Chapter 3: Leaving the Nest
I'd done six months in the Army Reserve. I'd been away at college. But this was different. This was goodbye to the life I knew. I was leaving my nest. I'd miss Clearfield. I'd miss my job, my friends, the neighborhood. I'd miss going to Buster's, hanging out, knowing everybody, playing ball, and drinking cold beer with the guys in the park at the fire tower where we celebrated winning big games.
Clearfield was the safe place that had always been there for me. It didn't just happen. My parents dedicated their lives to making that a reality. They were raised in the South of more than a century ago. They understood racial terrorism. They saw the work of the Klan. They had friends and family who were among the victims. And they did what many blacks did in those days. To raise their family, they got as far away from there as they could. They settled in Pennsylvania because there was work but, even more important, because there was a chance to build a safe place for their children.
Mom was special. There was nothing she couldn't do. She was especially skilled in preparing wild game, which was hunted by my father, who had a stash of at least 10 hunting guns. She was great with pheasant and venison, but my favorite was her rabbit. She had a big blue roasting pot, and sometimes she would have two rabbits in it, baking in a rich, brown gravy, and they were more than delicious. We ate well. We had big gardens, and my father knew how to grow everything. Especially tomatoes, corn, lettuce, peppers, onions, potatoes and greens. We had pear trees, cherry trees, apple trees ?¢‚Ç¨' and my mom made jelly and pies, and she was very good too baking cookies and cake.
Often at dinner on Sunday, we'd have guests. The few blacks who lived in our region of Pennsylvania were scattered about. Sunday they came to town for church, and afterwards two or three families might come to dinner. Other black neighbors would stop by, and there would be part meeting, part social gathering. The men would sit and talk on the porch. The kids would be in the yard, and the women would gather in the living room. Often they'd bring quilts or rugs or other items they had made. Sometimes they were gifts; sometimes they traded one item for another. Whatever problems one black family had, the men shared that information and made decisions about what they would do.
My father was a big man. "The strongest man in Clearfield County," I was once told. And
In a small town, everybody knows everybody. When you are black and almost everyone else in the town is white -- which was the case for us in Clearfield -- you do not face a lot of the racial problems that blacks in cities face. In the small town, everything is not built on stereotypes. People know you. They know your family. They know where you live and where you work and the kind of person you are. And that cuts both ways. Blacks see whites as individuals. It is not "all whites this" or "all blacks that." Our neighborhood was mostly Italian, but that didn't matter. In a lot of ways, we had forged relationships. We needed each other. Often we depended on each other, and in those situations, you learn to judge people by something other than the color of their skin.
My father lived to be 104. He had a marvelous ride to age 100. He was never sick, his mind stayed sharp, and when whole classes of kids would come from the school to visit with him, he'd take great delight in sharing stories. Mom also made it to 100, but she had to come up the rough side of the mountain. At 90, she was felled by a stroke. "She'll be dead in two weeks," a doctor said. He suggested no therapy, no rehabilitation. Mom was strong, though; she did not die. But the last 10 years of her life she spent in bed, mostly paralyzed.
It wasn't just my parents who lived long lives. A block over, Mrs. Nipson made it to 100 years of age, too. Her son, Herbert, was a journalist. For many years he was editor of Ebony magazine. And up the street from us, Dominic Rodi lived to 97. Next door, Alex Vezza reached 96. Annie Adams, who lived down the block, made 90, too. As did Jim Aveni's father across the street. What the group of them had in common was hard work, not race. All of them ate well. And the air and the water in the mountains then was very good.
On the Sunday of my departure for my new job at the Intelligencer-Journal in Lancaster, our whole family gathered at the kitchen table for a farewell breakfast. At our house, nobody missed Sunday breakfast. On that one day you got up and made it to the table. At weekday meals, my father said the blessing. On Sunday mornings, Mom led us in a family prayer. She was eloquent. She remembered everything and everyone. And on my last day in the house where I was born and raised, my mother put me at the center of her prayer. "Keep him safe," she asked. "Be with him. Keep him in the center of Thy will."
My father shook my hand and we hugged. Mom pressed some money into my hand. "Be sure and call us as soon as you get there," she said. Mom kissed my cheek, and it was time to go.
As I climbed into my car, I took a last look around, not appreciating how cloistered life for me had been. For on that very day, in the South that my parents had fled, black students younger than I were initiating the dangerous demonstrations known as sit-ins. The rising winds of change would soon engulf America. Although I did not know it, already I was being swept toward the heart of the storm.
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@brokeymcpoverty You can probably end that sentence at Maury.
Black man is hero. News media, nation seem mystified. It flies in the face of usual distorted media depiction #Ramsey http://t.co/RerQL9WEGG
@SherriEShepherd Childless by choice & always happy 2 help those w/kids before going to my quiet house Thx for keeping the human race going!