It was a spring, Saturday morning in Georgia. My father must have been away on business because, had he been home, I would never have realized my own true power. It was just my stepmom and me. Our blended family was new and more like a salad than soup. Still getting to know each other but so different in so many ways. The other kids were living with their respective other parents. My stepmom was looking through the classifieds and came upon an advertisement for an Art Deco china hutch. It was listed for $100 which was not a small amount of money in 1979. I had no idea what Art Deco was at the time, but I knew it must be a valuable style of furniture by her enthusiastic reaction. She immediately picked up the phone and called the seller. Having confirmed that the hutch was in fact Art Deco, she grabbed her purse and keys and off we went to see it. I held the well-worn map of metro Atlanta as we wound our way out of the city onto country roads. We arrived at a typical two-story home where an elderly man was working in his garage. He greeted us, in the deferential way Southern men do, and led us to the basement. He removed some lumber he had piled on the hutch for storage, revealing the rich, dark wood with curving, stacked corners. Suspicious, she asked him why he was selling the hutch. He said that his wife was away visiting family and he had decided it was high-time to clean out the basement. “That old thing” had just been collecting dust for decades. I was all of 14 years old at the time and even I knew “That old thing” was a precious piece of history. My stepmom opened the drawers one by one. I couldn’t tell if she was considering its provenance or how mad his wife was going to be when she came home to find it gone. With a look of resolve, she turned to him and said, “We’ll take it.” She had already written the check and handed it to him. Though he beamed, we knew that we were the real victors in this exchange. It was the next sentence out of his mouth that changed me forever. He said, “Well, you bring the men folk back to pick it up and I will help them.” Yes, he said “menfolk”. I was about to take a step toward the car, when my stepmom stopped me cold with her response. She said, “Thanks, but we will take it now. Cathy, get the other end.” She said it in a tone that I had never heard her use before. A tone that said, “Do it now and don’t ask questions.” A tone that said, “Don’t you dare try to stop us.” She walked up the stairs to open the backend of the station wagon, while I waited in uncomfortable silence with the man. He was truly at a loss for words. He didn’t try to change her mind, but clearly, he was faced with a completely foreign experience. He looked like he was trying to figure out if he should offer to help or run for cover. I am quite sure “Yankee women, yeesh!” ran through his mind a couple times. When she returned, she looked at me and said, “Lift”. And so, we did. We lifted that hutch and carried it up the stairs to the car. It was so heavy, and the edges dug painfully into the palms of my hands, but I knew that I had to keep my mouth shut. I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I knew somehow the three of us were changing in that moment in an enduring way. He followed us up the stairs and looked a bit ashamed as we wrestle the beast into the car. When all was said and done, she turned to him and smiled. She thanked him and shook his hand. To his credit, he shook her hand. He looked a little stunned doing it, though.
I have learned a lot from my stepmom over the years. She is one of the strongest women I know. On that day, I learned that the limits of my personal strength were so much greater than I had ever imagined. I learned that sometimes people need an object lesson in their ignorance, but there is no reason to rub it in their face. Actions speak louder than words and experience is the best teacher. I learned that I might not be able to change other people’s long held beliefs, but I don’t have to be a victim to them either. I learned that people may try to set limits for me, but I don’t have to accept those limits. I learned I was stronger than I thought.
This photograph, Walling Off the Past, was taken on my recent trip to Savannah, GA at the Colonial Park Cemetery. As construction of homes increased in Savannah, homes were built on graveyards. The headstones were moved to a wall surrounding the Colonial Park Cemetery. This was my first trip to Savannah in 35 years. I chose this photograph for this post because it symbolized to me that the world changes. Sometimes we cling to the past and keep it right in the front of our minds. Sometimes we move the past to a place where it is out of sight, but we know we are still carrying it around with us.
Walling Off the Past
(1/50 sec., f/8, 400 ISO, 55 mm)