I always want that ‘happily ever after” ending that Disney portrayed in his fairytale movies. Cinderella was poor and mistreated but ended up a princess; Snow White was hated and murdered, but came alive again; Sleeping Beauty was cursed, then blessed and awakened by her prince charming. All lived “happily ever”.
My story about the “lies” I believed about African-Americans does have some sense of a happy ending. Here is the rest of the story:
As I explained before, my beautiful, kind, loving mother had been taught some wrong things about African-Americans either by her parents or someone else along the way. She believed that what she had learned was true and she taught me the same basic attitudes, mostly regarding “not mixing”. However, she was never a woman who harbored hatred and I never saw her treat anyone unkindly.
I am happy to say that before my mother passed away, she changed her thinking about African-Americans. In fact, for the last several years of her life I saw her not only accept friendship but openly express physical love toward African-Americans, hugging and kissing them just like family.
When Mom became frail and unable to live independently, she moved to an assisted living facility in Cape, Auburn Creek Assisted Living. I can’t say enough wonderful things about Auburn Creek and the staff there. They treated my mother like she was family, literally. She lived there for a number of years and became very close with the workers there. I observed many times, firsthand, the young girls come into her room, throw their arms around her neck, and kiss her, just like she was their grandma. Mom told me that they were not just putting on a show for me, that they always treated her that way, even when family was not there. Mom lived there up until the day she died, surrounded by all her biological family, but also by her Auburn Creek ‘family’.
There was one young woman who worked there who I will call Ruthie (not her real name as I have not asked her permission to use her real name). Ruthie is African-American. Ruthie fell in love with my mom, who was called Miss Mary at Auburn Creek. She treated my mom like she was her own mother, bathing her, coming her hair, changing her sheets, and making sure that Mom was comfortable. She did not just “do the job” she was paid to do, but went above and beyond the call of duty, spending time with my mother when she had time. She also started taking Mom’s laundry to her own home, washing and folding it, and bringing it back to her all fresh and clean. Auburn Creek would have done that for Mom, but Ruthie wanted Mom’s clothes to be treated special. Mom offered to pay her for doing the laundry which Ruthie always refused.
My brother, Jack, lives in Cape and he was faithful to visit Mom every day at Auburn Creek, so he became well acquainted with the staff there. Close relationships were formed between the staff and all our family, even though the rest of us kids lived several hours away. When any of us came to see Mom, the staff would greet us and welcome our visits. I often stayed overnight there with Mom myself since I am the only daughter. I live about 4-5 hours north of Cape so my visits were not as frequent as Jack’s visits. Mom looked so forward to seeing him every day. She and I spoke on the phone every day and she kept me informed of all her daily life. How I miss those calls. She was so jovial, and she was always laughing, oftentimes at herself. We would often reminisce of the fun things that had happened in the past.
Ruthie and Mom became “bosom buddies” and I was so thrilled to see them hugging, Ruthie kissing Mom on the cheek or on the top of the head. The day came when Ruthie got a better-paying job and she left Auburn Creek. I was so sad for her to go and so sad for Mom but, glad for Ruthie, that she would be better able to raise her young children. I thought we would not be seeing her anymore. I was wrong. She continued to come back to visit Mom, making sure she was doing well, helping her with any special thing Mom would like done, and taking her laundry home to wash all the way up to the day she died. When Mom was on her deathbed, Ruthie was right there with the family, holding her hand, kissing her, and crying for her.
Mom loved Ruthie just like family and Ruthie loved Mom. It was a beautiful sight to see. Mom & I had both come full-circle in our attitudes toward African-Americans.
I can’t fix the past but I can do my best to make amends and to change my thoughts and my actions. I have asked God to forgive me for my wrong actions in the past based on the “not mixing” theory.
Most of all, I am sad that I wasted opportunities to be close to the kids I went to school with. I dream of how it could have been sometimes but try not to dwell on that, since there is nothing I can do to change the past.
My life is so far removed from my Sprigg Street childhood, but I now choose to hang on to those good memories and to try not to repeat my mistakes of the past. There are no restrictions in my heart now when I have the opportunity to act with love toward anyone, regardless of the color of their skin, or what their house looks like (or smells like – The Webers Part 1) and (Part 2). It is very true, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, that it matters what the “content of the character is” more than any outward appearance.
By the way, Ruthie is now considered a part of our family and always will be.