Friday, July 9, 2021

When Life Gives You a Second Family of “Cousins,” It’s a Gift

When I saw her picture posted on Facebook early this morning, I smiled, because her birthday is today, and I recalled great memories of fun times together. But as I read the caption her brother posted my mood changed instantly. It was remembering Nita Sue as today “would be” her birthday. Turns out she had passed away eight weeks ago, and I was just learning of it.

As a young girl, Nita Sue was a popular, fun, darling, and outgoing high school student, as her family and friends had described to me long ago when I first met her. She loved music and she loved dancing, and she was good at it! One of the most popular dancers in her class, in fact. Life was too serious to be taken seriously.

She always had a job and worked hard at whatever she was doing, typically clerical and bookkeeping positions, as she was good with numbers. A natural people person, she was great at customer service. By the time I’d met her, she had been married and divorced and her three children were grown and had family of their own.

And she was free to travel often when one of her cousins had a girls’ trip in mind, which was usually several times a year. Most frequently it was to be with another favorite cousin and friends of hers, of which I was fortunate to be included at the time. Trips might be to hang out at a second home down south or a vacation home up north, or to get in the car to run over and see more family in Arkansas or Louisiana.

Burning up the roads and whiling away the hours, I think I earned a PhD in “how to relax” being together with many women, slightly senior to me, who had had their jobs or careers, raised their families, and had time to just enjoy a bit of life. There was always music on the car trips and most of the time I was driving because I loved it.

Singing old songs from the hits of the ‘50s–‘70s, up and down the highways was filled with laughter and “remember when’s” time and time again. Just hearing the girls reminiscing was a joy for me. Their stories were so vivid that I felt like I’d been there myself. And then I got to meet some of their childhood friends and eventually the entire family, so the stories really came to life.

Occasionally, another cousin and his wife joined in the fun to visit more family in the “party wagon,” if you can call infinite stops for Dr. Pepper and convenience store snacks a party. We certainly did.

There may have been some happy times spent in a “few” casinos during those days. Well, to be fair, when we went to casinos, it was typically to see the musical acts performing there, because these days that is where all our classic rock faves would be in concert. And if you happened to have to stop at the slot machines along the way, well so be it! That’s our story and we’re sticking to it!

Occasionally, she’d join me for concerts at The Woodlands. I’ll never forget when we heard Il Divo, together with another friend, from the third row of the front section, and she and her cousin were with me for my concert of a lifetime in the late 1990s, with Christopher Cross and Dan Fogelberg sharing the bill at The Woodlands. Seats in the seventh row provided perfect purview for this iconic show.

She was a good friend to me and treated me like family all the time I knew her. When she came to town for a routine health procedure, she stayed with me, and the next day, she made sure she stopped by to see my Mom, who was in a senior skilled nursing section briefly for three months prior to her passing. She brought a thoughtful gift to Mom, who so enjoyed the visit.

During my first trip to Chicago, I stayed overnight at the airport to be able to catch a 6am flight in, and she told me to be sure and eat at the particular restaurant where her son, Darron, was working, and though he had not met me yet, when he did, he made me feel as welcome as the day is long, southern gentleman, and just seeing a familiar face, one you’d even not met, smiling at you and wishing you a great time on my business venture, I fumble as I try to explain how comforting it was…like I wasn’t alone in a vast sea of travelers while I was on my way to establish new venture.

The “you’re not alone” part is the key. When Mom died Nita Sue, many of her cousins, several of aunts and uncles burned up the highway to all be here with me in my most important time of need. I never felt alone. Surrounded by love, whether their names were on my family tree, I was able to go through those days with confidence, faith, strength, and more, because of their love. It’s just how this unique family (on both sides) that began in Arkansas and relocated mostly to Texas is about.

As a grandmother, Nita Sue loved her grandchildren and they loved her. One of her granddaughters loved reading and so every night before she went to sleep, she would call “Nana” and read to her for 30-45 minutes. What that simple act says is that a grandparent is the one person who delights in the time the child has to give and the child appreciates that gift. She always had the latest news of the grandchildren. Her son Darron brought her special love and care all of her life, and he was both best friend in addition to her son.

Her brother Troy and his sister were virtually best friends all of their lives. For me, it was so special to see a brother and sister so respectful and caring of one another, not pushing each other to words, ever, but so often coming together to care for their parents, which was a full-time project for both siblings for the majority of the past two decades actually.

Their parents’ final wish was to live in their home until they died—no matter what—and few people realize what a burden that can be to the children to have to maintain and finance and facilitate. Given their father’s unwilling adamant nature to yield to reason or logic, there was no Plan B available to either of them.

Dear old dad lived to be 100, and their parents’ marriage lasted 75 years; their Mom and Dad’s passing happened within four short months of each other. It was more than a labor of love that she and her brother honored their parents throughout their lifetimes. It was superhuman, as they battled their own losses in life, and it surely cost them falling a few steps behind in their own health doing so. Nita battled COPD for over a decade, but still she made them her priority, spelled by her brother’s stepping in for the other shift, all of which lasted until just recently (2019).

Other adult children would have just given up and said, “I can’t do this anymore. It’s costing me my health.” And no one would have blamed them. Sometimes you don’t just get what you want. Sometimes you get a gift you don’t deserve, because someone has strength of character that others can’t even hold a candle to. Sometimes, love supersedes personal needs each and every time.

During COVID we exchanged a few text messages and Facebook messages, but we all know that it was a time for friendships to be put to the test. Her big brother and her son were taking good care of her, she said. I knew she’d be all right and it was her birthday that brought me back to Earth. When I realized that her lovely photo on Facebook was “in memoriam,” my first thought was, “At last she can take a deep breath again.” She can dance, unencumbered, as long as she wants. As she is reunited with her family in Heaven, including her youngest brother who died 15 years ago, she is made whole, because family meant the world to her.

Time has flown so quickly since her passing that word had not reached me from any of the cousins. I see this all the time in my profession; someone thinks someone else has already told someone and yada yada. My feelings are not relevant or important here. The last thing I noticed brought another smile…the day of her passing? It was the exact same day that my mother passed away 16 years ago. Another cardinal flying across the sky to watch for…I’m grateful for her friendship and caring, and most of all for the gift of her time.

Magic Every Moment by Dan Fogelberg

"...On a high and windy island, I was gazing out to sea,

When a long-forgotten feeling came and took control of me.p> It was then the clouds burst open, and the sun came pouring through.

When it hit those dancing waters, in an instant all eternity I knew.

There's so much we take for granted, there's so much we never say.

We get caught up in the motiosn of just living day to day.

We are fettered to the future, we are prisoners of the past

...And we never seem to notice

'till our lives have finally slipped right through our grasp.

There's magic every moment.

There's miracles each day.

There's magic every moment.

Oh, won't you let the music play?

Won't you let the music play?

You can see forever in a single drop of dew.

You can see that same forever if you look down deep inside of you.

There's a spark of the Creator in every living thing.

He respects me when I work, but He so loves me when I sing."

Thursday, July 1, 2021

The Rise and Fall of Bill Cosby, Once America’s Most Trusted Spokesperson and Dad

Shame on you, Bill Cosby, for destroying the memories of any good thing you ever once did in the name of entertaining your audiences over the years. Just when we’d all been able to put you in our virtual rearview mirrors, here you come again, this time yapping about how you were a victim. Oh, give us all a break.

Out of the blue on June 30th, American television audiences were shocked to see the actor back on their TV screens, getting out of a car and portraying a victim no less. Wasn’t he the same fellow who fell from pillars in extreme disgrace after being proved in a court of law that he was guilty of (at least) three counts of aggravated indecent assault in 2018?

Same fella whose more than 50 female accusers have stated he did the same thing to them? And you’re a victim now? When exactly did you lose your mind, Bill? Drugging women, then raping them, one by one by one by one. That’s what a jury of your peers convicted you of doing.

And yet, on June 30, 2021, “the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania overturned Cosby’s conviction, finding that the comedian should not have been charged or sentenced due to his agreement with a prosecutor. He was released from jail yesterday afternoon. And he jumped right back into character, portraying the victim.

The predicate for the case before the state Supreme Court is, at best, convoluted, and the reporting all combines to try and understand how Cosby theoretically didn’t have a fair trial. That would be where there were not even the full number of victims testifying against him.

Legal strategy is best left to lawyers, but the bottom line is that after almost three years of incarceration, Cosby is a free man, and his PR flacks are busy showing how he was rushing home to see his loving wife, Camille. If he had just kept his mouth shut and thanked everyone for seeing to his release, offered an apology to all victims, promised restitution to them one by one out of his major assets, and then gone quietly into oblivion, perhaps I might have been persuaded to look the other way and just ignore him permanently.

And yet, you couldn’t bring yourself to do the right thing. Here’s your tweet yesterday;

I have never changed my stance nor my story. I have always maintained my innocence. Thank you to all my fans, supporters and friends who stood by me through this ordeal. Special thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for upholding the rule of law. #BillCosby

Cosby’s Twitter profile cleverly notes he’s “Far From Finished”: My first TV concert special in 30 years, Far From Finished debuted on @ComedyCentral on Nov. 23rd. Buy the DVD today:”(and then he gives the link).

Hallmark Channel: Are you paying attention?

By the way, one of his Twitter followers is the Hallmark Channel. Hopefully someone will nudge Wonya Lucas, named last year as the President and CEO of Crown Media Family Networks to pull the corporation’s following from this freed convict.

After all, they were quick as a flash to jettison their former movie staple Lori Laughlin over the college admissions scandal, and not one person in the media group noticed you were following Cosby on Twitter? Then again, maybe they sympathize with Coz, same as Phylicia Rashad, who is now scrambling and running like thunder to apologize for praising his release yesterday. I hope not.

Backlash was so quick against Rashad, the “newly minted” Dean of Fine Arts at Howard University (without a full semester under her belt) that she spent most of the day trying to apologize to victims of sexual abuse and it would have been just disgusting.

Except it’s about as much as you can expect from someone who can parlay a BFA degree into a career position as a Dean of Fine Arts, without as much as a real master’s or doctoral degree. She does have a bunch of honorary degrees though.

Howard U officials today, though, noted that her statement: “lacked sensitivity towards survivors of sexual assault.” A credentialed, experienced member academia would have known that.

Back to Bill, the incorrigible. You were once a “clean comedian” when you first appeared on my TV screen, a welcome figure as some at the time weren’t more child friendly. You were hysterical as you did routines about how you feared the wrath of your father (“I brought you into this world and I can take you out!”) and just growing up.

People bought tickets to see you and they bought your comedy albums to memorize all the lines that were part of the hysterical aspects of car repairs (mechanic named Bob) on the album “200 MPH.” I look at that album today and want to smash and stomp on it.

I was very young, but still a fan, when I watched him with Robert Culp on “I Spy” in 1965, as he portrayed an undercover intelligence agent for our government on that show. That was an important teaching lesson for children, too, to show friendship, regard, and respect to those who worked for our government and to respect persons of color.

That same year, you’d find Ivan Dixon on “Hogan’s Heroes,” and in 1966, Greg Morris was a secret agent on “Mission Impossible,” so strong roles for intelligent Black men were emerging. It was starting to become a good time in our country at last. You, Cosby, were one of three in the 60s who had a weekly permanently continuing presence on our TV screens. Dixon and Morris continued in the business, even beyond acting, into directing before passing away far too young.

Then, you started selling Jell-O in the 1960s. Not only were you the individual who had the distinction of being “longest-serving celebrity spokesperson for a product” for Jell-O, but you did commercial endorsements for 40 years, amassing a fortune independent from your other income streams. You made more money selling products on your name and reputation than all of your acting endeavors combined, your comedy tours, your radio program, your record albums. America trusted you. I trusted you.

Your reputation was so sterling that accolades flowed your way just because of how your word was received across this country. Specifically, of you, Texas Instruments said you came “across as a father figure, a teacher, and a friend” in your ads. You even propelled around the country, playing college campuses wearing the sweatshirt emblazoned with “Hello Friend” on it. America’s friend.

You were considered “America’s Dad” as you portrayed Dr. Cliff Huxtable on your “Cosby” show. You were a pediatrician and your wife’s character was an attorney. Both of you were successful role models for all to see. When Rudy’s (your youngest daughter’s character) fish, Lamont, died, you gave an unforgettable funeral for the fish. That one episode has stayed with me for years as one of the things a head of household does when there is faith and a teaching opportunity for children.

You even were seen as a familial figure to Oprah Winfrey, advising her on one of the best assets to place her money—in art. She told people frequently that you called her up out of the blue one day and told her she should be investing her major wealth in assets that only grew in value. She told “The Grio” that your call was a career-defining moment for her.

“Bill Cosby called me up one day, actually he sent me, two pieces of sculpture by Elizabeth Catlett, and he said, ‘Sis’ this is where you should be putting some of your money because you’re going to grow tired of buying shoes, and that is the truth. After a while you get tired of buying shoes.”

He called her “Sis”—how sweet, caring, kind, and thoughtful. Aww.

And yet, Bill Cosby, you were far from any of those things, weren’t you? Your long-suffering wife of over 50 years has stood by you despite your multiple episodes of cheating on her. She almost divorced you, but she didn’t. For the most part she has remained silent. Who knows what she thinks of you? You do.

Do you think your children might not be aware of the double standard you were setting outside your home? You have four daughters and you had one son. How did you justify to them how America’s dad and trusted advertising pitchman just had to humiliate their mom every now and then because you are…well…you?

As you created and worked the “Fat Albert” character cartoon series, you took a detour to spend some time “around” education. Your mileage may vary, but you never finished your undergraduate degree at Temple. Yet, you were “gifted” with a final degree with consideration assigned you for “life experience.”

And, if you read between the lines, you got an M.A. and Ed.D. degree for “life experience” and a dissertation at the benevolence of a dean at UMass Amherst who generously granted you much leeway for “attending” classes. And you were fast to apply your newly minted Ed.D. title to your TV show as “The Cosby Show” was beginning to take off. Each and every week, we saw your Ed.D. title and you just loved being called “Dr. Cosby,” didn’t you? Never mind one of your doctoral committee members spilled the beans:

“A professor who served on Cosby’s dissertation committee, Reginald Damerell, said that Cosby hardly took a class — and that he got course credit for appearing on Sesame Street and The Electric Company, “and wrote a dissertation that analyzed the impact of his show.”

As an individual who had to work hard for my M.S. in Educational Administration and as someone who was in classes with those who did “real” work to earn their Ed.D. degrees, I must say that I didn’t shed a tear when you lost many of your honorary degrees from over 20 universities. And oh, that school you gave $20,000,000? Spelman College? The historically Black women’s college? They had a named professorship for you and Camille, until 2015 when Spelman undid the professorship and gave the money back to a foundation that your wife established. Yet, two of your daughters graduated from there. Weren’t thinking, were you? One of America’s most trusted spokesmen anywhere. All about you, wasn’t it?

And then your final legal waterloo. It was a retrial that you’d successfully dragged out since you were arrested and charged in 2004. All that takes is some money and using it to file so many appeals that you wear out the people following the charges. Oh, we saw the pictures of the reportedly almost blind actor on crutches and sad looking after the conviction and sentencing.

Fifty+ women can’t be wrong, Cos.

Ironically, what do such heinous acts of cruelty say about the cowardice of the man? If a guy is, say, a serial cheater, he just dates around on his spouse; same can be said of women who would theoretically behave similarly, to be fair. And yet, in this case, he has to purchase and obtain drugs in advance, the kind you can’t find over the counter, quaaludes, it was stated in some cases.

Then there’s the pattern of making the drink for his victims. This is serial drugging of women and making them his victims. Intent.

One is given to understand that there are enough women who are so caught up in the celebrity of bright lights and Hollywood that all you’d have to say is “How you doin’?” and they’re all yours, ala Warren Beatty. Further, if one isn’t a dreamboat, to use an old word from the 1960s, you could simply contract out the plan for company with 1-800-I’mFamousSoComeOverandParty.

None of those things did Cosby choose. He didn’t seem to have a wingman to party with either. That way he didn’t appear footloose and fancy free and no one else to talk of his deeds.

No, he took the coward’s way out, the guy who couldn’t get a girl unless he drugged them and the didn’t know what was happening to them until their memories returned to them, they were traumatized, horrified, left with a permanent sense of violation, and then at the end of all that, they were called liars and lumped into a cast-out group of women who might dare even speak ill of “America’s Dad.”

Even the least bright of the women (what did you think was going up there to talk and have coffee with the big star in his hotel room would actually lead to)—pity to them, too. No one deserves to be cruelly and unconscionably a victim of another person.

And now, he’s out walking free and you have women around the country, including the victims, horrified to see how frankly easy it was for him to weasel his way out of jail. Those in charge of those decisions will have to answer to another judge one day.

Even though we know that the karma bus can pull up when you least expect it, there’s no joy in any of this, only disgust. The most finishing punishment of all is that the world very quickly forget this man exists. No press time, photo time, reporting time, or any other coverage of the man without a conscience.