Neither you nor your money are welcome…real life happenings

“This aggression will not stand, Man.”– The Dude, aka Jeff Lewbowski

Several years ago, I officially gave up cooking holiday meals. It was around the time my son became a vegetarian and I realized that my younger kiddo really wouldn’t eat a vegetable unless it was on a cob, blended in a smoothie or under threat of bodily harm. After the first Thanksgiving dinner as a mixed meat/ no-meat family, I said the hell with it. The holidays already carried a heavy emotional weight but feeling like a line cook really wasn’t for me. It also wasn’t working for my family either since by the end of the day, I apparently was one step away from homicide based off the stories they have told me.

So we started looking for holiday places that could accommodate the entire family and low and behold, we stumbled across a hidden gem located a few miles away from the house. A true treat with food that satisfied everyone; in my family, to accomplish this is huge. Since typically when all four of us are together, someone goes back to the house and has to find something else to eat. This place was such a delight in our earlier visits that we eventually added it to our Mother’s Day and Easter roster of places to go. In many ways, The Chef and the Gardener became a part of our family’s traditions, especially for my 10-year-old daughter who associates holidays with a trip to that restaurant.

This has been a rough year for our family, we became a viral story after being called that nasty word, we almost lost my beloved father and then of course the decision after almost 20 years to take a marital hiatus. The estranged husband and I wanted to offer normalcy to our daughter’s life as she struggles with so many changes which will now include changing schools. So, as we always do, we are celebrating out holidays together as a family because we are still a family despite no longer sharing a primary residence.

In that case, I knew that a return trip to The Chef and the Gardener was in order despite the fact that the last time we were there earlier this year, neither the food nor the service was up to the standards that I had come to expect. Our last meal was a disappointment and I did speak up. No cussing, yelling or anything inappropriate, but I was honest; no longer do I silence myself in these moments. Nothing could have prepared me for the cost of that feedback.

Several weeks ago, I called to make our reservations as usual only to be told that they were all booked up. OK. We were disappointed but we figured we would find some place else to go. Granted, it seemed really early for the reservations to have been all taken up, based on past experience with them. I booked us for another place but realized that the menu was too “fancy” for the kiddo. Needless to say, if we are going to pay $150-plus for a dinner, I have no intentions of going home and cooking after dinner for the kiddo.

Back to the drawing board I go. On a whim, I look up The Chef and the Gardener on Facebook to see if they have any openings. Well sure enough, they have a few openings. I call their number and leave a message, I also leave a message on their Facebook page asking them to email me. No one calls me back that day, I call the next day only to be told that they booked those reservations already…strange but I don’t question it until today.

I woke up to an email from one of the owners (it’s a married couple).

Screenshot_2015-11-25-08-38-19I had to reread this several times and then I shared it on my personal Facebook page and Twitter accounts because I was honestly gobstopped. You basically told me that I am not welcome at your establishment because I told you the last meal was not enjoyable yet I have had many enjoyable meals there so I figured it was worth giving you another chance. It was also critically important to give my kid a sense of normal in a year that has been anything but normal. I would swallow shit pies and nails to make my kid feel okay. Hence, I was more than eager to return to place that represents normal and tradition despite the lackluster meal the last time I was there. Besides we all have a bad day.

The truth is that I have never seen another Black person at this establishment, and that whenever a person of color (especially a Black woman) speaks up it is seen as “aggressive and even threatening” as we are often reduced to tropes…can you say angry Black woman? So despite the fact that while I was curt and direct in my feedback the last time I was at this establishment, it was seen as so “terrible” that I am essentially banned from their establishment.

Yet this behavior is nothing new: There is personal, structural and institutional racism. There are microaggressions. To be Black is all about that double consciousness that DuBois wrote about. Are the owners just grade-A jerks with poor communication skills and passive-aggressiveness or grade-A jerks with racist tendencies who would rather not serve a Black person who doesn’t deign to delight in just being allowed to dine at their establishment? I suppose I will never know.

In the meantime, let’s hope our third-choice restaurant is satisfying tomorrow and that new traditions can be started.
Black Girl in Maine runs on passion, a need to write, and reader support. If you enjoy the musings, I love it if you would please consider making a one-time contribution or becoming a monthly patron. Thank you.

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On holidays and assumptions…

The holiday season is barreling down on us. In a few days here in the States, families will gather together to gorge on a dry bird doused in fattening gravy with a plethora of sides and a healthy dose of football games and conversations. Never mind that the roots of Thanksgiving should give us all a healthy case of heartburn; no matter what, it is accepted as a cultural norm that from now until the end of the year, we will come together, eat too much and hopefully have a groovy time.

Except that for millions of people, the holidays are anything but that idealized dream that is served up as a societal norm, so much so that we feel perfectly comfortable asking people we barely know about their holiday plans.

Until 2001, every Thanksgiving in my life was spent with my family of origin. Some years it sucked, some years  it was great but until 2001, that was my norm. Then I moved to Maine and the first year in Maine, traveling home to Chicago for the holidays simply wasn’t practical and then in my second year in Maine, my mother was ill and we put a hold on turkey day so that my mom could recover, never realizing that in a few short months, she would be gone…forever. In fact it was on Christmas Day 2003 that we would learn that her cancer had metastasized to her brain.

Thanksgiving 2004, my dad and brother made the trek to Maine and I attempted to keep the family traditions going but the truth is that for our family, the winter holidays would never be a joyful affair. The loss of our leader combined with the fact that her last holiday season on earth had been our personal hell just took the joy out of the season.

I would later attempt to create my own traditions as is often suggested especially after my daughter’s arrival. But being a tiny family in a place with no family and not really any close friends either often meant the holidays for us didn’t feel much like any other day except that I was worn out  by a day of cooking and cranky as hell, so much so that we all agreed that my cooking the holiday feast was a bad idea. Thus the tradition of gussing ourselves up and going out to eat on Thanksgiving was born. The first year it felt strange but with each subsequent year especially after the eldest child went off to college and couldn’t always make it home, thus reducing us to a trio, it made sense. For Christmas we decided to opt for Chinese for dinner with me preparing a reasonable brunch with homemade cinnamon rolls during the day.

Yet in choosing to find a way to get through the season of joy while not entertaining  the ghosts of a life long gone, it is has been interesting to see the reactions of others. Yet I am interested in why we assume that everyone approaches the holidays from the same paradigm. Considering that families are getting smaller and more spread out, why does this notion of a picturesque holiday season loom so large in our collective thoughts? Why, in our attempt to connect and make conversation, do we feel it appropriate to ask people we barely know about their holiday plans? I suppose one could say that I may be thinking too much on the subject but after finding myself engaged in one too many conversations about my own upcoming holiday plans, I was reminded of conversations with a dear friend who is almost 50 and single by choice. He has no kids and isn’t particularly close to his family of origin. Some years ago, I admit to being baffled by his comfort at what seemed at that time “odd” to me only now to realize that perhaps it was odd of me to bring my baggage to his door on holidays.

The truth is that growing numbers of us are living lives that fall outside of the Ward and June Cleaver dream. We live in an era where family relationships are destroyed or altered over Facebook postings yet we cling to this idea that we will get together, break bread and it will be joyful. But at the same time, it makes us uncomfortable with other people’s comfort at accepting the hand that they have been dealt when it comes to family.

Early in my career, I worked at a homeless shelter and homeless shelters don’t exactly close for the holidays…hey homeless person, go back out on the streets today so that we get  the day off…nope, it doesn’t work like that. Being the low lady on the organizational totem pole, it meant that I had to work holidays, which meant a few years of truncated visits with my own family on the holiday. My mom, bless her heart, was pissed but she understood. Yet seeing people in the world who truly were alone and reliant on the kindness of strangers in many ways has served me well as I navigate a life that falls outside of the norm. I am comfortably uncomfortable with the remains of family that I have; after all, what are my options?

While I may be comfortably uncomfortable, it doesn’t mean that I want the pity of others just as my old friend didn’t want my pity. Instead we ought to do a better job of holding space and accepting that we all walk different paths. For me, it’s the pitying tones that just set me off because it’s in those moments that I feel like “other.” Gee, I am a Black, middle-aged woman in Maine, newly separated and I have virtually no family aside from one sibling and an aging father…can you say: Stands out like a sore thumb? I can’t raise all the family members lost to early death up from the dead. I cannot manufacture a life that does not exist. Instead I wish that we would make room for everyone’s realities and experiences. In fact I am convinced that if we did this in all areas of life, perhaps we would all be a little better off on this dusty rock. So enjoy the start of the holiday season if you are in a place that celebrates Thanksgiving Day and if you are alone or in a space where you aren’t celebrating the holiday, may you find a moment that feels right to you.
Black Girl in Maine runs on passion, a need to write, and reader support. If you enjoy the musings, I love it if you would please consider making a one-time contribution or becoming a monthly patron. Thank you.


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Who gets the nuggets of humanity’s drippings?

This is one of those times when words mostly just fail me, yet I feel the need to say something. We are living in the midst of some ugly times but truthfully it’s always been an ugly time somewhere on this dusty rock. It’s just that technology now allows us to know with frightening speed just how ugly things are, or does it?

A day after a double suicide attack in Beirut, the world was shook to its core at the horrifying attack in Paris. Immediately there was a call for prayers, condolences, warmth and humanity towards those affected by this heinous act in Paris. Even social media got in on the humanity train with a safety check feature being activated for those in Paris along with a multicolored avatar in the colors of the French flag to let everyone know you are “standing” with Paris. This is all wonderful in the aftermath of this attack on humanity but what about the people in Beirut? Or any of the countless other massacres in the Second World and Third World that leave untold numbers of nonwhite bodies dead or maimed?

In Beirut, at least 41 people are reported to have lost their lives in the suicide attack; reports are that a father named Adel Termos, who had his young daughter in tow, threw his body on one of the attackers and his quick-thinking actions probably saved the lives of many, though this actions resulted in his death and…according to many media reports, the death of his young girl (though subsequent reports and photos seem to suggest she survived). Why didn’t we hear that story until after people pointed out that the attacks in Paris seem to be part of a larger strategy by the Islamic State? My goodness: A man literally saved untold numbers of people in a suicide attack and it wasn’t newsworthy? Considering what passes for news these days, one need not be a media scholar to start connecting the dots.

The media we see and don’t see in this part of the world (the United States and Europe, notably) is tailored to fit a certain audience: white and Western. The standards of all that we consider normal are white and Western. Whiteness has centered itself and well that standard determines if the horrors in Arabic countries are newsworthy or not. The problem is that these divides don’t serve us well; in fact, these divides keep us ignorant, as we learned in the aftermath of the Paris attacks when Conservative right-wing Americans took to the television, radio and Twitter to say the most hateful and asinine things that could make one think that critical thinking went the way of the telegraph in the United States.

Most of us live siloed lives, whether it’s a silo of all whites or all Americans yet the world is larger than our respective silos and as sojourners in this place, we owe it to ourselves to step out of our falsely secure and comfortable cocoons and not allow ourselves to be spoon-fed a diet that discounts millions of people on this rock.

One of the common retorts to the Black Lives Matter movement is that “all lives matter,” yet too many times, the messages we take in says otherwise. If we are going to offer warmth, prayers and nuggets of humanity to those impacted in Paris, let us offer humanity to all who are affected by this senseless war or terror (from far more than just radical Islamists…right-wing white terrorism, for example, is a bigger killer in the United States) that has twisted the words of a tradition and turned it into a ugly caricature.
Black Girl in Maine runs on passion, a need to write, and reader support. If you enjoy the musings, I would be honored if you would please consider making a one-time contribution or becoming a monthly patron. Thank you.

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