People like us

Table Talkers open up this week on family, politics and what it takes to make a connection.

By Salon Staff
Published October 15, 2004 4:20PM (EDT)

White House

George W. Bush: Public Enemy No. 1, part XVI

greenjay - 04:55 pm Pacific Time - Oct 12, 2004 - #8651 of 8747

Seeing is Believing

Let me preface this by saying, I voted for John Edwards in the primary, based on looking at wonky comparisons of candidates and their positions. This was fine with me -- I'm proud to be a 2nd-generation political junkie who learned to argue about anything and everything at a tender age with a family populated mainly by libertarians and rabid Democrats. Today I attended a down-home, get the vote out political event featuring local Democratic politicians and John Edwards, right here in Denver, Colo. I had no doubt about who I was going to vote for on Nov. 1 -- I just wanted to see the show. I brought my camera so I could send some pictures to friends and family.

I was prepared to hear the same kind of FITB speeches that politicians all over the world use when they are trying to appeal to a wary, even hostile electorate. I was in Brazil just before their first democratic election after decades of rule by generals, and I have been in Mexico several times before, during and after their own presidential elections. Denver, like so many areas of the U.S., is shell-shocked from the last few years of economic decline and Republican blustering, and deeply ethnically divided. When it comes to any mention of the economy, or Iraq, or just about any other political touchpoint, most of the people I know from work, or in my neighborhood, instantly become right-wing Republican pod-people.

And this has definitely affected the way I live my life. For the past few years I have been careful to limit my political conversations to close family, or semi-anonymous Internet forums like Salon. I know that my opinions are unwelcome even among my friends, and equally important -- career suicide if I ever really spoke my mind among co-workers. I don't have any political bumper stickers, or cute T-shirts. It has been agony watching the events of the last few years unfold into a horror show of proto-fascism, and not feel free to say, or do, anything in public about my concerns over civil liberties, blatantly delusional economic policies, and the like. I simply did not feel like an American anymore, but instead began to see myself as a kind of exile-in-residence.

So there I sat on the bleachers, waiting for John Edwards and looking at the crowd. I saw little old ladies sitting next to pierced punks, entire families, Union members, college kids, executive suits, the works. Lots of military families, also. As I scanned the crowd looking for likely protesters, I was startled to see that everyone looked really comfortable and happy to be there, like it was a block party. And up until the speeches started, it seemed that everyone was yakking away with the people seated next to them, mostly perfect strangers.

After a certain amount of obligatory speeches and introductions of local candidates, Edwards arrived. And then the unthinkable happened-- I was enthralled, so completely mesmerized by the charm and humanity of the man that I almost forgot to take pictures. He spoke about the same things we have all been hearing in the news, and in the debates. It wasn't WHAT he said, but how. The gestures, the way he moved around the stage. The total concentration as he listened to the painful questions from the audience, and then responded thoughtfully to what they actually asked.

You can tell when you look at some kids that they are really special. I've seen it in children who excel, seemingly effortlessly, at a sport or an academic subject. You just know, looking at them, that the world will not be the same if they have the chance to attain their full potential.

John Edwards stuck me as one of those brilliant children all grown up, one of the rare ones who made it and gives all the rest of us the confidence to keep going. In the car, on the way home, it struck me. Today, for the first time in a very long time, I feel like there really is a place in this country for someone like me.

Mothers Who Think

The Art of Family Storytelling

Daphne Wong - 04:08 am Pacific Time - Oct 8, 2004 - #13 of 27

I have no extended family to speak of. My children and my husband are all that I have (not that I am complaining!). I am in sporadic contact with my sister when I know where she is, which is not often. I don't know if my mother is dead or alive, and my father died years ago from alcoholism, face down in the dirt behind the convenience store on the res.

My husband, on the other hand, has a large, boisterous, happy, generous and warm family. The patriarch is my husband's grandfather, who is almost 90 years old and lives with my mother and father-in-law. They have always been welcoming to all of us daughters and sons-in-law, and even though two of us are not at least one-half Korean they have always treated us like birth family members (although they love to tease my sister-in-law and me).

I don't regret or, often, feel sad that I have no "real" family. I'm very, very glad that my children have no contact with the people who supposedly raised me. The only thing that makes me blue sometimes is that even though I had a very bad childhood, there are some good memories too and there is no one around that also remembers those pretty rare times. Visiting my in-laws is one big round of stories often told in shorthand, which they can do because they all shared the experiences they are remembering. They have common ground for laughter and tears. Once about five years ago after my first son was born I was bemoaning this state of affairs to my husband. I guess I was feeling sorry for myself. He knows all my stories, of course, but since he did not share them they are only stories to him, told many times. Probably boring!

A month passed and that crying session was forgotten. I am pretty unsentimental and really don't dwell on things that can't be helped. One Sunday I went to my in-laws for some reason or another. I can't for the live of me remember why we were there, I think it was someone's birthday, but anyway everyone was there. The whole group.

We were having endless tea and eating like pigs like we always do because my mother-in-law is the greatest cook ever and so are my husband's sisters. As always there were people talking over each other, telling stories and arguing goodheartedly. I was half listening and trying to follow (papa has a heavy accent and so does father-in-law when he speaks quickly). Suddenly I heard my mother-in-law say my name and I looked up. No one was looking at me or staring at me or anything, they were just talking about me. My mother-in-law was telling a story from my childhood (about camping at Roman Nose Park in Oklahoma) as if she had been there. And other people were chiming in. With details. I particularly remembering my sister-in-law piping up with "Oh, and Daph, remember how wet the tent was in the morning? The dew poured off the canvas on your head like rain!"

I was astounded and at first embarrassed and then finally touched. They did it so casually, as if it was completely normal. They went on, as the day passed, with a few other stories. Occasionally they got a detail wrong but usually they were dead on.

Clearly my husband had talked to his family in great detail about the good things I had told him about from childhood and how lonely it made me feel to have no one that remembered those things too. So they decided to become my co-rememberers. If they had done it in any other way than they did I would have been mortified. When I tried to thank my mother-in-law she looked at me like I had three heads and insisted she did not know what I was talking about. It embarrassed her to be thanked, I think.

They still do it sometimes. In the middle of a great round of talking and eating and drinking just throw in an anecdote from my life as if they remember it themselves. And now I am used to it and it seems perfectly normal. I guess I really do have an extended family after all.

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