This is my essay that I shared with my writers group, this week.
This writing assignment gives me
the freedom to write of an incident in my early life that left me with a strong message. I knew , from the time that I was 10 years old, in 1944,that as an adult I would not live in my home town of New Orleans. This was not
a thought that I shared. It was a thought that I felt. I grew up in a bubble. In New Orleans, you didn’t have to be wealthy, you had to be white. Being Jewish wasn’t a problem. You had to be white.I went to public school, which was white. My school,
as all public schools were then in New Orleans , was segregated. By color , always , and by sex, after grade school.A school for white girls, a school
for black girls. A school for black boys , a school for white boys. And now , I will tell you what I saw when I was 10 that was a defining moment for me. My Mother sat in the living room,still in her housecoat, smoking , with a cup of coffee, and reading a
magazine. Our live in maid, stood in the kitchen, ironing my father’s white boxer shorts. My Mother, in this country for less than 19 years was relaxing , comfortable, reasonably secure. Our maid, black, a college graduate , with a husband deployed some
where in Europe, couldn’t get a teaching job, and was cleaning and ironing and cooking for our family , for room and board and $1 a day spending money. There had to be something wrong with my picture. It wasn’t as if we took in a young woman to
keep her safe and give her a welcome as she waited for her husband to return. It made such an impression on me, that even today, I remember everything about that scene. I don’t think that my kids ever heard the expression, “Let the shavtzah do it”. I grew up with it. This young woman didn’t share anything with us. She ate out of cracked dishes and chipped glasses that my Mother didn’t want. She lived in a room in our basement and used
the bathroom down there. It did not have a tub or a shower. My Mother went to night school , when she first arrived in America from Russia. She learned English. She read everything from comic books to lengthy novels.
But she had no credentials . No degrees. No marketable skills. We employed a young woman, who because she was black, couldn’t get a teaching job in the public school system in New Orleans, as she waited for her husband to be discharged when World War
Two was over. I have always been troubled by that . My Mother because she was white, got to sit on the couch and smoke and drink iced tea or coffee, depending on the time day.This young woman, because she
wasn’t white, was ironing my Father’s shorts. Living this didn’t make me go out and protest or fight for equality at age 10. It did show me that I was sensitive and even if I didn’t know it at the time, a different me was going to emerge.