Flat Daisy Falls Flat; W.Va. History is Made
Way back when I first anticipated getting a vintage camper to turn into a writer’s retreat and travel the country, I actually anticipated getting a vintage camper to turn into a writer’s retreat and travel the country. Clearly, Daisy had other ideas.
I bemoaned my and Daisy’s difference of opinion to Man Child while traveling the back roads of West Virginia during his spring break. Much to his chagrin, I used it as a life lesson, elucidating the loss of dreams and how we can grow from them. For instance I will never be a professional dancer and Daisy will never line up with other campers on the banks of the Kanawha River, pink flamingo lights twinkling in the twilight. I could, however, end up dancing on the pole and returning home to a Daisy that is tucked between meth labs. One must be careful and specific when tossing a dream out to the universe.
We can also alter our dreams a little bit. Since Daisy can’t travel and I’m a freaking genius, I decided to bring a Mini Daisy with me on my journeys. Through the generosity of friends, I have a couple of really cute miniature Daisies that I can photograph in spots of interest. That requires my remembering to bring the dang thing with me, though. Sigh.
Although not quite up a creek without a paddle, I was in West Virginia without a Mini Daisy, so I had to rethink ways to bring Daisy to my travels. Once again, because I’m a freaking genius, I remembered my offsprings’ second grade projects that centered around the book, Flat Stanley. In the book, young Stanley is smashed flat by a bulletin board, resulting in his ability travel anywhere he wants as easily as a sheet of paper. The kids’ school project was to make flat versions of themselves and send them to someone (my parents of course) who would take those flat versions of themselves on adventures. My parents ROCKED this assignment. Flat Caldwell kids did some amazing things, from having tea at the Greenbrier to climbing beneath the New River Gorge Bridge. I just knew Nanna and Pawpaw would be SO excited to know that their daughter is a genius.
When I announced that I would use my friend Claire’s drawing of Daisy to create a flat Daisy, the response was less than enthusiastic. In fact, there was no response at all. I thought maybe they didn’t hear me. After all the television was turned up pretty high and Everybody Loves Raymond IS captivating. That’s okay. It’ll make more sense when they see it in print.
Flat Daisy made it to one adventure, a barbecue joint in Hurricane, (pronounced Her-uh-cuhn). I caught up with my buddy Dyann the graphic designer who tried to hide her eye rolling at Daisy’s presence on the table as I took pictures. Dyann is good at a lot of things, but not at hiding her eye rolling. That’s okay. It’ll make more sense when she sees it in print.
As Man Child and I traveled the hills of West Virginia, my home state was taking its own journey. Teachers were on strike. Every single county school system was shut down tighter than my mother’s pursed lips when I would stay out past curfew. Once known as a birthplace of the labor movement and home to the infamous Mother Jones, the Mountain State had limped away from its history of union strength. In fact, The Washington Post published a piece titled, “How the birthplace of the labor movement just turned on its unions” in 2016.
It was beginning to look like the citizenry of West Virginia was remembering its roots, though and twenty thousand teachers were striking to improve the state’s standing of 48th in the nation for teacher pay. It was national news. It was international news. Well-spoken, intelligent, strong people who knew they were in the right were repping West Virginia to the world. Man Child and I were there for the experience and we were excited.
My family members were not so thrilled. My niece was looking at less time to study for AP exams and more time in the classroom during hot summer days. I understood that and yes, the extra days at the end of the school year will suck, but when people talk about sacrificing for one’s country, this is what I think that means. To me, thousands of teachers fighting for what is right is as about as patriotic as it gets.
As far as education, students seeing their third grade teacher, their history teacher, their tennis coach amid a sea of multi-colored, multi-sized, multi-aged women and men in red t-shirts standing up for themselves and their students is a lesson we all can learn. As Man Child said, “These kids’ kids are going to be reading about this in their history books some day.”
One thing I love most about this whole thing is that it was schoolteachers. These people don’t mess around and some version of them have shaken each and every one of us to our core at some point in our lives. Tell me something. How long would YOU be able to defy a hoard of freaking SCHOOLTEACHERS!?!? I’m imagining my determined, steely-eyed sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Dillon when she demanded something be done and the excuses started pouring in.
“Well, Mrs. Dillon, we just don’t have the….”
“Excuse me Mr. Carmichael, I believe I told you we want a five percent raise.”
“No. I don’t wanna.”
“Mr. Carmichael.” Mrs. Dillon squints ever so slightly.
Because this Carmichael guy is the class bully, he digs in his heels. “No. I’m not going to give it to you. You can’t make me.”
Mrs. Dillon raises her perfectly manicured eyebrows; her silver hair catches the afternoon sun, temporarily blinding the object of your attention. “Mr. Carmichael, would you like to stay after school? Or perhaps you’d rather put your head on your desk.”
He’s becoming petulant now, “But the…” and then mutters under his breath, “Dammit.”
Nine days into the no-school toe-to-toe negotiations, it looked as if the Mrs. Dillons might win. Man Child and I didn’t want to miss the action, so after barbecue and Failed Flat Daisy, (who remains, forgotten at a barbecue joint in Hurricane, W.Va.) we hauled butt to Charleston, the state capitol. Radio news reported that the collective teachers had won. I wanted to see the sea of red shirts. We knew it was going to be crazy and we were looking forward to the mess. Dyann had secured a spot for me to park in her friend’s driveway, because it would be impossible to find a spot nearby.
We careened into the capitol complex on two wheels to discover that the circus had left town. It was the day after Coachella. Two minutes past midnight in Times Square on New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. The bread aisle in a Nashville Kroger twelve seconds after a snow prediction. There wasn’t even the occasional fluttering flyer skating on the wind. These are teachers and teachers pick up after themselves, glaring at you until you do the same. A small group in red shirts scurried across the street. These people didn’t stick around to celebrate. They had papers to grade.
We were dejected. I didn’t need my friend’s friend’s parking spot. We had our choice of spots right there in the middle of the complex. We had missed seeing history being made. With a deep sigh, I told Man Child that it was still the most beautiful capitol building in the US and we should go through it anyway. He sighed. Sure.
First we had to go through security. Apparently, I have become so dull that security officers don’t give me a second glance. Overweight middle-aged women in comfortable shoes don’t provide a threat, (unless they’re marching in protest of low wages and shut down an entire state’s school system for nine days). However, hipster young men with Red Wing boots and big cuffs apparently do.
Man Child had to walk through security twice. Then the guard mumbled “Raise your (undecipherable) above your ankles.” Man Child is like huh? Guard repeated “Raise your (ants?) above your ankles.” He pointed downward.
Realizing that I can, indeed, speak Appalachian, when there are visual aids, I excitedly translated, “Raise your pants above your ankles!”
“Oh!” Man Child obligingly bent over and raised his cuffed jeans to show his boots and skinny ankles sans weaponry. The guard motioned us onward and we laughed so hard it echoed within the marble hallways.
“I had NO idea what he was saying, Mom. I thought it was ‘Raise your hands above your ankles’ and I’m like, uhhhh…they ARE?”
“I know, right? I thought maybe with all the knuckle-draggers that come in here, they had to start asking them to raise their hands above their ankles.”
“Mom, I thought I could speak southern, but I’m gonna need subtitles.”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that being able to understand what comes out of West Virginians’ mouths doesn’t necessarily mean one understands West Virginians. We are a complicated people. What else explains the birthplace of the labor movement becoming the burial ground of the average working man and woman?
We oohed and ahhed over the beautiful building in which so much – and yet so little – progress is made to further the lives of mountaineers. We studied the portrait gallery of governors. “I met that one, Jay Rockefeller, when I was a little girl and was starstruck. He was SO tall and handsome.”
We walked on. “That one spent time in the pokey. Wonder if he ever shared a cell with the Tennessee governor who spent time in the pokey.”
“Your paternal grandparents were good friends with this guy. He was governor two different times, making him the both the youngest AND the oldest governor the state ever had. Our porcelain cake plate and server were a wedding gift from him and his wife. And this guy here…yeah. He’s a weird one.” We moved on down the hall and found ourselves standing in front of the current governor’s office. I don’t know much about him, except that he has a lot of money and he owns the Greenbrier. It’s hard for me to not judge after he turned the Greenbrier into a casino, but at least it’s not a Wal-Mart.
Just behind us, a guy wrapping cable into a circle spoke. “He just left to sign the bill.” We nodded our heads as if we knew what he was talking about. I was more interested in cable-wrapping guy’s way cool British accent than I was who just left where to do what. Still, I looked in the direction he pointed.
“You’ll catch him if you just go that way. He’s gone to sign the bill.” Not completely sure what he was saying or why we should care about what he’s saying, we nodded our heads again. I just wanted him to keep talking so I could hear his accent. He loaded up the cable and a camera that had been attached to it. “CNN” was on the side.
Are you kidding me? A CNN camera guy with a British accent? Man Child, meet your new step-daddy. Spousal Unit will surely understand.
We still didn’t really understand what Step-Daddy was excited about, but since we wanted to go to the state museum, and that appeared to be where he was pointing, we followed his directions. About fifty yards ahead of us, a Really Big Guy with Really White Hair and an entourage hustled toward the same building that was our destination. Man Child and I looked at one another and shrugged. Whatever THAT was about. We walked into the building that housed the museum. There was hubbub. Lots of hubbub. I asked the guy at the information desk how to get to the museum. He looked at me strangely. What? Now I’M hard to understand?
Information guy said, “The museum is downstairs. He’s signing the bill in there,” pointing to the auditorium in front of us. We were getting swept into the stream of humanity rushing to get into that auditorium.
The information guy looked at me strangely again. “Is this okay?” I asked him as I disappeared into the mob.
“Yes,” he answered. “It’s a press conference. It’s for the public.”
We stood in the back of the room, not really sure we were someplace we were allowed to be, so I wasn’t one bit surprised when an official looking woman with a name tag and a clipboard told us we weren’t supposed to be standing there. Some people standing next to us were offended. “We’re with the governor’s office,” they huffed.
“Uh. We’re not. We are definitely not with the governor’s office. Sorry.” I prepared myself for the humiliation of being escorted from the room.
She said, “Take a seat. It’s getting ready to start.”
For some reason, that’s when reality mixed with knowledge mixed with illumination. Man Child and I looked at one another. Holy crap. He’s going to sign the BILL. That bill. We wanted to see teachers in red shirts marching in a historical strike, but we get to see teachers in red shirts – so many teachers in red shirts – witness their governor turn their effort into law. Hell yeah, I’ll have a seat. Bring the popcorn. We sat down and kept nudging one another. Hehehe. He’s gonna sign the bill. Hehehe. We’re here to see him sign the bill. Damn, he’s a big guy. Hehehe he’s going to sign the bill. Oh man, don’t take questions first. Just sign the bill. Shut up man from California. Let him sign the danged bill.
He signed the bill and the photographs I took aren’t that much different than the photographs posted by the BBC, New York Times, Atlantic, Washington Post and probably – but I never got to see it – footage shot by our British-accented CNN camera guy.
I looked smugly at Man Child and bragged, “We are Forrest Freaking Gump” and the fact that he understood the reference to a 24-year-old movie classic made me even happier than our dumb luck.