Saturday, January 8, 2022

Ravenswood Notes: Natty Dreadlock

     "How's your yoga going?" our dinner guest asked last week.
     I looked at him blankly.
     "Yoga?" I asked.
     "You wrote about it on your blog...." He smiled encouragingly.
     Ah. On Saturdays, I explained, a tad acerbically, for the past year and a half, EGD is written not by myself, but by writer/social worker/free spirit Caren Jeskey, who sent an essay for my feedback and stayed with a clockwork tenacity approaching my own. 
     "I always point that out in a little introduction," I added. 
      Today's offering is even more clearly not written by me than most of hers. But just in case. Here is CAREN JESKEY'S SATURDAY REPORT.

     A white lady meets her daughter’s fiancé for the first time. When she sees him, she turns even whiter and starts to stutter, not a normal condition for her. He looks concerned. He’s a doctor. He says to her “I’m medically qualified so I hope you wouldn’t think it presumptuous if I say you outta sit down before you fall down.” Her perky daughter, the good doctor's fiancé, chimes in. “He thinks you’re gonna faint because he’s a negro.”
     You may have seen this scene with Katherine Hepburn, Sidney Poitier and his fiancé played by the less well known Katherine Houghton in "Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner."  The movie came out in 1967, and as I’m sure you know, also starred Spencer Tracy. He clearly gave it his all, and died 17 days after the film wrapped.
     In the long line of famous and not famous deaths that have occurred just this year alone (yes, horrifically, the last 8 days), Poitier is a notable loss to our planet earth.
     I have a friend who lives on Eleuthera Island, not too far from where Poitier was raised on Cat Island in the Bahamas. In what seems to be another galaxy, far, far away, I once taught yoga and chilled on the pink sandy beaches there.
     I asked my friend Edgar what he knows about Mr. Poitier, in honor of his passing. Edgar sent me a couple of social media posts from his friend, filmmaker Leslie Vanderpool, who Sidney Poitier mentored:
“‘Love you.’ He would say. He loved and respected himself, he loved and appreciated life, and he loved and encouraged others. The rain washed down on your island nation today. Was it a sign? I will continue to listen to the instincts and the calling you saw for me. Shine on dear friend.’”
     She also posted: 
     “I have no words. Sir Sidney added to this life and was too advanced for our world. He was beyond any measurements and he will forever be my beacon. Thank you, for our conversations and moments shared, which I will never forget. Rest well, my friend, mentor and role model.”
     Sidney Poitier's role affected my life in a personal way. As a white girl, then woman, who dated black men throughout my life, the movie had a special impact. I recall one day in my adolescence, when a suitor came over after school—we were in 7th grade. He was black, and had an afro so big it was sometimes hard for him to fit through doorways. I loved it. We also had everything in common and talked for hours on end. He lived on the very same street that I did, just east of Ridge whereas I was west. It was 1982.
     One day he walked me home from school, unbeknownst to my parents who thought I was heading right home alone to start the Hamburger Helper. There was a rule: no boys in the house when they weren’t there. Period. Marcus and I sat on the concrete steps of our house in West Rogers Park, on Birchwood near Albany. I knew I was pushing it, since my Dad would be home at any minute. Sure enough, Marcus and I lost track of time flirting with each other and my dad pulled up. He came to the steps, and Marcus copped a bit of an attitude. This did not go over well with my father, and the two of them exchanged words.
     I remember Marcus yielding to my father, and taking his leave, a bit of a bemused, mocking look on his face towards my father. I was horrified. Looking back I realize that my dad was just trying to protect his 12 year old daughter from bad choices a boy and a girl alone might have made.
     Years later, when I was in my 20s, Marcus called me at my parents house while I was visiting for Christmas. Their number was in the white pages. That teenaged feeling came over me, and I went to see him. After all the years that had gone by, I was no longer smitten. We had a nice visit and I left, my crush over evermore.
     When I was a bit older I got into reggae music, and the song Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner Natty Dreadlock was often on my playlist.
     As a white person who grew up in the true diversity of East and West Rogers Park, I am one of the chosen few who doesn’t have to stretch in any way, shape or form to know that a black man is just as much a potential partner for me as a white man, a brown man, or any man. For that, I am grateful.
     It's tragic and true that rather than moving towards equality, it seems our world is on a path towards totalitarianism and no amount of idealism can stop it. I will still hold true to living the life of an ethical humanist to the best of my ability, no matter how unpopular it gets.


  1. Bigotry is learned. It’s everywhere. Trump simply woke the sleeping giant and accelerated the rate of divisiveness.
    My first seven years were spent in a very integrated, lower income section on the upper west side of Manhattan. Color, ethnicity, and foreign accents were non-issues.
    We then moved to Miami and my parents had a hard time explaining why I had to make sure I drank out of water fountains that were labeled “white”. I also had to learn that being called a Jew wasn’t a compliment or an observation. It was supposed to be an insult. I didn’t get that either.
    In a way, I was fortunate to learn early on about the human condition.
    Like my son says, we’re going to be okay but it is hard to see so many good people oppressed and little we can do about it.
    Once again, all I can do is accept it, be helpful when I can, and enjoy the good things out there. I won’t allow the hateful to burden my life.

  2. Interesting blog, Caren. I'm a Poitier fan, as well.

  3. I am reminded of a discussion in an eighth grade class. This would have been about 1960, I think. We were all white kids discussing race. I suggested that eventually the races would all meld into one as mixed couples became the norm. My opinion was roundly dismissed and laughed at by the class - too absurd to even consider. Over most of the ensuing sixty years I have been satisfied that history would prove me right eventually. How sad that here in 2022 my prediction looks even more naive now than it did back then.

  4. ‘Societiy’s Child’, by Janis Ian captured the world of the sixties and seventies. Unfortunately, to many, it is still the mindset today.

  5. I am reminded of Janis Ian’s ‘Society’s Child’. Unfortunately, Society still has a lot to learn about acceptance.

  6. Thank you for pointing out this song to me!

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  8. I used to have a friend. She had the same experience you had, Caren, only about a decade earlier. In her early teens, she would ditch school and hang out in the Wrigley bleachers. That's where I first met her years later, in the mid-Eighties. Her Black friend, one of only a handful of Blacks at Cub games, made everybody laugh. He did song parodies. People in the bleachers would sing them. She brought him home to Rogers Park, when she was maybe thirteen or fourteen. Her mother wouldn't let him in.

    In the mid-Nineties, she moved to Cleveland, soon after I did. I thought my wife would hate her, because they were eleven years apart in age, and as different as night and day. But they soon became very close, and were the best of friends for almost 25 years. Go figure.

    Fast-forward to 2020. She was now living in Florida. My wife still flew down to see her, even though our friend was becoming more racist with every passing year--especially in the age of Trump. We called her on her birthday, and heard a lengthy tirade about the BLM protests. It seemed like every other word of that rant was the n-word. She claimed to be boycotting NASCAR, although her husband drove race cars. Even her Cub tattoos were being removed, because the ballplayers had worn BLM patches on their jerseys.

    My 35-year friendship with her ended, about as quickly as a gulp of orange Kool-Aid. My wife sent her a brief, no-nonsense kiss-off note. And this was same lady who had brought home her Black friend in her teens, all those years ago. No, I take that back. She was not the same.

    Thanks, Donnie. Thanks. I really mean it.

    Like I said...I used to have a friend...

  9. I had a civics teacher in 1966 (11th grade) who predicted a nation largely composed of mixed race people. My white daughter married a black Jamaican man. They are raising a most remarkable mixed race daughter. So I think my teacher was on the right track.


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