A family recipe, a childhood memory, a Depression-era handout
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Where I grew up in the Deep South, feminist was a dirty word and gender roles were stuck in the 1950s. Certain jobs were for boys, while girls had their own list of chores.
Every Sunday after dinner, the men would trot off to the living room, plop down on the sofa, and loosen their belts while my mother made my sisters and me wash the dishes. As my nails grew brittle in the warm, soapy dishwater, I dreamed of someday joining the men.
One Sunday in the spring of 1998 Aunt Virginia and Uncle Calvin were visiting us and decided to stay for dinner. As the meal came to a close, Uncle Calvin rose from his chair and methodically began to collect our dirty dishes. No one seemed bothered by this — we had witnessed men helping clear the table before — but then we all heard the water running in the kitchen. Maybe he was washing his hands, I thought. As my eleven-year-old brain tried to make sense of what was happening, I locked eyes with my mother. The water continued to flow, gurgling and bubbling as the sink filled.
Curiosity got the best of me, and I flew to the kitchen to behold Uncle Calvin, sleeves rolled up, elbow-deep in suds.
I began to wonder: What else are men pretending they cannot do?
When I first started working as a temp at an insurance agency in 1989, I didn’t even know what deductible meant. At twenty-nine I was proudly ignorant of such matters. For about five years I’d been living in “noble poverty,” taking temp jobs when necessary to pay the rent while I pursued the romantic life of a broke, down-and-out writer à la my hero, Henry Miller.
In the supply room of the insurance agency, tacked to the back wall, was a color-coded map. Whenever a customer called in for a homeowner’s insurance quote, I was to consult the map. If the house was in one of the areas highlighted in orange, I would write the letter B for “blanket approval” on the work sheet. If it was in a yellow-colored area, I’d write H/H, which stood for “house by house” — meaning we’d need to inspect the house before we could write an insurance policy on it. The houses in the blue-colored areas received an NOM — “not our market.” We were not to write insurance on those houses, I was told, because they tended not to conform to the company’s “underwriting guidelines” — another matter that was beyond me.
I eventually came to realize what all the blue areas had in common: they were in the poorest sections of town, which also happened to be predominantly African American. As I sat at my desk pondering this revelation, it occurred to me that every agent in our district was a white male in his thirties or forties — and all the staff members inside the agencies were white as well.
One day I went to the supply room to consult the map and found it gone. The office manager explained that she’d gotten a call from the district office. A couple of officials from the state department of insurance had turned up there unannounced and started asking questions. In case they were making the rounds of all the offices, the maps were to come down until further notice.
That night, when I got home, I did a little research and discovered yet another curious word: redlining — the practice of withholding home loans and insurance in poor black neighborhoods. My poverty no longer seemed so noble. For some, I realized, poverty isn’t a romantic lifestyle choice but the result of a system designed to oppress them. And each time I went to consult the map in the supply room, I was serving that system.
My husband, our two boys, and I recently visited my husband’s hometown in Mexico: a quaint village with cobblestone streets and dirt roads, where you wake to the sounds of roosters or, if you’re lucky, a mariachi outside your window.
Upon our return to the U.S., my husband was stopped and interrogated at customs. As he was being questioned, someone nearby was handcuffed and escorted away. My seven-year-old son grabbed my hand and asked, “Where are they taking him?”
That weekend happened to coincide with news stories about President Trump’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border, a policy that instilled fear, rational or not, in my American son.
After we cleared the first round of customs, my husband was stopped again at declarations. My son began sobbing and said he was going to vomit. “Mom,” he asked, “are they going to take us away from you and Dad?”
“Of course not,” I reassured him. “We are all citizens. We haven’t done anything wrong.”
Hours later my son was still complaining of an upset stomach and saying he would never travel outside of the country again. I, too, felt sick inside.
I can’t allay my son’s fear of this inhumane administration. I can only hope that the experience will inspire him to make this country a more compassionate place when he grows up.
In the 1980s I worked at a manufactured-housing factory. It was a male-dominated environment, and my coworkers sneered at “women’s lib.” The few women who worked there were either “putty girls” — who dabbed putty into the staple holes left in the paneling — or secretaries, like me. When the general manager promoted me to service manager, it was considered a bold move on his part.
A couple of years later a manager at one of the company’s other factories in the state offered me a better position, and I accepted. The two managers congratulated one another on being “pioneers” for having promoted a woman.
With all my belongings in a U-Haul, I headed off to my new town. Once I got there, my new manager, whose name was Ron, and two men from the plant unloaded my belongings — including my piano.
My apartment was on the second floor, and there was a tight turn at the landing. The men had a hard time maneuvering the piano around the bend. At one point it straddled the railing precariously. Everyone was dripping with sweat by the time I was finally moved in.
Three months later the company shut down my new facility, and I was transferred back to my original workplace. Ron and the same two men helped me move out. It wasn’t any easier getting the piano down the stairs than it had been going up.
When the apartment was empty, Ron and I said our goodbyes. Wet with perspiration, he leaned against his car and told me I had done a good job, and he was glad the company was keeping me on.
“I want you to know that I am not at all prejudiced against women,” he said. “But to be honest,” he continued, narrowing his eyes at me, “I will never again hire a woman who has a piano.”
In first grade in Queens, New York, I learned an important lesson. My teacher, Mrs. Feinstein, announced that it was our class’s turn to provide the color guard at the school assembly. One of us would hold the flag for the Pledge of Allegiance, and two others would stand behind the flag holder. To determine who would have the honor, she had chosen three random numbers: the first student to guess one of the numbers would hold the flag, and the next two students would be the guard.
But, Mrs. Feinstein continued, only a boy could hold the flag.
At the age of six, I knew that girls were just as good as boys and deserved the same opportunities. In protest I refused to try to guess the numbers.
Later in life I worked as a park ranger and was sometimes the only woman in my unit or division. In Louisiana I was also the first female firefighter in the Terrytown Volunteer Fire Department and one of the first women on the reserve force of the Gretna Police Department. I wrote articles for Tradeswomen, a quarterly magazine for women in blue-collar jobs. I thank Mrs. Feinstein for sending me down the right path.
“Jennifer!” the blond woman yelled from the window of her black SUV. “Jennifer, I’m talking to you!”
I continued strolling down the road with a tennis racket under my arm, on my way to a lesson. My name isn’t Jennifer.
For five years I’d been dating a wealthy man. He and I had met right out of college, when we were both in our first year of Teach for America, a program that puts recent college graduates to work in under-resourced schools. We taught in the South Bronx at the height of the crack epidemic of the late 1980s, under the most challenging conditions I could imagine. School was often dismissed early because of gang fights.
This man and I were opposites in many ways. I was a mixed-race New York City girl — white mom, black dad — who’d gone to college on a scholarship. My parents were divorced. He had gone to prep schools, graduated from Yale, and raced sailboats at the Manhattan Yacht Club. His family was in the Social Register, whatever that was.
He and I were spending the summer together in Cape Cod at one of his parents’ homes. After suffering some humiliating defeats in the family tennis tournament, I’d signed up for lessons at his mother’s urging.
I realized the blond woman in the SUV was talking to me.
“Jennifer, we need the laundry done now.”
“I’m not Jennifer,” I said, stopping and staring straight into her green eyes.
Her nostrils flared. “I don’t have time for this,” she fumed. “There’s too much work to get done.”
My heart beat faster. “I don’t know who you’re looking for, but it’s not me. My name is Jackie,” I said, and I cut sharply away from the road, toward the tennis courts.
“Jennifer!” she called at my back. Finally she sped off.
When I told my boyfriend about the incident, he didn’t understand what the big deal was.
“She thought I was their maid,” I said. “Because I’m black.”
He brushed his longish hair from his eyes. He would be going to Stanford Business School in the fall. “You must have experienced racism before,” he said blankly. As if it were something I was supposed to take in stride.
My boyfriend’s privilege had prevented him from understanding my world and me. I still loved him, but I could no longer trust him.
In my mid-thirties I was recovering from a breakup when the band I played in was asked to provide music for a friend’s birthday party. From the stage I spotted a singer-songwriter I had met twice in passing. Our eyes met, and I was strangely happy to see her, as if she were a long-lost friend. I invited her up to join us for the last couple of songs.
Over the next few weeks we exchanged e-mails daily, sometimes almost hourly, about life and nature and people and relationships and what it means to be human. One day she asked if I thought we had been “more than friends” in another life.
Although I’d been a strong LGBTQ ally for years, I’d always thought of myself as solidly heterosexual. But here I was falling in love with a woman. It was a magnificent experience. Our relationship abounded with mutual giving and respect. We were true equals. But there were some difficulties I had not anticipated.
Once, to my surprise, she avoided holding my hand in a restaurant parking lot. Inside, we held hands, but only under the table. (We live in a conservative Christian area.) I confronted her later and told her that I’d felt hurt. It was not OK with me to hide our relationship. She proceeded to tell me of the times when she had been followed home by drunk guys who wanted to bully her for being a lesbian, or the times when her friends had gotten in trouble just for associating with her. I was suddenly aware of the privilege I’d enjoyed in my previous relationships.
We have come far as a culture, but we still live in a world where two women who love each other must perform the sad calculation of pros and cons before they hold hands in public, let alone share a kiss — behaviors that heterosexual couples engage in without a thought.
Though I am careful to respect my girlfriend’s fears, progress requires us to push the boundaries. We hold hands now when we are feeling brave. And today in a parking lot we kissed.
I was raised from birth in the Hare Krishna tradition, and I grew up bowing to men in saffron robes and prostrating myself before their “lotus feet.”
By the time I was a teenager, I’d begun to notice that there were no female gurus or great women saints in the spiritual books we read. When I asked my guru about this, all he told me was that the mothers and wives of the saints were great devotees themselves.
Once, during morning worship at our temple in Vermont, I sang a devotional call-and-response song. In general men led these songs, but I’d been invited to sing because I had a strong voice. After a few verses, one of the senior monastics stormed out of the temple room. Later I was told that it was disrespectful for a woman to sing in front of a monastic because it could lead him to have lustful thoughts.
When I was seventeen, someone told me that my guru was angry with me. I sent him an e-mail to ask why, and he replied with a list of allegations against me.
Offense number one: I had become a vegan, which demonstrated demoniac behavior.
Offense number two: It had been brought to his attention that on one of his birthdays I had not spent the whole day honoring him.
Offense number three: I was obviously not interested in being a devotee anymore because of all the questions I’d been asking.
He was cutting off our teacher-disciple relationship.
Devastated, I left Vermont and enrolled in a school near Santa Cruz, California, founded by a naturalist who specialized in Native American practices. We did sweat lodges and sacred fires, and we recited the Thanksgiving Address every morning in a circle together. I wanted to know everything there was to know about Native American practices, but I was gently steered away from “men’s duties.”
One time, during the preparation of a four-day sacred fire, I picked up some logs and carried them to the fire circle. The Odawa elder conducting the ceremony looked vexed, and a moment later my teacher approached me, smiling sheepishly.
“I can do that,” he told me.
“I don’t mind,” I said. “I want to help.”
He explained that they couldn’t use wood for the sacred fire that had been touched by a woman. In the Odawa tradition, the women’s role was to bring food and water to the ceremony.
During that sacred fire I happened to be on my period, and I was asked to keep at least ten feet between myself and the flames. It was a cold night, and while all of the nonmenstruating people huddled close to the fire, the other menstruating women and I sat well behind them on a bench, shivering.
These days I am learning to conduct ceremonies in the Mahāyāna Buddhist tradition and working toward becoming a chaplain. No one in my Buddhist community has ever told me I can’t do something because I am a woman.
In my fourth year of medical school I had a particularly difficult rotation. Three of my four patients were dying of metastatic cancer. One, Mr. V., was an immigrant from Laos who’d been a high-ranking officer during the Vietnam War. He was suffering from rectal cancer and had lost twenty pounds over the last month. Lack of strength and feeling in his legs kept him bedridden. Scans showed the cancer had metastasized to his brain, liver, and spine.
Through an interpreter, I talked with Mr. V. about this news, and he took it stoically. He said he had known something had changed and understood that he was dying. He didn’t want anything else done. That morning he was moved to hospice.
I spent the rest of the day with my other patients, tweaking medications, communicating with their treatment teams, and comforting family members. Time passed rapidly, and I was soon biking home, my mind on the checklist of things I needed to get done at my house.
That’s when it occurred to me that I had not returned to visit Mr. V. in hospice. I resolved to carve out some time to sit with him the next day, offer whatever comfort I could, and perhaps talk about his life.
Early the next morning I checked my e-mail to find that Mr. V. had died. I hadn’t expected the end to come so quickly, and I was overcome with guilt for having neglected him the previous day. Maybe if he had spoken English, or if he’d had family members to advocate for him, or if he hadn’t been so stoic and had asked me for something, I wouldn’t have forgotten him. But I had.
Mr. V. reminded me to pay attention to the quiet patients, the ones with fewer resources and less support.
San Francisco, California
In the early 1970s I was an active member of NOW, the National Organization for Women. As the Education Task Force chairperson in my Seattle suburb, I went to the office of the superintendent of public schools to discuss the lack of sports for girls in our district.
I was nervous but determined. The superintendent was condescending, perhaps even amused — until I mentioned Title IX, a new federal law requiring schools to give equal funding for girls’ and boys’ sports.
He had heard of Title IX, and he asked if I thought it was fair to take money away from the boys in order for the girls to have sports. He said the cost of hiring more coaches and supplying separate locker rooms, showers, and restrooms would be prohibitive. And did I truly believe that girls would be interested in participating in sports?
I mentioned my own experience playing baseball in parochial school in the fifties: the value of teamwork, the health benefits, the development of a competitive spirit. And I made it clear that Title IX was now a law, and all public schools were required to be in compliance or else lose federal funding.
Because of the grassroots feminist movement across the U.S., involving thousands of women and men, sports for females were slowly introduced into the curriculum, in that school district and others.
I’m the youngest of seven. My oldest brother, Dick, is seventeen years my senior. I’d always thought he and I had similar experiences growing up on a small farm in Nebraska, but while our elderly mother was in a coma and near death, I heard a different story.
In a hospital waiting room my three oldest brothers described the hard life they’d had before I was born: days when there wasn’t enough food, and they would take their rifles into the woods to shoot squirrels, rabbits, or other game; long, hot summers working on the farm with our father or in the large garden with our mother, growing food to can for winter; walking four miles to high school and hurrying home afterward to start the milking. And each of my three oldest siblings remembered the day he got his first new pair of shoes — one not handed down from our father or grandfather or an older brother.
I was so much younger that I’d essentially grown up in a different household. My sister and I could drive to school in the family car starting at the age of thirteen. Though we had to milk the cows, the car allowed us to attend after-school events. And though we had to work in the fields and the garden, we also occasionally went to the river to swim or to town on Saturday nights. And we not only had new shoes but also patent-leather shoes for church. My older brothers looked aghast when they heard this. Two pairs of shoes would have been an unimaginable luxury to them.
That night in the hospital waiting room, our different childhoods seemed to drive a wedge between us.
Early the next morning a nurse came to tell us that our mother had awakened from her coma. She was asking for food. We all rushed to her room and found her sitting up in bed, with arms open to give each of us a warm hug. The differences we’d spent the night arguing about suddenly seemed trivial.
At the age of thirty-three I moved to rural Virginia to start a small farm and cohousing project with friends. I got there three months ahead of the others and had almost no savings. I had to plant the garden, but I also needed to find work in town. There were very few jobs, and most paid minimum wage, but one day I saw an ad for a position with a surveying company that paid twelve dollars an hour — almost twice the minimum.
I applied, and the man who interviewed me was impressed with my Ivy League education. He said I would be a perfect fit — except for one thing: he had never worked in the field with a woman before. The company had women in the office, but not out with the bugs and hot weather and rain and mud. I told him I loved being outdoors and was used to hard labor on a three-acre farm. I didn’t mind getting dirty. He was convinced and told me I could start in three days.
One or two days later I got a call from his secretary, who said he had decided to go with someone else instead: a man.
“Inmate, pick that up!”
“Inmate, pour this in the pot.”
That’s me: “Inmate.” I’m incarcerated at Hancock State Plantation — I mean, Prison — in Sparta, Georgia. I’ve been incarcerated for nine years now. There are some bad people in prison with me. I say “people,” but we aren’t treated like people. We are spoken to not by our names but by our title: Inmate. I’m not even a number. Due to the blue and white stripes I wear, I am no longer trustworthy, no longer equal, no longer human.
It doesn’t matter that I graduated from high school, went to Fort Valley State University, or held a job with Delta Air Lines. Nor does it matter that I speak to the guards with respect and always say, “Excuse me,” “Please,” and “Thank you.” (Who said Yankees can’t be polite?)
I’ll never be their equal. I’ll always be an inmate, and a black one at that: a third-class citizen. I just want what every person wants — respect.
If prisoners are truly to be rehabilitated, shouldn’t the process start with calling us by our names?
At work I was surrounded by engineers, salesmen, and product guys with whiskey bottles on their desks. They were thirty to my forty. They were cool; I was not. They were in charge; I was female.
They got the titles and the big salaries and the recognition at the company-wide meetings. I was their equal only at the bar, where I could match them drink for drink. Unfortunately real equality doesn’t come in a glass of whiskey over ice.
When I was younger, my Barbie doll was my best friend. I had a toy box full of variations on her — all pale, slim, and blue eyed. I played with them for hours daily, making up stories to give Barbie the life I wished I had. I wanted to be like her: pretty, white, perfect. Wasn’t that the way all girls were supposed to be?
I had only one black doll. Though she should have meant the most to me, I can’t even remember what she looked like. The media had conditioned me to believe that only white girls could be beautiful and popular.
Watching the Disney Channel, I saw teen pop star Hannah Montana as a real-life Barbie whose antics resembled the stories I made up about my dolls on my bedroom floor. I wanted to be a pop star, too, but I didn’t think I would be able to. Why couldn’t I have had role models in the media who looked like me? Why couldn’t I turn on the TV screen and see a black teen pop star?
When I was nine years old, I had a crush on my best friend, but she had a crush on someone else. My friend was a tall, skinny white girl. I was just a black doll in a toy box full of Barbies.
My Uncle Vincent arrived in the United States from Italy with his mother and younger sister (my mother) at the age of five. They were poor immigrants and settled in an Italian enclave on Staten Island in New York City. Less than a year later my mother came down with scarlet fever. It was the early 1930s, and antibiotics weren’t widely available. The doctor told my grandmother to quarantine my mother and keep my uncle separate from her. My grandmother followed his instructions, but my uncle still came down with the infection.
He grew even sicker than my mother, and my grandparents rushed him to the hospital. A doctor said the infection had spread to his ears. To save my uncle’s life, they would have to remove his eustachian tubes. My uncle would live, but he would be completely deaf.
My grandparents were illiterate and spoke very little English. The hospital didn’t take enough time to explain the situation to them. At first, after the surgery, my grandmother did not understand what had happened. When she sat with my uncle at his bedside, she was confused as to why he didn’t respond to her.
For months afterward Uncle Vincent languished in the house — no school, no church, no friends. Finally my grandparents learned about St. Joseph’s School for the Deaf in the Bronx. My grandmother enrolled Uncle Vincent there. St. Joseph’s was a boarding school, and every Sunday she would make the long trip on the ferry and subway from Staten Island to the Bronx to visit him, carrying plates of homemade food.
Uncle Vincent received his high-school diploma from St. Joseph’s and married a classmate. When he came home, he became an advocate for the deaf and cofounded the Deaf Club of Staten Island, which still exists. I remember attending events at the clubhouse as a small child: parties for Christmas and children’s first Communions, confirmations, and birthdays. Watching my uncle and other members on the dance floor, I asked my cousin how they could dance to the music. “They feel the vibrations,” she said.
My uncle also established a monthly Mass for the deaf at St. Teresa’s Catholic Church. His dream was to open a school for the deaf on Staten Island, perhaps because he remembered my grandmother’s long journeys to St. Joseph’s when he was a boy.
Several years before Uncle Vincent’s death, my mother found some hospital records about his treatment for scarlet fever all those years ago. The surgeon wrote in his notes that the procedure was to be performed on a “poor immigrant boy.” He later acknowledged that removing Uncle Vincent’s eustachian tubes had been a mistake, “but the parents will never know because they cannot read or write.”
My mother never did tell Uncle Vincent about the papers. She asked him once if he wanted to try a cochlear implant to recover some of his hearing, but he decided against it. “I accept my life the way it is,” he said.
Because of one man’s bias, my uncle’s life was irrevocably changed. He accomplished a great deal and helped many deaf or otherwise disabled people, but my grandmother never stopped worrying about him. On her deathbed, the last words she spoke to my mother were “Take care of my son.”
Ann Marie Antenucci
Staten Island, New York
I was raised in a conservative Christian household. In our church women were taught to submit to their husbands, be silent, and know their place. They could be in charge of children’s ministries, women’s ministries, and hospitality, or serve as administrative assistants. That was it.
My parents had been foreign missionaries for their denomination for more than a decade. I wanted to be a good Christian girl, but I didn’t understand why women couldn’t preach or lead songs or prayers or pass Communion. All the women I knew were smart and capable enough. When I questioned the injustice, I was told Eve had deceived Adam and brought sin into the world, and her punishment was that her husband would rule over her.
I once asked my father, a theologian and thoughtful person, if I could be a preacher when I grew up. He thought for a bit, then said yes. But when I brought up the subject again in high school, he tried to convince me that, even though women couldn’t lead in church or be elders, they actually were stronger than men, because men were dependent on them. I was skeptical and argued that if women were stronger, they should lead.
I learned about feminism in college, and by the time I wrote my master’s thesis on the feminist movement in Uruguay, my father’s thinking had also come around. When he was working on his own PhD in his late forties, one of his favorite professors was a radical feminist. He now belongs to a denomination that allows women to do more, though they still aren’t fully equal. He’s a Socratic figure and asks provocative questions at his church, ruffling feathers. He voted for Hillary Clinton. I’m proud to have helped him learn about women’s equality, but I’m only now truly starting to believe that my ideas matter just as much as his.
San Francisco, California
When I got married in 1992, my wife and I didn’t include anything in our vows about “in sickness or in health,” but we have stayed together through both. My wife had multiple car accidents in the nineties — her vehicle seemed to have a big target on it — and afterward she developed chronic pain and chronic fatigue. Her symptoms got so bad, she had to leave her career as a hospice nurse.
Most of the household tasks became mine. I shopped, cooked, cleaned, and took her to medical appointments. I retired early from my job as a school principal to take care of her, but I never resented the sacrifice. I loved her and wanted to be there for her no matter what. Our sex life and affection for each other only grew stronger over time.
Last year I went in for bilateral knee-replacement surgery. I thought I would be off my feet for six to eight weeks. Ten days after the surgery I stepped down from my front entryway using a new walker a friend had given me. The walker went flying, and I followed in dramatic fashion. I screamed in pain as blood flowed from the dressing around my right knee. Then, on the way to the surgeon’s office, we were rear-ended by another car. The wound, which had stopped bleeding, reopened.
The surgeon operated on the knee again and performed a complicated reconstruction. Ten days later an infection developed. Two more surgeries and six weeks of IV antibiotics couldn’t save my leg. The decision was made to amputate it above the knee.
During this ordeal my wife and I switched roles, and she became my caretaker. In spite of her limitations, she rose to the task. As I learn to navigate the world with a prosthetic leg, we now share equally in household chores.
I was alone in my apartment in Ankara, Turkey, making dinner, when my recently adopted street cat rushed howling into the room and climbed up my leg. Before I could shake her off, the building started to sway like a boat at sea.
It was November 1999. I had begun teaching at a Turkish university that August, shortly after a 7.6-magnitude earthquake had killed nearly seventeen thousand people in İzmit. I’d been assured there were no fault lines running through Ankara, but a strong earthquake can be felt quite a distance from its epicenter.
This earthquake, of 7.2 magnitude, struck a town called Düzce about 150 miles from Ankara. My four-story apartment building pitched and rocked. Voices shouted in the hall, and feet rushed down steps. Someone began pounding on my door. I opened it, and the woman from across the hall grabbed my arm. “Quickly!” she said in Turkish.
“I’m OK,” I replied in English. The rocking had stopped.
My neighbor called for a tall woman named Serpil, who spoke English and said I must come outside.
“I’m all right,” I answered. “It’s over.”
“We don’t know that,” Serpil said. She explained that buildings can fall on the second shock.
I looked at my cat; the two women followed my gaze. In the mostly working-class neighborhood where I lived, people did not keep cats in the house. Cats lived in the streets, where they killed vermin or were themselves killed by wild dogs.
“Leave it,” Serpil said.
She led me by the hand down the stairs. As we stepped outside, the other local residents saw us and cheered. We were the last to come out.
Embarrassed by the attention, I asked why they cheered; they didn’t even know me.
“We all know you,” Serpil answered. She said that the day I’d moved in, I’d become part of their community. It was their responsibility to make sure I was safe.
The power was out. We sat together in the street for two hours, sharing food, playing backgammon, and listening to a portable radio.
The earth did not move again. After another hour people began returning to their flats. Mine was on the third floor. I began to say good night when we reached Serpil’s door.
“Neither of us should be alone tonight,” she said. “Please stay at my home.”
She made us tea, and we sat together in the dark, talking about our families and careers. Throughout the night people would knock on the door and join us for tea. No one slept. We began moving from flat to flat. In my place children played with the cat, and old women shook their heads and laughed while Serpil translated their questions about the U.S. By morning all of my neighbors had gathered in the largest flat for breakfast. Everyone had brought something to share.
Mary Louise Hill
Buffalo, New York