Kittie Howard

Monday, June 22, 2015

"The Princess and the Pea"

The Confederate flag and a pea: What's the segue? Read on . . .

With Danish writer Hans Christian Anderson's book of fairy tales in one hand, I opened the door to the living room. This hot August afternoon I wanted to be in the quietest and coolest room in the house to re-read a fairy tale.

Of the book's many fairy tales, "The Princess and the Pea" had caused a fifth grader to do some serious thinking, but not about the story's handsome prince. I was too young for that.

No, it was this business about sleeping on 20 mattress piled high above a pea and waking up bruised and sore, what happened in the story that proved a rain-drenched maiden was a real princess, not an impostor trying to snare the prince.

Even though none of the book's fairy tales had had a princess with freckled cheeks, I dismissed that as a minor technicality. Hans Christian Anderson was from Denmark (I'd checked the map), a long way from South Louisiana, and couldn't possibly have known about Southern princesses: belles with peach-dripping voices, delicate manners, a certain frailty, and a determined focus that usually won the  day.

Being a Southern princess-in-training was another ignored technicality. To my way of thinking, a princess was a princess, thus opening the way to conduct an experiment: sleeping on a mattress with a pea between the mattress and the box springs.

After re-reading the fairy tale, to make sure I had it right, I closed the book as I stood up and moved toward the piano, where I'd hidden a pea shelled that morning behind the metronome. Seizing the moment -- it wasn't often the house was this quiet -- I slipped into my bedroom, pulled up the bedspread and top sheet, then lifted the mattress with one hand as I reached to position the pea where my back would be while I slept.

Just as I'd positioned the green pea, my mother entered the room. "What are you doing?" she asked, causing me to jump as I jerked my hand out and the mattress and bedding fell down.

"Nothing," I murmured, eyes down, following that princess training rule perfectly. "Just looking for something."

After a long pause that ended with a perfectly executed turning sweep, my mother said, "Make sure you straighten those pillows on your bed."

That done, afternoon eventually turned into evening, then bedtime. Positioning myself just as the fairy tale princess had on the fairy tale's cover page, I was almost too excited about my experiment to fall asleep, but eventually did, with my fingers laced together above the sheets.

When morning's sunlight danced on my face, I stretched, only to cry out as I grabbed my shoulder. The aches and pains worsened when I stood. Tears fell when I reached for my robe on the nearby chair.

At that point, my mother, with her built-in radar for disaster, entered the room. "What's wrong?"

Not knowing what else to do, I dissolved into tears, explaining between sobs I ached because I'd slept on a pea, not exactly a sane thing to say to anyone. But that's what I believed.

In the long morning that followed, my mother stripped the bed to soak the white sheets in Clorox to remove green pea stains prior to washing the sheets. As best that could be determined by my attorney father (who first had to determine if I knew the difference between real life and a fairy tale), during the gymnastics of placing the pea beneath the mattress, my jerked hand and the swoosh of the mattress and bedding falling into place had caused the pea to roll forward,  eventually out of the bedding and onto the floor and hide, as peas do, until I stepped on it before getting into bed.

But even worse than pea-stained sheets, the doctor had to come -- what doctors did Back Then for people who had money to pay them -- and examine my shoulder. Because I'd slept in an unnatural position all night, a muscle had frozen. He gave me a shot near the muscle to relax it. That hurt, really   hurt, almost as much as my siblings teasing me for a week. But I sucked it in. What else could I do? I had been stupid.

So what's the point of a childhood story from another era that seems like yesterday?

It's this: Just as my pea belonged in a bowl with the other peas shelled that morning, the Confederate flag belongs in a museum with other Civil War memorabilia.

Yes, my fanciful experiment provided a story to tell on the stoop, but I also disrupted a household and caused unnecessary worry and expense. When conflicted, the greater moral always gives way to the lesser moral. I was wrong. And when I got it through my head -- fully understood -- that I'd been wrong, I apologized to my parents.

It's a step in the right direction -- getting it through some people's heads -- that South Carolina's elected officials will discuss what to do about the Confederate flag's status. It's a discussion that should spread throughout the South.

More importantly, these discussions should lead to positive actions, not only to remove the flag from state buildings and state flags, but that the South's secession and subsequent actions resulted in "A Failed Experiment in Nationalism," what is written above the back steps of Confederate States of America president Jefferson Davis' home in Mississippi. And if one doesn't know what nationalism is, well, the problem deepens. And part of why, at war's end 150 years ago, General Robert E. Lee advised against flying the flag.

But just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, I say to South Carolina's legislature, "Tear down that Confederate flag. It's oppressive. It fosters hatred. It's about race. And you know it."

"We are one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." We are the United States of America.

My condolences to the families and friends of those massacred in Charleston.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Well said, Kittie. That war was a hundred and fifty years ago. Get over it.
Funny story about the pea. I'm sure you got a lot of grief about it.

Gail Dixon said...

I heard a State Rep from SC being interviewed on NPR earlier today and it seems as though the flag will come down. We can only hope and pray that reason will prevail.

Denise Covey said...

Hi Kittie

Unbelievable that that flag's still flying. It seems nothing is ever going to stop white supremacy. Having that flag still flying in Charleston is a travesty. I'm sick just thinking about it. Not to mention those crazy gun laws.

My condolences to the families and friends of those massacred in Charleston also.

Denise :-)

Linda Starr said...

I too was enthralled with the story of the princess and the pea when I read it long ago. Ha. I am sure I thought I was a princess back then.

So sorry for the families and friends of those killed in Charleston; the governor of SC said it well in response to those who want to politicize the event rather than letting those affected and the city and state heal and the country heal; but now she's changed her tune.

To many the confederate flag is a symbol of the state's right to declare a federal law null and void which is why the civil war began. To other's it's a commemoration of their relatives who died in the civil war. To some and perhaps to many it is a symbol of white supremacy. To others the flag is a symbol of southern pride. Then to others it's a symbol of freedom of speech.

I don't think senseless crimes should be used for political agendas be it flying a flag or gun rights. Flags don't make people hate and guns don't kill people, people commit crimes and people hate; people kill people. More guns are used to prevent crimes than commit them. Sad to say but even if the flag comes down there will still be the haters and hate crimes and killers of innocent people.

Now statues of confederate soldiers are targets, what's next names of schools and streets. Then even the mention of the civil war in words or books, will those be banned too? Should we tear down the civil war forts or historic sites? If we did all of that we still wouldn't be able to wipe clean the minds of those with hateful thoughts.

In the end, how we interpret and act upon what we see, hear, and read makes the difference.

Norma Beishir said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Norma Beishir said...

Loved your story, Kittie. But I think I understand why the Confederate flag angers so many people.

William Kendall said...

Very well said, Kittie. It's long past time for it to be removed, to be found in museums instead of flagpoles.

Julie Flanders said...

Amen to everything you said. I honestly didn't know the flag was still flying until this horrible massacre and I was stunned to learn it. Unbelievable.
Very cute story about the pea!

Cherie Reich said...

Adorable story about the pea! I can see how a child's mind would work that way.

I agree that the Confederate flag should stay in museums and the like. We shouldn't forget what happened. History is very important, but I never understood why so many people still rally around that flag that lasted only four years. You take four years and say that's your heritage. *rolls eyes* Having the Confederate flag up is the equivalent of raising a Nazi flag if you're a German descendant. No one, except white supremacists, would even consider doing such a thing. What's even more hypocritical is a lot of the people who fly the Confederate flag consider themselves patriotic towards America (or 'Merica to them). If you're patriotic, fly the American flag, not one that spits in America's face.