I know that to some extent I have to tolerate the foolishness of others but this has gone far beyond what I can bear alone.
After my mother has died and I’ve come to New York from my parent’s request to be there for my Daddy and my children and family in their hour of need and sorrow – there have been a multitude of details.
Needless to say – it has been emotionally charged and overwhelming. To be in Georgia after only a year and a half away more or less – I was not expecting it to be like this.
The grief is strange and the people around me seem even more strange than the sadness that is obviously my cup from time to time. A view of something in my house reminds me of Mama and the tears flow. And, then they are gone.
It is in this context of massive details, trying to get along with others in my family like my sister who thinks I am retarded and sick and mentally ill and don’t ever eat or sleep right because she does it one way and I do it another – that I was sickened to learn last night something rather extraordinary but horrifying to me.
My sister had left a piano that is big and ornate of the late 1800’s variety with great scroll work carved into its case. It has been “stored” at my parents house for ages and I guess they never told me the story of it because I would have been livid about it. Regardless, I am certainly livid about it now.
It turns out that my sister wanted to sell the piano and she has an ebay store called cipmunks or something where she has been selling vintage fisher price toys and things. So she wanted me to find out its value where she could list it or do what I suggested because of something that happened with an 1800’s quilt she told me about – (I’ll tell you later,) – sell it to a museum or banquet hall decorated in period antiques.
Since we are in the South, I said that the Gone With the Wind Museum in Marietta (where I am right this minute) or the one in Atlanta or the Margaret Mitchell House might like this piano or know where we could find a buyer that would appreciate it. She didn’t say anything about this piano’s historical significance although she certainly knew what it was. She just left that part out.
So, we took the makers’ name from the piano, I showed my oldest daughter who is here helping us because of the funeral arrangements how to look it up on the computer and then showed the information about the piano’s worth to my sister. She had nothing but contempt and disdain about my idea that a museum might be a good place to talk to about it or a restaurant / hospitality / banquet hall dressed in period pieces. But I didn’t think that was very much odd because really – she has worked with Ebay for a long time and is willing to part vintage anything out into lots on there for $2 or $3 a piece.
As it turns out, the piano could be a beautiful addition to the Black History Museums for instance, despite its conditions because of one simple fact that my sister neglected to mention to me before or during our efforts to find her a buyer while she was here from Tennessee. She and Mom had made the arrangements for the piano to be stored here. She and Mom knew its history. She and my Mother even arranged for it to be taking up the space where everyone walks in from the outside door where the cars are to walk through to the kitchen to get in the house whether it is with groceries or anything else. My mother had me take things out there to put on it, under it, around it – considering she was quite the horrible hoarding type – to a nicely appreciable pillage and plunder glory, there were often mounds of “good stuff” sitting around and underneath this huge oak looking piano. But it is part of the history of the South and it is part of the history of both bigotry and racism in our nation and a part of the history of that change within our last few generations to turn that around and do something else.
This piano I’m talking about in my house – in my Daddy’s house – is the piano from Aunt Fanny’s Cabin.
I asked my sister what proof she had that it had come from there – and she said flatly last night (after waiting to even tell me about it at all) that she went to Aunt Fanny’s Cabin to pick it up (when they were dismantling the restaurant I suppose).
Genuinely, I don’t think my sister thought about the implications, Daddy may not have known or not really thought about it and certainly my Mother may have thought it was wonderful because Aunt Fanny’s Cabin is where she loved to go eat as the little black boys brought the menus to the table on a chalkboard tablet hung around their necks singing the menu. Personally, I was offended by it when we ate there but didn’t understand it and now that I’ve talked to my daughter about it I know more of why that is. I wasn’t raised in the South, nor was my sister – but my parents and grandparents on back were. This culture of racism and bigotry has existed throughout my nation at some points – and certainly every state in the union is responsible personally for some measure of it. The South does not have an exclusive contract on that by any stretch.
My generation is a strange no man’s land of old ways and new ways both clashing and being adopted. My parents decided intentionally not to raise their daughters (me and my sister) in the South to keep us from seeing the world and other people in one way and only one way as they did here at one time with prejudice, intolerance and racism, bigotry, misogyny the norm. Well, that is all well and good – my father is a good man and he was in the military and in educated fields. Something in his family upbringing plus his education and exposure to a bigger world and bigger thinking made him different about it. In his eyes, as he lived out his beliefs I don’t see the kind of prejudice that my own mother showed or that my big belly granddaddy showed as a caricatured truth of the Southern policeman in Spartanburg, South Carolina. They had and continued to have – no matter what – a view of the world and people in it that was vastly different than my own, where explanations of why they were entitled to call people or treat people badly made certain and sure sense to them but not to me. It didn’t make sense to me.
I was raised in California and then on our 2 week vacation once a year when we come to Georgia and South Carolina – my parents would take our family to Aunt Fannies’ Cabin. Or when we lived in Georgia before going to California when I was in 1st grade after moving here from Florida – Mama and Daddy would take our out of town relations to Aunt Fannies’ Cabin restaurant as a special place as if it was a wonderful fish camp or something.
But now – I’m sure my sister rescued that piano which was likely heading for a wrecking ball or landfill once public attitudes changed and the restaurant with a racist theme was no longer tolerable. She loves antiques and beautiful vintage things as well the history of them. And, sadly she has been putting them on ebay.
The story of the quilt is that she had a genuine article, handmade quilt from the 1800’s not long back and it was in perfect condition without one bit of the stitching torn or the backing and not one bit of tear in any of its fabrics. It was, what is that? 200 years old more or less and had managed through that entire time and all that use and everything else without even a tear – so my sister sold it on ebay and got $125 for it from a woman who put it in the washing machine and then demanded my sister give her the money back for it. This woman who bought it thought that putting this delicate, fragile and history filled, historic quilt in a washing machine on the “gentle” cycle was the right thing to do. This historic quilt from a special time in our history was forever lost because my sister put it on ebay in such a way that the woman probably thought she meant 1800’s vintage “style” of a quilt rather than an actual quilt from the 1800s which had been hand-stitched, passed down from generation to generation and then arrived in 2013 or 2012 or whenever she sold it – to a modern world where my sister didn’t know how to take these kinds of “finds” she was making and then call a museum and ask if they wanted to see it and buy it for $200 or $500 or anything. She could have at least picked up the phone and asked – but she didn’t even think to do it at all and didn’t know how. What a shame.
Now, I am thinking more and more about this piano and its beautiful carved scroll work and to me as horrifying as it is that anything from that restaurant was placed in my Daddy’s house where I’ve been living right next to it all this time without knowing – it seems I am the one who is ignorant of what to do with it. I don’t want to hurt the feelings of entire peoples of my nation who have already suffered enough at the hands of slavery and then indentured slavery and then racism, bigotry and prejudice. But I want my sister to get some money for this damn piano and get it out of my house – so to speak. It shouldn’t have ever been here. We are not about that kind of thinking. My mother often was it seemed when those odd attitudes would come out of her mouth about something or someone that was neither her Church of God faith nor white nor as well off as the husband she had managed to acquire and keep. I don’t even know what all that is because as I have said in this blog before the only things that Southerners don’t discriminate about is who gets discriminated against and prejudged – they simply do it to about everyone in their family and outside of it – the reasons just change. So for one person – they abhor them because they are fat, lazy or stupid – actually knowing nearly none of those things about them. And, for another it is because they do go to another church down the street instead of their own (that GOD has ordained, etc.) – or because of dress or mannerisms (or in my case, mannerisms, disabilities and dress like someone out of touch with reality.)
Hmmm. This is tough and I am glad my sister finally told me of the piano’s actual historical entanglement. It can’t be something I can explain to my President, many of my friends or new acquaintances in New York or elsewhere around the world. It is embarrassing and shameful. Yet, I’m so glad my sister saved and rescued this piano and conned my Daddy into letting her keep it in our hallway because otherwise it would be gone entirely and this discussion could never take place.
I’m not always proud of being white – all things considered and in light of some of the ideas and beliefs running through the South from some of my family members, both now and in the past. It ain’t even right. And in this day and age with our amazing President being the first black man to even have that opportunity – what do I do with such a piano and its story of being played in such a racist themed restaurant that was popular in Smyrna Backwoods Atlanta Georgia? What am I going to tell him – Oh I’m so sorry Mr. President – my mother and sister didn’t look at it as I do therefore the one who is seeing it wrong would have to be me with my history of mental illness and stupidity and cluelessness. That won’t work – obviously – not anymore. Because they are wrong about this one. Mama is dead and my sister is NOT going to sell this damn piano on eBay – it IS Going to a MUSEUM.
More about Aunt Fanny’s Cabin –
As much as it is her piano and ultimately hers to answer to why she didn’t know the critical nature and importance of this piano’s history, I can’t stop my sister from putting this piano up on eBay. But I can damn sure call as many Black History museums and others tomorrow to make sure they know of it or call her first before she does it.
There aren’t photos yet, but we found this on the internet which shows one in better condition – it isn’t in bad condition but it is far from perfect, too. We can’t fiddle around with it because of its history without mucking it up more than we already have by simply acquiring it to sit here in hiding next to our back door. This is what is said on the piano and then a photo we found online (and tomorrow or here in a minute, I’ll get some pictures of it and try to post them here before she does anything else with it) –
It was made in Chicago. It is a tall upright and has elegant hand carved scroll work in the wood.
Bush and Gerts Piano Company of Chicago
We have not pulled the piano out to get the soundboard makers name or the date of its specific manufacturer because I stopped when my sister told me it was from Aunt Fanny’s Cabin. This piano will actually be found in the photographs of inside the old Aunt Fanny’s Cabin restaurant which lasted for fifty years in Smyrna, Georgia near Argyle Elementary School and the Campbell Argyle Farms. Read more about that here (and on wikipedia) – it is actually a very interesting look at an American and the South when I was young and before we went to California in the late sixties. The South – just a title filled with things that make me cringe and here is half of it right in my own house. It just figures.
I just keep thinking about sitting across from the President of the United States and the First Lady – and then I physically walk by that piano knowing what It means now – then sit outside listening to the crickets in Georgia after coming here from New York – and what would I ever be able to tell the President about this? None of it makes sense to me. Why is it in my family’s house and why doesn’t my sister think that the fact it came from this notoriously racist themed restaurant isn’t a big deal regardless of whether the food there was amazing or not? Has she not noticed that our nation has been a bit of racially intolerant from blacks and whites toward one another? Is she living under a rock? It is bad enough that most people think I’m this or I’m that and therefore this must be also true or that – whether it is because of my skin color or because I have a Southern accent (especially since the Paula Deen verbal snafu earlier this year), or because my family goes back several generations on both my father’s and mother’s side into the South – in fact, all the way to the Revolutionary War.
But, in a way – this thing about this piano goes to a much bigger issue that is not being critically discussed in honest, open dialogue. Our families and mine included are the products of two vastly different times and ideologies about race, genuine freedom of religion and the acceptance of the differences which are the norm from one individual person to another let alone to whole communities of people as well. The fact is, my mother has gone, but she was of a time when racism in the South was the norm and the way nearly everyone viewed it. She was able to see much of the United States, live in the North – in Florida (whatever that is, it isn’t The South) and in California as well as Georgia and Seattle, Washington. She had some college and a couple Associate degrees acquired at different times. Her father (my grandfather) was a Southern style police officer back when racism wasn’t only tolerated it was the ONLY way to think about any of it and really nothing else is considered right if everyone is believing it and supporting it and encouraging it from church to school to pulpit to desk and chalkboard. That is the worst of it – that she and my dad grew up that way but his thinking moved away from that to consider things differently and hers did not. I don’t know why she couldn’t believe what I and others and Dad were telling her about these things, but she couldn’t. It was only the way she could see it and nothing else was right and her daddy was the same one. My daughter told me tonight that she my granddaddy foaming at the mouth cussing that xxx Oprah Winfrey being on tv and his dentures literally went flying out of his mouth because he was screaming so hard at her and the station and the producers and the country and Oprah Winfrey herself on the tv. It is ridiculous. How could he possibly think she is so different a human being than he was or somehow not as good because she wasn’t the same as him? How is that possible?
I didn’t grow up here (although I sound as a Southerner about more Southern than most Southerners I know because after my head injury those Southerners re-learned me talk right) – none of this fits together right for me. In being born a Yankee up north while Dad was in the military, spending my preschool years in Orlando – which just isn’t the South, it just isn’t – and spending nearly all of my grammar school, teen and early adult life in California – none of this fits together for me. It is no wonder I’m crazy – these people are nuts. I say everybody is equal and my mother would say yes, but . . . and then we would argue until she would disown and disavow my birthright – again.
But the real issue is that – there are real parts of our communities and our nation that really don’t get that basic Constitutional stuff and really don’t want to anyway. That equality stuff in their minds is just a pretty way they used to talk about stuff and way too idealistic to be sought or found to any real extent – in reality. The fact that I believe in it – is, in their estimation, nothing but my destitute and delusional reality telling me the lies of mental illness that will not let me see the real truth in the manner my own mother would constantly tell me (in her incontestable, exactly right and there is not another way to look at it viewpoint). Oh well. Still didn’t make her right. It just wasn’t right. And I really do miss her and I don’t – now that she is gone.
There is a little store in Kennesaw with all sorts of – well never mind. It is obscene anyway of the racially bigoted variety and I took pictures there one day about three years ago. They said I could as long as I didn’t put any of it on the internet because people get so stirred up and send them hate mail. Well – yeah.
I could have not put this on my blog at all – as my daughter suggested – because it might stir up the same thing. But I don’t think it will do that in the same way – not because this piano has some different historical value than its reminder of a time when racially and religiously and gender based prejudice was the norm rather than the rare occasion, rather because I think with all my heart that we need a real discussion of what has and is happening even within our own families that is emotionally charged because of this subject matter. I have kind of felt like all my life – God, how dare you put me in the care of some damn Southern bigot who looks down on me and everybody and has contempt for everyone who is not her “social” and “property owning” and financial equal or better? That is really quite a lot of people actually in a country of over 300 million. How is that possible? And why did I get stuck with somebody like that to be the mother I had to learn from, put up with, argue unsuccessfully with concerning her views about it and had to suffer from her arrogance about it? Why? It just doesn’t make any sense after she and my daddy made the decision – they didn’t even want that closed minded, intolerant, small bigoted thinking for their children. Then why couldn’t she change with us and with the rest of our country? Why couldn’t her daddy change when surely he knew better? It doesn’t make sense and I bet in black communities, Asian communities, within the doors of Latino families, inside the homes of white families and every other race and religion’s households in America – I bet their distances between their family members beliefs on these things are just as distant, divisive and challenging to live with as ours have been. It is hard to imagine how we have all survived with such huge variations of belief even within our tiny little family unit – there were four of us and boy could we argue about this stuff with an outcome of no one right and every one right in their own estimation, all at the same time. Damndest thing I’ve ever seen.
Went and took a couple pictures of the piano –
(And I’m not telling my sister that I’m doing this blog, but I might tell her that I am going to call the museums that I can find which might be able to use this piano as a teaching tool to explain how pervasive and socially acceptable it was at one time to have these attitudes about race, religion, gender differences – in the way it obviously doesn’t make it right just because everyone is doing it that way) –
By the way –
My daughter who is 35 years old, said that the fact this piano was in Aunt Fanny’s Cabin is not that big a deal – thank God she feels that way. Maybe in her generation and beyond – it won’t be.