Many know I’ve been steeped in my past lately since mom passed, this blog became my sanctuary, my outlet. I thank everyone who hung in there, and also gave me grace. Now that life is returning to normal, I find myself thinking of both the good and not so good memories. Trying to decide if sharing the hard parts will help parents today dealing with their own hard parts of raising their adopted children who struggle mightily. On one hand, I think it could, on the hand, it would require opening up about the bad, the ugly. I’m leaning to sharing, but I’m not there yet. Today, I am going to share how inadvertently mom and dad taught us about race, race relations, different cultural practices, which will also tell you how old I am…
First some background. Every year we went on a multi-week vacation. It was the only way for dad to escape seeing as his office was the ground floor of our home, and so if they needed him, they called and came, sometimes without calling first, you didn’t go to the hospital back then, you went to your doctor.
So, every summer we escaped. Usually camping, exploring, hiking through the National Parks. This was the first vacation I remember where we didn’t load up the station wagon full of camping gear, instead, we were going to fly in airplanes. The year was 1967 and I was six-years-old. I remember that we dressed in our best clothes for the flight. Our first stop was Toronto to visit relatives, then we were off to go to the 1967 Worlds Fair in Montreal. All I remember there was tired feet, and more importantly, riding for hours above the crowds sitting on dad’s broad shoulders with a birds-eye view of everything as he was well over six feet tall.
After the Worlds Fair we went down to explore New York City and stayed with more relatives, then onto Washington DC to explore before heading home. An extraordinary vacation for that era. But it was back in New York City where I got my first introduction to how your life was different based on your race. The divide between races. Even if I didn’t understand it yet, it started then.
The weekend came and as our relatives were a different religion, dad asked for the phone book to look up the address for our church. He found the closest one, gave my uncle the address, and was told that address was to a Black Church in Harlem, and he should find another address and they’d willingly drive us further to another one. Dad said no, that was the closest church and we’d go there. So, we did.
Out of all the wondrous adventures of that trip, from riding on airplanes, a World Fair, the monuments, buildings, museums of Washington DC, I remember vividly all the feelings evoked that day at church. We arrived just before the service started, the church was filled, every row. The deacons welcomed us, got some folks to move, some to slide over a bit to allow us to squeeze into their pew, then guided us up the aisle about two-thirds of the way up on the left-hand side. Funny how even where we sat is clear in my mind all these years later. Then my entire concept of what going to church was like, was rocked. I was used to quiet, somber, boring services, we kneeled for prayer, had a couple of staid opening songs, scripture reading, special music, sermon, closing song, prayer, the end. The boredom ended and we hurried out. This service was filled with joy and love over-flowing through everyone, it was palpable to this little six-year-old. Everyone was engaged, a part of it. The music was different, beautiful, uplifting, joyous, the voices all around us were so beautiful, rich, full, and people moved with the music. The service was filled with members spontaneously voicing amen, praise the Lord, and other messages of love at different points throughout the pastor’s sermon. Noon came and went, and we knew we’d have to go before it was over because our Uncle was coming to pick us up between 12.30-1:00 as that had been arranged based on our services ended at noon. This service was different in this way as well, people had brought their lunch, it didn’t end at noon, it was just beginning and would go on throughout the afternoon. Dad leaned over and whispered to the person sitting next to him about our dilemma, told it was all good, no one would be offended, just to get up and go out. The deacons in the back were gracious, understanding, and wouldn’t let us wait outside for our ride, one of them went out to watch for our ride, then we left.
At six years old, growing up in a rural area predominantly white other than the Native Americans, I had no idea about different races, or what was happening. Mom and dad watched the nightly news with Walter Cronkite, got the paper everyday, but at six, I had no awareness of the racial tensions simmering at the breaking point across the country. I didn’t know about segregation. Racism. The hatred many whites had for Black people. The harm done to so many Black people by white people filled with hatred for them.
I was too young to understand when President Kennedy was assassinated, but after that church service, then when Dr. King was assassinated, and then Robert Kennedy, I was growing more aware, and mom and dad in their quiet way continued teaching us by their actions, that everyone was equal and deserving. We didn’t have long talks, their actions and choices to embrace everyone, taught us to not judge someone on the color of their skin.
It’s another era of troubled times. Which path you choose matters now more than any other era of your life. Choose wisely. I hope you choose not to be quiet when ugly is spoken about people of color, when ugly reaches out and harms people of color, when bad laws are put forth. Please choose to rid yourself of any ugly inside you, choose to walk the path mom and dad did, teach your children racism, segregation have no place in your world.