If a story begins with “From my perspective as a Southern white man …” it’s probably not worth reading. This is a cruel irony for a writer who, now in the second half of life, has become more memoirist hoping to leave thoughts worth considering before he puts down the pen for good.
A middle-class, white male in the South is a perplexing status these days. On one hand, you are the privileged, enfranchised beneficiary of 400 years of ancestors who colluded to do despicable things to anyone who didn’t look like them. On the other, those sins are coming to bear on you, even though you had nothing to do with perpetuating them.
I was raised in a family of very liberal women. Grandfathers were quiet or dead. Fathers skipped out on responsibilities. My mother and two grandmothers raised me. They were empowered, independent women who stood up for themselves and others. They demanded respect. And gave it to those who deserved it. Particularly those not typically provided such by privileged, white men.
They raised me to do the same. But my gender and color made it confusing for me to be so assertive. White men don’t have to protest to be let in or given rights. But I learned others did. And I was taught to support them.
Certainly, that doesn’t mean we were always cognizant of micro-aggressions or the impact institutional racism had on our passive ignorance of more covert prejudice. But I like to think, in general, we were considered allies in the disadvantaged communities we knew.
The two non-family members perhaps closest to my maternal grandmother, whom I called Geike, were Milton and Estelle. He was the building superintendent and general handyman for my grandmother’s properties and business. She cleaned Geike’s house and helped look after my Great-Grandmother. That alone qualified Estelle for sainthood.
Gran Gran was a cranky old bat. She once greeted me as I came to visit with, “Stay away from the refrigerator. You’re too fat.” Estelle needed to check on her as we were certain she would eventually lose a battle with karma. It would come back to settle up for all the puppies she kicked.
She used to walk around the house with a fly swatter, but used it to whack at me for being too loud, or…