A Trailblazer and Role Model
The Golden glow of brilliant sunshine spread rays of love, kindness, determination and compassion on that long ago date of June 26, 1932. For you see, that was the day my mom made her debut appearance in the world she would bless with her presence.
Rose Marie grew up in the North Country of New York State, by the shores of the Saint Lawrence River. Like many in her age group (those in the post depression era) their beginnings were humble, to say the least. Her father had died when she was only 9 years old from a ruptured appendix. Apparently, these senseless deaths occurred when the only doctor in town was too drunk to perform surgery. The loss of my mom's father at such an early age left a deep scar which lasted a lifetime.
The masses struggled with poverty in those days, so being a young widow with two small children my grandmother ended up cleaning houses and washing windows, along with just about anything else she could do in order to scrape by. Due to circumstances beyond their control my mother and her younger brother received hand me down clothes from those who were more fortunate. As my grandmother used to say, even to me as a child, “Remember honey, just because a person is poor doesn’t mean they have to be dirty”.
Meanness and snobbery have always been around and it was no different in rural New York State.There was one particular little girl in school that would taunt my mom by yelling out to everyone else, “Ha-ha, look at Rose, she’s wearing my old dress.” Emotional scars run deep and I think that is one of the reasons why my mom was so driven to succeed and achieve excellence in school. Years later, while shopping with her in downtown Syracuse, we ran into that little girl from school. Lo, and behold both my mother and she were wearing the exact same coat. After the woman passed by mom grasped my hand tightly and said proudly, “Well, I guess she’s not better than me after all.” She was beaming. I remember that incident as though it happened yesterday.
HURRAY...IT WAS FAMILY VACATION TIME
One particular family vacation sticks out during this time period.We traveled to Florida in 1958 when I was only 7 years old. The journey was filled with excitement and sheer elation for a boy my age. The car windows were rolled down and a stifling hot southern breeze swirled wildly around our faces. My dad was puzzled and worried about a nonstop clicking sound in the front of the car. My mother kept hearing this odd noise as well. My father pulled the car over to the oppressively hot, sandy shoulder of the highway in order to check things out. My parents began to laugh once they realized the cause of their angst was nothing more than a cicada that had attached itself to the front wheel well. Once remedied, our trek south continued.
My mother had meticulously choreographed our vacation. Our destination was Silver Springs in Ocala, Florida. We were treated to a glass bottom boat ride, watching the fish play soccer with balls of bread, monkeys swinging in trees, alligators swimming by us, 100+-year-old tortoises and boa constrictor snakes. We were in awe learning that this was the area where Johnny Weismuller filmed the Tarzan movies in the 1930s and 1940s. I was entranced watching the scenery pass by. Shacks, built upon posts, with peeling paint were scattered across the watermelon and cotton fields. We bought a basket of Georgia peaches and filled the trunk with watermelons that were only $.10 a piece.
Our family vacation was coming to an abrupt end when all of a sudden my mom chimed in with this little gem..."Charlie, we're only 17 miles from Washington. Let's take a day or two and visit and show Dennis the city." The ensuing conversation went something like this: "Rose...I am not driving into Washington and get caught up in all of that traffic. For crying out loud, we've done quite enough on this trip!" My mother went silent and you could cut the air with a knife. When we approached our home my mom said, "Charlie...don't take Dennis and me home.You can drop us off at the airport." "What are you talking about the airport for?" dad surprisingly asked. "Well, Charlie I told you how much I wanted Dennis to see Washington and you refused to go. Now, you can drop us off at the airport because the two of us are going there and we're going now."
I don't have a clue how my mother pulled it off so quickly, but we flew into Washington, D.C. and stayed in a hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue overlooking the Capitol. I got my first lesson in race relations while we were passengers in a taxicab. The cab driver, knowing we were from New York, kept trying to educate us regarding the black community. His language was disgusting, even to me as a 7-year-old. Once the cabbie started throwing out the "N" word my mom abruptly instructed him to pull the taxi over and drop us off. He did not receive a tip, although he quickly learned that his actions were intolerable to my mom. Within record time, my mother secured a chauffeured limousine to act as our personal travel guide for the next three days. Who ever heard of such a thing back in 1958?
I have fond memories surrounding my educational and eye-opening trip to our Nation's Capital. As a young boy, I was fascinated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). On display were an array of machine guns and weapons confiscated from mobsters and other sordid individuals. We were treated to the marksmanship of Agents firing at targets in their indoor firing range. Etched in my memory bank was the admission that Agent's were trained to shoot to kill and not maim or wound. No one in the crowd had ever seen as much money as we did during our visit to the United States Mint. Sheets of currency were being printed, inspected, approved or rejected in record time. Mom asked, "Do you hand out free samples?" Even though the question had most likely been asked millions of times, the people in the crowd laughed and nodded in excited encouragement.
SHE WASN'T SHY - ROSE MARIE ATTRACTED PEOPLE TO HER LIKE NORTH AND SOUTH MAGNETIC POLES
Our driver mentioned that he would drop us off while we eagerly explored the monuments. Mom spoke up and said, "No, you can't leave us. We need you to take our pictures together." She was always thinking about how to make memories to last a lifetime and she accomplished her goal with flying colors.
The White House tour was spectacular, as was the Washington Zoo, Arlington National Cemetery and the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After an exhausting day at the Smithsonian Institute, my mother and I were holding hands walking down the steps from the building. A woman approached and asked, "Rose, Is that you?" Mom's grin went from ear to ear as the two women engaged in an uplifting conversation. You see, 500 miles and a graduation from childhood to motherhood hadn't prevented my mother's 6th Grade school teacher from still recognizing her.
THE END OF FAMILY VACATIONS
All good things must come to an end and so did our impromptu exploration of the Nation's Capitol. Sadly, there were no more vacations as a complete family unit. For the rest of my young life, I took trips with my dad and other trips with my mom and grandmother. However, the knowledge I gained during the summer of 1958 was immense. I grasped quickly that racism is never acceptable. My mother was an equal partner in her marriage and an outspoken trailblazer for independent women. Many may have considered my mom an enigma for her time. I, on the other hand, looked up to her as a leader, role model and a woman full of charisma.
WRITTEN BY: DENNIS L. PAGE