Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Friday, January 20, 2006

My Grandmother's Shoes

Legacies work in mysterious ways.

This all started with a plea from a co-worker looking for a ride home. He has become fed up with Albuquerque traffic, and so he takes the bus to work instead of driving. The problem is that he now works at the South Valley campus, and the Isleta Boulevard bus stops running at 6 p.m. So he sent out an email to the entire department, asking if someone could at least get him to the transit center downtown so he could catch a bus home.

Turns out, I’m going his way. He doesn’t live all that far from where I do, so it’s actually more convenient for me to drop him off at his home than at the transit center. Then the coincidences pile up. He has spent most of the past 20 years living in Alaska and now lives on a particular stretch of road. I have an old high-school friend who is currently living in Alaska, who owns a house that he rents out, on the same stretch of road.

But that coincidence, while interesting, isn’t the main point. On the drive, we got to talking, and one of the topics that came up was our backgrounds. He talked about how his mother was a strong, independent person who defied conventions, and that led to how my grandmother also stood up for what she believed.

Munzy had a strong sense of right and wrong, and she didn’t back down when she believed she was right. I didn’t even know until her funeral how strongly she stuck to her principles. In the late 1950s, Arkansas was rocked with racial tension, when the Supreme Court ordered the school system to allow black students to enroll in Little Rock Central High School. Governor Orville Faubus called out the National Guard to prevent that from happening, and in 1959, he had the school shut down rather than allow black students to attend.

Because of the shutdown, one of my mother’s cousins, who would otherwise have graduated from Central, came to Arkadelphia for his senior year of high school. My mother was away at college at the time, but when I was a teenager, I found the diary of my aunt, her younger sister, who was still at home. At the time I read the diary, I didn’t understand everything, but it became clear after I heard what people said at Munzy’s funeral. My grandmother refused to sign an oath of loyalty to the governor, and so she was fired.

Munzy was a dedicated teacher, and even after she retired, she continued to volunteer to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed. Up until just a few days before she died, she spent much of her time in educational programs for children from “the other side of the tracks.” After the funeral, wherever we went in town, we were approached by families who wanted us to know how very much Munzy had done for them.

Munzy’s legacy is a tough one to carry out. She set such a high standard. Literally, I wear her shoes – after the funeral, we discovered that I was the only grandchild who had the same size of feet. What’s really weird is that after those shoes became threadbare, I got new shoes, but the new shoes disappeared, so I’m still wearing the old loafers. Those size six and a half narrows are really big shoes to fill. I hope that if I’m ever faced with the sorts of choices Munzy had, I will take the right course.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Grandparents can leave such a legacy. My own grandmother, who lived with my family for the last 30 years of her life was also such a woman. Even though she was functionally illiterate, the legacy she left behind, in her children and grandchildren was very impressive. Of her seven surviving children, three were medical doctors, two had Ph.D's in engineering, one had an MBA and the last is a business tycoon. Of her fourteen grandchildren, one is an MD/Ph.D, five have MBA's, three have Ph.D's. Not too bad for a woman who moved to this country, and didn't speak any English. I only wish one of us had inherited her green thumb.

Fri Jan 20, 03:34:00 AM MST  

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