When I was in third grade, we lived in Fairbanks Alaska, and I wanted to be a grown up. Because Alaska is frontier wilderness, a lot of the activities I remember were around doing things in the outdoors with the family.

I wanted to be grown up, so I got a paper route (at eight years old I was the youngest one they’d ever had). I remember that I had to borrow my Dad’s typewriter to write the circulation department telling them why I wanted to be a paper boy.

I also remember my parents making me take my little brother with me so I wouldn’t get into trouble and getting into trouble anyway (but that’s a whole bunch of different stories).

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Today is Martin Luther King Day. One day before the biggest inauguration since George Washington, and only 46 years since the famous “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Unlike Steve Martin, I was not born a poor black child. I was however very lucky to be raised without the iron of racial hatred and prejudice that so many people have to overcome thanks in part to being raised in parts of middle America where discrimination was more hidden, and also thanks to having parents who understood that this hatred was wrong.

Perhaps because of how I grew up, I had a leg up on not developing predjudices. I know that anthropologically we generalize things: it’s a survival trait from before we even had civilizations. When you see a bear attack somebody, you generalize that all bears are dangerous.

So for me, living in the comfort of middle America, my generalizations likely came from being exposed to people who were also enlightened middle class people. My experiences with people my parents socialized with were always generally positive, which probably means I generalized all people that way. I think this is one of the more insidious aspects of prejudice is that people will respond to the way they are treated. Somebody raised to think that a certain race is not to be trusted, will look for things to support that idea, and subconsciously encourage that behavior.

When we first moved to Wrangell (a small town and island in the south eastern portion of Alaska), I think I had my first real exposure to the shame of America. One of my friends at school was a native American (he was of the Tlinget tribe). When we went from one grade to the next (can’t remember exactly which grade), they told us that all of our “Indian” friends would be sent to the Indian school.

It was confusing and disturbing, and I couldn’t understand why it was happening.  All I knew was there was some arbitrary rule that said if you’re part of this tribe, you can’t go to the same school with the other kids.

I lived in Alaska from the time I was in third grade until I was in sixth grade (1967 until 1970) when my Dad got a job for (the now infamous) Alaska Senator Ted Stevens. We made the trek across Canada on the Candian National Railway, down the coast to Washington, D.C. and  to our new home in Alexandria Virginia (pronounced Vuh-gin-yuh after you’ve lived there).

When we got to Washington D.C., we wanted to drive through and see the capitol and all the sites. I remember it was evening, and we drove into the city, but at some point we came to some barricades. We were told it wasn’t safe to go into the city and were turned around to go out of the city.  Later we watched the news to hear that there were “race riots” going on (I’m thinking now that it must have been related to the Jackson State killings).

We moved to Alexandria, Va. which was for the most part a suburb of the seats of power. You could take a bus to Washington D.C. (which I think my Dad did every day) and it was about as lily white a place as I had ever lived. I was in junior high by now, and the middle school I went to did not have a diverse population (out of a couple hundred kids, there were two black kids, one indigenous American). Most of the kids at this school were from fairly affluent families, and from what I could see there wasn’t any obvious prejudice there.

As I finished with middle school, and was preparing for high school, some of my friends started talking about how the “bad” kids would be getting bussed to the high school next year. I didn’t know why, or who these “bad” kids might be, but I was a little worried.

The first day of school arrived, and to my horror and surprise, I saw first hand who the “bad” kids really were. I saw kids from my old school, yelling and throwing things at the buses that were arriving. The high school was one of the first to integrate, and the so called “bad” kids they had been talking about, were the black kids from the ghetto. I was horrified to learn that my friends had been afraid of these kids because of the color of their skin.

This was a culture shock: I went from a middle school that was 100% upper middle class, to a high school that was suddenly 70% low income kids. Here were kids who thought that getting a job as a garbage man was the equivalent of being President. I was from a background where a college education was assumed to be part of the plan, they were from a place where staying in school was something you had to do, and only until you could find a job. There were language differences too: the first time somebody asked me to borrow a “prunsel”, I had no idea what it was (they were asking for a pencil).

So today, on the eve of the amazing accomplishment of the inauguration of Barack Obama, I am truly grateful (and impatient) for the dream that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke so eloquently about. It’s still a dream, but with our first non-white president, we have a little more proof that all things are possible.

Can we realize the dream (and overcome the insidious nature of hateful prejudice) ?

Yes we can !

When I was a little boy, I used to love to fly those balsa wood airplanes.You know, the ones that came in a flat bag, with thin sheets of balsa wood, a nose weight, a plastic propellor and a really big rubber band that you bought at the local grocery store.

They usually had red ink on one side that had USAF markings and a little picture of a pilot in the cockpit. You had to be careful putting them together, or the paper-thin wings or tail would break, and it would never fly right.

There was a park near where we lived in Alaska that was on a little hill above the ocean. I was flying planes there one day, and trying to see how far I could make them go. How far could I wind up the propellor before the rubber band broke? Would it fly straight, or crash and break in a million pieces? How much power could the rubber band give me anyway?

I was getting discouraged with fighting the wind, and ready to go home. All day I’d been throwing the planes only to watch them nosedive, or go nowhere as they bucked the wind, no matter how hard I wound the rubber band.

One last time, I wound the propellor a few extra times, and threw the plane down the hill toward the ocean. I watched in amazement as the wind caught the plane lifting it far higher than I could ever have thrown it.It flew out across the park, and over the sea.

It kept flying until I couldn’t see it any more, looking like somebody had actually filled the gas tank and taken it on a trip across the sea. It was still flying when I lost sight of it.

There are so many amazing things that can happen when we simply get out of the way and let the wind pick us up. All I had to do was put together the plane, wind the rubber band, and the wind took care of the rest.

By doing what we can do, being conscious and prepared, we can be ready for the greater gifts as they are presented.

American Bald Eagle fall mating ritual
American Bald Eagle fall mating ritual (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a boy, we lived in south eastern Alaska in the small chain of islands north of Ketchikan, first on the island of Wrangell, then the island of Petersburg.

This was one of the most amazing places to be as a boy, the perfect place to learn about nature, and beauty.In Petersburg, we lived a couple miles out of town along this road that ran to the other end of the island, in this house that sat on stilts hanging over a cliff that looked out on the strait (almost all the islands there are so close together that if the water wasn’t 35 degrees you could swim to the next one).

The house was nestled in the pine trees, and always looked like one of those postcards of a green forest with wisps of fog floating around the trees. It rained constantly, which was incredibly fun for us, since we got to play in the mud every day. We could always spot the tourists because they would be the ones trying to walk around the mud puddles.

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My dad was a newspaper reporter and editor, and for a time in my youth (and his too, I suppose), he was an editor of a couple of small papers in Alaska.

During that period, as the editor, he wrote an editorial column that he called “Weaver’s Loom” where he wrote stories and posted his opinions. I remember all sorts of entertaining stories in that column, things about the family, events that happened to us, and even a posting of my creative writing about Santa (where I had him upgrade the sleigh with a rocket ship).

So when I started this blog, I thought I would borrow his column name in honor of the fabulous tradition of Weavers spinning their tales. If you want to see the professional writer at work, check out my Dad’s blog at http://www.virtualbob35.blogspot.com/

I don’t have a particular focus, and I expect this won’t be the sort of blog that has lots of followers because of that (more of a journal that might be interesting to people I know). Anyway, the experiment is begun, and I’ve started “blogging“, so expect to see short stories here in between the technical and business postings.