Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Mocha Manual to Military Life

Most of my sister-friends have been involved in the military lifestyle for several years by now. But for those who are new to the game, The Mocha Manual to Military Life (co-written by Pamela McBride, one of my sorors of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., by the way) is geared toward those who are looking for a heads up on what to expect or for those who want a little more insight into the military lifestyle.

April 8, I will be one stop in Pamela's virtual book tour, in which a group of bloggers and others will "host" Pamela in some way. In lieu of a full book review, I've chosen two chapters that I think are near and dear to me: Chapter 2, which deals with the first year of military life; and Chapter 3, which is about separations, something us spouses know lots about :)

Though it's called the "Mocha Manual," it's not strictly for my darker-hued sisters; though there are some special tips that I've found lacking in some other military spouse books.

In the meantime, take a look at Pamela's tour website at , and hopefully, I will see some of you guys here in about a week!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Warmth of Other Suns

This past weekend, I had a conversation with my 70-something-year-old grandmother that I'd never had before. We talked about racism (it was there, but she didn't experience as much as her older siblings), whether she'd ever considered leaving Mississippi, and why (no, she's never really been interested), and if any of her siblings had left home to move north (yes, a brother moved to Ohio after having some kind of altercation with a white man).

What prompted the discussion? A meeting and a book.

Two Fridays ago, I had a parent's night out scheduled with the on-post day care center but the hubby was unavailable. And instead of canceling or hitting a movie as I'd done the past two times, I came across something I thought would be interesting. A book discussion and signing at the library. Which leads me to the book.

So far Isabel Wilkerson's book, "The Warmth of Other Suns," is in a word: awesome. In another word - awful. It's not that the book isn't great, it is. And meeting Isabel was even better.

First, the meeting.

I imagine that for an aspiring entertainer, meeting your idol would be amazing. And as a black, female journalist, meeting a black, female journalist that, oh, just so happens to have won the Pulitzer Prize in journalism (the first one, at that!) was amazing. For about an hour, Isabel riveted the couple hundred or so of us gathered in the downstairs auditorium at the Richland County Public Library downtown. She shared with us a few key points about her book, which is a narrative nonfiction about the Great Migration. She kept the tone light; which I think, given the heaviness of the subject matter, which included all manner of atrocities committed under a racist law, was necessary. When it was time for her to sign my book, I'm pretty sure I stood, open gaped, looking at her like a pre-teen thrust suddenly into Justin Bieber's gaze.

For an hour or so, she shared with us a few tidbits from the book that took her 15 years and thousands of interviews to write. Though she never uses the word racism in the book (she refers to it simply as a caste system), the horror stories are some that I have never before heard and never could have imagined.  I have had a hard time making it through some chapters, becoming overwhelmed with emotions as I read the torture endured by some blacks who may have simply done themselves the dishonor of being born so. And to hear the tales of the three highlighted in the book made me wonder about my own family, what our stories were. The couple hundred of us in the audience could probably hear a pin drop as Isabel spoke, sprinkling a bit of humor in her talk to likely keep such a heavy hearted topic as light as possible. and when she finished, she received a standing ovation before we all got in line to wait to have our books signed.  Afterward, I was still on a high, and headed to a Starbucks to sip on a latte and read more of the book.

Even so, I admit I was very much disappointed that there weren't more young folks in the crowd, and by young, I mean 30-somethings, specifically black ones. This very important story, the story of the Great Migration, is one that many of us should of heard from our grandparents, but for some reason or another, didn't.

And this book is a chance for us to know it. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Crystal Clear: Keeping family close, despite distance

Earlier this weekend, I found myself sitting on the floor at 9:30 p.m., surrounded by photo clippings and holding a pair of scissors, wondering whether I had a small photo of my dog to add to a family collage I was making to take to my son's day care room.

And although I knew I was dangerously close to going overboard on the project (I briefly considered Googling the music to the song "You're my Family" - a Nick Jr. staple, so I could accurately draw the notes on the bottom of the collage) making the collage gave me time to reflect on something I have been thinking a lot about: family.

Growing up, I remember spending all summer at my grandmother's house, playing softball with my cousins in a nearby open field, walking down the dusty county road to my aunt's house and exploring the land behind my grandfather's pig pen and cornfield.

Even during the school year, there was a bevy of cousins, aunts and uncles whose houses we often visited. And try as I may, there was no getting away from my two brothers, and later, my sister.

Making the collage, which came on the heels of trip to Mississippi where my son met his first cousins for the first time, reminded me that his experience will likely be nothing like mine. As a military family, we are constantly on the move, often putting us miles away from our hometowns and our families. So making the 10-hour or so trip to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, or even the sevenplus- hour trip to visit relatives in North Mississippi, isn't always feasible.

Busy work schedules sometimes make it difficult for us to even visit my husband's family members, many of whom live more than three hours away in Atlanta.

While I think we do a pretty good job of promoting family within our foursome (yes, I'm including the dog), it's hard to teach the type of closeness that comes with hanging out with siblings and other relatives.

That's why I am so grateful for my military "family" that has developed over the years. Even with my family miles away, I know I can call on a girlfriend and drop off my son or have a play date so he can have "siblings" for a few hours.

A couple of weeks ago, we attended a birthday party where my son got to paint alongside friends. I know the craft wouldn't have held his interest for long if it had just been the two of us, but with his temporary "cousins," around, he chose paint after paint, swirling it around on his pottery plate until I finally had to take it away.

So maybe I will take a cue from his day care class and create another collage; one with cousins, grandmas, grandpas, aunts and uncles, so that no matter how far away they may be physically, he will have the opportunity to see family anytime he wants, right there in his room.

Editor's note: Crystal Lewis Brown is editor of the Fort Jackson Leader and an Army spouse of six years.