It’s hard to sleep when practically the whole world is on fire. The other night, I talked with my older daughter Melissa on the phone for over an hour while rioting, looting, fires and things blowing up, not to mention gun shots occurred literally a half mile from where she lives in Emeryville, California next to Oakland. Melissa is not the “scared” type, but she was totally freaked out, and I was scared for her. We both attempted to make sense of the whole situation, both of knowing that we can’t blame people for being pissed off and outraged, and fed up with police brutality against black people, especially after the killing of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis.
Melissa told me she was afraid to leave her house, and I don’t blame her. My younger daughter currently lives in East LA, and yeah, she’s pretty scared too, but luckily she has her boyfriend and two large dogs. But will that help if things get set on fire? Will they have to flee their homes for their lives with just their doggies in tow? I still remember fleeing a fire in the late ’70s with only the cats. And a nice fireman rescued our hamsters who also lived through the fire as well. No wallet, no purse, no money. It was just us. The memory haunts me now as these riots escalate all over.
I was a kid in the ’60’s when riots began in the Fillmore District of San Francisco, too young to really understand what was going on. All I know is, I didn’t really understand racism very well since I grew up in an incredibly culturally and racially diverse neighborhood. Whether people were brown or black or whatever made no difference to us. We didn’t even know they were supposed to be different. When I was older, my mother told me she was so happy she cried when we moved to San Francisco from Chicago when I was five years old. She said Chicago was segregated big time, and that San Francisco was like a melting pot for all different types of people. It was like a dream come true for my mother and my father as well, who believed strongly in equal rights for all.
In fact, when my mother graduated as a teacher from Lloyola University in Chicago, she took a job on the South Side of Chicago which was predominantly Black and filled with low income families as well as a lot of crime. Her parents totally freaked out and were deeply concerned for my mother’s life and well-being. She looked so young when she graduated with a Master’s degree in English literature that people sometimes mistakened her for a high school student. Mom insisted that these were the students she wanted to teach and work with, that they deserved to know and understand literature just like any other student, and yes, she even taught them Shakespeare. She didn’t listen to her family and friends who begged her not to teach there, that she was putting her life at risk. She became a well-loved teacher by all the students because she never talked to them but spoke to them as if they were intelligent human beings, no different than she was. She taught them to love Shakespeare and she taught them all different types of literature as well. She worked for the South Chicago school even after she married my Dad.
My Dad told us kids that he felt like a movie star when he and Mom got married in the church. When they exited the church and waved at everyone, a couple hundred high school kids from Mom’s school were there, yelling and cheering for them. Then nine months later on July 28, 1957, I was born at Christ the King Hospital in Chicago. Dad had to drive Mom and me home through a horrible summer storm complete with lightning and thunder and high winds. Some of the streets flooded, and I of course being a newborn baby screamed my head off the whole time. Back then Mom held me in her arms — no carseats for babies back then I guess. Anyway, Dad was driving through a bad part of South Chicago to get home — apparently we lived at the edge of South Chicago someplace. Some of the streets flooded, and Dad ended up driving into a small ditch. The car was stuck, but luckily we were all okay, except I apparently continued to scream my head off.
Mom managed to wade through water to get to a phone booth and call one of her students. Next thing they knew, a whole group of kids from the South Side showed up and pushed Dad’s car out of the ditch.