Learning About Heroes
I have been in New Orleans doing research for my memoir. I reconnected with former colleagues and students. Since it had been forty-five years since I had seen them, we had all changed a bit. It is interesting how the outer body changes, but the intellect, the spirit, and personality stay the same. As I met with each person, I learned new things and reminisced old memories. This last week really touched me.
I will be writing posts on my interviews and discoveries and share with you my new epiphanies. The first couple we visited is eighty-five years old. Sarah and Jason stand about four foot eleven in heeled shoes. I seldom have felt the love I received from them. They insisted we come over for breakfast. Jason picked Dennis and I up at our hotel and drove us carefully through the busy streets of New Orleans.
As we drove , Jason told us their house had been ten feet under water , corroded with mildew, and had many broken windows and most of the roof removed by Katrina. He explained that he and Sarah were so delighted to be one of the lucky few that returned to their original homestead. Friends, volunteers, and their church folks totally restored their property after Katrina tried to destroy it.
When we arrived, Sarah opened the door and gave me a loving embrace that lingered. She kissed my cheeks, my hands, and then my face all over. I was overwhelmed with such an outward, loving greeting. She whispered in my ear, "This is how it should be." I smiled and kissed her all over her face and hugged her tightly.
Jason insisted we sit at the breakfast table while they prepared fried eggs, bacon, toast, and grits. That is not an easy menu for a lady with Alzheimer’s that kept forgetting where the instant coffee was, to turn the stove on and off, and how to get the toast in the toaster. Jason assisted her kindly and never spoke of her losses. “Here, Sarah, the butter is to the right of the stove.”
“Oh, yes, Jason, I know that.”
“Here, Sarah let me help you put the bread in the toaster.”
“ He’s my boss,” she said as she peaked around the corner and gave me an exaggerated wink.
Watching them gave greater importance of their sixty plus year old wedding vows. “ For better or worse,” were those words Denny and I had recited, but at that time we had no understanding of what the future might hold. Jason and Sarah were teaching us a deeper meaning of wedding commitments.
The eggs were all done the same. Sarah was careful to ask each of us how we wanted our eggs, yet all were over with yokes broken. I may have memory loss too. I often get so carried away trying to fill breakfast orders that I too serve eggs all done the same. Sarah forgot to toast all of the bread, and the grits just wouldn’t thicken. She lost the instant coffee and sugar several times, but she was so happy. She talked about her handsome man and how he helped her.
When we sat at the breakfast table, Jason began to tell me his life’s journey. He was an exceptional black man. His mother taught him the only way to have a better life is to get educated. He majored in Social Studies and minored in English. He paid his own way and jumped through a lot of racial obstacles. I asked him how he continued and why he felt no anger or resentment.
“I just tried to do my best, work my hardest, learn the most of anyone there, and I just kept going forward. “ Ahhh, a philosophy that many young people today would find foreign and obsolete.
Jason served in the Army and is still suffering from post dramatic stress from how he was treated as a Negro in the Army. He said his most humiliating experience was while he was in the Army in 1951. He had received word that his younger sister died of pneumonia, and the Army was making provisions for him to go home. The Red Cross made all his accommodations and helped him make hotel reservations in Kansas City. Jason arrived at the hotel and the clerk told him, “You can’t stay in this hotel. You have to stay with other colored folks.” Jason explained that it broke his spirit because he had been fighting for this man’s freedom, and this was his reward.
The amazing character trait of Jason was he climbed over every obstacle. If it was racism, he just went on. If it was Katrina, he just went on. Now, Sarah’s declining memory made him know that each day is more precious than the last. Jason affected me in 1967 when we taught together and in 2012 he was still teaching me how to handle life's valleys. He revitalized my spirit by being the strong person he had become through adversity. Just a short little old man to some became an instant hero to me. Sara was right, " This is how it should be."