Friday, December 29, 2006

Racism in our family

****I want to note that this was also published on my blog Incredible Edibles. I don't think everyone who reads one of my blogs reads the others... and I think these stories should be shared. I have many to write about regarding racism in our family... and will tackle one story at a time.****

I’ve been thinking a lot here lately about what little I know or understand about racism. It bothers me a great deal because I feel I am ill prepared to help my daughter through any problems she may have with it. I try to read and be aware - but I am surprised at how many times I hear something and don’t realize the racist underpinnings of what was said. I have a long way to go before I am truly capable of realizing the subtle racism in every day conversation.

What I can do is give a clear picture of the racism that was prevalent in our family. My very first experience of racism that I can remember clearly happened when I was 5 years old. I frequently spent time with my great-grandmother and her daughter, my paternal grandmother, at their home in Noblesville, IN during the summers so my parents had some time to themselves. I dearly loved my great-grandmother, whom we called Mama. I can remember staying there was a fun time. They had a neighbor that had an apple tree. It produced the sourest apples I’d ever tasted, but they made the very best apple pie. And looking out their enclosed back patio (a big luxury back then) I saw my first hummingbird, which was terribly exciting. I remember they had a huge lilac bush outside their living room window, and the smell was heavenly when it was in bloom.

When I was five, I was staying with her by myself. My brother wasn’t there - I don’t know why, but I was the only one staying with her. She had to go to Indianapolis to get her teeth worked on, so we took the Greyhound bus. I remember we were sitting at the back of the bus, surrounded by several black people - men and women. (Back then, I believe the preferred term was Negro.)

Now, I can tell you, my great-grandmother was generous with her family to a fault. She used to give us kids money. Not just a nickel or a dime at a time, but handfuls of change - or better yet - dollar bills! If I had to lose a tooth, I definitely wanted to have it come out while I was staying with her. No quarter for a tooth at her house… the tooth fairy would leave us a couple dollars worth of change. As a 5 year old in 1961, that was awesome. A dollar could buy 100 pieces of Bazooka bubble gum. Or 20 candy bars. Or I could go to the Five and Dime stores in my hometown and buy cheap little bottles of cologne… to a little girl, that was the ultimate.

Now, up until that point, I had never seen any person of color. Everyone in our hometown was white. Everyone. Diversity in our town was composed of whether or not someone was Catholic or Methodist. So I had never seen a black person in my life. My eyes must have been as big as saucers, looking at these people who were dark complected… and, yes, I did wonder if it came off. I wanted to touch them to see if they felt any different, to see if I would be brown after touching them.

They all smiled at me. They all seemed to be kind… and I’m sure they understood my stares. I really wanted to talk with them…. but kept quiet. I was incredibly shy and didn’t know how to open up. Plus I’d had it drilled into my head that you don’t talk to strangers… so as a “good girl” I didn’t open my mouth for anything. Just before we got to our stop in Indy, Mama gave me a dollar bill.

I can’t describe to you why I loved getting dollars instead of change. I know a big part of it was the smell of the money. I loved the smell… and holding that dollar in my hands, I put it up to my nose and breathed it in deeply, savoring it. Then, as any child would, I started to put it in my mouth. (Smells good, it should taste good!) That’s when Mama tapped my hands down away from my mouth and said, “No, no, honey. Don’t put it in your mouth. Some nigger may have handled it.”

Now, I had never up to this point ever heard the word nigger. I had no idea what that was. I don’t remember if I asked her what a “nigger” was or not… but I do know that when I had looked up, the smiles I saw on the faces of those around us had turn to scowls of anger. I may not have known what the word meant, but I clearly understood that it was something that made these people mad. And that scared me.

We got off the bus just shortly after that.

This one incident sticks in my mind today. As a child, I had thought Mama was a kind and generous woman. She always was polite to everyone I saw her speak to… and yet, here she was, for whatever reason, making these people mad because of something she said. I am shocked to think back today how she used the word with impugnity while sitting among the very people she was disparaging. And yet, I don’t even think she realized that what she said was hurtful or mean or degrading. She said it as though she was talking about any other object (”A plant may have touched it.” “A cat may have licked it” “A car may have run over it.”) Then again, since I was only a child, I really didn’t know much about her. She could have said it as the slur she meant it to be… and being white and elderly, was unafraid that she would be harmed in any way.

I’ll never know.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmases past

This Christmas with our daughter was fun... every year gets a little better, and the magic of the day seems to resonate with all of us when we see the excitement she has when she gets something she really likes. Or when she realizes that Santa came and left her presents... and I had to deal with a hyperactive child last night, jumping up and down on the bed repeating "I love Santa Santa! I love Santa Santa!" - and then giggling hysterically because he came. When she woke up this morning, she wanted to know if she slept well. Then she wanted to know if Santa came (again).

I keep remembering the Christmases we had when I was growing up. As a family, we used to have a Christmas get-together with my dad's side of the family, changing where we would meet each year. One year at Grandmother's, one year at Uncle Roy's and Aunt Doris's, the next year at Aunt Martha's and Uncle Tom's, and then finally at our house - and then we'd start all over again. The houses were small and crowded, and the atmosphere joyous. Everyone pitched in and brought food, and the presents (although not expensive) were fun to open. As a young child, I was so happy to be with family. We didn't have much, but were all happy to be with each other. That changed a lot over the years.

I think the last Christmas we had met together as a group was when I was about 11. We were at my Grandmother's house. My parents thought it would be great to play a joke on Aunt Doris. Now, you have to understand, my Aunt Doris was a snob. She was one of those ladies who looked down on most people, and if something wasn't (in her opinion) top-notch, she was insulted. (It took me years to understand this about her, and when it finally got through, it was because she was criticizing me for something as stupid as in what order to hang pictures on a wall - good grief!)

Of course, her snootiness (if that is a word) didn't stop my dad from playing the joke. He loved life and loved having fun and playing jokes on people. So, he bought her a set of yellow bathroom floor mats shaped like feet - complete with black toenails. When she opened it up, all she could say was, "Well, I never!"

We all laughed. However, even though their actual gift was a nice bottle of their favorite alcoholic beverage, she never found it very funny. Needless to say, after that our Christmases were relegated to just us and Grandmother (either our house or hers).

I remember Christmas when I was 12. I had asked for a pair of pants I had seen in a J.C. Penney's catalog. I thought these were the neatest pants I'd ever seen, and I just knew I would look great in them. (Not "hot" mind you... that kind of thought didn't come to a kid in 1968 - we just wanted our clothes to look nice or cool. "Hot" was to come sometime down the years - when I was in my 20's.)

Come Christmas morning, I unwrapped my gifts and sure enough! I got the pants I wanted. I went straight to the bathroom to try them on and... OH NO! Somehow, I had lost the baby fat and now had curves - my waist was probably several inches too small, and they hung on the lower part of my hips. When the heck did that happen! How could Mom and Dad not see that I no longer had a little girl's build? Those pants got returned, and I don't remember what I ended up with instead. But it was an eye opening moment for me (and my parents, I believe) that I was growing up.

Yet another memorable Christmas. We got up, and I went into the bathroom. When my mom got up, she started walking down the hall... and you could hear the carpet go "Squish, squish". She was walking in water... and the only thing she could do was say it was my brother Richard's fault. He had to have been playing in the bathroom sink and allowed the water to overflow and now the carpet was soaked. And she was furious with him.

I had to point out the obvious... 'Uh, Mom.... Richard hasn't even been IN the bathroom this morning. AND - if the bathtroom faucet had overflowed, there would have been water on the bathroom floor - don't cha think?' She just kept on about how it was Richard, it had to be him, he had to have done something to get her carpet wet.

My dad began investigating and found that the water heater had busted. My poor brother was getting blamed for something that he didn't even have the anything to do with.

I remember probably one of my favorite Christmases was when I was 10. That was the year my mom and dad had given me my first camera. It was a Kodak, and took 126mm film. Actually, it took great pictures! I was so excited, because I could finally do something that my dad could do. However, it was costly to buy film and develop it, so I had to do it with my own allowance... needless to say, not too many pictures were taken with it. But I loved that camera dearly. (I wonder what happened to it? I probably threw it away when I got older, not realizing the sentimental value it would have had for me later.)

In looking back on the Christmas days that were special to me, I am hoping that I am creating special Christmas days for my daughter as well. I hope she looks back on these days fondly when she is a young woman, and hopefully, we won't have any instances of leaky water heaters to deal with.

On the bright side, Mama bought her a Kodak digital camera for kids. I have never seen a little girl get so excited - and she took great joy in taking pictures. I have posted here a few for your enjoyment. The ones of Mama are the ones that will make you laugh... but this is life from her perspective. I hope to nurture in her a way to express her creativity... and to allow her to experiment with her view of the world.

Here's to making many happy Christmas memories!

OK, so the last one was taken by her daddy.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Another (long version) video of our adoption

OK, so it's a little overkill... but this was the first thing I did for an adoption video... I love all three of these songs, so I wanted to keep the long version, too. This is from my Google account and I love the music and the feel of it. It is similar in many ways to the shorter one, but this one makes even me cry - and I've seen it dozens of times so you'd think I'd get over it by now!

If you watched the short one, I'd be interested in what you think of the longer version. And thanks for taking the time to look!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Finally, an adoption video with music.

I have an adoption video here that I have been working on since last weekend when I finally figured out how to add music. I hope this will be something people will enjoy seeing and listening to. I have a few other ideas for videos and music I want to use and try to show as well.

It's pretty amateurish, and probably not as well put together as it could be... but I didn't want to make a full scale two hour movie... I'll try some new stuff when I do the next video and see if I have what it takes to make it look more professional.

Anyway, here it is, and I hope anyone who happens on it will enjoy it.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Adding music to videos

I finally discovered how to add music to my videos. I know... it's so simple, right? Not for this dunderhead! Once I figured it out, though, I was ready to add music to just about anything. I'm trying to create a video of our adoption trip with music. I got a CD with Chinese lullabies and the music is beautiful... thought one of those would really be great to use.

So.... I have below the video of my daughter dancing her fool head off. In the actual footage, there's no music to most of the video, but adding the music I did makes is pop. Hope you have a laff or two and enjoy!