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Sunday Soliloquy: Maybe What’s Good Gets A Little Bit Better October 18, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — afrocity @ 3:06 PM
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norma_rae_1979During the cold weather season, I like to stay at home preferring good home cooked comfort food to loud restaurants with volumes of wine lists.

As much rent as I pay to live in a big city, I should get out and enjoy all that comes with $1850 a month. The cultural events, the shopping, sports teams. I can do all of that when it is warmer, now is the time to actually enjoy the home I pay to live in.  Blockbuster is my entertainment provider. I get three movies at a time with in store exchanges.  What to watch tonght, I wondered as I walked the wall of new releases. He’s Not That Into You, Good Dick, Ghost of Girlfriends Past”    …Nah…Then you have all of these remakes. Friday the 13th, My Bloody Valentine, Land of The Lost.

The stuff that future nostalgia is made of was all ready absent in the movie titles…Judging from the blurb on the DVD cover, I could see that Good Dick, was no Looking for Mr. Goodbar.

Why can’t  someone produce movies like they did during the 1970′s?? Remember the great 70′s movies, like Julia, The Deer Hunter, Marathon Man or The Godfather Part II?

Movies that made you cheer like Breaking Away or Rocky?

Movies that tackled real nitty gritty issues of America’s social underbelly  such as Taxi Driver, Klute, One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, Cornbread Earl and Me? The Omen, The Conversation, The Exorcist, The French Connection and anything else that began with “The” made you jump out of your seat. A romantic comedy that was not a cookie cutter Meg Ryan film but rather one that would live in your heart forever. Annie Hall and Heaven Can Wait are two that come to mind. The songs you hummed of movies like Carbaret, Fiddler on The Roof and Grease.

CLS18-727869

Actress Sally Field with based on the life and struggles of Crystal Lee Sutton, the real "Norma Rae". Crystal lost her battle with brain cancer on September 11th, 2009.

I was a huge fan of the actress Sally Field having watched her on re-runs of Gidget and The Flying Nun. Mother did not want to see the film but let me have my way because she made a mistake and took me to see The Deer Hunter.

I cried during the Russian roulette scenes so from then on, I got to choose which movies we saw. In all honesty, I thought Norma Rae would be another Sally Field comedy in the spirit of Cannonball Run.

Instead, I witnessed an outstanding portrayal of a woman who risked her own job at a North Carolina textile factory in order to form a union thus improving working conditions for her fellow employees.  Who could ever forget the scene where Sally Field stands on her workbench table holding  a white sign with the black letters spelling UNION?
To a ten year old girl, a union seemed like a great concept that was very complicated and could make you very unpopular. The union organizing aspect of the movie was not what made the film endearing for me. It was Sally’s portrayal of a woman who obviously wanted to be larger in life than her social standing would allow.

Unions being enormously liberal in concept appealed to my mother who loved to stir trouble.  The subway ride on the way to grandmother’s house began with a mother-daughter conversation about fighting the good fight. All 70′s movies contained a teachable moment of some sort. Mother wanted mine to be fighting an unjust and corrupt system that was against the “little guy”.  She decided to use the unfairness of the Illinois welfare program as an example. I should preface this by saying that my mother had gone all “Norma Rae” in a Chicago welfare office on several occasions. She has cursed out at least two caseworkers and several poor clerks at the currency exchange where web received our monthly check and food stamps. I do not care to elaborate on what she said but let’s just say that a security guard was once involved. Embarrassing indeed.

NormaRaeAs the subway conversation progressed mother became annoyed with me when when I asked what was in her mind a dumb defeatist question:

“Why didn’t Norma just find another job or get a better one?” I asked. Made sense to me, she could have went to college and did better than folding clothing.

“Because she wanted to make her job better than what it was. She was not a quitter. Only quitters leave.”

It was no secret that my mother always saw me as a wimp. I would never fight back when challenged by a bully in school. Mother would yell at the child herself, once even becoming my puppeteer as she made me maneuver my hand to slap another child.  I was not the fighter in the family, she was. I could not play softball as she did. I would not be the track star in high school. good for reading books and not much else. Why fight when you could gain so much more by just finding something that was not worth the trouble?If a kid didn’t like me I would just avoid them. Last to be picked for the volley ball team in gym class? I would just show them up later by winning the spelling bee.

“Is that why we stay on food stamps because you are fighting the system?”  I was really trying to understand her. “Fighting sure takes a long time and look at Norma, she ended up with no job.”

Mother crossly answered, “That is not the same thing. First of all she is white and will always have a job. Second, sometimes fighting for something means that you win by losing.”

560norma-rae

“You can’t win and lose at the same time,” I said. ” The person who wins on the Price is Right is not losing when they get a car.”

“That is not the same kind of fight or winning Afrocity.”

Mother was quiet for a moment. I looked out at the “L” tracks. The Norma Rae theme song was in my head. I liked it, it was a pretty tune.

Theme from “Norma Rae”
Ain’t no miracle being born
People doin’ it everyday
It ain’t no miracle growing up, ah

People just grow that way
So it goes like it goes
Like the river flows
And time it rolls right on

And maybe what’s good gets a little bit better
And maybe what’s bad gets gone
Ah, bless the child of a working man

She knows too soon who she is
And bless the hands of a working man
Oh, he knows his soul is his

So it goes like it goes
Like the river flows
And time it rolls right on
And maybe what’s good gets a little bit better
And maybe what’s bad gets gone

So it goes like it goes
Like the river flows
And time keeps rolling right on, oh
And maybe what’s good gets a little bit better

And maybe what’s bad gets gone

“Afrocity, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy and Malcom X were all fighters for the people.”

“…and they are dead.” I returned. “They are not winners. Winners don’t die.”

She frowned at me. “You have too much of your grandmother in you. Passive and made a fool out of.”

A pit was dug between mother and daughter again. The same pit that she dug between herself and her mother. All I knew was that grandmother paid for my school tuition and was better off financially than we were.

Cartoon by Keith Tucker

Cartoon by Keith Tucker

“Grandma has more money than you do so how is she passive?” I asked not quite sure what passive meant but I knew it was something bad.

“She is also scrubbing Jewish folk’s floors,” she sneered. ” I would rather be on welfare than to be a white man’s maid, especially a Jew.”

“What’s wrong with Jews?”

“They use black people and take advantage of us. I wish blacks would stand up and stop letting them do it and now these Asian’s are coming into our neighborhoods opening stores while we give them our money.”

“It is food stamps not money.” I corrected her and she rolled her eyes at me. I liked the Chinese people who ran out corner store. They always gave us a few few extra slices of salami…”

“Black people she own businesses in their own damn communities.”  The steam was coming from her ears. Again I was trying to help and sound smart.

“So why don’t they open their own stuff?”

Mother did not answer me. Our stop came darkness was approaching and we still had another bus to catch. African American vagrants were about the streets. Hustling, playing shell games, drinking from bottles covered in brown paper bags. A man tried to hit on my mother. She told him to get the hell out of her face.He reluctantly walked away cursing her. There was no reason to be afraid, I knew she could handle herself.  Norma Rae’s song was still in my head.

“Momma the song said maybe what’s good gets a little bit better.”

“What song?” she asked, somewhat distracted by the our shady surroundings.

“The song from the Norma Rae movie…Maybe what’s good gets a little bit better…and maybe what’s bad get’s gone.”

“Yes.”

“…so if things like welfare or jobs don’t get better you should get gone…so I was right.”

She shook her head “No you are not right and that is not what the song means…Only quitters get gone.”

Our bus finally arrived, as we boarded, we noticed to our surprise that grandmother was on the bus too.  I ran over to her “What are you doing here?” I asked. I rarely saw my grandmother on public transportation because she left so early in the morning to work as a maid in the Chicago suburbs.

“I am coming from work.”

“Cleaning Jewish floors?” I smiled but meant no harm.  Grandmother looked at my mother and rolled the tired brown eyes behind her glasses. She always wore a hat and nice coat but mom said it did not matter how well you dressed if you cleaned a white man’s house.

“No,” my mother’s mother answered with a twisted up lip. ” This time it was just a regular old white family.”

I sat next to grandmother. She smelled like Ammonia and Commet. Her hands were ashy. She was in her 60′s, too old to be someone’s maid. Mother sat on the opposite side of the bus. Sometimes I felt that she hated her mother. I never knew exactly why but mother always said her mother was weak and allowed their father to abuse her and her seven siblings.

Grandmother was good to me now and that was all that mattered.

” Can we have macaroni and cheese?” I asked my grandmother

“Again?”

I nodded.

“mac n’ cheese, cheeseburgers…too much cheese makes you constipated and you will pass gas”

Speaking of gas, I smiled and whispered in grandmother’s ear. “Momma says I am passive just like you because I won’t fight and lose my job like the woman in the movie today.”

Smiling slyly at my mother because I knew she thought it rude for me to whisper, I wrapped my arm around grandmother’s

I could not see my grandmother’s face when she said this but could tell it was directed in the direction of my mother.

“We are not passive. We just like to speak softly and carry a big stick…even if that stick is the broom that pays for your daughter’s catholic school tuition.”

Our stop came. We walked two more blocks to grandmother’s house. Always nicely furnished and smelling of Glade. The two women cooked side by side as the child played, humming the Norma Rae song, then the passives and the aggressive broke bread together.

Autographed Letter Signed,

Afrocity

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14 Responses to “Sunday Soliloquy: Maybe What’s Good Gets A Little Bit Better”

  1. afrocity Says:

    Hello Readers,

    WordPress has been giving me lots of formatting headaches lately so please excuse the appearance of the blog.

  2. HT Says:

    I really appreciate your recital of your experiences, but honestly I hope that it does not become a recital of all that is evil in the republican or democratic political world. Your experiences are universal – why? Mine are not much different – why does it happen?
    Global Corporatism?

  3. nanook Says:

    What a wonderful, open post this is. It speaks so well of you, it speaks deeply to me about the sameness and the differentness of all of us. Thank you for your blog, Afrocity. And booooo to WordPress for making it harder for you to post.

  4. Holly Says:

    Your memory is quite remarkable.

    My question would be: What do you consider yourself now? Passive, aggressive, or the median?

    • afrocity Says:

      Holly, the median. Later as I grew up, I did display some of my mother’s temperament but I curbed it. Being diplomatic is more important to me than winning. Mom like to make things complicated. I like to make them simple.

      • Holly Says:

        So, I want to ask this without coming across like I’m insensitive which is dreadfully hard over the internet and I apologize.

        Did your mother think she was actually waging a noble battle or did she feel that she society owed her something, therefore her inactivity and aggression was justified? How can one win by staying in the system? For the fact that I do not know you or had the pleasure of knowing your mother, I feel like I’m reading a novel and she is a character that I cannot relate to or understand the motivations behind her actions. What did she really want? Have you achieved what she wanted for herself?

  5. Your Grandmother was not passive in the least. Going out and earning a living is active.

  6. yttik Says:

    What a beautiful piece, Afrocity.

    I have a mother that was also a fighter, in unkind moments we called her stubborn beyond all stupidity. She once declared war on the phone company so we went 10 yrs without a phone. She was convinced she was going to teach them a lesson. Unfortunately she also did this sort of thing with the grocery store and the electric company. My grandmother was my salvation.

    In life you really do have to pick your battles. There’s a time to fight but there is also a time to walk away and let it go. If I could give my mother one thing it would have been the understanding that investing in yourself can be just as important as trying to change the world.

  7. Joanelle Says:

    Yes, yttik, winning the battle but loosing the war is not a good thing.

    I love that movie, Afrocity

  8. blacknright Says:

    That was beautiful Afrocity, I saw some of your mother in me. But hopefully not to the point where I will stagnate. I too, am a fighter. But I am fighting by going back to school. (My mother did that). I am fighting by trying to get my degree so I can get a better paying job and a better house. (My mother did that. Well better job, we already had a really great house) I am fighting by trying to educate others as I go along. (My mother did that, she was a teacher before changing professions.) I hope in the end my child will say, Mom was not perfect but she never gave up. And one day when he looks back on his life he too will say-my mother did that.

  9. stephanie Says:

    I have read several of your posts before, but none were as moving and (to me anyway) baring as this one.
    Bless you. Bless your grandmother. And bless your mother as well.
    I hope that someday your divide will be crossed.

  10. Maribeth DeMarco Says:

    Sometimes I think it would be so much easier if we just cloned and raised miniature versions of ourselves. The outrageously strong bond between parent and child only breaks hearts when a parent realizes their child is a person with separate thoughts and feelings and the child realizes her parents are human.


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