Sunday, April 05, 2015

AUDIO: Remarks of Representative Craig V. Hickman on the Joint Resolution Recognizing the 50th Anniversary of the March from Selma to Montgomery

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led marchers across the Alabama River on the first of a five-day, 50-mile march up Route 80 from Selma to the state Capitol at Montgomery, Alabama, on March 21, 1965. (AP file photo)



Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses the crowd March 29, 1965, at the concluding event of the Capitol march. A huge crowd massed in front of the state building for the demonstration. (The Birmingham News file photo)

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. looking over his shoulder in the Capitol Rotunda, Washington, DC, July 2, 1964. (White House Press Office photo)

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with other Civil Rights Leaders, in the Capitol Rotunda, Washington, DC, August 6, 1965. (US National Archives photo.)


Floor Speech: Remarks of Representative Craig Von Hickman of Winthrop, Maine, on the Joint Resolution Recognizing the 50th Anniversary of the March from Selma to Montgomery – Maine House of Representatives, March 25, 2015 (AUDIO COURTESY OF MAINE PUBLIC BROADCASTING NETWORK. PLEASE DO NOT BROADCAST, PUBLISH, OR SHARE WITHOUT CREDIT.)

Monday, March 30, 2015

38 Years Ago: Roosevelt’s Crossing

1
Roosevelt looked like no other boy Craig had ever seen. On the first day of kindergarten, they looked each other square in the face, two curious little boys in the middle of a big classroom looking for a way to bridge the barrier between them.

“Hey, you,” asked Craig, “why are your teeth so big?”

Roosevelt looked back through bubble eyes bulging from a head way too big for his skinny body and replied, “I don’t know. Why are your arms so long? You look like a monkey.”

They became immediate friends, sharing, among many things, a zeal for football. In the realm of their fantasies, they were sports broadcasters who followed every season of the NFL. They documented their predictions for each season in a comic strip complete with dialogue, outrageous detail, and catchy cartoon figures. Whenever they couldn’t agree on the dialogue or on who would draw what team’s figures, they’d have a wrestling match. Whoever won the match won the right to write or draw whatever he wanted.

Sometimes their fights were inspired by television comedies. They both loved the slapfests they saw on The Three Stooges. Once, during a slapfest over which one would draw the Miami Dolphins, Roosevelt slapped Craig so hard, his face stung for hours. In response, Craig slapped Roosevelt with the back of his hand, but his knuckle connected in just the right way with Roosevelt’s large front teeth that they cut through the skin, drawing blood.

“That’s what you get for trying that backhand,” Roosevelt taunted, laughing. “God don’t like ugly. You know the backhand isn’t allowed.”

With a stinging cheek and a drawing hand in need of first aid, Craig surrendered. Roosevelt drew the best Miami Dolphins strip ever.

Roosevelt was the brother Craig never had. As brothers, Roosevelt never made Craig feel he needed to be anything other than who he was. As brothers, Roosevelt accepted all of Craig’s faults, including his blunt and sarcastic mouth. And though some of their classmates found it necessary to call Craig “sissy,” “faggot,” “punk,” “mama’s boy,” or “little girl,” Roosevelt only called him by his name.

They knew each other’s favorite things. Salami was Craig’s preferred lunchmeat; bologna was Roosevelt’s. Craig ate his salami with a dollop of Miracle Whip; Roosevelt would spread so much mustard on his Oscar Mayer, he’d often finish with a yellow mustache. Craig loved the crunch of chunky peanut butter, Roosevelt preferred creamy. Craig couldn’t choose a favorite flower, while Roosevelt adored red roses. Appropriate since his name was from the Dutch for “field of roses.”

Craig’s world was blessed. Brilliantly blessed. Hansel had his gingerbread rooftop; Gretel, her candy-caned windowpanes. But Craig had his brother and best friend Roosevelt. What more could he want?


2
And it came to pass on the thirtieth day of March, in the nineteen hundred and seventy-seventh year, that Roosevelt didn’t come to school.

That evening, Craig was eating dinner with his sister and his father when the phone rang. Gina Louise went to the hallway just off the kitchen and picked up the phone. The call was brief.

“Who was it?” Hazelle asked his daughter.

“Lena Triplett. Roosevelt died today.”

“Oh, my God. What happened?”

“All she said was that he was in the hospital and his lungs collapsed. Craig, did you know he was in the hospital?”

Craig couldn’t answer. He ran down the back stairs and out the door into the backyard where he threw up under the Mountain Ashe tree and slumped onto the grass. A few minutes later, he heard his mother thank the woman who gave her a ride home from her church meeting. He ran to the front of the house crying out, “Roosevelt died, Mama, Roosevelt died, Mama, and it’s all my fault.”

Minnie Juanita picked her son up from the ground and carried him into the house, laying him on the mustard-colored couch in the living room.

“Why?” was the only question Craig could ask in the days that followed.

“I don’t know why, son, but Roosevelt has gone on to a better place. It was meant to be this way. We don’t always know what the Good Lord has in store for us.”

“But, Daddy, why did He have to take my friend? We said we would be best friends forever. I’ll never have a friend like him again, Daddy. He just disappeared. He didn’t even say goodbye. Where did he go? Why did he have to go?”

No one could give him an answer that made any sense because, in his mind, it was his fault.


3
The AmerIndians called it Milwaukee, the place “where the rivers meet.” Settled in the eighteen thirties by French fur traders who benefited from the three rivers that flow into Lake Michigan, Milwaukee became home to many German, Irish, Scandinavian, and Polish settlers. By the eighteen forties, German immigrants became the largest group. They lived together in enclaves and wanted their language and culture to take a strong foothold in Milwaukee.

By the eighteen sixties, Brew City boasted nineteen German breweries; the smallest of these housed taverns. The largest had beer gardens outside where extended families came together for embellished chatter, for society, for the soul soothing delight of freshly cased bratwurst boiled in vats of beer over flaming cauldrons. Thousands of men, women, and children would gather every Sunday at Schlitz Garden, the biggest one in the Middle West.

These convivial, working-class immigrants also brought to Milwaukee the tradition of forming and joining associations. The church became the main meeting place of many of these Vereine. German Catholics, Jews, and Lutherans built churches and temples on almost every street corner in every neighborhood. Here they worshiped and thanked their gods for deliverance through danger on their journeys across the ocean to an unknown land. This ethic influenced the culture of every immigrant group that came to Milwaukee, including the thousands of Southern blacks who moved north in the Great Migration after World War II. Milwaukee became a city of segregated neighborhoods where deep ethnic pride and the guarding of staked-out territory created enemy lines that caused decades of conflict and unrest. During the sixties, Milwaukee was called the Selma of the North when a throng of Negroes marched against Jim Crow and violence.

The children of Siloah Lutheran Evangelical Church and School were the children of these marchers—wrought, cast, and molded in the same smelting furnaces from the same sturdy iron. The strongest ones turned to steel, able to withstand anything. All of them worked hard.

All of them played hard. On their playground, you could play their games only if you followed their strict and competitive rules. If you wouldn’t, couldn’t, or did not want to, you automatically forfeited the game and lost. It was that simple. Cheaters had no allies. Those wanting to change the rules—no jurors. Whether it was doubledutch, basketball, hopscotch, or kickball, the majority favorite, you had to play by the rules if you wanted to win and didn’t everybody love to win?

Roosevelt and Craig were always on the same kickball team. A few days after the Miami Dolphins Backhand, as they both immediately came to call it, their team played a nail biter. Their opponents had a better record of wins and losses, and if they were to make the kickball playoffs, they needed to win. Roosevelt seemed more tired than usual, but he decided to play anyway because the stakes were so high. At the bottom of the last inning—last because recess was about to end and no game was ever extended into the next recess—Roosevelt was up to kick. He looked at his best friend and said, “I can’t do it.”

Craig had never heard these words from him. “Yes you can. You have to. You know we can’t skip your turn or let somebody kick in your place.”

“I know, Craig, but I just can’t. I’m too tired.”

“Just one last kick. C’mon, Roosevelt. Please. We gotta get the runners on second and third home just to tie this game.”

Roosevelt corralled himself, shored up his energy, and kicked a home run over the playground’s back fence. Jumping about like they’d just won the pennant, his teammates cheered as the runners crossed home plate. Roosevelt’s crossing gave them the one-point victory just as the bell rang for the end of recess.

The next day, Roosevelt didn’t come to school.


4
It was April, the season of storms. Sinister clouds the color of coal dust billowed swiftly above. The atmosphere, still as meditation, held a hue of yellowish-green and the glorified scent of freshly cut grass.

The funeral was held at New Hope Baptist, the church Roosevelt’s mother belonged to, which stood on the corner of Atkinson Avenue and Roosevelt Drive, five blocks away from the Hickmans’ house. The whole event played like a dream from which Craig couldn’t wake up. About halfway through the service, the Reverend Roy Wilkins asked for a moment of stillness. What little afternoon light leaked into the church through the stained glass windows darkened to the color of night. Soon, the stillness was shaken by torrents of rain beating so hard against the roof it seemed as if the whole church might tumble in on itself. Minutes later, a tornado passed over, howling as it moved from the balcony choir loft to the altar and then whistled away into the distance. In unison, the congregation exhaled.

When the service resumed, it was time to view the body. Mamie Hoskins said one last goodbye, kissing her son’s eight-year-old body on the forehead.

Craig would become her surrogate son. Soon, she would bring him all of Roosevelt’s clothes. He would wear them with equal parts pride and despair to school everyday for the rest of third grade. She would be moved by the engraved crucifix memorial Craig would choose with their teacher to hang on the cement-block wall just above their favorite reading area. She would attend his high school graduation nine years later and hear his unconventional valedictory address. She would pray for him as he departed east for oceans and leagues of ivy. But Craig could never replace her Roosevelt, and she would have to find strength in her Lord, in herself, to get through the heart-shattering stupidity of burying a child.

For the funeral, she designated Craig an honorary pallbearer because he wasn’t strong enough to carry the weight of Roosevelt’s casket. After the procession, Roosevelt’s mother also allowed Craig to ride in the family limousine in the mile-long procession to the graveyard. Evergreen Cemetery, which abutted Lincoln Park, the inner city’s largest public park, was where she chose to lay her son’s body down. There, on every thirtieth of March, every one of his birthdays, and every Memorial Day, she would turn the area around Roosevelt’s flat-on-the-ground headstone into a field of red roses.

Craig sat in the back seat listening to the wipers whoosh across the windshield, to Rufus and Chaka’s “Everlasting Love” on the radio, not realizing how strange it was for the radio to be on at all. On the way to Roosevelt’s earth, the tombstones blurred by as Craig absentmindedly picked on the scab that had crusted over the knuckle on his right hand. But it was too soon.

Much. Too. Soon.

He raised his hand to his mouth and licked away the blood that dripped from his wound.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Meet: Craig Hickman, Farmer and Legislator

"IS AUGUSTA FRUSTRATING? “Of course,” he said. “But with persistence comes success, so I will try again and see what happens.” He hopes to bolster Maine food and sustainability, fight for greater food sovereignty and better infrastructure, including more opportunities for farmers to process their livestock. “I see small farms as the solution to some very big problems.”

I was honored to be featured in the Source earlier this summer. Read the whole profile here.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A House Full

Earlier in spring,
Loss came knocking
at my door.

Within weeks,
Loss came knocking
again.

A few days later,
Grief checked in.
Brought a lot of baggage,
took the biggest room,
the Edwardian,
the one with the private bath,
looking like he was going to stay awhile.

Little did we know.

A month or so ago,
Loss came knocking
two more times.

Didn’t see her coming either time
(a suicide, one; an untimely tragedy, two)
but she came anyway,
knocking me right down.

Soon, Sadness came to visit.
Took the Blue Room
right at the top
of the stairs.

The next day, right
next door, Weary
checked into the Purple Room.

What next?

Within a week,
Loss came knocking
at my door once more.

This time we scattered
our dearest friend’s
ashes right out back,
behind the pond, beneath
the giant weeping willow,
atop the grave of our
beloved dog and cat—

exactly as she wanted.

By then, Grief unpacked
all his bags, put away
all his belongings, shoved
all his baggage
under the bed.
Safe to say,
he’s moved in—

indefinitely.

Sometimes, when Despair stops by
to spend the night with Sadness,
when Fatigue settles in with Weary—
if only for one night—
you better believe
it gets hard to believe
morning will ever come.

Several days ago,
Loss came knocking
at my door again.

Again.

And yet again.

At the end of the hall,
in the Ivory Room,
down from Sadness and Weary,
Exhaustion showed up in the
middle of the night,
stumbled onto the bed,
pulled the covers over
her head and locked
the door.

There’s no more
room
in the inn.

No.

More.

Room.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Aching Bone

Grief can freeze you
to the bone.
But there's no shivering,
no shaking --

still debilitating.

More like numbness,
or at its most
intense,
paralysis --

still aching.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Three Years Ago Today....


We said goodbye to our beloved dog, J.B.

Two years ago, we lit a torch on his grave to observe the first anniversary of his death. I thought then that the following spring I would finally be able to plant a garden where his body rests.

I wasn't.

Sure, I was busier this past spring than I've ever been. Serving in the Maine Legislature remains the highest honor of my life. I will always work tirelessly to do the best I can. But, truth be told, I still wasn't ready to plant that garden.

Today, I'll simply let myself miss my dog.

And that will be enough.




Thursday, August 22, 2013

15 Years Ago Today


Friends came...


...bearing gifts.


They gathered in our backyard to see us marry.


Before our altar...


...we exchanged vows.


Daddy sang "Ebb Tide," my favorite love song.


We joined our lights...


...and became one heart.


Everybody...


...cried.


Two families became one.


How sweet it is.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The First Time I Saw Her Face



TWELVE YEARS ago today, I saw my birthmother's face in person for the first time in my life. It's hard to believe it's been so long. Hard to believe there have been so many twists and turns. Great celebrations. More separation. Confrontation. Reconciliation.

But this was how it was, as I documented in my book, on that Sabbath evening twelve years ago:

Their Eyes Were Watching God

1
It is dark. It takes them a little while to locate the right unit. Craig anticipates what’s about to happen, his anxiety stiff and peaked like whipped egg whites. What will she look like?

The time is near.

Will she recognize him?

The time is near.

How will she react?

The time is near.

They find the right unit. Uncle James, still talking on the phone with Sonja, knocks on the door. Job aims the video camera at the door.

Craig stands away from the door, away from his husband and uncle. James knocks again.

“Who is it?” a voice replies. Is it hers? Or his sister’s?

“It’s Uncle James.”

The door opens. She appears in blue-green shorts and a white T-shirt. Her face shrouded with hair.

“It’s the CIA.” James laughs his shrill and infectious laugh.

“I thought you weren’t coming until tomorrow.”

“Well, I’m here now. Mind if I bring my friends in with me?”

“Not at all. Who are your friends?”

They exchange pleasantries.

Craig shakes her hand, quickly, and steps inside, trembling.

“So who are your friends?”

“This is Job.” Job shakes her hand.

“Job’s full name is Jacobus, which means James.” Cell phone still live with Aunt Sonja, Uncle James steps inside and away from Craig.

“Who is this?”

“You know who he is.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

With the back of her right hand, she pushes her long hair out of her face. She studies Craig’s face. He has her protruding bottom lip. She studies closer. He has her exact caramel-colored skin with the reddish tint.

Closer.

He has that slightly squinted left eye that reflects her tightly squinted right eye.

And closer still.

She cocks her head subtly to the right, but not so subtly that he doesn’t notice, and furrows her brow.

“It’s been thirty-three years.”

But she doesn’t hear Job, because she already knows.

“My son?”

He nods.

Wow.” She raises her right hand. “Joseph.”

He nods again.

She steps forward to hug him. He clenches her.

“Oh, my God.”

His water breaks.

“Oh, my God.”

His earth quakes.

“Oh, my God.”

His bow breaks.

“Oh, my God.”

His heart aches.

“Oh, my God.”

He can’t let go.

“Oh, my God.”

He won’t let go.

“Oh, my God.”

She rocks him slowly side to side.

“Oh, my God.”

“It’s okay,” she whispers.

“Ohm’God.”

“It’s okay.”

“Ohm’God.”

He buries his head in her shoulder.

“Ohm’God.”

She strokes his head.

“Ohm’God.”

She rocks him slowly and strokes his head.

“Ohm’ God.”

His earth quakes

“Ohm’God.”

His water breaks.

“Ohm’God.”

And he wails three decades and three years of tears.

And time stands still.


The day after. From left: The grandmother, the spouse, yours truly, the nephew, the sister, the birthmother, the auntie, the eldest uncle, the younger uncle

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston


When I first received word of the Boston Marathon bombing, I was out in the field behind the barn turning over the soil for planting. It was the first time this season that I have been able to work the land, to get soil under my nails. To hear of such horrifying news when preparing to seed new life reminded me just how much we often take for granted.  How life is so ripe with contradictions.

I lived in Boston for 16 years and immediately thought of old friends who may have been in harm’s way. A few legislators had family members in Boston. So far, they have all reported in safe and sound. If any of your friends or loved ones live in or were visiting Boston, I pray that they are safe as well.

While there is no way to take away the heart shattering loss of those who died in this senseless attack, we can offer our support to their families and the devastatingly injured survivors.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino have formed The One Fund Boston to help the families most affected by the attack. For more information, click here:

http://onefundboston.org/

If you are so inclined, please spread the word.

My thoughts and prayers go out to all who grieve.

Take care of your blessings.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hickman On The Hill



On Tuesday, January 29, I addressed the entire student body of Kents Hill School in Readfield as the Amnesty International Human Rights Speaker. It's always an honor to speak to young people. My remarks combined personal history, a focus on community, ideas for a sustainable Maine economy through agriculture and food, and a special demonstration of slam poetry at the request of a student during question and answer. It was truly an honor to receive a spontaneous standing ovation as soon as I finished my address from the students, faculty, and members of the community who attended. 

On Friday, February 1, I returned to campus to lead roundtable discussions in six classes (three English, AP Environmental Studies, Literature of Place, and Western Civ), meet with Head of School, Jeremy LaCasse, attend a school meeting, and break bread with members of the Student Council. 


Overall, it was an extraordinary experience. The students were engaged, intelligent, wise and seeking creative and sustainable solutions for the environment and food systems that they will inherit from us as they enter adulthood. I thank Anne Richardson, Director of College Counseling, Director of International and ESL Programs and Amnesty International Advisor, for inviting me to participate this year. After completing my class visits, Anne sent me this email:

"On behalf of Kents Hill, I want to thank you for your energy, enthusiasm, patience, and, above all, your superb words at Kents Hill School this week.   Your words about and your advocacy for the hungry and for food policy were moving and inspiring.  I think you could tell from the stillness in the room that you kept an audience of 250 teenagers rapt for the entire duration, and then enthralled them with your poetry rendition.  This is no mean feat, and I thank you for being one of the best Human Rights speakers we have had to date.

"In addition, every class you attended gave you rave reviews - again, we appreciate you giving your entire attention to us, especially when you were feeling slightly under the weather.

"I think the entire school joins with me in wishing you an energetic, fulfilling and productive legislative season, and great gratitude for the work you do for us.   We are proud to have you representing us."