Everybody say welcome to our sweet, 10 year old foster! ❤️🐾 And my annual plea as the holidays approach: Please consider fostering and adopting senior dogs.
The day before school started on August 11, Anderson County, Kentucky, school board member Rose Morgan received a text message from a former board member: “Shame on you for trying to take the prayer out of the school board meeting. Ever wonder what might happen if you did?”
I ask if Ms. Morgan considers this a threat. She says, emphatically, yes.
When I read the articles pleading for those of us who are vaccinated to remain compassionate toward the unvaccinated, understanding of those who still refuse masks, 18 months into this pandemic—about how we need to listen better to their fears and make them feel heard—I want to invite those people to our county where we we remain below 50 percent vaccinated, where our overworked health department can’t give away free vaccines, and where we sit in routine school board meetings knowing that most of the people in the small, enclosed room with us are proudly, unapologetically, defiantly unvaccinated and unmasked.
There is no paywall.
Click here to continue reading.
The publisher has opened this piece for nonsubscribers. And it’s not about guns, it’s about our American concept of manhood.
As always, thanks for reading. Click here to open.
Our July school board meeting opens, as it always does, with a Christian prayer. The room is mostly full, about 50 people. On tonight’s agenda: Critical Race Theory.
First to speak is Katie Howard, a prominent local Republican. “I am not here to accuse Anderson County of teaching CRT as part of a formal curriculum,” she says in opening, “but I am here to warn the school board to be on the look out for this evil that is creeping further and further into our society.” For the next six minutes she talks about victimhood, oppression, and indoctrination.
As she speaks, I pull up Ms. Howard’s Facebook page. Her public profile photo is an American flag inside a green circle that reads: I don’t care if you’ve had your vaccine.
Ms. Howard is describing how children as young as kindergarten are being told to rank themselves according to power and privilege, that White kids are being forced to apologize to kids of color. “The cat is now out of the bag!” she declares, saying that when teachers choose to interpret history, they are crossing the line into indoctrination.
The last school board meeting I attended was pre-pandemic. We were there to debate a banner at the high school football game that read, “Make America Great Again, Trump Those Patriots.” Afterward, I received a message from my niece, a high school vice principal in a neighboring state, saying she was less concerned about the inappropriate political banner than the prayer. “The school board starts every meeting with a prayer?!?! A lawsuit is the last place you want funds going for something that can be so easily rectified. And obviously they don’t see how that alone could prevent citizens with different beliefs, opinions, faith, culture, etc. from speaking their concerns.”
Next up tonight is Matthew Singleton. “I work as a pastor,” he says. “Five years ago I was ministering to youth, and I was ministering to a young man, and he had gotten from his public school education the ideas that the big bang theory and evolution had him … not believing in God, and there was a lot of turmoil in the church because he was dealing with his grandparents and a lot of family issues.”
The next man introduces himself as Frank Simon. “I’m a medical doctor,” he says. “I want to talk about CRT, critical race theory, though of course it has a hundred other names because they want to cover up the original names and call it something else, but it’s still critical race theory. It’s a theory that was started by Black Lives Matter, it’s a communist theory, and it’s to cause division and confusion and I am against that.”
Listening to these people speak complete nonsense, I consider the nonsensical leadership of Sen. Rand Paul who tweets things like, “Critical race theory. . . is the definition of reverse racism,” forcing small counties like mine to waste precious school board hours demanding that something not being taught in our schools is not taught in our schools.
Behind me, a man named Marty Terry stands to speak. “Critical race theory is nothing more than Marxism,” he says. “I think it’s equity, inclusion, and diversity is what they’re calling it now, so people look up and they’re like ‘critical race theory’ is not in there. It’s remade, it’s repackaged, but it’s the same old crap.”
And as the CRT conspiracy theory portion of this meeting comes to a close, the board’s vice chair, Peggy Peach, adds her two cents. “I would just like to say that I would like to see patriotic education taught.”
The room explodes with applause.
Ms. Peach has four flags on display next to her name plate: an American flag, the Commonwealth of Kentucky flag, a yellow Don’t Tread On Me flag, and a mostly-white flag I do not recognize.
A friend whispers, “I think that’s a Christian Nationalist flag.”
Of course it is.
These people are not panicked about CRT. They are, like so many of those arguing at school boards across Kentucky and the country, panicked that their own brand of indoctrination — White, revisionist, Christian — isn’t on the curriculum.
And since our superintendent has decided to start the school year on August 11 with no masks — in a low-vaccinated county, against both the CDC’s and the Governor’s recommendations — our school board can add science right under history on its growing list of irrelevant subjects. Willful ignorance gets an A+.
Sadly, on top of our already fractured and dyspeptic personal history, my family has added Trumpism and a global pandemic to the long-standing influence of local-boy-done-good Rush Limbaugh.
My story for The Washington Post. Click here to read.
“Unkindness involves a failure of the imagination so acute that it threatens not just our happiness but our sanity.” ― Adam Phillips, “On Kindness”
The board meeting to approve or disapprove a motor sports venue is barely underway when my friend turns to the man behind us to whisper sternly, “Sir, excuse me. Sir, you are being unkind.”
We are in the basement of the Anderson County extension office for a meeting of the Board of Zoning Adjustments. The chairs are mostly full and the microphones aren’t working. You can feel the tension amongst neighbors, those for and against a proposed track which will feature tractor pulls, truck pulls, and more. Folks are speaking out of turn, in violation of the rules, including a gentleman who is not only talking but approaching the board chairman and refusing to sit. It is this gentleman the elderly man behind us is making fun of until my friend shushes him.
In the end, the board approves a conditional use permit and that’s it. It’s over. The woman who owns a wedding venue near the proposed track rushes out a side door, in tears. Another woman whose house stands a half mile from the track looks bereft, defeated. “Our house will shake,” she tells me. We disperse, mostly in silence. Neighbors with nothing more to say to one another.
Sadly, this was not an anomaly. Two days earlier I’d attended a packed-to-capacity library board meeting. The pastor of a small church had voiced his opposition to the library’s Pride Month display—two tiny tables in the back of the room—prompting an outcry. And like the gathering to witness the vote on the motorsports venue, there we all were, crammed into the library, nerves on edge, neighbors at odds.
Call me naive (really, go ahead) but this is not the way I envisioned re-entry into small town life after four years of political division and a year-plus of pandemic separation. It feels heavy. What happened to taking the temperature down? Surely we missed one another, didn’t we? We would come out of this more generous, more gracious, more kind, right?
I am reminded of a paragraph from the final pages of Wendell Berry’s “The Memory of Old Jack”: “He walks with the effort of a man burdened, a man carrying a great bale or a barrel, who has carried it too far but has not yet found a place convenient to set it down. Once he could carry twice this weight. Now half would be too much.”
Had these last years been too much? What were we all carrying in those meetings? What is still weighing us down?
On the road out of town, on my way home from the zoning fracas, I spot a friend on his porch. He is a new friend, one I don’t know well, but I whip my car into his driveway and walk right on up. He calls for his wife to come out, “Teri’s here!” and returns to the swing. His wife offers me a chair. Their two dogs wag their tails and beg for pets. And it is in that moment I realize, I am not solely in search of community. I am in search of kindness.
For the next hour, we visit on their front porch like our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents used to do. Every now and again a car or truck drives by. Rarely does anyone wave. The couple tells me how someone “just this week” slowed their truck and yelled “F*** Biden!” The wife takes in a big, visible breath. “We talk about moving,” she says, “but where would we go? I mean, we love South Carolina but then we think, they may not want us there either. And I love my house!” We all laugh, but it is more a laugh of uncertainty than joy. I know it well. Being a democrat in Anderson County, where your neighbors still fly giant Trump flags and randomly yell obscenities at you or your house, can weigh a person down.
As dusk settles along the tree tops, I stand. Time to let these nice people get back to their evening. On the ten mile drive home, I keep an eye out for deer and I think about the kindness of most speakers at the library and of my friend in the zoning meeting, the friend with the courage to shush the elderly bully behind us and the temerity to walk up there, to gently and with no drama get the out-of-order gentlemen to take his seat.
That’s a start, I think. That, and front porches.
** My column, in print this Sunday, May 30 **
What does the Republican party stand for?
This is the question I would have asked Sen. Rand Paul if I’d had the chance. But I did not get the chance.
Sen. Paul came to Lawrenceburg a few weeks ago to meet with local leaders, and let me tell you it is a great big giant deal for a U.S. Senator to stop by a little town like mine. Unfortunately, I discovered this would be a closed, invitation-only meeting. A Republican friend told me they were holding the meeting off Hwy. 127 and the Bluegrass Parkway (to keep away protestors) and on private property (to keep away the general public, aka “constituents”), and then sent me the seemingly top secret link to apply for entry.
I wanted to ask my one question—What does the Republican party stand for?—so I filled out my name, address, phone and email. I was honest about being a writer and a columnist. And I never heard back.
We hear a constant drumbeat of the what the Republican party is against. They are against “cancel culture.” They are against “the elites.” They are against increasing the minimum wage. After more than a decade, they still have not shown us their mysterious, better-than-Obamacare healthcare plan. They are against immigration. They are against people kneeling and marching in peaceful protest. They are against common sense gun laws, even as we continue to have mass shooting after mass shooting and men with long guns march in and around our state capitols screaming about freedom.
They are against admitting how long and often they told the Big Lie, choosing instead to poison the minds of their voters and, in turn, democracy itself.
They recoil from stating emphatically that the election was free and fair and was not stolen from Donald Trump, even as Trump continues lying, telling Newmax as recently as May 26, “The election was a fraud. It was a rigged election.”
What does the Republican party stand for if not the investigation of thousands who stormed the U.S. Capitol at the behest of President Trump to stop the certification of an American election?
What does the Republican party stand for if not to acknowledge their own supporters (based on their clothing and their flags) violently beat police officers with sticks and batons and flag poles, sprayed them with noxious chemicals, and built a gallows on the Capitol grounds while chanting “Hang Mike Pence!”
And there’s the rub. The Republican party is terrified of both the former president and the voters who elected them.
The Republican party stands for fear.
After all their leader, the former president, refused to call off the insurrectionists who hunted them for more than two hours on January 6, and then released a video telling the rioters to go home, that he loved them, they were special.
As my once-Trump-voting relative said the next day, “If they’d hung Mike Pence on live TV, Trump would have fundraised off it.”
On May 23, conservative columnist George Will said the quiet part out loud. The singular reason the GOP, including our own Sen. Mitch McConnell and Sen. Paul, will not support a bipartisan commission to investigate the insurrection on Jan. 6 is because “we have a political party defined by the terror it feels for its own voters. That’s the Republican Party right now,” and elected Republicans are “afraid that a vote for this would be seen as an insult to the 45th president.”
Is this what Republicans stand for, not investigating the brutal beating of law enforcement officers—officers who desperately fought to protect them and their colleagues from potentially the same beatings, or worse—by their own violent supporters, supporters who were chanting they wanted to hang the Vice President?
I would have liked to ask Sen. Paul that question.
Last week, while eating that vicious, calculating, world renowned tooth-cracker called overcooked bowtie pasta (oh yes!) I broke the cap off one of my front teeth. Or so I thought.
My dentist was out of town (of course she was) and her entire office was closed (of course it was) because they had not had a vacation since the beginning of the pandemic, so they shuffled me over to their sister office (is that like a sister wife?) for the repair. Which would be quick (hahaha) and minor (bwahahahaha).
Three hours, a pulled tooth, the drilling in of an implant, the attaching of a fragile temporary front tooth, a bazillion trillion dollars, three prescriptions, and a whole lotta nitrous (which was not nearly enough drugs!!!) later, here’s what I read and am reading to relax. Highly recommend ALL of the following:
If you think you don’t want to read a story about foster care, you are mistaken. Sarah writes beautifully and poetically about what it feels like to enter the foster care system by choice, as foster parents who intend to adopt. One of the best memoirs I’ve read this year.
My dear friend Damhnait (which I pronounce “Downith” with her approval) has written such a joyful adventure — yes, with its serious moments, too — set in 1985 about a young teacher who leaves the big city for a teeny, teeny, tiny fishing village in Newfoundland. I loved this book in both hard copy AND as an audiobook for the sounds of the local dialect.
And here’s another dear friend, Suzy Vitello, with the story of what happens to a family with “issues” after a major earthquake in the pacific northwest. Nobody does sharp insight into characters and their motivations, and in crisp, gorgeous prose like Suzy. I loved every beautifully flawed person in this story, and as I live in a family where me and my adult siblings can go years without speaking, I nodded a lot in the reading. You’ll love this one.
It’s an understatement to say Ouita Michel is one of the prides of Kentucky. Big heart, big smile, incredible chef, compassionate business woman, and great sharer of family recipes so accessible I can make them! I could not wait to read Ouita’s memoir/cookbook, but it was so worth the wait.
I heard Morgan on a podcast talking about her book and ordered it immediately. Such sharp, personal observations about ancestry, race, heritage, family, etc. A great young writer. Morgan’s work made me question many of my long-held notions, and I thank her for that.
What can we do about vaccine hesitancy in rural America? I have some ideas, and I wrote about them for The Washington Post.
You can read it here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/05/05/masks-red-state-coronavirus/
You can read the full article in the May issue of Kentucky Monthly here: http://www.kentuckymonthly.com/the-hidden-pandemic/
I highly recommend Jessica Lahey’s new book for everyone, especially parents, teachers, and school administrators. It would also be great for book clubs!