Category Archives: neighbors

Racism and the White Woman, 2

I’m from Detroit. A writer of a recent Detroit newspaper article would argue with me on this point since I never actually lived on any street within the city. I am a phony because I only lived near the city of Detroit.

When I lived in Warren, Michigan, I could look across 8 Mile and see Detroit from my kitchen window. (No, I do not hang out with Sarah Palin.)

Before that, I lived in Hamtramck a couple of blocks from the Detroit city limit. Hamtramck is a small city that is completely surrounded by Detroit.

The street I lived on in Hamtramck created and at the same time broke down some racial barriers. I lived on one side of the street where all the houses were occupied by white people. Across the street, all the houses were occupied by black people. Divided right down the middle. At the age of four, all the white and black people sitting on their front porches sort of looked the same to me.

One of my first observations of racism took place in the women’s clothing section of a department store. I was with my mother and grandmother. Two teenage girls debated over the monumental decision of which blouse they should buy.

My grandmother spoke in Polish to my mother, “Just look at that, black people are shopping here!” Her words implied that these black teenagers should be banned from certain places and activities. This is the first time I remember being fed a racist thought.

This was the late 1950’s and within a few years all the houses on my divided street were torn down. The dismantling continued into the 1960’s.

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Sad But True: I Can’t Sing a Note

Daily Prompt: Sad But True

Tell us about the harshest, most difficult to hear — but accurate — criticism you’e ever gotten. Does it still apply?

The harshest yet most accurate criticism I ever got was from my friend’s brother.

I was in my friend’s living room and we were plunking on the piano singing our hearts out. I think we were singing some kind of Christian hymn of all things. We were only about 6 or 8 years old singing loud and proud with our young voices. It was fun to express ourselves in song.

Then my fun ended and my heart sank. My friend’s brother came in and looked me right in the eye and said that my singing was beyond atrocious and that I should never be allowed to sing again.

And I’m sure my singing was atrocious. But the words hurt. They were such unnecessary words to say to a young kid. From then on, I felt fear whenever I came near any activity that involved singing. Now I lip-synch most songs, whether in a church or just singing Happy Birthday at home to a loved one.

Who knows, maybe I could have practiced and become a slightly better singer. But probably not.

The ironic thing about this story is that her brother grew up to became a Christian minister. I thought minister-type of people should be kinder. At the very least he should have been happy someone was singing loud in a Christian vein no matter how good or bad the voice was.

My husband has said for years that he would rather that I have an affair than sing around him. Now that doesn’t hurt me at all. I just laugh at his humor and praise his ear for good music.

Telephone Nightmares

I remember our old rotary phone. This phone was a rectangle box firmly attached to the kitchen wall. It was butterscotch yellow and the only phone in the house. Our next door neighbor shared a party line with us, making any private conversations awkward if not impossible.

vintagerotaryphone.com

A relative of mine lived on a farm and had four party lines. Not only could all her party lines listen to each other, everyone’s phone rang at once alerting one and all that someone was getting a call. She knew the call was for her if the phone rang with three quick rings in row, that was her signal. At least our phone rang only at our house.

When I was young, I heard my mother get out of bed at night and go to the kitchen and start dialing on this phone. Now the sound of a rotary phone is unmistakable and loud. Some kind of gears inside that machine would churn and churn in order to move around the dial for each number. So I could hear her dialing and hanging up. Over and over again. Later on I found out she was calling and hanging up on her sister and my father (her ex).

When I confronted her about this midnight habit of hers, she denied it. I insisted that I knew what she was doing and to whom, but she didn’t care. She told me to butt out since it was her business, this business of aggravating other people.

So I wanted to ignore the phone call she made to my school when she called them to send me home immediately. I refused. All the other kids were shocked that some kid wanted to stay in school when they had the option to leave in the middle of the day. But a parent trumped the teacher, so home I went.

But I knew what was in store for me. Dialing that phone. She repeatedly forced me to call my father at home or work and beg him to come back to me and her. My mother was the one that asked for and got the divorce. Now it was crazy town and somehow I was to get back the husband that she dumped over a decade ago. My father wanted nothing more to do with her. So I would dial him up, ask him to come back to us (with absolutely no sincerity) and hang up after he refused.

She was disgusted with me. I was her ace up her sleeve but ended up being of no use to her. One time she pulled the parakeet out of the cage and threatened to kill it if I didn’t make that call for her. I was horrified at first and screamed. Then I just gave up. I told her to kill the bird, kill me, I didn’t care anymore. She put the bird back in the cage and I had a bit of a reprieve.

Until the next time the phone would toll for me.

Love My Neighbor

The late 1970s Toyota truck cap sits alongside my neighbor’s backyard patio under 6 inches of snow. Fifteen years I could see it from my kitchen window. It could be the makings of a picture postcard. Four seasons of truck cap. Spring rains washing off the winter storms. Sunlight hitting the windows, heating up the metal to a sizzle. Red, brown, and gold leaves settling on the roof, marking it with their decaying shapes. And then, the snow again. Four neat little photos on the cover of a card; a nice juxtaposition.

My neighbors are odd and good.  They love each other very much; the parents and children spend time together and heal and promote each other at every turn. They do not dress to impress. On the contrary; threadbare and well-worn sometimes defines them. The broken gnomes and chipped rabbit statues on the front landscape must freak out the image-conscious neighbor that lives across the street.

Another neighbor once ran over to the wife as she was putting out her trash bags on the curb. He yelled at her that she was bringing down the neighborhood with all those trash bags she uses. Many times she throws out the trash in the Target bags from her shopping trip. Would he be happier if she only used Saks Fifth Avenue bags? Or bought scented Hefty bags? I give her some points for recycling those old bags anyway.

But I like these neighbors. I wave when I see them, talk to them, and enjoy their company. I could have done much worse than these people next door.

Last summer my husband and I were enjoying a late afternoon on the backyard patio lawn chairs. From our peripheral vision we saw someone moving near the edge of our yard. It was the truck cap neighbors. They asked if we would take their picture in front of this large burning bush that lies near the border of our yard and our other neighbor’s yard. So we took their picture.

This bush is an old plant about eight feet wide and seven feet high. It happens that they take a few pictures near this bush every year. It’s not in their yard but they think it is beautiful. In the fall, the deep red color is awesome. Sometimes their kids are with them. This time they were alone.

By the way, the owner of said burning bush also likes these folks, so they have at least two allies in all this.

They got so much joy for so many years from this simple plant. No charge, just free appreciation.

Today I saw a bright red cardinal in the center of this bush outside my window. I stopped and enjoyed the view.

My neighbors asked if we wanted to have them take our picture in front of the burning bush. We said no since we were a little confused over the whole idea at the time. If they asked me today, I may say yes.

I could learn a thing or two from my neighbors.