Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fridays with Myra

Are we sick of Party Dress Girl yet? "No," the crowd roared, "We want more! We want more!" Well, all right, then.

Aside from my adorableness, this picture is notable for two reasons. First, we see the nine-paned picture window, also visible in this previous post. This is the very window which Bro 1 hurled himself through, head first, at age 8 or 9. He was arguing* with Bro 2 about who "got" to be Superman and who "had" to be Mighty Mouse. Bro 1 contended that he should be Superman, because he could fly, and he turned and hurled himself through the window, forgetting that Superman always, always opened the window first. This window is in many family pictures, and every time I see it, I think about Superman's aborted flight. Bro 1 has his own reminder: a little scar from the stitches he received that afternoon.

The other notable feature here is my Sambo doll. Talk about a sign of the times! I believe it was a gift from Grandma Flo, who had a certain... insensitivity about race issues. (Lamenting her "Mediterranean" complexion, Grandma Flo used to say "Why, when I was a child, people thought I was a darkie!") Oblivious to the social implications, I adored the Sambo doll because he wore overalls and had a bandanna in his pocket. He enjoyed a long reign as Favorite Doll, until Shirley Temple dethroned him.

Speaking of race, my mother's one little luxury was a once-a-week housekeeper, Myra, who was black. We kids adored Myra; we thought it was like having a celebrity visit every week. Every visit started with a near bone-crushing hug. "Ohhhhhh" Myra would say, "I'm gonna squeeze the juice right outta you!" And we thought she just might. Her laugh filled an entire room, and ended with an unlikely high-pitched squeal of delight. Somehow we got it into our heads that when Myra pulled a loose tooth, it didn't hurt. We would fight to hang on to that tooth until Myra's next visit. "Don't touch it! I'm waiting for Myra!" Myra always had a few minutes of undivided attention for me, "just us girls," to brush my hair, and maybe have a cup of tea with me and a few dolls.

She went on to work in the public school system as a cafeteria worker, a "lunch lady." Every one of her seven children went to college and graduated. It seems ridiculous to try and summarize her in a couple of paragraphs when, even in my memory, she is larger-than-life. I think I was lucky that the first black person I met was someone so kind and loving.

*Why were they arguing? Bro 1 was five years older and twice as big as Bro 2. Any argument was a mere formality before Bro 1 squashed Bro 2 like a bug.


josh williams said...

Great story, great memory. My Grandmother (the one from Eire and NC)being from the south was also insensitive or just unaware of the racial implications of her language. In fact she was not a racist dyed in the wool. Even in the 30's when my mother was born and my Grandfather was hired as a Game Warden, for a poor wage but it was a job and one he stuck with for 35 years.I still have a copy of the front page newspaper article, a story about his retirement. Published in the Fayetville Observer, where he was transferred after years spent ticketing and arresting people who poached or did not buy a permit to fish etc. I reakon he was not the most popular man around Lake Mattamuskeet which is still the largest water fowl preserve in the US and still in the middle of nowhere. I cannot help but imagine how many people hated the idea of buying a permit to hunt and fish, he was in a tough job but it paid, not much but it paid.
Back to my point as poor as they were my Grandparents still had enough money to hire a man, Dawson Jordan (very dark complexion) who had a game leg and today this would be called a disability, for him it was a job, he helped my grandmother start the coal stove in the morning and also travel with my grandfather as an aid. How poor did he have to be to be hired by a family that lived on a low government wage to hire at least part time. His son also helped out on occasion. As he grew older my grandmother would visit him in the retirement home along with my mom, they all loved Dawson.
So did my dad as soon as he discovered that he was Michael Jordan's great grandfather,my dad was always a big B-ball fan, not so much today but for years he would carry a ball with him and even in his fifties would go to the local courts in Wallace NC where my Grandmother was born and ended up living after my Grandfather had died. The town is mostly (dark complected) and when my dad found out that my mom and her mom where going to visit Michale Jordan's great grandfather my mom told him nope, you had no interest before and you are not going now.
He begged and pleaded (knowing it would not work, but he had hope) so while they were visiting Dawson he would take his ball down the street to the local school ball court and play with whoever would let him join in, most of them amused at some old Yankee shooting the hoops with the locals.
I try to learn from the past, but its tough not to become self absorbed, I think you appreciate real people as you grow older and at least in my case I have learned to avoid certain people who I do not appreciate. Real people are a rare thing to come by, but well worth the effort and time.
Which reminds me of a joke me da told me just last Sunday, but I do not think this is the place to share, it was kinda funny though and really not that dirty but...Liked your story and now I should probably turn in, this screed has worn me down. JW

La Cootina said...

Well, thanks for sharing your tale, JW, kind of a "Driving Mr Daisy," I think. Your mom seems like a very insightful woman.

PianoPlinker said...

Bro #1 here... I second everything she said about Myra. She was a delight in every respect and had more love than one could imagine possible.

Yes, I do carry the "Superman Scar" on my forehead to this day. I do not recall there being an argument about Superman vs Mighty Mouse - though it is entirely possible. You know, they say when you get to my age that memory is the second thing to go - I just can't remember what the first one is! I seem to recall that Superman was simply on a test flight when a gust of wind (in our living room?!) blew me off-course and into the heavy-framed picture windows shown in the photos. However, I could well have been knocked silly for a while and may be fuzzy on the details. I think I recovered after only a few years.

And yes, I did have a certain physical advantage (i.e.) size over Bro #2 a.k.a. Mighty Mouse. All that came to a crashing halt one day when he hauled off and smacked me one right back. Once burned, twice shy - so they say.

La Cootina said...

It is often a looong time coming, but life does provide moments of sweet revenge, er, I mean justice.

To the Clan: ALL my posts about the past are filtered through my chemo-addled brain; still I present them as I remember them. They very well could be wrong, or distorted. "Tough noogies." ;D

Meeta Banerjee said...

Came over here from Pesky's...I love your story. Your Myra reminds me of Minnie...the housekeeper of all the houses that were Indian in our neighborhood.

To this day, I know not to sass Minnie...otherwise I'll hear it for days...and I'm almost thirty!

...but then again she does like to remind us she's known all of us since we were in diapers.


Unknown said...

Who doesn't have the Superman vs. Some Other Superhero story? My brother busted his hand and the garage window proving a very similar point!

Your doll reminds me of the "family" restaurant where I grew up. Sambos was open in the 70s and possibly at some point in the 80s (I can't recall those details) in the Very White city of Parma, OH. I loved it because we'd go there for pancakes on the weekend, and the Sambo story was depicted in giant, lit-up panels around the restaurant. And I remember my mom having to explain the implications of racism. I guess I was oblivious as well!