My father’s parents lived in a small university town in middle TN. The town had invisible racial boundaries. One of the lines was the train tracks. As children, we were allowed to roam the town freely with the only admonishment being “don’t cross the train tracks.” My grandfather worked the family from poverty up to middle class, but even when they were dirt poor, they always had a maid. Cleaning was something for lesser people to do. Sometimes, my grandmother would drive the maid home at the end of the day. Well, almost home. She stopped at the tracks and let her out there. My grandmother died believing that heaven is segregated.
My mother’s parents lived most of their lives in the rural Natchez Trace area where they were born. They both came from sustenance farming families. A military career and my grandmother’s teaching career brought them up to middle class. When my grandparents were stationed on a military base in Cuba, they had a maid. The Cuban locals were paid so little that it was a negligible expense and it didn’t matter that my grandmother re-cleaned everything to make sure it met her standards. Military families above a certain rank were expected to have household help. After my grandfather’s death, my mother made repeated attempts to hire someone to help out with my grandmother’s lengthy daily cleaning routines. My grandmother drove them all away. Household help was for the severely disabled and elderly. That couldn’t be her. She was raised that you take care of yourself and you find a way to help the truly needy. When she finally accepted help from the aides in the assisted living, it was the beginning of the end.
I will not apologize for the “isms” of other people, whether they are family, friend or co-worker. I can’t change the past. I can work toward a better future. I don’t agree with my father’s attitudes toward race and gender, but I understand where he learned them. I used to fight with my father about the power of certain words. Now, we have topics which we mutually agree not to discuss with each other. I understand my mother’s subservience toward my father, but I don’t want my daughters to think that they are the lesser gender. I have been a member of churches that used religion to justify intolerance. I do not excuse attitudes of ignorance and fear in my generation. We did not grow up in isolated communities. We were bombarded with books, newspapers, radio, television, movie and peer influences. My children have grown up with the Internet to connect them to people near and far. We make a choice to believe that all people are created equal or to hate that which is different. We have choices that didn’t exist two generations ago. I choose to believe that we are capable of loving one another.