Wednesday, August 26, 2009

For Alma, Wherever She Is

Isn't it strange how obscure memories can pop into our minds at odd times? It happens to me a lot these days. I'll have a brief flash of memory of a place, a road, or a house I haven't been to in decades. A face I haven't seen or a name I haven't heard since I was a child will suddenly pop into my head.

Recently while I was puttering around the house that's what happened. Alma popped into my mind.

Alma was a black woman, probably in her late twenties or early thirties, a tall, slim lady with sad, brown eyes and long hands with tapering fingers. I was about nine years old when my mother took me with her to meet Alma.

In the town where I'm from the ratio of African American to Caucasian was (and probably still is) pretty small. I'm from a Northern Kentucky small town in a very rural county -- no industry to speak of --, one of the largest counties in Kentucky. The native population of African American was made up of the descendants of slaves for the most part. There were very few black people out in the county, but small populations of African Americans could be found in each of the three major "towns" in the county (population 2400 or less), and they usually lived within their own prescribed neighborhoods. (I can only think of a couple of local educators who were black and who lived in white communities in my hometown when I was a child.)

There were two such black neighborhoods in my home town, and they went by indelicate names. One was near the feed mill and was made up of small houses and mobile homes. It wasn't extremely isolated from the whites, though; you could turn a corner and be in an all-white neighborhood. The other was more secluded from its white neighbors and consisted of a lodge, a church, a few decent houses and a lot of what can only be described as shacks. This is where Alma lived.

My mother and our friend Julie (the one who died of breast cancer last year) were teaching Alma to read, or at least trying to. And sometimes I would go with them when they visited her. She really wanted to learn to read, although it was quite a struggle for her. I can remember being embarrassed for her because I could read and she couldn't.

Alma lived in a shack that was the remains of a burned-out house if I remember correctly. I remember that part of the house was enclosed but the rest of it was out in the open. She had fashioned a sort of living area right out in what should have been a yard. She had rugs on the ground, a sofa and chairs, and a few tables, all arranged very nicely, but completely in the open. I think there was a part that connected this lawn-room with the enclosed part of the house that was partially covered, and if I remember correctly there was a stove in this part; a wood stove with burners.

She would offer us a glass of water or cup of coffee when we came, and once she had cookies. She was always sweet to me.

A couple of times when I was there a man came up and pushed his way into the lesson. Even at that age I knew the man was drunk or had at least been drinking. He would talk badly to Alma and I can remember her bowing her head and not looking him in the eyes, and I knew she was so embarrassed. He would get sarcastic with my mom and Julie, too, and he would bad-mouth them and make fun of Alma for trying to learn to read. He said she never would, that she was too dumb. I don't know if he was her "man" or if he was a family member. My mother and Julie inspired me during those visits because they remained very calm. I saw the spark of anger in my mother's eyes and the fire leaping out of Julie's, but they held back. They stayed calm, but they answered him back firmly when he spoke to them. They didn't let him shake them, and they didn't leave, but remained "ladies" through it all. They waited for him to get tired of his game and then went on with their visit and their lesson.

I probably only went with them four or five times, but I can actually close my eyes and see her and her "house" clearly even after all these years. Within just a few years all the shacks and falling-down houses in that neighborhood were gone and the area was built up with new houses and modular homes. When I saw Mom on Saturday I brought up Alma and Mom told me that Alma had eventually moved in with a relative in a proper house. I asked Mom if she had ever learned to read, and she said that she had not as far as she knew. But she had loved the visits and she at least learned her alphabet and how to read a few small words.

Like I said, I don't know why this woman came to my mind, but I'm glad I had the opportunity to go with my Mom and Julie when they visited her. At even just nine years old I was impressed by her quiet dignity when she welcomed us into her "home", which, such as it was, was kept clean and neat. I learned a wonderful lesson from my Mother and Julie about patience and brotherly love, and that it is possible to be angry in the face of ignorance and hate without reacting in kind, to stay cool and calm, to answer reasonably when the person you're answering is being unreasonable, and that being a lady doesn't mean being weak.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I'm Baaackkk

Well, maybe I am.

At least I'm here for now. What have we been up to this summer? Too many things to write about right now. I really got out of my good routines over the summer. We had so many things going on, family visiting, and little mini-vacations (a couple that were spontaneous, which was nice). The weather has been so strange, too. We had temps in the 90s in June and so far August has been way cooler than normal. We've had so much rain this summer that it has been hard to keep up with the yard and I just let a lot of my flower beds practically go to the weeds.

Andrew turned 20, so we're back to only one teenager in the house again. Thomas has worked much less overtime as the bad economy finally touched his job. But that means he's been home on the weekends, so we've been taking advantage of that -- see the mini-vacation line above! He just almost changed jobs because he saw a bad trend happening at work, but at the last minute changed his mind. And we're glad he did. There are some changes coming where he works, but we don't now believe they are going to affect him adversely. In any event, he'll ride it out and then we'll go from there.

I got back into following FlyLady this past month. I'm so glad I did. I really needed her fussing at me to get me to get my routines set up again so things will go smoothly when classes start full-time for Eler Beth next week. Also I've been doing a lot of writing -- just not here! --, and having everything organized has made it much easier to write regularly. I have two manuscripts sent off to a published-author acquaintance of mine for critiquing, and I'm very happy to finally have them finished to my satisfaction. Now we'll just see what we'll see, as my Mom would say.

And speaking of my Mom, I spent the day with her on Saturday while Thomas and Eler Beth took my nephew and his wife and son fishing all day. My Mom is 85 and she just about wore me out just from watching her on Saturday. When we got there she made everyone breakfast, which included sausage-gravy and home made biscuits. Then before anyone else could get to them she started doing the dishes. Then she was snapping beans, making cherry preserves, sorting through some pictures and scrapbook items, and more. Then she finished by making dinner, of course. The whole time I was there she was busy with something. (I didn't just sit there idle, while she was busy, so please don't think I did! lol) My sister Barbara said that the day before Mom had started cleaning off the back porch and then washing down the siding on the front of the house from the front porch, up as high as she could reach. If Barbara hadn't come along when she did, Mom probably would have gotten out a ladder and finished it up! Well, maybe not, but we just never know with that one! I asked her about that and told her she had no business doing that kind of cleaning outside (quaking in my shoes as I was saying it, of course!), and she told me that the siding was dirty and needed the dead bugs washed off it, so she DID have business doing it too! And so I shut up.

She does have days when she's tired and just "does nothing much", or so she says, but I have an idea that even on those days she does more than most of us do!

So, anyway, I've had a busy summer and I hope to write here a bit more as things get into a good routine again. I have lots of ideas for entries, if I would just write them!

I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the summer months, or getting settled back into the school routine. Please take care, and I'll try to drop by soon.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Wow! What's Wrong With Me?

I did three entries last month, and I think two the month before. Whatever is wrong with me???