I don’t go to church. I have African American friends who quietly condemn me for that. I’ve also had white co-workers who said they knew I was not available on Sunday for something social because they assume I go to church. Nobody knows anybody and perhaps Val is right, we need to talk. I attended Presbyterian church every Sunday as a child because my grandfather was the minister, the educated minister. During my childhood, Reverend Thompson ministered several congregations throughout New Jersey. The one that had the most impact on my life was in Asbury Park where the church was attached to a house. I would go to the Jersey Shore with my grandparents on Friday, returning home to North Jersey on Sunday evening. While there, I would play with the neighborhood children. They never went to the beach, just three blocks away. I wondered why...at first.
Even though I write for a living and for sanity, I often think no one cares about what anybody has to say or about people’s pictures. However, a former newsroom co-worker suggested we need to share more experiences to expand understanding between races and cultures. I am skeptical about whether talking creates lasting progress. However, since everybody else is still pontificating, I may as well stay on the bandwagon until it stops. My Jersey Shore experiences are so different from many other Tri-State area people, but that’s what makes us who we are.
Those years with my family at the Jersey Shore used to confuse me. On Saturday after preparing his sermon, my grandfather would drive me south to Belmar beach for some fun in the sun. When evening came, we would return to Asbury Park for a few spins at the amusement park before I was tucked in to sleep. I believe I asked my grandfather every weekend why we had to drive to Belmar for the beach when there was a beach just blocks away from the church in Asbury Park. His answer was always the same: “There are some beaches that don’t want us there...little girl”. My family should have known I was headed for somebody’s newsroom because his answer was never good enough. “WHY?” That was my follow-up question constantly from the back seat of his Oldsmobile, until he somehow managed to change the subject. The simple answer was that at that time in the 1950’s, the presence of people of color on Asbury Park’s beach was frowned upon. I don’t know what would have happened if we stepped onto the sand anyway, but who cares? It was like that in a lot of places, then and now. My mother tells stories of how her generation had to drive as far south as Lakewood, New Jersey to be welcomed on the beach.
Today, I visit Asbury Park restaurants at least once a month. We live nearby and still love the shore. The salt water air still gives me a better sleep, breathing it at 6am makes my day, but the town’s ugly history never escapes my mind. It can’t. Those drives back and forth between the two towns no longer confuse me but it makes me angry every time I go there. In some perverted way, maybe I think I am defying history by doing now what I couldn’t do then. It’s pretty naive if I think about it because the town loves getting my “revenge” money and the people who take my money weren’t even born back then.
I am not the only one with experiences and stories. Other people’s contacts with race, religion and culture should be shared. There is an element in America that won’t care about people’s experiences, but there are many who might go “hmm”, if they only knew.
My GenZ nephews never knew their grandfather or great grandfather, but the initial reaction upon seeing this photo was: “The Rev looks pretty mean” They had decent dental work but they didn’t smile because their lives were serious, and definitely not easy. After witnessing their hard times, I did, and in some ways still do what they did
My father loved to mix and match patterns and colors. Striking but often custom styles were his signature. His father, the Rev was actually a sweet, gentle & loving grandfather who put on his religious collar one day and walked me to the home of a local Episcopal Priest. I wanted to join the parish but it didn’t welcome me. Despite my family’s Presbyterian religion, my grandfather accepted my choice and he let the Priest know that the Episcopal Church would let me in and it did. Ia was simply the big sister, always aware, always in control of whatever the situation. Nothing has changed. However, the entire childhood religious experience wore me out. Is it really surprising that in my adult life, I take all names and numbers but no trash? Despite it all, my husband and I were married in America's second oldest African American Episcopal church over 20 years ago. For me, St. Philips in Harlem will always be the epitome of sanctity.
So, to the lady in North Carolina who drove the wrong way down a one way street to emotionally and angrily confront me about not going to HER church to wash away sins and renew my spirit:
“Everyone has her or his own story.”