Getting the sticker right was really important. It required a patience and a precision that didn’t come easily to my nine-year-old hands. But the flag had to be perfect. It had to be exact. And I didn’t have a protractor — nor would I have known how to use it. I was nine, after all.
But when you’re putting a flag on the roof of a car, it needed to be just right, or it was all wrong. And you didn’t have a lot of time to mess around: Once you dipped the sticker in the water, you had seconds to make sure that it was where you wanted it, before it was stuck forever.
Luckily, I got it right. And that Confederate Flag was affixed to the roof of the General Lee exactly how I wanted it. I was so proud.
There was a discipline to building models that I responded to in a big way. I liked following directions. I liked the process of making something that, in truth, didn’t require any artistic talent to produce. I was never a good artist, but I could trace the shit out of superheroes from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. (Maybe I traced more female heroes than male ones. No way to know for sure.) I even figured out how, thanks to a rudimentary grid system, to blow them up into my own posters.
Laying out the pieces, twisting the plastic forms free, sanding away the rough spots, using just the right amount of glue, holding it fast, getting the multiple coats of paint mirror-smooth, affixing the decals… It was like my own little zen toy garden.
If you screwed up, it didn’t look right. The doors wouldn’t close. The hood wouldn’t lay flush. You were penalized for imperfection.
(I would later indulge those same tendencies with baking, the most exacting of cooking. There is no room for “eyeballing” amounts when baking a cake — that shit is chemistry, and if you get it wrong, you’ll taste the mistake. The building blocks of being a fat child.)
There was no way for me, a black kid growing up in the Bronx, to understand exactly what was happening in The Dukes of Hazzard. All I knew was that I loved it. I loved the Duke boys, and the way they shot dynamite arrows and blew up randomly placed piles of tires or barrels. I loved Roscoe P. Coltrane — who I thought was named “Roscoe Peco Train” — for the silly way that he talked. I loved Cooter because his name was Cooter and Uncle Jesse because he seemed to know everything, like a backwoods Obi-Wan Kenobi.
I wasn’t sure at the time why I loved Daisy Duke, but it would eventually become evident.
But most of all, I loved the car. That screaming orange 1969 Dodge Charger with the doors welded shut could outrun anything, anytime. It could fly over ravines and barricades. It kicked up rooster tails of dirt even when it was rolling on pavement.
It was, like so many cars of the late ’70s/early ’80s — KITT, the Trans Am from Smokey and the Bandit, whatever the hell it was that Starsky and Hutch drove, Bullitt’s Mustang Fastback — an item of lust, and I wanted it.
So I built it. And I loved it.
It never occurred to me, until very recently, what my parents must have thought of this. My father, an immigrant from the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, and my mother, who was a girl coming of age during the Civil Rights struggle — they must’ve been appalled that their young black son was infatuated with this show that glorified the very symbol of southern aggression and oppression. That he was playing, every day, with the a toy emblazoned with a flag that had been co-opted as a banner of hate.
And that he loved it.
But they never said anything. Never a word of discouragement, never a hint of disapproval. They just let me play, knowing that, in time, The Dukes of Hazzard would dim in my estimation, to be replaced by something else just as temporary. And that, someday, I’d learn who General Robert E. Lee was, what the Civil War was, and why the Dixie flag is such a firestarter.
They never said anything. The strength it must’ve taken to remain silent, when what I was doing must have bristled against the very core of their being…. They didn’t teach hate even though it’d be perfectly understandable if they did.
Only a parent can understand that sacrifice in the service of making a better world for their children. A better world that takes root in each small mind.
“The written word is all that stands between memory and oblivion. Without books as our anchors, we are cast adrift, neither teaching nor learning. They are windows on the past, mirrors on the present, and prisms reflecting all possible futures. Books are lighthouses erected in the dark sea of time.”—
Mothafreakin’ Disney’s Gargoyles, Season 2, Episode 4, “A Lighthouse In The Sea of Time.”
I am so sick and tired of the downgrading of oral cultures by ideas like this. The hell. Why do writing cultures pretend that oral cultures didn’t have damn good ways of preserving knowledge? And learning and teaching? Ya’ll need to sit down and keep still with this rubbish.
Reblogging for last comment cause yeah, since most of early written works (like cultural myths, the Bible and folk tales to name a few) were all oral stories first.
People place way too much value on stacks of ink-stained wood pulp (books) in comparison to the ideas and knowledge being communicated within them. Burn every book in the world and people will still find ways to create and remember and share stories.
Yeah, that last bit, “People place way too much value on stacks of ink-stained pulp”? Bullshit. Yes, the oral tradition has value. But the reason we have books is so that everyone has access to this information. Not just the ones who know a guy who happens to know how to split the goddamn atom. Or build a house. Or freeze water without electricity. Or all of Shakespeare’s sonnets. By heart.
Information, and the access to it, is the silver bullet. It is the only thing that will keep the beasts of poverty, of apathy, of soul-smashing misery at bay. Inside every library is the ammunition with which you could conquer the world, should you have the will.
I did not downgrade my bike when I got old enough to drive a car. I still tell stories to my children. Stories of my family, of my people, that were never written down. Stories of things that happened to me and only to me.
But progress is called that for a reason. Let’s not go willingly back into the dark. Not when we don’t have to.