For those of you who enjoyed my novel, Waiting for Today, or are regular readers of my weekly blog, TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less, I would like to share with you the short stories of my uncle, Geoffrey Craig. Geoffrey’s fiction, drama and poetry have appeared in various literary journals. He has received two Pushcart Prize nominations. His plays have had numerous productions. His novel, “Scudder’s Gorge” is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and the publisher’s web site (Prolific Press). “Scudder’s Gorge deals, in part, with war, race and a crime that reverberates down the generations. Each month I will publish one of his stories here for your reading enjoyment. For the month of August, I have opted to go with his story “Upheaval“….
“When you ran for Town Council, I said you were crazy and would get the house burned down by some wild-eyed, Latino-hating gringo. I even thought we might all be killed; and you were, in fact, shot. Luckily, it was only a shoulder wound; but it could’ve been worse. The man was mentally ill, and a racist; but he’s far from the only lunatic around here. What about the racist slurs that have been directed at Latino kids in the schools? It’s going to get worse, I can tell you that.”
“Why are you such a pessimist?”
“To balance you out.” Ramona smiled and kissed Pedro lovingly. “Your work on the Council changed some minds about Latinos, but that doesn’t mean you changed everyone’s. There’s still enough hate to go around. And this new idea … my God.”
They were lounging in bed, having just made love, after which was their preferred time for serious conversation. While they missed Emilio and Marisol, who were both away at college, they appreciated the freedom to be intimate whenever the mood struck them which, even after being together for fifteen years, happened with regularity.
“When,” said Ramona, shifting gears, “you ran for Mayor, I again said you were crazy. You had no chance and would end up losing your seat on the Council which would have been devasting for you. On the other hand, I thought it would be a nice change not having you go out for frequent evening meetings and reading through stacks of documents at home. I was again wrong, and you’ve done a fine job as Mayor. I’m confident you’ll be re-elected next fall.”
He always listened carefully since Ramona was his most valued advisor on political matters as well as everything else of importance in his life. That didn’t mean he always followed her advice. If he did, he wouldn’t be Mayor of Blue Heron Lake right now. The non-salaried job entailed a huge amount of work, but he loved it. Work had never been something he shied away from.
“This idea,” she continued, “is beyond crazy. It’s over-the-top lunacy. Blue Heron Lake is not San Francisco or some liberal college town. You can bet the gringos will hate it – and demonize you – and I doubt you’ll even get much support in the Latino community. Even those with papers will keep their heads down. Those without … you can imagine. There’s a degree of tolerance so long as they’re in low-paying jobs. But some are moving up, and I can sense the tension increasing. Can’t you?”
“Take off your rose-colored glasses.”
“You haven’t addressed my concern about ICE,” he said.
“They’re not in town yet so don’t stir the pot.”
“It’s only a question of time until the bastards get around to us. McGowan
already complains that his cops are overworked. He’s worried that if ICE forces him to cooperate, crime will skyrocket unless he can hire more officers. We’re both proud of the reduction that’s been achieved and don’t want that jeopardized. I’ve gone over the budget with a fine tooth comb to see if there’s any wiggle room; but so far, no luck.”
“That doesn’t mean you should ask the Council to pass an ordinance declaring Blue Heron Lake a sanctuary city. That will make stepping on a hornets’ nest look like child’s play. You’ll give the haters the excuse they’re looking for. Things could get ugly – fast.”
“You’re exaggerating,” he said sharply. “Things will not get out of hand.”
“You’d be surprised. You also seem to be forgetting that the Latino vote didn’t win you the election. You’re Mayor because you convinced quite a few whites that…”
“I’m first and foremost an American and proud of it. That I will represent all the town’s residents regardless of color or ethnic background. That my work on the Council demonstrates my dedication and capacity to get things done.”
“Nice campaign speech. Running for Mayor of this house?” “Wouldn’t stand a chance.” He kissed her. “Not a chance.” She smiled.
“You also said that the Blue Herons would beat the Roaring Lions under your administration.”
“That always got a laugh and a cheer,” he said. “One of my best lines.” “It wasn’t bad.”
“What really worked was that you focused on issues important to the
entire community, not just Latinos. Since your election, you’ve continued that focus while quietly helping the Lationo community. Our roads, for one thing, are as good now as theirs. Spanish is taught starting in sixth grade, and the Gazette occasionally puts in a short piece in Spanish. But I’m worried that your sanctuary idea will backfire and you’ll lose a lot of people who supported you, not to mention giving ammunition to those who didn’t. It could be a big step backwards.”
“What about the moral question of protecting these people? Remember: I was undocumented once.”
“I want to help them; and certainly, they should be treated with kindness and respect. After all, they’re only here to work and make a new life. But maybe, some need to go.”
Pedro scrambled out of bed and stood looking down at her. He had a muscled body and thick hair that ran down his chest and along his heavy legs.
“I can’t believe you said that,” he growled.
“It’s harsh, but it’s the truth – and unavoidable.”
“I’m not standing by while that happens. McGowan can deal with ICE
when they show up. I’ll push the Council on the sanctuary idea.”
“Big mistake but you’re a stubborn man when your mind’s made up.”
“And you’re not a stubborn woman?”
She patted the mattress.
“We’ve discussed this long enough, wouldn’t you agree?”
Pedro slipped back into bed and took her in his arms.
“In case you’re interested, I just had an idea where I might find room in the
budget to help McGowan.”
“Right now,” she said, “I’m not interested in budgets – the town’s or anyone else’s.”
The first demonstration appeared at City Hall even before the tumultuous Council meeting. The Mayor’s Office had issued a press release stating that Mayor Sanchez was in full support of Police Chief McGowan’s policy of focusing on local policing and continuing the excellent progress that had been made in reducing crime, especially violent crime, in the last few years. Murders were down twenty percent compared to the same period last year and rapes by almost as much. To continue this progress, room had been made in the budget to hire three new officers. The Federal government, as represented by ICE, would have to depend on its own resources in dealing with immigration issues.
Pedro hoped the first part of the press release would pass muster with the more intractable elements in town and smooth the way for what he knew would be the challenging sanctuary proposal. He could not have been more mistaken.
The release further stated that Mayor Sanchez intended to ask the Town Council for an ordinance designating Blue Heron Lake a sanctuary city, which would, in effect, protect undocumented town residents from being deported. The Gazette carried the release on the front page, and the story got a few lines in the New York Times and a brief mention on NPR.The Gazette also ran a front-page, two-column interview with Pedro in which he stated:
“We hope not to be in conflict with Federal authorities; but at the same time, we need to protect workers who perform valuable services in our community, pay taxes and, to the best of my knowledge, have not put a burden on the town’s social services. They are law-abiding, decent people who get along with their neighbors and maintain their homes in an admirable fashion. They engage in no greater criminal activities than any other group in town – and, quite
possibly, fewer. Go on any day to the hospital’s emergency room, and you will see that it is far from over-crowded and that the patients are treated in an efficient, orderly process. Everyone behaves cordially; and no one, and I mean no one, has to wait long hours for treatment.”
In response to a direct question about his views on the country’s immigration situation, Pedro went on to say: “I am first and foremost an American with a responsibility to all the citizens of Blue Heron Lake to provide a fair and efficient government. I believe I am doing a good job of carrying out that responsibility.”
Pedro’s losing opponent in the mayoral race wrote a letter to the Gazette in which she stated that the Mayor himself was likely undocumented and, therefore, should not have been eligible for public office. She went on to say that the Mayor’s proposal to proclaim Blue Heron Lake a sanctuary city unequivocally demonstrated his lack of fitness for the Mayoral, or any other, town office. She had warned the public that Mr. Sanchez would only be concerned with his fellow Latinos, and maybe now people would believe her. Mr. Sanchez should resign immediately. The proposed ordinance, she couldn’t stress forcefully enough, would ignite a crime epidemic and turn Blue Heron Lake into a city of fear. She ended her letter by asking rhetorically:
“When did Blue Heron Lakers ever need to lock their doors or hesitate to stroll downtown late at night? That day will be here before you know it unless corrective action is taken to stop Pedro Sanchez’s lunatic policies.”
Ramona wanted Pedro to rebut the letter with proof of his citizenship and a list of his actions that have helped the entire town. Pedro said he would think about it but was not sure he wanted to dignify the letter with a response.
The demonstrators, about thirty in total, gathered at the foot of the City Hall steps. Two police officers stood on the first step and stared, stony-eyed, at their sign-carrying neighbors. A police car, with blue lights spinning, was parked nearby. Behind the demonstrators, traffic flowed smoothly, waved on by a third police officer. Pedestrians passed in front of the demonstrators; a few stopped to
read the signs. Some called out to people they knew. The signs carried varied messages:
NO SANCTUARY – NOT NOW, NOT EVER GO HOME ! WHO NEEDS YOU!
HEY SANCHEZ: SHOW US YOUR PAPERS
I VOTED FOR YOU ONCE, BUT NEVER AGAIN BANG, YOU’RE DEAD
When Chief McGowan saw the last sign from his office window, he ordered Sergeant Emerson to have it removed … now. The demonstrator fought to hang onto the sign while shouting that it was his First Amendment right.
“Up yours, Howie,” snapped the sergeant to his second cousin as he pulled the sign out of Howie’s grip. “Now, go home before I clobber you.”
The Chief then called the Mayor.
“We sure have some jerks in this town.”
“What town doesn’t?”
“You going to be okay?”
“Who knows,” said the Chief with a grin.
It was never discovered who threw the brick through the squad car’s
window. The afternoon was winding down, light was getting dim and several demonstrators had walked off. The Chief assumed it was one of them; but it couldn’t be proved, and no prints were found on the brick. One of the officers called for back-up, and five more officers were immediately dispatched. The Chief went with them. The remaining demonstrators looked shocked. Five left of their own accord, and the Chief ordered the remaining ones to go home. All but
three complied. They claimed they had not been responsible for the brick and had the right to demonstrate. They were arrested and charged with causing a public disturbance. They paid modest fines, and the matter was dropped. But the mood in town had turned ugly.
Pedro spoke first at the Council meeting. He deplored the violence that had occured at the demonstration and the subsequent throwing of rocks through the windows of La Bodega and other Latino businesses as well as the spray- painting of racist slogans on school walls and elsewhere around town. Some Latino parents had taken their children out of the elementary and middle schools.
“This is not the spirit of Blue Heron Lake,” Pedro said. “it is fortunate that, so far, no one has been injured. I believe that these incidents have been carried out by a few reckless, biased individuals and that most of the town’s citizens deplore these acts. They must stop at once.”
“More of us than you think,” someone shouted from the back of the high school auditorium. Scattered cheers spread through the crowd which, rare for a Council meeting, numbered in the hundreds. “Go back to Mexico or wherever,” someone else shouted to more cheers.
Mike Grogan, Council Chairperson, banged his gavel.
“That will be quite enough,” he ordered in a loud, angry voice. “Anymore of this nonsense, and I will clear the room.” He nodded to the four police officers standing in the back.
Each of the eight Council Members then spoke briefly on the proposed ordinance. Five were opposed while three were in favor. The meeting was then opened up to speakers from the audience.
A squat man with bow legs, as if he’d grown up on a horse, which he hadn’t, stomped to the podium. He rubbed his shadow of a beard.
“I’ve lived all my…”
“Name, please,” said Mike Grogan.
“Goddamn it, Mike, you know my name.”
“State it for the record, please. And swearing will not be tolerated.” “God…”
“Sure thing, Mike, my name is Bud White…”
“Bud Light,” someone in the audience shouted.
“That will do,” said Mike. “This is a serious matter and should be treated
“It’s serious, all right,” someone else shouted, “and it’s gonna’ get a whole
lot more serious.”
Mike banged the gavel again.
“Bud,” he said.
“I grew up in this town,” Bud began, “and worked twenty years in the
electronics factory down in Williston until the company closed the plant seven years ago and moved it to Mexico or India or some other place I’m not familiar with. Best I’ve been able to find since then is at Harlan’s Auto working as a mechanic. How am I gonna’ pay Tracy’s – my wife, for anyone here who’s known us less than thirty years…”
Laughter rippled through the audience. Bud raised both his fists and continued: “… Tracy’s medical bills on eighteen bucks an hour and no insurance? Not to mention the kid what lives with us that ain’t right in the head. So why do I want to protect these illegal workers that come up from Mexico and wherever the hell, stealing our jobs and undercutting our pay. Let ’em work in the factories that moved down there. And shit, have you seen the neigborhoods where these people live?”
Loud cheering erupted.
“Thank you, Bud,” said Mike. “We all know how difficult things are these days for honest, hard-working men like yourself.”
“How would you know?” someone cried out.
Bud strode back to his seat, and a tall, slender woman who looked as if she worked out twice a day, everyday, walked gracefully to the podium. She picked up the microphone and seemed to hesitate. She looked around the room as if for support. She spoke quietly.
“My name is Talia Stoner. My husband and I are new to Blue Heron Lake. We have two young children. We thought this would be a nice, safe place to raise them. Where we lived before wasn’t so safe. I’m not saying all undocumented persons are criminals, not by a long shot, but some are; and all it takes is one. I hope this doesn’t sound biased because I’m not.”
“Tell it like it is, baby!”
“Shut your stupid mouth.”
“Enough,” shouted Mike.
Looking down,Talia walked back to her seat.
Several more people spoke in opposition to the ordinance, including an
elderly man, in a fraying suit, who walked with a cane. He looked straight at Pedro and said only: “Mr. Sanchez, I trusted you; but I’ll never trust you again.” He walked slowly back to his seat. He stumbled once; a woman sitting on the aisle reached out a hand to steady him.
A black man with greying hair came to the podium.
“My name is Xavier Powers. I’m a member of Blue Heron Lake’s small black community. I’ve known Pedro Sanchez for a number of years. He was a fine Town Councilor, and he’s doing a great job as Mayor. I think we can count on him to do the right thing. I like it that Chief McGowan supports him.”
Silence greeted Xavier’s remarks.
Next up was a short man with brown skin and black hair. He was dressed in jeans and a work shirt. He wore a baseball cap pulled low over his forehead.
“Who’s gonna’ mow your lawns if you throw us out?” he asked. “And I don’t make no eighteen dollars an hour. Wish I did.”
He hurred back down the aisle and out the door.
A woman, on the plump side, walked purposefully to the podium. She looked neither right nor left. She had on solid glasses, a skirt and a sweater. She took the microphone, turned around and glared at the audience.
“I’m Artemisia Nelson, and I’ve known most of you for years. In case anyone’s forgotten, I’m Elvira Barnett’s daughter; and she would be ashamed of you today. Where is the spirit of love and caring that was so much part of my mother’s life and that she poured into this town? Where is our moral duty to protect the weak and vulnerable? These poor people have come from misery and fear in order to make a better life for themselves and their families. If the Feds want to deport them, we should bar the door, not help them. Shame, that’s what I say, shame.”
As Artemisia, head high, walked back down the aisle, some called out, “Bravo” while others shouted, “Traitor”.
The Council then voted on the ordinance. It failed by five to three. Loud cheering mixed with cries of “Shame!” ricocheted around the auditorium. Mike banged the gavil to no effect. Waves of noise roared like an angry sea. Finally, Councilor Terry Havens stood up. He lifted his hands, fingers spread and palms facing the audience. Gradually, the tumult subsided. Clearing his throat, Terry spoke in a loud, insistent voice:
“Fellow Councilors and Townspeople, I find it hard to believe what Mayor Sanchez has done. The turmoil that he, and he alone, has unleashed on our peace-loving town is unconscionable. I am appalled that he could propose an ordinance that would put us in conflict with the Federal Government and that would hamper ICE from fulfilling its proper obligation to the American people to arrest and deport those who have violated our laws and our borders, some of whom are dangerous criminals.”
The tumult started again; and, again, Terry raised his hands for silence and continued:
“His outrageous ordinance has been defeated, but I would also ask the Council to pass a ‘no confidence motion” and to demand that Mayor Sanchez forthwith resign his office. He has violated the support that I, for one, and many of
my fellow citizens had bestowed on him.” Terry paused and glanced around the room. Raising his voice in a crescendo that could just be heard over the raucous noise that had broken out yet again, Terry shouted in a strained voice: “Pedro Sanchez must go and go now.”
More than a dozen people raised signs reading “Sanchez Out” or “Resign Now”. Pedro realized that this had been planned well in advance by Councillor Havens, and he felt sick to his stomach. A man grabbed one of the signs and slammed it on the floor. The man who had raised the sign tackled him, and both crashed to the floor – overturning several chairs and sending people flying.They rolled on the floor, punching each other and knocking aside more chairs. A couple of other fist fights broke out. The police moved quickly to break them up but couldn’t stop them all. A whistle shrieked; and Chief McGowan bellowed: “This stops now.”
Silence descended on the room; and people, who had been fighting seconds before, looked at each other, some shamefaced, others red with fury. The Chief strode to the front of the room, pushing aside anyone who stood in his way. He turned and faced the audience.
“Is this really Blue Heron Lake? The town I grew up in? If so, I feel more ashamed than I can possibly say. Just look at yourselves. Those of you who have been fighting shake hands.”
No one moved.
“Unless, of course, you’d like to spend a night in jail and see Judge Hirshhorn in the morning.”
“What about my motion?” demanded Councillor Havens.
The Chief turned slowly to face the irate Councillor.
“Stuff it,” the Chief said to laughter and loud applause.
Mike stood and called out: “This meeting is adjourned for a week. We will
consider Councillor Havens’ motion at that time unless he chooses to withdraw it, as I hope to God he will.”
Pedro drove home dreading to tell Ramona that she had been right this time and considering whether to resign. He had badly misjudged the sentiments
of so many in town; and although he had called supporters in the Latino community, asking them to come to the meeting, few had been there. He didn’t know the short man who had spoken without giving his name, but he admired his courage. He clearly had no papers. Pedro was more than angry; he was disgusted, both with the town and himself. He even wondered if he and Ramona should move.
“Leave Blue Heron Lake?” asked Ramona. “That’s an even worse idea than proposing the ordinance.”
“I was just thinking out loud.”
“Well, don’t. You’ll give me a heart attack, and I’m too young to die.” They were sitting in the kitchen, drinking coffee and eating slices of
banana, cranberry and walnut bread that she had made while he was at the meeting.
“Want me to add a little something to your coffee?” she asked. “Might take the edge off.”
“No, thanks. I’ll be fine.”
“You don’t sound fine.” Ramona studied him. “Good for Artemisia and Xavier. They showed some guts.”
“I’m glad Elvira wasn’t there to listen to some of those idiots.” “She would’ve given ’em a tongue-lashing,” said Ramona. Pedro laughed.
“Still miss her. She was a pistol.”
They sat quietly for a few moments, savoring the coffee.
“Think I will take a little something.”
Ramona went to a cupboard and carried back a bottle of brandy. She
poured a little in each cup.
“I wish you had been at the meeting.” “Moral support?”
“Something like that.”
“Going to resign?”
“Hell, no, too much left to do. I was just…”
“Thinking out loud?”
“Uh huh.” He drank some coffee. “McGowan will keep a lid on things. He
“I’ll come next week.”
They finished their coffee and polished off another slice each of the cake. “Want to go to bed?” asked Ramona. “Some fun will give you a boost.” “There’s a saying where I come from,” said Pedro. “Never turn down an
offer of fun.”
“Funny thing,” said Ramona, “they also have that saying where I come
She got up and took Pedro’s hand.