September 25, 2011

Time Warp

He is ninety, tall and lean. He carries himself like a young man, not a man in his 10th decade. His mind is sharp and although he does wear hearing aids, his hearing appears so too. He is warm and funny... and doesn't talk much about the past, although that's what he's been asked to do.

I sat next to him during dinner. His accent is thick, something I cannot do justice here... thick and warm.

Me: Would you do it again?

Him: No, absolutely not.

Me: When did you get out?

Him: 1947. They kicked us all out. We weren't allowed to stay in. I'm from Philly and in 1939, I'd learned a trade. We were allowed to go around and figure out what we wanted to do. I saw a bricklayer with a big wheelbarrow and said, "that's not for me!" *big laugh* So I became a welder. I figger'd that's what I'd do for them when I was brought in in 1943. But no, they made me a mechanic. I got good hands *wiggling his fingers* and so that's what I became.

Me: Did you work in your field after you got out?

Him: No I did not. I tried. Oh I tried. I went to all the aerospace companies. *twirling his hands over his head" what are them things called? Rotors. Helicopters. Tried to get on with them too. But they all said to me. "We don't hire no niggahs", so I went to the Philly shipyard. No work there either, or so they said, *rolling his eyes* So they said.

I was aghast. My face showed it.

He laughed: Dear, those were ugly times. Ugly. When I was at Tuskegee, that was the first time I'd ever seen whites and blacks work for the common good. But after the war, it was over. Back to where it was before.

I felt like I'd been time warped. He spoke of it like we were still living it. I gather he was an angry man, and rightfully so, because he said to me, 'I found Grace through the Lord. He saved me. I got saved, quit drinking, quit being angry, and married this wonderful woman right here and I became a Pastor. The Lord has been good to me...'

It was a thought provoking conversation. There are things I look back upon our history and think, 'I'd have fit there', but I look upon other times and think, "I'd not have fit at all...I'm glad I am where I am."

I am glad I am where I am...

Posted by Boudicca at September 25, 2011 04:22 PM

Wow. Still, what a look at our history that you can't get in books. He sounds like an interesting man.

Posted by: vwbug at September 26, 2011 04:47 AM

What an honor and a blessing to have gotten to talk to this man. I'm sure you have more stories and I can't wait to hear them.

Posted by: sticks at September 26, 2011 05:07 AM

Sticks- I gotta call you. I met some people that you know... weird that!

He was very interesting and a very good person. He goes to schools and talks to kids about obeying their parents and he said he tells them to pull up their pants and be a man. It made me laugh...

Posted by: Bou at September 26, 2011 05:21 AM

He lived back in a time where there was real racism and ignorance - not like the manufactured label so loosely thrown around because people can't agree with other viewpoints. And honestly, people back then just didn't know any better. Today that excuse doesn't wash as well.

So what prompted you to interview this gentleman?

Posted by: diamond dave at September 26, 2011 08:36 AM

The dignity of men/citizens like him brings tears to my eyes.

Have you seen "The Help"? After the movie I bought the book. Haven't read it yet because I'm still reading "Our Town" by Patricia Carr. About the lynchings in Marion, Indiana 1930. (found it at the library for $.50)

Posted by: Jean at September 26, 2011 09:27 AM

I was sent an email about a month ago asking if any of us in a small group would be interested in going to dinner with him the night before he spoke to the big group. I did a reply all and said, "hello?! Who WOULDN'T jump at this chance! Count me in!" It turns out that most of these women had spoken to him before and so they insisted I sit with him. He was lovely. He really was.

Jean- I have read The Help, courtesy of my gf, JD. I loved it. My Mom has recommended Mudbound. I have it on my list of books to read.

Posted by: Bou at September 26, 2011 10:03 PM

It's one of those things where you truly hope that if you were born in that era, you'd rise above the racism and ignorance.

But given that it was considered normal, who can truly say how any of us would behave when raised in that environment?

People should remember that when the evils of other cultures are overlooked in the name of "tolerance".

Posted by: Graumagus at September 27, 2011 04:29 AM

I love people who have seen evil, even had it directed at them and have risen above it. What a marvelous man he sounds! A giant spirit.

Posted by: pam at September 27, 2011 08:04 AM