#dollyofanothercolor

30438688463_6bb766bd43_oI’ll make this very brief. I was heading downtown on the subway today and sitting right across from me was a little Asian girl about five years old who was clearly in love with her new plaything, a beautiful African-American doll with big bright eyes and huge smile. And, as I watched her adjust the dolly’s dress and pull up her tiny socks, I had the happy casual thought that, thanks to that little doll, here was a child who would never be prejudiced against people of color .

And, then, it hit me like a slap of angel wings! Of course! Dolly of Another Color!

But let me digress: over the course of the past few months, I think we have all learned something about our country, our local areas and even ourselves when it comes to racial prejudice. When the Supreme Court came out with the Shelby decision a few years back (that basically eviscerated the Voting Rights Act) they said the Act was no longer needed since racism, by and large, no longer existed in America; that people of color need not worry any more about being disenfranchised. Of course, recent events have made it very clear to all of us that those five foolish men got it horribly wrong. Racism is not only alive and well in this country, it’s truly much worse than we thought.

If Donald J. Trump’s election has done nothing else, it has allowed this subterranean truth to rise to the surface and expose the underbelly of racial attitudes in our country, and it is not a pretty sight. But you can’t fix a problem until you know you have one, so it can only be to the good, however ugly, that this election has shown truth to power, has brought this great infection of our national body politic to a place where, at least, it can be treated and, some day with a great deal of effort and love, cured for all time.

Examples are rife, if you need them, but apocryphal is the tale of two Clay, WV women, both government officials (including the mayor), who, after the election, found themselves in hot water for calling Michelle Obama an “Ape in heels.” I suppose they suddenly felt empowered, now that their man had won. The mayor, who had retweeted the comment with the additional note, “You made my day!,” said later in her apology:  “Those who know me know that I’m not of any way racist,” and the astonishing thing is that I have no doubt that she really believed what she said!

“O wad some Pow’r the Giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!” –
Rob’t. Burns

You see, one of the greatest difficulties in confronting our racism arises from our inability to even see and gauge our own attitudes because we came by them as naturally as breathing from the time we were born, and like any other resemblance we may have to our families, they are practically invisible to us. As Rogers and Hammerstein so perfectly said in South Pacific:

“You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!”

“Okay,” I can hear you say, “But what can I  do about that? I’m not the one who’s got the problem, and even if I were, this is a bigger issue than any one of us can confront. At least, not without creating more heat than light!”

Well, that’s where #dollyofanothercolor comes in.

The beauty of this idea is that it accomplishes two very important – hugely important – things, but first, my proposal: That we all do whatever we can to encourage everyone we can to make sure that every young child we know is given a dolly of another color this year for the holidays. This could include action figures for boys as well as dolls for girls (or vice-versa if you object to gender-specificity in toy giving), but the important thing is to help the child grow to have affection for the toy, and by extension, to inoculate him or her from a lifetime of disrespect for ‘the other.’

That’s the most obvious reason to participate in this push, but there is another, more subtle beauty to this proposal, it seems to me, and it goes right to the problem of our inability to gauge our own degree of prejudice. If you say to your sister you’re thinking about giving her child a dolly of another color, she will learn, from her own reaction, just where she stands on the issue of prejudice, and you will, too. How would you feel if it happened to you? What degree of prejudicial feeling do you have buried deep within that might surface? Surely this is something we all need to learn in these days if we are ever to have any chance of truly cleaning out the rot of racism that is apparently marbled throughout the land.

So, I’m going to do what I can to create a meme: #dollyofanothercolor to try to move this idea into the mainstream. It may not work, but I can try, and I’ll know this campaign is a success when I read a news item someday close to Christmas that the toy companies are finding it difficult to meet the demand for dolls of color because so many of their white customers have been demanding them. It’s a tiny thing. It’s tangible. It’s inexpensive. It’s therapeutic. And anyone can do it!

To help me move this needle, I’m reaching out to Dolly Parton and some other Dollys I know in hopes of making a Youtube or two, and I invite you – no, urge you – to join me in this effort by whatever means, including sharing this post or writing your own. We have to address racism where it starts, and for almost everyone, it starts in the nursery, so that’s where we have to go.

Thanks for listening. Know hope. Sending with Love. #dollyofanothercolor

© 2016 by George Thomas Wilson, all rights reserved.

 

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Recipe: Green Bean Casserole Made Fresh (No Cans!)

Green Bean Casserole made with all fresh ingredients for the 21st Century.

Green Bean Casserole made with all fresh ingredients for the 21st Century.

I agreed during the summer to publish this recipe, but what with life and such, I never actually did. I was reminded of it when I heard someone yesterday on the radio talking about what they were having for Thanksgiving dinner, and on the list was “green bean casserole.” We all know the one – all our mothers made it, and most of us have, too – that combines beans and Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and is then covered with those French’s (nee Durkee) fried onions in a can (for which, as far as I know, there is no other known culinary function).

It’s a great, easy comfort-food vegetable, which is why, some months ago, I thought of it when preparing a birthday dinner for a friend who is one of the most straight-ahead beef-and-potatoes fellows you’re ever likely to meet, but since I was coming up with this menu in the 21st Century and in a place thick with foodies who would look askance at the very idea of using a canned, preservative-heavy soup as a sauce, I decided to try a different approach and recreate the exact taste and experience of the original dish, but using only fresh ingredients (except, of course, for those overly-processed but tasty Durkee’s onions – sorry French’s, but they’ll always be Durkee to me – for which there is no substitute.)

I have also decided, after several bakings, that adding a few slivered almonds to the mix for a bit of crunch is not a bad idea, either, so that option is included below.

Granted, the Campbell’s Soup idea is easier, but I think you’ll instantly appreciate the improvement in taste and feel on the tongue, and am confident that your family will gobble up this vegetable so fast you’ll wish you’d made more. No doubt about it.

RECIPE: (For 8-10 people.)

Ingredients:

Two lbs. fresh green beans, snapped or cut into  2″ pieces.

(TIP: This recipe was invented using prepackaged fresh beans – like those sold at Costco and other big box stores – which generally come in quantities of about 2 lbs. sealed and  wrapped in plastic with all the beans facing in the same direction for compactness. Don’t open the package! You will save yourself a great deal of time and trouble if you simply place the package, flat, on a cutting board, then while pressing down on it with one hand, cut the plastic (and all the beans) into thirds right down to the board with a large, sharp chef’s knife or equivalent. Two cuts and you’re done! My original technique was to rinse and then cut the beans, but you’ll find that this way is much more efficient.)

3 TBS butter

2 TBS flour

1 1 lb. package fresh mushrooms, sliced (I use standard button ones)

1 medium sweet onion,  medium chopped

1 1/2 cups chicken stock (approx.)

3/4 cup heavy cream

dash of salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (I just grind it into the pan, so approx.)

1/2 cup slivered almonds (entirely optional)

2 ‘cans’ French’s fried onions (Since your college years, the cans have shrunk and morphed into plastic 8 oz. containers pinched at the waist to make them seem larger, so these days, it takes two.)

Preparation: (Note: This can be done well ahead and set aside until time to bake for 1/2 hour before serving.)

Step 1: Parboil Beans

Finished Green Bean Casserole a la George

Finished Green Bean Casserole a la George

Once cut and washed, place beans into a large pot of water at a rolling boil for 10 minutes. When done, they should be tender but still have a slight crispness to them. Always test to achieve perfect doneness, then immediately place in colander under rapidly flowing cold water until they are quickly and completely cooled. Set aside while making sauce.

Step 2: Make Mushroom Sauce

Turn on oven to preheat to 350º if planning to cook right away.

Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute until transparent. Add mushrooms and continue stirring until onions begin to brown and mushrooms are thoroughly covered in butter.

Add flour by sprinkling over mixture to help it blend. (Note: the usual roux ratio rule [Aside: Try saying “usual roux ratio rule” three times fast. I couldn’t do it for laughing at myself every time I tried. I highly recommend it.] is equal butter and flour, however, since the mushrooms absorb a considerable amount of the oil, I pretend I only used two tablespoons of butter when calculating the flour.) Stir constantly for at least two minutes until flour has had time to cook, and roux forms and begins to have that nutty roux smell. Be careful not to burn.

Add chicken stock and stir until completely incorporated. Add cream and do the same. Add salt and pepper. Continue stirring until thickened and the consistency that undiluted Cream of Mushroom soup in the can would be if heated. If it is too soupy, you can dissolve another tablespoon of flour in some hot tap water and add and stir till it thickens up. If it is too thick, you can add a little more chicken stock until you’re pleased with your result.

Step 3: Combine

Mix sauce and beans (and slivered almonds, if you decide to add) in a large bowl until every bean is well covered, and place in well-buttered casserole dish. Pyrex 9″ by 13″ or similar should work.

Cover with fried onions right out of the cans.

Bake in a 350º oven for 30 minutes until sauce is bubbly around the edges and onions are browned.

Watch with wonder as this vegetable dish is the first to go!

© 2016, George Thomas Wilson. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

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An Open Letter to the President-Elect

Sunrise or sunset? Fire Island Pines, NY

Sunrise or sunset? Fire Island Pines, NY

“I have often … in the course of the session … looked at that sun behind the President without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now at length I have the happiness to know it is a rising and not a setting sun.     – Dr. Benjamin Franklin as quoted by James Madison upon the signing of the U.S. Constitution, September 17, 1787

Thanksgiving, 2016

An Open Letter to Mr. Donald J. Trump

Dear Mr. President-Elect,

I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have felt like to have the weight of the entire world land on your shoulders as it did only ten days ago. You have my prayer that your stewardship may be righteous and wise.

What an extraordinary opportunity you have been given by the people of this country! You not only won the job, but you managed to do so with almost NO prior commitments to satisfy, no grand donors to please, and not even, really, much of a platform to constrain you, though you have accepted the one proffered by the Republicans, at least for now, even if much of it is contrary to your instincts and history.

Consequently, you must surely be thinking already about how best to make the most of your “clean page,” how best to write into history a Trumpian legacy that can only be seen as so profound, so right, and so brilliant an accomplishment for the future of all Americans, that we would all be looking for the best way to add another face to Mount Rushmore. No incoming President in history has ever been so free to shape a new tomorrow as you now are, so what shall you do with such an open invitation? Well, I have an idea for you.

You may not like it at first blush, but I urge you to give yourself a little time to let it sink in and work out the ramifications. I believe it will grow on you. It comes in the form of an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and here it is:

 “No person or persons, corporation or business entity of any kind shall be allowed to gain speculative profit from the suffering of any human person or persons, where suffering is defined as any and all illness, injury, birth anomaly, death, bereavement, imprisonment, destitution, loss of property or the value of said property.”

Now, before you stop reading please give me a chance to elaborate. This is specifically about profit gained over and above the cost of doing business where monies paid in to provide actual goods and services are minimized so that monies syphoned away to pay to speculative investors can be maximized. There is nothing in this proposed Amendment to prevent the owner/operator of the Acme Funeral Home from making his fortune by paying himself a million dollars a month in salary if he wants to, or Pfizer from paying their CEO a billion. That is not profit, as you well know, that’s operating expense, however dubious. Nor does this amendment dis-incentivize the research and development of medicines or medical advances, it simply ensures that the monies made in the sales of drugs and medical equipment go into enhanced research and development, rather than advertising, promotion and all other expenses geared to delivering profit for shareholders. And, yes, it also would mean that all insurance companies would have to convert to the not-for-profit model already in use by many of them. A few adjustments, surely, Mr. Trump, but on balance, a vast improvement in life on earth for all of us.

As long as suffering is profitable, Mr. President-elect, the unfettered capitalist – and we all know a few – will be incentivized to encourage it. Private prisons will continue to lobby for stiffer laws, harsher sentences and bloated populations NOT because they are wise, but because they are profitable – human suffering be damned. Likewise, hospitals will continue to extract every last possible drop of money from their patients not because extra tests or procedure are needed, but to increase the return on investment for their shareholders; and funeral parlors… well, you see my point.

HOWEVER, if you, the capitalist’s capitalist, can pull off such a groundbreaking change in life in America – such an enormous improvement in the life of every single American – then you will be right up there with Mr. Lincoln, it seems to me, as the man who, once and for all, freed human suffering from the clutches of unbridled capitalist greed.

You have a clean page here, Mr. President-elect, an unheard-of gift for an incoming political leader. My sincere prayer is that you will make the most of it, for the most of us, in the most positive possible way. Delivered with love, this is my proposed solution.

“I see things as they never were, and say, ‘Why not?’”
Robert F. Kennedy

Thank you for your time and attention.

Sincerely,

George Thomas Wilson
inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com
NYC

© 2016 by George Thomas Wilson. All rights reserved but you may copy, paste, share, send or reproduce at will.

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TBT/GTS#2: George “Bud” Falkenberry, Born to Act

This portrait of George "Bud" Falkenberry - a Christmas gift to his mother from his father the year he died - was sent to me by his sister, Anne Falkenberry Knight, for this profile.

This portrait of George “Bud” Falkenberry – a Christmas gift to his mother from his father the year he died – was sent to me by his sister, Anne Falkenberry Knight, for this profile.

Of all these profiles I expect to write – and as you will come to see, there are far too many – this one is the one I want most to get right because, even after more than 30 years since we last spoke across a restaurant table in the East Village, I still miss him. I miss his broad smile and the dimples that framed it, his bright eyes and sharp wit, the way he used to shake his head full of dark-blonde hair back and forth when he was happy, and his amazingly expressive face. And, the tragedy here is that we are all – you and I and everyone else – missing the brilliant work he would have done, would still be doing, for George Falkenberry was a profoundly talented actor well on his way to fame and fortune when AIDS came to call, but I get ahead of myself…

[NOTE TO MY READERS: This is the second in my series of Profiles in Grace, written to illuminate the wonderful lives led by my too-many friends who were simply stopped in their tracks by AIDS during the 80s and early 90s. If you missed it, I encourage you to read the full introduction to and rationale for this series at the beginning of the first of these profiles here: https://inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/tbtgts1-randall-robbins-actor-teacher-leader-friend/ ]

How We Knew Each Other:

It was the first week of the 1970-’71 school year at Birmingham-Southern College, and I was standing near the student union sharing summer stories with a friend when I saw someone I’d never seen before bouncing across the quad in a joyful, “glad to be here” way that got my attention. His gait and bearing said, loudly, ‘I’m no freshman’, so, as the newly elected yearbook editor who thought I knew everyone who had been there for more than a semester, I was intrigued. “Who is that?” I asked the person standing next to me who just happened to be a drama major.

“Oh, that’s Bud. Bud Falkenberry. He just transferred in from some art school in North Carolina. He’s from Selma.”

But, what I had seen in that fleeting moment, what I had recognized instantly without even so much as a word to go on, was something I had long since given up any hope of ever finding: a younger brother. We would come to realize almost instantly, once we met, that we were cut from the same cloth, bathed in the same waters and reared in much the same way by our upper-middle-class progressive southern parents. Our vocabulary was identical, and we could finish each others’ sentences from the start.

I was blessed with two sisters who are and always will be stars in my eyes, but the second boy my parents wanted never came along, leaving me to wonder in my youth just what having a brother would be like. Until I met George. We bonded faster than superglue the moment we met, and remained fast and cherished friends until he withdrew to the woods at the end of his run, fourteen years later. (And, for those of you who knew him in earlier times, I always called him “George” because that was the way he introduced himself to me, even though everyone, up to then, had always called him by his nickname, Bud, and many still do. I think, looking back, that I may well have been the first of his new Birmingham friends to be so honored. I suspect that after an unhappy freshman experience, he was  more than ready for a new script, a new role, a new name, and what better place to start than as a new student in a new school?)

George and I were both born to rock-solid Alabama parents – couples proud to have done their part in WWII and even prouder to have found peace in a place where they could explore their own possibilities and raise their families – who were so secure in their own selves and beliefs, that the very idea that anything “wrong” could spring from their partnership was simply inconceivable. And because they felt that way, and loved us so much, even when we began showing signs of idiosyncrasy that other parents might have found alarming, they had the confidence and wisdom to allow us the freedom to grow into our own personalities without limit, however it may have perplexed or concerned them, and however it may have been frowned upon along the ultra-conservative ground from which we sprang.

At base, I believe this was the reason that we bonded so swiftly as friends, and why our friendship only grew more firm and secure through the years. That said, there were three specific occasions that helped to confirm our affection for each other, any one of which might have been enough to keep us close for life.

The first instance happened later in the same school year and involved a road trip to Selma and that yearbook. As with most annuals, the one I produced began with a light, fun section showing candid shots of students in various activities and poses around campus, and one of those photos was a shot of Sam Hobbs, also of Selma, one of the brightest, most thoughtful and popular Seniors, caught sleeping soundly on one of the couches in the student lounge. I chose it because Sam had a great sense of humor, and he happily went along when I proposed using it.

But then, over the Christmas holidays, tragedy struck. Sam was killed while doing what he loved most – riding full out on his Motorbike across a New Mexico desert. Well, I immediately did what I could to pull the photo from the yearbook, but those early pages had been submitted months before and were already printed, trimmed and ready for the bindery. There was nothing I could do, aside from adding, at the end of the book, a black-bordered remembrance of Sam written by a fraternity brother who, as it happened, had also taken the earlier photo.

My friend Sam Hobbs taking a nap in the Birmingham-Southern student lounge. It was this photograph that made our trip to Selma necessary.

My friend Sam Hobbs taking a nap in the Birmingham-Southern student lounge. It was this photograph that made our trip to Selma necessary.

Nevertheless, I knew that Sam had paid for his copy of the yearbook in advance, and that it would have to be delivered to his family, and I simply couldn’t allow a situation to happen where his mother or father, unaware, might turn to that opening page to see Sam lying there, his arms across his chest in such an all-too-prophetic photo. So, I turned to George, who had known the Hobbs family his entire life, and asked if he would accompany me to Selma to deliver that yearbook in person to Sam’s mother. And so he did, and though it was a sad, sorrowful meeting, Mrs. Hobbs was as gracious as she could be to both of us.

And, of course, we were both somber as we were driving away, when George said, “Turn around, Tommy, and let’s go to my house. I want to show you something.”

“Okay,” I said as I made a u-turn, “What is it?”

“Vivien Leigh,” he said.

Now, I already knew that he thought Vivien Leigh was one of the finest actresses ever to hit stage or screen, so it was no surprise, really, when he told me that some years earlier he had painted her portrait – as Scarlett O’Hara – and he was rather proud of the way it had turned out.

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara, by George Alan Falkenberry, c. 1968

Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, by George Alan Falkenberry, c. 1968

He’d been away from home for a couple of years by that time and the portrait had been relegated to the attic, so I stood at the foot of the folding ladder while he went up to get it. It really was very good for such a singular effort, and I told him so, before he returned her to her gable and we headed north, once again, to Birmingham. It may seem a simple thing, but, to me, showing me his handiwork that hot spring day was another affirmation of our brotherhood. We each wanted the other to know our souls.

Our second bonding experience was much more straightforward and took place the next school year when we were both cast in a major school production of Marat-Sade. He, by then, was the departmental star, and there was never any doubt that he would be cast in the leading role as Marat, and I, as the only Birmingham-Southern student who played the flute, was cast as the piccolo player written into the script. I’m truly grateful for having had the opportunity to watch him work in those rehearsals and performances. I already knew he was good, and I began to understand just how talented he was.

George Falkenberry as Marat, with supporting cast, as featured in the Birmingham News, 1972.

George Falkenberry as Marat, with supporting cast, as featured in the Birmingham News, 1972.

But, of course, both of these experiences pale in comparison to the third one, which made it an absolute certainty that our friendship would be lasting. In the most studious and cautious way possible – for these were days when it was truly jail-worthy – we approached our mutual friend who we knew was well-versed in these sorts of things (after all, she did gigs with Nell Carter at Society’s Child in downtown Birmingham on weekends and knew all the local jazz musicians) to help us procure some marijuana. In spite of being a college graduate, I had never tried it, but now that I was out of a dorm and into my first apartment, the coast was clear. And George was as eager as I was to see what all the fuss was about. And so we did.

Well, we laughed for at least two weeks. We laughed at funny things and we laughed at not-so-funny things, and when we were done laughing, we made up more jokes to keep it going. Those were surely the most astonishing, uplifting, revelatory weeks of our times together and also, without doubt, the most ‘brotherly’ few weeks we were able to spend together. About the second or third day, he came into the apartment already laughing and said, “Tonto Jokes!”

“What?” I asked.

“What you call,” he then rejoined in broken English, “two-thousand pound digit?”

“What?” I asked again, mystified.

“TON TOE!,” he said, very pleased with himself.

And so, for the next two weeks, we sat on the floor of my still unfurnished Southside apartment and made up Tonto jokes. They were really terrible, and not even all that funny, but we laughed till our sides split, and then came up with another one and laughed some more. “What does prime minister’s spouse say when prime minister talk too loud?”

“I don’t know.”

“GOLDA! MY EAR!”

Childhood and Family

George at seven.

George at seven.

As the son of a drama teacher and newspaperman, George, like I, was blessed with sympathetic parents. Oh, they may have done their best to harden our skins, but, for the most part, they allowed us to bloom as God intended and we were both mindful of just how fortunate we were. But, that said, George’s family was considerably more newsworthy than mine, for want of a better way to say it, because George’s father, Roswell Falkenberry, had become the editor and publisher of the Selma Times-Journal during tumultuous times – beginning in 1963, two years before the march to Montgomery, and continuing until his retirement in 1974. Personally, I cannot even imagine the pressures he must have had to endure – the slings and arrows coming from every direction – and yet, in all that time, he remained steadfast in his support of peaceful and level-headed

George about eleven

George about eleven

integration at a time when all the forces around him were doing their best to defeat it. His stand was courageous and, really, heroic (for which he received the Alabama Press Association’s “Journalist of the Year” award in 1965 – the year of the March – for “his policy of unbiased reporting” and, only three years ago, in 2013, he was posthumously inducted into the APA’s Hall of Fame).

Mr. Falkenberry stirred up a bit of a ruckus in 1965 when he was quoted in Jet Magazine saying of Dr. Martin Luther King, that “personally, I think he’s a great man… One of the greatest men in the world when it comes to what he’s trying to do.” So, it is perhaps no surprise that it was also in 1965 when the Ku Klux Klan came calling to burn crosses in George’s front yard. He was only 14 at the time, and one can only guess at how frightening that must have been for him, but I have little doubt that he found a way to use the experience to add yet more range to his acting, to enhance his reservoir of emotions in ways that stayed with him for the rest of his life.27974780095_f932999805_o

And what a range it was! I might despair of telling just  how expressive he could be, but as it happens, George, like Randy Robbins who was the subject of my first TBT/GTS profile, also had a movie to his credit, although unlike Randy, whose part in 27361188353_d454266d69_oOrdinary People was the last best achievement of his budding career, in George’s case, the movie role came while he was still in high school, arising out of the fact that Carson McCullers’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter was filmed in Selma, and the producers used as many local actors as possible to enhance the authenticity 27873097732_964a784fa3_oof the piece.

George’s best scene is a three-way conversation between him, Sondra Locke, and another Selma fellow (who, quite coincidentally, is another good friend from ‘Southern). And even 27361661604_330ee5f72e_othough I’m illustrating here a few screen shots to demonstrate the range of George’s facial repertoire, I could have taken another twenty rapid fire photos and had another score of completely different facial expressions to show you.

After Leaving Home

Today, the North Carolina School of the Arts is a well-respected institution that has, over the years, produced hundreds of performing artists who populate the stages of Broadway, opera houses and dance companies around the country, but it was still finding itself in 1969, when George enrolled, and by all accounts his time there was not happy. And, so, the next year, he transferred to ‘Southern, which was not only the school that both of his sisters and his father had attended, but also, as fate would have it, sported a theatre

George in character during the Birmingham-Southern years.

George in character during the Birmingham-Southern years.

department that, under the august leadership of Dr. Arnold Powell, was not only as good as any small school in the country, but was also receiving national attention for its brand-spanking-new, state-0f-the-art theatre facility with a split/revolve/lift stage that was the first of its kind in the world.

George on stage with Wren Rolinson, who also moved to New York with him, smoothing the way for me.

George on stage with Wren Rolinson, who also moved to New York with him, smoothing the way for me.

And, as soon as he landed on The Hilltop, as BSC is colloquially called, George had found his home. Every college theatre department has its favorites, its stand-outs, its stars, and from the moment of his first audition for his first part, there was little doubt that he would be filling that role during his time there. He played a succession of leading parts during those years, culminating as Marat in Marat-Sade (me with my piccolo off to the side), before graduating in 1973.

His Trajectory

Following graduation, George moved in Birmingham theatre circles for a short while before striking out for Atlanta where, if memory serves, he worked with a children’s theatre company for a couple of years before finally heading for New York. We were both well settled in our minds and hearts, long before we met, that we would end up in New York City. It was, in many ways in those days, our only option if we truly intended to live our lives out to their fullest extent. The only question was which one of us might make it first. Who might be there in time to pave the way for the other?

Well, as it happened, between taking two years off after ‘Southern and then my law school years in Tuscaloosa, George arrived a couple of years before me, and by the time I rang his doorbell on March 2, 1978 – his 27th birthday as it happened; I arrived in the middle of the party and a 28″ snowstorm with two large suitcases and $350 in my pocket – he was already well ensconced, with three other Birmingham-Southern theatre graduates, in an enormous parlor-floor, floor-through on West 68th Street, only half a block from Central Park. Because his roommates, Bobby Thompson and Wren Rolison, were also my friends, and my arrival was timed to coincide with the departure of the fourth roommate, Glenn Shadix, who had decided to move to Hollywood to seek his fortune in the movies, I had a bed to use for a few weeks until I could find a place of my own. (Glenn did, in fact, make quite a name for himself in several Tim Burton movies, and returned to New York for a season, about fifteen years ago, to live with Richard and me while filming a television pilot for Fox that never, ultimately, made it to air. Unfortunately, Glenn also succumbed following an accidental fall from a wheelchair a few years ago, so even he is Gone Too Soon.)

George out and about in the late 70s. I found this photo online and am not sure whom to credit.

George out and about in the late 70s. I found this photo online and am not sure whom to credit.

To be honest, I can’t remember which school George chose for his acting classes (there were several great options in those days), but he was always busily pursuing his craft, with fellow students coming over nightly for readings and rehearsals, and he had even found a way to expand his professional network with his “day job”  – found through the LendAHand cleaning service – as the three-days-a-week “maid” of Louise Lasser, whose turn as Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman had kept the country doing belly laughs for a couple of years by then. Indeed, when I arrived I was quick to comment on the original Hirschfeld drawing of Ms. Lasser hanging on the apartment wall, and was told by George that “Louise asked me if I would please hang it here since she hates it, but this

Louise Lasser by Al Hirschfeld

Louise Lasser by Al Hirschfeld

way she can say she has it up.” (I did reach out several times to Ms. Lasser for this article,  but she did not respond.)

And so, for the next six years, George and I continued to grow along our personal paths – I in the public relations arena and he with his acting. Wren moved back to Alabama and Bobby’s boyfriend, the poet Tim Dlugos, moved into the floor-through, until they gave it up in the early 80s and moved to Long Island City across the East River in Queens. At the same time George moved south to 4 East Fifth Street, where he lived in the only pink-painted brownstone in the city, as far as I know. He took the Hirschfeld drawing with him, and it continued to hold pride of place in his living room for as long as he remained there. I assume, by now, it’s back with its rightful owner.

And, then, one summer day in 1984, George called and asked me to meet him for lunch. That was a first for us, but I was delighted to do it. At that point, I was also living in a downtown apartment, so it was an easy walk to the diner where we met. And there, over salads, he was the first of my friends to tell me he was diagnosed with HIV, was already showing symptoms of AIDS, and had made the decision to leave the city and move into a friend’s country house in Greenwood Lake, NY, where he could “die in peace.” I saw many friends fall in those years, and no two of them did it quite the say way, but of all of them, George’s goodbye was the most abrupt. As he told me, if he couldn’t be his best self, then he didn’t want to be in New York, and his good friend Harry Endicott, who would be his generous care-giver for the rest of his life, had been kind enough to make the offer. I never saw him again. He died three years later.

Post Script

Unlike many of his peers,  George’s final years in the country were peaceful ones according to his elder sister Anne. “His ashes are scattered there in the lake. His last year he spent gardening and cooking, and the spring after his death, all the bulbs bloomed in profusion!

She also told me that Harry also died, a few years after George, but not before sewing a bright-blue panel for the AIDS Quilt.

George's panel from the AIDS Quilt contributed by Harry Endicott and showing his tulips by the lake where his ashes were scattered.

George’s panel from the AIDS Quilt contributed by Harry Endicott and showing his tulips by the lake where his ashes were scattered.

And the painting? Well, a few years ago, after both his parents had died, the Falkenberry home was broken up and all the furnishings divided between Anne, Rennie and George’s brother John, but since no one had a good place for the portrait, they decided to donate it to the Old Depot Museum (Selma’s local city museum) for a silent auction. There, Stephen and Carol Brooks were so enamored of it that they not only purchased it, but hung it over the fireplace in their historic home, the George Baker House,

Vivien Leigh where she now hangs over a historic, haunted fireplace. I'm sure George is pleased!

Vivien Leigh where she now hangs over a historic, haunted fireplace. I’m sure George is pleased!

which is not only on the Register of Historic Places, but infamous as one of Alabama’s most haunted places. As the story goes, a civil war skirmish took place in the yard during the Battle of Selma, and a wounded Union Soldier crawled up under the stairs to die. It is said that the blood is still visible, and the house is featured on the Alabama Ghost Trail.

I think George is delighted about that. He surely did love that painting.

Acknowledgements

I would like to acknowledge the kind assistance of several people in the preparing of this profile, including Anne Falkenberry Knight, John Falkenberry, Rennie Falkenberry Edwards, Wren Rolison, P. Vaughan Russell, Esq., and Carl Stewart. Thank you all very much for your help.

© 2016 by George Thomas Wilson. All rights reserved.

 

Posted in Angels, Death, health, Love, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

“Consider the Lilies…” 2016

27616611933_c52852c0e5_oHow can you not give your whole heart to the unlikely miracle of the day lily, a flower, as we learned from Superstorm Sandy, that takes fully two years to form and then, in one magnificent thrust of proud determination and exorbitant beauty, pops open in mere minutes to reveal itself to happy pollinators in waiting, only to completely wither away with the setting of the sun?

Of course, if nobody’s there to catch its astonishing display of frills and filigree, wondrous colors and welcoming outstretched petals, it could come and go with no more notice than that of the attending bumblebees, its years of patient effort all for naught, its resplendent, twelve-hour display never seen. Which is why, I suppose, I try so hard to catch them at their best and share them with all of you. After all, as my friend Jesus said, “…Not even Solomon, in all his glory, was arrayed like one of these.”

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Like I said, little botanical miracles, and, like Jesus said, “Not even Solomon…”

Sending with love and gratitude.

© 2016 by George Thomas Wilson. All rights reserved.

Posted in Angels, belief, biology, faith, miracles, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Summer’s Bounty, June to September, 2016

 As I write this, there is hard cold rain blowing horizontal out the windows. The pool man was here earlier to tie down the cover for winter and I was reminded by the radio a few minutes ago that this weekend marks the fourth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy. Could there be a better time, then, to celebrate the wonders that God and Her angels wrought in our Cedar House gardens this summer? After all, these gardens found themselves under six feet of Atlantic Ocean when that great gale came, a salty saturation that wiped out pretty much everything, even including a 30′ lush southern magnolia that had cheerfully withstood fifteen Fire Island winters and become a community favorite in the doing, but couldn’t take the poison. It was one of three that I had given to Richard for Christmas many moons ago, and the good news is that, finally, last year, the least of the original trio put out a triumphant new shoot from the roots, so my love gift lives! And this year, the reborn tree actually bloomed. confirming, to me, at least, lines from a poem I wrote long ago, that “The dream is stronger than the night.”

Our triumphant magnolia blossom, hopefully the first of many more to come. The fencing is to keep the deer from eating it.

Our triumphant magnolia blossom, hopefully the first of many more to come. The fencing is to keep the deer from eating it.

Of course, gardens, like kitchens, are favorite spots for angels, so please allow me to credit my spiritual companions for much of this renaissance. They know they have my gratitude.

As with last year’s tours, I’ll start with the deck plantings and then move into the gardens around the house. Please enjoy and feel free to share. May all our storms be gentle ones in the days and months ahead.

[Editor’s note: Even I am frustrated that many of these photographs – especially the vertical ones – only show partially on my laptop screen, but if you click on any photo, it will open up in “fit your screen” mode and be easier to see.]

Decks and Such

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Entry Deck

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Pool Deck

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The Shady Side

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The Sunny Side

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And there you have it. Believe it or not, this is only 10% of the photos I had, and I know I gave short shrift to the day lilies, but that is because there were so many great ones that, like last year, I’m also be doing a dedicated day lily post as a follow-up to this one.

Thanks for visiting! Hope you enjoyed the tour.

Love to all!

© 2016 by George Thomas Wilson. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Angels, faith, God the Father, Love, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hillary, Plain and Simple, by Allen Bird

TBT: Allen Bird in about 1960 posing for the yearbook on the Century High School football field. Hopefully he'll forgive me for dredging this up!

TBT: Allen Bird in about 1960 posing for the yearbook on the Century High School football field. Hopefully he’ll forgive me for dredging this up!

For several years, beginning in 1957, Allen Bird’s daddy worked with my daddy at the Alger-Sullivan Sawmill Company in Century, FL (at the time, the largest sawmill east of the Mississippi River). My mama taught Allen how to type at Century High School and Daddy taught him to play tennis. His mama sat next to me in the church choir with her delicious contralto voice, and they lived right across the street from us for all that time. After graduation, Allen served in the Navy, then got a law degree from the University of Arkansas before getting his LLM from New York University about 1973. In other words, as my sainted Great Aunt Mary Belle would have said (however judgmentally), Allen Bird is quality folk.

And, as fate would have it, after graduation from law school, he joined a small Little Rock practice called the Rose Law Firm, where he and another freshly minted attorney, Hillary Clinton, struggled in tandem for more than a decade to build the firm and their careers.

In other words, as fate would have it, I am

Ed and Mabel Bird and their three sons, Eddie, Allen and Sam (with Sam's wife, LeAnne) back in the days when we were all great friends.

Ed and Mabel Bird and their three sons, Eddie, Allen and Sam (with Sam’s wife, LeAnne) back in the days when we were all great friends.

blessed to have a childhood friend who is the perfect antidote to all the hype and bluster on the 24-hour news. A real, solid friend from way back when who actually knew Hillary Clinton during her salad days, and who, for fifteen years, worked as closely with her as pretty much anyone else on the planet. Until now, both he and I have remained very circumspect regarding this election. After all, there has been more than enough sturm und drang to go around. But, just the other day, Allen finally threw in his two cents about the bright young attorney he knew from the inside-out during those years, and as I found his words both refreshing and informative, I asked and gained permission from him to repost them here in the hope that they will also be instructive for you. That said, wherever you fall on the spectrum, I’m wishing you all a marvelous fall weekend!

From Allen Bird:

About Hillary.

Although I normally try to keep my comments on Facebook apolitical, I think I have some personal insight into her character and personality, and I have been thinking for some time about posting something about Hillary.

For over 15 years I saw her almost every day and had at least some casual conversation with her. She and I, and other partners, helped run a small business together, the Rose Law Firm. I saw first hand her creative and practical solutions to our challenges.
I was with her during the good times when things went well, and the bad times—when her husband was defeated in his run for re-election as governor. I was with her and Bill when they had disagreements, and when they celebrated.

I was neither of their best friends, but I think that I know her—and she is an honest, kind, ethical, intelligent and caring human being. I went to her when I heard she was pregnant and saw the tears in her eyes when we talked about the awesome responsibility of parenthood. Gosh, it’s hard for me to believe that she and I are both now grandparents.

I worked with her on various legal matters and saw her passion for her client’s cause and her brilliance in forming the best argument for their success.

I was with her when we had some ethical issues to resolve and never once did she veer from the path of solid and responsible resolution.

She asked me to represented her and Bill during some of the Whitewater investigation relating to the spec house they built at the Whitewater Estates. She never once asked me to do anything unethical or take any position not ethical or supported by the law.

I haven’t had much contact with her since 1993 when she and the President-Elect moved to Washington. Maybe she has morphed into something I wouldn’t recognize, as her detractors claim—but I don’t think so.

It now amazes me that her adversaries have been so successful in their campaign to demonize Hillary by constantly investigating her for the last decade and why so many Americans now think that she must have done something wrong or there wouldn’t have been all those investigations. Once we all had respect for the Congress and assumed that if the Majority Leader or others with titles said it–it must be so. Not any more.

Yes, I will vote for Hillary because I know who she was as a young wife, mother, and lawyer. I’m not afraid of a strong woman leading our country—in fact I welcome it.

I am not interested in your views of Hillary today, so don’t feel compelled to respond. All I am offering is a snapshot of Early Hillary. Take it or leave it.

I trust her to be my leader and Commander In Chief, because I know her.

Allen Bird, reprinted by permission

© 2016 by George Thomas Wilson. All rights reserved (but this time around, please feel free to share, post, reprint or skywrite).

 

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