We’re all American

While I mostly talk about my Irish family (immigrated to the Ozarks), mum’s family came to the States earlier. They were Russian Jews and I had little to do with them, in large, except being raised by my maternal grandmother! They moved to The Bootheel.

They got here Just In Time for the Civil War!

You stepped off the boat, into this land of milk and honey…

Then stopped at the dock.

‘Kiss your wife and babies goodbye. Here’s a uniform, now you’re in X Company.’

They needed cannon fodder; men went straight from the boat to the battlefield so their loved ones became Americans.

-see below for one of many folk songs that tell how many of us came to be American

My maternal Great-Great Uncle’s cavalry sword hung above his sister’s mantle (my great-grandmother, or Gram’s mum). These big families (Gram was one of 19 children) extended over quite a bit of timeline. I didn’t get to know Great-Great Uncle but of course I’m old enough to know my Great Uncles!

I didn’t spend a lot of time in the Bootheel, in spite of being raised by Gram. I can’t say that I feel comfortable there. Why did our family branch choose to live there? A swamp that didn’t let them in town after dark?

She never explained that well enough. Great-grandfather’s brother moved to Chicago and he was known to have ‘made it big.’ When you use paper from other’s garbage in your shoes to keep dirt out of the holes in the soles? Somebody with new shoes once a year may seem rich. ‘Ooo! He’s got a straw hat!’

Where was I?

I’m assuming most people have studied Jim Crow laws in History, Social Studies or seen it in Driving Miss Daisy.

‘Statutes and ordinances established between 1874 and 1975 to separate the white and black races in the American South.’

You may not have been around during that time but I was. Jim Crow applied to wee Lily visiting Grandma and cousins! I lived that shite.

“But…you’re so white!”

Depends on your definition.

In the town where my family settled…correction: outside the town where my family settled, it applied to Jews. It’s not the most commonly-heard term but Jews were considered ‘people of color.’ There’s no logic as to why one group of people are ‘better’ than another. Perhaps, like the Stock Market, it was based upon sentiment. The people in power of that area felt like it.

This defined where they could live and when they could come into town. My family had a shack next to the railroad tracks. Across the road and beside were black families. We were ‘the colored section of town.’

It affected how you associated with others:

My great aunt married an Indian (“Native American,” as we were taught in school). They were forced out of town; we were colored and he was colored, apparently different kinds of coloreds weren’t allowed to mix, either.

Aunt Bessie and her husband moved to the Res where she died about a year later. When you’re sick and poor, you don’t have money for medicine or doctors. You pray. Of my great-grandmother’s 19 children, she was one of seven who died in their twenties or younger.

My great-grandmother and grandmother did laundry for the white people. They went to the back door to get it, brought it home (weren’t welcome in the backyard) to wash, dry, fold and then returned it to the back door.

Blacks and My Family weren’t allowed to buy alcohol but it was widely-known that my great-grandfather enjoyed it. He was popular amongst the whites, who’d stop by after dark to visit (since we couldn’t come into town). And bring a bottle.

I still don’t like going to or through that area. While I can ‘pass’ with my pale skin, light eyes and strawberry blonde hair, it’s hard to forgive or forget what I witnessed and the stories I grew up hearing.


14 thoughts on “We’re all American

  1. Wow… I kinda knew this from ‘the Zonians’ in Panama, but I still can’t wrap my head around how recent and how horrible the US segregation was.
    – And don’t get me wrong. Europeans were even worse for a while, but the last world war ended MOST of that. There are still discrimination of Gypsies/Roma and recent immigrants, but it’s not at all like this, and not put down in laws and regulations – except maybe in a some eastern European/Balkan backwaters – I wouldn’t put it past them.


    • Lily says:

      I suppose you’re talking about Jim Crow? You can imagine if the laws were still there through my childhood, things are still QUITE racist.

      The song, on the other hand, always makes me sad, too. So many of us came here as refugees and the price was blood, to be put through a meat grinder. But here we are, the descendants! I’m 2nd gen Irish American but I suppose that makes me about 4th gen Russian Jew!


  2. Really touching story Lily, thanks for sharing it. Sadly similar segregation applied in Australia too although there is much more tolerance today in our multicultural society.
    Like your uke work……big festival coming up locally soon to try and set some sort of world record..



    • Lily says:

      Thanks for the link and kindness!

      I felt like doing a little something (didn’t work on it much!) for this year.


  3. It always hurts my heart to know that people do this to each other.
    I have to tell myself that we are still not far from being animals, so a lot of this is biology. Territoriality. Whatever.
    But, I just wish we would all evolve a little faster and be NICE.


    • Lily says:

      I hope it wasn’t too much of a downer. It’s just life. I mean, hell, I can tell some REALLY scary things, this is just a bit of history.

      Personally, I love the song! While it’s bloody, it’s the REAL way I’d say most Americans got here (whichever war needed men).


      • Not a downer. I found it fascinating. And instructive for sure!

        I just get thinking about history and the way people treat people….blerg! ….that’s on me. The post was fine!


        • Lily says:

          Thanks, glad it wasn’t too much.

          I just don’t realise whatever is too much for others. I’m pretty callous, apparently, and seem to get the wrong effect from whatever I say or write sometimes.


  4. Wow — I had no idea. Great — if not very uplifting — stories. Well — there uplifting as it applies to what your family went through, but kind of depressing when you think about these laws and how Jim Crow crap went into the 1970s.

    Sadly, on the trip we just took — I saw an uncomfortable number of scruffy, angry-looking, white guys flying the Stars & Bars.


    • Lily says:

      Yeah, we have a lot of those cunts (and I use that term because it’s the most offensive that I can think of off-hand) in my valley, let alone county, let alone FAMILY. Hilariously? Mum’s side. Makes you want to leap off a cliff.

      I’ve written over the years about the very public KKK presence HERE. Sick.


  5. Halloooooo! Hi, Lils…..I just want you to know that I can read what you have to write. To listen to what you have to share.
    If it hurts, well, that’s the way it is. Things do hurt.
    But, I always prefer truth plus hurt over lies and no hurt.

    Truth, sistah. πŸ˜€


    • Lily says:

      And I know that about our Lauri! I’ve been so stressed/freaked with the work thing, I think I’ve become too sensitive. I mean, obviously as somebody writing something public, I wish that readers get what I’d like as a take-away BUT people come with their frame of reference and you have to be happy they read!

      YOU know me and of course you ‘get’ me. I’m twitchy and so fretful over bothering people right now that it has spread. I sent my brother a text today, ‘are you okay?’ in response to NOTHING. So, this is ME now. Ugh. Crazy-head.


  6. Thank you for sharing some of your family history. I wish we could all respect and be nicer always to each other.
    LOL @ the Bobby out-take – and I loved the birdsong accompaniment (as well as you of course! πŸ™‚ )


    • Lily says:

      What’s kind of sad is I won’t even notice them — growing up surrounded by forests, I’ll ‘forget’ to pay attention.

      Brother was out the other night and he said something like, ‘What was that?’ And luckily, it was still making noise or I’d have not noticed: it was a coyote.

      Then, he practically leapt and pointed in the air, ‘OOo, an owl!’ It’s kinda weird because this is where he grew up! He left at age 17 (he’s 8 years older) and I left at age 15…but came back 10 years later, so at this point, I’ve been here a LONG, DAMNED TIME. I forget that means he has been GONE a long, damned time! He has gotten used to the ‘burbs!


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