I just read the article about spending Christmas with a Christian family. It was great! My experience in a Bettina Home/Hedge School was different, but still great!
I wanted to spend Christmas with another culture – another group – I wanted to know what it was like spending Christmas in the “ghetto”. Although today I use that word because the rest of you need that descriptor.
I spent Christmas in a neighborhood in D. C. I would have been afraid to wander into alone. Not because there was any real trouble, but because my conditioning made me really scared to wander into a mostly black neighborhood. My thoughts were I would have been taking my life into my hands and better to stay out than to be sorry. That sounds bad, but I know those thoughts are shared by many of – at least my friends.
It was great.
I hope you forgive any racism you find in this article. Attribute it to my upbringing and current friends.
When I arrived at the home it was with fear and I wondered as I rang the bell if I was sane or had lost my marbles trying this.
A woman opened the door. She was expecting me, but maybe not someone so white. My skin is very white – as is my hair. I didn’t feel white until I walked into their living room, which was full of people. As I looked around they were all colors. None as white as my Scandinavian self, but they were not who I expected. Somehow, I expected a black family to be black – dark of skin. These folks varied from very dark to light tan. There was a lovely Christmas tree and the house smelled of food cooking. I was just in time for dinner.
The food for dinner was Italian. Why? Because it was prepared by a couple of the light tan people in the room. I realized in another context I would have seen them as white, but in this living room I saw them as not white, but light skinned blacks. They were Italian. One was an in-law, the other a cousin. I was too shy at that point to ask more questions.
Dinner was great! There was much laughter, many jokes told at someone else’s expense and I was on the hot seat to talk about why I wanted this “voyeur” experience. At that moment, all my reasons evaporated and I felt really weird. After a very feeble attempt at an answer that didn’t sound either racist or ridiculous someone changed the topic and we went back to having a great time.
The table was blessed with an incredibly beautiful poem which I wanted to take home. Instead I was given a book which contained the poem.
We opened presents, talked half the night and went to bed.
This was not the home of a wealthy person – or even someone who could be called “middle class”. These folks were struggling financially just to survive from one day to the next. I slept on the sofa in a small room off the living room. It was not private, but I knew that before I arrived and privacy in the middle America sense seemed out of place here. People crossed boundaries I was accustomed to – constantly.
Breakfast the next morning was more of the same. We had a breakfast I loved, but would never have made. Eggs, bacon, unbelievable biscuits, and grits! I didn’t want to leave the table. My breakfast is normally fresh fruit, yogurt and an organic piece of bread. Since I brought the coffee I got to make it and it was the center of attention and many jokes. Organic, French roast coffee was great, but not the coffee and chicory the family normally had for breakfast and sometimes all during the day.
Christmas Day was unbelievable! People came and went all day long bringing gifts, food, talk and although I expected to be ‘odd man on the side’, I was just one of the family. I was clearly expected to be a “host” taking care of people as they arrived, making sure everyone was comfortable, all the things one does when company arrives. I loved every minute.
All colors of people came and went and families that showed up together were also all colors. As the day wound down I realized maybe racism was a white thing because the whites and many shades of blacks who shared this Christmas were just a normal part of life with this family. I remember hearing and making comments with friends that maybe blacks would be uncomfortable in one or another situation with whites. What I saw was blacks having whites in their families and nobody being uncomfortable about any of it. I was uncomfortable when I arrived being what I thought was the only white person in the room until I saw the whites in the family and those arriving with other so called “black” families of which they were a part.
We went for a walk in the afternoon, all around the neighborhood and I wondered as we walked and talked what it was that struck fear into my heart and kept me from walking alone through this neighborhood! As we passed people coming and going from their homes there was always a few words exchanged, if not an entire conversation. No one passed us during our walk who we didn’t acknowledge with a smile or even a bit of conversation. To say we were a loud group taking this walk would be an understatement, but we didn’t even notice we were caught up in the back and forth with each other.
The day after Christmas they had a surprise for me. Someone had gotten a keyboard for Christmas which was standing next to the tree. A couple musicians arrived with their instruments and we had an incredible session of singing for about an hour, after which the musicians had to leave and I was exhausted. They were accustomed to having lots of people around all the time. I was accustomed to having people around who called, made an appointment or a date to get together and mostly other times I was alone.
What struck me with this family – blacks are known to be very religious so I expected to spend all day on Christmas in Church. We had prayer before eating, but that was it. We didn’t go to Church. Our Christmas was spent together with family, friends and those who came along with family and friends. Some were complete strangers who came with a friend or family member and all were instantly incorporated into this family as though they had known each other for years.
At the end of my time in this home I realize I’ve made new friends and took home a new attitude. And, I spent an unusual and really fantastic Christmas.
Back home, my friends who seemed close and a part of my extended family I realized were really not close to me at all and I didn’t have an extended family. I have a few people I can call on occasion but who I really can’t just show up to visit with on holidays. or any other time. If I am not invited I stay away. It would be awkward for everyone if I just invited myself to a holiday or any time or celebration. Mostly, I spend those alone because my family is in another state and I don’t make the effort to travel there for holidays. This Christmas has changed all of that and I am looking at changing my life. I thought it was great. At this moment I think it is cold and isolated and I don’t know how that happened or why I made the choices that produced that kind of lifestyle. I do now have friends in another part of the city which looks very warm and friendly to me and I will probably visit again – if not the family with whom I stayed I will certainly walk around the neighborhood and shop there from time to time, maybe my shell and shelter will change. My beautiful bedroom with king sized bed is not nearly as comfortable as that sofa on which I spent Christmas.
Ed. Note: Members of the Bettina Network Lifestyle Community can contribute to the Bettina Network Blog whenever they have anything they want to say and be heard by this fantastic group of people. Send your blog to email@example.com or mail it to us at P. O. Box 380585 Cambridge, MA. 02238 or call us on the telephone at 617-497-9166 to tell us what you want to say and we will write it for you. Please also tell us if you want your name as your byline or if you want your article to appear without your name.
Volunteer with Bettina Network Foundation, inc. to work estate sales; to help move items from one home to another; to contribute your ideas on how we can better use our resources in this effort to relieve and eliminate homelessness and poverty. We also need photographers; designers; and more. However much or little time you have, we are grateful.
Send your event information to be included in Bettina Network’s Menu of Events to: firstname.lastname@example.org