White Privilege

February 27, 2015

I had no idea that I had grown up “Privileged” until I  graduated from St Albans…which I attended from 4th to 12 Grade…and went onto Carleton College in Northfield Minnesota……

In DC I had grown up with a Scandinavian nanny/cook and a Black (my fave) laundress…

Alice had one eye…and after a day of being bullied/kicked in the balls by someone who will remain nameless …. at STA…

I would go down to the basement and watch her iron my Father’s white shirts….(colored shirts were not worn back in those days)…we talked about everything…and I would tease her and she would chase me around her ironing board…in her white uniform that was de rigueur back in those days ….

She WAS my closest friend …but being born in the tradition of “stiff upper lip”….I never told her of being bullied…we just enjoyed each other’s company…but I did tease her about her ex…Terry…a wonderful man who use to come and pick her up in his car a “Henry J”….he was sweet …how I NOW wish I had asked….WHY were they separated…..he must have done something…as he was devoted to her…guiltily picking her up every day after work 5 days a week…..

Alice was the First Black person that I had ever met or known….

my mother loved her deeply….and when she passed….Mom drove all alone down to the funeral in Virginia…and later told me it was the most beautiful – moving – experience she had Ever had….

the church was situated way off the beaten track…it was a sun bleached structure…sitting amid these spectacular wheat fields she had to travel through…..

she was the only white person there….they passed out fans with Alice’s face on it..

…the minister Welcomed “Miss Jane” from DC….

as the ceremony progressed…and the choir sang…

Mom said people began jumping up and down and dancing in the aisles…so much that it stirred up the dust from the floor boards

We had a weekend house on 12 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains…it had three houses,a spring fed pond with rainbow trout. a sauna, a stable, a ski slope, a tennis court, paddle ball court, and an outhouse on it….

We had a summer house and a Guest House..that had NO electricity..only kerosene lamps…a gas Hot water heater..a Gasoline pump that we had to crank by foot to shoot water up into the wooden storage tank on stilts …. a mile long private driveway in Cable Wisconsin that sat on its own peninsula and overlooked Lake Namekagon…

It was not until I was at Carleton that I that realized  I WAS brought up “Privileged”…as no one else had a weekend house or a summer house….

it was Really eye opening….as I had always thought my family the poorest…as we did not have some of the Grand homes that my STA schoolmates had…..at Cape Cod…Maine

My father told me Before I left for college NOT to major in Art as it was a waste of time (this shocked me as I knew my mother had majored in Art at Vassar)…..

Father was Always “Right”….and he could out argue you in a nano second…so Why try……

he had been the Head of The Debating Team at Carleton besides being the Captain of the Baseball,Basketball, Football, and Boxing team…plus being the President of the Student Body….(where he was responsible for getting rid of all the Fraternities)

He was in Army Intelligence during WWII…

captured the man who replaced Goering…Ernst Kaltenbrunner…

he caught him in an hunting cabin above Alt Aussee (Austria)….he took a patrol of like 10 Army guys…hiked way up the mountain…had to go through waist deep snow….to knock on the Wildensee Hutte…many a time…to ask in his broken German if Ernst was there….finally one of the body guards came to the door and said NO…he did not know what Dad was talking about….whereupon Dad said that the cabin was surrounded….

the guy looked out to see it was true….

they gave themselves up…..

Father returned to St Paul a hero…his picture in all the papers…with my sister Daidie…whom he had just been reunited with….

(an aside…He never talked about the effect the war had on him…as he was part of the stiff upper lip generation that was passed down to me…but he was one of the first men to “liberate” Mauthausen Concentration Camp” to see all of these living skeletons on bunk beds made out of slats of wood…

his best friend Webb Radenbush shot in front of him….)

his parents were burnt to death in Florida (when he was a sophomore at Carleton)…in their best friends chauffeur driven car..an electrical wire had fallen down across the motorway..due to a storm…. the gasoline truck in front of the me had to slam on its brakes…causing them to hit it…

a Fireball ensued……

Mother who knew it was pointless to argue with Dad…….

said to me …a few months after he had died…..

we were at her favorite Jazz club…the Dakota..then in St Paul…now in Minneapolis…(and is it HOT today thanks to one of the wonderful owners Mom had a crush on…Lowell)

( a thing Dad would Never have attended…he loved football games – John Wayne movies…and that WAS IT)

she said to me as she was sipping her Iced Coffee…in a wine glass (she did not drink liquor)…

“Robby…you know I NEVER have known or had any Black Friends…and I am going to remedy that…

where upon she became a good friend of the Bishop of the Cathedral …..

Mom totally flourished the 10 years she lived after Dad’s death….

She came into her own ..Finally

I asked her once if she would have divorced Dad…she said “Oh YES…if it had been fashionable..”

(as back then there was a stigma on  a divorced woman…but NOT on a man….)

she said…”Robby…at the end of the day…I am So glad I stayed with your Father…..as he REALLY taught me a Lot!!!”

so yes I grew up White

yes I grew up “privileged”…..

like any child….do any of us KNOW what we have been given …..

until the painful years later when we smile back with recognition

One Response to “White Privilege”

  1. Richard said

    Wonderful story, so enjoyed it again. I came from a very small town in WI and we had a new house–everyone looked up to my Mother and Father for what they had accomplished–we were fortunate to share their good fortune. My first black acquaintance was a teacher in MPS–he became my first lover also. Quite a story. Richard

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