My First Black History Lesson

I learned about MArian Anderson

It was my second grade class in 1976 and we learned about this remarkable opera singer who fought racial prejudice to sing opera and Carnegie Hall and then for President FDR at the Lincoln Memorial. I don’t have a lot of memories of my school years from when I was 7 years old, but I do remember some of this. Mostly I remember coming home with my lesson paper to show my mother and her smile after looking at it, and that she made a phone call and told me afterwards that we were going to Connecticut that coming weekend to go visit the Fishers. And I remember being very confused until she sat me down to explain.

Mrs. Fisher is Marian Anderson.

Yes, she autographed my schoolwork and my mother saved it.

My mother was friends with this older couple that had a farm in Connecticut and their name was Mr. and Mrs. Fisher. I don’t know how she was friends with them, how she’d met them, but we’d been to visit a few times and I liked to play with the animals. It was a working farm (I think it was a cattle ranch, actually), in Danbury Ct. So when I learned that Mrs. Fisher and Marian Anderson was the same person, I was really surprised! I enjoyed learning, and I enjoyed music, as I was already studying ballet and my whole family was musical but the impact of what she’d done wouldn’t hit me until I was much older. I was a mere child, and she was an old lady. I just wanted to play on the farm, not listen to the grown-ups talk. That is, until the one time, the ONE TIME she treated us to a living room performance after lunch. I was probably one of the few lucky people to get a “command performance” from a living legend, and I didn’t even know it. She sang Ave Maria. To this day, when I hear that aria, I think back to that living room– and the blues and golds of her wallpaper, and her table after lunch, with the dishes still not cleared yet. Her voice bounced off the walls and the dishes and everything rang a bit from the power behind it. I remember that *feeling*.

I’m 52 now, and today is the last day of Black History Month. I don’t need to write about WHO Marian Anderson is. There’s plenty of information on who she was as a performer, or as a role model or even as historical figure. I am writing this not just as a tribute to a person who was part of the struggle to gain equal recognition during the early half of the 20th century but also as someone who was important to my mother, although I don’t remember how or why. I only know that Mrs. Fisher, as I knew her, was a friendly lady with a big voice — and a bunch of chickens that ran around her front yard. And she let me ride her pony sometimes. And I learned about her when I was 7 years old in the 1970s, at a time when black history wasn’t often taught in schools, particularly in the first and second grades (my first and second grade classes were mixed together.)

Balancing Act

Since my “One Word” Intention of 2021 is “Balance”, I seem to have lost more of mine than found it so far. I wanted to try roller skating for exercise and fun (and to get myself OUT OF THIS HOUSE because OMG pandemic blues), so I bought a good pair of beginner skates and a good set of protective gear and went out to the newly paved parking lot across the street to try them out. I haven’t skated in years; the last time I rolled on anything was…um…hmm…I don’t remember. I used to have inline skates and may have used them back in 2013. Anyway, it’s been a while. But I do know how to skate, I’m just sorely out of practice, sorely out of shape and apparently, horrifically off balance.

I was doing all right in the parking lot, wobbling a little and fell a couple of times – but made sure I fell forward onto my well-padded knees. I’d tried the skates on in the back alley when they first came in and tested those pads, so I knew they worked really well (my alley isn’t as smooth as this great new parking lot) and I’d made the necessary adjustments as per the skating videos I’d watched to the wheels and such. All was going well, except…me. I’d not really prepared ME. I’m nearly 52 years old, very out of shape, with fibromyalgia, arthritis, anxiety and depression and while I practice yoga, I don’t do it often enough to say I’m strong and flexible and can balance well on one foot or the other. I’m in a rut, have been even before the pandemic but COVID made it worse. So when I got tired after an hour in the parking lot, I decided to pack it in and not overdo it. I tried to do the smart thing. It just wasn’t smart enough. I didn’t take the skates off to go back across the street to my house. No — I went DOWN the small driveway into the street, thinking “I got this”. No, dumbass, you don’t got anything. What I got was spilled across the asphalt in a BAD FALL, flat on my front. I did everything wrong, throwing my arms out wide and ended up wrenching my left shoulder so badly – the one I’ve had rotator cuff surgery on in 2011. I’ve lost most of the range of motion I had and hopefully, haven’t torn anything too badly. I’ve returned from my PCP’s office with a steroid shot and NSAID cream and returning in a few weeks to see how I’m doing before any potential follow ups with an orthopedist and…who knows.

Then there’s the odd balancing act a woman of my age has to learn to do with wanting to be helpful and actually doing harm to others. I keep forgetting that YES, I am NOT a millennial nor Gen Z; I am Generation X — I am MUCH older than many of the people I come into contact with lately, especially as an ally. It’s ME that needs to change if I want to be an ally. My experiences may have value but they are rooted in a past where I failed to create a world for these young people that’s the safe one I promised them. These children and young people are living in a world and fighting against the very policies that my generation promised we’d topple, and failed. Worse, some of my generation are THEIR parents doing the very harm, enacting the very policies that these kids are fighting to take down. So my language – the use of words that I think are going to comfort, or express concern or perhaps show that I have some sort of wisdom of age and experience to pass down do not actually help — it is often the language of the oppressor. I am a white middle aged woman. I AM the oppressor, no matter how much I don’t want to believe it. I may not have oppressed anyone *personally* but it’s been my kind that has done it. And I speak THAT language.

I’ve done incredible harm, to myself and to another (or others, plural), lately — being off balance. I really need to work on this.

My therapist is gonna tell me it’s a matter of being mindful. He’s right. Duh. “Stuck point diary, here I come.”

What is Balance? 

Is is being able to stand upright and not 
Fall Down?
Or stand on one foot?
Is it being exactly half of two parts:
Some of this and some of that
Or perhaps sixty-forty.
What is being in balance or
Finding your balance
When the whole world seems cockeyed
And careening, like a car on 
Two wheels instead of four.
And you're a passenger in the
Backseat being thrown from side to side.
How does one find their balance
In a world so off it's own center?
So determined to push you over
As soon as you find yourself a 
Good, rooted stance?
Or a good mixture?
Too much one way and you're off, again.
Try again.
Inhale, exhale. One foot, another. 
One step, another. 
Stand, mix. Breathe.
Practice Makes Perfect.