My dad and I speak nearly every day. Often our conversations turn to his memories. I initiate. I want to know how he got where he got.
So much of his life’s experiences are anachronisms, memories of a time that’s passed. There was no phone in the house growing up. They lived above Fox’s Trimmings, where my grandparents sold everything having to do with cloth, thread, yarn, buttons, snaps, etc. Peddlers drove horse drawn wagons through the neighborhood selling their wares.
That Williamsburg is desirable today surprises my father. My dad grew up in a slum later torn down to build a city housing project.
“I was scared of black people,” he said today. “If I saw black people walking in my direction, I’d walk across the street.”
I’d not heard this before. He said it with regret in his voice and concern I could see on his face. We were talking about our divided nation today and pre-World War II America.
“I didn’t know. We didn’t know. That’s how I was brought up.”
Even as a kid I remember our family referring to black people by a derogatory Yiddish word. In retrospect our bigotry kept us from seeing what was real. We stayed in our own prefab fog.
My dad looks back on those days with regret. You can’t undo the past. But you can learn from it.
It was easier to marginalize minorities in the 30s and 40s. They were invisible in the movies and in print. Much of America was segregated, openly or defacto.
But how can anyone hold these attitudes today? That’s what we wondered as we Facetimed. My father was sheltered from the world outside Brooklyn. Today it’s impossible not to see how wrong he was.
As we finished tonight I asked if it was OK to write about. He said, “yYes,” without hesitation.
9 thoughts on “My Dad And I Speak”
Where have you been? I miss all the info you gave us. Nice to hear about your Dad. Hope your health is good.
Yes,Geoff- out of sight, out of the mind. That is what the 30s and 40s were like. My grandparents migrated from a North Carolina town of 500 to Stamford, CT. There was a factory opportunity, yet a different type of racism and exclusion. Though a deeply pained, traumatized people; we are resilient. I can only imagine what has in store for our blessings.
Happy New Year
Having grown up in Bridgeport, Ct., I see the parallels in your father’s words and my parents and grandparents. Both your grandparents and mine probably came from Eastern Europe and had very little knowledge of people of color. It is simply amazing how ignorant we were and still are.
Nice to here from you again. Good health and a very prosperous New Year
Good job Geoff and your Dad…..these things do need to be out in the open and
talked about so we can stop them from in the future!
Hi Geoff. I remember a black person who worked in my parents business and my mother giving him a cup of coffee. As soon as he left she threw the cup and saucer in the trash. I got upset and said that wasn’t nice…and that he was human too. Of course I didn’t let it go at that and ended up with a slap on the side of my head. I grew up without prejudice despite their prejudices. I guess that was the way it was when they grew up.
I grew up in Florida, in a very segregated town in the 1950’s and 60’s. At that time, there were still segregated schools, separte waiting rooms, and a lot of the old South discriminatory attitudes.
My parents employed a black man to cut their grass and trim trees. His name was John Johnson. He had a huge family, as I remember at least 12 kids. My parents paid him well, and always made him a nice lunch. Often, one or two of his his kids came along to help, usually on a Saturday. They received a lunch as well. All our hand-me-downs, stuff that was in good repair, or new clothing my parents bought for them went to his family. They struggled, but worked hard.
I was talking to him one day, and innocently asked him why some people treated him and his family so badly. I had noticed that all of his family was smart. well-spoken, and were obviously educated. One of the things he mentioned, which has stuck with me all my life, was, “Trash comes in all colors.” I felt that he was a good person, not trash by any means. He and his kids were all hard working people.
After I left home, my parents continued to keep in contact with Mr. Johnson and his family. They later mentioned to me that ALL of his kids had gone to 4-year colleges, some were engineers, a few were teachers, and several became preachers. All of them were successful, and were supporting their parents, who were finally able to retire comfortably.
We’ve lost track of the Johnson family now, but I have no doubt John’s kids and grandkids are doing just fine. I’m sure of this because he NEVER claimed to be a victim of anything, they all just worked hard, and did well…in spite of the way the deck was stacked against them at the time.
They never voiced it to you; but we were and are victims. We have been for generations. Our being hard working people is no phenomenon. It is a miracle we survived being de-valued as human, hated and regarded as an animal.
Can you imagine what it is like to know all one’s life the the country that is your home does not want you? The United States if American has felt this for ever. Don’t you for one minute feel better because we are broken emotionally and physically. My doctor reminds me that I live in sustained stress due to systemic racism. You don’t get it. This blog offering offends me today. Shame on you.
Thank you for a beautiful and interesting story Geoff. Mr Johnson
was right, what an inspiring man! What a great world it would be
if everyone was like him.
Thank you for a beautiful and interesting story Geoff.
Mr Johnson was right, what an inspiring man! What a
great world it would be if everyone was like him.