Sunday, May 9, 2021

Mother's Day in racially divided America

Rosa Parks

As I pondered what I might write this Mother's Day and wasn't getting anywhere, I saw a White Supremacist post on Facebook and commented:

Who can post that they didn’t watch one single or part of an NBA game this season!! 🙋🏼‍♂️

Sloan Bashinsky
Me, so far. Don’t care for pro basketball, nothing to do with politics, admire the players’ athletic ability and dedication, without black players doubt there would be pro basketball, which would carry on nicely without white players. Their kneeling during the National Anthem seemed fully justified to me. Lots of white right Americans didn’t like it. Perhaps in their next lifetime they are born into black families in Alabama, Mississippi, Detroit. Minneapolis.

Below is the 2nd chapter in A FEW REMARKABLE ALA BAMA PEOPLE I HAVE KNOWN (, about the black woman who loved and raised me as her own.


I wish to tell a story about a wonderful woman I once knew named Charlotte Washington, who was not, I don’t think, a descendant of George Washington, whose name her Negro slave parents or grandparents might have taken as their own.
As I was told it, Charlotte came to our home looking for work while I was in the hospital being born. She was there waiting when my mother and I came home. She would stay there, through two moves to successively larger houses, for twenty-five years, living with us except on Thursday afternoon and Saturday night and Sunday, when she went to visit her other family in Bessemer, which lies about twelve miles westerly of Birmingham, on the road to Tuscaloosa where no Negroes attended college in those days. Except I came not to call her Charlotte, but “Cha” (Sha), as that was about all I could get my mouth around when I was a tot. And as Sloan was a pretty hefty moniker for a tot, I was called “Bash,” borrowing the first four letters of my last name, which is Bashinsky. How that came about, Bashinsky, perhaps is a story to be told another time.
Cha called me “Bashlabuttons,” and she loved me like I was her own. She loved my parents and my younger brother and sister like they also were her own. And my grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins, and my friends. She cooked food so delicious, old Southern style cooking, the way the wealthy white folks had long eaten, that I was spoiled for life. Her biskits were a closely guarded secret, that is, how she made them. They weren’t big and fluffy but where thin and a bit crunchy, and with a pat of butter and some honey, yummmmmmmm. She cooked greens and peas and beans the old way, with bacon and pork back. She used Crisco to slowly cook fried chicken in a black cast iron skillet; I never yet ate any other that good. She cooked roasts (standing rib, rump, we never had pot roast), ham, leg of lamb, country fried steak (made from cubed sirloin), and stewed and fresh corn and homemade rolls that were to die for. I liked leftovers, and hash from the meats, as much as the first pass at it. Her chocolate pudding and whipped cream, and boiled custard, somewhat rare treats, still linger in my mouth at age almost sixty-two. She must have known the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
Cha also must have known that in my soul I was a fisherman, because she was the one who first taught me how to fish: cane pole, string, cork, spit-shot, safety-pin or small hook, worms or grasshoppers in fresh water, a small piece of shrimp or cut bait in salt water. It may not be stretching it to say she probably liked fishing better than I did, but she didn’t get to go much when I knew her, with all the work she was doing for us: cooking, washing and ironing our clothes and bathroom and bedroom linens, and cleaning house. That was the first house, which was small. We had other Negro housekeeping help in the bigger houses, and to take care of the yards. About all I ever did was mow the grass and sometimes weed out crabgrass, all of which I did my best to get out of doing. Somehow I had gotten the notion that white children did not do yard work. I’d gotten some related notions, too, I’m now ashamed to say.
I don’t remember Cha ever preaching the Bible to me, even though she was always listening to Negro religious radio stations while she cooked and ironed, which she seemed to do most of the time except when she was sleeping. She had a schoolmarm way of tilting her head down, looking sort of up at me, hands on hips, or at her sides, saying, “Umh, umh, umh, ain’t you shamed!” whenever I did something that even I knew I ought not to do. But usually I acted as if I hadn’t done it, while I backed off from doing that I shouldn’t be doing. Usually it wasn’t all that awful, compared to some of the things I would get into when I wasn’t at home, usually on weekend nights, when I was allowed to stay out until about ten o’clock. Then came the misadventures away from home, as I approached manhood, and those that came afterwards. As if Cha, where she now perches, doesn’t see it all anyway. She will speak to me about it when I am there with her, and I sure do hope that she will not then threaten to leave and go to Bessemer like she sometimes did when my brother and I really gave each other and her a hard time, when our parents were out for the evening or off on a business trip. I finally got to where I didn’t believe Cha, that she would go off to Bessemer and never come back, but she finally did do that, and I’ll tell about that later.
In the meantime, there’s more to tell about just what a wonderful presence she was in my young life. She was joyous whenever I brought home some bass or bream, but catfish she loved most. She also liked the game I shot, doves, quail, squirrels, rabbits, but would have loved a possum, which I never wanted to hunt. I never shot a deer and am now glad for it, but in those days I would have liked to notch one or two up. Nowadays I’m not even glad I shot anything, but I don’t feel too bad about the fish I caught and brought home for Cha; sometimes I got to eat them but usually not, as my family was not into eating fish very much in those days. I can’t say I was all that fond of fish either back then, but I sure did like catching them. If I had to do it all over again, I might never get all those increasingly fancy rods and reels, spin casting outfits and then the fly rods. I might just stick with a cane pole, and I just might make a lot of noise about Cha getting to go with me. I’m getting sentimental thinking about that.
It’s difficult for me not to get sentimental about Cha. Maybe it’s because in my soul I’m half Negro? Maybe I felt invisible kinship with her many children and many more grandchildren and great grandchildren out in Bessemer and down in the country in middle Alabama in a place she called “Eeps,” but I later learned it was Epps. My mother told me Cha didn’t know how old she really was because the census taker had come around only once every ten years. She might have been ninety-eight instead of somewhere around eight-eight when her heart finally gave out on her out there in her grandchildren’s home in Bessemer. But how could I feel such kinship, when I was racially prejudiced against Negroes, didn’t think they should ride at the front of buses, drink out of the same fountains or use the same restrooms, or go to the same schools? Yes, for a brief while I was for George Wallace.
Came the freedom marchers, and fire hoses and police dogs and police with riot sticks and mace and probably tear gas. I was off in another state at a white prep school, getting ready to go to a white college, Vanderbilt, but I didn’t know yet I was going there. I was not emotionally involved in what was going on in Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery, but I really was emotionally involved because I was starting to experience mixed feelings. I was sometimes remembering when I once told Cha that I would not eat what she had prepared for the hired help, when I asked about lunch. It was turnip greens, black-eyed peas, corn bread and buttermilk. It was the buttermilk that caused me to say I would not eat nigger food. I can’t imagine the black arrow that shot into her heart, but my mother let me know about it pronto, and I felt so bad that I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out.
I felt just as bad one night some years later, when I was readying to go out and discovered that I didn’t have a clean dress shirt to wear and demanded that Cha get me one ready. My shirts were washed but not yet ironed. She stopped what she was doing and fetched one of my shirts out of the ironing basket and started ironing, as I impatiently stood over her and watched. The longer she ironed, the more awful I began to feel. I’d never seen her iron a shirt, or anything, except in passing. I had no clue what was involved in ironing by hand just one long-sleeve cotton dress shirt. I told her I was going out the next day and buy drip-dry shirts, and that’s what I still wear to this day.
I don’t feel badly, though, about all the attention Cha, and my mother, lavished on me when I would get sick and not feel like even getting out of the bed. I doubt any child ever got better nursing care, even as my father’s brother, a pediatrician, came over — Leo made house calls until he retired — to look down my throat, sometimes stick me with needles, and tell them to give me dry toast and jelly and plenty of fluids until I started getting better. Sometimes I delayed getting better by saying I was sort of feeling dizzy, because there was nothing I hated worse than going to grammar school. They saw right through it, even when they let me pretend to be getting away with it, for a day or perhaps two longer than I really needed.
Then was the time when my favorite dog ever, George, a wonderful basset hound my mother had gone to New England to get and bring back on a train, got run over and killed and nobody even stopped. When I came home from school, Cha came to me and grabbed me in her arms and told me. I was so upset I went upstairs and got my .22 rifle and loaded it and made off down the road looking for the bastard that had killed George. But I didn’t get really out of my bedroom — the rest of it was in my imagination — because I was so heart-broken that I couldn’t hardly move. I cried and moaned and threatened and cried until Cha called Uncle Leo. My mother and father were in Colorado Springs on a business convention, and he read me the riot act, which shut me up, but it didn’t stop me from wishing George was still with me. The next basset we got didn’t match up to George, but when I was in law school I had one that did, until he got run over, too. That time the car stopped, after I started yelling after it, but I was so upset over Heathcliff that I didn’t really feel like loading my shotgun, but my wife, Dianne, gave him hell.
Cha saw me go through a lot of pretty awful things, but I don’t know if it was any different for any other little boy in the big scheme of things. But there was one thing she saw me go through that probably wasn’t exactly ordinary. I was not looking like a little boy my senior year in law school at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, after my seven-week-old son died of sudden infant death syndrome. I was a lot number then, than when George had gotten run over. I was so numb I couldn’t even cry. When the funeral was over in Birmingham, I headed with Dianne for the car to go back to Tuscaloosa. But before we reached the car, Cha ambled straight to me and even before she reached me I burst in to tears so awful that I couldn’t deal with it and I got into the car and somehow drove away. That night, my Uncle Leo, a man I had wanted to be my father because he loved to fish as much as I did, who had taught me some of the modern methods of doing it, called and gave me the dickens. He had no idea how many more times I would cry over the loss of that child, but I imagine Cha sort of knew.
I also will never forget when Cha cornered me and asked me to tell her what was wrong with my mother. “She’s got cancer, Cha, she’s dying,” I said, grabbing her to me. I’d been sworn to secrecy by my mother, I was not to tell anyone who didn’t already know. How could I not tell Cha when she asked? I could not not tell her, any more than I could not weep for George or for my son. Or now, maybe because I’m leading up to the parts of this story that I feel are the really important parts of it.
Cha began to decline after my mother died in 1966, more so after my son died the next year. After she went to live with her grandchildren in Bessemer, I remember going by there only once and seeing her in the big bed in the main bedroom in their not very large house, a midget house compared to the one she had left, which was my family’s house. She seemed sort of delirious and didn’t want me talking about her being sick. I didn’t even hug her, I don’t think, but I gave her family some money, maybe $20, for medicine, if she needed it; and said to let me know if she needed more. Then I headed back to Tuscaloosa. A couple or so weeks later, I was back up in Birmingham and had just gotten through playing golf at the country club all of my family belonged to, when Dianne came to pick me up and told me Cha had died. I collapsed into her arms, said I didn’t think I could take anyone else I loved dying.
We came back to Birmingham a few days later for the funeral at a large Negro Baptist Church in Bessemer. Dianne and I were the only two white people in that packed church. The minister said the congregation welcomed their white brother and sister, surely knowing I was one of Cha’s white children, and Dianne, too; she and Cha were very close. Only to Dianne had Cha revealed the biskit recipe, and then very begrudgingly, after I asked her who would cook me biskits after she went to be with God? Then the minister told a story I’d never heard: that “Sister Washington” had from behind the scenes led the civil rights movement in Negro churches, counseling tolerance, patience, loving their white brothers and sisters, never stepping forward and claiming any public credit for herself.
Then it was over and time for us all to pass by the open casket, where my Cha lay in quiet repose. When I got there beside her, I wanted to jump into the casket, never let her go. At the very least, I wanted to lean over and hug her, kiss her cheek goodbye. But all I did was keep moving, out toward the front of the church where her son, Tom Dew, was already sitting on the front steps, head in hands. Tom had worked for my family around and in the house for many years. He had worked for me in Tuscaloosa. I knew him pretty well. As I sat down beside him, he wailed out, “My momma is dead, Mr. Bash, my momma is dead, what’s I gonna do?!!!” He burst into tears. I burst into tears, didn’t know what to tell him. I felt embarrassed, crying like that. I stopped it, patted Tom Dew on the shoulder, got up and walked with Dianne down the steps to our car. I still remember crying out when I was a little boy and Cha wasn’t nearby and I was hurting about something, “I want my Cha! I want my Cha!”
It would be many years before I saw Cha again, early 1993, actually. She came to me in a stunning spirit vision, the first of a number of such visions. I am not going to describe those visions, which are indelible in my heart and I can tell every last detail if I wish. What I will tell instead is that I became convinced Sister Charlotte Washington is an angel in service to the Holy Spirit, who came to earth to live as a person. She instilled into me something I cannot describe, not so much by talking to me but mostly by simply being. The Holy Spirit has, I believe, been pretty much in charge of my spiritual journey since it consciously began in 1987, which is another story altogether. She has loaned me out to Jesus and angels to instruct, comfort, protect and refine me. But always, at a distance, if not always hands-on, She is behind the scenes, holding me to her breast, loving me, keeping me on this world from which I often have wanted so badly to leave.
Why was I was put into the stewardship of Sister Charlotte Washington, then Judge Clarence W. Allgood, about whom I wrote first when I started this writing the other day? Why was that priceless gift also given to me? Perhaps it is so some day I might write about them, as I knew them, both on this world and from heaven after they left this world. Perhaps there are other reasons I do not yet know and have not yet been told, that these two angels came down to walk among men and women, and were men and women. Perhaps it is that we are all angels, which we forget when we come to earth, and it takes the Holy Spirit using angels like Judge Clarence Allgood and Sister Charlotte Washington, working behind the scenes, to remind us of just who and what we all really are.

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