Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Past meets present

One of my favorite things to do is to treat myself to lunch once a week at a local restaurant. While there, I eavesdrop on conversations going on near me.

Last week I overheard an enlightening conversation.

There was a young lady there who was with her mother and her grandmother. This young woman was stylishly dressed, and delighted to have a day out of school and an opportunity to spend the afternoon with her grandmother and mother.

She was complaining that her teacher was making her research and write a paper about the days when segregation was in effect in Virginia. She said she did not understand what the big deal was and why there had to be a whole month (February) for Black History Month and why everyone was so insistent that she do the work.

"It's not like it was slavery, or anything," she said.

Her mother, who was my age, said nothing. She just smiled and gave her mother the nod. Grandma took the cue and set down her utensils and leaned back in her chair. She gracefully waved her hand to encompass the dining room of the restaurant. "Do you see the people sitting here?"

The teen looked around and arched her eyebrow. "Yeah, so?"

"How many Black people do you see sitting in here?"

The young woman looked around and noted an older Black couple in the corner and then pointed to herself, her mother and her grandma. "There are five."

"Yes," said grandma, "and right up until your mother was a baby, there would have been none. Your Poppa might have been washing dishes in the back, but none of us would have been allowed to eat here."

She went on to add, "And you would not have been able to eat at McDonalds, go to school with most of your friends, and you might not have been able to shop at the Peebles or Wal-Mart."

"Where did you shop?" the girl asked.

"There were stores, whole neighborhoods just for Blacks. There were schools just for Blacks, but most did not get to complete school because they had to drop out and find jobs to help support their parents and grandparents. There were no retirement plans back then, other than your children taking you in and taking care of you."

"What about the doctors?"

"Oh, back then, the doctors would come to you," Grandma said, "but if he was busy with the White folk, you had to wait. We did not go to the hospital very often. All the babies were born at home."

The young lady looked down at her plate, "But that was a long time ago, wasn't it?"

Her grandma chuckled. She had a deep, low laugh. "It does not seem so long ago to me. And things were changing very fast when your mother was coming up. There are many of us who still remember. It's important that you do not forget."

Then the granddaughter asked, "Was it really so bad, being separate?"

"At the time, most of us tried to pretend it didn't make a difference. Then again, it was all we had ever known. It was pretty scary for us to finally stand up and insist that we be treated fairly. For many, there were serious repercussions. Some of us were killed."

The girl grew quiet. "You know there are still people who say mean things and who think we aren't good enough."

Her grandmother reached across the table and patted her hand. "I know honey, and that just means all the work is not finished yet. You just have to keep your head up and show them you are just as smart, and just as beautiful and far more mature than those people. Fortunately, there are more and more people coming around every day. But you need to do your studies and finish school with good grades and go on to college."

The granddaughter smiles a sort of crooked smile and said, "I'll work on it grandma, but you know you got one thing wrong."

Grandma tilted her head and the girl said, "There were no McDonalds back then so nobody could eat there then." The three burst out into laughter and went back to their meal.

It's good to be reminded.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the bit "There are many of us who still remember. It's important that you do not forget."

Thanks for sharing