Liz Flaherty photo

I’m bewildered.

There are many things I liked about the “good old days.” Fifty-seven Chevys, 60s music, bell-bottoms—yes, really, I did; using complete sentences that didn’t include the f-bomb, not having to pump my own gas, milk in glass bottles, not knowing virtually everything good was bad for you. I could go on. And on. But then I remember other things, too.

My husband recalls black people having separate drinking fountains. The signs in Louisville used to say “colored,” and he always wanted to try it out to see if their water really was a different color.

He remembers coming home from Vietnam when people turned away from him in his uniform. When the personnel director where he had worked before he was drafted didn’t want to give his job back.

I remember not being able to get credit because of my gender and even when the bank finally gave me a loan in my own name, they sent the invoice for it to my husband.

I remember the day four little girls died in a church, the day James Meredith matriculated at the University of Mississippi, the day little Ruby Bridges was escorted into school by four federal marshals.

I remember that there were no girls’ sports when I went to school, that we all had to wear dresses no matter how cold it was, that pregnant girls couldn’t attend school but the boys who helped create the condition not only went to school but participated in extracurricular activities as if they were still fresh-faced virgins.

So, no, I’d just as soon not go back to the good old days. The good parts remain fresh in my memory (unlike what I came into the room for or my own name) and the bad parts are…

Well, they’re back, is what they are. Meanness and lies and racism and misogyny and homophobia and a few other isms and phobias have taken us over. We are all—from both sides Windo over the Sink Logoof the tall, ugly political fence—shocked that people we’ve known all our lives actually aren’t people we’ve known all our lives.

The day after the election, I posted a quote from Lincoln’s First Inaugural address on Facebook. It went like this: "We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."

My son said, “Mom, forty days later, Confederates fired on Fort Sumter.”

So there it is. Some of my favorite quotes—indeed, some of the best quotes ever anywhere, came from Abraham Lincoln. Other than a few Southerners I’ve met who are still fighting the “War of Northern Aggression,” I don’t know anyone who disagrees with that. One of my favorite movies is Gettysburg, with its heartrending music and the scene on Little Roundtop that wears me out as much as if I’d been there. The movie of Lincoln, with Daniel Day-Lewis playing the President, made me cry over the devastation and the glory of his life.

But how awful the good old days of Lincoln were. A war where 620 thousand Americans died. A culture that said it was okay for people to own other people. Native Americans being pushed farther and farther from their own land. Women’s rights were laughed at, children didn’t have any, and if anyone was of a different sexual persuasion than white heterosexual, well, woe be upon them.

So we went forward. Of course, we did, and along with the scars always left on a country’s landscape by war, we ended up with wonderful quotes and accomplishments from those who led then.

But we didn’t learn, did we? It’s been over 150 years and we didn’t learn. Although we have good memories, good accomplishments, and great quotes from a multitude of Americans, we are more divided than most of us have ever seen. We are angry and scared and we don’t trust each other. What we thought we knew, we didn’t know at all.

Because we went back.

When I first started this paper, I started with two words, then I couldn’t figure out where to go with them. How to explain. I still can’t.

I’m still bewildered.


Liz maintains a blog that you can visit by clicking this link:

Get her latest Romance Novel Nice to Come Home from Amazon by clicking on this link:

Nice to Come Home To is the third book in the Lake Minigua series, following Every Time We Say Goodbye and The Happiness Pact. 

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