Listening in on the Grown-Ups: an early lesson in taking a stand on what’s right and true

My brain sometimes works like a Facebook feed — memories flash across and I think “Whoa — I haven’t thought of that in a long time!” Just now, I watched Jimmy Fallon’s intro from right after the Charlottesville horror, and as he mentioned his own two young children, a memory of my parents flashed through my mind.

We were living in Teaneck, NJ, and it was before my mother got sick. Neighbors across the street were moving to upstate NY and neighbors two doors down had just put their home on the market. There was an older couple who lived next door. I remember a conversation I overheard between my mom and dad. The older couple had talked to Mom about moving because of who was moving on to our block. White families were moving out and African American families were moving in. I would later come to realize that our little dead-end street was experiencing “white flight.” But back then, I knew nothing about the phenomenon. 

I heard my mother say to my dad something like this: “I told her we weren’t moving anywhere. Why would we move?” After that, whatever tiny bit of neighborly kindness there was between the two houses, vanished. But we stayed. Through my mother’s illness and her passing, we stayed — and we built our friendships with our new neighbors. Eventually, we did move south to Freehold because Dad’s new job was even further south — and he was a single dad with a monster commute. I remember not wanting to leave.

In the 1960’s there was no internet — and the world felt like a much bigger place than it does now. As children, we only knew what was happening in the small space occupied by our family, friends, and teachers. The evening news brought the rest of the world, and the civil rights movement, into our living room — but as a child, the protest marches felt like they were far away. There was a resistance during that time that played out in the seemingly small actions of every day life. Mom staged her own protest by taking a stand with the neighbors. No one but Dad (and those neighbors) ever knew. Well, except for one young girl who loved to listen in on the grown-ups.

 

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