Benny's World

Monday, January 21, 2008

My Momma's Card: Why I Support John Edwards

Last week I received a "Thinking of You" card from my 76 year young mother. It's one of those cards that she bought in bulk, probably at a Dollar store, but she keeps them around as she gets older because her friends are having health problems and spending more time in hospitals or being confined to their homes. Receiving a caring note through the US mail is nice for anyone, especially since we either see only bills or advertisements, and her friends do appreciate them. I appreciated it too, but for a different reason.

Why is this card so special to me?

I was born at a time when my parents were struggling and really couldn't afford another mouth to feed. I suppose my mother could have had a back alley operation (and thank goodness she didn't because most abortions for women weren't safe back then, unless one was upper class and a doctor would do it illegally as a medical procedure), but she and my daddy would not have considered it. But right after I was born, momma did have a tubal ligation, which was illegal at the time as the state law said that you had to have a minimum of four children, but her doctor understood my family's economic situation, and did it for my family. State laws are sometimes screwy.

Momma worked full time while my daddy struggled to find work. He was a paraplegic from polio as a teenager and some car accidents. He dropped out of school when he was in tenth grade. We lived in Texas, a right to work state, so there were no unions, and at that, we lived in more agrarian areas, so there wasn't much work for someone who needed crutches to work. However, Momma was more employable. She went to a secretary school, which was known as a business college back then, and took bookkeeping, shorthand, typing, etc. And that is what she did. She worked during the day as a secretary, and one night a week and on Saturday mornings, she worked as an hourly bookkeeper.

Finally, my parents relocated to a bigger town, and my dad started his own business. My mother found work pretty readily, but the business my father had was dangerous. He ran a used car lot in a run-down part of town, and he was robbed a few times at gunpoint. He gave up that business after being robbed a third time and unable to defend himself. We had to move to a not so nice part of town for a year when he got into being a manager of a motel night club in a run-down part of town too so that he wouldn't have to spend so much money on gas. He still made very little, and while my mother drew a decent salary, it was hard for them as three children were growing and more clothes, coats and shoes. There were plenty of nights we had eggs and toast for dinner, especially towards the end of the month.

Luckily, my parents found a decent house in a middle class part of town. They did all right for the next few years and daddy was able to start his own night club businesses in better parts of town. Momma helped keep his books, and I helped him count the cash, and reorganize the bills whereby they faced all of the same way.

When I was ten, my parents began to openly criticize one another, and the bickering got worse, and sometimes fights broke out. There are reasons I won't get into here as to why they fought, but money was certainly one of them. A year later, my mother took my sister and me to stay with relatives, and given they lived in small towns, there were no jobs, and if memory serves me correctly, the country was in a major recession. My mother's self-esteem eroded away, and she had no choice but to move us back with my dad. My dad, who I loved, was very angry (and had low self-esteem issues himself) though at my mother. One Friday morning in January the following year, two police officers came and had a warrant to take her to a local hospital as she was declared incompetent. The officers didn't even allow her to get dressed. She was allowed to put on a coat and house shoes. My mother was ill, but she was not incompetent. You can imagine the humiliation I felt for her. I felt humiliated too.

Because mental illness was a misunderstood disease, most who were in hospitals were over medicated and there was no group therapy for patients to talk until the mid-70's. My mother went in and out of institutions for years, and it is the period that I described as "lost in the wilderness" to John Edwards in 2006, then Director of the Center for Poverty, Work, and Opportunity. My dad worked at nights and thus, my brother, sister, and I had to pretty much raise ourselves. There was very little for us since the doctor bills were tremendous and because my mother was unemployable, we had no health insurance. My mother, when she was at home and stable at times, prayed none of would get sick because otherwise, she had to beg the doctors to allow us to pay out the bills, usually $5 or $10 a month.

We three all tried to get money for ourselves either from mowing lawns, babysitting, cleaning apartments, waitressing, etc. My brother started working as a busboy when he was 14, then pumped gas at the age of 15, and at 16, he worked in retail. I lied about my age and started working at McDonald's when I was 15. Luckily, I could walk to work. I obtained a trainer's permit, and drove one my mom's car to places in town because my mom wasn't up to driving. I was never so glad when I turned 16 because then I could work and drive legally.

Dad's health turned for the worse, and he started drawing disability checks. I would not have been able to go to college had it not been for drawing disability checks, PELL grants, and working part-time. This is where I identify with John Edwards, in the sense he worked his way through college, and went to public universities. Going to a private school was totally out of the question for me and I attended teaching colleges. The money from the government was a hand-up I needed as I was able to find a job within 2 months when I graduated. However, it did not provide health care. I was totally dependent on Planned Parenthood for my check-ups and emergency rooms.

Eventually, I left one career, transitioned into another one by attending graduate school, and got low interest loans to help pay my way. Another hand-up, but an investment that I believe I have paid back by working in educational institutions, and luckily, I have had health care. I have walked in hunger drives in different states or gave checks to charities. I organized toy drives at work for the displaced children when the hurricanes hit Florida back in 2004. And I gave money in 2005 for displaced pets.

Momma recovered from her mental health problems a little over 10 years ago, but was never able to hold down a job for long, and when my dad passed away, she wasn't eligible for social security for the longest time. She managed to get back payments of disability, after making appeals for her case for many years. Now she lives SS check to SS check and still cannot pay all of her doctor bills, despite Medicare. All three of us send her money to help pay for bills and rent. Medicare is a godsend, but to me, it is still not the universal health care that includes mental health and other care that only John Edwards has a plan to do in his first 6 months.

Technically, my momma is one of those in poverty.

I wish I could do more for her, but my spouse and I cannot afford to send her very much as there may be changes in his work situation and there is a recession coming. Thus, knowing we have had some ups and downs, this is why she sent the card. And here is what she wrote inside the card:

John Edwards' message and agenda appeal to me and my momma. We believe that we in America are better than this, and that no one should be without health care, struggle in poverty, and that we should have the same chances and obtain our dreams. Will you in South Carolinans and others in the primaries ahead to join me in voting for the candidate who truly cares about all of us and is willing to stand for us: John R. Edwards?

I close this diary with a clip of my favorite speech by John Edwards, in which he asks the Democratic Party, to stand up for One America.


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