Saturday, November 1, 2008

Why I am Voting for Barack Obama

Let me begin by saying that I am not Joe the plumber.
I am Brenda the Vietnam War Widow.
I am Brenda the daughter and granddaughter of veterans.
I am Brenda the single parent, now grandparent.
I am Brenda who raised two children on my own.
I am Brenda the first vice president of marketing in several corporations, at a time when women didn't get those jobs and who worked my way up the ladder from secretary to Vice President through my labors, my wits, my courage & tenacity.
I am Brenda the small business owner.
I am Brenda a self-employed mediator.
I am Brenda a grandmother of a special needs child.
I am Brenda owner of a home that Chase Bank has devalued by the wave of a pen by 40%
I am Brenda caught in the credit crunch and banking greed.
I am Brenda struggling to retain ownership of my home.
I am Brenda a single woman facing my senior years with limited resources.
I am Brenda, a distant white cousin of Barack Obama.
I am Brenda a descentant of many patriots of the American Revolution.
I am Brenda a Virginian - a Tennessean - a Californian.
I am Brenda a patriotic American, a true American.
I am Brenda who loves America!
Barack Obama inspires me, gives me hope, uplifts me. His demeanor is calm and thoughtful. He has run an excellent campaign that demonstrates his executive abilities to lead. He is our one hope of healing the rift between blacks and whites in this nation. Obama cares about women and women's issues. He cares about our health and well-being. He supports a woman's right of choice. He supports equal pay for women. He supports health care for every woman, man and child in this land. Obama will stop sending our jobs to Europe. He will stop the corporate greed and corruption in Washington. He will listen to we the people.
I say yes to Barack Obama. I say yes to a better future for America.
I say no to corporate greed, unprepared leaders, maverick behavior, and shooting from the hip. I say no to poorly prepared leaders who overstep the United States Constitution and who don't care about the health and welfare of women -- who care only about big business, big oil, and filling the coffers of Alaskans who live on the oil and gas dole. I say no to a McCain who talks a good game about the veterans and their benefits -- and has responded poorly.
I say No, NO, NO to John McCain and Sarah Palin and her husband,
Todd Palin -- shadow governor of Alaska.
John McCain has demonstrated erratic demoralizing behavior throughout this campaign. My observation is that he is suffering from post traumatic syndrome which will not serve America well in the White House. He has run the dirtiest campaign in my lifetime. His first executive decision in picking Sarah Palin as his running mate demonstrated a gross lack in judgment. Let's send the Palins north to Alaska, north where they belong. Let's send John McCain back to one of his seven or is it eight homes and his rich wife.
Let's elect Barack Obama. Let's restore hope and optimism to our nation.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Remembering George Tyrogalas

Remembering George Spyros Tyrogalas
10 August 1939 – 28 September 2008

George Tyrogalas, longtime resident of Oakland, California, high school teacher, and friend to many, made his transition from this life to the next after a lengthy stay at a hospital in Athens, Greece while vacationing and checking on his recently completed residential property. Being eager to settle into his home away from home he over-exerted himself and suffered a heart attack while visiting an island with friends. He was hospitalized for several weeks in Athens during which his condition deteriorated due to complications of diabetes and other heart issues. He was surrounded by good friends to include Yiannis and Lily Samaras, who lovingly looked after him and were with him when he made his transition. Friends in the Bay Area prayed for a miracle to bring George safely home but sadly it was not to be. On October 2, 2008, George was laid to rest in the Byronas Cemetery in Athens, Greece.
George was born in Kallithea, Greece and grew up an only child during the German occupation of Greece. In 1960 he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area to study architecture at the University of California Berkeley. He eventually transferred to California State University at Hayward, receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree. After graduating from college George enjoyed a thirty-five plus year career as a Bay area high school teacher. He was immensely popular with his students who lovingly called him “Mr. T.” He taught architectural design, drafting, calligraphy, woodshop, metal shop, and numerous other industrial design classes. He taught for many years at Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco, then at De LaSalle High School in Concord and for many years in the Berkeley Unified School District and in recent years at Skyline High in Oakland. In June 2008 he retired from teaching and was looking forward to enjoying his friends, loved ones, and precious animals, as well as traveling back and forth to Greece. George greatly loved his teaching career and his students who after having graduated would find him at a favorite cafe in Oakland or Berkeley and exchange fond stories and remembrances. George looked forward to his retirement and future pilgrimages to his beloved Greece where he planned to entertain his many friends.

George was blessed for thirty-one years with the loving companionship of Ann Kingsbury, whom he met through his good friend, Yiannis Samaras, who first met the lovely Ann at Lord Jim’s on Polk Street in San Francisco on Halloween 1977. George was a customer at the Bank of America in Berkeley where Ann worked as a teller. Ann and George shared a great love for friends, family, and their precious animals.

Ann says in her own words, “We struck up a friendship, and the rest is a crazy, mercurial, wild ride. Even though we were only "together" for the first ten years, he remained a friend and a part of my family for the entire time. He has come to most Christmases for the past thirty-one years, and many other holidays, birthdays, Blues Festivals, etc. We were like oil and vinegar much of the time. He drove me crazy, but of course I loved him. I never really knew how he felt about me. He was hard to get to say his inner most feelings most of the time. He would tell others things that he never told me, but I know he felt like family, and for that I am grateful, that he felt like he belonged here.”

George is remembered as a wonderful man whose heart was filled with love and kindness for friends and strangers alike. George had many friends and together they enjoyed café society in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. He was unfailingly polite and complimentary to all he met. He generously offered to give everyone a tour of the Greek Islands if they ever came there during the summers, as he returned to his homeland every year. He always enjoyed admiring beautiful women and never met a pedicure that he didn’t appreciate. He had an amazing wit and excelled as a philosopher and story teller, holding court almost nightly with his friends in recent years at Café Strada. He particularly appreciated the blues and enjoyed videoing people and bands at the San Francisco Blues Festival, organized by his good friend, Tom Mazzolini.

George leaves behind his loving companion of thirty-one years, Ann Kingsbury and. many good friends and countless students who adored him. His cats, Zoe and Calypso, and his precious little dog named First all miss him dearly.

Personally I had the pleasure of getting to know George over many years at Peaberry’s Coffee at Market Hall on College Avenue in Oakland. We casually met up on an almost daily basis at the end of the day or on Saturday afternoons. He always made over the many dogs and little children who were passers-by. He was especially kind to my precious little granddaughter, Savannah. I feel blessed that George invited me into his fascinating circle of friends that included Thanasis Maskaleris, George Gekis, Yiannis and Lily Samaras, Tom Mazzolini, Wakeford Gong and so many other wonderful people.

We are all blessed to have had George in our lives. We are all so very grateful for his love, wisdom, understanding, kindness, and friendship through the years.

Donations in George's name may be made to the Milo Foundation.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Chapter 4: Musings on Love, Life, Mad Dogs & Englishmen

Caveat emptor: this is a work of historical fiction in process. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and titillate the guilty.

Rockridge, February 2005:

History bears out that love has been fleeting in my life. Men come. Men go. They die. They bury themselves in high-powered jobs and careers. They’re crippled by unresolved issues like pesky wives, mothers, mistresses, girlfriends, and all those overwhelming insecurities. Some have been rich. Some were famous. All were handsome, charming, brilliant, focused achievers. Some were just bad choices. Some, like my errant Daddy, twirled me around the yard and made me feel loved, at least for a while. Then again I suppose each of the important men in my life has twirled me around the yard a time or two . . . then went away.

The truth is that Trevor Fincham and I been observing one another from afar for one full year and had been circling one another’s wagons for fifteen years before the gods conspired to have us meet at Cole Coffee. I’d been waiting all my life for a man like him to come into my life.

My earliest live sighting of Trevor Fincham remains etched clearly in my mind. The winter rains had lifted and the sun sparkled on the sidewalks and storefront windows along College Avenue. The sidewalks were clamoring with joggers, new parents carrying their newborns in a baby Bjorn, dogs walking their owners, and friends chatting in the cafes. Bart trains would occasional whistle by, making a quick stop at the Rockridge Station for passengers to disembark or board for a day’s shopping in San Francisco.

Dressed in my Saturday casuals – tight jeans and a black turtle neck with my blonde hair neatly coifed, I too radiated sunshine that day as I stood in line a the very popular Peaberry’s Coffee at Market Hall. In my line of vision to the street stood a tall, fit, bald scantily clad man perspiration gleaming from his nearly bare shoulders. He caught my attention as I stared out at the chaotic social whirl of the café. I gasped as I felt a tinge of excitement in just viewing this magnificent male specimen. Perhaps it was the oversized trendy tank top that he wore over his very brief white running shorts, or his long tanned runner’s legs, or that he reeked masculinity, or that he projected an innate aliveness. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him.

A thin, pale-faced young woman with poofy mousy brown bobbed hair askew stood mutely next to him. Picking at her face, she shifted back on forth in her running shoes and baggy shorts while he animatedly chatted with friends and passers-by and ignored her. She stared into the nothingness of life – bored, unhappy, disinterested, eager to move on.

Adonis’s eyes met mine. He looked me up and down, smiled broadly, and focused his eyes on mine. A momentary connection was made. It was as if I had known him my entire life. Who was this man? Where he had come from? Where was he going? And why was this young woman, surely his daughter, so forlorn? And would I ever see him again. But of course, I would, and did.

I had no delusions about the mysterious Trevor Fincham. He was married and for me that was that. However his mind fascinated me. We quickly became good “café friends.” Over many months he sought me out at Cole Coffee, a favorite with locals who eschew the likes of Starbucks. We shared a cup of tea, good conversation, a few intimacies, stories of our families, laughter, an occasional friendly hug as friends will do and a kiss on the cheek. Trevor was fun. I liked him immensely. As the months progressed, his drop-ins during the early morning hours increased. Friends began to tease me about my “handsome Englishman.” “He’s after you, you know.” “He’s got a thing for you.” “He’s here to see you.” “He’s in love.” “Go for it, Morgan.” One friend suggested that Trevor was most probably gay because of the dandy way in which he dressed. Perhaps she was just trying to discourage me, but then again it is Oakland, nearly Berkeley. I do confess that I looked forward to those mornings when Trevor was waiting at the café or arrived unexpectedly. He brightened my day.

But . . . a very big but . . . I was in denial and wondering about his lack of respect for his “young wife” who must surely love, respect and appreciate him for all his brilliance, charms and amazing good looks.

Trevor confided that he and his “young wife”, as he always referred to her especially in the company of other men, were buying a seaside cottage up the California coast. He was excited, eager to get to work making improvements. She had her trepidations, mostly about money. He sought out the sage advise of Martin Goldberg, taking him to lunch at Eccolo, a trendy Berkeley restaurant, with, in my humble opinion, high prices, bad food, and even worse service, be it ever so popular.

Marty let it be known every so subtly that he enjoyed the privileges attached to being the wealthiest man at the café. I found him to be just another aging rich Jewish entrepreneur with bad teeth, thinning hair, black clothing, and a plethora of hot black cars, one for every day of the week. Marty owned a trendy highly successful shopping and office complex. yet he regularly harped about the quality of his tenants and their merchandise, as if he were actually struggling through this life. Occasionally he provided a food review of the latest trendy Berkeley restaurant though generally he treated most of the plebeians at Cole Coffee with polite disdain and extreme caution. He eschewed commitment and lived in fear that some woman would desire him and his millions. Quite frankly I’ve slept with rattlesnakes who were more appealing that Marty Goldberg.

Trevor closed on the his dream property on his fifty-eighth birthday and announced that he was going to throw himself into renovating and reengineering the deck of his cozy seaside cottage, his diversion during a much needed sabbatical. He veritably bounced with enthusiasm. I was happy for him.

In a moment of reflection Trevor politely offered, “How would you feel about my introducting you to Marty?”

I recoiled in disgust, my smile turning into a frown. “No thanks, he’s not my type.”

Trevor looked embarrassed then added, “You’re right. What was I thinking? He’s a money-grubbing miser who lives in fear that some woman will run off with his millions.”

Trevor walked me to my car and gave me a friendly English hug, climbed into his blackCorvette convertible, waved goodbye and vanished for a time as friends will sometimes do.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Chapter 3, Musings on Love, Life , Mad Dogs & Englishmen

Copyright 2008. All Rights Reserved. A work of fiction in process.
Caveat emptor: The names in this tale have been changed to protect the innocent and titillate the guilty.

Summer 2005

“I met him on a Monday and my heart stood still . . . a doo run run, a doo run run . ”

Love is a mysterious emotion, appearing when one least expects it in ways that make no sense and ending without seeming explanation. You can find it lurking everywhere – even on a street corner on a cool foggy summer morning in Oakland, California. When love is looking for you, it claims you without reason.

At sixty and substracting I had given up the idea of looking for a desirable eligible man with whom I could share some meaningful companionship or even a good laugh. I had tried all the usual venues for a woman of my age and station in life.

In the eighties my girlfriends and I barhopped the finest establishments in San Francisco. I could spot a desirable man at one hundred paces, and often did, being wined and dined by the successful and the famous from time to time. I once placed an ad in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, stating that I was looking for my Rhett Butler. My respondent sounded great on the telephone and we agreed to meet in the bar at Jeremiah Tower's very elegant and popular Stars Restaurant in San Francisco where he would be the man with the pink roses. Entering through the side entrance, I took note of a little straggly haired nebbish whose feet barely touched the floor – of course, he had the roses -- and fled as quickly as I had entered, never to repeat that mistake ever again and felt disgusted with myself in the process.

I've attended an endless circuit of fancy charity events where handsome, well-coifed, well-heeled professional men chatted me up while looking over my shoulder for someone younger or richer or prettier or slimmer or sexier. I became a privileged member of Para Livermore's elite singles 'Red and White Ball circuit where the richest finest single men and most eligtible beautiful women in San Francisco can be found. I looked good, smelled good, and knew how to behave . . . alas it was futile. Why, darlin', I could be living in the south of France with a young Adonis at my side for all the money I wasted on those bad boys and all those parties.

I tried internet dating, eventually meeting four delightful men, none of whom lived within spitting distance of my home. One of the four is best described as drop dead handsome. I had both the best and the worst sex in my entire life with him. I veritably swooned when we met one another in the Dulles International Airport in Washington, D. C. Intelligent and handsome in an English general's kind of way, he possessed a brilliant gift with words that he had parlayed his talents into a successful career as a White House correspondent, newsman, and public relations consultant. Why he even wrote speeches for Ronald Reagan. Like most of my romantic affairs, this one proved to be adventurous, fleeting, provocative, and fun for a time. I treasured, and still do, hearing the sound of his voice over the telephone. We managed to salvage a friendship and an occasional conjugal visit with one another from time to time. This unusual Republican was at the end of a list of thirty years of short-lived, less than fulfilling romances in my life. I should have stuck with the Democrats.

On my own in the world of love and war, let's face it, I was a dismal failure --- though still optimistic. Hence I decided to turn my dating life over to a higher power. If God wanted me to have a man, he would just have to present him to me up front and center. Meanwhile I would just go on about my life, drinking tea and coffee in the neighborhood cafes, having dinners with friends, finding ways to fill my time when I wasn’t being the good grandmother, mother, or mother-in-law. God has a great sense of humor and timing when she decides to answer our prayers. No sooner than my words leapt from my lips to God's ears, love appeared.

As usual after saying my prayers, I headed to College Avenue for my morning refreshment at any one of a number of Rockridge district cafes where I engaged myself in doing the daily crossword puzzles, and adding my two cents in the political conversations. Observing the lack of seating outside as I came through the door of Cole Coffee with my Earl Grey tea in hand, I could not help but notice a well-formed tanned bald head glistening in the sunlight, attached to an interesting looking man who was sitting alone at a metal table outside a Rockridge District neighborhood café, one empty chair across from him. He flashed an inviting smile and large perfectly straight white teeth at me. Politely I smiled back and inquired, “Hi, may I share your table?” I wouldn't find out till later that God had a most unusual sense of humor.

Unlike any other man I’ve ever met in Oakland or Berkeley, he, jumped up, pulled out the chair, and responded in a deep clear English accent. “Hi, I’d be delighted. I’m Trevor Fincham” as he extended his hand. “I’ve seen you around the neighborhood and think you are absolutely beautiful. I hoped we would meet one day. If I weren’t married, I’d ask you out.” He grinned, again flashing his perfect straight white teeth.

I responded with a nervous laugh as he firmly grasped my hand in his, “Hi, I’m Morgan Stewart” pausing with a warm smile, “and if you weren’t married, I’d accept.”

Believe you me, I would not have hesitated for a New York minute. I felt an immediate aliveness and reawakening, and very happy in that moment. It had been a very long time between compliments. And as we like to say in the South, “He was easy on the eyes.” ANd probably easier on other things if you get my drift.

Trevor confided that he was a scientist and professor at a nearby prestigious university. His very official business card, quickly presented to me, proved the point. Well educated with a PhD from the Imperial College of Science, Technology, and Medicine at the University of London, he had achieved a degree of success in the academic community and world of engineering. He lived nearby in a well-manicured if modest home. He proudly shared that he was the father of three sons whom he’d raised on his own and in the telling I noted a gentle, humble side of this clearly complex man. So far he was batting a thousand with his direct conversation, gentle reflections and quiet hints of a few regrets in his journey through life . . . except, of course, for the all too obvious masculine hand-wrought platinum wedding ring on his finger. All too quickly Trevor was waving good-bye and smiling at me as he pulled out of the Safeway parking lot in his shiny black high-powered Corvette convertible with the top down and off to the university to his laboratory where he had projects to develop, students to advise, inventions to pursue, and dreams to dream.

I shared that I too had raised a family on my own, Vietnam and all that sadness and that I served the community as a mediator and owned a small B & B. He listened intently, taking it all in with his huge blue eyes. He seemed touched, empathetic, caring. I instantly liked him and secretly wished there wasn’t a Mrs. Fincham, whoever this lucky woman was, lurking around in the bushes. I noted the sameness in our lives – the age, the common history, the shared life experiences. We resonated with one another. And besides he thought I was beautiful . . . and interesting . . . and . . . and . . . even though I had a few extra pounds on my tall frame and had essentially lost that loving feeling that fades with menopause and a dearth of serious male attention.

That’s how our friendship began, innocently enough on a clear crisp sunny California day. But then again this is a story in progress.

The truth is that we’d both been observing one another from afar since the prior summer and unknowingly circling one another’s wagons for too many years. My earliest remembrance of a live sighting of Trevor Fincham etched clearly in my mind, occurred many months before that first innocent conversation on that beautiful spring morning in 2005. A tall, fit, bald scantily clad man with perspiration gleaming from his nearly bare shoulders caught my attention while I was standing in long line at the very popular Peaberry’s Coffee at Market Hall on College Avenue and staring out at the chaotic social whirl of the café. Perhaps it was the oversized trendy tank top that he wore over his very brief white running shorts, or his long tanned runner’s legs, or that he reeked masculinity, or his innate aliveness. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. Beside him stood a thin, pale-faced young woman with poofy mousy brown bobbed hair askew. She picked uncomfortably at her face and shifted back on forth in her running shoes and baggy shorts while he animatedly chatted with his friends. She looked unhappy, disinterested and bored, staring into the nothingness of life. I thought to myself, “How nice that he’s out running with his daughter.” His eyes met mine and a momentary connection was made. It was as if I had known him my entire life. I wondered who he was, where he had come from, where he was going. And, why was his daughter so melancholic?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Chapter 2, Musings on Love, Life etc

June 26, 2007 Oakland, California
A Work of Historical Fiction in Process Please let Brenda know what you think.

Trevor Fincham fidgeted back and forth in the Adirondack lawn chair, his long legs crossing and uncrossing as I sat patiently waiting for him to speak. Up until today I had not seen this amazingly intelligent yet remarkably insensitive man whom I deeply loved since March. I had missed him terribly. For the moment I was consumed with the image of Jane Verna Frank-Fincham pushing a baby stroller down College Avenue and the impact of what this could mean for Trevor, for me, for all of us.

I struggled to remember the laughter and tender moments we had shared. I was dumb struck witnessing his lies and half-truths, his withholding. Had any of the sweet moments we shared together meant anything to him? Did I know him at all? Did I truly lack discernment about the men in my life? Or was I just another notch on his very proper English black leather belt?

I truly could not comprehend his obsession with youth and why he constantly referred to as his “young wife” as if that is all she meant to him – as if she could offer him an elixir of life or a veritable fountain of youth. From my seat on the sidelines, Trevor Fincham was not growing older either gracefully or graciously. He was trying much too hard, looking in the wrong places, underestimating his own gifts and talents, diminishing his own value as an accomplished, sophisticated man.

I loved Trevor, but I did not know what to do with that love in this moment.

Tight lipped and firmly I broke the intense silence of my garden. “You need to tell me the truth. Is there anything new in your life . . . in your home? I need to know now!”

Trevor met my plea with stark withholding silence as he held his tanned shaved head in his large artisan’s hands.

“Let me rephrase. Is there . . . anyone new . . . in your household?”

His angular jaw tightened as fear gripped him. He sat mute. Stunned. His large eyes flickering like a hummingbird flapping its delicate wings.

“You need to tell me the truth and do it now. If I have to,. I will ferret out the truth and you will not like the outcome.”

His basso voice responded so quietly I could barely hear his words: “We adopted a baby.” He paused, adding “In May. . . . that’s why I was away.” His voice reflected no happiness in his voice, no pride, only sadness.

His words cut through my heart as I choked back my tears. I refused to let the one man still living on this earth that I truly cared about see me cry, no matter what. I had my pride if nothing else.

In a controlled even voice I expressed my dismay. “You adopted a baby! From where? Were you going to let me run into you at Safeway . . . what do you think would have happened . . . why didn’t you tell me? Why?”

Reluctantly and awkwardly he added, “An eight-month old little girl . . from Hanoi . . . you know . . . Vietnam . . . we started the process in March.”

“Whatever were you thinking?”

Searching for an answer he struggled to say, “I was trying to move forward. I thought it was the right thing to do.”

Looking horrified I responded, “Oh, my God! Vietnam, of course, I know all about Vietnam . . . more than you can ever know . . . ever fathom . . . ever imagine”

He sat mute, almost visibly shrinking before my very eyes. My tall handsome prince had turned into what
I chided, “You don’t get a baby like you buy a suit . . surely you’ve known this for some time.”

“No, no . . . we just started the process in March.”

The insult to my intelligence proved to be overwhelming. It took every ounce of strength within me to not stand up, walk the two feet to where he sat, and slap the downcast face of a man who was not only a coward but so clearly did not know me nor understand the depth of emotions going through me.

My mind struggled to absorb it .all . . . a baby . . . a sweet little girl . . . Vietnam . . . Hanoi . . . a baby girl from Hanoi . . . so many memories . . . my dear sweet Eddie’s shrapnel riddled body . . . his flag draped casket . . . the endless search for the truth . . the N.V.A. regiment who had fired the artillery shells from across the Mekong River at the French Fort . . . . everything shattered . . . another little baby girl – mine -- who never knew her father. . . who never danced with her Dad. Eddie never had the opportunity to twirl our precious girl around the yard . . . or fish in the river with his son. So many missed events . . . so much lost love.

The hurt was immense. Everything that had impacted my life stemmed from a war or the aftermath of a war. For me Vietnam was clearly the gift that would keep on giving no matter what I did or didn’t do. And I had never dreamed that Trevor Fincham would be the man who would bring such pain back into my life, wittingly or unwittingly.

Though sitting in front of me, suddenly my Trevor Fincham seemed nearly dead to me. Possibly in many ways he was dead to himself . . . trapped, a hamster on a wheel in a cage. He knew it. I knew it. Jane Verna Frank-Fincham had won the battle but possibly not the Fincham-Frank war. She was living to fight another day, but would he? Trevor’s life was over as he once knew it. His dreams of freedom and true happiness, dashed on the rocks of the adoption of an innocent child who deserved a better family than she had gotten.

Trevor’s tanned face paled in the realization of what he had wrought. His eyes widened. His shoulders visibly slumped as he held his head in his hands and grieved, “Oh, God, what have I done. What a disaster!"

As he rose from his chair and stretched his legs, he suggested we have lunch some day in the future. He gave me a weak dispassionate hug, while saying,
“I’m sorry. I am . . . so very sorry.”

Mostly I was sad. Sad for him. Sad for his baby girl. Sad for myself . . . for everyone.

He stayed three hours, struggling with his inner and outer demons, trying to tear himself away from the comfort of my home. He bore the mark of defeat as he raced down the front stairs and hopped into his manly black Corvette convertible, visibly donning the contorted mask of a devoted loving husband and new father. Then my Trevor Fincham disappeared into the illusion of his life, his secrets, hopes, and dreams locked within the recesses of his heart.

From the privacy of my front porch and with tears rolling down my cheeks, I watched him pull away, possible for the last time, and attempted to understand why the ghosts of war continued to haunt and shape my life and whether or not I would ever find true happiness or truly be whole in this lifetime.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Musings on Mad Dogs, Englishmen, Love and Life -- Chapter One: Tuesday, July 26th, 2007, Rockridge, Oakland, California


A Work of Historical Fiction in Process

Please let Brenda know what you think.

Caveat Emptor --- The names in this tale of the past and the present have been changed to shield the guilty and titillate innocent bystanders.

Gently wakening as the birds chirped in the cool morning air over the Oakland hills, I glanced at the beautiful peonies on my nightstand and the photo of a smiling handsome sixty-year old man, wondering how he was, what he was doing, and praying that his English God was watching over him, perhaps bringing him back to me, sooner rather than later. We had not talked or communicated since my birthday on April 28th, an email, a birthday wish. My eyes moved across my large sunny bedroom to another photo, a smiling soldier in combat jungle fatigues holding an M-14, another time, another life, so far away, so long ago, almost forgotten, but never forgotten. I pushed aside the memories and said another prayer summoning my God and his most noble angels to continue watching over him, and giving me the strength to continue on in my own way.

I quickly showered and donned my favorite jeans, assessing my reasonably fit middle-aged five-foot ten body, praising myself for continuing my regimen of daily workouts and watching my diet. I grabbed my newspaper and sunglasses and hopped into my new silver Mercedes 350E and headed off to enjoy my day, wondering if my Englishman would magically reappear.

It was a gentle time. Tea and poached eggs with hot sauce at Cole Coffee on College Avenue. The sun on my face. Two morning crossword puzzles completed, chatting with friends, shopping at La Farine Bakery, admiring the voluptuous bright red strawberries at Yasai Market, longing to have a chocolate from Lulu Rae.

The object of my affections did not make an appearance on College Avenue that fine fair morning. He had essentially been missing in action since early in March when we agreed to take a hiatus from one another while he sorted himself out – all those visits to his shrink, her shrink, and their shrink – reading all those psychological Alan Watts’ treatises on therapy, sex, and relationships. From my perspective any relationship that required three therapists was already sinking like the Titanic -- call me when the ship goes down. For a while it was better to love him from afar, let him sort himself out, and offer up a daily prayer of hope that he would soon come to his senses.

At precisely 10 o’clock while driving south through lower Rockridge with its quaint craftsman houses and well-tended gardens near the home of my son and his family, I spotted a tired looking young woman mousy hair askew, pushing a clunky lime green baby stroller down the sidewalk at a pristine house surrounded by an English wrought-iron fence. His house. I gasped nearly colliding with several parked cars to my right, quickly making a u-turn and driving back up the street to get a second look. Yes, his house! Her. His wife! With a baby! Whose baby? They weren’t pregnant. He had said he loved me. His marriage was on shaky ground. Where had this baby come from? What hasn’t he told me? What is he thinking?

My mind raced as I quickly punched in the numbers to his cell phone. A message in a mechanical voice answered. I hesitated then left a message, “This is Morgan. It’s important that we speak. Please call me when you get this.” I then dialed his university office, another voicemail only in his clear, deep resonant English accent. My voice quivered as I left the same message. I went home and waited . . . and wondered.

His return call came all too quickly, that same day, but not so quickly that I hadn’t destroyed my manicure by seriously biting my nails, a habit most unbecoming for a sixty-year old woman, who looks to be fifty. Before I could hang up the phone he was bounding up my front stairs into my home, barely giving me time to run a brush through my blonde hair.

Looking deeply concerned, he queried: “What’s wrong? You seem very upset. Are you all right?”

Shaking in my sandals I grasped for my southern manners and politely offered him a glass of lemonade. We retreated to my back patio, lined with peace roses and blooming blue lilies of the Nile, a gentle breeze kissing the leaves of a large oak tree. He nervously arranged himself in an Adirondack chair, immediately knocking over his cool drink. He grabbed at the ice cubes as I returned to the kitchen, calling out with an uneasy laugh “You didn’t have to do that. It wasn’t laced with Viagra.”

Returning with another glass and placing it firmly in his hand, I looked directly into his eyes and inquired, “So is there anything new” pausing momentarily, “in your household, in your life?”

He stared back at me as my aging faithful companion, a golden retriever named Freya, sat staring at him with her huge brown eyes. He leaned over and gave her a gentle pat on the head. She stared back with knowing eyes.

“Everything’s very hectic. At home and work. Very busy. Very hectic. Lot’s going on.” he emphasized. “I canceled all my afternoon appointments.” With worry in his voice he continued, “What’s happened? Why are you so very upset?”

Again I queried, “Why don’t you tell me! Anything new in your life? Your household?” Pausing, waiting, then emphasizing, “Anyone new?”

His large blues eyes nervously darted about as he shifted back and forth in his chair – crossing and uncrossing his long legs, clutching his large hands together. Ever elusive – ever evasive – ever fearful – ever withholding. Freya put her head on my lap and looked at Trevor with large sad eyes. I sat quietly, staring with wide eyes, and waited.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why I Cannot Connect with Barack Obama

By: Brenda H. Reed © 2008 All rights reserved.

The first time that I laid eyes on Senator Barack Obama speaking at the Democratic National Convention four years ago, I thought: “He’s the one. He’s the man who can bring all the factions, racial and otherwise, together in this great country, the United States of America.” I wanted to believe. After observing his conduct of his presidential campaign to date, I am no longer sure he is capable or even interested in doing so. I hear his words but I am not feeling that in his heart he connects with “hard-working middle class voters” across this great nation. My hopes that a healing among the races can take place fades with each passing day. I have been asking why and have used my own research and intuitive skills to try to find answers. Perhaps those answers lie at the very core of the man himself and in the discernment of these average white hard-working voters with whom he is discernably disconnected.

When I look at Barack Obama, I do not see a black man. I do not see a white man. I see a man undeniably of mixed race. I see and hear someone who appears somewhat uncomfortable in his own skin while defining himself as a black man and member of the black community. He cleaves to his Kenyan roots while simultaneously downplaying the complete fabric of himself as a man with a significant European ancestry and his white family who lovingly and willingly raised and nurtured him. I must ask: Is it because he does not fully honor the half of himself that is irrefutably white? Or is there another reason? I question whether or not the voters of Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Indiana, and other states sense this same separation within Barack Obama own consciousness and heart that I am sensing. Are they, like me, uncomfortable with Barack Obama because he is ultimately uncomfortable with himself? Could it be that until he fully embraces both aspects of himself, the white and the black, that he will never bring around the “hard-working white voters” across America? I would like to know.

I would have preferred to not have to ask these questions, however my inquisitiveness will not allow me to look away. This quest for understanding more about the man, Barack Obama, intensified when a cousin, also an avid genealogist, informed me that we and Senator Obama are distant cousins through our Teague family line who hailed from England, Maryland, North Carolina, and Kentucky during the 1600s, 1700s, and early 1800s. This prompted me to immediately take a closer look at Obama’s family history resulting in my spending two full days researching our mutual family lines. I confirmed that we are indeed cousins, white cousins, distant though it may be, and descend from a father and son who both served this great nation as Patriots of the American Revolution from North Carolina. Our immigrant ancestor, John Teague, arrived on the Maryland shores in 1652 being transported from Bristol, England by Edward Revell, and serving for a time as an indentured servant. Two generations of Teagues worked the land at Teggs Delight in Cecil County, Maryland, and then their descendants removed to Virginia, then North Carolina, then onward to Tennessee, Kentucky, and the Midwest to seek their own fortunes and freedom, being land owners and slave holders along the way. They worked the land. They raised large families. They struggled. They helped build the United States of America. They contributed to American independence from England. Our heritage is as diverse and multi-dimensional as that of most other Americans.

Many Americans have an awareness that Obama descends from a long line of African tribal chiefs from Kenya, but few Americans know about his white heritage – the good or the bad – though it is one that should humble and bring forth great pride in any candidate running for the highest office in the land. Few know that Obama descends from numerous patriots of the American Revolution who fought for freedom or that his family history includes French Huguenots who fled to America for religious reasons; or that he descends from slaveholders in the South and not from slaves; or is related to soldiers who served on both sides of the Civil War; or that he has relations who served in World War I; or that his grandfather and grand-uncle served in the U. S. Army during World War II. I want to know why this candidate for the President of the United States chooses to largely ignore these most important American family roots, patriotic service and rich heritage. Why does he deny his own?

In exploring Obama’s African family, I learned that his paternal Kenyan grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, descends from generations of tribal chieftains and a Luo tribal king. He worked as a cook for missionaries in Nairobi and as a goat herder. Recruited to fight for colonial power England in World War I, he visited Europe and India, and afterward lived for a time in Zanzibar where he converted from Christianity to the Muslim faith, a tradition since handed down through the most recent generations of his Kenyan Obama family. He was a polygamist Hussein Onyango Obama, upon learning of his son, Barack Hussein Obama Sr.’s impending marriage to a young white American woman named Ann Dunham, instead of offering his congratulations, wrote a letter to her parents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham in Honolulu, seeking their intervention in the nuptials so to prevent his royal African bloodline from being sullied by a white woman. He was also a polygamist with many children.

At the time of her marriage in 1960, the eighteen-year old Ann Dunham was unaware that her husband, Barack Obama, Sr. a twenty-four year old charming Kenyan student attending the University of Hawaii had abandoned his pregnant wife and a young son in Africa to pursue his education. Disregarding the laws of the state of Hawaii, he bigamously married Ann Dunham and immediately fathered his baby boy, our Barack Hussein Obama, Jr., born August 4th 1961 at Queen Kapi’olani Medical Center in Honolulu. The elder Barack Obama, upon completing his undergraduate degree, abandoned his two-year old son and second wife to pursue a doctorate in economics at Harvard University thousands of miles from the shores of Hawaii. Barack Sr. soon took up with another white woman who succumbed to his many charms and followed him to Kenya where she worked as a teacher, became his third wife, and had two children by him. Barack Sr. eventually returned to his first wife, Kezia, by whom he had two more children. He obtained a high level position as Senior Economist in the Kenyan Ministry of Finance while pursuing his womanizing and drinking. He had an unfortunate automobile accident caused by drinking and lost both of his legs, then his job, and subsequently fell into poverty. He formed a relationship with another Kenyan woman, destined to become his fourth wife, who was pregnant when Barack Sr. was killed in a drunk-driving accident in Nairobi while his second-born son, Barack Hussein Obama, Jr., was pursuing his own Ivy League education at Columbia University in preparation to attend his father’s alma mater, Harvard University. Unfortunately Barack Sr. barely knew his son, Barack Jr., seeing him only once after abandoning him in Honolulu at age two.

When Barack Obama, Jr. was six years of age, Ann Dunham Obama, married Lolo Soetoro Mangunharjo, an Indonesian also of the Muslim faith who worked for an oil company. Lolo moved Ann and Barack to Indonesia where they added a daughter, Maya Soetoro-Ng, to their family. Soon Ann became aware that her husband was deeply rooted in traditional Muslim and Indonesian traditions and expected her to fall in line. Being an educated, independent woman, Ann divorced Lolo, then returned briefly to Honolulu where she placed her ten-year-old son, Barack, in the care of her hard working white middle-class parents while she pursued her career as a cultural anthropologist based in Indonesia and traveled the world.

Ann’s parents provide an interesting family dynamic and history. Some sources state that Barack’s grandparents, Stanley and Madelyne Dunham, considered themselves atheists with possible socialist leanings. Other’s note their Protestant proclivities while Ann herself has been viewed as either an atheist or an agnostic, depending on the source citing the opinion. Certainly both elder Dunhams had been reared in the Baptist and Methodist traditions. Ann’s father, Stanley Dunham, served in the military during in World War II. Stanley and Madelyne both hailed from Kansas where their families had lived for decades since shortly after the Civil War. Their families descended from some of the early settlers of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, and Missouri. Following the family tradition Stanley moved his family around the country in pursuit of a better life. When Stanley landed a position in Hawaii as a furniture salesman, the family left Seattle around the time Ann graduated from Mercer High. Stanley Dunham died at age seventy-four on February 8th 1992, just months before Barack married a successful, highly educated black woman named Michelle Lavaughn Robinson, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and too had benefited from an Ivy League education, graduating from Princeton University and Harvard University Law School. Michelle and Barack were married on October 18th 1992 at the predominantly black Trinity Church of Christ in Chicago where they have been members for twenty years headed by Dr. Jeremiah Wright, known for his emotional sermons and questionable anti-white sentiments, thus bringing the rising young lawyer full circle back into the Christian religious roots of his both his black and white ancestors.

Barack’s grandmother, Madelyne Payne Dunham, now age eighty-six years old, still resides in the high rise apartment building where she raised Barack in Honolulu. She largely raised her grandson and accepted responsibility for his care and well-being, yet we never see her. She had great achievements in her own right. She worked on a Boeing aircraft B-29 assembly line in Wichita supporting the war effort during World War II. She worked in restaurants for a time while getting her education and raising a family. Upon settling in Honolulu she took a job at the Bank of Hawaii, rising from the ranks to become one of its first female vice presidents at a time during the 1970s when race and being a female were detriments to professional advancement. She is an avid bridge player indicative of a keen mind. She watched over Barack’s education and most likely used her hard-earned money to help pay for Barack’s $7,000 per year tuition at the exclusive and expensive Punahou School. Madelyn molded him into a man. She loved him. She gave him the security of a family. She fed and clothed him. She helped guide him on his path. She is proud of her grandson yet she has been kept from the public eye. It has saddened me that Barack Obama rewards his grandmother by speaking of her racial comments and fears, her biases, when he should be eternally grateful to have had her influence and presence in his life after both his father and mother abandoned him for their own pursuits.

A source of consternation for me is in that the American media continues to completely ignore Barack Obama’s white family, yet they show considerable interest in his “African grandmother” Ruth and Kezia Obama, his father’s first wife, who have no blood relationship to him at all. The Chicago Tribune has even reported that the Obama campaign refuses to make Madelyn Dunham available to the media though she is truly the woman behind the man. One reporter has written: “The "segregation" of Madelyn Dunham, Obama's white grandmother, and only real grandmother, has to be one of the cruelest and most mendacious political kidnappings this nation has ever seen.”

What continues to trouble me is my sense that Senator Obama does not fully embrace the half of his being that is white. He holds tightly onto to his Kenyan heritage perhaps believing this will make him more appealing to black voters across the land and that this alone will get him elected president. Appearing entrenched in his privileged prep school and Ivy League education, he appeals more to elite Democrats than the common working man. In so doing puts their needs above those of hard-working class people – people not unlike his Grandmother and Grandfather Dunham, in the very states where his white ancestors struggled to establish their lives and helped build this nation. He does not and possibly cannot identify or relate to the average white man and woman on the streets, though he has an appeal to young idealists, many of whom have never worked a day in their lives and have never struggled for anything. He has demonstrated repeatedly that he cannot relate to factory workers or to our soldiers. I am concerned that he cannot and will not work to better the lives of working class white people and that he will be inclined to work only for the Democratic educated elite in this country and his black supporters.

To be elected and to succeed as President of the United States, our presidential hopeful, Senator Obama, needs both white voters and black voters, educated and uneducated voters, labor and management behind him. I suggest that until Barack Obama can and does accept and honor his white roots, as well as his black ones, that the good people of the numerous states made up of “hard working white people” will continue to view him with suspicion and distrust. They will not vote for him until he essentially votes for them --- for himself -- until he demonstrates with his heart that he truly cares about these people, people from whom he himself originates.

I say to Barack Obama: “Honor your dear Grandmother Madelyne who raised you. Honor your white roots as well as your black ones. If your desire is to truly bring people together, then bring your own whiteness and blackness together by opening up your heart to good people of all races, all socio-economic classes, for the betterment of all. Claim your white heritage alongside your black. Embrace your white pioneer ancestors just as you embrace your Kenyan royal chieftains. Allow yourself to embrace both your whiteness and your blackness so that American can and will do the same.”