50th Anniversary Homes Tour: Page Three

We moved on up to a split level on Ashland Drive in 1973. Still no sidewalks, but not far from the bluff and a safe enough street for riding bikes and those red and yellow Big Wheel things.

We added a den on the back, and that’s when my husband concluded–after a disastrous DYI project–that it’s sometime better to earn money and pay somebody else to do certain home improvement jobs, like sheet rocking a ceiling!

The Bluff Park Art Show, in its infancy then, became a habit highlight each fall. Shades Cliff Community Park, with mossy rock outcroppings beneath shade trees, is still a great setting for wandering among a wide variety of artists and their work. Most years, the show draws thousands on an early October Saturday, but sadly, like the Sylacauga Marble Festival and other traditions, it will not be held this year.

I continue to follow artists I met at Bluff Park, including potter Larry Allen, mixed media quilt artist Donna Leigh Jackins, and Lonnie Holley. The first time I went, Holley was fascinating clusters of children with his sand sculptures and “found” art, encouraging them, including my younger son, to create their own masterpieces out of rocks and wire and whatever. Since then, Holley’s art and music career has blossomed around the country and the world, but he finds time to return to Bluff Park.

The fall of 1974 found me teaching English and German at Woodlawn HS in the Birmingham city system—not the most common teaching combination. I hadn’t planned to teach again so soon when I filed an application, but it turned out the superintendent’s son, who wanted to study pre-med at Dartmouth, needed German on his resume, and Woodlawn was short one English teacher.

Woodlawn High School

The school had been integrated since the mid-1960s. I remember being asked to help chaperone the first school prom in a while—the principal deciding it was safe enough by 1975. Football star Tony Nathan was a senior hero, and our end-of-year awards day featured an appearance by Bear Bryant, who would coach him at Alabama the following fall.

Along with teaching 10th grade English and German I, I took on sponsorship of the Tatler newspaper and loved the time spent with my diverse crew of would-be journalists who did a great job resurrecting their school paper. There was administrative concern about their desire to feature Black History Month in the February issue, but we got it approved, and there was no uproar. The Tatler office turned out to be a non-threatening place for students to share thoughts and experiences relating to all kinds of issues, including prejudice and inequality, war, and abortion. One story I remember hearing was about the first day at a Birmingham elementary school back in 1965. When students filed into their new classroom, their teacher, who had donned long white gloves, seated the African American students over by tall windows, which were open about a foot. “Please understand,” she told the class. “I am not a prejudiced person. I’m just allergic.”

The wonderful Tatler staff of 1974-75

Having grown up in northern Ohio, I’d never experienced “systemic racism”—White Only signs and Jim Crow laws, for example, but northern Ohio certainly had its share of perhaps more subtle prejudice and inequality, often as much ethnic as racial.

Returning to teaching led to a search for childcare and household help. Roger, already in school, needed after school care. Pioneer Playschool, complete with a fun van for pickup, was just around the corner. Mr. Tom, somewhat of a Mr. Rogers character, had a unique way of “disciplining” any child who broke rules. My memory says he had a pantry full of canned goods—all with the labels removed. The perpetrator had to choose a can and eat whatever was in it. Roger insists that all the cans were filled with rutabagas and distinctly remembers having to eat them at least once.

I interviewed several applicants for a housekeeper who could also stay with my three-year-old two days a week. The last person who came was a soft-spoken woman who looked me straight in the eye and said, “I know you’ve interviewed others, but I have my own car. You won’t have to deal with bus stops and bad schedules. And I already love this little boy of yours.” He was sitting contentedly on her lap as she said that.

Both my sons called her “Mrs. M_______” because I’d taught them to call all adults except close relatives Mr. or Mrs. However, a neighbor informed me one morning that this shouldn’t apply to my “black household help” and that her children certainly would not refer to her that way. Mrs. M_____ and her family members have remained, in one capacity or another, both employees and friends down through the years. Even as adults, my sons always addressed her as Mrs. M_________.

Much as I loved teaching, it became increasingly difficult to juggle childcare, traffic across town, and home life. I often said that, if I had had no family and a tiny apartment next door to Woodlawn, I would have continued teaching forever, but at that point in time, family won my mental debate.

When Gerald Ford came to Birmingham during his presidential campaign in 1976, his visit was only the second from a sitting President since WWII. (Nixon had come in 1971.) Roger was a Cub Scout, and his den mother, one of our neighbors, decided it would be an educational/patriotic thing to take the boys down to Woodrow Wilson Park to see him. Several parents helped with transport, including me. There was quite a crowd, and one of the dads lifted my younger son onto his shoulders as we all pushed forward (non-Covid time), hoping to shake the President’s hand. As it turned out, only little Bobby, highly visible up on those shoulders, got the handshake privilege in our group.

Stay Tuned: Next up, trading house for business opportunity

%d bloggers like this: