Wednesday, July 27, 2011
I realized that I skipped an important part of being married to my husband - meeting my in-laws. Buzz and I got married in June and we flew to New York City to visit his family in August.
First mistake: Never visit New York City in August unless you like living in an oven. I had not been to the Big Apple before so I did not know this! When my husband started planning the trip, the heat was the last thing on my mind.
Second mistake: I packed all of our good clothes. I mistakenly thought people in New York dressed up all of the time. I have been an avid thrift store shopper from way back, so I went shopping and found dress shirts and pants for my husband, and some nice dresses and skirts for myself.
Third Mistake: Wearing white. I arrived wearing a white dress, white stockings, and white shoes. People in New York don't tend to wear white because the city is dirty. I also stuck out as THE WHITE WOMAN. When you are visiting a neighborhood that consists of all black people, being THE WHITE WOMAN is the last thing that you want to do!
While we were in (99% white) Maine, I kept telling my husband that no one noticed his color and it did not matter. I was so wrong! I spent the week with his family, sticking out like a flashing red light. It was quite an experience to go to church, have over 500 people in the congregation, and be the only one who is white. I never gave my color a second thought until we went to New York, and after we were there, I was constantly reminded of it.
Unlike my family, my in-laws welcomed me with open arms. The only thing that they did that drove me crazy was that they kept asking me why they were not invited to the wedding. I explained repeatedly, but this was something I was asked many times over the years, until I realized that I had never met those people in my life! Buzz was the one who could invite them or not, it was his call.
I admired the Young family for how they did not interfere with our marriage. When we called them or came to visit, they were delighted. I came to realize that they did not want to exchange birthday or Christmas gifts, so that made it easier, because my family makes a big thing of birthdays and Christmas.
One visit, we were there when it was my father-in-law's birthday. I sewed him a shirt from fabric that Buzz helped me pick out. While we were there, I made him a birthday cake. He opened his gift, but took his piece of cake and his shirt to the kitchen and was there, all alone. I was upset at first, thinking he did not like his gift and the cake, but Buzz explained that his father was touched, and wanted to be by himself because he was overwhelmed with emotion.
In my next blog, I will talk about what happened when we were visiting my sister-in-law at a hospital.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
I just finished reading "The Life You Can Save" by Peter Singer. I did not so much read this book as I 'digested' it. There was a lot of thought provoking material there! The only problem is that it gets dry at times and he makes a point repeatedly. However, if you read a few pages a day, it makes you see things that we, in priviledged countries, take for granted, and how little everyone would have to give in order to change hunger and poverty in the world. Even though I belong to Bread For the World and contribute to Working Villages International, after reading that book I see how little I have been doing to change things in the world. I highly reccomend this book and "The End of Poverty" by Jeffry Sachs as well.
Monday, July 25, 2011
There is a beautiful spot along the Maine coast that has the Pemaquid Lighthouse. Buzz, Philip, and I loved walking on the ledges and now the lighthouse is open, so we climbed the stairs to the top. It was a great view - fairly clear that day and we could see for miles. Philip says that they don't have lighthouses in Nigeria, so it was a great experience for him. He also enjoyed himself when we took him to the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, Maine. It is for animals that cannot live in the wild because of injury or people trying to make them into pets. I have seen moose before, but never got as close to the ones in the enclosures.
It was a hoot thinking up food for Philip to try. I made Whoopie Pies, a Maine treat, which he loved. He also liked Moxie, Salt and Vinegar Potato Chips, and lobster. Oh yes, we cooked out at Reid State Park and Sebago State Park so that we had coals to roast marshmallows and make S'mores, which he liked. When we took him out to eat, he found the choices almost overwhelming. I agree with him - we Americans are given a huge amount of choices. Just think of how many kinds of products you encounter when shopping at a grocery store, for example. Or if you go into Dunkin Donuts and order coffee, there are many ways you can have it - hot or iced, decaf or regular, flavor shots, etc.
Even appliances like our refrigerator, (a modest size by American standards) washer, dryer, dishwasher, and so forth are things that we take for granted. We have reliable electricity,fast internet, lots of movies available on Netflix, and many choices of television channels.
Philip came to visit bearing some lovely gifts. He gave us two statuettes of men, hand carved from ebony wood. He gave me two handmade bracelets also made from ebony and brought us some Fela Kuti CDs, with his Afrobeat type of music. Philip even told us what some of the songs were about, because when Fela is singing, I cannot make out all of the words.
It was a fun, interesting visit and I learned so much. I have always wanted to visit Nigeria, and now I am even more determined to make it happen. It would be wonderful if everyone in America could have a foreign visitor for a few weeks, it would really teach us more about other places in the world, but also teach us more about ourselves.
Thursday, July 7, 2011
I had worked in retail in Maine, and even did some visual merchandising. When a women's clothing store near my home was hiring, I applied there and got a job immediately. It was the beginning of December, and the store was really busy because of Christmas coming up. The manager trained me for a few hours one day and was pleased that I caught on so quickly. She thought that I was a great salesperson and customers liked my cheerful attitude. After I had worked there for about a week, I was assigned to work until closing with two other employees. Before that, I had left around 7 pm or 8 pm, but that night I was staying until 10 pm.
There was a couple of chairs by the front door, where husbands of female shoppers sat. When my co-worker's husbands arrived to take them home, they sat in the chairs. It had been busy, so the men talked to us after we closed the shop, locked the front door, and put merchandise away.
After a bit, one of my co-workers said, " I am going to call the police. There is a black guy out there casing the store, and I think he might try to rob the place or attack us." The husbands got up and we all peered out of the windows.
"That is my husband - he must be here to pick me up," I said, after seeing that it was Buzz, standing calmly in the parking lot. He did not look threatening. He is 5'6", is always clean, and dresses neatly in conservative clothes. At the time, he weighed around 130 pounds and both of the husbands waiting in the store were much taller and outweighed him by at least 30 pounds.
Even after they knew that, my co-workers would not let Buzz come inside the shop. They would not unlock the front door and let me tell him that we were still putting things away. I could not believe their behavior, but I did not say anything and quickly finished what I was doing.
They let me out of the shop and Buzz walked me to the bus stop, because we did not own a car at that point. "I was worried about you getting out late, so I came down to pick you up," he explained. "Who were those guys in the store?"
"Those were my co-workers' husbands, and I can't believe that they did not let you come inside and wait!" I declared hotly. I was angry and decided to go by the shop the next day when the manager was there and ask her if it was all right for Buzz to come inside and wait until I was done with closing.
However, the next morning, the phone started ringing around 8 am. It was the manager of the store. She told me that she had changed her mind and she could not use me after all because there wasn't enough work to do. When I politely protested that the store had lots of customers and everyone on her staff had been very busy that past week, she hung up on me.
I was upset, because I strongly suspected that the manager was told about my interracial marrige. I went to my classes at the fashion college, but before I left for the day, I dropped by the director's office and told her what had happened. She came to the same conclusion as to why I was let go. She got out her rolladex (this was the 80's after all) and took out the card for not only that shop, but all five of the stores in the chain. "They will never get another reccomendation from me," the director said as she ripped the cards up. I felt much better.
It has changed the way my husband and I let people know about our marriage. Whenever we have moved to a new place and started a new job, we did not say anything about our interracial marriage until we felt comfortable and accepted by our co-workers. There are a few places that we worked where either my husband or I did not let anyone know about our marriage.
I think back now on what a tough time we had finding an apartment in San Diego. Since then, I went apartment hunting by myself and my easygoing husband decided that if I liked it, he would, too. Even when we bought our house, we worried that the neighbors would not accept us, but they have. It has gotten easier over the years because we have lived in the same place for 12 years and people get to know us - we do stand out, I suppose.
Friday, July 1, 2011
We thought (mistakenly) that people in California were laid back, accepting types. That was not always true. We were fine when we were on the base, but my husband found a lot of prejudice toward blacks at the building where he worked. Incidently, the people who belonged to other minority groups treated him badly, not the white people.
I decided to go to a local retail fashion business school. I liked it and it was easier than the four year college that I had graduated from. Besides, the California school had job placement. It was easy and I found it interesting. As usual, I sat up front so I would not miss anything. I was a born student and usually work very hard to get the best grade in the class.
It was different, much more casual than college back East. The annoying thing was that every instructor allowed a bunch of students to talk while they sat in the back of the room. Every day, I had to try and ignore them.
However, things came to a head one day when we were going over a test in Business Math. I had a perfect score, but everyone else had pretty much flunked it. I was sitting in the front, patiently listening as the instructor went over the test. The girls in the back got louder and louder.
Finally, I had had it. I turned around and said loudly, "I am here because I want to learn. If you do too, then stop talking. If you don't, then go home so the rest of us can hear." I turned around, but the girls started yelling at me, calling me names, like I was uppity and thought I was better than everyone else. The instructor started telling them to be quiet, and the class was in an uproar. It was so loud that the director of the school heard it and came down the hall to see what the ruckus was about.
It was all blamed on me. I stood up and told the director hotly, "I am paying good money to attend this college. In every class, there are students that sit in the back and gossip to each other, making it hard to hear. If they don't want to learn, then they should go home." The director agreed with me, and the girls didn't say anything. The class resumed and I could feel them glaring death rays at the back of my head.
The girls who got the most upset were black. When I got out of school that day, there were five of them waiting for me. I thought that they were going to start fighting me, and I was wearing a skirt and heels. I walked past them, ignoring them. They followed me, yelling insults and all sorts of names that I never knew black people called white people. They seemed to think that I was a bigot that hated black people and that was the reason that I picked on them. There were white girls in the back of the room that were yakking, too, but these black girls took it personally.
They kept it up though I ignored them. I walked across the parking lot, across a street, across a huge mall parking lot and they did not stop until I got on the bus, when they stood and gave me the finger as I rode away. I was trying not to cry.
Later that day, when my husband got home, I burst into tears and told him. He was very angry that they treated me like that. He wanted to go to the school with me the next day. I felt strongly that I needed to go back and face them by myself without dragging my husband into it. He suggested that I call my two best friends at the school, and tell them about it. I called both girls, one white girl, and one black girl and they said that they would keep an eye out for me. That made my husband much happier.
The next morning, when I got off the bus, both of my friends were waiting for me, and so was the group of black girls. Both of my friends were tall and intimidating as they walked along on either side of me. I went and reported the incident to the school director and she called the group of black girls into her office.
The girls started telling the director that I was a bigot and all sorts of stuff like that. I waited until they ran down a little and then told them that my husband was black, which really shut them up! The director made them apologise to me, but I did not accept it and said so, because they really were not sorry and their apology had not reflected it. Now that I was over being scared, I was furious. I left the office and the girls did not bother me again. The school passed a policy that people who sat and talked during class time and bothered the other students would be asked to leave the class.
It just goes to show how easily people can put race into the picture, when that not what it was about at all.