“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.

What Ever Happened to Relationship Bliss?

I’m in one of those funky moods today.  I’m going to blame some of it on “Glee” and the episode that aired last night.  A rerun, the episode is the one where Kurt’s dad and Finn’s mom get married.  I’m good until the actual wedding takes place and the cast belts out the song, “Marry You” and then “Just the Way You Are” during the reception – both songs by Bruno Mars.

Why the funk?  Because I want to feel the kinds of feelings that those songs evoke.

Let’s talk about being fifty-four years old.  Do something dumb like decide to get married on a whim?  No way.  I’ve lived long enough to know that there are consequences and major changes that occur when you get married or remarried.  If you’ve got a dependent, you can lose your Head of Household tax filing status.  If you’ve got credit card debt and you die, your spouse may become responsible for the debt depending on what state you live in and other circumstances that will determine if the spouse or the credit card company loses in the end.  Health insurance, dental insurance, 401Ks, life insurance, mortgages, loans, etc. – everything becomes fuzzy and involved.  I suppose if you’re widowed it’s one thing – but coming from the divorced side of things you tend to hesitate about doing it all over again.

But all of the above doesn’t stop the feeling of wanting to find that person that makes you feel like none of that will matter – all you want is that person in your life who makes you feel spontaneous and good and loved.

And then there’s “Just the Way You Are” and the yearning to have someone tell you all those things (even if you don’t really believe them).

“You’re amazing.”

“I’d never ask you to change.”

“She’s so beautiful and I tell her every day.”

As you age, honesty truly does becomes the best policy.  Little white lies don’t cut it anymore – no matter how “little” or “white” the lie, it’s still a lie.  Trust is a huge component of a relationship, and if it becomes broken, it’s hard to repair.  So if your significant other suddenly starts saying things like Bruno Mars writes, you’re going to wonder what the heck is going on?  Is he/she feeling guilty about something?  Is he/she cheating on you?  Is he/she starting to go crazy???  After all, you can’t be in a relationship where you bicker all the time or don’t really communicate and then all of a sudden there’s lovey-dovey stuff being said.  It’s suspicious.

So wouldn’t it be great if a relationship not only started out with both people being thoughtful and complimentary, but if there was a continuing stream of being consciously thoughtful and endearing to each other?

Perhaps a divorce and an annulment have tainted my view of relationships.  I admit to having trust issues after getting burned multiple times in just about every relationship I’ve ever been in.  I admit that I am not having trouble with saying “I love you” but I do have an issue with saying “I’m in love with you.”  After three years into a relationship, shouldn’t I have already gotten over things and moved on?  Why is it so hard to do that?

I know I’m probably too old for this, but I would really like to feel that giddy sort of love that makes you tingle every time you see the person you love – the kind of love where you can’t wait to see him at the end of the day and fall into his arms and just be held, feeling the warmth of his body against yours and knowing that you’ll never need anyone else in your life.

I throw all of this out in cyberspace and don’t expect a response.  Sometimes it helps to just put a voice to the thoughts.

Reviews on the Trip to New York

I had the fortunate experience to be in New York this week for an American Management Association (AMA) seminar. The people that attended the event, ten in all, were great. We came from several different industries and backgrounds, interesting educational backgrounds and goals.

The group dynamic was interesting. No matter how the instructor mixed up the groups, each one had insights and experiences that blended well with the others no matter what the assigned task. Of course, there were a handful of exceptions (to be expected when there is such a vast variety of talent in the room), and I gleaned much from the three days I spent in The Big Apple.

Beyond the classroom experiences, I enjoyed the time walking the streets surrounding Times Square. I had one of the best freaking corned beef sandwiches I’ve ever had, courtesy of Carnegie’s; some excellent and spiced-just-right cheese ravioli from Benash (oh yes and my guilty pleasure of cherry cheesecake), and phenomenal margarita pizza and
Caesar salad from Seraphina’s. Overall, a fantastic eating experience.

People are interesting. Here are some take-aways from the past three days …

There still are gentlemen in this world. Both on train to New York and the return trip, guys helped me get my suitcase into the overhead compartment. I thought that was wonderful. If people bumped into me on the crowded Broadway streets, many turned and apologized. The waiter at Benash was great as he had to explain that the original item I wanted was not available and recommended a variety of other things I might like (like the cheese ravioli). I found out he is originally from Puerto Rico, has family in Chicago, etc. The key thing in that whole experience, however, was that I sat by myself in the restaurant – something I’ve never ventured to do. It always seemed awkward to me – but this time I went for it. And it wasn’t awful.

I think the thing that sticks with me most right now is how people can tell you all about themselves – where they went to school, what they do for a living, their hobbies, all kinds of stories about their pets and their families. They go on and on and on. And then comes the question – are you married? And the response – yes. It’s like the relationship is the last thing on their mind. How can that be?

I think we sometimes need to step back and think about the people and things that are important in our lives. Shouldn’t the relationship come first?

When you travel, does your spouse/boyfriend/girlfriend/partner come up first in your conversation? Do they send you quickie texts just to say hi/I miss you/I love you/hope you’re having a good time? Do you reach out to them? Or do you get into a pissing contest to see who will contact whom first (that is not a good thing).

Priorities are important, but people are too – especially those you’re in a relationship with. Remember them no matter how far apart you are. If you don’t reach out to each other, does that mean he/she is not that important to you any longer? Do a relationship check and compare notes with each other.

Don’t mean to preach … so I’ll sign off now as I’m heading home from The Big Apple.