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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Touching a Star

The time of the Spring Festival had arrived. I was almost as excited about going to the school at night for the first time and being able to wear my new patent leather shoes as I was about the festival itself.
  It had been a long and difficult winter, our first in the small Wyoming town where my father had accepted a job on a sheep ranch, hoping to escape the noisy crowds of New York City, where he had spent most of his first 30 years. He had found ranch life much less to his liking then he imagined and my mother had spent the winter worrying about scorpions, black widow spiders, rattlesnakes and the wolves that howled in the not-too-distant hills. 
But now the snow had melted, the harsh prairie winds were still and new growth stirred. My mother, her cheeks rouged, donned a skirt with many ruffles and my father walked her down the path towards the school as my brother and I trailed after. 
As we rounded a bend and the school came suddenly into view, I gasped. Japanese lanterns hung everywhere, gently swaying in the prairie breeze. Light shone through the jade and gold tissue paper flowers we had earlier hung in each window. The two room school house, so unlike the three-story brick school I had previously attended in New York City, looked like an enchanted cottage to me and the effect was heightened by the strains of music that wafted through the door.
I felt suddenly shy and overwhelmed by the beauty and strangeness of it all and I hung back as the rest of my family entered the school. An inspiration hit me and I wondered what it would be like to swing in the darkened schoolyard, so I sat on one of the swings and began to pump. There I experienced one of the most precious moments of my childhood,  a blissful coming together of all the senses, as I lost myself in the rocking motion of the swing, the sprightly sounds of music, the scents of the awakening desert and the site of the luminous schoolhouse.
As I swayed in the swing of that school house yard, pointing my toes skyward, I touched a star! I was an eight-year-old child, old enough to know that I wasn’t actually touching a star, but the magic of the evening was such that reason deserted me and I touched that star over and over again, storing, as I did, the conviction that I HAD touched a star, that I COULD touch a star.  Storing, in my mind, the belief that all things are possible.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Interracial Marriage, Part 4
What About the Children?

My parents were not the only ones who disappointed me.  A college friend was visiting a nearby town and when I told her about my daughters, she told me not to bring my children to her home, because the “neighbors might see them and complain.”  When I walked down the streets  of San Francisco, people would stare and whisper, and one time a man spit on me and called me a “Nigger lover.”  
But Art and I thrived as a couple.  We added another daughter to our family, bought a home in Berkley, CA., where we were accepted and loved by our community.   We had marital problems, of course, but none were because of our racial differences.  
 I here interject a little poem I wrote, that many can probably relate to: Notice our differences had nothing to do with our race!

He likes inside; I like out,
He speaks in whispers,
I tend to shout.
I write poetry; he writes prose,
I’m full of joy, he’s full of woes.
I am messy; he is neat;
I like cool; he likes heat.
I’m hopeful; he’s pessimistic;
I’m full of fancy; he’s realistic.
I am restless; he is still.
He likes low-key; I like thrill.
He likes plain; I like pretty;
I love the country; he loves the city…

Opposite, they say, attract…
 I can testify to that fact!

So here we were, with a lovely home in a fabulous neighborhood, Art now becoming a rising star in the corporate world and me privileged to be able to stay home and care for our three talented, beautiful, intelligent daughters!  
Then a seeming disaster struck…  Art’s company offices announced they were moving to Phoenix, AZ. and Art was offered an excellent position, which he felt he could not turn down.
I was pretty ignorant about Arizona, but I knew it was hot and conservative, full of cowboys and tumbleweed in my imagination.  The only consolation was that the house Art found for us was “by a mountain” ( turned out to be a massive ROCK, in my opinion) and it had a swimming pool.  I was reluctant to leave our cosmopolitan neighborhood in California but that is what we did, moving into our new home in 1975.  We were quite the curiosity those first few days, as each and every neighbor came by to greet us, bearing home baked goodies, citrus fruit and coupons from the local newspaper.  Later, our closest neighbor confessed how upset he had been when we first moved in, how Art had won him over and single handedly changed his mind about “Negroes.”  He came to admire Art so much, when he died, his family asked Art to be one of the pallbearers.
We were always aware of the undercurrents of racism, of course, but times had changed and overt racism was verboten in most social circles, though it still reared its ugly head now and then, and especially in Arizona politics.  One of the most memorable racial incidences, if fact, came from the then governor’s grandson, who was on the school bus the day our daughters boarded it for the first time. He yelled “What are you Niggers doing on this bus?”  Hearing this story as they returned from school that first day, my heart sank, but the girls said the others had shouted this boy down and stood up for them.. anti bullying at its best! 
I wish I could thank the children on that bus that day, who defended my daughters and set the tone for what was to come.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Interracial Marriage, part 3

June 19, 2014. 

        The last two days I have been writing about my interracial marriage. Yesterday, recalling the early days, when I was estranged from my family, pain pounced upon my heart with such ferocity that I had to stop writing. 
Although my parents had warned me about dating “colored boys,” I had convinced myself that they would get over their objections, accept my husband-to-be and would be excited about the birth of their first grandchild.   It took four years for that to happen, and in the meantime,  the estrangement that ensued left a wake of pain and feelings of abandonment.
The abortive effort to connect with my parents and the way my siblings had to be snuck out of the house to see me, as though I were a criminal, left scars that took years to heal.  My mother, I found out later, had tried to dissuade my father from his harsh viewpoint. Although she too was deeply disturbed about my relationship with a ‘colored’ man, she would have preferred keeping the lines of communication open. As she explained later, after my parents’ marriage ended in divorce (after a quarter of a century), she felt she needed to “obey” her husband. 
When, out of the blue, I got THE CALL… a call from my father, apologizing, and asking for forgiveness,  I cried with joy.  Art, at first, could not understand why I forgave my father so readily, but eventually he and my Dad developed a comfortable relationship, based on mutual respect and a shared history as World War Two vets.  
My mother’s first act, after the divorce, was to come to visit us in San Francisco.  When Art came home from work that day, knowing she was there, he brought her a single rose and presented it to her, saying “Welcome, Mom.”  He never harbored any anger towards her and they had a loving relationship until my mom passed in 2001.  

The truly remarkable thing about this story is this:  While serving in the Peace Corp, my father met and married a Fijian woman, who was darker and more nappy haired than my husband!

Here is the obit of a man who overcame the prejudices of his generation in most unexpected ways: 

John Bernard Borman, 88, passed away December 1, 2010, in Suva,

Fiji, where he lived for the past 30 years. He was born Feb. 14, 1922, in Brooklyn, NY. He was a Bellingham resident for many years, first serving there in the Civilian Conservation Corps. He participated in the Invasion of Normandy in WWII, receiving a Purple Heart for being wounded in battle. He had many interesting occupations: soldier, sheep herder, lumber jack, boat builder, carpenter, Peace Corp volunteer (two stints), Save the Children Foundation, and Consultant to the United Nations. He learned to fly his own airplane, became a flight instructor, and once flew from Washington State to NY to attend his mother's 75th birthday party. In his last years, he created many beautiful wood carvings. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Interracial Marriage, part 2

                                                             Painting by our son, Art Harding, Jr.

I quickly fell for Art. 
He was gentle, kind, intelligent and well groomed. Not to mention that he drove a brand new  Mercedes Benz 190SL convertible! 
 As the winds of social change whirled around us, clamoring for civil rights, women's rights and sexual liberation, I was caught in the storm, enjoying all the liberties of life in San Francisco in the sixties.  I had emphatically put my Christian faith behind me and loved my hedonistic life style… that is until I once more found myself pregnant and unmarried.  This time I was in love (quite madly) with Art, the father and, although we didn’t marry right way, we began to live together as a couple and welcomed our first daughter into our lives.  With great trepidation, I wrote my parents about the situation, and that is when I heard the dreaded words:  “You are no longer part of this family.”
The ultimate rejection!  During the next couple of years, as we built our little family, adding a second daughter in 1966, it killed my heart to know that my parents refused to be grandparents.  I journeyed to my hometown at one point, thinking surely that would want to see their beautiful little granddaughters, if we were so near, but still they refused contact.  My brother managed to spirit my much younger  siblings away from home on a pretense of some sort, and they got to meet their little nieces. I had always been very close to my brother and sisters and loved them very much. My heart was breaking over the situation; I was forbidden even to write to them.
I have to stop now for today.  Tears are unleashed in torrents.  

Monday, June 16, 2014

Interracial Marriage, part 1

                    INTERRACIAL MARRIAGE, part 1

“You are no long part of this family.”
The words my father spoke to me in 1964 when I married my husband, an African American, were the most searing I had ever heard.  To be disowned from one’s family, in this case mother, father and five younger siblings, is one of the most painful things imaginable.

I grew up in a town where I never met any Blacks, Asians or Jews. Though we children picked berries alongside Hispanic migrant workers in the summers, they left the area before school started. I remember being attracted to the few Lummi Indian students who were my classmates in high school; they seemed exotic and mysterious to me.  I wondered why they always sat together in the cafeteria and never mingled with us “white” students.  One day I invited one of the Lummi girls who was in my English class to join me during lunch, but she rebuffed me.  Perhaps she was shy or felt loyal to her group, but at the time I was hurt and surprised, especially since her demeanor towards me seemed even more aloof after my overture.
During my college years, I don’t recall meeting anyone of a different race, though there were many who did not share my socio economic status or religious beliefs.  When I went on trips to Seattle, and Vancouver, BC, I was amazed and fascinated by the  people of various languages, races and cultures.  
Because the subject of race had never come up in my home, I had no prejudices and assumed my family also had none.  I was soon to find out how mistaken I was! 
The first black person I met was Joe King, the PE teacher in Wrangell, Alaska, where I had gone to accept my first teaching position in 1963.  I did not realize till later what a huge scandal I had caused by dating Joe, who was the only black person in the town.
I was abysmally innocent regarding race relations; the subject had never come up in my protected environment and  this was just before the civil rights era exploded.  I was blithely writing letters home about this great guy I had met and all was good until I sent a picture of the two of us... then all hell exploded!  My parents communicated loudly and clearly that I was NOT to date a black man.   I was shocked at my parents' intolerance and balked at their attempt to control me.    
I now realize the irony of my thoughts at the time:  “I am free, WHITE and twenty one and I’ll do as I darn well please!”
My interim teaching assignment ended soon after this; my relationship with Joe also ended and no more was said about the matter.  But I was now fascinated by the whole black-white question and began to read about race relations and longed to expand my social horizons to include friends of different races.  I applied for the Peace Corps and was assigned to teach high school English in Afghanistan. Since my assignment would not begin for several months, I went with a friend to San Francisco, intending to work until I would be going to Vermont to the training school.
I looked through the classified ads in the Chronicle and saw an ad for a reporter for a weekly newspaper, The Sun Reporter. I made an appointment for an interview and when I arrived, I was surprised to find that the newspaper was a Black newspaper; imagine that, a whole newspaper devoted to covering the black community!  With my provincial upbringing, I had never imagined such a thing existed and was thrilled to land the job.  
Oh what exciting times followed! I loved interviewing local Community leaders, covering jazz concerts, mingling with black folks.  I loved getting to know the colorful cast of characters who worked at the newspaper, which had a well-integrated staff. I met the first black woman I have ever known there, Katherine Coleman, who became a lifelong friend.
 In addition to writing and editing, I helped out in the advertising department, with layout, design and circulation. During my first couple of weeks I was designated to be the person who would pick up the advertising copy for a supermarket chain that was delivered weekly to the Greyhound depot. Little did I know that the lovely gentleman who waited on me behind the package express counter each Wednesday would soon become my husband!  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Cruel "Christians"

My husband, Art, is an African American man who was born in 1927. 
When he was a young boy living in San Francisco and attending Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church, he asked the priest if he could be an altar boy.  “I’m sorry,” the priest said, “but we don’t have colored altar boys.” 
Later,as a young man serving his country in the army  in Joplin, Missouri, he was asked by a sick friend to fill in at his job at a near-by protestant church, which involved turning the furnace down after the Sunday service.  He arrived early and, not being familiar with the layout of the church or aware that the service had begun, he opened the door to the main area and was looking directly at the minister and two deacons who sat on either side of him.  The minister stopped in the middle of his sermon and said “What are you doing in here, boy?”  Before he could process what was happening, the two men on the altar came rushing down the aisle, grabbed him by each arm and escorted him out, telling him “You don’t belong here!”

When Art told me about this, several years into our marriage, he cried.  I had never seen him cry before, and my heart broke as he asked, in an anguished wail, “If I couldn’t be safe in the house of God, where could I be safe?”

Friday, June 13, 2014

Important Lesson

Painting of Treehouse view of Glacier Creek, by Jayne Baron, Bellingham, WA.

This is Judy Borman Harding writing to you on June 13, 2014. I am sitting in my  treehouse in Glacier Washington in the foothills of Mount Baker. I have just driven from Phoenix Arizona where I spent the last six months. 
Now that I am back in "God's country," my primary goals are to write in my blog, Treehouse Reflections, and to complete many unfinished poems.
My writing tools in the treehouse include my computer, journals, camera, and a thermos of coffee. I also keep nearby a Bible and a Rosary, my primary prayer tools.
I have a little calendar called Journey with the Saints. Today's reading,  by Saint Anselmo says: “Cast away your troublesome cares; put aside a little leisure time to converse with God, and take your rest a while in Him.  Enter into the secret chamber of your heart; leave everything outside but God and when you have shut the door, then truly seek Him.”
I want to pause a moment to thank God.  I thank Him for giving me this beautiful little treehouse in which to work. He has given me the most excellent tools, including this computer into which I dictate these words. He has gifted me with an excellent camera and an eye for beauty. I thank him for a kind and understanding husband and for providing us with homes in both Arizona and Washington so that we can enjoy the many glorious seasons he has created.  I thank Him profusely for my six children and 10 grandchildren.
  I thank Him for the many talents He has given me and I ask the Holy Spirit to guide me in using them wisely.  I thank Him for giving me the Holy Bible to enrich my days, for providing wonderful churches in both of my towns and for inspiring in me a devotion to the Rosary through which I contemplate the life of His Son. 
My husband says that he is like a wise old owl observing all. I, on the other hand, am a hummingbird, flitting from place to place seeking beauty.  I mention this now because I have just been distracted by the beauty of a crystal hanging in the treehouse window, as below:

The interesting thing about my distraction to photograph this crystal, is the lesson I learned. I tend to do a great deal of my thinking in analogies and by photographing this crystal this morning I have stumbled upon a beautiful analogy for my writing goal. I have long pondered the secret hidden world. The intricacies of nature astound me and I have come to believe that the spiritual world is every bit as beautiful, as mesmerizing and is ultimately unknowable as the physical. But now and then we are given glimpses into the mysteries that surround us.  As scientists learn to look from the infinite to the finite, from the macro to the mini, we spiritual seekers, through meditation and prayer, often find ourselves experiencing what one might call “signs and wonders,” in the form of insights, visions, and spiritual synchronicity with others.
What does that have to do with this crystal photograph?
After photographing this crystal in the north window I turned to the west window to photograph the raindrops on the great hanging cedar branch. I did not see the prismatic reflection of the crystal until I downloaded the photo, as below:

Of course, I looked at the window again to see if I could see this prismatic reflection and I could not.  To me, this is very much the way the spiritual world works.  My IMPORTANT LESSON is this:  I've come to believe there is a stunningly beautiful and vibrant spiritual world just outside of our vision and sometimes we are allowed glimpses of it.  I hope, though my prayer, reading, photography and writing, to experience more of it and to share with my readers.  Holy Spirit, guide me.