Did I mention that I was always appreciative of the fact that my parents were wed in 1950? It was always easy to remember how long they had been married; the math was easy. I was a five-days-early third anniversary present to them, my mother used to say.
I wish I could find this particular photo of my parents on their wedding day. Actually, there are a couple of them. One is of them cutting the cake, which is nice. The other, though, was one taken in the living room of my maternal grandmother. There’s the smiling, happy couple, plus Mom’s mother Gert, her aunt Deana, her uncle Ed, and her Uncle Ernie, all looking sullen. Also in the photo, Ernie’s wife Charlotte, looking like myopic people sometimes looked in photos, and their kids, Raymond, ten years to the day younger than my mother, and Frances, looking mildly bored as tweens (a term that didn’t exist then) were wont to do.
Fran was interviewed in 2005, as I noted here in 2010. Fran believed that my grandma’s family’s resistance to my father was because of his skin color. They were rather light-skinned black people, especially Deana and my mom, who probably could have passed for white.
Fran said: “My family on my father’s side was very much impacted by the racial notion of the time, so they liked it that my father married my mother, because she was white. That was, you know, really acceptable. When my cousin Gertie — Trudy [my mom], they call her now — started to date the man who eventually became her husband, Les Green [my father], he was deemed too dark for the family. And I think my father and my Uncle Ed had to intervene and say, Listen, I’m not going to be able to ever speak to you again unless you stop this nonsense.”
The Yates clan eventually lived with the marriage, especially after the children came, but there was always hostility between my father and his mother-in-law, with my mother as the uncomfortable DMZ. I thought that it was the fact that he lived in a house that she owned, and that was an affront to his manhood, and that could have been part of it. But I’ve since realized it was also her lack of her acceptance of him. My sisters and I remember this to this day, although it happened at least 45 years ago: We’re eating dinner, and somebody asks my grandma if she wanted any peas; she replied, “I’ll have a couple.” My father, seated nearest to her, and the peas, proceeded to put TWO peas on her plate. (And people call ME a literalist.)
In the late 1960s, my mother took to wearing a red wig, which made her look even more fair-skinned. My favorite story from that period: My father was on a business trip to San Francisco, and my mother went along. While the guys were doing business, the wives were at lunch chatting about the issues of the day. Eventually, something about race came up. One woman said, “What do you think, Trudy?” My mother replied, “Being a black woman…” Apparently, the next sound heard were a bunch of of jaws dropping.
Even after my mother came up to Albany to see my daughter, and visited my church, at least one member thought my mother was white, even though he had abandoned the wig decades earlier. This was, of course, after my father had died.
My parents were married 50 years, and 2 days shy of 5 months.
Photo of my parents and me – great shot of the back of my head – at my 1992 graduation from library school at UAlbany; taken by either Zoe Nousiainen or Jennifer Boettcher.