Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why I had nightmares of burning crosses as a kid

I'm very proud of my big brother.

This was us a good while ago, more hair, less fat, less wisdom. Actually, Jesse has been playing soccer like a madman and surfing so much I think he's back to his Junior High weight. Me, I'm sporting the Chris Farley look. I guess that's what happens when you jack up your knee living in the lower forty-eight and work for yourself. Can't afford surgery, can't do any sports at all, or exercise much. So you get fat. Enjoy the rush of chronic pain. It's going on six years or so now. Then you marry a Canadian, move to Canada and voila, horrible, horrible free and excellent health care. Amazing. The same country getting criticized by the ignorant right now about their communist health care might just be my salvation from being chubby. And pain. Cool.

But I digress.

That's the cover of my big brother's new awesome picture book, called I and I.

This post is really about my brother Jesse and how he just had an incredible interview with the School Library Journal that I would encourage everybody to check out.

For any skeptical about Jesse's passion against injustice, I have a couple stories for you. Completely unapproved by said older brother too.

When I was a young boy I used to have nightmares about the KKK coming and leaving burning crosses on our front yard. It's true. Which is weird on a few levels because I'm a white boy, white family, and we lived in gold rush country in Northern California, between Yosemite and Lake Tahoe. You wouldn't think I'd have to worry much, or even know much about the Klan. But I was pretty sure they were going to come for my brother.

Why would a young boy worry about such a thing? Well, read the interview and you'll get a much better picture. Before Murphys, we lived in Pasadena, California, where I was born. Jesse's best friend there was African American. And our grandma was a member and activist for the United Nations and a devout feminist. Side note: when we'd bring girlfriends to meet her she'd grill them about their ambitions and views. Thanks grandma.

When Jesse was in Junior High School or High School (forget which) our family watched Cry Freedom, probably prompted by Jess. After the movie was over, Jesse was so mad at the injustice he kicked a whole in the drywall with his Doc Marten combat boots (all the rage). I was impressed and still am. That's passion.

In high school, Jesse was arrested (yeah, you heard me) with his friend because a hotel in Angel's Camp (where our hs was) refused service to a black reporter from the Sacramento Bee and so Jesse J and friend posted signs and picketed out front, just the two of them. Small town cops don't like that kind of thing. Arrested him, threatened him. Read the interview. That's why I dreamed about burning crosses.

When I was in junior high and Jesse (four years older) in high school, our family went on a trip to the Middle East and Europe for two months, one month per. My dad was illustrating a picture book for Ruth Graham, Billy Graham's wife and they sent him to research it. While in Israel we saw both sides of the deep conflict. I think Jesse, being older and more inclined, was deeply affected by some of the camps we saw that the Palestinians were forced to live in. This was around 1988 I believe. We met many Jews, Muslims and Christians and heard so many stories. Our Palestinian guide, Elias, was a personal friend of Billy Graham. He was one of the original boys who found the Dead Sea Scrolls. A respected and honored man. Yet, as an old man he was told by a soldier to pick up rocks and refused, so beaten severely.

I have always looked up to my older brother for many reasons. His lifelong passion for justice and his courage to speak up despite consequences or fear is one part of him that I especially admire. I hope you go read this article and find out more about this great guy and passionate artist.

Here's Jesse's blog and his website. Love you jess. Very proud of you.


  1. How sweet!!!

    I'm curious about Canadian health care. Could you enlighten us a little more? My stepdad is British and talks about their healthcare being a nightmare. Apparently when he was living there, if you were over a certain age and had a heart attack, they handed you an aspirin and sent you home. I'm not sure what healthcare for the young was like, but the elderly became something out of Logan's Run...

  2. wow! it's great your brother has been able to combine his passions, art, and job. i love the bit of family history. you're grandma (the one with the earrings?) sounds way cool.

    what's a little weird, is i fell asleep listening to the sounds of footsteps going into the backyard to light crosses on fire. backyard, mind you. i imagined it all, but i believed it was happening, over and over and over. this was in texas, where i stayed summers with my grandparents.

  3. Good for him! I'll go check out his blog!

  4. Could the Watson family be any cooler? No, that would not be possible.

  5. Wow, great stories. I always admire people who will stand up for the greater good. You guys are both pretty awesome.

  6. 1. Your bro is ultra-cool!

    2. You're never going to believe this, but one of my daughters used to harbor your same KKK fears!! So weird, her being about as pale as the moon and all. I think it was the concept that people could hate each other so much as to do horrible things...and the fact that these people hid behind bedsheets so that you just might never know their true awfulness if you just saw them on the street. (The other kids feared sock monkeys and ancient Egypt....go figure).

    Great post, BJW!


  7. AIW... You sound familiar. And cute. Get a google account already! Preferably start a blog about Canadian Health Care and Death panels and stuff. For the rest of you, AIW happens to be my wife and an emergency room registered nurse.

    Stephanie, i'd love to talk about the Canadian health care. My only disclaimer is that I don't care what people's positions are on this issue. That's completely up to them and that's cool. I just don't like the Canadian health care bashing being broadcast globally by our media, politicians and windbags just because we Americans are having a debate on our own health care. We need to remember that it is OUR system that is having a crisis, not theirs. And I think that to disparage something that is viewed with pride by another country, to exaggerate and make stuff up about one of our closest trading partners, is rude and advances an image of Americans as ignorant and self-centered.

    I lived in England for about six months when I was not yet of drinking age in the US. I got hurt doing something or other (sports) and went to a doctor while there and was fixed up free of charge (this is 1996). The doctor asked me if I thought it was fair that I could get help for free in England but if he came to the US he couldn't. I said no. He said he didn't either. I can't speak for the Brit system beyond the people I knew, but often these "horror stories" are exaggerated. Like if you are over a certain age and had a heart attack and they give you an aspirin and send you home? Sounds close to the death panels to me. With a shred of truth.

    ANYONE who is having symptoms for a heart attack, from what I think Amy has told me, IS given aspirin to chew. For STARTERS. Same in the U.S.. (According to Amy, Aspirin can stop platelet aggregation that causes a block in blood flow to your heart, huh?)

    But as for Canada, a close relative up here had a brain aneurism (not burst yet), had an MRI the same day he first showed any symptoms, met with numerous brian specialists and had brain surgery soon after and is doing great now. He is over sixty years old and his life was saved. He gushes about the care he received. And it was pretty complicated because the aneurysm was shaded by another condition. But that is just one person.

  8. In general, the nurses and physicians are on par with the medical training in the US. Speaking for nurses, since I'm most familiar with them, they actually leave nursing school with much more practical experience than their US counterparts (and I was friends with a number of US and Canadian Nursing students) because they start their clinical work much earlier than the US nurses do.

    The US hospitals, from everything I've seen, are MUCH nicer, particularly in the groundskeeping and the facades. They have WAY more grass per capita, much more cobbled stone driveways, way spiffier fountains. The Canadian hospitals look more utilitarian while the US hospitals compete with the finest resorts and castles. Inside a Canadian hospital things are simpler but functional. You know what hospitals look like inside in the US. At the hospital in Silverdale WA where some relatives were born, there is a HUGE hanging sculpture that I can't even describe. All leather comfy chairs. Spared no expense. Which some argue is part of the problem.

  9. Amy gave me a tour of the ER where she works right now. Three years ago, when we were considering moving to Portland, we both went and toured a number of the hospitals down there and talked to their nursing recruiters. OHSU and pill hill is magnificent and even has an amusement park ride now (sky-ride) which I hear is useful. We saw a lot of really cool hospitals. We also toured the Port Townsend, WA hospital, small town, and I can say that the number of Canadian hospitals I've seen and toured and that Amy has worked in and told me about, the facilities are comparable but not anywhere near as fancy.

    People are NOT turned away for care, on the contrary. Elective procedures like leg surgeries or what not do probably take longer than in the US, but not if it's serious. But EVERY Canadian is covered. If you make above a certain amount of money, you do pay less than one hundred dollars a month for EXTENDED CARE for TWO PEOPLE. However, if you can't afford it, it's free. Most jobs will pay all or part of that cost as a job benefit. The income tax is higher but they especially tax alcohol and cigarettes to help pay for health care (since these two contribute to many health problems) and gas is taxed pretty good.

    Here's the crazy thing. You hear about health panels and not being able to choose your physicians and all that. It's not true. As a matter of fact, there ARE LESS PEOPLE BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR CARE. NO CANADIAN HAS TO GO THROUGH AN INSURANCE COMPANY! They don't have to barter what's covered, which HMO they can go to or anything like that. They get to go to WHATEVER HOSPITAL or doctor THEY WANT! PLUS, as a whole, they SAVE money by treating EVERYBODY at earlier stages. Amy described this as the upstream approach. Much more effective.

    Some in the US claim that any American can come to the ER and won't be turned away and that's true. BUT, usually by that stage, the conditions are dire and it COSTS way more to treat them at that point. And if they can't pay, that money comes from the hospital or government financial assistance or the patient is put on a payment plan or made to pay or credit is affected or whatever. Those costs of patients not being able to pay are transferred to higher costs for care for everyone, higher premiums, and the costs get paid ultimately by you.

    To be fair, the Canadians have their own problems with Health Care. The baby boomer bubble is constraining their budgets at the same time some politicians have privatized certain aspects or cut things like beds in long term care which back up the entire system. Like everywhere, they are facing nursing and doctor shortages, particularly with the looming baby boomer retirements. Canada is huge geographically. HUGE. And their population in extreme rural areas is very spread out. Accessibility is challenged by the geography. It is mandated that ALL Canadians have access to health services, so if they have to send a helicopter somewhere they do it. Which isn't always easy or cheap.

    The shortage of long-term care beds, due to budget cuts and politics, backs up care down the line. It increases the wait times in the ER (for the least urgent) because the patients stabilized don't have beds open for them so they're stuck in the ER which causes longer wait times for incoming patients. But this has become a greater problem as the current Premier of BC, Gordon Campbell, makes more controversial cuts .

  10. Wow. What a beautiful cover. Great post on your brother. Thanks for sharing. :)

  11. Officially end of my Canadian Health Care Defense. : )

    Thanks Karen. My Grandma was pretty cool, but she had funny quirks and contradictions like all of us. I think the secret of her longevity was all the scotch she drank. I think it pickled/preserved her. And for being such an activist and self-proclaimed feminist, she also had a pretty domestic side which was funny for her. Don't think Camille Paglia would've approved. Living so near Cal-Tech in Altadena, she threw the best cocktail parties and benefits with all kinds of interesting people and scholars. My grandpa was a physicist too, so there place was always interesting to visit.

    Thanks Suzanne!

    Look who's talking Martha. Could YOUR family be any cooler? No. I'll bet you could provide a MUCH better perspective on health care than I ever could. It's in your blood. And you're you (smart!).

    Careful of that greater good Natalie, what if they decide ninjas aren't serving the greater good? Bye, bye ninjas. Then again, good luck getting rid of ninjas. I hear they're hard to find.

    Shelley that's crazy about your daughter and Karen (up top) too. They always scared me more than anything. Well them and the Wicked Witch of the East. She REALLY scared me. But yeah, all those things you said are exactly why I was so scared. What people can do when they wear masks. Hmm.

    On the flip side, the novel I'm working on is set in Murphys, Gold Country. There were a lot of wonderful, funny, crazy things about growing up there. So I don't want to paint it in a negative light. I loved it when I was there.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. ah hahahaha. I had to delete my comment because it perfectly canceled out any notion of me being a halfway decent guy. Ha! Anyway, good response to the Boogie Monster approach to the attacks on Health Care reform.
    Come with facts or wait in the car for the grown ups, please. Everybody is tired of the propaganda silliness. So tired. So very very tired.
    "Harry, I am so old and tired. I will be dying soon and I need you to destroy all the horcruxes. But first, ....... please, Harry, warn the people of the Deathly Panels! The people must find out about the evil Lord Volbama and his nazi plan to communisize the US of A..." (gasp)

    Ok, sorry to litter your perfectly respectable blog with my drivel. I am so ashamed.


  14. Perfectly respectable blog? You shut your mouth. If you want perfectly respectable, hit up Cuppa Jolie. For your information, we've published pg-13 posts here before with full-frontal dog nudity.

    Extra points to my big brother for the excellent Harry Potter quote. I forgot when Albus warned Harry of the Deathly Panels and he-who-must-not-be-named-without-mentioning-the-word-socialist.

    To the rest of my rapidly-fleeing readership, I promise not to turn this blog into a political ranting blog. I feel sorta bad for turning attention away from my brother's awesome interview and his stunning new book.

  15. I was gonna say, thanks for pointing out the interview. But now I gotta add...

    Your comments here are like a few extra blog posts! You are so good at follow-up, Ben. Thanks for all the Canadian Health care stuff you wrote.

  16. Ha, good/psychotic, fine line. Thanks Kjersten. But I'll be trying to put the commenting monster back in his kennel.

  17. I am in awe of you and your family, Ben. It's pretty comforting to know there are people out there who are REALLY doing good in the world.

  18. Wow. I am DEFINITELY checking that out.