Archive for February, 2013

Prayer – A Journey

Monday, February 11th, 2013

By Hetty Gray

# 139

“Prayer — A Journey”

February 11, 2013

I am a big believer in prayer. I know I must have prayed for small favors when I was a child, but as I grew to womanhood and became a wife and mother, my prayers changed.

In the middle 1960s, I watched my country torn apart by racial violence. I remember two photos vividly. The first was a group of small black girls walking to Sunday school. As I recall, a church explosion had cost precious lives. My family prayed to see all people live freely and share the American dream together.

As background, let me state a fact. My community was an oasis in that sea of unrest. Oh, there were undoubtedly small incidences of prejudice and disrespect, but — on the whole — our town and its county remained peaceful. Given that, I am sure the homes of our Negro friends and neighbors harbored uneasy feelings.

When I was five, my father hired someone to help at his woodworking business and lend a hand with heavy work in the garage and in the yard. The teenager’s name was Lawrence Brown, and he endeared himself to the entire family in short order. I can still see him walking down the driveway, full of enthusiasm and a disarming smile.

Lawrence died a few years back, but I didn’t know in time to go to the calling. Because he had moved to Cincinnati, we lost track of him. He was such a kind person, and my folks never gave race a second thought.

When I was eight, we moved to Florida, where we lived for the better part of two years. It was 1952. One day my father took me Food Fair in North Miami. As we neared the entry, a man and his children stepped off the sidewalk for us. My father stopped in his tracks and said, “You don’t have to do that for me, son.” The man smiled and glanced around at the others on the street. He replied, “That’s good of you, but I need to.” I looked up at my father, and the man slid on by, kids in tow. As he passed my father, he whispered, “Thank you sir. That means a lot.”

Once back in the car, my father stressed how wrong it was for folks to be treated hat way. I had seen the signs. I knew what he meant, and it took years for society to change such treatment.

Papa always put things simply. Here’s one statement I’ve never forgotten. “You didn’t choose who you were born, and neither did anyone else.” How true that is.

When I was a teenager, the phone rang and it was a man who wanted to apply for a job at the factory where my father was plant manager. Papa told him to come to the plant early the next morning. The man hesitated and then he said that he there was something my father needed to know.

You see, he explained “I’m colored.” “Oh,” Papa replied, “what do you mean?” The man said “Well, I’m a Negro, you know, I’m brown.” I can still see the look on Papa’s face as he continued to talk with that man. His voice was soft and gentle.

“I’m sure you glad you told me, because if you had showed up purple or green or something, I’m not sure how I what I would have done.” Later,
Papa told Mama he heard a sigh of relief in the man’s voice. And what happened? Papa hired him. Papa liked him. Papa respected him. They respected one another.

Armed with that upbringing, I set out into the world to work on my own. Because I graduated from high school at 16, I worked and went to college at night. My first job was, in many ways, my most interesting. At 18 I took a job at Larue Carter Hospital, a short-term mental hospital on the west side of
“The Medical Center.” Our secretarial pool typed up medical histories and consultations for medical students of the IU Medical School. My coworkers were lovely women, and most were black. Two were talented seamstresses. I know my sewing, too, because my grandmother was the best seamstress in my hometown and maintained quite a clientele among the town’s ladies.

It took a little while for the women to feel comfortable around me, but soon we got along as if we had been lifelong friends. Lunch chats among us were lively, and the hospital cafeteria offered really good food. I know that picking
favorites is frowned upon, but I had one at work. I will never forget her, and even today, I can close my eyes and see her face.

Her name was Omilee Chandler, and I would be tickled pink if I could see her again. She lived in a two-story frame home close to where the IU Natatorium now stands. Her mother was wheelchair bound and her brother was in the Navy. He sent money home to his family on a regular basis. Omilee’s mother was a very nice. I know because I went to their home one evening

My plan to attend a concert at Clowes Hall did not enough time to drive home, change clothes, and make it on time. A night student at Butler, I loved performances in that beautiful acoustic wonder of a building.

I was curious about Omilee’s home, and I was a bit nervous as I left the parking lot and headed about two blocks south. The neighborhood was quiet and lined with houses of similar size and shape, but theirs was neater than most. The wide boards on the front porch were cleanly swept. The windows sparkled. As I parked the car and walked toward the steps, a lace curtain parted in one of the front windows. A frail hand withdrew when I knocked on the door. Omilee greeted me and led me to a room where I could change. The house was spotless and it was clear that it was also full of love.

On a daily basis, Omilee would awaken early and see to her mother, fix lunch and place it on a low icebox shelf, and head for work. After that day, I never saw her mother again. It was easy to see how close the two of them were. It could not have been easy for Omilee, but her cheerfulness was contagious.

Omilee was single at the time, and I sometimes wonder if she ever found a man who appreciated her for the woman she was. I hope so. Odds were high that she knew peers who were domestic workers. I can’t prove it, but there were smart girls among them, too. Due to circumstance, they had no chance to go on to college or trade school. I paid my own way and went at night, but even that opportunity would have been very rare for those girls.

On a personal level, in my younger years, I often visited with women in my own community who worked in the “big houses” around town. Inevitably, I would be at a party and gravitated to the kitchen, where I chatted with ladies I consider some of the best cooks I ever knew! What’s more, I would spot them in the grocery stores, downtown at the big three-story hardware store and at the high school basketball games. My church, The First Presbyterian Church, sat about a block away from Second Baptist, the local black church.

It’s important to note that the first local black church was built in the 1800s through the efforts of the white community. Townsfolk came together with fund-raisers and dinners in order for their neighbors to have a house of worship to call their own. Many of those early Negro residents came from Kentucky, and they found in Shelby County not only a largely peaceful atmosphere, but also welcoming wider community. A world away from the Old South, such small towns among the Midwestern states proved life-changing to the newcomers. Christian values came first, ethnicity second.

The work opportunities were not only restricted to working for others, either. I cite the local tailor shop, owned and run by the same black family for nearly a hundred years. A community fixture, the shop and its personnel are well respected for dependable, excellent service and fine work.

At the heart of our county’s welcome was love for one’s fellow man. Face it, if you find yourself in dire straits and a hand reaches to pull you up, it makes no difference the color of that hand.

For those of you familiar with my first book, Net Prophet – The Bill Garrett Story, it is not news that our local high school posed no threat to its Negro (the term of the time) students. I am proud of my town and, even though isolated cases of bias and unjust actions may be found, I respect the record of its people over time.

Each domestic workingwoman in my town was a person you would have enjoyed. In this Black History Month, it is incumbent on those of us who witnessed the changes forged from segregation through integration to shout from the rooftops that each person deserves judgment solely on merit.

As I end this column, I must focus on a special lady who worked for many years as a domestic in Indianapolis in the home of parents of a dear friend. Sadly, I met her when she was nearly retirement age, so I caught just a glimpse of her wit and a taste of her culinary expertise. Her name was Epsie Mae and she made the best chicken salad in the western hemisphere! Her soft, gentle voice made you feel so good when you walked into that elegant house. My friend considered her family, and I’m sure Epsie Mae felt the same.

There was ease about her — an elegance honed over a lifetime. To me, she was more than an employee in that large home. She wore many hat — the picture of kindness… a marvelous cook… an expert in child-rearing…. Her work was not only honorable and highly appreciated, but — in the case of my friend’s family — well compensated.

Epsie Mae loved those folks, and they loved her. From childhood, the family children adored her. That special relationship was based on trust and confidence, of course, but it went further than that. It was based on love. I wonder if today’s staffers working among the “big houses” in Indianapolis share that kind of a relationship. When Epsie Mae died, a part of my friend’s family died with her. Such was their bond.

Happily, we now recognize black women in their success and we number them among our nation’s most successful professionals. Today’s black women have come a long way from the domestic jobs exposed in the movie “The Help.” Yet, the characters in that film have a lot to teach us.

If you haven’t watched it, do. Even in harsh times, faith served them well. Their journey etches yet another chapter into our American story. Faith was central to their lives. They prayed. They prayed a lot. If you haven’t prayed lately, why not do it? Prayer is journey — and one without equal.

As for me, as a Christian, my prayer today is that we — as a people and as a nation — not only seek but also achieve the peace God offers us and that we encourage others, regardless of their background, a hand up. We won’t regret it. Remember that Golden Rule. We are all God’s children. Think about it.

Sad and Glad

Monday, February 4th, 2013

By Hetty Gray

# 140

“Sad and Glad”

February 5, 2013

For all the hype issued forth before the event, the exorbitant cost of Super Bowl Commercials hawking all kinds of consumer goods was eclipsed by a tasteful memoir featuring Paul Harvey and the forgotten 2% of the populace: the American farmers. Congratulations to Chrysler for their excellent commentary on behalf of their product as a tribute to the men and women who feed us — not to mention a good part of the world.

The Budweiser Clydesdales always hit the target. The episode with the foal growing up and spotting his owner alongside a parade route and then running down the street to find him was one of the best! The other memorable beer ad featured everyone wearing black in a restaurant or bar serving adult beverages, but the cast of characters was behaving nicely. That’s more than I can say for some of the others in the obscenely priced ads.

Aside from that piece, two were also not over the top. Hyundai, Volkswagen, and “Got Milk” were not only funny, but also to the point. On the other side of the equation, it serves as justice if the sponsors of the following commercials lose more customers than they could hope to gain.

For those of us Butler fans, it was a thrill to spot a “24” on a Butler jersey among other photos highlighting the number 24.

Audi should be ashamed of itself. Focused was a teenage boy with no respect for authority (using the principal’s parking space and smiling about it), acting like a boor on the dance floor by grabbing a teenage girl, and then — sporting a black eye from her date — happily speeding away in his parents’ car. My, my, isn’t that special? (Shades of The Church Lady!) If that weren’t enough, enter a high profile woman race driver and the bottom f the barrel when it comes to an ad.

Perhaps doesn’t know how many small children watch the Super Bowl game and its attendant advertising. The whole scenario was erotic and unnecessary — filmed to shock more than to inform. If this is their business plan, it is a poorly devised one. Then we have Hardee’s, a firm with excellent food. What possessed them to follow in the footsteps of Carl’s Jr. of California? Oh, sorry about that, Sara Underwood did both commercials. These ads were not only disrespectful but illustrate how shallow public relations people have become.

The last time I saw someone like Sara Underwood on the beach, the fare was more like a cool tall one and a salad. Downing food like that does not lead to a figure like hers, folks. Take a look at the customers in a burger joint next time you go. See a lot of girls with figures like Sara Underwood? Hardly.

And then there’s Oreo. Egad! As if it weren’t enough to lose Twinkies to a union disagreement. Now, Oreos — a tradition in many homes over generations — stoops to a commercial in which adults turn over tables like spoiled brats and destroy a library. Oh, I forgot. These computer geeks who devise these commercials don’t need libraries. They just upload books to their devices.

Well, I hope they are left TO their devices.

Don’t these people realize that they influence small children? Maybe they do. Maybe they are cultivating future customers. How sad. Yet the game left me glad, too.

As to specifics, nobody will know if the outcome would have been different minus the 30-minute-plus power failure interruption. Yet, it is what it is. I had no dog in the hunt, as they say. The smile after the game was reserved for the Tuohy family and Michael Oher who hail from Old Miss and were the featured family in Sandra Bullock’s heartwarming film “The Blind Side.”

Who says that dreams don’t come true? Oh, I know that huge amounts of money go toward the Super Bowl every year, but competition also fuels the coffers of the host city and instills a sense of pride in fans. I spite of that, it remains an American tradition that commands a huge audience and equal enthusiasm for the sport of football. Not for the faint of heart, it meshes critical decision-making and athletic ability. Would that our politicians at least use the former. Think about it.