I met Edith 35 years ago, in her home in Lodi California. She and my future father in law lived in an upstairs apartment in a building where she worked, a few blocks from downtown.
At our initial meeting, her first indirect words to me, was “does IT have an off switch? A victim of my non stop chatter.
Our initial meeting in her home, was earth-shattering. For the first time in her life, a black man was in her home and he wasn’t picking up or delivering anything, he was marrying her daughter, her youngest child.
For years ,I was tolerated, “her daughters husband. She was never rude or unkind, but I suspected if I fell off the planet, I wouldn’t be missed.
For years, I felt her eyes in a distance, looking at me. Early on, she made it clear that she didn’t want us to have children . She believed life would be hard on an interracial child. A feeling shared by my mother.
Edith, wasn’t overjoyed when she learned her daughter was with child. She was disappointed, and told her daughter”good luck”.
My wife wanted a Lamaze natural child birth with a mid-wife. Edith stayed with us in San Francisco the week she was due. My wife went into labor while I was at work and we all met at UC Hospital in San Francisco.
Our son was in distress, the umbilical cord had wrapped around his neck. They pumped my wife with what seemed like gallons of apple juice, most of it returned.
Edith was unhappy with the hospitals choice of mid-wife, she believed that I was doing the most of the work and she didn’t like that one bit. When the mid-wife entered the room ,she felt the burn from from Edith’s blue eyes. At one point the mid wife left the room and never returned. She was replaced by amother mid wife named Barbara. Edith loved Barbara, Barbara included Edith in the process.
Something happened during those ten hours of labor. Perhaps seeing me with her daughter or the setting, but there was clearly a shift. The three of us were in the delivery room, my son Ccame out with cords aroun his neck, the attended carefully removed the cords and handed him to me, I in turned, handed him to Edith, who shook her head.
Edith and I talked non stop on the drive from San Francisco to Galt. We talked about how angry she was with the first mid-wife. We laughed about her daughters breath ( a deadly mix of apple juice and vomit ) blown directly into my face.
In Galt, I got the full 40 second tour of her trailer. 40 seconds was generous, as it was one of those trailers you pull behind your Ford. But she was proud of it, it was HER home and it was paid for. She did not want any advice from men, as no one MAN was going to tell her what to do!
Despite my fatigue, we talked for hours. She kicked open the doors of her life that had been closed for years. She had dreams, but women in her time couldn’t dream unless it was about children and family.
Edith was born in rural Oklahoma, the youngest of ten children. She said she knew she was special at an early age, she was smart ,and did well in school .
While her older brothers and sisters worked in the fields, she was allowed to stay inside an sew. Her sister Bertha told me she resented it and said Edith was spoiled. That resentment had lasted a lifetime) Edith liked sewing, she had a creative side.
A few years after we were married ,my father in law died. Loved him she did ,but his death freed her. For the first time she could be her own person, she didn’t have children to be accountable for, or an husband to answer to.
I’ve always believed, Edith was born too soon, in the wrong decade. She was born at a time when a woman’s career was just a waiting room until she got married. In my mind, she was a combination of Mary Tyler Moore and Marlo Thomas. Women who didn’t see marriage as a necessity and had careers and lives of their own. Who knows, she may have been a designer or taken another creative career path that didn’t involve a husband and children.
I was honored that she trusted me with her secrets. Through the years, I had a better understanding and a realization that it wasn’t me, the black man she had an issue with. I think she wanted a different life for her daughter, I think she wanted her daughter to be a single professional women living her life without the constraints of a relationship. She loved her children. The issue was men. Men controlled every square inch of her life and it wasn’t always good. It was the times. I think she wanted her daughter to have a different life, the life she wanted without the constraints and commitment of a husband.
Edith wasn’t a girls, girl. She didn’t wasn’t the one to talk about children, sales and she didn’t have the patience for mindless gossip. She liked men. I’m not sure, she would have had children .I think Edith may have had children, but I’m not so sure she would have gotten married. She would have had lovers, Edith loved men. But men have cost her dearly .
Edith soon outgrew that small trailer and bought a single wide and made it her own with a small garden. She bought a new car and a van. She would drive the van to the foothills and camp alone with her books. In her late sixties, she drove cross country to Oklahoma. (her male friend followed in his truck-but did not tell her what to do!). She worked well into her eighties, keeping busy.
Our relationship grew. I think I was a clean slate, we didn’t have history and I kept her secrets and belived she would keep mine. She seemed comfortable talking sharing private stories and regrets with me. Out of love she would tell me to lose weight and then later apologize. I never minded because I knew she loved and cared for me. One of my best memories was at her grandsons wedding. A young girl assumed I was the help (I was the only black guest) and Edith went after her and told her No! It took her a while to calm down, for me it was a Wow moment.
After two decades my marriage to her daughter ended. But my relationship with Edith and her son remained as strong as ever. She was still mom. Her trailer and the her love seat was a place of comfort. We talked for hours, I would show her no mercy and teasing and taunting her .
Many years ago I remember Ed Bradley interviewing Lena Horne on 60 minutes. He praised her looks and longevity. She took his hand and said getting older isn’t so good. You lose people along the way, many people.
Edith has outlived many of her friends and lost contact with others. Most of her days were filled with silence.
In her nineties, she lost her independence. She moved out of her home and others cared for her. I saw her once in her new surroundings, it seemed odd, we couldn’t speak freely, there were many interruptions, for me it wasn’t the same.
Edith, quietly moved on yesterday in Elk Grove, she was 96. Her spirit lives on through her daughter, 2 sons, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren.
There WILL be men at her next stop, who knows, maybe a black man.