As you know many, if not most, of my posts have been on the subject of SJR-7. And I need a little break on a Sunday morning.
So indulge me with a little diversion as I tell you about a venture my other half and I completed recently, about my grandmother, and something about Hoosier attitudes on folks they think are different from themselves.
When I was a youngster in the early 1950's my grandma turned 75, got her first driver's license, and got herself elected Recorder of Martin County in Shoals, Indiana. It's a small hamlet in Southwest Indiana where my dad grew up and I visited frequently. At that age and beyond my Grandma Sherfick amazed me and my cousins by being able to recite, in alphabetical order (forwards and backwards) all 92 Indiana counties and their county seats. Bill Gates wouldn't bring us the Excel spreadsheet and its sorting for several more decades.
So amazed was I that I vowed that someday, when I grew up, I was going to visit all of them, and take pictures of all of their courthouses. Just after this last Thanksgiving Jerry and I completed a 13-month one or two day sets of tours to all 92, and have over 1200 photos and lots of impressions (and squished windshield bugs) to show for it. We're a black and white male couple, making the trips to Indiana's nooks and crannies a conversation piece in and of itself.
Until he came to Indianapolis in 1993 from his life-long home of Baltimore, Jerry, like many folks on the East Coast, had some unfortunately not-so-great notions about our state. Those weren't enhanced by being both gay and black. I won't say that in our almost 13 years together all of those notions have been erased......some have faded, but some have been reinforced. Our 92 county sojourn, in which we typically spent about 20 minutes walking around the town square and snapping pictures of cannons, memorials to veterans, tower clocks both working and broken and oh yes, courthouses, provided examples of both.
When our red SUV with a rainbow sticker in the back window pulled up in front of the stately government edifice in South Bend (St. Joseph County), it felt pretty much the same as when we snapped the City County building right here in Indy (Marion County). When we left State Road 37 and ventured onto the town square in Martinsville (Morgan County) we were largely ignored in a town that still struggles with a past that said: "black man don't stay after sundown". When a rusty muffler-less truck with a big Confederate flag came roaring around the courthouse square in Western Indiana (which will remain no further identified out of mercy for the more presentable inhabitants there) things tensed up a bit, but the stares didn't melt the rainbow sticker or the back window. Just our Snickers bars.....and months before the Superbowl commercials.
In one place, Delphi (Carroll County) an older man and his wife quickly broke whatever negative stereotype we might have otherwise had of them by asking us if we wanted them to snap our picture. We said yes, they did, and we reciprocated. In another county seat, Princeton (Gibson County), two grandmotherly gals and a younger one insisted that we come into their little store where they told us everything we ever needed to know about their beautiful courthouse, and then some. And they were definitely savvy to our relationship.
Although we've been together almost 13 years, Jerry and I still perceive given situations differently. Where I am sometimes perfectly comfortable, he is less so, but often says nothing because he doesn't want to spoil the moment. I say some folks just stare at anything they don't normally experience; his life experience tells him something else. The perception, of course, is the reality.
We came off of our 92-county sojourn with several impressions. One was just an awesome sense of the fact that we had actually traveled to each of them. Another was a real sense of economic disparity, sometimes between adjacent counties. There were bustling town squares with impeccably kept courthouse grounds. There were others, maybe too many others, where too many empty stores and little traffic at high noon meant that the Wal-Mart out by the main highway had taken its toll. There was both obvious and hidden hospitality; there was also both obvious and hidden prejudice.
All of this was the real Indiana that may be voting on SJR-7 in November 2008. When the folks who snapped our picture and joked with us step into the voting booth to decide, will they think about that black and white gay male couple they met some two years before? I like to think that they will, but I shudder to think that because many more of us simply aren't visible to folks like them, the task ahead is a big one, indeed. As to those guys in the rusty truck.....well, maybe they won't register to vote.
Well, this was supposed to have been a diversion from SJR-7, but the road just turned the corner and here I am back again. Thanks for riding along.