"South Carolinians are known for their manners," South Carolina historian, Walter Edgar is quoted as saying in USA today the morning of 9/11 as I write this, a response to Rep. Joe Wilson shouting, "A lie!" during President Obama's speech to Congress on Wednesday night. "There's no question (that) they're hot-headed."
Mannerly AND hot-headed? How can that be?
I am up early reading the news in the South myself. Not too far away from South Carolina. It's the third time I've lived here. Life can be strange. Four years ago, I was a widow in New Zealand and, today, I am married again to a man who lives in the South.
The South can also be strange. Like the little girl I was, when it's good, it's very, very good and when it's bad, it's horrid. The best of the good things are its friendliness, its faith, and strong families. We all know the horrible history.
I grew up in California, but my father was from the South. We'd make trips back and forth on Route 66 every few summers and visit the relatives. By the time I was 15, it was decided I would live with my Aunt Ruth here in the South and go to a girl's prep school.
This was 1963, during the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Going to a private, all white girl's school was a challenging experience for someone from California--even though I was white and should have had nothing to fear. Except comments by some of my peers were really scary to me.
As I adjusted to life and school in the South, I began to hear words and epithets I had never heard before. Jokes and racial slurs about minorities were made daily--minority and discrimination becoming new vocabulary words for the nation--and I was especially shocked when I heard a new friend use them. These off-handed comments were, to say the least, inwardly shocking for me. I knew the words hadn't originally come from her own heart. At 15, I was trying to be mannerly. I didn't know how to be angry or hot-headed at anyone but my parents. I was still being formed, taking things in, and didn't have much of my own vocabulary.
A lot of the girls at my new school smoked. That was new, as well-- cigarette machines at school. My Aunt Ruth smoked a cigarette called a Parliament. Oh, was she a pleasure to watch as she smoked! A purely sensual experience. I was fascinated and took it all in and stole some of those Parliaments myself. I'm not sure I knew what Parliament really meant. And, I'm still not sure why a tobacco company would give such a name to a product. But, after watching President Obama's speech to Congress on Wednesday, hearing Rep. Joe Wilson's outburst and reading about the continuing flack this morning--September 11--it has made me think about Parliaments.
Before I came to live in the South this time, I lived for twelve years Down Under, in New Zealand--really south. I was there when 9/ll happened. The people were so kind to me and my family the day New York City, the Pentagon and a plane were struck. Kiwis reached out to us, showing sympathy. By us being Americans, and being there, it seems to me now, they were able to touch America and say how badly they felt about what was happening.
The past eight years has required much adjustment for us as a nation: 9/11, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, President Bush out, President Obama in. A lot has changed since 1963.
In New Zealand, as in all the British Commonwealth, the government is parlimentary. The head of the ruling party gets to be the Prime Minister and speak for its government, the one in power. If the ruling party is ever losing support by the people, or can't form a coalition, it's time to call an election. And the people vote. A parliamentary form of government is a democratic form of government.
If you have never watched the BBC, it's time to take a look. With a parliamentary form of government rebukes and shouting out is not uncommon. "A lie," called out to the Prime Minister by a member of the opposition party would be shouted down on one side and given supportive "Hear...hear's" on the other. No big deal.
But, something else can happen within a parliamentary form of government. The Prime Minister, who is the head of his or her party, can be ousted by someone within that party. I saw this happen in 1997, the year my family moved to New Zealand.
While Jim Bolger, the Prime Minister, was visiting the United States, Jenny Shipley, a member of his own party, obtained majority support of the party. When Jim got back to New Zealand, he was out of a job! And New Zealand--where women in the world first got the right to vote--had its first woman Prime Minister.
That won't happen in America. We may have a woman President someday, but we decided a long time ago not to have a King (or a Queen) or a Parliament. We decided, instead, there would the balance of three branches of government. With a President as the head of one of them.
No Parliaments. No hot-heads smoking. Hear, hear for Manners.
We're feeling a bit defensive down in the South today. But, you know, something I see over and over again is the strength of faith and family, the place where manners and hot-headedness are first experienced.
Living in the South, I have never met so many soldiers going off to fight for the freedom of others. I have never met so many parents who have lost children to war--not even during Vietnam, the war of my generation. Here I am again, an old hippie who went with her husband to Canada to get away from the draft, married now to a Vietnam vet. Life is truly strange.
Because we remember 9/11, I am taking hope. Whether we are in the South, the North, the East or the West, we have time to reflect. We can remember how we were 8 years ago.
On that fateful day, I was watching you that awful day, from very, very far away. All over the world you were on display, holding each other, crying together, praying together, reaching out in love, going great distances to be of help.
Have we gotten too weary in well doing? Have we becoming too hot-headed, smoking too much? Yes, we will fail each other, not live up to our expectations of perfection. But we believe in something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our regional differences--bigger, even than our nation.
Here's to Democracy in whatever form it comes!
late bloomer, fontanelle of the baby boomers...full of hope, believing in life-long learning, mentoring, doors opening...mother of four, grandma of one: I cultivate gardens in both hemispheres of earth and brain...
ABOUT CANDY GREEN GUSTAVSON
more about candy green gustavson
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
9.12.09 @ 8:23p
As a native Southerner, I was both disgusted and embarrassed. I promise that not all of us are that uncouth.
candy green gustavson
9.13.09 @ 4:06a
Thanks, Lisa, I do know that.
You must have read the first version which I have changed. Took the two sentences right out, not because it didn't happen and it wasn't just as shocking to a 15 year old, but because--well,actually I heard from my boss!
Could you reread and tell me what you think. It seems just as effective as before....unless you did read the revised version!
9.13.09 @ 10:06a
I had something longer, and then I changed it to a more generic comment--I've gotten a little paranoid about what I say online myself! I think the current version is the one I read.
What I want to know is why we can't have grown-ups representing us in Congress? Our country has serious problems. It should have serious people running it, not a bunch of whiny crybabies who are still mad that their party lost. If they behaved this way in business or academia they'd have been fired long ago.
I've got pre-K neices and nephews that have a better understanding of acceptable behavior than these people.
candy green gustavson
9.13.09 @ 10:24a
I hope I'm not paranoid--probably still trying to be that "mannerly" person! But, I understand. Intrepidmedia has opened a whole new world of creativity and freedom for me. We should be fearless.
I agree about our representatives. Having spent 12 years in New Zealand, I have seen how universal health care can/cannot work. Of course, NZ is the size of Colorado with the population of Atlanta, so things are more managable. I wrote an article about it. If you Google: Candy Green, New Zealand, Life, Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness and Dying, it should come up.
I have been reading A Writer's Paris by Eric Maisel--he says, "Our job (as writers) is to write for humanity or against inhumanity." That gives me a lot of courage.
It's great to share, Lisa. I will check out your site now.
candy green gustavson
9.13.09 @ 10:32a
Liked your article, Lisa. Spot on. Wow, you've been on here a long time. Up to anything else, writing wise? PA has a lot of good writing stuff going on. I used to live in the Pittsburgh area, and my oldest daughter is near Philly.
9.13.09 @ 11:34a
I currently spend a significant chunk of my time writing and editing for a living, so writing for fun isn't much fun at the moment. Well, what I do for a living IS fun, but after spending 10-14 hours a day writing for work, I want to get away from it for a little while, at least.
On the other hand, I'm always happy to read so I come here and catch up on the goings on.
candy green gustavson
9.13.09 @ 1:05p
In the future, one of the things I'll write about is overseeing an inmate-led author's club at the women's prison...i.e. I know what you mean about time spent doing other related stuff. I love editing, but it seems like it takes superpowers to get into the field. Good on ya!
joe redden tigan
9.17.09 @ 3:46a
i like parliament because they knight people. i still think it's possible for me to do great things in new zealand. i don't consider them a small pond. i consider myself a great talent.
a literate women's prison scenario? how much fantasy is one man supposed to take?
candy green gustavson
9.17.09 @ 5:11a
I have taken all your allotted commas, Joe.
Kiwis would love you, but you have to love them back.
A sequel to your novel could be based on the true story of one of the inmates who is doing time along with her mother and sister for being part of a real estate lending scam.
9.17.09 @ 8:55a
It beats the last time a South Carolina congressman got too "hot headed":
In 1856, during the Bleeding Kansas crisis when "border ruffians" approached Lawrence, Kansas, [Massachusetts Senator Charles] Sumner denounced the Kansas-Nebraska Act in the "Crime against Kansas" speech on May 19 and May 20, two days before the sack of Lawrence. Sumner attacked the authors of the act, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina, comparing Butler to Don Quixote and Douglas to Sancho Panza.
Sumner said Douglas (who was present in the chamber) was a "noisome, squat, and nameless animal ... not a proper model for an American senator." He also portrayed Butler as having taken "a mistress who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight—I mean, the harlot, Slavery." Not content to leave his assault on a political level, Sumner's three-hour oration took a cruel, personal turn as he mocked the 59-year-old Butler's manner of speech and physical mannerisms, both of which were impaired by a stroke that Butler had suffered earlier.
Two days later, on the afternoon of May 22, Preston Brooks, a congressman from South Carolina and Butler's nephew, confronted Sumner as he sat writing at his desk in the almost empty Senate chamber. Brooks was accompanied by Laurence M. Keitt also of South Carolina and Henry A. Edmundson of Virginia, who took no part in the assault. Brooks said, "Mr. Sumner, I have read your speech twice over carefully. It is a libel on South Carolina, and Mr. Butler, who is a relative of mine." As Sumner, who was six feet four inches tall, began to stand up, Brooks began beating Sumner severely on the head with a thick gutta-percha cane with a gold head. Sumner was trapped under the heavy desk (which was bolted to the floor), but Brooks continued to bash Sumner until he ripped the desk from the floor. By this time, Sumner was blinded by his own blood, and he staggered up the aisle and collapsed, lapsing into unconsciousness. Brooks continued to beat Sumner until he broke his cane, then quietly left the chamber.
-- from Wikipedia.