PREJUDICE & ME & MENDOTA

Back in the days when we were protesting for Civil Rights and an end to our involvement in Viet Nam, Dick Gregory, black comedian, leading activist in both movements, came to Minneapolis. During a press conference he was asked how Minneapolis compared to other major cities as far as racial discrimination against blacks was concerned.

He said he found very little black prejudice compared to other cities; but before Minneapolitans had to chance to take bows, he explained why. He observed there were so many Indians in Minnesota that were the brunt of prejudice, white folks didn’t have time to bother with the small black population.

There wasn’t any prejudice against Indians in the village/township of Mendota where my roots were. Mendota was a settlement across the river from Minneapolis and St. Paul, older than both. Outside of a few outsiders like my dad, who married into it, we were descendants of French/Canadians or Mendota Sioux or a mix of both. No bona fide Mendota resident had to go back too many generations to find a common ancestor with any other bona fide Mendota resident.

There were some inhabitants that people did not like; but it wasn’t prejudice because they might have Indian blood, it was because they were jerks.

From the time I was a toddler, one of my best friends was Fred La Batte, grandpa’s hired hand. He claimed to be 100% Mendota Sioux; and when questioned why he had a French name, he always answered, because his Sioux name was too hard to spell. I enjoyed being around Fred and I learned a lot from him, including a few English and French words that I found out the hard way to never use within my mom’s hearing distance.

When I acted up and Fred told me to stop it, I stopped. Not to would cause him to shake his finger at me warn me what would happen if kept misbehaving. He would put me in a gunny sack and take me to Chicago. When I asked him about Chicago he told me it was a place worse than even Minneapolis. Yes sir, I obeyed Fred.

Fred also taught me a lot about horses. Come time to cultivate the corn, Fred would hitch Dick, grandpa’s sorrel gelding to the one-row cultivator. Many a hot summer day you would see Dick still hitched to the cultivator munching on the grass in the ditch by the highway. No sign of Fred because Fred had flagged down a ride to Huber’s for a couple cold beers. When I asked Fred how he got the horse to just stand there for such a long time and not go anyplace or turn around and eat the corn stalks, Fred said he warned the horse if he misbehaved he’d get a gunny sack over his eyes and…

and, and, you’ll take him to Chicago. Right, Fred?’

You learn real good, little Donny.’

The first lesson I received in prejudice was from Mrs. Benson, who taught all eight grades in the one-room schoolhouse I went to. Now even though she was a Lutheran Swede from Minneapolis, we all liked her, students and parents both. She only taught us one year because her husband got polio and required her help at home.

(Polio was the first pandemic that I lived through. We survived because the politicians united and left finding the cure and vaccine to the medical experts, like Dr. Jonas Salk.)

Mrs. Benson’s teaching of prejudice was straight forward. She said that we should accept or reject people as individuals and not because of culture or color…Prejudice was wrong. Prejudice was stupid. Prejudice hurt both the person it was directed against and the person who directed it.

In addition to her talking about it, she gave us a list of books that would teach us more about prejudice.

We were to pick out a book, read it, and then stand in front of the room and tell the rest of the students what we learned about prejudice from the book. She eliminated the first three grades as far as reading a book was concerned; but they could tell us about prejudice they had witnessed, or comment on what they heard. The lesson was in the first hour of class when someone was ready to speak.

After she finished laying out the groundwork, she handed note books she had purchased with her own money and told us we were to keep a record of what we were learning about prejudice, starting with what she had said that morning.

Now any questions?

About six hands went up.

 ‘Mrs. Benson, how do you spell ‘prejudice’? 

I reread Huckleberry Finn from the school’s library, which had about two hundred books in it and which I had already finished reading all of them. I gave my report on the relationship between Huck and Jim, the runaway ex-slave about five days into the project. I was the first to make a report.

So to keep me actively involved in the project, Mrs. Benson lent me her personal copy of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Now that really showed me a world unlike the one grew up in. I read it twice before I gave my report.

Mrs. Benson suggested I read yet another book. She gave me some suggestions but this time I went out on my own read my dad’s copy of The Vanishing American by Zane Grey. I had heard it a radio program once. Since she wasn’t aware of the story, she consulted with her husband, who was a Zane Grey fan. When he told her it was a tale about the loss of Indian culture and of love between  a Navajo man, a white woman.

Mrs. Benson suggested that she and I talk over my report before I gave it. She wanted to make sure her project on racial prejudice did not turn into a sex education class. She didn’t have to worry. I concentrated on the prejudice and loss of the native culture, not the mushy love stuff. I also tied in a lot of things that Fred LaBatte had told me, like why he had a French last name.

( Today the Navajo nation is vanishing, not the culture, the people. They are hardest hit segment of the killer virus in America. In the early days of the virus, those days the president assured us not to worry, within a couple weeks the few virus cases in the US would disappear, a prominent Navajo leader died and people came from all over the Navajo reservation, the largest reservation in the US. The lack of early knowledge and prevention, the arid harsh land, the abject poverty, the scarcity of medical facilities, and the total disregard of the Federal government have fueled the virus wildfire and the vanishing of the Navajo is another type of genocide that has permeated the our nation since the first day Anglos set foot in New England.)

So my growing up in Mendota and my education from Mrs. Benson, pretty much laid down the foundation of my feelings about racial prejudice. I never had much experience with blacks those early years , except for playing against some in sports. Then I went in in the Army!

Oops! What started out as one blog post has gotten away from me. Par for the course. I will close out this post and will continue my experience in prejudice in the Army, deep in the heart of Dixie, in another post.

I will close out this with a quotations I was introduced to last week in one of my favorite blogs:

Playamart – Zeebra Designs A blog of beautiful art, great photos, and fine prose by Lisa, a talented Mississippian now living in Ecuador.

 Blacks and Native Americans share one thing. Native Americans had their land stolen, and their culture systematically crushed. Blacks – it’s the opposite; they were stolen from their land, and they had their culture systematically crushed. We can’t begin to imagine what it takes to come back from that…” – Greg Iles – excerpt from 2017/National Writers Series interview –

And that’s a wrap for today. Stay Safe

MISS FEE;THE DIAL SWITCHER

Another back-in-the-day post:  before we had streaming TV, heck before we ever heard of TV, we had radio, and before we had schools with basketball courts and buses to transport us to these wonderful buildings, we had one-room schoolhouses. One room, one teacher, grades One thru Eight. The enrollment went from 8 pupils one year to a high of 14 another year.

memory07_donaldostertag

The Original Story

Growing up on a small farm, our one radio was the only source of outside entertainment available to me. I hurried with my chores so I could listen to “my programs” – Tom MixLone Ranger, etc.. After supper, Mom controlled the dial (Dad worked nights in the packinghouse), and we listened to comedies like Fibber McGee, dramas like The First Nighter, and music like Your Hit Parade. Sometimes, when she was busy, I would lower the volume and find a crime show like Sam Spade, or a thriller like Suspense. A second radio would have been wonderful but was out of the question.

I went to the one-room schoolhouse across the field. Miss Fee, who lived on a farm with her four bachelor brothers, taught all eight grades as she had for years. She ruled with a stern scowl and a wood ruler.

One very cold early evening, she walked into our kitchen and announced she could not get her DeSoto started and was going to spend the night with us. And she added, that she hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. Mom, who also had Miss Fee as a teacher, would never had dared to offer any alternatives, and did everything that Miss Fee ordered, even letting her control the radio dial.

After that first night, the DeSoto seemed to fail every time the mercury dropped below zero, and we would have our very demanding guest. Mom told Dad that she didn’t believe the “car won’t start” story. “Those Fees are so tight with a buck,” Mom explained, “It’s her way of getting a good meal and a warm bed, having somebody else do the work.” Dad just smiled. “And,” Mom added, “She even has to listen to her radio programs! I go to listen to Kraft Music Hall. She turns on Sunset Valley Barn Dance!”

I saw an opening, “Well, if we had another radio…” Mom cut me off with her “Think-we’re-made-of-money” look. Dad shook his head.

Then one night, a Monday night, Miss Fee walked in. Everything went as usual except when eight o’clock came, time for Mom’s one must-listen-to program, Lux Radio Theater. She had hurried with her work and was sitting in her favorite chair, her crochet materials in her lap, listening to the words, “Lux Presents Hollywood,” her favorite hour of the week, when…Miss Fee turned the dial to Doctor I.Q.!…”I have a woman in the balcony, Doctor. And for three silver dollars…”

Mom stood up, and without a word, went to bed.

The very next payday we got our second radio. From then on, Mom could listen to Jack Benny and Bing Crosby, and I could solve crimes with Johnny Dollar and get goose bumps from the squeaking door of Inner Sanctum except when Miss Fee’s DeSoto wouldn’t start.

    Technically this is not an OLD HAND published newspaper story. It was published in the OLD TIME RADIO CATALOG. They asked for stories concerning old time radio. This was the first they ever published and I received ten CD’s of old time radio for it. Their web site is excellent. If you want to know what old timers like me listened to instead of TV, go to their web site. Not only is it informative, there is free old time radio programs you can listen to. http://www.otrcat.com/

ADDENDUM to the published story.

This was only part of the story. That first night Miss Fee declared she was spending the night, there were three choices, Mom and Dad’s bedroom, the kids’ bedroom, the living room couch. Naturally, Mom put her in her and Dad’s bedroom. Mom would sleep with my sister and Dad would sleep on the couch.

There would be no problem. Every night when Dad came home from work, Mom always woke up. She knew she could intercept Dad when he was sitting at the kitchen table eating a sandwich. She would explain the problem.

But there was a problem! Mom never woke up that night when Dad came home; but boy did she wake up when Dad started screaming and swearing. We all woke up.

Poor Dad. He was clad only in his jockey shorts and was standing facing the corner of the hall by his bedroom, trying to protect his head with his hands.

God damn it, woman,’ he kept yelling over and over, ‘You lost your mind or something? I’m your husband, not a god damn burglar.’

And Miss Fee, wearing long johns and her gray wool sweater was working him over with a broom, this pervert who had tried to climb in bed with her.

Mom jumped to the rescue and grabbed the broom away from Miss Fee at the same time trying to explain to both participants what had happened.

And the three of us older kids just couldn’t stop from laughing at the sight caused by the misunderstanding. The baby of the family slept through it all.

Miss Fee quickly retreated to the bedroom and we could hear her praying the rosary behind the closed door. Dad stomped into the living room and Mom followed, apologizing all the way after yelling for us kids to go back to bed. We did but it took a long time for us three kids to stop laughing and finally go to sleep; and by that time, we woke the baby and it took a long time for Mom to get him back to sleep.

The next day at school, Miss Fee brought me into the back room and begged me not to tell any of the other pupils what happened the night before. I said I wouldn’t, mainly because I had told some of them before school had even started and by then they all knew.

And Mom and Dad arranged for a signal that Miss Fee was spending the night, just in case Mom ever overslept, which she never did again.

MISS FEE;THE DIAL SWITCHER

memory07_donaldostertagGrowing up on a small farm, our one radio was the only source of outside entertainment available to me. I hurried with my chores so I could listen to “my programs” – Tom MixLone Ranger, etc.. After supper, Mom controlled the dial (Dad worked nights in the packinghouse), and we listened to comedies like Fibber McGee, dramas like The First Nighter, and music like Your Hit Parade. Sometimes, when she was busy, I would lower the volume and find a crime show like Sam Spade, or a thriller like Suspense. A second radio would have been wonderful but was out of the question.

I went to the one-room schoolhouse across the field. Miss Fee, who lived on a farm with her four bachelor brothers, taught all eight grades as she had for years. She ruled with a stern scowl and a wood ruler.

One very cold early evening, she walked into our kitchen and announced she could not get her DeSoto started and was going to spend the night with us. And she added, that she hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. Mom, who also had Miss Fee as a teacher, would never had dared to offer any alternatives, and did everything that Miss Fee ordered, even letting her control the radio dial.

After that first night, the DeSoto seemed to fail every time the mercury dropped below zero, and we would have our very demanding guest. Mom told Dad that she didn’t believe the “car won’t start” story. “Those Fees are so tight with a buck,” Mom explained, “It’s her way of getting a good meal and a warm bed, having somebody else do the work.” Dad just smiled. “And,” Mom added, “She even has to listen to her radio programs! I go to listen to Kraft Music Hall. She turns on Sunset Valley Barn Dance!”

I saw an opening, “Well, if we had another radio…” Mom cut me off with her “Think-we’re-made-of-money” look. Dad shook his head.

Then one night, a Monday night, Miss Fee walked in. Everything went as usual except when eight o’clock came, time for Mom’s one must-listen-to program, Lux Radio Theater. She had hurried with her work and was sitting in her favorite chair, her crochet materials in her lap, listening to the words, “Lux Presents Hollywood,” her favorite hour of the week, when…Miss Fee turned the dial to Doctor I.Q.!…”I have a woman in the balcony, Doctor. And for three silver dollars…”

Mom stood up, and without a word, went to bed.

The very next payday we got our second radio. From then on, Mom could listen to Jack Benny and Bing Crosby, and I could solve crimes with Johnny Dollar and get goose bumps from the squeaking door of Inner Sanctum except when Miss Fee’s DeSoto wouldn’t start.

    Technically this is not an OLD HAND published story. It was published in the OLD TIME RADIO CATALOG. They asked for stories concerning old time radio. This was the first they ever published and I received ten CD’s of old time radio for it. Their web site is excellent. If you want to know what old timers like me listened to instead of TV, go to their web site. Not only is it informative, there is free old time radio programs you can listen to. http://www.otrcat.com/