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Bray: The Uvalde That Was

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Texas school shooting

A cross hangs on a tree at Robb Elementary School on June 3 in Uvalde, Texas, where a memorial has been created to honor the victims killed in the recent school shooting that killed two teachers and 19 students.

The past two weeks have given me an abundance of time to reflect on my childhood in Uvalde, Texas, in the 1950s and the horror that has now consumed that community. It was an idyllic place to live as a child; it was the happiest place for my family during the years we kids grew up. My sister and brother sustained relationships there their entire lives; they were older than I was when we lived there. While I kept in touch for many years my closest friends ultimately moved away.

As I reflect on that era in my life I become enraged by the paralysis of elected officials to enact what should be a relatively simple solution to prevent the carnage that took place in Uvalde and is occurring repeatedly across this country. To the ridiculous adage “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” I scream back in my head — and sometimes aloud: But a person can’t kill so quickly, en masse, without a gun! No gun, no murder. I have no patience for officials’ intoning self-serving avoidance solutions about mental health services and more paraphernalia and maybe more training for police. Of course, any civilized society should provide those. But first: Restrict access to guns.

How can how anyone in a position of power, apparently absent concern for the community at large, at least not reflect on each incident and personalize it — what if that were my child, my grandchild, my spouse, my friend — and not be compelled to take action to end the carnage? How numb have the souls of too many leaders in the United States become that a blob of metal has more rights than a human being? And why?

A few years ago, on a milestone birthday, I took my sons to Uvalde to ty to give them some sense of my childhood milieu: living in the comfortable old houses; riding bikes all over town; dodging the huge live oak trees allowed to grow wherever, even in the middle of streets and intersections; frequenting the library in a large brick house a half-block away that former Vice President John Nance Garner provided the city while he lived in a small frame house behind it; spying on Garner as he played solitaire at his desk, wearing a green eye shade; going weekly to a tiny house on a corner a few blocks away where Mr. Evans taught kids to play the accordion so we could perform at civic events, while our parents quietly supplemented his meager retirement income, etc., etc. I could go on and on with clear memories of such a significant place in my life.

Uvalde is where I credit my parents’ beginning to impart their innate sense of social justice into my being. I attended fifth grade at a school that was mostly Mexican American students because school officials knew my parents wouldn’t consider that a problem and demand I stay at the “white” school. My parents also encouraged my brother and me to befriend the children of Japanese American truck farmers who moved to town. I still remember playing with Lilly at her house and her coming to my house. Our brothers remained lifelong friends.

Other friendships my parents encouraged were the mixed-race daughter of a neighbor a block away and a classmate who was the daughter of a poor rancher and rode the bus to school about an hour each way. I often invited her to stay in town for the weekend so she could play with me and our other friends outside of school.

I could go on and on about the Uvalde I knew and the values I absorbed there. But I won’t. I can’t read or hear about the horrific massacre that took place there. It is way too painful. I have every reason to believe I have former classmates who lost grandchildren and other close friends to the deranged murderer. The fact that a place like Uvalde, which has its modern-day issues but not necessarily the ones often associated with other massacre sites, could be the victim of the unthinkable murder of children and teachers shows how morally corrupt this country has become. And how distraught I am in joining the legions of other Americans in feeling powerless and not knowing what I can do to help make it different.

Joan Bray is a former Democratic Missouri state senator.

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