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Growing up in Mason City taught tolerance (by Peter Children)

(Op-ed by Peter Children)

I guess you could say I have reached old age, I am now 77….I wish it were a lower number but life is what it is, and in these matters there is nothing you can really do to change that number, until next year when I will be 78; if I get to next year.

I usually write about local issues but today after just deleting yet another email from a 50 year plus friend after reading just the first three lines, I thought I would like to share some thoughts with you. I was fortunate to have been born where I was born, and that was in the same house I took my first breath in, the same house I will fall asleep in tonight. It was not the house that was in any way special, but rather where it is located. It is the third house from the railroad tracks at the end of South Tyler Avenue. The street in front is gravel, and that is because not enough living on this street would sign to have paving put in, but that is OK too because I don’t sleep in the street, I sleep in a luxurious bed with 400-thread count sheets.

Why I am grateful to have grown up in this neighborhood is because it taught me tolerance, it taught me that I was no different or better than anyone else, regardless of their name, religion, skin color occupation, or any number of other idiotic inane excuses made up by a society that was meant to set us all apart. And it worked, society got its way, we became separated by nationalities, religion, skin color, occupation, the section of the city you lived in….and the sound of your last name and even as far as the food you ate.

Grant school refined my tolerance. In that school were at one time some 26 different nationalities. It was a tough school and let me remind you, I was far down on the list of the toughest, something that I was reminded of daily.

I am not going to bore you with a bunch of last names, some would trigger instant recall by many reading this, and to others the names would mean nothing. When I entered Roosevelt Junior High School my world enlarged, there were many more students and the rhythm of life began to change, but I did not. Oh, I made allowances for the girls that caught my eye, and there were quite a few. Many used to call me in the evening just to talk, I had never experienced that before but I enjoyed it. My circle of friends enlarged as well and in that circle many were Black; friendships were formed that have lasted a lifetime, or until death.

Then came high school and with it I maintained the same friendships, some that went back to my neighborhood, and some that were formed at Roosevelt school. We graduated and went our separate ways, meeting at reunions and times when necessity brought those back home because of illnesses in the family or weddings or other such affairs. We would get together for lunch or dinner whenever we could to catch up on life.

In 1960, when I along with Jim Chimbidis opened the Red Llama, African Americans were not served or for that matter welcome in most bars and restaurants in this city. The Red Llama was the first bar in this city with carpet on the floor, no beer signs inside or out, no juke box; we played our own music….mostly jazz. It was for the time, revolutionary. All glassware was stemmed and there was no liquor by the drink. Jim Chimbidis grew up about a block and a half from me on Van Buren, so his ideology was not any different than mine. Our door was open to everyone; we welcomed every person without restrictions of any sort. We were patronized by African Americans, many of whom we grew up with, others we did not, but we did not distinguish the difference.

Because of our open door policy we did not lose business; on the contrary we quickly became the most popular club in the city, and we never once had an incident that involved race….never ever. In fact I truly cannot recall any unpleasant incidents during the time I operated that lounge. Bill Lightner was a friend of ours and he stopped in on a daily basis. To remind those who may not have known Bill, he was the Bill from “Bill’s BarBQ Ribs”; he started it. Often when we locked up for the night we went to Bill’s house for a drink and a snack; he was a guest in my home along with his wife on more than one occasion, almost every holiday when there were people there from every level of society; never was there an adverse comment made to me because of his presence.

Whenever I encountered prejudice directed towards any of my friends of any color or religion or nationality, I spoke up. I too faced discrimination many times in this city because I could speak two languages and ate garlic and olive oil. But that was mostly in the fifties and sixties…..those occasions through the years lessened as Feta cheese became popular. Those things never die, they just go underground. Never forget, we live in a state that is 96% white, and those numbers are not by chance but by design. The large wave of immigrants first arrived here in the 1880’s and were mostly Germans and people from Northern Europe. They started farming for the most part and were good at what they did. Starting in 1910 when my Grandfather Peter Yankovich arrived, the migration from the Balkan states was just starting. And who were standing on the shores saying; “Here come the foreigners”?…those who arrived some 10 years prior, the Germans and other Northern Europeans. No matter, when they arrived they all came here for one reason; that reason being to be free, to worship as they wished, to work in a free society and not live under a dictatorship. The African Americans did not have that choice; they were commandeered from their homelands and brought to this country as chattel, to be sold into slavery. And 100 years after the Emancipation Proclamation was written, it took the National Guard to get these children into schools and allow their parents the right to vote, 100 years later.

And now in the autumn of my years comes this fresh faced constitutional lawyer, Harvard law degree, also a degree from Columbia University, his wife is also a lawyer, his I. Q. is off the charts and he is running for the top job. Now in the many years I have lived all I ever remember are rich white guys sitting in the Oval Office directing the affairs of this nation. So one of the best was not rich, Harry Truman, but it was only because he choose not to. One of my wishes before I die was to see someone sit behind the desk in that room whose skin was dark.

After hearing him speak at NIACC and shaking hands with him (the hand shaking had nothing to do with it), I changed my party affiliation to Democrat so I could vote in the caucus. And on that cold January night, I bundled up my 98 year old mother and the two of us headed to Roosevelt School to cast our votes. I had been a registered independent for 35 years voting mostly Republican until then. The rest is history. With Obama’s presidency I saw America mature, gain the respect worldwide that we had lacked for decades.

Then came the ugly presence of bigotry in the face of the Tea Party with the billboard on the roof in this city that went across the country and around the world. I have stood witness to the republicans standing firm against every measure this young president offers in order to ensure a defeat of his second term. These people are willing to sacrifice this country and its people to defeat the president. Then one day last week I finally heard a political pundit speak the truth, this man who is white finally said it out loud and on camera. He said that there is a large segment who simply is not comfortable with Obama living in the White House with his family because he is not white. Here is an example; for shovel-ready jobs that would cover infrastructure on bridges and schools and road repair, the Republicans cut that budget by two thirds ensuring there would not be sufficient funding to get the job done. It is the American people who will suffer from that, irrespective of their party affiliation. The hate in this country runs much deeper than you can imagine. If it were up to me I would have elected this young man president for life. Look at Clinton, two terms then his wife wanted in. This guy lied under oath, lost his law license as a result, disgraced the office of president, pardoned 234 drug dealers on his last day in office…and he is on his way to becoming beloved. If you are one of those who hate because your dad encouraged it, if you are that person, and really deep in your heart you cannot find the reason for it, then here and now rid yourself from that cancer that you have carried most of your life and realize that we are truly all equal.

This president has made miraculous gains in the face of adversity since he took office. He inherited the largest deficit in history, it was proven his stimulus plan warded off a deep recession; he saved hundreds of jobs when he bailed out the car industry. You cannot blame the housing problems on him. That was the greed of Wall Street by bundling mortgages from people who were offered credit where there was none until that house of cards tumbled into hell. Warren Buffet said we could solve it almost overnight by relaxing our immigration laws enough to allow in wealthy immigrants who would immediately buy up the million homes in this country that are now on the market….but we won’t. Those who would move here are some of the wealthiest in the world, they would pay taxes here, it’s a win/win. But we won’t do it. He changed health care; he broke the back of big insurance, who by the way put two million into the pocket of our Senator Charles Grassley. Grassley has his own health care plan and it is one he is not voting for you to have…that’s where the two million comes from.

When things go bad, the first thing we do is look around to find someone to put the blame on. Well, look in the mirror first, because you cannot put it on the guy who lives upstairs in the White House….if you want to be truthful. Remember…Jesus knows what is really in your heart.

Peter Children|

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