What She Did, Not Said

Now Playing: Tear Stained Eye, by Son Volt. “Like the man said, rode hard and put away wet, Throw away the bad news, and put it to rest. If learning is living, and the truth is a state of mind. You’ll find it’s better at the end of the line.”

This one is going to be difficult to write, because it’s personal. I know, most of my blog posts are, but this one is really personal. And it’s a tough day as well. Today would have been my mother’s 85th birthday. It isn’t, though. She died two years ago, either on this day or on May 22nd, we never found out which. She had a massive heart attack, likely in her sleep. Weep not for her. She spoke by telephone with a neighbor and friend her birthday night and told her what a great life she had lived. And she meant what she told Mrs. Culley. I’ve missed my mom terribly, more than I would have ever dreamed. I’ve written about her before, most prominently in this post.

But for all her virtues, my mom wasn’t a saint. Particularly where race came in. I grew up in a house where racial epithets were common. That’s how it was in much of Southside Va. in the 1960s, I’d guess. Or at least in the homes I was in.

After awhile, though, I noticed something. My parents, particularly my mom, talked a better game about being racists than they ever played. Here’s what I mean: My dad threw the n-word about regularly, but he really enjoyed the company of my brother’s fellow worker, Leon. He’d laugh like crazy, with Leon, whenever they’d get together. And my dad loved Flip Wilson. And Fred Sanford. And George Jefferson. He really did.

As for my mom, she often got together clothes and food for a local black family. We knew Teenie because we worked in tobacco with her. She had about 10 kids, and I knew three or four of ’em. I played basketball with Kenny nearly early day at my elementary school, long before my elementary school desegregated. He was a good player and a good guy, and I never thought too much about the differences in our appearance. I just wished I could shoot like he did.

That wasn’t the only family my mom helped. I know she gave away other stuff, but she never made a big deal about it. I saw her help wreck victims on the road in front of our house. Didn’t matter what color they were. Ever.

Contrast that with people who say all the right things publicly but have hearts filled with subtle hates and prejudices.

I hate the words, but I’ll take kind actions and hateful words over hateful actions and bland words. Anyday.

My parents’ hearts were always in the right place, even if their tongues weren’t. Especially my mom’s. That’s why her heart lasted so long before it wore out in her sleep.

And that’s why I miss her terribly, today, and many other days.

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” _ The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“Words, like nature, half reveal and half conceal the soul within.” _ Alfred, Lord Tennyson


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