“The Help”

Several months ago a friend of mine recommended “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett.  Always willing to read something a friend recommends, I immediately downloaded the novel to my Kindle.  I finished the book last weekend.

Most of you may know that “The Help” takes place in the 1960’s in Jackson, MS where the main set of characters have black “help” – women mostly, but some men too.  It’s a very interesting story of lives that are impacted not only by the times but by those they work with as well.  And then comes a women who wants to be a writer and who takes up the cause of exposing the things these black women deal with day after day in their roles as “help.”

One of the several story lines revolves around interracial issues – one of the maids gives up her baby because it was born with white skin (I won’t go into details about that story because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who wants to read the book).  Ms. Stockett also mentions Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy’s assassination, and other social/political things that were going on during those years.

I grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  I remember both the King and Kennedy assassinations.  I remember the riots in the streets of Chicago – especially overhearing my Dad talking about them (he witnessed them firsthand as a truck driver in the city).  Now whether this is a true memory or not (I believe it is), I recall my parents telling my sister and me that we couldn’t walk down the street because of the riots – and that was the first time we had heard of such a thing.  Not able to walk in our own neighborhood in Bucktown?  What the heck was that all about?  It was about parents knowing that the violence could spread.

I also remember my Mom’s cousin Diane who we rarely saw and who was spoken of in hushed tones.  Diane was – Mom would always say – a mulatto.  Back then I didn’t really know what that meant; all I knew was that Diane had tan skin.  Back in the 1960’s that was a bad thing.  I vaguely remember Diane’s face, but what I do recall is that the few times I saw her, she was cute, smiling, bubbly, slightly overweight, and wore the cutest shift-style dresses.

So many things changed over the next decades – “colored” became “black”; “mulatto” became “mixed” or “interracial” – but then again, many other things did not change, such as people’s attitudes.

Growing up during those years of unrest explains, I guess, why my parents were so shocked when I announced in 1986 that I was marrying a black man.  I knew without a doubt that my Dad wouldn’t give me away (my brother-in-law stepped in for that action).  My Mom sort of took it in stride by the time of the wedding.  After all, Ken was handsome, well spoken, and a Baptist minister.  Several months after I was married, Dad accepted Ken as part of the family, and that made me very happy.

Ken and I waited five years to have Josh, and it was well worth the wait.  Josh is a great son.  I sometimes wonder how Ken’s and my divorce affected Josh, but honestly I think everything turned out okay.  My son knows the scoop, and he knows if he ever has any questions he’s free to ask.  He gets honest answers from both of us.

I apologized to Ken right before he and his current wife moved to Georgia.  I apologized for not holding his hand more often in public, and I apologized for letting some of the nuances of the 1960’s affect me to the point that I was constantly aware of people’s eyes on us as we walked together.  Back when we were first married, as much as I wanted to be near him, I sometimes held back knowing that some of the public still had major issues with interracial relationships.

** And let me just say it wasn’t always the white population that had issues.  I encountered a lot of flack from the black population too; especially in one of the churches we visited. Trust me – on more than one occasion I was told Ken could have done better than me, referring to having a black wife instead of a white one.**

People are going to be people no matter what.  A hard lesson to learn is that you should be true to what you feel, not to what others want you to feel.  Would things have turned out differently if I had focused more on the relationship than on the rest of the world?  Probably not.  I don’t think the circumstances of the breakup would have changed.  But it’s important to speak out that no matter the mix (skin color, sexual orientation – whatever), the relationship should be true to itself.

Be happy in your chosen relationship – be proud of it – be proud of the person you are with.

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Where Did All the Shags Go?

Have you ever had an amazing haircut that you’ve never been able to get replicated?  Mine was back in high school, back when the shag was all the rage and every hairstylist in the country knew how to do it perfectly.  There wasn’t much I liked about myself back then, but that haircut made me feel extraordinary.  Life as a teenager was bearable because I looked cool, man.

Alas, thirty-some years later I desperately want that shag again and can’t find one picture in any magazine or one photo on the world wide web that looks like the hair cut I had back then.  Why is that?  Shags are supposedly back in style – I have seen pictures in hairstyle magazines claiming to be “shags” but come on – they are calling every length, every layered cut a “shag” cut.  NO, NO, NO! Those are only imitation shags – not the real thing!  DON’T BE FOOLED!

I wish we had had the internet in the 70’s.  Then there would be a plethora of pictures of girls with their shag haircuts.

Now, if I were back in Chicago and had access to my mom’s gazillion photos that are tucked away in envelopes and photo boxes and albums that are falling apart, I might be able to find at least one picture of me in that beautiful shag cut.  Maybe the next time I go back home I’ll be able to rifle through the pictures.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could find one?

I tried to explain the cut but find it very difficult.  Multiple layers (don’t know how long they should be and they always ask), tight against the back of the neck (really – what does that look like?), wispy bangs.  Why is that so hard?  I can see it in my mind … why can’t they?

Hmm … maybe if I can locate a retired hairstylist who used to cut hair in the 1970’s she might remember how to shag a head   🙂

A Paisley Girl

I grew up during the 1960’s and 1970’s. I’m a child of guitars, flower power, paisley, mushrooms (drawing them, not eating or otherwise ingesting them), folk music, classic rock, peasant blouses, white go-go boots, and all of the other wonderful things of those years. No matter how old I get, those things will remain a part of me. That mostly is a good thing, but sometimes – not so much.

Let’s take paisley, for example. No matter where I am, if I see something that is paisley I stop to take a look at it. If it’s a scarf or a blouse, I might buy it. If it’s a new Vera Bradley something-or-other, I might buy that too. A notebook? For sure! I can get away with having paisley things, but I’m learning that certain items are not considered “age appropriate.” Say what?

I have a very cool blouse I bought last year that is a deep blue paisley beauty. It looks stunning on the hanger is my closet. But when I put it on, I feel like I’m a 90-year-old woman trying to look 20. Not that I’m 90 yet (I’m only in my mid-50s). But the woman in the mirror doesn’t look like me when I see myself wearing that blouse. I expect to see me, only not so old-looking. It’s kind of hard to explain, I guess – unless you’ve been in that situation.

There are so many things I recall when I see paisley. I remember sitting in English class in high school and drawing little paisley patterns while the teacher lectured on some topic (okay, I admit my attention span wasn’t always on target). I remember this freaking awesome paisley dress I had gotten from a neighbor’s daughter when she outgrew it – all blue and purple and pink and absolutely wonderful. Most of all I can still see a different English teacher and the brown paisley shirt he sometimes wore, and oh, how I loved him … I mean, how I loved that shirt. Deep sigh …

Why are we so concerned about wearing things that are “age appropriate?” I wear Uggs® – is that a crime? I have an old copy of THE LITTLE PRINCE on my dresser. I have a C.F. Martin Hippie guitar. I play Barbies® with my boyfriend’s nine year old daughter. And I want to wear paisley blouses.

Are the age police going to come and take me away?

The Only Living Gal in the 70’s

Honda is using the Simon and Garfunkel song THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK in one of their commercials. I think it is so awesome when a company picks an old song like that. When I first saw the commercial it stopped me in my tracks. I was like, “I know that song – what the heck is it?” And after running it through in my head a few times, I figured it out.

Of course, then I had to download my S&G 4 CD box set. Previously, I had only downloaded a few of their songs onto my iTunes. You know how it is (maybe) – you want to put the new songs on your iPod and show how cool and current you are with today’s music – especially when your kids are going to peruse your playlist. Right?

It takes something like Honda’s commercial to jolt me back to the music I loved when I was growing up. Once I get started with a tune in my head like THE ONY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK it is only a matter of time before I’m reliving the days when I used to listen endlessly to groups like S&G, The Beatles, Elton John, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, Boston, Cat Stevens, and all those other wonderful artists. Oh, for the old days of putting an LP on the record player, flopping into my yellow beanbag chair, gazing endlessly at my yellow and orange bedroom walls, burning incense, and singing along ‘til I was exhausted. Where have those days gone? If I tried doing half of those things today, would it feel the same as it did back then?

Sounds like a good segue to songwriting itself. Come on, people – pull out your guitars or pianos or whatever and start writing a song about the old days and reliving them through music. Pump yourselves up – put on some great old tunes and remember what you were doing when you first heard them. Put yourself into the song and then let yourself out and then start writing that song!

Yeah, man … cool! Maybe I’m THE ONLY LIVING GAL IN THE 70’S!