Friday, February 21, 2014

We Shall Overcome

Children's Home Association, Brooklyn, 1958. 

I know what it’s like when you don’t have family. My father and mother split up when I was two and I grew up mostly in Maryland with an aunt and uncle. They were kind but the kids didn’t want me there. I can’t even call them cousins because they rattled me so much. Lit out as soon as I could and got married at 17. That didn’t last long, but at least I was free.

Came up here to New York with my fella, who brought me out to Brooklyn. I liked Brooklyn but he liked to drink and stopped coming home nights, then at all. I just thank my lucky stars we didn’t have children.

Wound up here because they needed a housekeeper, and I like keeping house and cooking. Maybe all those years of wanting to belong somewhere.

When I see kids come through here, I always try to make ‘em feel welcome. Even the bad ones have some kind of reason to be, I think. And after a while they all break down and cry for home, especially if there isn’t one.

Harriet’s a sad case, which is why she picks fights all the time. Somehow or other she’s managed to befriend little Judy, who knows why. Manuela, she’s a deep one, though I know her parents must be Communists. They don’t know the problems they’re causing her, or they’d stop what they’re doing. At least I hope they’d stop.

What I didn’t bargain for was how strong she’d get with Ruby around. That little girl came in here and the next thing you know, the world is at sixes and sevens and everything’s turned around. Hunger strikes and Gandhi, Lord, Lord, Lord! Who knows what she’s going to do next.

I think they figured it out, best thing is to get her out of here. Nothing like a community organizer in the making to cause trouble. And that Manuela’s leading her on, no doubt. Though when they sang “We Shall Overcome” I confess it got to me. Nearly started crying myself when Harriet started bawling.

It’s a beautiful song, sad and spiritual. Makes you feel if you put your mind to it, you really could accomplish something. Change the world, maybe? Who knows. If I was somewhere else, if these girls weren’t my charges and I wasn’t the housekeeper in a children’s home… well. I might have started singing with them.

But songs like that are too dangerous to sing. Make you think you have power, when in fact most of us are sitting ducks. We need to go along to get along, I promise you. And fighting it won’t make you a winner, it’ll just make you sore.

I don’t think these girls have learned that yet. But they will. Takes time, I guess. But they will. 

Girl’s Shadow: Kristin