Sunday, December 15, 2013

One Tin Soldier Rides Away

Dear John,
I just heard that Tom Laughlin died today. He was still married to Dolores Taylor, had been since 1954. He seems to have moved into directing after the Billy Jack movies, but that doesn't matter. For our generation, they were huge. Billy Jack was our hero, bigger than life, with enough integrity and courage to triumph over Hell itself. And every girl of our generation fell in love with him.

So I watched the One Tin Soldier video and, as always, burst into tears when the kids all raised their fists into the air. I haven't seen the film in years - I know it was simplistic and a bit cartoonish with the good guys so good and the bad guys so bad and all, but it still has a lot of power for me. I've been wondering why that is, and I think maybe I know.
That film was my first realization that people of my blood faced discrimination. I heard more of it later in high school, and people were always quite shocked when I told them that they were talking about me. Through my grandfather Keistler's side, I'm legally Cherokee. I don't know exactly what people expect that to look like. I certainly have the facial bone structure for it, and so did Mama.
Of course, you didn't care one way or the other except that it made vacations a bit more fun. When we were first married, Louisiana and Virginia still had the old miscegenation laws on the books. According to their legal standard I was colored, not white, so our marriage was illegal in those two states. And every time we passed through Virginia we made sure we spent the night. It was lots of fun spending the night in a hotel in a state where we weren't legally married. We did so love breaking that law. If the Louisiana census lady had asked Mama all the questions she was supposed to, my birth certificate would say that I'm colored and illegitimate, since Mama and Daddy's marriage was also invalid under Louisiana law. That would have complicated my life.
I exposed you to all kinds of new things, didn't I? Collard greens, muscadine hull pie, the Cyclorama, graveyards with CSA markers in them, regional barbecue, blues, and all kinds of cultural delights. And pleasant ways to break a bunch of state laws. Did you ever think that you'd inadvertently married a colored woman - at least, in the eyes of Virginia and Louisiana? I wouldn't have mattered to you what anybody thought of my lineage. And you never thought about it at all. Except that we had fun breaking Virginia laws. I never imagined that I'd reach this age and have such fond memories of criminal behavior!
Love you and adore you,

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