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SaraKay Smullens

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Obama's Inaugural Events: Snapshots from Yesterday

Posted: 01/18/09 07:25 PM ET

Two of my adult daughters and their families left their meeting place, our home in Philadelphia, a few hours ago to attend historic events in DC. Their leaving showed me much about this time in my life, why even those of us with grandchildren who are blessed with good health and active personal and professional lives crave alone time. We have snapshots within to visit. We have memories that call out to be remembered. We have thank yous to express.

How well I remember my mother waving goodbye as I left for President Kennedy's Inaugural events. How she applauded my work for him as a candidate and my involvement in civil rights activities in our Baltimore community. How proud she was of this involvement while I was a student at Baltimore's Goucher College and the award given me at graduation because of it. How she defended me when colleagues of my father blasted me for this involvement when part of it was covered by our hometown newspaper, The Baltimore Sun...

And so, as my adult daughters waved goodbye, there my mother was once again with me. In my mind's eye, she joined me in goodbyes to grandchildren, now young adults, she was not granted the joys of watching grow up. Her eyes misted with mine as she watched their children.

And there are snapshots within of my paternal grandmother, who left her beloved parents at age 17, never to see them again, journeying from what she ever described as her "old country," Lithuania, to her new one, "my United States of America." My Bubbie (Yiddish for grandmother) could never stop talking about her good fortune of living here, even though her arranged marriage was one that did not bring her joy or fulfillment. When this country's source for celebration, our own Barack Obama, explained that his grandmother "poured all that she had" into him, I remembered her, knowing that throughout her life I could do no wrong in her loving eyes and accepting heart. And so, as my daughters moved on today, she too was there, her face rich with love.

There were two more snapshots. In the Baltimore of my youth, the best job an African American woman could be offered was to care for a white child in a white home. There were two women who cared for me, one when until I was about eight years old, one later. These were years when stores were closed to African American, when decent public lavatories were denied, when even public fountains were marked, White or Negro. When even movie theatres were "White Only," other than balcony seats (far away from white people) on certain days a week.

I adored both Rita and Louise, and would spend part of weekends in Rita's home, the only white face in her Baptist Church. How Rita and Louise each loved and cared for me, especially committed for long years of my mother's ill health. When I rode Baltimore's streetcars with them, they tried to put me in the front, where they could not ride. But I won out by always clinging to them, sitting with them in the back seats.

I was in college when Rita was dying and she refused to "leave this earth," in the words of her daughter, until I got to the "Negro ward" of a teaching hospital, where she could receive care. "Things will change for your people. It will get better. I will never stop trying," I promised her.

And when I became ill a few months after my first child was born, it was Louise who came to help me with her care. All seeing, Louise knew that my first marriage would, in time, have to end. She told me to be brave. The train station of this parting and her words was the last time I would see her.

As my daughters and their left, snapshots of Rita and Louise were with me also, waving goodbye, thankful that every child now could have a better future.

When my mother first became ill, she was temporarily better when we left downtown Baltimore to move to a lovely Baltimore suburb. As sad as I was to leave the multicultural row homed neighborhood of downtown Baltimore, I would not miss the kindergarten teachers, Miss Kratz and Miss Krause, who never let me go out for recess because I could not draw or carry a tune.

I could not believe it when my new first grade teacher, Ethel Miller, put a drawing of a train on the wall above the blackboards with several others selected. Miss Miller even allowed me to participate in the glee club if I promised to not sing, but just move my lips. She decided that my forte would be to announce the programs.

Also among my teach snapshots is Milton Velder, my junior high teacher homeroom and English teacher, who more than former students, some from as far away as California, returned to Baltimore to celebrate a few months ago.

When Obama is inaugurated, some of my children will be there, as I had been years before. As my husband and I hear his words, in celebration with close friends, I know that my mind will move backwards: I will hear President Kennedy, who changed my life by helping me receive a scholarship for my first year in graduate school, say once again that the torch has been passed to a new generation. In silent conversation I will thank him and others in eternal snapshots for doing all they could so that my sons and daughters and theirs could receive it.

 
 
 

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