Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Con Artists and Other Dangers

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 A woman living alone in the city faces dangers. Dorothy had said earlier in our conversations that someone at Partlow State School had tried to teach her about danger, but that she never really understood danger until she left the institution and moved out on her own. Today we will hear from Dorothy about the some of the dangers she encountered, some real and some imagined.

The first incident she recalls in one that I remember. It happened while I was working as Program Director at St. Andrew’s Foundation. Dorothy came into the office, visibly upset, talking about how someone had taken all the money out of her bank account. I talked with her some that afternoon to find out what had happened. She had fallen prey to a scheme which others, particularly elderly people, have fallen prey to.  Some con artists had talked her into giving them some money on the promise that they could get more money in return for her.  Apparently, some people took her to another branch of her bank to get her to withdraw some funds from her account. Once Dorothy realized that she had been swindled, she went to the branch of her bank where she ordinarily did her banking to tell them, hoping that she could reverse things, but was dismayed when she found that her account was almost empty and there was nothing they could do. She had not clearly understood that her money would be gone from her bank account when the funds had been taken out at a different bank location.

Dorothy was so upset at the time that I took her home and stayed with her for awhile. She settled down after a while, but I was afraid to leave her unattended for the evening.  I stopped by again on my way home from work. My colleague at St. Andrew’s, Edsel Massey, lived nearby, so I asked him if he would check in on her that night, which he did. Dorothy made it through that trial with some help from her friends, and eventually she was able to build her bank account back up.
During one of our conversations I asked Dorothy to talk about that day. She recounted the incident and then went on to talk about other frightening incidents that had occurred in her life on Southside.

“This one time there were some folks that tricked me out of my money. I had got my July check and went to the bank. It was in 1993. I went in and deposited my check. Then I told that lady I’d like about $300 to keep for myself and she gave me $300. Then I was coming out of the bank and saw an old Cadillac, it was an egg colored Cadillac. It was a colored man and a colored woman that had a turban around her had, and there was a white lady. They got me and took me up on that little hill. They claimed they were going to take me up to a lawyer and get me some more money. I had met them up at Woolworth’s when I went up there to get my pastor a birthday card. I saw them there [at the bank] and I said well they’re going to help me get some more money. They conned me into going upstairs on the elevator and when I got up there, there wasn’t nothing but doctors and nurses up there. They were in a little hatch back Civic and it was another time I met them three and they took me up there. It was when miss Hardin was working at the bank and she noticed it. I told that little man, you just get me up to that police station, and he wouldn’t do it. He just took me to Chris’s Restaurant. That lady up there said she wished she had got their tag number. They got away and I never did see them no more.

“They fooled me by telling me that they were going to go to a judge and get me some more money (that was the $300). I didn’t have no better sense than to believe them. They had me take my money out of the bank.”

“Not long after that there was a woman named Susan came up one night when it was raining. She knocked on the door and I knew her so I let her in. She went to the bathroom and I forgot I had a pocketbook back there with some money in it, and she locked the door and stole my money out of it. She came in here acting so calm and everything and said ‘What did Jesus say about helping the needy?’ and I said, ‘You don’t argue with me about Jesus, You get yourself out the door or I’ll have somebody put you out of here.’  I didn’t know she stole my money ‘til she left and I didn’t have but three one dollar bills left in my pocketbook. She had asked me if she could spend the night with me, but I wouldn’t let her. She got up and I shoved her on out the door.”

“Three old colored boys came up over there one time. I pushed all three of them out the door and told them to get away from here. They said they were visiting their grandmother out in Hootersville. I told them I didn’t care who they were visiting and I shoved them on out the door.”

“When I first moved here, there wasn’t a light on this street. There was just a light up at the churchyard and on people’s porches. One night I had to go to the bathroom real bad. There was an old tall vine out here and it was dark and I couldn’t see. I thought it was an old man out there. I thought ‘if I move, that old man will see me.’ Then a car came by and the headlights shone on it and I saw it was an old vine – and me about to wet on myself! I had waited the longest, thinking there was a man out there.”

About the Photographs: The pictures above were taken in the Five Points South area where Dorothy often walked in her excursions as she did her shopping and banking

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday Music: Yeha-Noha

I discovered Sacred Spirit by accident (or serendipity) at the public library. The CD is a collection of songs that are a fusion of Native American chants and modern music. I enjoyed it so much I got my own copy. Sacred Spirit:Chants and Dances of the Native Americans was released in 1994 and nominated for a Grammy as best New Age album. The song here, "Yeha - Noha (Wishes of Happiness and Prosperity)" was top ten on the charts for 27 weeks in the UK.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Sublime Madness

My plan had been to do a politically oriented post following the inauguration speech delivered by the President on Monday.  I found myself hoping that perhaps we have turned a corner in our country and will see an era emerge that is more conducive to the common good.  Instead of politics, however,  poetry has won the day. I just read an article by Chris Hedges, “A Time for Sublime Madness” which illustrates the importance of poetry and the other arts. Hedges gives reference to Reinhold Niebuhr who spoke of "a sublime madness within the soul" that can defy forces of repression.

It is my belief that poets are not just making nice words, playing intriguing word games, or doing linguistic tricks. The poet is the modern day shaman who enters into that divine realm, "sublime madness" if you will,  to communicate to the rest how to make meaning of life, even if that meaning appears to be simple endurance. This is true of artists from other disciplines as well. We find grace and strength in music, poetry, the performing arts, as well as the visual arts. Hedges' article speaks to how the arts can help us to use our imaginations to achieve transcendence in dark times to "retain the power of the sacred." 

You can read Hedges article here.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Life 101

My friend, Rick Watson has a blog called Life 101. He talks a lot about his daily encounters and what it's like to live down South. Rick also has a regular column in the Daily Mountain Eagle but his latest writing endeavor is a new book, Life Happens. One reviewer said, "Life Happens is a collection of very entertaining 4-5 page stories. Gives one a great picture of what it is like growing up and living in the rural south of the United States. Part nostalgia, part modern, all true life tales that run the gamut of emotions. Thoroughly enjoyed it." 

It's out in paperback and also on kindle. Mosey on over to Rick's blog at Check out his blog. You'll see what he's writing about and you can find out more about his book (Rick says Marilyn LOVED it). If you like his blog and want to follow it, leave him a comment and tell him Charlie sent ya from Not Dark Yet.  


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Frustrations in Life

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A view looking eastward down the street where Dorothy lived

   Another view of Dorothy's street                                         Dorothy's apartment building (left foreground)
Dorothy spent a lot of her time out and about when I first came to know her. She walked all around her neighborhood of Southside, including the Five-Points-South area. She could be seen walking down the sidewalk carrying her big canvas purse over her shoulder.  Once when she was visiting in my office, getting her checkbook out of that canvas bag of hers so we could help her with some of her bills, she mentioned that she always carried a brick in the bottom of her bag. She said that was in case she needed to defend herself while she was out walking around town. I don't know if she ever had to swing that brick-in-a-bag, but it obviously gave her some sense of security. In my conversations with Dorothy years later, some of her stories illustrated why she had felt the need to keep a brick in her bag. 

Things do not always go our way in life. Most of us know this, yet we can still get frustrated when things don’t happen the way we would like for them to. Living with disabilities and trying to make it on one’s own certainly can lead to all kinds of frustrations. One day in our conversations Dorothy shared a few of those frustrating incidents.

A rose in bloom
“I used to go out and walk to most places I needed to go. One time I went with Cliff – I never will forget it, he lived out at Bluff Park somewhere. We were supposed to go to Walmart or somewhere. He kind of got mad with me when I said we would go to Walmart. He said he wasn’t going nowhere. What had happened, he backed into something and knocked something off the back of his car. He said he was taking me on home. I got real, real angry and I said, ‘Cliff, let me out and I’ll walk home from here – just let me out on the freeway somewhere.’ He wouldn’t do it, he brought me on home. I came on in the apartment and I was mad, I had a brown pocketbook and I slung it all the way from the front back to the kitchen, I was so angry.”

“Another time, at Chris’s Restaurant, I got mad and threw a salt shaker across the room. Elmus had said he was going to meet me up there and he never did. Somebody said something to me. They said that nobody was coming. Well. I didn’t take it the right way – I guess I took things too serious – and I got mad and threw the salt shaker. It landed farther than I intended. The man that ran the restaurant told me to get up and go back home. It was a long time before I could go back over there. When I threw the salt shaker, I didn’t realize how hard I did throw it.”

“One time I was walking out there by the church. There was some little boy out there and I was trying to call Cliff on the pay telephone. Elmus come over here half-drunk and he was aggravating me and I didn’t feel good. I told him to get his butt out of here and go on back home. That boy came up here and tried to keep me from talking on the telephone and I shoved him down. I don’t remember who it was now. He came up when I was on the pay phone. I was angry and I shoved him down, He got up and left and I never did see him no more.”

~ ~ ~ ~ 

Next time we will hear about more dangers that Dorothy encountered, including some unscrupulous con artists.

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday Music: Because (The Beatles)

The video for this Monday is another one from SWP Life Illuminated, a You Tube channel by photographer Scott Wright. I had forgotten about this amazing a cappella number by the Beatles. Scott Wright uses his own photography to accompany the music in what he calls "a testament to the beauty of our world and its reason for being."

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lessons Learned from an Epidemic

The current influenza epidemic has caused us all to take more precautions in our daily routines. News of outbreaks, hospitalizations and deaths brings on a heightened attention to the little things we can do to try to protect ourselves from the virus. I am reminded of the scare of the SARS epidemic of 2003. SARS was frightening because it was swift, deadly, highly contagious, and there was no vaccine available.  

My friend, Jerry Moye, lives in Hong Kong and teaches at the Hong Kong Baptist Theological Seminary.  During that SARS outbreak, Jerry described to me the safety measures that were being taken. Schools were closed, public outings were limited. Everyone tried to protect themselves from contamination. Jerry told me that the Chinese church that he attended decided to continue with limited Sunday worship, with no children’s programs, and opening the church only for those adults who were well and wanted to come. Jerry made the comment about what a sight it was to see the choir members singing while wearing surgical masks. That comment about church and surgical masks provided me with some insight about how we relate to one another which I elaborated upon in my poem, Unmasking the Mask.

Unmasking the Mask
In spite of the epidemic
The people gather on Sunday morning.
Singing hymns and greeting one another
Through surgical masks,
They are determined to carry on.

The sight of all those masks in church
Seems odd at first,
But we always wore the mask.
Sometimes an outsider,
Or a prophet,
Would challenge us
Using words like,
"Plastic saint."
Most of us
Allowed each other
The saving of face
By ignoring the mask.

Now, every mask is out in the open
Like flags of solidarity.
In the clear light of the epidemic
We see that sometimes a mask is needed
For protection.

There is always a risk,
Epidemic or not,
When we draw close to one another.
When we know it is safe,
We will remove the mask.
Until then
We will grant each other the right
To speak through the mask.
We all know
That touching and knowing
Are better than proximity,
That proximity
Is better than isolation.
We will venture as close as we can
And grant each other a safe place.
Mask or no mask.

                                     ~ Charles Kinnaird


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Finding Domestic Harmony

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When I was in graduate school in California, one night I happened to see the TV movie, “Like Normal People.” It was a true story based on the book by the same title by Robert Meyers. Meyers tells about his brother, Roger, who is mildly retarded and who falls in love and marries Virginia who also has metal disabilities.  The movie portrays the struggles faced by Roger and his family as they try to deal with his disabilities and it highlights attitudes that existed in society back in the 1970s about romance in regard to people with developmental disabilities. (You can view a scene from the movie that presents this romantic struggle here. A newspaper article about the real life couple can be found here).

I was very moved by the cinematic portrayal that I saw, having no idea that five years down the road I would be working with people with developmental disabilities.  At the St. Andrew’s Foundation, we based our habilitation programs on Wolf Wolfensberger’s concept of normalization, meaning that we tried to allow each resident to live as independently as possible and to enjoy the normal routines and rhythms of life. Forming romantic relationships and domestic partnerships is part of the normal rhythm of life.  Dorothy, by the time I came to know her, had settled into what seemed to be a happy routine living by herself in her apartment. When we had discussed her life at Partlow, I had asked her if she had any boyfriends there.  Later when we were talking about her life in the community, I asked her if she had ever considered getting married once she had left the institution. The story she told had all the drama and humor one would expect when recounting a romantic relationship.

Dorothy sitting on her front porch
There was a time when I thought about getting married.  When I met up with Elmus, I thought he was a real distinguished gentleman. I come to find out a couple of years later what kind of distinguished gentleman he was. He wasn’t nothin’ but a drunk, and all he wanted was money and whiskey and whatever. He stayed with me one night. He slept in the other room [when I was still at the group home]. They found out about it and told him he couldn’t stay there, that that was under the Mental Health Authority.

He said he had been at Bryce Hospital. I met him when I was at ORC (Occupational Rehabilitation Center).

I thought about getting married and then I thought, well fitter, if I wound up marrying somebody and they care nothing more for you than anything, what good would that do?  So Elmus, he got mad and broke up with me. I wouldn’t let him have a twenty dollar bill. He ended up marrying Rebecca.  Later on, he claimed that him and Rebecca didn’t have no place to stay. They came down here and wanted to stay with me and I wouldn’t let ‘em. He and Rebecca got married and had their wedding reception at the old parish hall.  Rebecca wanted Elmus to tote her across the floor [threshold], and he couldn’t even hardly pick her up. One of her shoes fell off her foot. They had got married down at the courthouse. He was in his old work clothes and she got married in an old sweatshirt and a pair of blue jeans. I didn’t go to their wedding, but I went to the reception.

Later on Elmus told me, 'I married Rebecca and she don’t even know how to cook or clean or nothing else.'  I told him well he made his own bed, now sleep in it. And I couldn’t marry him no how, if I had they would’ve stopped my check, I reckon. Later on, I was glad and thankful that I wasn’t the one that married him. 

~   ~   ~

Dorothy had talked before about preferring to live by herself rather than sharing space with a roommate. She seemed to be one who had discovered that her own domestic happiness came with being single.  Next week we will hear Dorothy talk about some of the frustrations she encountered living on Birmingham's Southside.

Inside her apartment on her way to a party

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday Music: Simple Twist of Fate

Bryan Ferry does a wonderful take on Bob Dylan's "Simple Twist of Fate." The song was first recorded on Dylan's phenomenal Blood on the Tracks album. I love Dylan's poignant original version, but this is a nice rollicking experience in itself from Ferry's Dylanesque.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wednesdays with Dorothy: "Finding My Own Apartment"

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Even though I first met Dorothy when I was working at the St. Andrew’s Foundation, she had already moved out of our group homes and had been living in her own apartment for several years.  One of the ways our clients were able to move out on their own and afford their own apartments was by way of subsidized housing through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Apartments had to pass inspection to be qualified for federal subsidy, which was a good thing in that it insured our clients of finding affordable housing that was up to standard. 

I knew how much Dorothy liked her apartment and how well-kept her living quarters were, but I wanted to find out from her how she came to reside in her small Southside apartment. I asked her to fill me in during one of our conversations:

Dorothy Burdette
(photo taken about the time
she moved to her apartment)
When I moved in to my apartment here, it was March the 1st, 1980. I had seen the rent sign, so I got somebody to come down here with me. I had to put a hundred dollar deposit down and then it took about two weeks for them to fix it up and I moved in here. A couple of men at Glen Iris Baptist Church helped me move my things in. I started coming to Glen Iris when I was in my first apartment with Virginia. I was down in Five Points and I met this lady who told me about Glen Iris, and that’s how I started going there.

I found this apartment one time when I was walking from church. There was a ‘For Rent’ sign out on the corner. Then I found out that Boothby owned it. A man named Mr. Banks let me in to see the apartment. I had to put a hundred dollar deposit down, and there was a lady at the church that helped me with the rest of it. Me and her became good friends. The kitchen was a mess and the bathroom was a mess. They had an old double sink and I mean I had to clean it up and scrub it. I thought I never would get through. Since then they painted in here one time, some of the paint is peeled off. I’ve been here in this apartment thirty years now.  I used to have to go way up on Highland, way up on the hill, to pay my bill.  I would walk up there every month to pay my bill. Now my friend Lana has it fixed so I pay my rent on line direct from my bank account.

I’ve really been through a lot of messes here – water and everything else. Now it ain’t so bad like it used to be. Water used to leak out of the ceiling and drip down here. I’d have to get up in the cold night to get water out of the bathroom. A water drain busted in the kitchen and it really was a mess.  When I first came here [to this apartment] there was garbage in the back porch that had done got molded. This whole place was in a mess and I had to clean it up.

Keeping house
(photo by Marvin Clemmons)

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Monday Music: Landfill Harmonic

Today’s Monday Music feature is a little different.  It’s a brief three-minute documentary “about people transforming trash into music” in Cateura, Paraguay. It is a statement “about love, courage, and creativity.” I found this short film amazing and inspiring.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Navajo Wisdom from Tony Hillerman

I enjoy reading Tony Hillerman’s mystery novels because I can learn a bit about Native American culture while being entertained by a good story.  This week I’ve been reading Hunting Badger.  In one passage,  Jim Chee, a Navajo Tribal Police officer recalls a lesson from his uncle and mentor in traditional Navajo wisdom. Jim Chee tries to live in the modern world while keeping the customs of his native culture. He has tried to do this by learning the songs and rituals of a traditional healer.

Here is the passage in which Chee is talking with his now elderly and dying uncle:

"You know the chants. You sing them without a mistake. And your sand paintings are exactly right. You know the herbs, how to make the emetics, all that."

"I hope so," Chee said, understanding now what Hosteen Frank Sam Nakai was telling him.

"But you have to decide if you have gone too far beyond the four Sacred Mountains. Sometimes you can never come all the way back into Dinetah again."

Chee nodded. He remembered a Saturday night after he'd graduated from high school. Nakai had driven him to Gallup. They had parked on Railroad Avenue and sat for two hours watching the drunks wandering in and out of the bars.

He'd asked Nakai why he'd parked there, who they were looking for. Nakai hadn't answered at first, but what he said when he finally spoke Chee had never forgotten.

"We are looking for the dine' (Navajo people) who have left Dinetah (traditional homeland of the Navajo). Their bodies are here, but their spirits are far beyond the Sacred Mountains. You can go east of Mount Taylor to find them, or west of the San Francisco' Peaks, or you can find them here. "

Chee had pointed to a man who had been leaning clumsily against the wall up the avenue from them, and who now was sitting, head down on the sidewalk. "Like him?" he asked.

Nakai had waved his hand in a motion that included the bar's neon Coors sign and the drunk now trying to push himself up from the pavement. But went beyond them to follow a polished white Lincoln Town Car rolling up the avenue toward them.

"Which one acts like he has no relatives?" Nakai had asked him. "The drunk who leaves his children hungry, or the man who buys that car that boasts of his riches instead of helping his brother?"

                                                                          ~From  Hunting Badger by Tony Hillerman

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Wednesdays with Dorothy: Making the Transition from Group Home to Apartment

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St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
(our offices were in the Parish Hall)
“Hi, Charlie. How you doin’?” Dorothy greeted me as she came into my office. 

“I’m doing fine, Dorothy,” I replied, “How are you?”

“I’m purty good. It’s kinda cool out there today. I took my time comin’ over here. I wanted to wait ‘till the traffic died down before I left the house.” 

This was the day for Dorothy to pick up her Food Stamps. She would always come by the office for one of us to give her a ride down to the Food Stamp Office.  Dorothy lived five or six blocks away from the St. Andrew’s Foundation office. She usually walked everywhere she went and would often come by the office for various things such as help with paying bills, or getting a ride to an appointment.

“Charlie, I brought you and Harry and Edsel some Hershey bars – and they’re still fresh. I just got them this morning.” 

“Thank you Dorothy, that was very kind of you.” I said. “I’ll enjoy that later this afternoon.” 

There were several of our former clients who were living in their own apartments in the Southside neighborhood. They were among the earliest to come out of Partlow State School as a result of the court order in the Wyatt v. Stickney class action lawsuit against the State Mental Health Department. One of the things that made the work of the St. Andrew’s Foundation successful was that our office was not only in close proximity to the group homes, it was also near enough to the various apartment buildings were our graduates, like Dorothy, resided. They were technically no longer under our care, but we had a relationship with them and they knew they could come to us anytime they had a question or a problem. Each of our graduates had a case manager with the state mental health department, but the St. Andrew’s Foundation was there to provide continuing support for them even though there was no financial remuneration. We were essentially providing volunteer services, but it was for people we knew and cared about. They had a history with us and a trust of friendship. It was that relationship that helped them to live successfully in the community.

Toward Independent Living

Before Dorothy and the others were able to move into their own apartments, they had to be taught some basic independent living skills.  After they had mastered those basic skills, they would live in a supervised apartment and would be evaluated prior to moving into their own apartment in the community. In my conversations with Dorothy years later, she recalled those days of transition into the community.  

The Women's Group Home (left) next door
 to the Intermediate  Group Home (right)
“I was at the group home for a few years before I moved into that first apartment.  When I was at 1116 [the Intermediate Group Home], Debbie (she used to live in the group home), she came in with several other people. They started putting down mattresses in the floor. We called Alice (one of the group home staff) and she called Francis (Saint Andrew’s Foundation Director). They told them that they could not stay there. Another time, Elmus came over and they had to tell him he couldn’t stay.”

“When it came time for me and Virginia to move into our own apartment, we were delayed because Virginia wasn’t quite ready, and they wouldn’t let us move until we were both ready. It didn’t work out, because I left her and she couldn’t manage.  I lived there about six months, I guess, before I moved out.”

“When I moved out from the group home and shared that apartment with Virginia, I didn’t like living with her because she fussed and cussed all the time.  I went out and left her; I moved to another apartment with another roommate.  I think I was there about two or three months then I moved in here.  I lived with Virginia in that apartment for six or seven months. Her sister came and got her and took her back home with her.”

*    *    *

Next time Dorothy will tell us about how she found her apartment and what it was like moving into the community.

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