Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Category: Family

A matter of life and death

Downtown Savannah, Georgia, 1955
Note the historical marker on the far right of the photo

I’ve been thinking about the life and death of John Lewis. My generation paralleled his generation. Yet my life in the Deep South during the 1950s and 60s was light years from his life. It didn’t matter that I saw and heard about the Deep South every day. What mattered was the bubble in which I was raised.

In a nutshell: I didn’t have a clue how much I didn’t know, even though it was in plain view.

Back then, our family had room for many colored people. As a child, I assumed they were our friends. Still, our family was almost always in the mode of ‘helping’ them. Or joining them at special events at which my father sometimes preached. We daughters sat with our mother in reserved seats on the front row, always decked out in our Sunday best.

We also led regular, less formal Bible clubs for children in our rural setting and in Yamacraw Village. The Village was built on what had been a Yamacraw Indian settlement. Now it served colored people on the west side of Savannah.

The Bible clubs were also our family’s way of ‘helping.’ Plenty of fun, lots of singing (I often played the piano), a Bible lesson from my father, Bible verses to memorize, and snacks at the end. I always knew we ‘poor’ white people were more fortunate than they, and assumed they needed us.

Looking back, my family offered me only one role during my growing-up years in Savannah: a friendly helper. I didn’t have the means or courage to change what often felt unfair and even embarrassing.

Alongside family activities, I attended school. Beginning in grade school, we studied the glorified white history of Georgia. Especially the “Civil” War/War between the States. This continued through high school. Sometimes, especially in grade school, we celebrated heroes. A few were colored; most were white. Christopher Columbus was the greatest national hero. The slave trade remained shrouded in mystery, though Savannah was one of the largest East Coast importers of slaves, and exporters of cotton.

Praying you’re as well as you can be right now, and surrounded by activities that bring you joy, comfort, hope, and a challenge or two.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 July 2020
Photo of Downtown Savannah, Georgia (1955) found at reddit.com

moss-laden oaks loom | 1950s in the Deep South

moss-laden oaks, magenta azaleas

I posted this poem in 2014. It’s an attempt to capture my first impressions of the Deep South, including strict segregation between Black and White citizens. There were 5 of us in the car (Sister #4 yet to be conceived). We’d just driven from Southern California to rural Georgia, 15 miles outside of Savannah. Another world. One I’d never imagined in my 7 1/2 years of life. 

moss-laden oaks loom
magenta azaleas blaze
deep south path through woods 

* * *

Late summer, 1950

It’s past midnight
I’m asleep with Sisters #2 and #3
Are we almost there?

Mother’s tired voice wakes me up
Nothing but darkness outside
and cobwebby stuff hanging from tree limbs

A log-cabin tavern fades into view
Neon beer ads flicker on parked cars, old trucks
Daddy reluctantly stops for directions

He goes into the tavern.
Are we lost?
No. We just aren’t there yet.

Daddy drives slowly
No street lights no signs
The old road is dark, narrow, mysterious

Mossy oaks loom overhead reflecting
weak rays of yellow light from car headlights
Weary shacks line the road

Unexpectedly we pass grand fenced-in wooded lots with driveways to nowhere
Then modest houses and a few larger houses
The road ends abruptly.

Daddy stops, gets out, peers at the giant mailbox
He turns into the driveway
We’re there.

Deep South
moss-laden oaks, no blazing azaleas
Just heavy humid air, wealth next door to poverty, fiercely guarded secrets

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 10 March 2014, reposted with intro14 July 2020
Google image – Springtime in Savannah, Georgia

Poor little rich white girl

Poor little rich white girl
from everywhere
and nowhere in particular
Shrinks in horror
And confusion from
Imperious or friendly voices
Vying for her attention
Her full support
Her obedience
Her submission
Her silence

To be or not to be?

Fear wins the lottery
As she retreats into
Familiar shadows
Of false safety
Unraveling her soul
From the inside out
One stitch at a time
Drifting into slumber
Overflowing with dreams
Of what might have been
Once upon a time before
The clock struck midnight

Covid-19 has disrupted my life. Black Lives Matter has galvanized me. Not because I think we’ll overcome racism in my lifetime, but because I grew up as a poor rich white girl. I was ignorant, confused, and filled with shame about being white and female. Questions about obvious inequalities on display every day of my life went unanswered.

As a preacher’s kid I was fully immersed in the culture of conservative Christianity as interpreted by my father, plus other male preachers and Bible teachers I encountered along the way.

When I married D and left home, I chose to follow a different understanding of Christian faith. Yet even this didn’t give adequate attention to underlying disasters and sins of this country. These included treatment of native American Indians, and treatment of Black women, men and families captured and put on sale to serve as slaves to white Americans.

Being silent today is not an option. Neither is carrying on life as usual.

So I’m asking questions. What does all this mean for me at this time in my life? How will it affect my reading and writing? How will it affect my relationship to the church? What can I do, and What must I NOT do? This isn’t about my generation; it’s about our collective future. With and without me.

I’m also wondering how all this impacts your daily life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 June 2020
Photo of me with my younger sisters; taken by JERenich in 1953; mixed rural neighborhood outside Savannah, Georgia

Coming down from a high | Day 1 Photos revisited

P1090805 The High Dessert in Oregon, on the way to Mitchell, Oregon – October 2015

It’s time for a teeny tiny (safe!) vacation from Covid-19 precautions. Click on photos to enlarge them. And ENJOY! 🙂

Have you ever seen the high desert in central Oregon? The one many early settlers had to travel across to reach the West Coast? Without maps and only occasional guides?

No? Neither had I until last week. I’d seen wheat ranches in Oregon, sea stacks and beaches on the coast, snow on Mt. Hood, Crater Lake, lush forests and state parks drenched with green mosses, waterfalls, creeks running alongside mountain roads, puffins on the sea stacks, and spectacular sunsets. But until a year ago I hadn’t even heard of what I saw last week.

Ten days ago D and I flew out to Portland, Oregon for a visit with our daughter and her husband. It included a two-day road trip to the high desert to see the Painted Hills. Did you know there are painted hills in the USA? I didn’t. Here’s our first photo–a tiny peek as we approached the Painted Hills entrance on Day 1 of our adventure.

P1090807
Painted Hills is one of three units in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. We visited two of the three units—Painted Hills, and Sheep Rock.

The photos below are from our first day at the Painted Hills Unit. We arrived in the late afternoon on a picture-perfect day. Warm weather with a cool steady wind, dry air, and very few visitors.

P1090827

P1090828 Can you find the spot where DAFraser zoomed in for this close-up? Also, look for animal trails and tracks. No humans allowed!

Here we’re on our way to a lookout at the top of the trail.
Notice the moon hanging in the brilliant blue sky!

P1090875

When we were walking on this path we stopped to listen.
All I heard was silence and the beat of my heart.
“…All nature sings, and ’round me rings
the music of the spheres….”

P1090897 Velvet tones and texture, stripes like a soft woolen blanket; colors of the West

P1090847

 

P1090891

P1090870

Polite signs like this kept reminding us to stay on the path!
In this case, turn around and go back the way you came.
Which we did!

End of Day 1, back at our motel:

P1090905 Wild turkeys on the road up to our motel, after chasing unwelcome cat away….

Hoping you find a way to vacation safely today, even if it’s only in your lovely mind and heart!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 October 2015 and 27 June 2020
Photo credit: Elouise (top photo), DAFraser (all the rest), October 2015
John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Painted Hills Unit

Resisting Mr. Trump


Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (1965)

What is the content of my character? The question haunts me. I’m in the golden to fading-golden years of my life. Until early this year, all my ducks (as many as I could herd) seemed to be lining up in a neat row, with plans and documents in fairly good order.

The appearance of Mr. Trump on the overtly political stage distressed me in 2016. Today it horrifies me that he’s still there.

This isn’t about who wins the next election. It isn’t even about Covid-19. It’s about resistance and the content of our character.

Mr. Trump doesn’t seem to lose sleep over the content of his character.

I wonder about myself.
Do I understand true resistance?
And what is the content of my character right now?

For decades I minimized the circumstances of my childhood. I thought that if I got on with my life as an adult, the baggage of the past would gradually fade away.

That didn’t happen. It never does. I had to resist openly. I had to open my mouth, and say what I needed to say to the people who most needed to hear from me–my parents. Which I did on the eve of my 50th birthday.

I grew up under the strict, sometimes harsh tutelage of a father who contantly reminded me that he was in control, and I was not. But power is never a sign of ‘rightness’ or even (as in my ordained father’s case) ‘righteousness.’

When I look back at my internal resistance to my father’s heavy-handed methods of control, I wonder how I did it. Stubborn? Yes. I was stubborn–though not in the way my father thought I was.

Instead, I learned to embody stubborn resistance in the face of overwhelming odds. Sometimes it worked to my advantage. Overall, however, it did not. My body paid a high price.

It would not be fair or true to say my father and Mr. Trump were cut from the same cloth. Still, there are obvious overlaps, including unhealthy narcissism. The kind that tries to eradicate healthy narcissism in others.

It doesn’t matter whether Mr. Trump wins the next election or not. He has already wreaked havoc here in the USA and abroad. It won’t do for me to hold my nose and wait for November.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 25 May 2020
Photo of 1965 March from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama found at americanyawp.com

Smudge and the Good Morning News

Our recalcitrant child. No, he is NOT allowed in the sink! Just on it….

You want me to do WHAT?

 

If you insist….

Other good morning news:

Just as I was finishing breakfast, the doorbell rang. D answered. He’d just returned from grocery shopping. A not-so-young man reached out his hand to give D something. It was D’s wallet in a Ziploc bag! It had fallen out of his jacket pocket as he loaded bags of groceries into the car. After he left, I retreated to the kitchen with tears of gratitude in my eyes. It’s one thing to do something unexpected for someone else. It’s another to be on the receiving end. Especially as one of those ‘elderly’ people.

Also this morning, as I was drinking my breakfast smoothie, I signed up to follow Longwood Gardens on Instagram. Today’s theme is wisteria. Glorious lavender wisteria! Get the photos for yourself. Just go to the very bottom of the link above. Or, if you’re already on Instagram, add Longwood Gardens to your account. There are several other ways to get the photos. So take a look at the link above! No excuses!

Yesterday morning I had a scheduled phone conversation with my favorite cardiologist. I enjoyed it so much, I’m considering a request that there be No More In Person Visits! Bottom line: I got cleared for another six months. Nothing new, and my heart and blood pressure are doing well for now, all things considered.

Best of all, the sun is out today! Not as blistering hot as yesterday, but sunny enough for a nice late afternoon walk with D.

Cheers!
Elouise

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 May 2020
Photos of Smudge taken by ERF, March 2020

Cast onshore

Cast onshore
Of a deserted island
Shaking water
From my eyes
Seeing nothing
And nobody
As unanticipated
I wonder aloud
Who am I
And why am I here
Now and not then
When all seemed well
that ended well

All talk of getting back to business rings hollow.

  • Will we ever leave or re-enter our homes again without going through new rituals of warfare?
  • And how will we grieve what is  gone forever after the enemy is subdued?
  • Or ensure that the world is now a safer place for all survivors?

Just a few questions going through my mind these days. They pop up most often after I’ve talked on the phone with one of my family members. Especially those who are younger than I, which would be almost all of them.

Right now it takes hope, courage and determination to get out of bed each morning. Especially given conflict about how to handle this pandemic, and what it will take to resume some semblance of everyday life.

In the meantime, to answer the question of my poem, I believe I’m here to pay attention. Especially now. Eyes wide open. Doing what I can to make life a less lonely or frightening for those most endangered, including myself.

Praying your day is filled with bits of light from unexpected sources!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 April 2020
Photo found at nationalgeographic.com.au

yesterday’s dreams

captured by yesterday’s dreams
reflected in melodious ripples of
water, trees and sky dancing
just beyond our reach
we peer beneath the surface
into shifting mirrors of time and space
overflowing with dreams and promises
each small gem waiting impatiently
to catch the sun and explode into life

I love the haunting feeling of the top photo, and the way it puts us in proper perspective. It’s April 2006. We’re at Longwood Gardens with our twin granddaughters, just below the eye of water (see below). Trees, water, grassy lawns and blossoming shrubs are welcoming the best part of Spring, accompanied by the sound of cascading water in the background.

Since 2006, our lives have taken paths we never anticipated, and sometimes didn’t want. Nonetheless, speaking for myself, it’s been a great adventure. The kind I hope and pray our granddaughters and grandson have as well.

Thanks for visiting today!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 February 2020
Photos taken by DAFraser at Longwood Gardens, April 2006 

The distance between then and now

The distance between then and now
Boils down quickly to a handful of
Opportunities lost in translation

Heavy baggage dumped in swamps
Still unopened and never claimed

On-demand smiles of yesterday hidden
Beneath faces lined with sadness and grief

Moments of vulnerability unexplored
In favor of stiff upper lips and privacy

The openness of childhood and youth
Shut down in favor of family reputation

Yet miles of heart-stopping space open
Like the Grand Canyon between us and
old photos tugging at our lonely hearts

I feel sad and happy every time I look at this old photo. I’m sitting on the bench surrounded by my mother, her father, and her father’s mother. Four generations. The poem reflects how difficult I find it to become a human being. Especially when working on family-related issues.

Becoming human may be our greatest achievement. Not wealth or happiness or helping people all over the world, but the ability to become who we are from the inside out. Sort of like the velveteen rabbit, so that by the time we leave this world, we’ve become Real human beings.

Here’s to heaps of practice and a few great breakthroughs every now and then!

The photo at the top was taken by my father in 1944. We’re in California, visiting with my Grandpa Gury and my very proper Great Grandmother Gury (an immigrant from France). I’m sitting in the middle; my beautiful mother is on my right.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 20 February 2020
Photo taken by my father, JERenich in 1944, California

Kindness Matters | Memories

kindness

This post from January 2016 came to mind this morning.
A sobering read, given the current state of our disunion.

My Mom died in 1999. During the last year of her life she showed me a photo of a childhood friend, a write-up about her, and an obituary.

Sybil was a few years younger than I. Her mother kept the outdoor hog pen I describe in my poem, 1951. To me, Sybil was a friend in name only. I was put off by her lack of manners, her unkempt clothes, constant problems at home, poor grammar and general lack of social graces. I was also embarrassed to be seen with her.

Sybil and I were thrown together in grade school. We were scholarship students—unable to pay our own ways. I saw her as ‘poor,’ though I didn’t identify myself that way. We lived in a big house on the river. She lived about three-quarters of a mile down the road toward the city, just beyond colored town, in a rickety old structure beside a large hog pen and across the road from the tavern.

Sybil lacked social graces and, in my eyes, physical beauty. She was sometimes rough, callous, loud, rude and sarcastic. She was an only child, living with her mother on the second floor of a now closed, dilapidated gas station.

The hog pen sat beside this structure. About 20-25 adult hogs roamed free in a large fenced-in area and wallowed in muddy pig slop laced with decaying food scraps. To say they stank would be an understatement.

Sybil’s mom owned and cared for the hogs. They were her ticket to food and money—at least enough for survival. She lived with a man on the second floor of the old filling station.

Were they married? I was never sure. He liked alcohol. They both liked cigarettes. They didn’t always get along. Sometimes Sybil got the worst of it. Sometimes she missed school.

As chance would have it, for a couple of years Sybil’s mom took turns with my father picking us all up after school in downtown Savannah, and driving us 15 miles home.

In spite of my impressions about Sybil, she became a sometime ‘friend’ who reminded me daily of what I did not want to be. She didn’t seem to have other friends, and assumed that because we rode together after school, I was her friend.

When Sybil’s mom came to pick us up, I held back. I pretended I didn’t see the noisy old run-down car waiting right there in front of the school. I didn’t want my friends to see me getting into it. They might think it was our car.

So I waited until the last minute, suddenly ‘saw’ the car, got into the back seat and immediately bent over as though I’d just dropped something on the floor. I didn’t sit up straight until we were at least a block away from the school.

My wish to distance myself from Sybil and her life generated nothing but guilt, shame and anger in me. Being seen with Sybil was not an asset.

Mom, however, stayed in touch regularly with Sybil and with her mom. She treated Sybil with kindness. She visited her mom, helped her out in small ways, and seemed to enjoy her company.

A few years before Mom died, Sybil got in touch with her. She had graduated from high school and studied to be an officer in a military unit. She brought Mom a photo of herself in uniform—beautiful, serene and confident. It was her way of thanking Mom for taking an active interest not just in her, but in her mom. Sadly, Sybil died about a year before my Mom died.

You might say I had a ‘normal’ child-like response to Sybil and her mom. I don’t know. Contempt is a learned behavior, often accompanied by invisible self-contempt. Sybil and I were damaged goods. She may have recognized herself in me; I didn’t recognize myself in her. Not back then.

Nonetheless, we were and are sisters, if not friends.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 January 2016
Image from trans4mind.com

%d bloggers like this: