Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The History At Home | Snapshots 4 thru 8

I spend a lot of time talking about voting with my dollars. Thanks to Inkognegro's recent post, I thought I’d ruminate publicly about eating out.

Where we eat has a direct relationship to our politics. Yes, we are sometimes guilty of buying fast food. Sometimes, I justify it by the large numbers of brown people and disabled people I see behind the counter. Most of the time and to be crystal candid - it is just an flagrant example of my American laziness.

When were in London, I never left the house without a backpack of beverages, sandwiches, snacks - in reusable containers - and all of the other necessities for getting through the day with a small person. I dutifully carried these items on my back all day long.

When we moved back to the States, Winston was amazed that we could drive to the chip shoppe, get chips out of a window and then eat our chips while we went somewhere. He couldn’t believe how cool this was! No more searching for a picnic spot. No more dedicated meal times. Instant gratification - what child doesn’t love it?

But, when it comes to dedicated mealtimes. (Not the convenience fast food provides a family who is sometimes dashing from class to activity to playdate to class.) We try to vote with our dollars on behalf of a locally owned, preferably brown-skin friendly (or owned) establishments. These aren’t everywhere - so we find ourselves occasionally stumbling into a chain.

Awhile ago, a nursing mother had a run-in with Applebee's. The lactivist community addressed this issue. I decided to quietly boycott and write a letter. And that was that - until we were out late one evening. My son saw the Apple place which has good chips and wanted to eat there. So, I told him why we can’t do that. (Okay - we practice extended nursing. The boy just weaned himself 3 weeks ago. He’ll turn 5 in April.) Needless to say - for him - Applebee’s restaurant was the baddest of all baddies. He didn’t even nurse in public anymore, but any place which would deny num-num to a baby was evil.

A few months later, we chose t eat at a restaurant near Applebee’s. The hostess cheerfully greets Winston. “Hi cutie! Welcome to XXXX XXX.”

“Thank you,” he states. “We are eating here because the Apple restaurant is a bad place.”

Hostess looks confused.

“The Apple restaurant doesn’t think that families should eat together.”

Hostess looks more confused.

“They don’t let Mommies share num-num with babies. “

Hostess is getting nervous. I smile.

“So I hope you have good chips here.”

“We do!” The relieved hostess chirps. “Here are some crayons. Let’s find your table.”

“Thanks. Okay.”

We sit; have a lovely meal; and tip in a manner which would make my labour activist Grandmother happy. Then, we go. I leave with a warm feeling. He feels safe, supported and entitled to share his opinion. And in some small way tonight, he was able to try on being an activist.

So, how do I place this in the context of Black History month? Well, we always seemed to be the first Black folks in any residential area. In 1980, we integrated a lovely, quiet, retirement in northern Florida called Ponte Vedra and indirectly the Ponte Vedra Golf Club. Even so deep into our shared reality which involves integration cultural amnesia - it caused quite a stir. This was our first “vacation home.”

And there I was pool side at he country club; sipping chardonnay, and reading books - something my female predominantly southern Euro/Am-teen companions found fascinating. For the most part, I tried to ignore them - OMG! - they shaved their pubic hair! But, they would not be ignored. They needed me. They wanted me. Not because they bought all the silly we’re-all-human-beings-crap, but because I knew things! I used words like bohemian and avant garde. I made difference sound both exciting and manageable. I could read Vogue in French. So, I really knew how to dress; what music was truly cool and I didn’t give a damn about any of the available boys. Wasn’t I the most perfect, fantastic, first Black friend any Southern White girl could want?

I never questioned why I could order any drink in the world while my Euro-Am girls couldn’t. No, I’m not being honest. I knew why. The support staff enjoyed the show we provided anytime we were visible at the club. And some secret place in me felt vindicated.

Flash forward. I’m a young, idealist, nursing mother. Eight years later, the weird Black girl shows up with a babe in arms. The baby is fair. There is no visible husband. Just this doting Euro/Am woman - very butch at that. Baby looks more like the butch. But, I’m the one who needs to nurse the creature. She must be mine. And the way the elders are carrying on, she obviously belongs to them.

I remember the Maitre D’s name. It was Robert - that was “Mister Robert” to me. Even as a full-grown woman with a baby, he remained Mister Robert to me. Elder were elders...no matter what their station in life.

Mister Robert was pleased to meet the next generation. But, we had a sticky situation. The baby had to eat. And even though the bathrooms were lovely, he wouldn’t see me there. No, not with all those reminiscing- mammy-lovers eager to see her fair mouth on my Black breast. No, he couldn’t have that. So, he made sure I was given a space in his office. And - without even asking - plenty of water to refuel me and nibbles to make the milk good. He gave me all of this with a grand fatherly tenderness.

Maybe it is because my grandmother refused to ever let us forget that everything we touched had been touched before by someone less fortunate than us. Maybe, it was because we tipped honestly and fairly for a job well-done. Regardless, in some bizarre way, we all took care of each other.

Our family was the support staff’s daily bitch-slap - by just showing up. It makes me remember how much we’ve forgotten. How much we take for granted. This unspoken, tenuous community existed because everyone knew exactly how much it had taken for just one to get there. And all of respected each other.

Flash forward ten years. I remember looking around the club. Mister Robert had retired. There were maybe eight Black servers and support personnel. All of us looked at each other. We haven’t been members now for awhile.


AThinker said...

You brought up some great points. I've cut back a lot on eating out but I know there is a lot more I can do

Christina Springer said...

Thanks Athinker! We find our choices limited - but - well worth the limitations. We've found a handful of locally owned Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and Ethiopian joints. So, that's where we eat. They've come to know us. We know them. They watch our children grow. We watch theirs grow, as well.

But - we can't afford this all of the time. And not with a small person who needs a routine. So to keep away the take-out trap...I often cook and freeze easy dinners. One intense day in the kitchen once a month = no more take-out = healthier bodies = fiscal responsibility and more more grateful customers when we do get out.

For what its worth. And thanks for stopping by.


Big Man said...

You tell a good story sis.

You have a really interesting way of relating details. It reminds me of a columnist at the New Orleans Times Picayune by the name of James Gill. Both of you have spent time in England, he's actually from there, and it's a different kind of way you write. I've noticed it in the UK papers.

It's cool, it makes me pay attention. Plus, you do a helluva job setting a scene.

But, explain to me the drink thing. I understood that other black folks were the servers, but why was it that you could get any drink?

Christina Springer said...

Thanks Big Man, I appreciate the kind words. And you're right, perhaps I should have explained more about the drink thing.

So, here we go. It was the early 80's...so that explains the tolerant attitude towards underage drinkers. I think it was also understood that the parents of these southern baby-good-ol-boys and girls thought they could handle a beer or two. Maybe a little wine. So, it was okay to serve them - in moderation.

This was also before the PGA got sensitive to diversity. This is before Tiger Woods. We were the first Black members of private club. Heads turned when we went anywhere. People leaned in towards each other, hands over their mouths. Not all of the eyes on my back while I ate my shrimp cocktail were kind.

Every time we acted like civilised, intelligent, normal people - it was like literally taking a whip to some of the older members. These people were visibly pained by us. We had taken away the last place on Earth where they didn't have to treat Black folks like human beings and nobody would sue them if they didn't.

I've always guessed that they let me have whatever, because there was a mutual understanding about who we were. We were the only Negroes to ever set foot in that place who weren't there to park a car, deliver food, carry golf clubs, pick up tennis balls, or massage some tired white person. I think they trusted me.

They trusted me not to get my drink on, throw up and drown in the pool. They trusted me not to make a situation which would result in a lawsuit and a lynching party. They knew that I knew I had to behave myself at all times.

We all understood our roles there. We all enjoyed sharing this secret knowledge. Giving me something the white kids couldn't have was a way of asserting who they knew was better. (Or at least who had more dignity, self control and sense of responsibilty.)

Ferocious Kitty said...

Hello from this Jacksonville (N. Florida) native and your fellow extended breastfeeding mama!

**Even as a full-grown woman with a baby, he remained Mister Robert to me. Elder were elders...no matter what their station in life.**

I was raised like this, and it is conundrum to meet and cyber-meet black folks that I consider my elders (they tend not to be from the South) who think it's weird that my gut reaction is to call them Mrs. or Mr. When my grandmother was in her 60s, she called folks in their 80s, Mr. and Mrs.

Ah...a kindred spirit!


Christina Springer said...

Aren't these small cultural things - which we tend not to spend a lot of time pondering - interesting? One of my son's teachers (in London) looked at me and said, "please, I'm just So-And-So, not Miss So-And-So."

"My son is not on a first name basis with his elders," I replied.

She looked deeply affronted. "But, it makes me uncomfortable."

"Confusing him that you are his friend and not his teacher makes me uncomfortable." I stated.

"Oh." She thought about it, "Oh, I see your point."

We use honorifics when we can. Parents in our inner circle are called, Mama Such'N'Stuff or Papa This'N'That. We use Miss or Mr. Friend's name. I think it is important. We've earned both our titles and most likely the respect.

Glad you agree!

Ferocious Kitty said...

With my kids, it's a mixed bag. Some adults don't require the "Ms. or Mr.", and though it's our default, I haven't challenged that. With close friends, it's "Aunt", "Auntie", or "Uncle."

But of course, Down Home, it's Mr. and Ms. all day long. ;-) My oldest didn't understand why her "yes" or "no" weren't sufficient, and why people expected "yes, ma'am" and "no, ma'am." Eventually, she got the hang of it.