Thursday, October 28, 2010

Obama and "The Gays"

I understand, and certainly share, the frustration that Obama hasn't used his majorities in Congress to make good on the promises he made in the 2008 campaign.  The frustration over his Administration's legal maneuvers in DADT and DOMA are also understandable.  As someone who's earned a law degree, I appreciate his strategy of defending laws he clearly does not agree with as a way to make sure the stake is permanently through the heart of those laws. 

The President's interview with The Advocate was enlightening for me on a couple of fronts.  When talking about disillusionment and disappointment in the LGBT community, Obama said:
I guess my attitude is that we have been as vocal, as supportive of the LGBT community as any President in history. I’ve appointed more openly gay people to more positions in this government than any President in history. We have moved forward on a whole range of issues that were directly under my control, including, for example, hospital visitation.

On “don’t ask, don’t tell,” I have been as systematic and methodical in trying to move that agenda forward as I could be given my legal constraints, given that Congress had explicitly passed a law designed to tie my hands on the issue.

And so, I’ll be honest with you, I don’t think that the disillusionment is justified.
Now, I say that as somebody who appreciates that the LGBT community very legitimately feels these issues in very personal terms. So it’s not my place to counsel patience. One of my favorite pieces of literature is “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and Dr. King had to battle people counseling patience and time. And he rightly said that time is neutral. And things don’t automatically get better unless people push to try to get things better.

So I don’t begrudge the LGBT community pushing, but the flip side of it is that this notion somehow that this administration has been a source of disappointment to the LGBT community, as opposed to a stalwart ally of the LGBT community, I think is wrong.
I guess the President is saying to us, "Look, I'm doing the best that I can.  I know you want me to do more, faster, but I want to get this done right.  I'm your FRIEND.  Look at what I have done so far!  Saying that I'm not that good of a friend is wrong, and kind of hurts my feelings."  OK, I read the feelings part into the President's response, but I think it's true. 

What has President Obama's Administration actually accomplished for the LGBT community since taking office in January 2009?  Here's a list:
  1. Signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, expanding federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
  2. Supported legislation to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—which has passed the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee—including sending the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman to testify before the Senate in favor of repeal.
  3. Lifted the discriminatory ban on entry to the United States based on HIV status.
  4. Ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to guarantee medical decision making and visitation rights to LGBT couples.
  5. Expanded the Family Medical Leave Act to ensure that LGBT parents and partners can take leave from work to care for their child, parent, or spouse just as any family member could.
  6. Committed to ensuring the Housing and Urban Development Department’s core housing programs are open to all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, and clarified the department’s definition of “family” to include LGBT people.
  7. Removed a common barrier to safe housing experienced by those in the LGBT community by including gender identity and expression in the Fair Housing Act. 
  8. Led a successful international effort to gain recognition of LGBT organizations at the United Nations.
  9. Reversed an inexcusable U.S. position by signing the United Nations Declaration on Gay Rights, which condemns violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity worldwide.
  10. Signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act.
  11. Changed State Department policy so that transgender Americans can more easily obtain passports that reflect their true gender.
  12. Banned job discrimination based on gender identity throughout the federal government.
  13. Endorsed the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act of 2009 to provide full partnership benefits to federal employees.
  14. Eliminated the discriminatory Census Bureau policy that kept LGBT relationships from being counted, encouraging couples who consider themselves married to file that way and urging transgender Americans to identify their true gender.
  15. Hired and appointed a record number of qualified LGBT Americans, including several transgender appointees— the first president ever to do so.
  16. Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Billie Jean King and the late Harvey Milk.
  17. Sent an administration official to the Senate to testify in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, the first time any official of any administration has done so.
  18. Hosted the first LBGT Pride Month Celebration in White House history, and after eight years of silence under the Bush administration resumed the tradition of issuing Presidential Pride proclamations.
A lot of people will say, "Yes, that's lovely, but it's only moving issues around the edges!  We want DADT and DOMA repealed!  We want ENDA passed!  And we wanted it yesterday!"  I think the 2008 campaign did create unrealistic expectations of what Obama would be able to accomplish upon entering office.  Our Presidency is not a monarchy.  The President, for the most part, cannot simply decree things, even with huge majorities in the House and Senate.  What he has been able to decree, he has done so, in a methodical manner.  It's real change, even if not everyone feels it.  Obama is laying groundwork that will pay off for us as we continue to fight DADT and DOMA in Congress and the courts.

The sad fact remains that if the Teabaggers totally take over Congress, legislative movement on our rights will come to a halt.  A GOP Congress will not even vote on ENDA or DADT.  And you can forget about DOMA.  We'll probably see a renewed push to amend the Constitution to ban same sex marriage again.  Such a move will fail, but don't be surprised when they try.  I think the House is lost to us, but the Senate is not.  If we can keep the Senate, we can still get judges appointed who are open minded about LGBT rights, and we can stop the worst of the House-passed bills.  And hopefully Obama will wield his veto pen to protect us.

So remember to vote if you haven't already.  You really have no room to bitch if you don't participate.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

My 2010 Georgia Election Guide

I'm starting to get more questions about who should be supported on the Georgia ballot in this election.  It's no secret I'm a hard core Democrat, so my suggestions are not surprising.  But I will note cases where other candidates are generally NOT freaks.  I'm also the Treasurer of the Atlanta Stonewall Democrats, and we have a process for giving judges a smell test, so for Fulton and DeKalb County judicial races, I will share those recommendations.  I also got a really good summary from my State Reprepresentative, Mary Margaret Oliver, who passed along a summary prepared by Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield.  I'll share that and my recommendation for your vote.

GOVERNOR:  Roy Barnes 
If the Republicans are allowed to control redistricting in 2011, they will redistrict Democrats almost out of existance for the next decade.  It will be a disaster, and only Roy Barnes with a veto pen can stop it.  Also, Nathan Deal is a crook.  The man is bankrupt and may not survive a term without being indicted for corruption.  Not to mention he's the type of man who tried to make rape trial laws so lax that a woman would have to prove she "didn't ask for it" in a rape trial.  If Georiga elects Deal governor, we will continue to decline as a state, and we'll be no better than Mississippi and Alabama in making fools of ourselves by the people we elect.
LT. GOVERNOR:  Carol Porter
This is a good woman who believes we need to focus on issues like the economy and efficiency in state government rather than focus on social issues like abortion or gay adoption.  She would make a vastly superior Lt. Gov to Casey Cagle who's main accomplishment has been to forget to lock his office door while fucking his mistress on his desk.  He's also been very involved in aiding Nathan Deal in his corrupt deals with state government.
SECRETARY OF STATE:  Georgianna Sinkfield
When it comes to the office that protects integrity of our elections, I believe that a GOP SOS means that we have a default position that the poor and non-white should have obstacles in place in order to vote.  I'm bothered that Sinkfield doens't seem to be campaigning outside the black church circuit, but she's better than Kemp who made some kind of secret deal with Gov. Sonny Perdue to short circuit what was promising to be a lively GOP primary by appointing him to the office when Karen Handel resigned to run for governor.
After a successful primary, Hodges inexplicably fired his whole staff and decided to have "friends" run his campaign.  Sam Olens, the GOP nominee, is widely expected to win, and he's one of the reasonable Republicans.  He led the Cobb Commission to repeal its anti-gay resolutions from the 1990s that basically said gay people are bad and weren't welcome in Cobb County.  He also has worked with friends of mine in Cobb to pave the way for the Cobb Commission to adopt a non-discrimination in employment ordinance for LGBT workers.  The Libertarian Don Smart is pretty good too.  He won't win, but just imagine how much fun it would be to have an independent AG who dislikes both Dems and GOP :)
This is the 2nd time around for Joe running for this office.  He's got a deep background in education policy making, and God knows our schools need help, BADLY.  The Libertarian candidate is interesting, and she's a school teacher.  She doesn't give answers you'd expect from a Libertarian who is suspicious that state government should be involved in education at all, unless it's a voucher system.  The GOP candidate is a right wing FREAK, and if he wins, we can expect Georgia to make headlines like Texas disclaiming science-based fact and instead teaching that the earth is 6000 years old.
Squires is by far the superior candidate in this race, and she worked hard to clear the field so she could fundraise.  However, we have not seen the fruits of that labor, and her campaign for this VERY important office has been invisible to me...and I'm heavily involved in Democratic politics!  But she is smart, and she is tough...and she understands that this office is the only protection consumers have.
There was some SUPER shady stuff going down around this office and who would run for it.  Ostensibly, former House Speaker Terry Coleman was being groomed the last 4 years to run for the office that has been held by Tommy Irvin since 1968.  Coleman decided at the last minute to run for Labor Commissioner.  Considering Coleman was PERSONALLY responsibile for the Amendment 1 vote being held in 2004, voting for him would have been virtually impossible for any self-respecting gay person in Georgia.  Luckily, Coleman lost, which warmed my gay heart.  Powell and the GOP nominee are both big into corporate farming, but the Libertarian Kevin Cherry is big into organic farming, and he's got some ideas that could be useful for rural GA. 
This is largely an administrative post, but the idea that a party which is ACTIVELY hostile to the average worker should be in charge of the department that provides services to the average workers baffles me.  And the libertarians would probably want to see the department abolished, so again, why elect someone like that? Darryl is a good guy, and would be a very good commissioner of labor.
The Commission has become a rubber stamp for whatever rate increase Georgia Power wants to impose.  They are actively anti-consumer, so we need Keith's voice on the commission.
Unless there is a huge turnout with black voters, Thurmond doesn't stand a chance.  The fact he hasn't raised any money or campaigned doesn't help either.  But I cast this vote as a vote of support for President Obama.
For State Reps, State Senators, and Congress, vote Democrat.  In my own district, if John Lewis is not reelected, the world truly is coming to an end.


This is a man who believes in personal freedom, including freedom for LGBT Georgians.  He is the only one who applied for the Stonewall endorsement, and his answers to our questions indicate he would be a friend on the Court.  The incumbent was appointed as Sonny's stooge on the court.  I would NOT trust Nahmias to be fair or friendly when it comes to issues of gay rights on the Court. 
None of the other judges on the Court of Appeals is opposed, and this seat is open.  McFadden literally wrote the book on appeal procedure in Georgia.  He would make a fair and good judge.
This seat cannot go wrong.  I like the energy and bipartisanship with which Rothenberg has approached his campaign.  In this race, my CHIEF concern is to have a judge who interprets "best interest of the child" to INCLUDE gay parents and 2nd parent adoption.  Rothenberg will support gay families, as will Denise Warner and Courtney Johnson.  Any of these three are good choices.
FULTON COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT:  Grier, Dallaire, Robertson
There is a stealth GOP right winger running for this seat, so whatever you do, DO NOT VOTE FOR KELLY LEE for this office!  She WILL NOT support gay families in Fulton County, whereas any of the three listed above will. 

AMENDMENT 1: Allows contracts with non-compete clauses to be enforced in Georgia courts.
BALLOT QUESTION: Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to make Georgia more economically competitive by authorizing legislation to uphold reasonable competitive agreements?

Summary: Currently, the Constitution prohibits the General Assembly from authorizing any contract or agreement that may or intends to have the effect of defeating or lessening competition. Non-compete clauses in contracts may limit where a former employee works, where he or she works and the type of work they can perform. Moreover, these restrictions can be for brief periods or for years.

If passed, the amended would give the General Assembly the power to grant to courts the ability to "blue-pencil" contracts with non-compete language. This means a judge could limit the duration, geographic area, and scope of prohibited activities provided in a contract or agreement with competition restrictions and thereby make such non-compete language reasonable.

Pro: For many companies, non-compete clauses are essential to guarantee that former employees with specialized knowledge are not able to simply leave the company and take that knowledge to the next highest bidder or to create their own companies using knowledge gained from trade secrets. Most states allow “blue penciling” by judges, which Georgia currently does not.  This amendment is ANTI-WORKER including doctors,lawyers, etc.  Companies will simply write overly broad contracts and dare the employee to go to the expense of suing in court.

Con: Judges will have the unilateral ability to change the terms of a contract, either in favor of or against a former employee. This could lead to irregular decisions, depending on where the judge and the employer are based. For example, a judge in DeKalb County could throw out a non-compete agreement where the employee cannot work in the metro-area and a judge in Fulton County could uphold an identical agreement.

AMENDMENT 2: Adds $10 tag fee on private passenger vehicles to fund statewide trauma care expansion.

BALLOT QUESTION: Shall the Constitution o f Georgia be amended so as to impose an annual $10.00 trauma charge on certain passenger motor vehicles in this state for the purpose of funding trauma care?

VOTE YES, although our lilly-livered legislature should have the balls to just raise taxes themselves to pay for things like this.

Summary: This creates a $10.00 tag fee that can only be spent to fund trauma care and cannot be diverted to the general fund for other purposes. All motor vehicles designed to carry ten or fewer persons, including pickup trucks, motorcycles, sport utility vehicles, and passenger vans will pay the fee. The trauma charge would be collected together with license tag and registration fees.

Pro: This provides a new and necessary funding source for Georgia’s trauma care system that will be protected from other uses.

Con: The new funds may encourage the legislature to reduce its other funding streams; and large passenger vehicles, like buses, are exempt from the fee.

AMENDMENT 3: Allows the State to execute multiyear contracts for long-term transportation projects.

BALLOT QUESTION: Shall the Constitution o f Georgia be amended so as to allow the Georgia Department of Transportation to enter into multiyear construction agreements without requiring appropriations in the current fiscal year for the total amount of payments that would be due under the entire agreement so as to reduce long-term construction costs paid by the state?

VOTE YES - Why shouldn't the state be able to get reduced prices for multi-year contracts, with basic language that says its dependent on appropriated funds being available, just like the feds do.

Summary: Currently, a state agency cannot enter into contracts with private vendors if the contract requires payments beyond the funds available for that fiscal year. This means that unless an agency has funds in hand for a 5-year project, like a road project, it can only contract year-to-year. This amendment would allow the General Assembly by statute to let the Department of Transportation enter into construction agreements without obligating present funds for the full amount of the obligation.

Pro: Many contractors and states prefer multi-year contracts because they allow for bonuses for early completion, increase competition among bidders and allow for better transportation planning.

Con: This will allow DOT to agree to a project it may not be able pay for in the long-term.

AMENDMENT 4: Allows the State to execute multiyear contracts for projects to improve energy efficiency and conservation.

BALLOT QUESTION: Shall the Constitution o f Georgia be amended so as to provide for guaranteed cost savings for the state by authorizing a state entity to enter into multiyear contracts which obligate state funds for energy efficiency or conservation improvement projects?

VOTE YES - This will allow green energy retro-fitting, and the state can always include clasues about subject to funding for these projects, just like the federal govt does.

Summary: Currently, the constitution prohibits a state agency from entering into contracts with private vendors that obligate funds the agency does not already have committed. This amendment will authorize “energy performance contracts.” These contracts basically let a state agency use debt to finance energy efficiency and water improvement projects at state buildings, and the vendors who build the projects guarantee payments back to the agency based on realized savings (lower energy costs, less water used), which is achieved by the cost savings resulting from the improvements.

Pro: State agencies can upgrade to more energy and water efficient buildings by using a debt instrument that is underwritten by the very vendors who promise the savings. If it works, the agency has lower costs. If it doesn’t, the agency has guaranteed payments to make up the loss.

Con: It creates a new debt instrument for state government.

AMENDMENT 5: Allows owners of industrial-zoned property to choose to remove the industrial designation from their property.

BALLOT QUESTION: Shall the Constitution o f Georgia be amended so as to allow the owners of real property located in industrial areas to remove the property from the industrial area?

VOTE YES  - This affects only two parts of two South GA counties.

Summary: The proposal amends the provisions of the Constitution relating to industrial areas which exist in only two counties in the state: Chatham County and Jeff Davis County. Currently, the counties face restrictions on the ability of these areas to participate in the municipal services provided near their locations. This restriction is a hold-over from the 1983 constitutional revision.

Pro: Property owners who currently have the responsibility for certain services will be permitted to join a neighboring city and reduce its costs.

Con: Unknown.

STATEWIDE REFERENDUM: Provides for inventory of businesses to be exempt from state property tax.

BALLOT QUESTION: Shall the Act be approved which grants an exemption from state ad valorem taxation for inventory of a business?

VOTE NO - Another giveaway for business.  In these times, that should NOT be allowed.
Summary: This Act provides that all tangible personal property constituting the inventory of a business shall be exempt from state ad valorem taxation. If approved by a majority of the voters, the Act becomes effective on January 1, 2011, and applies to all tax years beginning on or after that date. Pro: Georgia is one of only 14 states that currently imposes an inventory tax. The amount raised by such a tax is minimal for the state, and nominal for most cities and counties.

Con: Certain cities and counties do rely on the inventory tax, which means a wholesale repeal could lead to a rise in the millage rate in those areas, particularly those school districts

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Southern Funeral

There is a rhythm to Southern Funerals that I wonder is unique to this region of the country.  First, there is the phone call telling you that someone has "passed".  We always say "passed", not "died" when making these calls, although I have deliberately chosen to make the more blunt assessment.  The person has not "passed" (passed what?  Gas? A kidney stone?) or "passed away" (again, from what?), but the person has DIED.  I am sensitive to many folks needs to be more gentle about discussing death, but as long as I'm not harsh or crude about it, I see no reason why I shouldn't state what is the case:  a person has died.

In the case of my Grandma Sookie*, we knew she was on the decline and was going to die of congestive heart failure since she had been placed in hospice.

*Pardon this interruption, but I must explain the "Grandma Sookie" part.  Most people are like, "Grandma WHAT?!?"  My grandmother was given the nickname "Snooks" by my great-grandpa, Andrew Jackson Felts, because she had naturally curly hair just like a cartoon character in the late 1920s called "Snooks".  The nickname stuck, but everyone ended up calling her Snookie.  With today's "Snooki" being that over-tanned tramp from Jersey Shore, the irony is pretty thick.  I'm not sure my grandma knew about the 2010 "Snooki" or that she'd appreciate the name being associated with the TV girl.  Anyway, as a child, I could not say "Snookie" as I learned to talk.  It always came out "Sookie", so she became "Grandma Sookie" to me, and will always be "Grandma Sookie" aka "Bad Grandma".*

So when Mom called me last Thursday, Oct 14 to tell me that the end was near, the doctors said she was in her final hours as her systems were shutting down, I was not surprised.  She then called back 20 minutes later to tell me she had died.  My only thought was to make sure that I was there for my mother through the coming ordeal of my grandma's funeral.

Mom beat me to Nashville, since she was coming from Lexington, KY and I was coming from Atlanta, GA. That first night, we went to eat Hibachi, and I bought my mom two strong Mai Tais to make sure she'd sleep soundly.  The plan worked, and she was fast asleep within 30 minutes after we returned to the hotel. 

When I had received word from my mom that Grandma Sookie had died, I immediately called my paternal grandparents, who are now my ONLY grandparents.  I had to leave a message but I figured they may be out.  But the fact they had not called back by the time we were in the hotel getting ready for bed, made me think that they might have gone off on a trip.  Usually, my grandma will call me before they run off somewhere in case "something happens".  This time, they didn't.  I called the cell phone number I had, and my grandpa answered it.  After asking if everything was OK, I told him that Grandma Sookie had died.  They were in north GA looking at the leaves, and had thought of going down to Atlanta to see me, not knowing that I was now in Nashville.  Their farm is 40 minutes west of Nashville in Bon Aqua, TN, so I told them we had gotten a hotel closer to Joelton because of the back-and-forth.  They understood but said we're more than welcome to come back and spend the night at the farm on Saturday.  I'd already "spent" the Marriott points, so I declined.

We slept in on Friday, getting up about 10:30am.  My cousin, Mary Frances, who just goes by Frances, had been my grandmother's primary careperson the last year or so of her life.  She had the power of attorney, which was fine because neither I nor my mom could have done the things that needed to be done prior to death.  Frances told us that the funeral home had an appointment available for noon or 2pm.  We picked noon, had some Waffle House for breakfast, and headed out to Joelton, TN... ground zero for my mother's side of the family.

We met at Anderson & Garrett funeral home, where EVERY member of my mother's family has had his/her funeral since my great-grandpa died in 1955 of a heart attack.  It's located across the street from Joelton Middle School (which was Joelton High School back in the 1930s and 1940s when my grandmother's generation attended there) at the crossroads of two major roads.  It looks kind of like Twelve Oaks from Gone With the Wind.

Turns out that Frances had done some prep work before we arrived.  My grandmother had thankfully purchased two burial policies that would just cover the expenses of burying her.  We picked out a simple white coffin and a no-frills vault.  The funeral director threw in engraving her name, years of birth and death, and an icon of our choosing.  My grandmother was all about music, so I picked out some musical notes for the icon.  The engravings were done with laser, and turned out quite nice.  I approved the jewelry that Frances had picked out, removing only one piece on the grounds of being tacky.  The jewelry was, of course, fake.

Frances said she had a million things to do before the funeral on Saturday (the next day) include making phone calls.  She was insistent that we have a full 4 hour visitation per my grandmother's wishes.  My grandmother had made a folder that included sheet music to the old-time gospel songs she wanted sung.  To this list, Frances wanted "Great is Thy Faithfulness" to be the final tune as it was personally meaningful to her.  It was at this time, she said that the Lord had put something on her heart that she had to say at the funeral.  My mother and I wondered what the hell it could be, but after all Frances had done for my grandmother (including putting up with a heaping helping of verbal abuse), we were inclined to let her do whatever she wanted.  I did make it clear that Mom and I wouldn't be there for the whole visitation.  4 hours was just not doable for either of us, and honestly, we expected that no one would show up until later anyway.  I announced our intention to arrive by 12:30pm, when the service would start at 1:30pm.  An hour is what we had when my father committed suicide in 2001, and that was plenty.  You have no idea how emotionally draining these "visitations" can be.  I know I had forgotten until this weekend.

After we left the funeral home, we stopped by a florist down the road.  The florist was dealing with another customer, so we had time to look around this old converted house sitting by itself, surrounded by plowed fields near the interstate.  I had hoped we could see a catalogue of "sprays" which lay on top of the coffin and just pick one at a reasonable price.  The florist was NOT helpful in this regard.  She said you could do a nice spray from $100-800.  I certainly didn't want to just say "gimme a $100 spray".  After all, this was to represent both me and my mother at the funeral.  There were certain expectations to be met.  We couldn't just buy a bundle of weeds or brush and call it a day.   I told her we were looking to spend about $150-200 max.  Of course, I meant $200 inclusive of tax, but the florist immediately jumped on spending $200 BEFORE tax.  After she said with tax, I could get a nice spray of flowers for $218, I didn't feel like I could just say, "No, I meant $200 WITH tax!"  She was talking about color palettes and different available flowers for that price.  We ultimately went with "pastels", but I had no idea what it would look like.  My catalogue idea was a non-starter.  I should have just gone online to pick something out.  My mother told me as we left that I really shouldn't have spent so much, but I told her that we had to keep up a certain standard, and I'd just deal with the cost.  The spray turned out to be really nice, and even had some beautiful purple Calla lilies in it.  Frances gushed over the spray, so I figure I did my job getting something respectable for the casket, especially since we weren't doing the Wheel.

What is the Wheel, you ask?  It is a tradition that has largely died out, as Frances learned that very few florists even knew how to do one, and fewer still were willing to execute.  My grandmother was the 8th of 12 children.  When "Pap" (my great-grandpa) died in 1955, the family started a tradition where every time someone died in the immediately family, the brothers/sisters would buy a wheel for the funeral.  At the center would be flowers representing the great-grandparents.  Each child would be a "spoke" in the wheel, with 1 o'clock being represented by the 1st born, 2 o'clock, the 2nd born, etc. all the way to 12 o'clock representing my Uncle Jerry Felts, the youngest child.  Each living child would pay for his/her "spoke" which would go all the way to the middle.  Any dead child would be represented by a "broken spoke" that would go halfway.  The deceased child would have a half-spoke and a dove on it.  I guess the dove was in the middle when the parents died.  Anyway, since 1955, this wheel has represented "The Family" at each funeral of a brother or sister.  Aunt Janie, the 11th child, was responsible for the Wheel since the 1990s at least.  Before she died, she made Frances promise her that if she were dead, and Frances living, that EVERY sibling would have a Wheel.  This was the first death since Aunt Janie died in 2007.  Frances did a great job.  The half-spokes had to be dropped because only one child is still alive, Aunt Mary Ella.  The wheel couldn't withstand so many broken spokes, so instead of flowers, the spokes were covered with "green leaves" and a single carnation (blue for boys, pink for girls) represented all the deceased siblings.  The deceased family member's immediate family is not expected to pay for a spoke.  The relatives of previously deceased siblings are expected to donate, however.  When Aunt Janie died, her Wheel was elaborate and covered in white roses.  It also cost $800.  I think Frances was able to keep the cost of my grandmother's wheel around $300.  If I told you that Aunt Janie was simply adored by EVERYONE in the family while my grandmother simply was not, the desire to "go cheap" is understandable.  If it hadn't been for the promise to Aunt Janie, the Wheel probably would not have been there at all.

After arranging for the funeral spray, my mother took me to visit another cousin, who lives next door to Frances, named Billie Sue.  Billie Sue is the oldest daughter of my great Aunt Sis, who was the spitting image of my mother.  If you saw a picture of Aunt Sis, you'd swear that SHE was my grandmother because of the ressemblance between her and my mom.  Billie Sue has a daughter who was born 5 years to the day after my mom.  My mom was never able to get that close to her cousins because my grandmother kept her away from them.  Anyway, she has been able to reconnect with the family in recent years, as she has pulled away from my grandmother's influence and realized just how isolated she had kept her from the rest of the family, who had VERY fond memories of her as a child.   We sat in Billie Sue's house with her husband (whose name escapes me) and chatted.  It was mostly about family gossip, talking about the funeral, and what we knew of Grandma Sookie's last moments.  (She simply stopped breathing.  It was very peaceful according to Frances, who was there.)

Mom had mentioned wanting to see a movie later, so I used my iPhone to find out the closest theatre to Rivergate showing Secretariat, which we both wanted to see but had not seen yet.  That gave me and excuse to shoo us out to get back to where we were staying by 4:30pm.  We said our goodbyes, and I realized just how exhausted the afternoon of funeral planning and visiting had been.  Luckily, the movie revived my spirits so that we could enjoy a nice dinner before returning to the hotel for an early evening.

Grandma Ann and Papa (my living grandparents) told us they'd come back to Bon Aqua on Friday, and wanted to see us for the funeral.  We arranged for them to come have breakfast with us before the funeral.  It was really nice to see them, and having them there provided both my mom and myself a great deal of comfort.  They were a stablizing force, and it was good to have them there.

After stuffing ourselves at the Shoney's breakfast buffet, we went to the funeral home.  We arrived much earlier than we intended (just before noon),  but with my grandparents there, it was OK.  There were more people there than I expected.  We had several cousins and their children sitting around.  We came in, and paid our respects at the coffin.  My grandmother had a picture 8x10 of her last dog Princess by her along with a smaller photo that was taken of her, me, and my mother that she always carried in her wallet from when I was a child. 

Southern funerals are always open coffin if you can help it.  There's something about seeing the deceased in the coffin, embalmed, where you are certain they are dead.  My grandpa likes to say he wants to be embalmed because he'll damn sure be dead!  There's a fear of being buried alive that having an open coffin eases.  I also find that people want to touch the body.  The feeling of cool, plasticy skin reassures you that the person is truly dead.  It gives a finality to the death and a certain amount of closure.  When my father committed suicide, he did not want an open coffin, but I arranged for family to have alone time with the coffin open before visitation to say goodbye.  I know it was important to me to have those moments with my dad, along with the rest of the family. 

Frances was standing by the open casket by the Wheel of flowers.  She apologized to us that the Wheel was kind of crooked (spokes were not in exactly proper position), and that she'd forgotten to call the church where my grandmother was to be buried, which meant the church ladies had not had time to fix food for us.  She talked about how my grandmother would not be pleased, but we reassured her as best as we could.  My grandmother had not been a member of New Hope Free Will Baptist church in DECADES, and the food was not a big deal.  It wasn't likely we'd want to stick around post-graveside service anyway.

As the closest surviving kin, my mom was the "other" star of the show that is visitation.  Most people left me alone, which was fine.  I found it most pecular that older relatives would approach me by saying, "I bet you don't know who I am!"  Several did that with my mom too, and my only thought was, "No, I don't know you.  You know I don't know you.  Why are we pointing this out?"  After a semi-awkward silence, the relative would follow-up with "The last time I saw you, you were this big!", holding up a hand about waist high.  At this point, I would semi-laugh, and they'd let me know how we were related.  There were a handful of cousins that I knew, and I got to visit with my Aunt Cricket who is Uncle Jerry's widow, and seems to NEVER age.  She was wearing a lovely pair of black slacks, a sweater, and a matching scarf.  If I could have given a DFI (Democratic Fashion Institute (c)) award, I would have presented it to Aunt Cricket.

The man my grandmother adored, Kyle Lehning, was not able to come, but he did send flowers.  In a twist that my grandmother would have appreciated, Kyle could not come to the funeral because he had a previously scheduled recording session with Randy Travis, who my grandmother had worked with as a bookkeeper when he was starting out.

Another thing about Southern funerals is not only noting who shows up, but noting who doesn't...and why.  Most people were either out of town (like my cousin Gary) or had to be at work that Saturday.  No one blamed anyone who needed to work for not being there.  The people who where there largely showed up out of respect and love for my mother...or out of respect for the dead brother or sister they were directly descended from.  Only two sets of people were there out of grief for my grandmother, and they were about to make themselves known.

The first lady who approached me had the EXACT same hairdo as my dead grandmother, except hers was blond, while my grandma always dyed her hair red, claiming it was her "natural color".  For what it's worth, her natural hair color is the same as mine...dark brown with deep red undertones.  Natural redheads, we are not.  I don't remember this lady's name, but I do remember that my grandmother had rented from her that last time I had anything to do with her.  This was post-divorce, but pre-suicide, so sometime between 1998 and 2001.  My mom and I visited my grandmother with the intention of staying the night for Thanksgiving.  Well, some kind of big blow-up happened, and mom and I left.  That was the last time I really interacted with my grandmother much.  I don't believe she came up to Lexington when my dad committed suicide in 2001.  This lady even had to evict my grandmother for non-payment of rent... a common theme in my grandmother's life.

However, this lady and her husband managed to maintain some kind of friendship with my grandmother despite the eviction.  Lord only knows what my grandmother told her, but she told me, "Your grandmother loved you and your mother so much.  I don't think your mother really knew that, but she did.  She really had you and your mother on a pedestal.  I used to listen to her cry on the phone about the estrangement, but I really wanted you to know how proud she was of BOTH of you and how much really did love you both."

All I could do is nod my head sympathetically and repeat "Thank you" over and over with each declaration.  That my grandmother thought I was the bee's knees is no secret.  She always bragged about me and my academic achievements, which she thought was direct proof that I was her grandson.  My smarts were from me and my dad, you see. That she held my mother in any kind of esteem was news to me.  That a pedestal was involved was downright shocking.  I held my tongue from spitting out, "SINCE WHEN?" or "She sure had a funny way of showing it."  Again, there's a ritual to Southern funerals, and I was certainly not going to cause a scene unless provoked.

The other "group" there for my grandmother was a family led some lady who reeked of smoke, had a cane, and wore an ill fitting polyester black suit.  I noticed she had cornered my mother at some point, so I made a beeline to step in and rescue her.  My mom immediately grabbed my hand behind her back and SQUEEZED as tight as she could.  I got the message, but I could not rescue her from the monologue that ensued.

The lady informed us that she had adopted my grandmother and had her over for birthdays and holidays.  When my mom said she'd heard a lot about them, the older daughter piped up, "Oh, I hope it wasn't too bad!" which indicated to me that they were quite familiar with my grandmother's acid tongue.  But they said she loved the children, and they enjoyed her company.  There was a slight indication of "we had her over because you wouldn't have anything to do with her", but it wasn't overt enough to react.  They talked about how much my grandmother liked to eat, especially when the meal was free.  The somewhat toothless husband of the matriarch (also with a cane) said that he'd promised my grandmother to go dancing when she got better.  I suppose that was supposed to be a heart warming story, but it left me cold.  This family also mentioned how my grandmother had my mom on a "pedestal" of some kind.  She also said how my grandmother had bragged about my mom's "degrees".  She said, "Oh, no, that was my son.  He's got two graduate degrees."  The lady looked confused and asked if my mom did not have a teaching degree, because my grandmother had mentioned several times that my mom had a teaching degree.  Umm, no, my mom worked in schools as a secretary, not a teacher.   Awkward silence ensued.  Finally, I got my mother away after the story telling had died down. 

At 1:30pm, the music my grandmother had selected was played.  The one cousin who can sing was not able to perform due to lack of preparation, which Frances beat herself up for not providing.  Mom and I just wanted to tell Frances to relax, but we  provided assurances that everything was fine.  And it WAS fine!

After my grandmother's selections were played, it was Frances' turn to speak.  She picked up a notebook and read out her eulogy of my grandmother.  WHAT a eulogy it was!  Mom and I had no idea where she going with it, only that Frances said the Lord had put something on her heart to say.  It was quite the soap opera moment, wondering what would be said about a woman who had been pretty nasty to just about everyone in the room.

Frances framed it around my grandmother's life story.  Recouting how she was born in Davidson County just outside Nashville, where my great-grandparents lived until 1930 when they bought the family farm in Joelton, TN.  She mentioned my grandmother's scholastic abilities, of which she was quite proud, and justifiably so, according to Frances.  She mentioned my grandmother's marriage to my grandfather, and then she got to the meat of the story.

She started talking about my grandmother's difficult personality.  The "sharp tongue" that she used on just about everyone.  She was respectful, but honest.  The crowd chuckled when Frances said, "Aunt Snookie wanted things how she wanted them, when she wanted them, and no other way. If you tried to do something different, she'd let you know."  She talked about how my grandmother was often difficult to love because of her sharp tongue, and sprinkled in a couple of bible verses about forebearance.  She said that even my grandmother couldn't drive anymore, she wanted you to cart her around on HER schedule according to HER wants at the moment....and she'd "let you know" if you didn't.    In other words, people helping her out of kindness were treated like servants or staff.

At this point, I was wondering how honest Frances would be, and I was wondering if the people here who only knew my grandmother and weren't family would interrupt to defend her.  This was before Frances started talking about the state of my grandmother's soul.

Frances talked about the bittnerness in my grandmother's heart toward her family that was evident in everything she said or did.  She talked about how worried she was about my grandmother's soul as she got sick.  She had very frank discussions with my grandmother about whether or not she was right with Jesus and whether she was sure she would go to heaven when she died.  She pushed my grandmother on the need to reconcile with my mother and make amends for all the things she'd said and done to her over the years...for the sake of her soul going to heaven rather than being confined to the fires of hell.  She expressed the worry she had for my grandmother's salvation.

About three weeks before her death, my mother did visit my grandmother in the hospice.  They did have a reconciliation of sorts, which was somewhat married by the poison pen letter that Frances found and gave to my mother.  However, my mom had made her peace with my grandmother, and vice versa.  Frances swore she was a changed woman after that, not expressing any of the bitterness or venom she had prior to my mother's final visit.  She wove in quite a few Bible verses about how to treat one another, and on the theme of salvation in Jesus.  I almost expect an invitation to the crowd to accept Jesus as personal savior, but the sermonizing was perfectly in tune with the eulogy.  Frances gave a textbook example of how to properly eulogize someone who was very difficult to love in real life, being honest about their faults, but presenting a message of hope and salvation at the end.  It was amazing in its honesty without being rude or disrespectful to the dead.

I think her eulogy was 5-6 pages handwritten, front and back.  When it was done, the song "It's Well with My Soul" came on, and Frances collapsed in tears.  The song went perfectly with her eulogy, and it all made sense.  I believe that God did put something on her soul that she was compelled to say, and the message was perfect.  I wish I had been able to get a transcript of her eulogy.

Mom and I were immediately following the coffin as it was ushered out of the funeral home and into the waiting hearse.  As the immediate kin, we had the car right behind the hearse as we made our way to New Hope Free Will Baptist Church.

Another nice gesture that is made in Southern funerals, especially those held in the countryside, is the tradition of traffic pulling over the side of the road until the funeral procession has passed.  In the city, you don't really see that, and it's not very practical.  But in Joelton, TN, every car we passed was pulled over to the side of the road until we passed.  It's a quiet marker of respect for the deceased and the family, and I loved seeing it. It really gives you a sense of being in a community where death means something.

We arrived at the church, and the weather was gorgeous.  It was sunny, slightly windy, not a cloud in the sky.  The church had expanded A LOT since the last time I was there for my grandfather's funeral in 1996.  The funeral director showed me and my mom the top of the vault where the engraved name and dates of birth/death where located on smooth marble.  The music notes looked better in person than they had in the book, and everyone was very pleased at how nice it was. 

Mom and I took our seats in the front row, joined by the lady who had "adopted" my grandmother.  The retired deacon of the church (who had buried my grandfather all those years ago) gave the graveside prayer.  The only sad part was when he talked about "my favorite verse of scripture and yours too..." followed by silence.  Silence that lasted nearly a minute as he forgot and tried to remember this verse of scripture that was his favorite:  John 3:16. 

But he did remember, and the vault was sealed and lowered into the ground.  My mom tried to get away because she did NOT want to see the dirt being poured on the grave.  It's a thing with her.  She finds the dirt falling on the coffin to be suffocating, creepy, etc.  But the old landlady grabbed her for a few words and she simply had to avert her eyes, despite telling the lady she couldn't stand to see the dirt cover the vault with the coffin. 

This woman repeated the story my grandmother had told about my mom having some kind of teaching degree.  She also said that my mother needed to dye her hair red in honor of my grandmother.  Yeah, I had a WTF moment there myself.  Then the "adopted" family came up and was sharing with my mother yet again too.  Poor woman could not escape!

I figured the only thing to do was to find my grandfather's grave.  Turned out he was about 15 feet away from my grandmother's resting place.  Considering how much they DESPISED each other, the irony of their burial placement was pretty rich.   Finally, they friends of my grandmother let her go, and another random person came up, saying, "I bet you don't know who I am."

That person turned out to be a Milliken cousin!  This lady was the daughter of my grandfather's older brother!  I don't think I'd ever met any of the Milliken cousins, who are also buried all around the New Hope Free Will Baptist cemetery along with the Feltses.  Anyway, after some visiting, mom was able to visit her dad's grave for a few minutes. 

Frances had a few items of business to discuss with my mom about the estate (such as it is).  Mostly about going through my grandmother's things, and how she'd been the victim of some kind of scam before she was hospitalized in July.  It was very dramatic, but if my grandma's chotchkies were stolen, so be it.  They were pretty much worthless anyway.  Frances had my mom take the dove from the wheel that was now laying on the filled grave.  Mom took a couple of flowers from our spray, which was also lying on the grave.  A couple of cousins who lingered stayed to give their condolences one more time and exact promises that my mom would visit and not be a stranger.

Finally, we got in my grandparents' new SUV and came back to the hotel to collapse in a nap.  I didn't do much all day but sit or stand around, but the funeral had exhausted us both.  It struck me that the ritual was necessary in a Southern family like mine, even when the deceased was someone who had alienated us all.  But then again, funerals are not for the dead...they are for the living.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bad Grandma - A Primer (from Facebook Note of March 2, 2009)

My bad grandma has struck again, so I feel the overwhelming need to explain who she is and why she's so "bad". This story is a string of horrors that goes back pretty much to the depression, but definitely in the 1950s. I hasten to add that as bad as my mother's mother is, my father's mother has more than made up for it in the Grandma department. She was everything that my bad grandma was not: kinda, generous, loving, tender-hearted. But this note isn't about her; it's about my bad grandma: Wilmoth Felts Milliken Swaringim.

She was born October 25, 1925 near Joelton, TN to Andrew Jackson Felts and his wife. I never knew either of them, but the family tells wonderful stories about their beloved "Pap" and the woman my mom called "Grandmother". My theory is that Andrew Jackson Felts made only one serious mistake in the raising of his children; he allowed my grandma to become the apple of his eye. Out of about 12 children, she was certainly his darling. I have been told stories about how she would often be the one to get new clothes or shoes during the depression even though she was not the oldest daughter, let alone the oldest child. She was praised heavily for her intellect, and she graduated top of her class in the middle of WWII while all the boys were off fighting. She has remained very proud of being a Valedictorian, even though the class had no boys and ended up with 10 graduating seniors. She ended up being married off to a friend of her older brothers, Tony Milliken.

I'm not sure when everything went sour, but it can't have been long after they were married. They did manage to have my mother, but the marriage was never happy in her memory. My grandma never felt that Papa Tony ever made enough money to keep her in the lifestyle in which she felt she deserved. She also sang quite a bit with her church, even forming gospel groups trying to get a recording contract. That was the time the affairs started. She usually slept with her lead singer, although God only knows if there were others.

Her penchant for adultery resulted in a heavy price for my mother at age 7. My grandmother dropped my mom off at her sister's place so that she could run off with her lover and go "parking" along a country lane. I imagine they were probably doing it in the back seat, since I'm sure the guy was married too. Well, my grandpa got wind of it, became enraged, grabbed his rifle, and went looking for my bad grandma. Word reached my Aunt Janie (the sister looking after my mom), and she sent someone to go tell my Grandma so that she wouldn't be caught in the act. My grandma did make it back to Aunt Janie's house in time to reapply her make-up and pretend nothing was amiss. My grandpa reached the house, and when Aunt Janie wouldn't let her in, he hit her with his fist, knocking her down. He found my bad grandma in a spare bedroom with my 7 year old mother.

During the confrontation that ensued, my grandfather raised his rifle to my grandmother. Now most mothers I have known in my life would immediately think of protecting their child in this situation, likely placing themselves between the weapon and their child. Not my bad grandma! She figured that my mom was insurance that Papa Tony wouldn't pull the trigger, so she placed my 7 year old mother between the barrel of the rifle and herself. The result was that my grandfather was pointing a loaded rifle directly at the head of my 7 year old mother, his daughter. He did relent, but to this day, my mother cannot see a gun in person without almost going into a panic attack.

She continued to carry on her affairs, but with more discretion. She mostly tormented my grandfather and brought out the worst in him. He held down two jobs, but he drank a lot. They finally divorced in 1968 just as my mom was going to college at the University of TN. My grandma decided to shame and guilt my mother into dropping out of school only 6 weeks into her freshman semester to come home to Nashville and be with her while she went through the divorce. Again, most parents would be glad their child was off at school during such a difficult time, but not my bad grandma!

On my mom's wedding day, my grandmother refused to attend if my grandfather was allowed to come. My grandfather also didn't want to come if my grandmother was going to be there, so they forced her to choose. My grandma implied that if my mom chose her father, the rest of her extended family would boycott the wedding in protest. So my mom chose my bad grandma and had to have an uncle walk her down the aisle and give her away. Even on my mom's wedding day, my bad grandma made it all about her.

Next stop on her greatest hits was my birth. My grandma decided to set her wedding date just days before I was due to be born. She wanted my mother to be in the wedding, but there was no way a doctor would let my mother travel out of state so close to her due date. My grandma, however, would not budge and insisted she had to be married that very weekend before I was due. So my mom simply did not go to her mother's 2nd wedding. Don Swaringim was no prize. I vaguely remember him as this creepy old guy. My mother has stories of him flirting inappropriately with her. Of course, while my grandma was in the hospital with a hysterectomy in the late 1970s, Don moved in with his girlfriend at the time.

Anyway, I was born while my grandma was honeymooning in Hot Springs, AR. For my dad's parents, the second my mom's water broke, they called into work, and hit the road for Lexington, KY to be there for my birth. My bad grandma couldn't be bothered to come see her first (and turns out, only) born grandchild until sometime in mid-July when I was 6 weeks old.

Starting from my earliest memories, my bad Grandma (who's nickname was Snookie... don't ask, I don't know) would tell me how stupid my mother was. She went on and on about how she didn't know how her daughter could be so dumb when she had been so smart. She was valedictorian of her high school class after all. My mother, on the other hand, was lucky to get out of algebra with a D. She did well in language arts and history, but none of that matter to my grandma. She also would rave about how lucky my mom was to have landed a man such as my father. A man with a good job and brains.

When it appeared that I too might be gifted in the classroom, my grandmother was thrilled. She said it was obviously due to HER GENES and my father's. As if my mother had nothing to do with it. As if my mother was not a stay-at-home-mom, giving her her nursing career to be able to raise me at home and instill a love of learning that continues to this day. My mother never got credit for any of that, just the humiliation of having her mother tell her child IN HER PRESENCE how stupid she was.

She also had a little trick to play on my grandpa. Seeing how close my mother and I were, my grandma once told me that as a child, my grandpa had beaten my mother. Now you have to understand that I kind of found Papa Tony to be a creepy old guy. His father had beaten his mother while she was pregnant with him in 1912, leaving him with a speech impediment. Since my dad's parents were so young (they were 42 and 44 when I was born), I thought all old people were like my Papa Tony. I couldn't understand him, and he scared me as a result. Hearing that he used to beat my mom as a little girl made me hate him. Finally, when I was about 9, my mother pulled me aside and asked why I was being so hateful and rude to my grandfather. I told her that I knew he had beaten her as a child, and she was dumbstruck. She said that was a lie, he had done no such thing! Where would I have heard such a thing. When I told her it was my bad grandma, it all made sense. My mother later told me how angry her dad got when she told him what my grandma had done. He muttered something about her secrets, but never clarified. I kinda wish he had.

So after Don and my bad grandma divorced, she had a run of pretty bad credit problems. I remember having to go to Nashville at least every 6 months to move my grandma so that she could stay one step ahead of HUD. At one point, she started dating men who were willing to give her money. It wasn't strictly a business arrangement, but she'd only go out with men who were willing to help pay her bills. She had a car repossessed. She even embezzled $25,000 from her own brother's garbage business. Of course, blood being thicker than water, he forgave her and did not press charges.

After my grandmother got on her feet, her self-centered nature continued to express itself. The summer between my senior year of high school and first semester of college, she had to have a quadruple bypass. My dad was with his dad in Alaska on an extended road trip. I was working every day at IBM as part of a scholarship I had received. Mom had never left me alone overnight with no adult around at all. I was 18, so I didn't think it was a big deal, but for her, it was. Nevertheless, she went to Nashville to be with her mom and I happily stayed at home alone, enjoying honest-to-God adulthood for the first time.

My mom stayed about a week and then returned to Lexington after making sure my grandma had her rehab lined up. For my grandma, this wasn't enough. During the fall of my freshman year in college, she wrote me a letter whose main purpose was to tell me what a horrible daughter my mother was. Why was my mother such a horrible daughter? Well, despite having spent over a week with her during and after the surgery, my mother did not drop everything and move in with her for the duration of her 3 month recovery. I'm not sure why she thought this would impress me, but I immediately picked up the phone and read the letter to my parents.

Later, after another heart surgery, my mother had a breast cancer scare. She was unsure what to tell my bad grandma, if anything, because the surgery had left her weak. Eventually, the doctor told my mom to go ahead and tell her because she could handle it. Well, my poor mom had the misfortune of telling my grandma about her possible breast cancer on the same day that her dog Mitzi died. My grandmother's response to my mom's news? I was there. She said, "Oh you'll be fine. But my Mitzi is gone forever!" I love my dogs, but I hope if I had a child of mine tell me that he/she might have cancer, that the loss of my beloved pet would take immediate 2nd place. Not so with my bad grandma.

When my grandpa finally died after a series of really bad strokes and 10 yrs in a nursing home, my grandma's response was to show up at our hotel to gloat that she had outlived her ex-husband. She wanted to come to the funeral too, to play the supportive mother, but my mom had the sense to refuse her.

At my college graduation, my Aunt Janie, Cricket, and bad grandma came to Virginia Tech to see me on the big day. My grandma bitched and moaned the whole time. She drove my Aunt Janie so nuts that she vowed never to travel with her again. Aunt Janie had a the patience of a saint. She loved all her nieces and nephews as if we were her own. She treated us like we were hers too. Even family members who ended up stealing from her to support drug habits never had Aunt Janie completely turn her back on them. She could give tough love when needed, but family was everything to her. Even my bad grandma pushed her to the limit to a point that she cut her out of her life. I don't know how Aunt Janie lasted as long as she did.

When Aunt Janie died a few years ago, all my grandma could do at her baby sister's funeral was bad mouth Aunt Janie about how well she took care of herself. Then she'd turn the story back to her and how "badly" Aunt Janie had treated her. the woman's funeral!! She's lucky no one in the family punched her lights out.

Another fun story of my grandmother's unmitigated gal and selfishness is from a time that most of my immediate family, especially on my dad's side, met at a Cracker Barrel to eat. During this breakfast, my bad grandma decided to tell my GOOD grandma in front of everyone that the only reason my parents and I preferred to stay with my good grandma is because she cooked for us. Can you imagine the lack of MANNERS that would lead a person to make such a declaration in such a setting??? My good grandma took it with a grain of salt, but my mother was humiliated.

The stories of my bad grandma's meanness, pettiness, and selfishness could go on and on. I think I have made my point with these stories, though. My bad grandma is now 83 years old, and she has systemically driven away anyone and everyone who cared for her or even loved her. Yet, she thinks the fault lies with everyone else. She cannot understand that it is HER PERSONALITY and ACTIONS that have driven everyone away from her in the sunset of her life.

This past weekend, my bad grandma struck again! Turns out, three cousins died this weekend within one hour of each other. One died of cancer, and within an hour, two more died in a bad car accident. So the family is having a triple funeral this week. These are all people my mom played with as a child.

My mom had been visiting me, and when she got home, she received a call from the Tennessee Division of Adult Protective Services about my bad grandma. I have no idea who turned her in, but they were calling to say my bad grandma could no longer live alone. She also refused assisted living because after she would pay her fee, she’d only have $2 to her name a month. Not enough to exactly eat. The guy asked if there was anyone who could help her financially, or if she could live with my mom. Now my mom is worried she won’t be able to afford HER rent, let alone take in her mother. Besides, it would take less than a week before my mom would likely kill my bad grandma. She told him that everyone in her family was about as old as she was, and there wasn’t anyone to take her in. My grandma is such a horrible person that she has driven away anyone and everyone who has ever cared about her. She is reaping the bitterness she has sown throughout her life. Who knows what will happen to her now?

It gets better. At 11:15pm, my bad grandma calls my mom. My mom goes to bed at 9pm most nights. She called to bitch about the family and how no one calls her. She then told my mom that the reason she never called to tell my mom that her favorite aunt (my grandmother’s sister) had died was because my Aunt Janie had not returned any of her previous 11 phone calls. So she didn’t tell my mother that the woman died out of a snit over not having HER phone calls to Aunt Janie returned! How narcissistic can you be? She then complained about the person who was going to take her to the funeral because they weren’t going to the visitation or the burial site. She also shared this gem… the cousin that died of cancer had fought it for 5 yrs, and she said she was sorry that Sarah had suffered as much as she did, but that it must have been God’s will for her. WHO says shit like that?!?! It’s frightening to think she’s blood.

Poison Pen - Bad Grandma's Last Attack

As I had mentioned on Facebook a couple of weeks ago, my Bad Grandma left a poison pen letter that she did not intend to be read until after her death. She did not know that her final months would require a power of attorney that would reveal this letter before her death. This letter is handwritten on yellow lined note paper. I am going to transcribe it now. I will italicize her words, and interject my own commentary in bold. Any misspellings are hers.


People that helped Tony Milliken turn my daughter, Pam, against me.

*1. Tony Milliken, 1st husband (my grandfather)
*2. Mary Patience Felts, Mother (my great-grandma, who died before I was born)
3. Mary Ella Watts, Sister (my great aunt, who is now suffering from Alzheimer's)
*4. Janie Chance, Sister (my great aunt, who was one of the best people I've ever known)

No telling how many more family members I'll find out later. They all resinted me because I would not sit back and let them rule my life, tell me what to do and when.

*Now dead.

Add Pam Cecil name to the above listing of names. Resentment of me is now Pam and 4 other family members.

Pam and 4 other family members against me through many lies. Family members resented me from first school years until their death, except Buck and Sis (two of her older siblings who died before I was born). Since I was the only honor student of the 12 children, that caused jealousy for many since there was 12 of us, I was born #8, 10-23-25. I always tried to be the best student in each class while growing up and drew many rewards from teachers for being No. 1, that caused much resentment to family members. Then I received top honors in high school being Senior Class President in 1944 Joelton High School. Also, was on honor roll all through high school, having 95 average on all 4 subjects monthly. Graduated 1944 with grade average of 98.6 Senior year. Then, Sept 1944 married Tony Milliken, he would not let me go to college even though I was offered scholarships from 2 colleges.

Since Tony would not let me go to college, I went to work in office for Franklin Limestone Co. Worked there 19 years. Owner died ad Co. sold to Lambert Bros.

Worked other accounting jobs until 1982, went to work for Funky But Music, name at that time. Later changed to Morningstar Management. Owners, Kyle Lehning, Engineer, Tony Gottlieb, office and Gen. Manager. Was hired by music co. 2-10-82. Kyle Lehning moved to Nashville and built a recording studio at residence. I continued working in gerneral office and accounting until July 7, 2007. Worked 25 years for Kyle Lehning, one of the best people in the world. Very pleasant and loved by everyone that knew him.

Kyle has produced many of the big acts in Country Music, such as Randy Travis, Dan Seals, Seals & Crawford and many others.

(Here, the ink changes) He is the best man anyone has ever known as chief in the Music Business World.

Bought up as an only child in Cairo, Ill., the best there is anywhere.

Wilmoth Swaringim
Jan. 21, 2008

Am I alone in thinking that she was obviously in love with Kyle Lehning, who kept her employed well beyond her usefulness to him? And these lies that she accuses my mother and other family members of spreading about her...what are they? What's the truth in her eyes? Who knows? She goes from the paranoia in the first part of the letter into something that sounds like a eulogy for a man she adored. I also find it amusing that she ends up adding my mother to the list of people who turned my mother against her! How does that work? How can you turn YOURSELF against someone with lies?

I think this letter exhibits her self-centeredness. I don't know why she thought everyone was just jealous of her. From everything I saw, her siblings looked at her as someone they tried very hard to love, no matter what she said or did to them.

I think her story about having college scholarships and my grandfather (born August 1912, so he was 32 when they married) forbidding it sounds true. One thing my grandma did not mention is her frequent charge that her mother "forced" her to marry my grandfather right after she graduated from high school. If my grandfather did prevent her from going to college, he was wrong. He was also a product of the times and place (rural Tennessee).

Tomorrow, my grandmother has her funeral. My cousin, Mary Francis, who cared for her at the end like a saint, felt it was important to give her the full 4 hours of visitation my grandmother wanted. I have no idea how many will come, but my mom and I won't show up until 12:30pm. Mom cannot emotionally stand much longer than that. She's also worrying about being judged by people who only knew my grandma and the way she talked about my mom like a dog. Luckily, we're all southerners with enough manners to be nice (I hope). But if anyone tries to be snide to my mom, I WILL read them for trash in front of everyone.