Happy Birthday Dad

Dad was a Juneteenth baby, born 1925.  While home the summer after he died and mother had gone into assisted living, it fell to me and Sis to clean out the house.  It was, as things like that often are, bittersweet.  You learn things you might not have known, revisit memories that have been cherished, and, at least Sis and I did, laugh a lot.  Sometimes we would run across an item she knew about and would share its history with me.  Sometimes, I was the one who knew the story behind the photo or souvenir.  Our paternal grandmother had a penchant for taking family portraits and cutting a silhouette head and then arranging them in the same frame.  I ran across the silhouette of Dad in a box one night and propped on the mantle.  On his birthday, I clipped a clothes pin to it so we could do a “selfie.”  R asked “Are we playing with photoshop?”  I said no, we were going lo-tech; like I have photoshop or Internet here in rural northwest Texas?

One of the items I had previously found was his baby book, written in my grandmother’s block-like penmanship.

…born in the City of Proffitt, State of Texas at 2:30 P. M. on Friday June 19 1925 and weighed 9 lbs.  Doctor J. B. Mars

Grandma had another penchant of “embroidering” family history and Mother questioned some of what was recorded in the book as true–not details easily verified, but the “stories.”  Another item I found odd was among his “First Toys” she listed “Negro doll.”  I always found that curious, but there was no one to ask about it.  This morning when I awoke, it was a bolt of lightening: because he was born Juneteenth.  Growing up in Texas, we all knew the story of how Emancipation Day was celebrated June 19th because that is how long it took for word to reach Texas, and thus, June 19th was the day Texas received the news that Texas enslaved were free.

Dad Army Air Force (1)

As a child and young woman, I was fascinated with Dad’s Army Air Force pictures, both the formal ones and the snapshots.  He had a photo album and would tell us about the pictures of his time in China and India.  One of my colleagues is from China, and he shared with me some of the things he learned in school about the US soldiers in China, and I have learned about the many casualties the Chinese people suffered while helping the the soldiers build runways and roads and dams–the work that my father did as a heavy equipment operator.

My hope for coming Juneteenths is true emancipation and equity and inclusion and social and economic justice become reality as those who share that vision and those beliefs and goals continue to do our best to honor them and bring them about.

 

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14 Responses to Happy Birthday Dad

  1. peggyjoan42 says:

    Very interesting stories about your father. Thank you for sharing them.

  2. Beth says:

    A beautiful tribute to your Dad on Father’s Day and also a reminder to all of us to stay focus as we make the necessary changes to our social perceptions. I’ve never forgotten you post about his participation in the cowboy church! I also learned a lot about my parents while we cleaned out their house – sadly, I understand them much better now. Perhaps this is the way we gain understanding so that we, in turn, can understand those that surround us.

    • Suzassippi says:

      Thank you, Beth. Ah, Cowboy Church–I remember that post. I think it is true that we learn from the past how better to understand others. We do not know their lived experience, so we should indeed have some humility when seeking to understand.

  3. A fine tribute to your dad. Love the selfie! My mother-in-law would cut people out of photos she disliked and add those she liked to other photos. Funny about the Negro doll. I grew up knowing about Juneteenth in Texas too. May we start to have equal rights and respect for all people as we join the demand for change.

    • Suzassippi says:

      Thank you, CC! Grandma was well known for cutting people out of the pictures if she was upset, or like when one of us got a divorce. I do sense there is greater momentum for change than in a long time. When I first got to Mississippi, I had students who had no idea why there was a Juneteenth, and truly, I always thought it was unique to Texas–which it may well have been for a while.

  4. Those are wonderful pictures and such treasured memories. I truly had never heard of Juneteenth until this week. Let’s hope it keeps it’s place now and we can all learn about what happened in the past and what needs to happen now.

    • Suzassippi says:

      Thank you, Amanda. I hope so, too. This is the very reason that Howard Zinn wrote “The People’s History” and why the Zinn education project exists: to help teachers learn to teach the history that is omitted from the sanitized history books used in schools.

  5. Sheryl says:

    Your description of cleaning out your parents’ house brought back memories of when I cleaned out my parents’ home. As you said, it was bittersweet. I also found it to be a very peaceful time as I sorted through things.

    • Suzassippi says:

      Sheryl, I guess if our parents, and we, live long enough, it falls to all of us. It did bring me a lot of closure, so that when I walked away it felt okay. That house was home to another family before us, and now it will be to others to come. A lot of my dad is left there, all the barns and fences, and decks, and cabinets that will live on to serve others. It is kind of cool when you think about it.

  6. janebye says:

    Happy birthday to your dad! I love the photos and memories. I have started thinking about all the stuff we have that my kids and grandkids won’t want or don’t care about. I am torn between wanting to keep sentimental items and realizing that someday no one will even know who we are so why bother? LOL That’s so weird. 🙂 But I also think about the continuity that exists, like when we drive past Grandmom and Grandpop’s old house any time we go to NJ–it’s no longer “ours,” but someone else is making a home and memories there with the little touches my grandparents left behind.

    I didn’t know about Juneteenth till I moved to Texas as a teenager. For the longest time, I thought it was a Texas “thing” and not really acknowledged or celebrated elsewhere. Despite all the horrible things going on in our country right now, I do have a tiny glimmer of hope that change is coming, finally.

    • Suzassippi says:

      Thank you, Jane. Well, originally, Juneteenth was a Texas thing, but it spread to other areas over time. When I first came to Mississippi, my students did not even know why there was a Juneteenth holiday. We were playing diversity bingo on the first day of class and you had to find someone to answer the question “Knows someone who celebrates Juneteenth.” It led to a discussion afterwards. My guess is with so few holidays to celebrate that are about you, one might take every advantage of adding one, since it is not likely anyone black celebrated confederate heroes day.

      • janebye says:

        It’s interesting that the holiday has not been well known. Reminds me of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the US where some historical events are told from the perspective of those affected rather than the “victors.” We need more of that. I’m certain that confederate heroes day was very hurtful and harmful to Black people and yet it was much better known. I do remember moving to TX in high school and being shocked that that was a holiday!

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