Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The History At Home | The End Of An Era

This has been an awesome month. I’m so grateful for Deesha and Yvette starting this blogathon, 32 Days Of Black History. In many more ways than I’’ll ever get to share here, it has been transformative.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll notice I’ve taken the past few days off. Not because I’ve been sick, but because I’ve had to pause for a moment and grieve. This blogathon began a few days after my Aunt Barbara passed away. In true Springer style, I noticed it, acknowledged it and kept moving forward. In true Christina style - I eventually got to the point where I had to feel it. I didn’t get around to that until Sunday - almost 20 days later.

Dirty laundry aside...(like the fact my mother hasn’t directly informed me of a death since I was fifth grade; never tells me when people’s funerals are; or has specifically asked me not to attend the funerals of people about whom I care deeply - like my grandmother) ... I’m not surprised that I didn’t get around to the feeling part until Sunday. For almost 30 years, I’ve been in the habit of arriving late to grief.

Our family lives a very closed life. From a very early age, I was trained to report only the good information. Bad information - death, illness, any negative emotion or happenstance - was to be lightly brushed over. Look at any tabloid, people revel in the misery of those people they perceive to be hoi-paloi. This never made any sense to me.

Compared to my White counterparts, we were average at best. We had nothing to covet. We had a decent, modest life. For this we were grateful. There was nothing spectacularly distinctive about us. Our house was most likely the smallest one out of all of the other girls in school. But, it was warm and full of interesting people.

It wasn’t until college that I began to understand how warped my perceptions were by attending a small, prestigious girls school at the dawn of integration. And it has only been since the beginning of this blogathon and the privilege meme that I began to understand how much I’ve missed by focusing on external impacts on the construction of my reality, rather than the actual internal reality.

The wake brought clarity I didn’t understand I needed. It also made me sad. Sad that I hadn’t realised how incredible my life has been. Sad that a strange and accomplished group of people that I took for granted is getting old. Sad that I lived inside of a Black history textbook which I hadn’t really bothered to study.

Barbara Gandy Hale wasn’t really my aunt. She was my mother’s closest friend. Best friend doesn’t really describe their relationship. Aunt Barbara was the one human being - other than my father - with whom my mother could be her real self. She was the one other human being on this planet who knew that my mother has moments of concern, confusion or is unable to fix something through sheer force of will or otherwise.

Years ago, I wrote a poem, The Mothers. I’ve been referring to it so frequently, I’m simply posting it below. After Sunday’s retrospective, I notice that the poem has a kind of self-pitying tone. And it’s that kind of wake up for which I’m grateful today. It’s the kind of wake-up, Aunt Barbara was so good at softly chiming.

Barbara Gandy Hale was not a maverick or a ground-breaker or a so-called person of note. This is exactly what makes her so noteworthy. Barbara Hale was fun. She was non-judgemental. She was strong and resilient. She was focused on the mechanics of creating community. She was the comfort which gave the soldiers strength.

In the words of her eldest daughter, “I learned three things from my mother, “How to set a formal table. How to pack a suitcase. And how to wrap a gift.” This is a profound statement.

Those three important lessons don’t sound like a whole lot. But given what we expect from Black women - I think there is a whole lot to be learned here. It is these precise qualities that made Aunt Barbara the person to whom I could go when I wanted an ear...not a solution, plan or course of action. Aunt Barbara was the person to whom I could go when I just wanted to be. She never validated the pity party. And she always stayed just long enough for it to get old and then politely left.

At the wake, an inordinate amount of time was spent on the persona of “good time Barbara.” I felt vaguely uncomfortable until I began to think about it. There is a value to having a good time. We can’t spend every hour of our lives fighting the man; getting beaten down by billy clubs; preventing riots; climbing to the next rung of our professional careers and preparing legal briefs, drafts of legislation or congressional testimonies which will change the world. Could they have done it without the respite someone like Barbara Hale organised and made happen?

No. The front-line workers went and changed the world. But, they came home to a gracious, warm, bountiful welcome. Somebody had to plan the event where they could privately and comfortably blow off. There was somebody who recognised their sacrifice with a celebration. There was somebody who gave them the gift of their attention, time, nourishment and properly served beverage.

Today people come home to tv, the internet, video games or all three simultaneously. We connect - sort of - by email, instant messages and answering machine messages. We sign internet petitions. We write checks. On the weekends, maybe we spend some real time with friends and like-minded activists...maybe not. We certainly don’t have our houses filled with like-minded people who are planning the next sit-in, demonstration or canvassing initiative. And there certainly isn’t someone who makes sure the meatballs are hot and the martinis are stirred.

Her death was the end of an era. It symbolises how much we have forgotten the importance of the real peacemakers. You know, the person with the Sangria recipe strong enough to make the “change-the-law-people” and the “march-in-the-streets-people” laugh, embrace and seek a compromise. The person whose good time was a healing salve for the inevitable burnout that singes any long-time activist.

We all need someone to help us relax, unwind and enjoy the benefits of being human. And in some small way, I like to believe that my own choices - to be home with my children; to throw lovely parties; to work as compelled and shirk as required - means this era of forgiveness, graciousness and tangible relief for thinkers, radicals and artists is still alive. I get my insatiable need to rabble rouse from my mother. But, the core manifestation of who I am now, I just realised came from her.


Ferocious Kitty said...


I have truly cherished your contributions to this blogathon, and am grateful for the glimpse inside your life, your family's lives. What a rich, rich heritage you have, comprised of ordinary extra-ordinary people. You are blessed, and in sharing their stories, you have blessed the reader.

I really needed to hear about your Aunt Barbara, about her presence, her contributions, her worth. Last summer, I had a disagreement with someone close to me about the value of hospitality, of loving people where they are, about the value of entertaining with warmth and informality (is that a word?). This person was minimizing all of that while denying that that's what he was doing--you know how people are--but your Aunt Barbara is such an affirmation for me in this regard.

In the midst of that disagreement, I felt like I was speaking in a foreign tongue, because I sure wasn't being understod. And now I know I wasn't just babbling, and that the gifts I try to cultivate in my life, do have value. Your Aunt Barbara embodied that understanding, for me.

Thank you.


Christina Springer said...

Aw shucks Deesha. You always know how to make me feel as if I wasn't lied to at school. Maybe the personal is political.... still after all these years. Thanks.

Yvette said...

Sad that I hadn’t realised how incredible my life has been. Sad that a strange and accomplished group of people that I took for granted is getting old. Sad that I lived inside of a Black history textbook which I hadn’t really bothered to study.

Christina, this whole post is amazing, but this part in particular especially strikes a chord w/me. How do we get to a point where we change this? It is easy to think about this in terms of the past personal history we've not fully attended to. But what about the Now that'll be History tomorrow? (I think about this a lot w/r/t my kids.) How do we mark history now that *we* are the folks that are "getting old"?

Lots of questions you've made me think about. I echo Deesha: I have valued your contributions this month so much.

My condolences on the death of your Othermother and kudos to you for keeping her spirit alive.