Friday, January 26, 2018


Recently a 12 year old at Surfside Middle School in Panama City, Florida, committed suicide because of bullying. My heart breaks for all involved. Sue Harrell, the Principal at that school, is my Sunday School teacher and a finer woman never lived. I know she is heartbroken and challenging every word and action she uttered and took. This is a serious problem -- but it is nothing new. Technology has merely put this problem on steroids.

Her parents and the children (12 year olds) are all a part of a modern tragedy. What could we have done; what could we have said? An impulsive act resulting from a bad situation created a tragedy. Are there answers? I don't know. I just know that bullying is not a new thing.

Several years ago, my oldest granddaughter experienced bullying at a local charter school. She came out of school crying one day. My daughter said to herself, my daughter doesn't have to take this. She immediately drove over to Holy Nativity and our granddaughter found a wonderful welcome. (By the way, after they were separated by schools and time, those girls became friends.)

Years ago, I remember being bullied. It is not fun. "You're so fat, how do you make it down the hall," taunted two chubby male classmates. I told my mother that afternoon, crying. She said, "You just tell them, 'You don't have to pay for my groceries, so don't you worry about it!'"

Not exactly the best comeback, but I thought it was brilliant.

One of those boys died fairly early and the other is now blind. I do not revel in their troubles, but, just as mother said, I outgrew that and had many happy things happen.

It didn't stop there. My father moved us from the church I grew up in to a new one inhabited by those who shunned me most. They refused to sit by me. Mean girls existed even then. (I am 67 now.) Those painful feelings never leave you. And church is not always the answer because their parents take them to church just like you do yours.

Am I saying the lessons taught in church don't sink in and make people better? Only if they actually internalize the lessons and first they must be taught and not just with words, but with example. So many churches are caught up in special projects and serving others as a GROUP that the responsibility of the INDIVIDUAL "to do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is lost.

(I had another bad day that I remember well-- got sent to the office by a teacher, a unique experience for me. I checked out of school and they did not challenge me seeing how upset I was. My mother said, "You are wearing red. That is your bad luck color. Change clothes and go back to school." I did and she was right. Silly I know, but I had a WONDERFUL mother! who apparently knew her simple minded daughter well.)

I also remember the shunning when I helped a guy I later found out everyone said was gay learn the cheers before tryouts. He could do back handsprings all the way across the gym. We practiced on my front yard. I did not see him as gay. I did not have a clue what gay was! I saw him as a friend I had made while working on a play who wanted to be a cheerleader and needed my help. I was shocked by their reaction. Needless to say, he did not get cheerleader. Now, I will bet if I had known to talk with him about bullying, he would have had a story. But, he went on to a successful career in New York as a dancer. Sadly, he later died of AIDS.

Fortunately, we did not have cell phones or computers with Twitter and Facebook.

So, my conclusion after this observation is:
  1. If your child is bullied, consider moving your child to a different school. The administration NEEDS to help you expedite that move.
  2. Take the technology away from your child. They do not HAVE TO HAVE phones or computers. You are not punishing them, you are saving them from an addiction that can kill. 
Now let me make a comment from the perspective of years, I was a very privileged child. My father and mother loved me and supported me. I lived in a beautiful home with nearly around the clock help. I see now that those bad experiences gave me great empathy and insight into the emotions of others and took me out of my privileged self into the feelings of others, quite an asset in life. So if your child is having trouble in school, he/she might benefit from what I learned:


  1. READ! You will be amazed how many friends you can find in books. I read every book in my mother's extensive Book of the Month Club library when I was twelve. Wonderful books written by great authors: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Taylor Caldwell, Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Meet people who have overcome real troubles and lived truly inspirational lives.
  2. I joined everything and tried out for everything in high school. (Future Teachers of America, Latini Socii, Spanish Club, Thespian Society, National Honor Society, Morning Devotional, lost weight and got Cheerleader-- a real shocker to those who designed my pigeon hole.) I discovered so many GREAT people out there that I had never met!
  3. I learned that I made better friends with those older than me than I did with those my age. (Of course, in high school, that can be only one or two years!) Though it has continued through old age and I find I have friends much younger and much older!
  4. I learned to sit with those who sat alone. I learned to stand with those standing alone as I had with Evelyn Davis (older than us, special education, looking so sad as she stood alone on the Elementary school playground) and to do that when attending social events for ladies organizations, churches, etc.
  5. I learned to SMILE because that attracts people to you.
  6. I learned to be interested in OTHER people. That came naturally with me because I am truly interested.
  7. LISTEN! Everyone has a story. And many have all their words stored up and need someone to talk to. 
  8. I have learned you never have enough friends, though time limits how much time you have to "be" a friend. (That is one reason I love Facebook from that perspective. I must say I have encountered "mean girls" on Facebook. Oddly no guys. That is what the "Unfriend" button is for! Delete is great for emails you don't want to read.)
  9. My mother said those girls were jealous. Of what, I could not imagine! I was a lonely little fat girl and they were pretty and popular. They were blessed with "a group." How can the group be special if you let everybody in? So, never, never, never expect to be included in THAT group.
  10. It is a big world. When you grow up you can get out of that town and the pigeon hole they have built for you and be whomever YOU WANT TO BE!
  11. EVERY ONE IS NOT GOING TO LIKE YOU. Those words to a daughter having trouble with bullying at a Christian school came from a psychiatrist to whom that I will always be grateful. It helped me as well. I, of course, want everyone to like me. But, if you ever stand for anything, you will find that is impossible.
  12. There are other schools. Your child IS A CHILD. The administration needs to work with you. Too often we expect them to be adults. We are the adults. Pray. Remember there are other places, other people. Our children are not yet armed with the sword and the shield and much of the current curriculum undermines faith with New Age techniques. You may not know that as we often "just trust" they know what to put into our children's minds and the best way to handle things. My family's answer of getting my children out of a bad situation may not be an option for you. 
My little brother had someone commit suicide in his apartment when he was a Freshman at the University of Alabama. His friend had never experienced failure. When he graduated and did not get the job he wanted he could not face it. He took a gun and blew his brains out. Elkanah went to see what the noise was and found a sight he will never forget. Because suicide can sometimes be contagious we worried about him.

I was so proud of his reaction. "That was a permanent solution to a temporary problem," he said.

We will through life face many of those temporary problems, something to share with children. Those who love us must remind us it is a temporary problem. A door closed in one direction. Our God will open another in a different direction. More wonderful. More exciting. More purposeful. Than the door we want opened.

Beautiful, little skinny people experience bullying just like this little fat girl did. Handsome, smart, privileged young men experience bullying. Look out of your own haze of the current situation into the eyes of someone who may be experiencing the same or worse.

Encourage those bullied and tell them that God will use every experience to prepare them for the future He has prepared for them. Sometimes you have to be caught up in the belly of the whale to find yourself on a far shore for a purpose only He can see. Character gets tempered in fire like steel.

They will probably think "what do you know about it?" So don't give up.


But, if you think this might inspire your despairing child, continue on. 

I guess it is all of those experiences that I draw upon to write the novels I write. I began with the inspiration that my fourth great grandmother was Cherokee. Who could have been more bullied than Native Americans? (Swimming with Serpents). The second book put those Red Stick Native Americans in the Negro Fort with free and escaped slaves. The fort was blown up by a gunboat sent by Andrew Jackson July 17, 1816. (In Pursuit). Try to find that fort now. It is now called Fort Gadsden and if the bear has once more pulled down the sign you might not find it! The third in the series that I am working on now, brings that group of escapees to Angola in South Florida pursued by a bunch of raiders led by Native Americans associated with the Americans, sent by Jackson to rid the Peninsula of the former Red Sticks and escaped slaves. Two little boys (with whom we can all relate) come together to find their mother (with whom every Mother can identify), caught up in this turmoil.

Bullied? I would say so!

All of those events are true, there are major characters that are fictional, but they interact with real people in true situations. They are published by Mercer University.

Has all that went before prepared me as a privileged white woman to write this? That is something we should all realize. You don't get to where you are supposed to go, meet who you are supposed to meet, without trials and tribulations along the way. In other words, sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince.

Through 23 & Me I have also found a a genetic connection to West Africa, a tad of Ashkenazi Jew, and according to Tribal DNA a Mayan/Mexican/Native American connection, in addition to the primary Northern European DNA. That is a cocktail of cultures that probably most of us will find. 

I want to share here the wisdom of "the help" who never seemed like "the help" but my best friend and as dear as any relative.

Mattie Lee Martin, my beloved Mammy
Jean Gillis Burson and Mattie Lee Martin 

Nobody could have experienced more bullying than my Mammy.

Her parents abandoned her and her mentally challenged sister with their grandparents. Those grandparents abused her sister one too many times. Mammy took her by the hand and led her down those dirt country roads into the downtown area of Dothan, Alabama. A Jewish lady, Mrs. Bender, saw the two children and stopped sweeping the sidewalk to speak to them. Mammy (Mattie Lee) told her what had happened to them so Mrs. Bender took them in, gave them both something to drink, and I imagine, from how much Mammy loved her, gave her suitable clothes to go across the street to ask for a job to the Wadlington Hotel. She started off very low on the totem pole cleaning rooms and wound up as a cook there and then later in the kitchen at the Houston Hotel. From there she became a private cook for Dr. Mazyck who told my father, a friend and a physician who had privileges at Moody Hospital, about her (founded by Dr. Mazyck's father-in-law, Dr. Moody).

Mammy was much impressed by Marjorie Moody Mazyck. She was the epitome of a lady in Mammy's eyes and Mammy was determined that I learn from what Margie Mazyck taught her.

What did that mean?

Mammy did the best she could to turn these cow's ears into silk purses.
  1. Mammy taught me that my father deserved my respect. I would never have thought of disrespecting him and never called him anything but, "Sir." 
  2. The Meat goes in front of the doctor who sits at the head of he table. 
  3. The fork goes with the napkin to the left, the knife and spoon to the right of the plate. 
  4. "You too bossy! You ain't gone have any friends." I've tried to do better, but maybe not hard enough sometimes!  
  5. And so much more that I cannot remember at the moment.
Mammy's life was never easy. She worked hard. She raised and educated a daughter who brought her a granddaughter that she adored. Dr. Mazyck had given her a home close to the church. That church life sustained her. She did not let circumstance determine her future. She helped all who came to her door. She taught by example. She loved greatly. And she loved me... one of my greatest blessings.

Fortunately, when I wound up in tears, I had both my mother and Mammy there to encourage me. Mammy wanted me to "be somebody." "Yo daddy, he be somebody and you got to be somebody too!" and I knew she meant more than make a lot of money. Mammy looked into people's hearts as did my mother. Their experiences guided their lives.

And I pray God they will continue to guide mine until the day I see them again ... and perhaps through this introduction you may benefit from their wonderful role model.

What is happening to that child at that moment is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING EVER! It is hard for those who have survived childhood to see it.

I had great mentors in my mother, grandmother and Mammy. I pray that your children/grandchildren can draw from your own spiritual strength and wisdom to guide them. And perhaps the experiences of others to encourage them as well.

Remember Grandparents, God doesn't let you retire. "Speak of these things when you lie down, when you rise up, when you walk by the way."

My grandmother's lessons came tempered with the smell of Ben Gay and a jar for her false teeth, "Muddin's Little Chompers." 

Just so you children never think that life as an adult is always perfect, much to my dismay, in addition to all the WONDERFUL things that have happened to me, I must admit that people will continue to surprise you throughout your life! Among the many surprises I have encountered, I
  1. joined one of the best sororities (THE BEST) on campus only to have a part of that group in high school, including those two boys, pledge a fraternity that converted many into alcoholics ignore me and be rude to several of my pledge sisters at a pledge swap. They humiliated me because I had spoken so highly of them to my pledge sisters. 
  2. have had former friends walk on the other side of the street because I opposed Whole Language and wanted to bring a Back To Basics curriculum into our schools.
  3. have walked back into a graduate school classroom with my skirt still tucked into my underpants after going to the bathroom. (Nope that was not bullying, but I was so embarrassed I wished I could die! We can "show our butt" accidentally, of course, at any age.)
  4. have been accused in a newspaper "letter to the editor" of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan and Flat Earthers for opposing the "innovations" that have brought about the decline of our schools. (Who would have had reason to spread those rumors and why?)
  5. have been told not to come back to a restaurant, after I, as president of the organization bringing the Colonial Dames to eat there, the owner called me up afterwards and accused me of opening a present (that I did not do)
  6. have been told not to come back to a fruit stand because I spent too much time finding the perfect basket of peaches (I did do that) 
  7. been amazed when members of a church group (not the one I now attend) chastised me for speaking out on pornography posturing as quality literature promoted in 11th grade COMMON CORE literature (past teachers still circling the wagons)
  8. been removed from a board of a directors after organizing events, handling publicity and promoting the organization through television, etc. and writing and sending the newsletter -- because I used some of the emails to invite some folks to the Panhandle Eagle Forum organizational meeting.  The words of that former preacher when he called me still ring in my ears, "I polled the executive committee and we have decided you have an agenda and have betrayed our trust."(Their invitation to join had surprised me, I did not seek the position.) 
If striving to get a better education for children through an organization with values and dedication to making the world a safer, better place for children then I guess I have an agenda. But I really do not know WHAT he was referring to. I just promised I would never do anything to put myself into proximity with that man ever again!

BTW, I did offer them some of the historical fiction novels I have written as a gift to do with as they chose -- give as a door prize, sell, whatever --that were handed back to me early on in a bag saying they had voted not to support Historical Fiction) Apparently someone was offended. As a friend said, "Someone on that Board has an agenda." Odd, isn't it?

Strangely, Uzi Baram archaeologist at the University of South Florida who is researching Angola, took the time to congratulate me on the books saying Historical Fiction inspired many to come conduct archaeology in Israel after James Michener's The Source. (I, in no way, compare my novels to Michener's but bringing attention to that which has been forgotten through Historical Fiction is not a bad thing!)

Silly, isn't it? That is my point. Survive this. This is the least of the problems you will face in life and if you bear up under this you have flexed your Survivor muscles.

Make a list of your own of hurtful things. Stick them in the back of your Bible. Look at them after time has passed and see how silly they are, yet how hurtful those silly things can be so you will not do that to anyone else.

But, I will guarantee you that lots of people are crazy and it will go on. Share with your mother -- or email me about these silly things-- and we will laugh about it. Mean people spread rumors to hurt you and build themselves up. 

The purpose of this addition is just to show children that MEAN PEOPLE -- girls and boys, men and women can be found anywhere at any age. They will continue to shock and amaze you. We just have to pull on our big girl panties and deal with it. (Or big boy Fruit of the Loom.)

Be true to yourself because THAT IS WHAT MATTERS. And that means YOUR LIFE MATTERS! YOU JUST DON'T KNOW WHAT FOR YET! Do not let anyone else be your validation for life. Who are They?

God bless you all. Remember "All things work together for good to those who Love God and are according to His Purposes."

I pray for those children. I pray for you as parents and grandparents.

    No comments:

    Post a Comment

    I would love to hear from you!