“Somewhere, within her, in a deep recess, crouched discontent. She began to lose confidence in the fullness of her life; the glow began to fade from her conception of it. As the days multiplied, her need of something, something vaguely familiar, but which she could not put a name to and hold for definite examination, became almost intolerable. She went through moments of overwhelming anguish. She felt shut in, trapped.”~ Nella Larsen
This may sound a tad eccentric to a few of you folks but I spent the majority of my childhood in books, finger paints and recording sessions. I would hole up in my room for hours after school reading. On Saturdays, dad would be writing songs downstairs on the grand piano. No one could disturb him until he was through. I would walk down the hall to our library and pick books with titles that seemed interesting. Mom showed me the power and magic of words at the tender age of 3. I was hooked.
I was 8 years old when I began my Nella Larsen phase. I read everything she wrote. Dad sheltered me from the sting of racism and yet it left me extremely vulnerable. I learned to rely on books more than my friends and classmates. Things were not sepia toned like my sunglasses. It was truly black and white, with no shades of gray in between. My first foray into that chilling racial reality was when I nine years old in the 4th grade. My circle of friends was cosmopolitan. Stacia (Anastasia) my best friend, her parents were from Greece; Morag’s parents were from Copenhagen, Sandra’s parents came from Japan and Miriam’s parents came from Mexico. We knew each other since kindergarten through elementary school and we were tight. Missy, short for Marissa joined our class early that day and it was apparent that she and her family were different. They came from Marblehead, Maine a very exclusive neighborhood. She looked like a little princess. She wore her long light brown hair with gold highlights pulled into ponytail with a series of cascading curls; she had on a really fancy princess style dress that had a beautiful blue flower print with matching blue Mary Jane shoes. My friends and I wore cotton jumpers in the California “Mod” style fall colors ranging from deep oranges, browns and greens. I was wearing a jumper in turquoise blue with deep royal blue vertical stripes and a row of matching buttons on both sides. I had a crisp white cotton blouse with a scalloped collar underneath. I had lace trimmed socks and black patent leather black shoes.
It’s the 10:10 am recess, we all head out to the playground over to the table that we usually have lunch on. We sat giggling and talking about the weekend on this crisp fall Monday morning. In class we talked about California history and the different tribes that were indigenous to our state. That was my formal introduction to the “red” race and those subtle differences. Missy walked up and standing very straight looks directly at me, Hi, what are you? Everyone fell silent I looked up what? Missy sitting down You know, you don’t look like a black person and you don’t talk like a black person, so what race are you? I could feel my ears burning from the sting of her words as I flashback to my parents and the different looking family and friends I see at the rehearsals or recording sessions. Standing up moving away from the bench Human! That’s the race I belong to, how about you?
Dad came to pick us up at 4 his usual time. I was just sitting by myself on a bench near the fence trying to understand what had happened to my day. Dad drove up wearing his cool sunglasses leaning to open the back door to the station wagon my brother and I piled in. Dad looking in the rear view mirror How was school today?, my brother closing the door The same. Looking at me in the mirror How about you Jan? Shifting to ease my discomfort The new girl asked me what race I was. We stopped at the red light he sat staring at the light. I was expecting him to tell me what she meant. This was the day that the racial conundrum had been released into the light. I never understood why when mom came to our school, she came as a close friend of the family who was an educator. I particularly remember the first time she came to meet us (dad and I) in the outer office and dad tightly squeezing my hand telling me to not let anyone know she is my mother. Horrified and nodding my head, looked up at her, tears were welling up and I felt as though I was in a watery grave. I am heartbroken….
Until next time. Peace out!