. He would disappear into the back room with the “Spooks” or Intelligence Specialists. There were times when he directed me to order the ships to “Commence firing”. My hand trembled as I issued the orders. I knew hundreds of people were dying as a result of my voice.
I gathered information and developed summary reports to be sent out to U.S. and NATO forces. I was tired but the Adrenalin flowing kept me up for the days that followed the initial attacks and follow on battles. A black fighter pilot was shot down and I coordinated his rescue by directing naval air forces to his location.  
I developed summary reports for intelligence briefings. We did not have flat screens at the time for graphic displays. We did have plastic overlays and charts. I was proud of myself as I placed overlays on the charts and briefed figures such as estimated civilian casualty rate, estimated foliage destruction. In subsequent years I would learn more about the people I had killed and the people I had killed for. I woke up from the fog of American International policy propaganda and realized that I was not a freedom fighter, I was a storm trooper. The story of the Syrian infants made this very clear. Little babies, arching their backs in agony after being chlorine gas bombed. I had been a part of a team that had killed hundreds with hundreds of high caliber explosive shells. Shells that traveled 26 miles and weighed as much as a Volkswagen.

©Copyright by Walter Davis 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Friday, July 13, 2018

I Thought I was a Freedom Fighter

I thought I was a freedom fighter and learned that I was a storm trooper.
Walter in Naples, Italy 1985

I took a hiatus from writing this book as a painful truth became clear to me.

While watching a news program recently, small infants were shown arching their backs in agony in the aftermath of being chlorine gassed. I thought to myself, "What kind of monster could do that to infants, then, I remembered, I was one of those monsters. I had coordinated air strikes, missile strikes and shore bombardment operations against Hezbollah in the mid 1980's.

I realized that I did not know how many people I had killed in my 25 year military career. How many grand moms, babies, dads, children, women, girls?

I thought I was a freedom fighter and learned that I was a storm trooper.

The realization was so painful that I remained in a fetal ball in my bed for days in shame and depression.

I have shed tears at least once daily since this happened over this issue.

Many people who do not know about nonviolent communication or mindfulness ...or the need to validate people when they are in pain ...say things like...."You were doing what you were told"...instead of..."I have been ashamed of myself before, tell me more".

The concept of latent memory needs to be discussed. Latent memory is known as the subconsciousness or UNKNOWN AREA in the Johari Window.

I was well aware that writing this book was going to result in me discovering things in the UNKNOWN and BLIND areas of my life and that it would take courage to put them in the PUBLIC or OPEN area.

You see, in order to have functional relationships, the OPEN or PUBLIC area about us must be larger than the other three boxes.

In the Public or Open area, there are things that we know about ourselves and things that others can see. The Blind area has things that we cannot see about ourselves that others can see. The Unknown area has things that we do not know about ourselves and that others do not know first time we fell and hurt ourselves as a baby...that memory is in our minds clear as a bell even though we may not be able to retrieve it.

The HIDDEN or SECRET Area is an area that contains our secrets......we know things that others do not know. A counselor's or psychologist's job is to make it a safe place to explore and express feelings.

I was leading a group where two men had been raped. I kept encouraging them to talk about their rapes in the groups. Finally one told his story in the morning group and the other in the afternoon group.

A man next to me was rubbing his hands on his pants, sweating. I asked him, if he was ok and he said he was "Fine". Finally, he broke down and began crying. He told us of how his uncle had raped him between the ages of 4 and 7. He did not remember that until the other men told their stories.

You see, the mind protects us by not letting us remember things.

It is sometimes important to  bring these things to the focal point as they may cause us to react in negative ways to similar situations as we go through life. This is how treatment works.

We become aware of things in our Unknown Area, hold on to the info in our Secret or Hidden Area. We have the courage to bring it out in Public or Open Area and people give us feedback and we discover more in the Blind Area and then Unknown Area.

The tenants of nonviolent communication guide us to speak in terms of emotions and to avoid rationalization, justification and minimization in this process.

(I was not THAT drunk, I was not THAT mad, I was not THAT LATE..or....Everybody does it...or...If you had a wife like mine you would drink too.)

It is important to speak on how we feel as opposed to what we think.

Emotional words are intrinsic to this process.

It is important to state what happened and how we felt about it.

I have learned to go through feelings, not around them.

©Copyright by Walter Davis 2018 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED