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Dear Mr. Blitzer: Good evening. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.
Please accept a quick story specific to the current upheaval over race relations. Decades ago, I grew up in a peaceful salt/pepper neighborhood. Color was not an issue. Understanding that the majority of the community was very poor, we were more concerned with making a living. Even with all the struggles, life was good.
No one grimaced and growled over color. All the houses were unlocked and keys were left in the cars. After school, there was swimming/softball/football/b-ball, rickety old bike races and later in the hot Summer evenings while the men gathered around a worn GE Transistor Radio to listen to baseball, we often played hide/go seek. The black kids complained that the white kids were too easy to see and in support of that claim, the white kids wanted to be on the black kid’s team which almost always guaranteed a win. At 9pm, the parents yelled for the kids to come home.
Unless it was time for the annual Police/Firemen Charity Donations, the Police rarely drove up/down our streets. To see the Police/Firemen (white/black) you would have to attend a Main Street Parade or go to the yearly carnival at the Fairground. When not on duty, most of the time the Police/Firemen were engaged in volunteer work or raising $$$ for a family struck by misfortune. Poor people have little to steal and since street drugs were unheard of there were no robberies or killings. The biggest dangers the Police faced were antiquated side arms and having to drive old patrol cars. The biggest danger the Public faced was not enough $$$. Occasionally, my traveling uncle would show up drunk late at night but my dad always made him sleep it off outside under a tree regardless of the weather. No need to call the Police. My uncle quit coming around.
There were Fall festivals/hay rides, Winter sledding on cardboard boxes, snowball fights and church caroling. Year round, together we did odd jobs, such as selling Grit, p/up pop bottles from the side of the road, mowing with push mower, raking leaves, bailing hay/shoveling manure and more to collect nickels and dimes to afford soda pop, candy at 03 for a penny, model airplanes or the latest comic book.
Some Sundays we went to the white church and some Sundays the black church was preferred depending on which had the best after-service meal. If you were in a hurry the white church had the shortest worship. The black Hosanna Church began earlier and seemed to last all day, so we usually snuck out well before the adults sang the last hymn. My adopted grandmother was “Mum Mum”, an 80 something year old daughter of freed slaves who told marvelous stories and baked apple pies. Her friend and neighbor, Ms. “R”, was a very, very old white lady who still drove a black 1940 Chevy Coupe delivering her chicken eggs door to door to the other neighborhood families. Ms. “R” was hard of hearing but made the best cookies.
Much of the time, the neighborhood men folk, black and white, paid little attention to us kids. They seemed so tired from the farm work or the long hours at the local factories that it was best to stay out of their way. If anyone of the men did call out for us, we were excited because it sometimes meant an extra quarter or two if we were able to scurry up on the roof of their house and adjust the new-fangled TV antenna. (There were two TV’s in the neighborhood. One was owned by a black family and the other by a white family). If your schoolwork and chores were done, you could visit either home and ask to watch TV.
The two richest people in town were the black man who owned a vast farm and who raised thoroughbred race horses and the other was the white doctor. The black man gave me my very first job (feeding his horses and cleaning up their manure) as long as I could prove that I was independent enough to hitch-hike, bike or find a way to work after school without help from anyone. The white doctor’s office visit cost $5 if you had a good job and $2 if you were poor; otherwise his visits were free if your family was broke.
Most all of our clothes were 2nd hand and once a year our parents gave us a new pair of shoes.
Yes, in my pepper/salt neighborhood life was good. Until the Activists arrived in the late 60’s/70’s. The White Activists began pressuring the white people into thinking that they could never be happy living in a mixed community and the Black Activists argued with equal fervor that the white neighbors surely were secretly hateful and plotting oppression. Both Activist Camps increasingly demonstrated, with a shrill voice, that a race-war was coming. Decades later; I now think that it was the Activists who wanted a race-war. I wish that they had left our little community alone and stayed in the big cities.
Yes, for our pepper/salt neighborhood life was good…until the Activists came to town.
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