[EDITORIAL NOTE: It must happen to all of us now and then – something astonishingly good drops into our mailbox among all the spam. This one got my attention: the April edition of 82-year-old Mimi Merrill’s monthly column for a “throwaway paper” in Ridgecrest, California. I could condense the biography she sent later, but it is as compelling as her column, so I’m reprinting it just as she sent it to me – she’s a fascinating woman and elder.]
Born Miriam Frances Licker, a first-generation American of Jewish heritage, I am now Mimi Merrill. And who is Mimi Merrill? First of all, a writer and an artist, primarily a journal-keeper now, once a poet, a woman who fills up sketch books with designs that defy description, and a columnist.
Thrice married, mother to seven children, five of whom I carried in my womb, I have outlived all my husbands and one of my sons. My first husband was killed in World War II, my second I divorced, and my third husband was in my life for almost half a century.
I was born in 1926, an age when "lesbian" wasn't even a word in Jewish Boyle Heights in Los Angeles. Yet I knew from the fifth grade on when pretty Sally came into our class that I responded to her in ways my friends did not. But Max gave me the same feelings, so I'm probably actually a bisexual.
I grew up in an age and a milieu that did not give me access to others of my kind, and by the time I had my lesbian affair, I was past fifty. But because Ralph, my third husband, and I had become comfortable housemates and good friends, I could not in good conscience simply abandon him, and as a result had the privilege of being with him in our living room when he died.
I have been "out" to my children, to my husband-friend, and to good friends forever and a day, and am comfortable with myself. When I was 51, I accepted that I was an alcoholic, found AA, and haven't had to drink since June 23, 1977. I am paradoxical and contradictory - a much-married lesbian/bisexual, a non-drinking alcoholic, a late bloomer with the attributes of a wildflower gone to seed.
I can give you my educational history - pooh to that! I was a late bloomer in that too, earning my BA when I was in my mid-50s and going on to a late career as writing skills specialist at CSUB in Bakersfield, California, for a dozen years before I retired when I was 67. Before that Ralph and I operated a rock and mineral business together (Minerals Unlimited) that my youngest daughter now owns and runs.
[With that background, here is Mimi’s April column.]
• I should write about the economy and about the absurdity of the notion that sending most of us $300 or $600 or even $1200 if we’re coupled will somehow fix the economic woes the US is facing. But I’m old and tired and painfully aware that we are still stuck with a lame duck president whose idea of a solution to our problems just after 9/11 was that we all ought to “go shopping.” We’re calling it a recession, but to this old woman it smells awfully much like a depression as well.
• Hmmm. The twig in the White House had no idea that the price of gas had gone sky-high, and I’m sure he hasn’t a clue that four-dollar-a-loaf bread is also a hardship for some of us.
• Alas, states in dollar trouble want to cut health care and safety-net programs for the elderly, disabled and the out of work. Yeah, let’s get well on the backs of our neediest citizens. But, shucks, a corn flake shaped like Illinois sold on eBay for $1,350, so things can’t be that bad.
• To hell with it. I can’t deal with the big stuff this month. McCain wants to stay in Iraq; Clinton and Obama promise withdrawal. You know where I stand. And if you want to read more about the election or the economy this month, go find the news elsewhere.
• What of the small stuff? Well, one of my pet peeves has initiated what I’ll gleefully nominate as the Bumper Sticker of the Decade: “Hang up and drive!”
• And I sent an e-mail to State Senator Roy Ashburn in response to part of his emailed bulletin: “Senator Ashburn will keep alive his efforts to create a statewide licensing mechanism for Emergency Medical Technicians to weed out criminals and other individuals with a history of questionable behavior.” My question was this: “What kind of "questionable behavior" did you have in mind as making someone unqualified for EMT work? That's so nebulous that I find it most troubling!” (And if you think I received a response, dream on.)
• I hear echoes of the “third strike” insanity that became California law - my horrified anticipation then was that someday, some poor slob would go to prison for life for stealing a candy bar - and something like that has indeed occurred.
Because he’s a proven felon, Robert Fassbender is in danger of spending the rest of his life in prison for a “third strike” ostensibly for his having taken a package of donuts (which he may or may not have actually done) but whether he did or didn’t, no violence was attached to the crime. The law as initially proposed was supposed to apply only to violent “third-strike” crimes, but it was badly miswritten so, yes, a man could indeed be spending a lifetime locked up for stealing a donut.
• Leaving blue-collar crime, kudos to Bakersfield Judge Kenneth Twisselman who at least temporarily halted that city’s proposed Wal-Mart Supercenters in their tracks. And Ridgecrest? Other cities fight tooth and nail against the inevitable environmental havoc threatened by these gigantic shopping centers, but our City Council welcomed the proposed monster with open arms.
• Moving to Washington, Congress needs to pass the Cloned Food Labeling Act that has been introduced into both the Senate and House of Representatives. The Act would require labeling of milk and meat from cloned animals and their offspring, and I, for one, want the choice of whether to buy products from cloned animals to be mine.
I am concerned about the quality of my food and the way it is produced, and I'm not alone. A Consumers Union poll found that 89 percent of us want milk and meat from cloned animals at least to be so labeled.
The Food and Drug Administration knows that many cloned animals are born with deformities and birth defects and do not survive to adulthood. Worse, many suffer from illnesses and must be treated with antibiotics. Well, I don't want those antibiotics coming into my body without my knowledge! Labeling is a common sense approach. It puts control over the food on my table where it belongs: in my own hands.
• And how about some shocking percentages? An appalling amount of your 2007 federal income taxes went to the military to pay for both current and past activities. Of every dollar you pay in taxes, one cent goes to diplomacy and foreign aid; three cents go to the environment, energy, and science; 12 cents go to respond to poverty in the United States; and an appalling 43 cents go to war.
You think that’s bad? As I write my column for April, Congress is expected to approve even more money for the war and for occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. The House and Senate budget committees have already begun making decisions about our spending priorities for 2009. Contact your senators now and encourage them to push for a change in how the federal government spends our tax dollars. Certainly, spending 43 percent of every dollar on war does not reflect my spending priorities for the United States.
Let’s tell our senators we want to shift funds from the military to priorities that support genuine security, such as promoting conflict resolution and international development, shifting funds to domestic human needs, and responding to the coming climate change.
[EDITORIAL NOTE: If you enjoyed what you’ve just read, you can subscribe to Mimi’s monthly column for free by sending an email to her at mimi AT ridgenet DOT net.]
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Claire Jean compares ages in the workplace in Youngest/Oldest.]