Set out to write a grant proposal for a much bigger amount for The South Side Free Press. Assumed with my University of Chicago Lab school arrogance and my success on the smaller grants that it would be a shoe-in. No such luck. I find a Lab School education gives me the confidence to think I can do almost anything, and the arrogance to be amazed when I can’t!
I know that I am just a “person of no color,”(is that the correct term for what they used to call a “white person?”) But still, I was very disappointed to hear the City Council vote against the new positions that the Mayor had asked them to fund. The greatest controversy, of course, was over the hiring of a Diversity Director. Anything about race will always be difficult in America. It was sad to me to hear most of the council express various reasons that they thought the position wasn’t necessary at all, wasn’t needed yet, or had to be recommended by an independent consultant before they would know it was needed. Of course, the two people of color on the council (and one other,) voted for the position. Margareth Shepard was incredibly eloquent in explaining that she wanted to see more people like her become real parts of our city, and that a Diversity Director would help that happen. Members of the public, mostly, but not all, people of color, also spoke up about why filling this position was important to them. But most of the “Councilors of no color,” still seemed to think they had the right to get rid of it.
This is the part I just do not understand. I understand that real estate taxes are high in Framingham (I pay them too,) I understand that this can be quite hard on some people, among these, us older folks. But why is thisthe best way to save money? What it is that makes people of no color feel they have the right to decide about the needs of people who are not them? This I do not get at all. It is just as if people without disabilities decided that the city could save money by not building a handicapped ramp to City Hall, or by waiting a while to build it, or that they had to get an expert in to say that it is necessary before doing anything. It seems to me that it should be up to the people whom such things would support to tell the rest of us if they need it, and they did, loud and clear. For that matter, the Mayor is herself a person of color, and she explained clearly why the position is needed. We elected her because of who she is. Why not, then listen to what she says she needs?
It was especially hard hearing a Councilor of no color saying that there are no problems in Framingham related to diversity, like hearing a man say that women are treated equally, or a Christian saying that Muslims and Jews have no extra difficulties living in this Christian country. Only the people, it seems to me, who are suffering the injustices that result from prejudice can tell if there is a problem. And we should listen to what they have to say. The message that this vote sends to all the people of color in Framingham is that, once again, your needs must wait while other, more important needs are taken care of. The fact that most of our city councilors do not understand this fact means to me that we didn’t elect the right people for this new city.
From the back of the houses called The Red Rows, one can look out at the ocean. It is not close. One can only hear it right after very stormy days, when the wind has died down but not yet the surf. At least a quarter mile of small company houses and then the low dunes, which cover the old coalmines sit between you and the ocean. But it is there, out there all the time just the same. There are no windows on the seaward sides of the Red Rows. Bad weather comes from the ocean side and so, in a more practical and less beauty conscious time such as the one in which these houses were built, there were no seaside windows. Pretty much, if you want to look at the view of the ocean, and it is an exceptionally beautiful view, you have to go outside in back, say to have a smoke, or to hang up the wash. Or even just to stand in your yard with your hands on your hips and a bottle in your pocket looking at it.
They were built in 1893, to house the higher ups at Inverness Coal Mine Number 1, the bosses and their families. The fronts of these old company houses still face the main street of the little town of Inverness. Each house is really two houses connected in the middle. They were originally exactly symmetrical, each a mirror reflection of the other. They were once all painted red with grey roofs. They ranged all down the street and behind them were more identical rows sloping down toward the sea. They each had the same flat roofed dormer in the front, centered, with two windows, one for each home. They had another flat roofed dormer on the side of the roof, to left and right, with two windows each, the same narrow black front doors next to each other below the center dormer, and the same side doors with a mud porch to the left and right of the house. In the ensuing hundred and 18 years the owners of each side of each house have adapted them to their individual needs. Some have been repaired and improved, while others have been neglected and worn down. Now, no two opposite numbers are identical, and each double house is entirely different from all the others. Now they look like a row of fraternal twins at best, more like a family group actually, not even seeming to be the same age anymore.
There are 14 of them left on the main street now. There were once over thirty. The last mine closed down in the 1950s, after a long decline. A few of the houses along the main street have been demolished over the years, which leaves gaps in the row like missing teeth. Last spring one half of an end one of them burned to the ground. The owner had to tear the other half down. It couldn’t stand on its own. The owners put up a trailer. Some in town said that ruined the appearance of the street and tried to pass an ordinance about it. But they were outvoted. Many felt that it was their land, it had been in the family for four generations and they had been burned out to boot. Who should be able to tell them what to do with it?
There was once an identical row across the street from these, in the days when the coal mine was in operation and the main street was dirt. But these were torn down in the 1920s. Now the shops of the town face the Red Rows, and the highway that takes a tourist all around Cape Breton Island passes down the middle.
In one house near the center of the row live Ann and Steve. Ann has lived there all her life. She grew up in the house with 4 sisters and three brothers as well as her mother and dad and dad’s father who lived there most of her growing up years. The girls shared one of the three bedrooms upstairs, the boys one of the others, their parents the last. The old man slept on a cot in the alcove in the upstairs hall. Anne’s brother Johnny now lives in another of the houses, two down the row, and her sister Eve is in town between the times when she is too ill to be home and stays at the hospital. Eve stays with their mother at those intervals in the senior assisted living apartments up the street. Everyone else is either dead or moved away to somewhere where they can make a reasonable living, which they certainly can’t do here, she has to acknowledge. Anne herself moved away for many years for the same reason. She had a husband, and a daughter out in the Western provinces. They both stayed out there when she moved back home but the daughter visits sometimes in the summer with the grandchildren. She and Steve are not married. They are “living in sin.” Though they are not able to manage nearly as much sin as they used to these days. Ann is 77 years old and she has macular degeneration and glaucoma. She is, for all extents and purposes blind, but she can still see shapes and colors and she watches TV now, since she can’t read. Steve is 80 and has lost a leg to diabetes. He still get around though, on his little tractor and has the truck fixed up so that he can drive them places. He also has an oxygen tank that he periodically sits next to while taking deep breaths. In between, he smokes, to Ann’s fury, and still drinks too, occasionally, which he is not supposed to do. That, Ann doesn’t know about because she can’t see him do it.
As Ann puts it, “We are both just a total mess at this point.” Ann rarely bothers with her false teeth and Steve rarely wears his prosthesis, so her description is pretty accurate, but that is also in part of her view of life. Ann is like her father. He spent the last five or six years of his life sitting in the back corner in an old armchair by the wood stove chewing tobacco and glaring at the world. He thought the world had done him wrong by letting him get old and be poor and he was never going to forgive it for doing so.
I have been thinking a great deal lately about the way that women treat each other. Not just in general, but about the way women I know have ended friendships, or had other women do that to them.
I had it happen to me many years ago, my dearest childhood friend suddenly stopped speaking to me. There was no explanation or reason given. it was just, suddenly, over. And, not being one to let go of anything over a mean 30 years, I still wonder about it. Although, in the last year, I wound up talking to this woman's brother who said she had done it to him as well. This made me feel a tad bit better. Maybe it was about her and not me at all?
The same thing happened to my mother, who lost her dearest friend this way and wondered about it for years. By the time she called when my mother was dying, saying she had to "rush over and take care of her," it was too late.
I have never heard of a man doing this. Other things, sure, but not this. I recently wrote a short story about this. Any thoughts?