Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Memories

Are you a pioneer?

Starting from scratch
And working her butt off
Dreaming of something
From ashes or nothing at all
She listens and suggests

From behind
From the back row
Occasionally from the podium
Often without a map
Or a mentor

Doing what needs to be done
Bringing people together
Focusing on the end game
Encouraging without pretending
All is well when it is not

Searching endlessly
For ways around roadblocks
Listening calmly to contrarians
Then opting for creativity
Rather than neat outlines

Taking risks small and large
Living with consequences
Finding a way forward
Through next steps
All this and more

Who is this woman?
Do I recognize her?
Try looking in the mirror.

Several days ago a friend of many years challenged me to do two things.

  • First, read a letter I received in the 1960s. It was from Erwin N. Griswold, former Dean of Harvard Law School. He left to serve as Solicitor General of the USA under President Lyndon Johnson. Mr. Griswold sent the letter on the occasion of my retiring as a secretary in the Dean’s Office. He couldn’t be there for the party. I still weep when I read it. You can read it here.
  • Second, make a list of all the ways I’ve been a pioneer. I was flabbergasted. I’ve sometimes thought of myself as ‘the first’ this or that. I’ve never thought of myself as a pioneer. Yet, as my friend pointed out, I’ve been in a wilderness often, which is precisely where the food is.

Yesterday I spent all morning working on the meaning of ‘pioneer’ and making a list. Four things are clear to me today.

  1. I was and still am a pioneer. Not just in my family, but in churches, in classrooms, in positions of leadership, and in my volunteer work with Dawn’s Place.
  2. Ever since I was born I’ve gone against the flow, internally if not externally.
  3. A recent serendipitous encounter with a Black woman in Georgia is important, not just ‘happenstance.’
  4. This is what I’m to focus on in this last part of my life. Not being a pioneer, but doing what I can to support the next generation of pioneers.

How do you think about yourself? Are you a pioneer? The short clip at the top is outstanding. Especially if you aren’t sure what a pioneer looks like.

Happy Tuesday, and a huge Thank You for visiting and reading.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 22 September 2020
Video found on YouTube

a foreign land

Display at Jim Crow Museum of Memorabilia

I’m 71/2 years old. We just moved from California to a rural neighborhood 15 miles from Savannah, Georgia. It’s 1951.

Today we drove
Out of our long driveway
Into a foreign land

Don’t stare, Elouise
Those are colored people
They were born that way

Which means
Many things you can’t
Understand just yet

See their small gardens
And rows of cheery flowers
In front of their homes?

And look!
That woman just waved
At us driving by

She’s even hung out
Her handiwork
A handmade quilt

Isn’t it lovely?
I wish we had enough
Money to buy it

Adults and children smile
When we drive by
Some even wave

It’s as though they already
Knew us even though
We’ve never met

Indeed

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 15 September 2020
Photo of Jim Crow Memorabilia found at ferris.edu

55th Wedding Anniversary | Scotland Photos

This Friday, September 11, D and I celebrate 55 years of marriage. Five years ago we flew to Scotland to celebrate our 50th anniversary (and visit the Fraser Castle of course). No travels this year, so I’m posting Scotland photos instead. All photos in this post were taken by D, and approved by me.

On our way from Edinburgh to Glasgow, we spent a day at the The Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. The top photo was taken along the way. If this is what it’s like to be put out to pasture, I’m all for it! When we got to the Park we selected one of their four hiking trails. The Lodge offered food and rest-stop facilities (not housing). Then we got going on the trail.

This lovely female Mallard was floating at the base of the trail,
surrounded by graceful greenery. Picture perfect!

We saw several wood carvings along the way, and spooky stumps.
Then there was that weirdo mirror in the forest. Aren’t we beautiful?

Here’s one of the rest stops that popped up here and there.
This one came with its own live canopy and ceiling decorations!

Beautiful vistas, the sound of running water, plus
tumbled rocks lining the creek.

More whimsy with tree stumps and trunks,
with doors and windows to die for!

Finally, several beautiful forest birds. An English Robin,
a Great Tit, and one young European Robin.

OK. So it’s only a shadow of the real thing. However, all things considered, I’d rather do this than get on a plane and go anywhere right now. Thanks for coming along!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 September 2020
Photos taken by DAFraser, September 2015 at the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park in Scotland.

The Old Cairo Bazaar | Photos

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It’s January 2010, already past my bedtime. A friend is driving D and me to visit the old Cairo bazaar. Vehicles and people fill the streets and sidewalks, including families enjoying the cool night air.

Our friend knows his way around. He has nerves of steel and is quick. He doesn’t wait for safe openings in the traffic. Instead he dives right in, using the horn and brakes as often as necessary.

We arrive in the vicinity of the bazaar and begin looking for parking. There isn’t a single space in sight. Our friend turns into a maze of narrow, sometimes bumpy streets that look like alleys. Small shops line each side of the narrow street.

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Cars and trucks already crowd the tight space. Sometimes the sidewalk is a narrow edge along the street. People turn to look as we inch our way along. Every now and then our friend rolls down his window and asks for help finding a place to park. No help.

We keep inching along. At last he spots what might be a space, stops and speaks with the man who seems to be in charge of these precious few feet of space. Then he convinces other vehicles to wait or even move a bit while he jockeys his car into an impossibly small amount of space.

Bystanders offer advice and wave their hands in the air, tossing opinions and directions his way. After agreeing with the man in charge about the cost of this space, we’re on our way, following our friend to the bazaar.

In just a few minutes we’re inside an endless maze of shops. Goods are hanging from the rafters, spilling over onto the walkway. Shopkeepers vie for our attention and our money. Our friend keeps moving.

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The air is filled with voices shouting, music blaring, and pungent odors of food, spices, perfumes, bodies. Light glitters on gold, silver, brass and brilliantly dyed fabrics.

We turn corners, walk around an open courtyard and enter more passageways. It’s quieter here. I don’t have a clue where we are or how to exit this maze.

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When we arrive at our friend’s choice of shops, I’m relieved. It’s quiet; no one pushes us to buy anything. By the time we leave with our purchases, it’s nearly 11pm. We make our way back through the maze and the glitter, wasting no time along the way.

My eyes and ears are on overload; I’m overwhelmed. We turn a corner and there she is, oblivious to everything around her, doing what she needs to do. Undisturbed, calm and right at home.

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We keep going. No time to waste. We finally reach the exit to the bazaar, walk through the plaza and head back to our friend’s car. I can’t wait to put my head down and sleep.

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One year later, in January 2011, the Egyptian revolution began.

A bit of nostalgia is just what the doctor ordered for today. Thanks for coming along!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 October 2015, reposted 29 August 2020
Photo credit: DAFraser, January 2010, The Old Cairo Bazaar, Egypt

Mom and Auntie T | 1950s

Mom with first three daughters; dresses and hair by Mom, 1950s 

It’s 1951. Our ‘new’ house on the Vernon River feels like a fairy tale. Fireplaces on both floors, huge pieces of heavy dark furniture, woven cane mats covering dark wooden floors—often with rugs on top of the mats.

Both floors facing the river had screened-in porches, with rocking chairs on the first floor porch. They also had tall French windows that opened onto the porches facing the Vernon River.

The old frame house stood on stilts so water didn’t leak into the first floor. Almost every room in the house had an old steam radiator plus a fireplace.

I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. Even better, this was now (sort of) ‘our’ house. Including the dark brown oiled pine slats covering the living room and dining room walls. Heaven for sure.

Until it wasn’t.

Looking back, I can’t imagine what Mom went through. The house didn’t come with a house-cleaner. Mom could do it all, with her three daughters (soon to be four). Surely that would do for servant-power. With Mom in charge of course.

Except she wasn’t.

Auntie T and her husband Dr. T lived in the old slave quarters just behind the big house. Too small for Auntie T’s fancy furniture. So there most of it sat for us to use—and keep clean. Not according to Mom’s already high standards, but according to Auntie T’s higher standards. The kind that got reviewed every time Auntie T dropped by to see how things were going.

Mold grew on the lovely dark pine walls, on books and on dark wood furniture. Dust and pollen accumulated on the porch, and on the linoleum covered grand hallway from the back to the front of the house. Auntie T’s clean white handkerchief found every speck! No matter what Mom did, there was always something she needed to do better.

I think Auntie T was trying to turn Mom into a respectable White Southern Lady. I didn’t often hear Mom complaining. She knew who buttered her bread. Still, in my eyes Mom was the most efficient, organized person in the world.

Looking back, I’m chagrined. We moved to Georgia because Mom was recovering from a serious case of polio. Our California mission house (with 4 to 5 families, and constant guests from abroad) was like a circus. Mom needed to rest and recuperate.

In Savannah, she frequently rested in the middle of the day, sometimes crying softly to herself. Maybe the money was running out, or there wasn’t enough food for supper, or Dad still wanted a son. Or maybe she felt trapped by Auntie T’s expectations and intrusiveness.

Bottom line: Mom didn’t know how to tell us why we weren’t to play with our new black friend. I’m guessing Auntie T’s helper didn’t hesitate to report this to her eldest daughter. Even so, I can’t prove it.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 August 2020
Photo taken by JERenich at Montgomery house, near Savannah, Georgia, 1950s.

A Lesson in Deep South Manners | 1950s

Sister #2 and I hanging onto the front-yard Mimosa tree, 1950s

I don’t remember her name. Her mother was the cook and household helper for Dr. and Mrs. Turner.  Her father took care of yard work and repairs to the Turner’s house.

Dr. Turner was a retired physician. Auntie Turner had worked as his nurse. Once upon a time they owned and lived in the big house. Then they gave it to the mission organization my parents served, and moved out. Now they lived in the old servants’ quarters. The simple wood frame two-story structure sat behind the big house. No one lived on the second floor anymore.

One day the Turner’s cook brought her oldest daughter to work. She was my age. After polite introductions, she and I ran off to play in the front yard by the river. She came several times. When Sister #2 played with us it was even better. That meant we could run races, play dodge ball, hide and seek, or Simon-says.

Our front yard stretched into the neighbor’s front yard which stretched into the next neighbor’s front yard and beyond. All the back yards (where the driveways and garages were) had fences. Most front yards didn’t.

The front yards were beautiful. The river, marsh grass and docks were right there next to us. Our next-door neighbors were often at their main house in the city. They told us we could play in their front yard any time we wanted to. So we did. They were very friendly.

We didn’t dare go beyond their yard, though, because the man in the next big house was mean. He shot Bambi one night with his rifle and Bambi died. Bambi was our new puppy. Sometimes Bambi barked little puppy barks. Mr. S didn’t like barking dogs, even though his great big guard dog barked and even snarled. Mr. S also gave rowdy drinking parties on his dock. We stayed away from Mr. S.

But we didn’t stay away from the huge water oak in our neighbor’s yard. We also had one in our yard. The two oaks became our start and finish lines for all kinds of races and made-up games.

One morning we had great fun racing back and forth between the oaks and then seeing who could twirl around the longest before collapsing on the ground.

The next day Mother quietly told us we weren’t to play with our new friend anymore. In fact, she wasn’t coming back. Ever. Mother looked uncomfortable. I was shocked.

I could tell she wasn’t giving us the full story. She said something like ‘It will be better for all of you if you don’t play together anymore.’ Furthermore, we were to say nothing to anyone else about this and ask no questions. Just do as we’re told.

I still don’t know the full truth. It was clearly about skin color. Our friend was colored; we were white.

I don’t think Mother came up with that by herself. I also don’t think our mean neighbor said anything. But the fact that he was unpredictable, white and rowdy with lots of money probably entered in.

And then there was Auntie Turner. She was never shy about telling us (especially Mother) how things are and how they must remain. Especially when it came to the way Mother took care of the big house, and our manners.

This was my low-key, ice-cold introduction to the social politics of race in the Deep South. My first lesson in Deep South manners and morals. Always ‘for my own good.’

No mixing of coloreds with whites.
Don’t tell the full truth.
Keep your mouth shut.
Don’t ask questions.
Just do as you’re told.
It’s dangerous if you don’t.
You can’t be too careful.

I wonder what Auntie Turner told my friend’s mother, and what she then said to her daughter. I wish I knew.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 18 February 2015, lightly edited and reposted 17 August 2020
Photo taken by JERenich in the 1950s; Sister #2 and I hanging onto the Mimosa tree in the front yard.

From This River, When I Was a Child | Mary Oliver

Photo of the dock and river; taken by DAFraser in July 2010

A Mary Oliver poem for all of us. My comments follow.

From This River, When I Was a Child, I Used to Drink

But when I came back I found

that the body of the river was dying.

“Did it speak?”

Yes, it sang out the old songs, but faintly.

“What will you do?”

I will grieve of course, but that’s nothing.

“What, precisely, will you grieve for?”

For the river. For myself, my lost
joyfulness. For the children who will not
know what a river can be—a friend, a
companion, a hint of heaven.

“Isn’t this somewhat overplayed?”

I said: it can be a friend. A companion. A
hint of heaven.

© 2008 Mary Oliver
Poem found in Red Bird, p. 44
Published by Beacon Press

When I read this poem, I tear up. It takes me back to my childhood in the South. We lived on a branch of the Savannah River. Our smaller yet substantial river was named the Vernon River, part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Vernon River spoke to me multiple times. Especially when I was feeling sad, misunderstood or inundated by the noise of four daughters living in one house with two parents. Plus small pets, parakeets, and the occasional baby flying squirrels rescued from certain death when they fell or were pushed out of their nests.

We lived in rural Chatham County, at the end of a narrow country road, 15 miles from Savannah, Georgia. I had three younger sisters. Frequently I needed a companion. A hint of heaven that was there for me, night and day.

The Vernon River did all that for me. No, I didn’t drink the salt water. But I swam in it. Better than a bath on a hot, humid day! Plus miraculous skin-healing properties of salt water free for the taking. Crabs to be caught, boiled, picked and eaten. Salt-water breezes to soothe my sad, sometimes lonely soul. The soft splash of tides coming and going like clockwork. The sound of seagulls chasing shrimp boats early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

When I read Mary’s poem, I’m out on the dock again. Alone. Sitting on top of the picnic table. Feeling the goodness of earth and heaven come together in one grand moment of peace.

Am I “somewhat” overplaying what I’ve lost? Or what the children of today may never experience?

I said: it can be a friend. A companion. A
hint of heaven.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 July 2020
Photo of dock and river taken by DAFraser, July 2010

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

The High Cost of Living in the USA | Part 2 Revisited

This old post gets regular random visits these days. So here it is again, with one exception: The high cost of living in the USA is much higher today than it was two years ago.  

The high cost of living in the USA has fallen on African Americans from the beginning of this nation. The goal has been and still seems to be this: Keep ‘them’ in their places and optimize the gains of those in power. Including the power of those of us who think we have no power.

The high cost didn’t go down when slavery was outlawed. We simply notched it up with lynching, and then discovered mass incarceration. Some argue that mass incarceration is simply the latest way to get cheap labor and ‘disappear’ black or brown Americans without getting into legal trouble.

Are we the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes and no. Yes if you’re able to reach and maintain inner freedom and courage in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds. Perhaps we’ve looked to the wrong heroes to show us what true freedom and bravery looks like.

More than one of my younger African American male seminarians said he didn’t think he’d live to be an adult. Besides a history of slavery, lynching and entrenched racism, we witness or read about random gun violence every day, entrenched poverty, and limited options regardless of ability. Add to this the availability of drugs and alcohol, and the mistake of being black or brown in public spaces.

In April 2018 a new Memorial to Peace and Justice opened. It makes visible our history of slavery, lynching and now mass incarceration. I want to visit this new Memorial before I die. Why? Because it’s also about part of my heritage.

In summer 1950, my family moved from California to rural Savannah, Georgia, just a short walk from what we called ‘colored town.’ I wasn’t aware of animosity between races. I was, however, painfully aware of economic disparities on display every day. Not just in our rural community, but in the city.

I now know, thanks to this interactive map, that the state of Georgia is #2 in states with the most lynchings on record between 1882 and 1930. From 1877 to 1950, Georgia lynched 586 black men, women and children. How many were lynched in your state?

I’m told I enjoy white privilege. It’s true. When I get up in the morning I don’t have to worry about things like being seen in public as a white woman. For me, this ‘privilege’ is white ignorance or worse. By breathing the air around me, I learned to be blind and unresponsive to what’s right before my eyes.

I don’t think the solution to our problem lies in miles of data. I’m rooting for poets, songwriters, storytellers, and truth tellers. Including truth-tellers like those who birthed this new National Memorial.  Plus pieces of lost history embroidered on small bags.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 May 2018, edited and re-posted 17 July 2020
Photo found at Wickipedia; y Shameran81 – Courtesy Middleton Place, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55786120

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

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