August 17, 2004

Geographic and Generational Differentials

My parents are both grew up in Montgomery, Alabama. The Deep South. My grandparents were racist. I know that sounds really harsh. But it's true. They lived in a vastly different world from the one in which I grew up.

My mom is an only child. I don't know why her parents stopped with just one. But they did. My mom and her father were close. I think. He died when I was about a year older The Boy is now and I didn't have a great sensitivity to such things back then. I still may not, but I think I am at least a bit more perceptive now.

The only time I remember my mother getting upset with her father was due to his attitude about black people. I still can clearly hear her rebuke him with a "Daddy!", the tone in her voice plainly indicating her disapproval. When I think about it now, it boggles my mind that someone only two generations back from my own could be so prejudiced. I never really took note of it first-hand, but I do recall one story which offers a good representation.

The telephone repairman was summoned to their residence on Brantwood Drive in Montgomery. (Their zip code was 36109. Why do I remember that? Because my brain holds on to such little useless pieces of information.) When the repairman knocked on their front door, my grandfather answered it. And promptly told the man he'd have to go around to the back door. Because the repairman was black.

That attitude just doesn't have a place in my world, but was evidently quite common then. And it really wasn't that far back. Probably around the mid 1970s. Boggles my fucking mind. But doesn't color the affection I had and still hold for my grandfather. It's the place and time in which he was raised. Dare I be so pompous to imply he just didn't know any better? I remember my mother being relieved her parents couldn't attend my wedding. Because our best man was black and she didn't know how her dad would handle it. Personally, I missed having them there. And now, I feel a certain relief myself they never had to know I am gay.

He loved his daughter and his grandchildren. He used to always take us to McDonald's for cheeseburgers. And oh the memories of helping him pick figs off the trees in their yard! We'd eat some right off the tree and then cut others in half and douse them in half-and-half. They were so delicious. I now have the bowls my grandparents once served those figs in. When we eat Firecrackers I always put my LaChoy's sweet and sour sauce in one of those bowls. And the tomatos he grew in his garden! He loved to garden. If I close my eyes, I can still taste those sweet fat slices of delicious Big Boy's on white bread with extra mayonnaise. Tomato sandwiches rock. He also baked incredible lemon meringue pies that were so incredibly sweet and almost painfully tart.

My dad's parents lived across town. On Magnolia Curve. Isn't that a great southern street name? Or did we drive on Magnolia Curve to get there? Or did another relative live on Magnolia Curve? Here's where my memory fails. Not that it particularly matters. I think I'll choose to remember their house being on Magnolia Curve. Because it is a great southern street name.

These grandparents also treated black people differently from whites. Not surprising as they all were living in Montgomery at the same time. Granny and Pop had someone come in to do the housework and cooking and serving. I also remember being introduced to a very nice black lady named Alice and being told she "raised my father". The grandparents had a garage, or an outbuilding of some type, behind the main house. It was dusty and dark and labyrinthine and my sister and I used to play in there. Once we found a purse. Full of money. When we went to tell Granny about it, we got in trouble. Because that purse belonged to their cook and we had no business messing with her stuff. But we didn't know we were messing with her stuff until after we did it. She had to change into her work clothes and keep her personal items in the outbuilding. OMG. Can you imagine? First imagine having someone to cook and clean and serve and "raise" your children for you. Then imagine making them use the back building to get changed and stash their stuff. I don't know about you, but it feels to me more than a bit wrong. It did back then and it does now.

Thankfully times change. At least I hope they do. As the generations who were raised with those prejudiced attitudes pass on, surely those attitudes die with them. Surely they are replaced with more open-minded individuals who don't consider black people lesser humans than themselves. Or will people always need some class or race or type of person to put down?

I can only consider my world. And how I treat other people around me. We do have other people's prejudicial issues working against us as gay people. Not that I consider the civil rights issues of gay people today equal to those black people experienced in the past and continue to experience even today. But they are similar in some regards. Or are they?

1 comment:

Eyes said...

Your story is very interesting. We all have a lot of history behind us. My grandfather was killed by Hitler in Dachau though he was Austrian, not Jewish. And at the same time, his step-son was required to be in the SS -- it was either do it or die. Hard to believe it was so close to my generation. I'm a GenXer -- and Bush scares the living shit out of me. Did anyone say dictator?