I don’t remember growing up in a household that said or did prejudiced things, not by my parents or any relatives. I recall mom telling me once that when they were trying to get the loan for our house, that they were told if we were black that we could get some help. That just made her mad, but I don’t think it was because a black family would get some help, but that the loan officer actually told them that, but didn’t have any help he could get them. It would be their first home and they had three boys and one on the way. Times were good, but times were hard for a young family and all they could tell her was that we needed to be a different kind of bad off.
If there were other things, I don’t remember them. Maybe that’s good and maybe not. I don’t want to remember my parents for their shortcomings, but I don’t want to be predetermined to fall into the same. I do remember distinctly some things that a neighbor would say. I don’t want to speak ill of the dead, but he would say it, not I. I was too young to speak back to Charlie. Yes, the man that I revered so much for teaching me how to put out a garden, gave me my first summer job mowing his yard, took me hunting even though we both hated it, and the man who’s hospital room I spent many hours in after work, right up to the night he passed away.
I could say he was a product of his time, but so were my granddaddies. I don’t remember them using the N word and they grew up in the basically the same area and same time. I could say he just didn’t know any better, but Mary would scold him and his daughter would exclaim “Daddy!” when he would say something racist. It wasn’t often, but it was enough for me to remember. I don’t want to remember him that way. Mostly, like most people, I remember the good stuff and try not to let the bad stuff outweigh it. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I guess the good is that I remember it and that I remember not liking what he said. He did help mold me into the person I am today, so I think he did some good.
There was a black family that moved into the town next to us. I remember them because I don’t remember any other black families living near us. They had a daughter that was in my elementary class. I remember her as being pretty and her hair smelled good. She sat in-front of me for a while. I don’t remember her name, but then I don’t remember lots of the people I went to school with. I have probably blocked lots of them out, but that’s for another Tale. On Halloween that year we went past their house. I didn’t know where she lived until then, but I was excited to see her come to the door. I wondered why she wasn’t out trick-or-treating. I’ve not thought about it until now, as I write this, but I am sure her family didn’t feel safe taking her door to door in a town where they were the only black family. I don’t know where she is today. I think they only lived there for a short while. We were probably in the 3rd or 4th grade.
There was an uproar in our church not long after that too. A black family began attending each Sunday. One of the deacons got so upset that he refused to return to the church as long as they were there. Mom and dad thought he was being an ass, and the church split not too long after that. His wife and her sister still attended and I remember feeling bad for them. They were both sweet ladies.
At my grandmaw Barton’s church though, there were some black folks that held positions in the church. Sister Mary was there every Sunday. We didn’t go with her often, but when I spent a few weeks with grandmaw I went to church with her and Uncle Lester. I thought it was funny that she called grandmaw “Sister Hazel”, but not because it sounded like they were sisters, but no one else but folks at her church called her Hazel. It was the only place I was with her that she wasn’t just mom or grandmaw.
On one of our trips to see grandmaw and granddaddy Edge in the late 1970s, we stopped at a rest area north of Richmond, VA. While we were there, a young black girl, about 20, asked if we could give her a ride. She said we looked safe since there were 4 kids in the car. She was holding her high heels in her hand and was wearing a red dress. She told mom and dad that she had been on a date and the guy she was with dumped her out there and she had no way home, and she had been there all night. She lived in Richmond, just a few miles away. Normally we would take a bypass around the city, but we agreed to take her home. She got in the back seat with us four boys. I remember she was funny. She was hungry too and asked if we had any food. She may have approached my parents originally just asking for some money for food, that she had been there all night. She may not have asked us for a ride, and mom and dad were known for helping a stranger. It just so happened that mom had packed some sandwiches, chips, and drinks because we wouldn’t get to grandmaw and granddaddy’s until after lunch. Mom told her to get herself a sandwich out of the cooler in the back. I can still see the crumbs of the white bread on her chin. She was so hungry that she tore into that sandwich quickly. I don’t think we took her all the way home. I seem to remember her having us drop her off. I’m not sure she wanted us to take her into her neighborhood. I don’t know if she didn’t her family to know she had strangers bring her home, or did she worry about a station wagon of white people driving through where she lived.
My early years obviously made an impact on who I am today. I would like to think that I see all equally and treat all equally. But, I know that my world was not that small. Society at large helped form me too. This pas week we took a few days to take a vacation. We booked a place at Myrtle Beach and the day before we headed out, there was a gang shooting there. This was the 3rd in two weeks. I just assumed that the gang members were black. I don’t remember reading that, but that was where my mind first went. That’s all I’ve been told by the news and politicians. I am embarrassed that my first thought was that the gang members were all black. I know that’s not always the truth, but I’ve been conditioned to believe that.
As a gay man, it infuriates me when someone assumes something about me just based on my being gay. I have fought against that. Written my legislators, spoken at city counsel meetings, spoken at and organized rallies for our rights. So why in the world would I let myself do that so someone else. It infuriates me that I have. I recognize it and I apologize for it. I don’t have anyone in particular that I can apologize to. Maybe every black man that I saw walking down Ocean Blvd last week? I remember thinking most of the time though that I just wanted to jump out and say I am sorry for what is happening in our country, shake their hands, give them a hug. Not thinking though that I could have contributed to any troubles they face any given day. I recognize that now. I will do better now. I will do more now.
I never intended to use this blog for anything other than telling Tales of growing up in Appalachia, posting some recipes, and making connections with others. But, this is a Tale of growing up in Appalachia. I encourage you to look inward. I encourage you to use any platform you have to speak up for others, especially when others are speaking down.
This past week a black man by the name of George Floyd was killed by police officers. It was disgusting. It was wrong. We have to do better.
I also want to take this moment to celebrate again the first Black Female Cookbook Author. Her name was Malinda Russell. Here is a link to her cookbook.