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Monday, March 27, 2006

Maryland Crabs

Our little foursome had a relaxing and fattening weekend on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. We left Friday night and, despite some traffic, had a pleasant ride, punctuated by Luke’s never ending questions:
If someone got really mad and smashed a bunch of ice cream cones in an ice cream store, would he go to jail?
What if it was a kid?
If someone hit a police car on purpose, would he go to jail?
Can you go to jail for lying to a police?
Could a judge go to jail?
If a kid was on a bus and he grabbed control of the bus from the bus driver and smashed the bus into a house, would he go to jail ?

You get the gist. This line of questioning went on until well past bed time, and I started to wonder if some day—during Luke’s trial, for example—the prosecutor will ask me why we didn’t see the warning signs that so clearly foreshadowed his life of crime. Of course it might just be the aftershock of the peace vigil last week. When Luke learned that some of the silent protesters were planning civil disobedience, he became very concerned that we would accidentally walk on Lockheed Martin’s grass and get hauled away.

We managed to evade the police Saturday as we explored the nooks and crannies of the Chesapeake Bay region, despite the clouds and wind. Midmorning we took refuge in an overpriced coffee shop with a sign that read,” Unattended children will be given two shots of espresso, a puppy, and a set of drums.” Megan laughed and widened her eyes since she’s still hoping for a puppy one of these days.

The highlight (aside from the hotel with cable television and a pool) was the St. Michael’s Maritime Museum which completely engrossed the kids for several hours. They ran up and down the steps of the lighthouse. They pretended to steer a landlocked boat away from pirates, whom Luke pretended to shoot with a nearby canon. Megan called him “Matie,” and he called her “Captain,” which is as good as their relationship gets.

Sunday’s highlight was the moment at a bird sanctuary when hundreds of Canadian geese all alighted simultaneously, honking over our heads as we approached their pond. Megan blamed Luke for scaring them, but I think their flight was inevitable, as well as very impressive. I was also impressed by the Third Haven Friends Meeting, boasting a meeting house built in the 1600s. I picked up a book about the meeting’s history and, following my current obsession, landed on the chapter about slavery. The bookstore keeper at the maritime museum had told me that Maryland’s Eastern shore had less slavery than western Maryland or Delaware because of the Quaker influence, but as I suspected, the story was a little more complicated.

From what I picked up from a quick skim of the chapter, there were some outspoken opponents of slavery in the early days of Third Haven Meeting, but then the issue died down, leaving some local Quakers owning slaves and some not. It wasn’t until the 1760s that the issue became hot again, and the meeting played a role bringing the anti-slavery message of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (the regional collection of Quaker congregations that includes eastern PA, southern NJ and the eastern shore of MD) across the Chesapeake to the plantations of southern Maryland.

What struck me was the way different people negotiated their moral stand regarding slavery. We Quakers like to brag about our extremists, people like John Woolman who not only traveled extensively preaching against slavery, but also refused to eat slave grown sugar or wear dyed clothing that came from slave labor. I suspect most Quakers were a little more moderate in their opposition, not owning slaves, but not necessarily forsaking all the comforts they produced either. There were also those, especially early on, who decided it was immoral to buy and sell slaves, but not to keep them if, for example, they had been inherited. William Penn evidently fell into this category. Someone owed Penn money and wanted to pay him with four slaves. Penn reasoned that he could accept the slaves and treat them well or refuse the slaves, in which case the debtor would have sold them (probably to someone more brutal than Penn) to get the cash to pay the debt. Penn decided to keep the slaves, though I heard somewhere that Quaker women from Germantown gave him a hard time about it. He eventually decided to let them go and give them land, though two of them died before he got around to it.

Three hundred and fifty years later, it’s easy to judge Penn, but I wonder what of our contemporary issues will look much clearer in hindsight. I oppose the war in Iraq and take my kids to the occasional peace march, but I don’t refuse to pay income taxes, even though something like 42% of the federal budget is now going toward military expenditures. There are Quakers who do refuse to pay tax on principle, but they are as rare as the people who wore undyed clothing during slavery.

When we got back last night, we had popcorn for dinner in front of the Villanova game, which included a commercial for the army that infuriated me. It featured a black teenager and his mother, who caught him looking at materials for the army. He said something like, “Well, are you going to pay my way to college?” Resigned, she agreed to listen to his plan to “become a man.” Megan asked why I was mad at the commercial, and I tried to explain that I was angry at the army for targeting young black men, who as a group have fewer economic options than white men. I was mad that our government was spending so much money on war and so little on helping teenagers, like the one in the commercial, to pay for college. I was mad at a culture that equated going to war with becoming a man. I sympathize with families that take the ROTC route. I considered it myself when I was in high school, since that was how most of my cousins had paid for college. But I was lucky. Instead of war, my generation got financial aid.

Luke may be worried about going to jail, but frankly the odds are that he won’t. Growing up white, in a middle class neighborhood with two educated parents and a good primary education, he’s still much more likely to go to college than to jail, and without having to enlist in the army first. Our opposition to the war—like our opposition to slavery—doesn’t cost us much. Which makes me wonder, am I the equivalent of the abolitionist who won’t own slaves herself but who still eats the sugar?


Blogger Lone Star Ma said...

I am similarly troubled.

9:15 PM  

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