McClellan: Sorting through mementos
I have a dresser in the basement in which I keep “important” papers, photographs and other assorted driftwood of a life. The bottom drawer contains material of questionable taste.
For instance, there are some T-shirts I bought outside the courthouse in Los Angeles during jury selection for the trial of O.J. Simpson. The mood was festive, and the souvenir hawkers were doing a fine business. The T-shirts I bought reflected the sentiments of the crowd. “Who Framed Simpson?,” “Don’t Squeeze the Juice!” and “100 Percent Not Guilty!”
I did not have the star power required to get an interview with the attorneys, but there wasn’t much need for gathering information. The future verdict could be seen on the street. This trial was going to flip the American narrative. A black man was going to get away with murdering two white people.
White people were going to riot. I just knew it.
They did. They rioted the way white people riot. One year and a month after the jury acquitted Simpson, Californians overwhelmingly voted to ban affirmative action.
That was a bad time for race relations in this country. So what to do with those T-shirts? If they were statues, I could topple them. They represent bad history.
But I decided to keep them. I look at it this way. I’d love to have mementos of famous trials from the old days. How about a “Free Fatty” T-shirt from the Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle trials — there were three of them — in the early 1920s? He was a star in the silent film era who was accused of killing a young actress at a party. He allegedly crushed her. After two mistrials, he was acquitted.
In that same drawer, I have two Sandinista jerseys from Nicaragua. One is a generic jersey. “Viva la Revolution” is on the back. On the front, ”FSLN,” which stands for Sandinista National Liberation Front. (Grammar is a little different in Spanish.) The other jersey is for a particular candidate who ran, successfully, for a local office in the vicinity of Chinandega, a city I have visited.
I would not wear these jerseys. I am not a fan of the Sandinista party. It seems to me that Daniel Ortega has morphed into his old enemy, Anastasio Somoza Debayle.
What does one do with souvenirs from a corrupt regime?
Again, I have saved them. Perhaps in a better day, people will look at the jerseys and remember.
Also in that drawer are souvenirs from Northern Ireland. Among them is an orange Ulster shirt. I would not wear that. The Order of Orange is an anti-Catholic organization. My people were members. When my great grandfather emigrated to this country, he brought his membership papers. They were passed down to me. “No Surrender” is written on both sides of the document. In the document itself, my great grandfather pledges to “oppose popery in all its forms.”
I took my papers to the Orange Institution headquarters in Belfast. When I told the cab driver where I wanted to go, he gave me the silent treatment.
When I looked through that drawer recently, I came across a cap. It is a black cap with three red letters in front — S.P.B.
I wondered if it was from Nicaragua. Sandinista Partido something? The cap was made in China, and that could point to Nicaragua. A quick internet search didn’t yield any Nicaraguan connections. But then I found a Northern Ireland connection. Shankill Protestant Boys.
Shankill is a major street in the Protestant neighborhood, and S.P.B. is a marching group. Drums and flutes. Marching is an important thing to my side. We like to march through Catholic neighborhoods singing anti-Catholic songs. We consider it a civil right. Marching season lasts from April to August, but our biggest day is July 12 when we celebrate the victory of Protestant King William of Orange against Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
In 2012, the Shankill Protestant Boys were commemorating that great victory when they happened to stop in front of St. Patrick Church on Donegall Street in a Catholic area of Belfast. An agreement had been reached that we would not play music in front of the church, but the band was accused of doing it anyway. They were accused of playing one of our favorites, “The Famine Song.”
As I said, music means a lot to my people. When I visited a few years ago — yes, I visited the Orange Lodge of my ancestors — a young man had a motorbike accident on Shankill Road. Locals didn’t recognize him and accused him of being a Catholic. He denied it, but when the locals ordered him to sing “My Father’s Sash,” he couldn’t do it. So he was beaten. The paper explained the next day that he really was Protestant, but his mother had raised him in a secular way.
What should I do with the cap? Should I destroy it?
I’m saving it. It might not represent an enlightened part of the family history, but it’s history all the same, and I want my grandkids to understand that had they been born in a certain time and place, they might have worn that cap.
By the way, this November — 25 years after Simpson was acquitted — a proposal to repeal the ban on Affirmative Action will be on the ballot in California.
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