Mr. Trump, meet Aunt Helen

Gulp! I’m going to confess. No, it’s too embarrassing. Yes, I’m going to.

I’m of Donald Trump’s generation.

It’s like admitting to Europeans that I’m from the country that elected Trump. Until he became president, I was not ashamed of being an American or of being a septuagenarian.

Contrary to the fact that we old people (and I deliberately use the word “old”) defy stereotypes, they persist. Grandpa, who dominates the conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table with harangues against gay marriage and immigrants. Aunt Helen, who can’t follow a train of thought and free associates her way through every conversation. Media often portray us as narrow-minded and critical. We’ve lost our mental acuity and wouldn’t know how to run a lemonade stand.

Donald Trump perpetuates such stereotypes.

Most of the people I know, who are my age, are thoughtful. They read books with multi-syllabic words and complex sentences. The books cover topics like climate change and history and politics. Retirees I know take classes at area universities; they don’t let their minds become stagnant. If pensions and mobility allow, they travel with Road Scholar and return home knowledgeable about distant countries. They do not mock other people and cultures. They do not abandon peers forced to live solely on Social Security or on minimum wage, but volunteer for Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity, and the local food bank.

Trump’s presidency, on the other hand, contributes to negative images of aging.

And I resent it.


Nancy Werking Poling is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987) and Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman.


Doin’ my part, Mr. Trump

Dear President Trump,

This is to let you know that I have been earnestly following your directive regarding mentally disturbed people. In response to your recent tweet, I have reported “such instances [of mental disturbance] to authorities again and again.”

Here is a list of my efforts so far:

2/15—called police about a man who followed me too closely on I-40 then gave me the finger as he passed. White male, youngish, driving a Toyota. Here is his license number: [redacted].

2/15—called police about man behind me in the Ingles check-out line. While the cashier sent another employee for a price check on my cilantro, the man cursed over having to wait to buy a case of beer. He appeared to be about thirty years old, had sandy blond hair, stood about five feet eight, and wore a camouflaged jacket. I could identify him in a lineup.

2/16—called police about my neighbor, who I’m sure is a homosexual. His name is Martin. He lives at [redacted]. They’re mentally disturbed too, according to my pastor. He could be dangerous. Not my pastor, but the homosexual.

2/16—called police about my roommate’s boyfriend, Josh. (I don’t know his last name.) Last night he kicked her dog and cursed, a sign I’ve read that predicts more violent behavior. Josh has dark hair, is about six feet tall, and drives a black Corvette.

2/17—called police about my co-worker deliberately dropping a heavy box on my hand. I now have a splint on my middle finger. He’s named Tim. (I don’t know his last name either.) He has a long scar on his left cheek and wears his brown hair in a crew-cut. I think he’s on drugs.

2/17—called police when I heard the man next door call his wife a f-ing bitch. He yells at her a lot, and I once saw that she had a black eye. He lives at [redacted].

2/17—called police about my roommate’s boyfriend again. He’s got a gun. I’ve seen it.

2/18—called police about my father’s mental instability. He’s been depressed since losing his job and spends his days watching FOX News.

So you see, Mr. President, I’m doing my part to prevent another mass shooting. Thank you for your thoughtful advice.


P.S. Did I mention that all of these men are white?

Nancy Werking Poling is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987); Had Eve come First and Jonah Been a Woman; and Out of the Pumpkin Shell.

Sexual assault in a sexualized culture

I’ve never had sex on a desk. Or in an airplane. When I told my grandchildren this, they shouted “Nana!” in embarrassment. I wanted them to know that loving sex between partners who respect each other is not a rip-her-clothes-off/push-her-against-the-wall norm.

Where would they get the idea otherwise? Everywhere.

Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Louis C.K., Al Franken, members of Congress and their staffs, etc.etc. As of October 24, “Twitter confirmed to CBS News that over 1.7 million tweets included the hashtag “#MeToo,” with 85 countries that had at least 1,000 #MeToo tweets” (

Yes, women are speaking out. They’re disclosing the psychological injury of sexual assault. As a result, commentators are already claiming a “Cultural shift.” Now that powerful men are being confronted, either out of conscience or fear of getting caught, they’ll stop their abusive behavior.

I doubt it. The end of sexual violence against women would require a volcanic shift in media, where women exist for the benefit of men.

Like many Americans, males and females of all ages (my grandchildren included), I watch TV and movies. I like a good story. Readers who know me might be shocked at the kinds of movies I see. I’m sometimes shocked myself. Man meets woman; man desires woman; man f—s woman. Along the way a mystery is solved, a wrong is made right, love wins.

Let’s face it: we live in a highly sexualized society. Sex sells. Advertisers and the entertainment industry know that. It sells cars; it sells pharmaceuticals. Sex is on prime-time TV. Explicit sex. Aggressive sex.

Where do such messages lead? All men, not just men with political or social power, are led to believe they have a right to touch a woman’s breast, stick their tongue in her mouth, or do more.

I often wonder how young women are influenced by so much sex in the media. Have they been persuaded that male acceptance requires submission? I worry that my granddaughters, based on what they see in the media, will think they must give in to sexual advances.

Not that women don’t have hormones and needs of our own. In the 1960s we claimed our own sexuality and desires. But I’d wager that most want a sexual relationship with someone they know and care about.

Americans’ wishes are full of contradictions. We want services without paying taxes. We want cheap goods, yet they should be manufactured in the U.S.

We want men to respect women as equals in the work place. Yet everything men watch on their computers and TV screens shouts that women exist for male pleasure.

Can women, by speaking truthfully of our experiences, bring about a cultural shift? Only if the media quits portraying sex as an expectation of every encounter between a man and a woman.

And media, currently controlled by men, will never do that.


Nancy Werking Poling is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987).

I worry about Korea

No, I haven’t forgotten my Korean friends. I daily fear for their safety. Yet merely saying that I am angry at Donald Trump for increasing their danger doesn’t seem adequate.

Besides, I’m distracted. Almost daily the president draws me into a new worry by saying, Tweeting, or doing something insensitive or abusive. Before I have time to write my concerns about Korea, he’s taken me in another direction.

With an attention-challenged president our population responds in like manner. One day I worry about Korea, the next day about young African American men, the next about Dreamers, the next about Puerto Ricans, even—I still can’t believe this—I worry about football players. Today we mourn the loss of life in Las Vegas. Tomorrow? Trump seems intent on keeping us off kilter. That way we don’t have time to criticize him in a coherent manner.

Yet I’m trying, for a moment, to focus on my concerns for Korea.

I have fond memories of the country and its people. Some I met when they studied here in the U.S.. Others I learned to know when my husband twice taught a semester at Yonsei University in Seoul. I hesitate to make generalizations about any group of people. I will say, though, that Koreans I have known are earnest, persevering, passionate, and hospitable. If cultural ways become embedded in the genes, it’s likely that their relatives to the north, whom I have not met, share those qualities.

Donald Trump is obviously unaware of history and cultural differences. Because Korea is a small country (north and south) its destiny has been at the whims of others. Still fresh in people’s memory is the brutal Japanese occupation of the peninsula and the civil war that ravaged the entire country, especially the north, which the U.S. carpet bombed. There is no reason to believe that Kim, if he feels threatened, will not send missiles to Seoul, a city of nearly 10 million people and a mere 35 miles from the border. Trump seems to believe that victory (his personal victory over Kim) will come via bullying on Twitter.

Why aren’t Americans saying more about this? Partly because we daily have something new to react to. A new Tweet, a hurricane, a gun massacre. Many of us do care but we feel helpless. That’s how tyranny becomes implanted, isn’t it?



A united work force

(Excerpt from Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987)

1940 or ‘41

Daniel often paused outside International Harvester gates at the end of his shift to listen to Jack Carpenter, a union organizer from Chicago. Black metal lunch pails in hand, weary men congregated, a few, like Daniel, clustering around Carpenter. Most, though, lurked in the background lest they be identified as opposed to management. The company’s goal was to make as much money as it could, Carpenter said, and it didn’t give a hoot about the workers. By uniting, organizing a union, the workers could unshackle themselves from the absolute control the company had over them.

There was little doubt in the men’s minds that Carpenter was right. Factory laborers had to work six days a week with no paid vacations, no paid holidays, and no benefits. Anyone unfortunate enough to get sick was quickly replaced by someone who was healthy. Conditions at the plant were hazardous, particularly in the foundry, where men worked with molten hot iron, and out on the tracks, where they did back-breaking tasks without the help of machinery. Workers were often severely burned or injured. Sometimes the company hired a new man, and a month later, without giving any reason, fired an employee who had been on the job five years. There was nowhere to go for redress. Wartime production had not yet begun, and the fact that people still desperately needed jobs made them subject to the whims of business.

At first Daniel didn’t approve of unions, but every day, when he got off work, exhausted and covered with grime, he couldn’t help but think that a united work force was the only means to better conditions and better pay.

Daniel: “Here I was, a college graduate with little hope of using my skills or reaching my potential. As long as laborers were afraid to organize, they were powerless. Besides, if I joined the union, what did I have to lose?”

On a Sunday afternoon in late spring, four workers from Harvester met with Carpenter. Three weeks and four meetings later the smoke-filled room was packed, mostly with men but also with a few women. Sitting on kitchen chairs, footstools, and the floor, they strategized into the early morning hours about organizing a local. In this setting a person’s color wasn’t as important as what he or she could contribute to the cause.

The Richmond plant was the first Harvester plant to organize. Aware that if one factory unionized others would follow, the company tried to frighten and isolate leaders.

Calling the strike in ‘41 was risky. The union was new and still unsure how much support it had among the workers. Its representatives spent hours at the negotiation table, trying to reach a contract with management, but couldn’t get anywhere. Finally, on a Tuesday afternoon union leadership informed Harvester that a vote would be taken that night and a strike was inevitable.


(Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987) is the story of an independent white woman, a talented black man, and the times in which these two remarkable people lived. The book is available wherever books are sold.)

After the Flood (excerpt from “Survival,” in HAD EVE COME FIRST AND JONAH BEEN A WOMAN)

Once the waters had receded and the face of the earth was dry. Nochat went from the ark, she and her children and grandchildren. And every pair of animals: the ferrets and gazelles, the ibex and asps, all left the ark.

When every animal had crept or leaped or flown to the north, the south, the east, or west, Nochat looked at the desolation around her and felt a great emptiness. Nothing she had known remained. She sat upon the ground, rested her head against her arms, and wept.

After a while she lifted her face and called out to God, “What kind of mother are you, that you would strangle your own child because it is willful? What kind of God are you that you would create animals as lovely as gazelles, as clever as foxes, as playful as goats, then kill them? What kind of God creates beautiful trees and flowers then destroys them?”

From nearby came the faint sound of weeping. The weeping became loud sobs. Then a haunting keen pierced the stillness of the desolate landscape.

“What have I done?” Nochat heard God wail. “What have I done?”

Nochat rose and approached Creator. Put her arms around God. Let God cry against her breast.

“I convinced myself that my rebellious children deserved my wrath. In the beginning I had such hopes and dreams, imagining everything to stay as it was. But I lost control of my children, and when I gazed upon all I had created, I decided it no longer had any value.”

God said nothing for a while, simply sat there nestled against Nochat’s breast, heaving sobs of such immenseness that only God can heave.

“It is as if I have cut off my own breast,” she cried out, “plunged a knife into my own heart. I now see that to destroy what I created was to destroy part of myself.”

For days the two of them remained in that place, God regretting the devastation she had wrought, Nochat lamenting the loss of the earth and people and animals she had loved.

One day God heaved a sigh and said, “Though my mourning will never cease, it is time for me to set about recreating. But first, Nochat, I will make a promise. I promise you and your descendents and every living creature that has come to this place on the ark, I promise that I will never again release the waters to destroy the earth by flood.”

“After all the destruction you have wrought, how am I to believe you?”

“This will be a sign of my covenant. I will place a colorful bow in the sky. When you look upon it, you will be reminded that you do not need to fear my wrath. Yes, the bow will be a sign of the covenant between us.”

And at that Nochat went to get the family’s mildewed garments out of the ark, so that she might spread them in the sun.

God set about rebuilding the earth.

(HAD EVE COME FIRST AND JONAH BEEN A WOMAN, by Nancy Werking Poling, published by Wipf & Stock, 2010. Available in paperback and on Kindle.)

COMMENT by the author, considering the devastation Harvey caused: I don’t believe God caused this disaster. Surely she weeps over the people’s suffering and the massive destruction.

Thoughts about Confederate monuments

I pulled out a tissue at each box placed in the dimly-lit room. The sounds of sniffling surrounded me. The exhibit at The Rooms—a St. John’s, Newfoundland, museum—used artifacts, letters, and families’ remembrances to tell the story of the Caribou Regiment. On the first day of the Battle of the Somme (1916, World War I), the Caribou engaged the enemy at Beaumont-Hamel. As part of the British Empire, Newfoundland sent 780 men into that battle. The next morning 68 survivors reported for roll call. A hundred years later the loss of a generation of men remains a deep sorrow in Newfoundlanders’ collective memory.

A young German woman was staying at the same B & B as my husband and I. What would she think of the exhibit at The Rooms, I wondered, her ancestors having been the enemy? Had her great-grandparents also mourned the death of a brother, a father?

The victors of war have permission to publicly grieve our fallen. We have symbols and monuments, holidays even. How do heirs of those who fought for unjust causes deal with their grief? How do they reconcile sins of the past with a profound sense of having lost thousands, if not millions, of lives?

My husband’s great-uncle fought for the Confederacy and at 18 died of dysentery as a prisoner of war. We know little about him. Like many on both sides of the Civil War, he was probably a farm boy who had never killed anything other than animals for food.

Isn’t that who fights most wars? Young men and women, some barely adults. They are conscripted, indoctrinated, and sent to kill an enemy designated by the powerful. In the 1860s owners of large plantations bought and sold human beings, worked them mercilessly to increase the owners’ wealth. Seeing their way of life threatened, prosperous slave holders sent young men who had nothing to gain to fight their, the land owners’, war.

I return to my earlier question: How do descendants of those who fought for unjust causes deal with a grief that time does not heal?

I’m not defending the Confederacy. Neither do I want to defend our “heritage.” Our white Southern heritage is embroiled with enslavement, Jim Crow laws, lynching. The list of atrocities is endless.

As we tackle the Confederate monument controversy, we need to think creatively. Perhaps we can find a way to grieve the deaths of young farmer-soldiers, denounce the treason of the region’s political and military leaders, and build monuments that recognize the contributions of slave ancestors of African Americans.


Nancy Werking Poling is author of Before It Was Legal: a black-white marriage (1945-1987).