Trudy: black, proud, and offended

Harvey Gantt

Trudy.CN JenkinsHere’s my mom, Trudy, on the left, with a couple of other women from her church some years before she passed. She was always black and proud and often offended when people thought otherwise. More than one person asked if she had ever tried to pass as white; she was appalled.

Being light-skinned, though, provided her some insights. She once tried to get an apartment with my dad when they were first married in Binghamton in the early 1950s. But when the landlord saw Les Green, he decided he could not rent to a “mixed-race couple.” I noted a story set in San Francisco in the late 1960s. My sister Marcia shared more tales from her time living in Charlotte, NC, starting in 1974.

A black mayor

My mother was a teller for a bank for much of her time in North Carolina. Charlotte elected Harvey Gantt in 1983, the first black mayor of the city’s history. In the 1990s, he ran twice for the United States Senate against segregationist Jesse Helms, losing both times. Some white people felt free to say to my mother racially disparaging remarks about Gantt, figuring that Trudy was one of “them.”

This continued when she worked in a free-standing drive-through bank branch. A customer would complain about getting a moving violation or ticketed for failure to register their vehicle in a timely manner. Occasionally, the white person would say to my mother, “Why are the police going after me? They should be going after those [N-word, plural] instead.” Trudy would go home, crying.

Apparently, one’s race is, or at least was, a descriptor on the voter registration rolls in North Carolina. She was listed as black, yet she’d be indicated by the registrar as white. Or she’d be marked as white when she’d cash a check, as she could see when the canceled check was mailed to her each month.

My mother seldom showed her anger openly about this, even at home, but this misidentification clearly wore on her. When one of my nieces was a child, she was asked why her grandma was white. Being a light-skinned black person in America had its downside.

Mom would have been 92 today.

Les and Trudy: Redhead in San Francisco

Many of the wives were talking about the issues of the day: war, politics, and, inevitably, race.

Les and TrudyI don’t think I told this story before. If I have, in the words of an old friend of mine from England would often say, “Toughy buns.”

In the late 1960s, after about six mind-numbing years at IBM and a brief but productive stint at Opportunities for Broome, my father worked for Associated Building Contractors. I’m not quite sure what he did at ABC, but I imagine it had something to do with safety compliance, since that’s what he did at J.A. Jones after he moved to Charlotte, NC in 1974.

One of the perks of the job was the ability to travel. In 1969, give or take a year, mom and dad went out to San Francisco on a business trip of his. While the men did whatever, the “wives” would have lunch.

At one of these events, many of the wives were talking about the issues of the day: war, politics, and, inevitably, race. Some conversation took place on the latter topic, during which Mom listened thoughtfully, but said nothing. One of the wives, wanting to draw Mom into the discussion, said, “Trudy, what do think?”

Mom said, “Well, being a black woman…” Apparently, many jaws hit the table, perhaps one or two literally.

It is true that the red wig that she wore in the 1960s, which was even brighter in color than this one from the 1980s, made her skin appear even lighter. But she never identified as anything but a black woman.

My father tended to be the more visible, the more outgoing in the couple. So when there was a narrative in which SHE was the chief protagonist, mom enjoyed it immensely. She told this story more than once; there were a few anecdotes that she liked to repeat. I never asked him, but I have to think that dad was pleased that mom was out there, gathering information.

Les and Trudy Green were married on March 12, 1950, and were wed for more than 50 years, until my father died in August 2000.

For mom: Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry

Losing a parent is hell

Oh, yay, it’s that time again. The anniversary of my mom’s death in 2011, the only person I actually saw die. Losing a parent is hell. I mean, it happens all the time to other people. It is the “natural order of things” but it still sucks.

I like this: The Mistake I Made With My Grieving Friend, “The author of We Need to Talk reveals how she learned to help — and not help — a friend with loss.” It’s tricky stuff.

As I’ve noted, my mother was not her SELF in the last months of her life. My sisters and I don’t know what degenerative ailment she was seized by. BTW, a study suggests memories of music cannot be lost to Alzheimer’s and dementia. Mom needed more of the music she loved, maybe.

Perhaps I should come up with a playlist of my own, just in case, but it’d be pretty eclectic, NOT just Beatles and Motown. Note to self: work on that.

Anyway, I signed up for this Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry. I logged in months ago and got a packet in the mail shortly thereafter. But it was only the beginning of this year that I swabbed the inside of my cheek and mailed it, and only so I could actually SAY I did so without lying.

I’m hoping that whatever they’re doing will lead the Way toward Alzheimer’s early detection, prevention and treatment. “For Alzheimer’s disease there are two important biomarkers – amyloid and tau – toxic proteins that clump and tangle in the brain.”

Scientists say a breakthrough vaccine works by targeting those two proteins. Of course, at best, the vaccine wouldn’t be sold on the market for at least 10 years. If the Alzheimer’s Prevention Registry shortens that time, that’d be great.

Oh, yeah, the picture. It was taken on my 52nd birthday, which she remembered. But of course she would. The provenance of the photo? Ah, you’ll have to wait until March 7. BTW, I wrote THAT post before this one because that’s what I do sometimes.

For mom’s birthday: Nat King Cole 78s

I remember when Nat King Cole died in February 1965 from lung cancer.

My mom loved Nat King Cole. Not only did she appreciate his voice, but she thought he was quite handsome. As he was born on St. Patrick’s Day 1919, he was less than nine years older than she was.

I remember being in my maternal grandmother’s second floor and find albums of Nat Cole 78s. And by “albums”, I mean these books that looked like photo albums with paper sleeves holding a single cut on each side of the vinyl.

To my recollection, they weren’t being played anymore. My household, a few blocks away, had moved over to that newish technology, the LP, with a dozen songs playing at 33 RPM, or 45 rpm singles. I don’t recall my grandma having any player at all.

I have no idea what happened to the collection, and since I never HEARD them, I don’t recall the tracks, but it seems that most of them were on Capitol Records.

Here’s a list of Nat King Cole songs on 78s. Absent my mother’s feedback, I guess I’ll link to some of my favorites from the period, with no guarantees that I haven’t snatched a re-recording, rather than the originals; there were quite a lot of them.

Hit That Jive Jack (1942)

Straighten Up And Fly Right (1944)

Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good To You (1944)

Sweet Lorraine (1944)

It’s Only A Paper Moon (1944)

The Frim Fram Sauce (1945)

(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66 (1946)

(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons (1946)

The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You) (1946)

Makin’ Whoopee (1947)

I’m Thru With Love (1950) – the year my parents got married

Mona Lisa (1950)

Too Young (1951)

Unforgettable (1951)

Send for Me (1957) – this may exist in both 78 and 45

I remember when he died in February 1965 from lung cancer, his ever-present cigarettes being the cause. My mom didn’t make a big deal of it, as I recall, but I suspected that his passing privately wounded her.

My mom, Trudy Green, who died 2/2/2011, would have been 91 today.

Trudy, the hinge between Les and Gert

Gert’s tales could be irritating.

March 12, 1950: Bride Trudy between Les (left, behind her) and Gert (to the right, dark hat); Deana is to Gert’s right
My working theory about relationships among three adult is that, when there’s one person who has a relationship with the other two but that the other two don’t have a natural relationship with each other, it spells trouble.

I’ve been there, getting along with two guys at the coffeehouse we lived at c. 1975, but they inexplicably hated each other. I mean throwing chairs at one another. I was the hinge in the middle, trying to make peace, generally unsuccesfully.

A better example is when I lived with my sister Leslie and her then-husband Eric in the summer of 1977 in Jamaica, Queens, NYC. Leslie was the hinge, trying to keep peace between her spouse and her sibling.

Unfortunately, I know my mother, Trudy, spent years being the hinge in the relationship between her mother Gert and her husband Les, probably since Les and Trudy got married in 1950.

It was fairly clear that Les did not particularly like Gert. One time when we were having Sunday dinner at our house, someone asked Gert if she wanted any peas. She said, “A couple.” Les spooned exactly two peas onto her plate.

Even now, decades later, I experience a mix of mortified embarrassment, amazement at his passive aggression, and a mild amusement over his literalism.

I have to think a lot of that animosity came from Les’ male ego. He was living in a house, 5 Gaines Street in Binghamton, owned by his mother-in-law, where he was paying, as far as I know, no rent, just the utilities, since the house was paid off. His mother and stepfather lived upstairs and paid minimal amount of rent to cover the taxes.

To be fair to my father, though, Gert’s tales, some designed to scare her grandchildren into submission, could be irritating. Her sister Deana, who unfortunately died in 1966, was often my ally, and at least one one occasion said to Gert, “Leave the boy alone!”

My dad was SO thrilled when he and my mother bought a house at 29 Ackley Avenue in nearby Johnson City in 1972, when I was off at New Paltz. I even lent them some money for the down payment from the money I had been saving for college, since my Regents scholarship covered my first-year tuition.

Les and Trudy and baby sister Marcia moved to Charlotte, NC in 1974. As Gert was alone and aging in Binghamton, it was clear she could no longer live on her own. Leslie and I “kidnapped” her and took her down to Charlotte by train in January 1975, where she had a room in Trudy and LES’ house until she died on Super Bowl Sunday 1982.