Clemmie’s Colorblind Love Lives On

During Black History month, we remember those courageous people who positively impacted us. If you read my recently released book, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife: A Novel,” you will learn about the example and sacrifice of a loving black woman named Elizabeth “Lizzie” Jones. Lizzie is based on a precious lady who is an important part of my own history.

To explain, during the racially turbulent sixties, as a Caucasian child growing up in the Midwest, I didn’t know anything about racism. Therefore, it seemed only natural when Miss Clemmie came to take care of me and my siblings, while my mom was seriously ill.

Clemmie was an extremely overweight African-American woman who had a heart as huge as the girth that surrounded it. My financially struggling family couldn’t have paid her much of a salary, yet she lovingly looked after all of us. With Clemmie there, I instinctively knew that everything would be alright.

What I didn’t know then was that a Civil Rights movement was being birthed out of the frustration regarding injustices that African Americans like Clemmie could no longer bear. Not yet a first grader, I couldn’t imagine anyone hating such a wonderful woman, simply for the color of her skin. Eventually, my mother regained her health, so Clemmie no longer came to care for us. Yet her colorblind love, which was based on her faith in the Gospel’s message, “…Love one another, as I have loved you…” had made a lasting impression.

A few years later, on June 11, 1963, President John F. Kennedy gave his memorable Civil Rights address calling for an end to the acceptance of segregation in educational institutions, retail establishments, restaurants, and hotels. He also demanded that African Americans be able to vote without the fear of harmful consequences.

Just hours after Kennedy’s eloquent speech, Medgar Evers, a Black Mississippi Civil Rights leader was brutally gunned down by a white Ku Klux Klan member. Evers, a World War II Army veteran had survived the Battle of Normandy, but that June night he lay bleeding to death in his own driveway. Fifty minutes later, he died at a local hospital.

Although I’ve never been grievously wounded like Evers, I do know what it feels like to lie on cold asphalt too hurt to move. As an eight-years-old girl walking to school, I tripped and fell so hard that it momentarily knocked the wind out of me and scattered my science project everywhere. I was blocks from my family’s house, but an older middle-aged woman heard my cries, and rushed down her porch steps to care for me.

I didn’t know my Good Samaritan who shared Clemmie’s mahogany complexion. My grandmotherly rescuer tended my cuts, and then she carefully helped me put my science project back together. She smiled with maternal satisfaction when she finally sent me off to school. That beautiful smile is a treasured memory, as is the remembrance of Miss Clemmie’s massive arms hugging me to her bountiful chest.

It’s important to remember the selfless acts of compassion of others. Because whatever our race, everyday society gives us the choice to tolerate racism based on the justification that someone of another ethnicity probably once mistreated us.

The late Jewish Holocaust survivor, Liesl Sondheimer, often shared a profound truth regarding racial forgiveness. Like Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Mrs. Sondheimer spent decades retelling the painful account of the extermination of more than six million European Jews during World War II. Unlike Wiesenthal’s quandary concerning forgiveness outlined so poignantly in his book The Sunflower, my dear friend, Liesl, always maintained that, “You must forgive, but never forget, or Hitler has won.”

Christian apologist C.S. Lewis once wrote, “…if we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo.” But Mrs. Sondheimer didn’t have that choice.

Yet we all have a daily choice about permitting racism, which continues to be just as deadly to our society, as Hitler’s gas chambers once were. But sadly, not everyone has a Miss Clemmie or a Liesl to teach them what compassion for their fellow man is all about. Still, if we follow Jesus’ command to, “Love one another,” it would be a much better world.

Mike Ullery photo

Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy/Ohio APME Award winning freelance journalist and inspirational speaker. She has been featured on Joyce Meyer Ministries Enjoying Everyday Life TV show and on CBN’s 700 Club. Her Website is www.christinaryanclaypool.com. Her novel, “Secrets of the Pastor’s Wife” is available at all major online outlets.

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Warning: Valentine’s Day is on the Way!

With St. Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, I find myself confident that I won’t be forgotten. Being a hopeless romantic and having spent years of Valentine’s days alone, I know firsthand what it is like to not have any expectations Valentine's Candyfor the holiday. But for a dozen years, I’ve been married to a man who wouldn’t think of forgetting.

Still for over a decade as a single mom, I knew that no bouquet of flowers or balloons, or even a card bearing my name would arrive. Back then, I worked as a reporter at WTLW TV 44. With a videographer’s assistance, I went out into the community and did a “Man on the street” investigating what Valentine’s Day meant to other people.

One 90-year-old gentleman I polled proudly told me that he would definitely have a surprise in store for his wife. When I asked him if he had ever forgotten the day dedicated to lovers, a grim look crossed his countenance. With the camera rolling, he replied hesitantly, “I don’t think I better talk about that.” So he had forgotten once.  I could tell it had been such a painful experience that it had never happened again. After all, a woman scorned can be a formidable foe.

Anyway, other folks freely told me about the cards, chocolates, roses, and teddy bears that they were planning to present to their beloved. Although one honest young man revealed that he couldn’t remember the last time he had received a Valentine’s Day card. The fact that he look like a ski model from the cover of GQ soothed my own wounded ego back then.

My quest for more information about Valentine’s Day led me to investigate its history. There are conflicting stories about the day’s origin. The one that I like the best deals with St. Valentine as a third century priest. At the time, Emperor Claudius II decreed that marriage be outlawed, deciding that single men made the best soldiers. The History Channel website reports that, “Valentine realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.  When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.”

The demise of Valentine was as melodramatic as any opera one could attend. Coincidently, a decade ago on Valentine’s Day, I surprised my spouse with opera tickets. This was a real sacrifice, because opera is his love, not mine. Still, I thought that I would never outdo the display of undying affection that I assumed my hubby must have planned, since we were still almost newlyweds.

When that fated Valentine’s Day dawned, I awoke with the expectation of a kid on Christmas morning. Despite the fact, there was no breakfast in bed, or even a rose anywhere in sight, I excitedly guessed it was only a matter of time before I would be presented with some token of his enduring love. That Saturday passed quickly in chores, errands, and general weekend routine. By late afternoon, I began to get suspicious that the love of my life might have forgotten. However, being married less than two years I rationalized away that ridiculous fear.

Finally in the car on the way to the opera, Larry confessed that he had overlooked the arrival of Valentine’s Day. Being a bachelor all his life, he tried to find a good excuse for his lapse, but none of them were working. Needless to say, it was a rather subdued evening after that.

Yet when we returned home, there was a small bag hanging on our front door. Inside was a beautiful Valentine’s Day card with a silver bracelet bearing one heart charm. There was also a note from my husband’s best buddy explaining that Larry must have accidentally left these items at his house on an earlier visit.Valentine's Couple

Sounds too good to be true? It was. Something about the card just didn’t seem right. So being a former investigative reporter, I simply asked, “Did you buy me these things?”

Larry’s honest character caused him to immediately blurt out, “I called my friend right before we left for the opera, and told him I needed help.” All I could do was laugh, because I knew that in the future my hubby would understand even “old married” couples should celebrate the gift of love. I guess people like me are born hopelessly romantic, while others become romantic desperate for survival. No matter what kind of romantic you are, Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

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Advice for those Grieving this Christmas

Christmas Dining TableThe holidays are upon us and some folks don’t feel so merry. This is especially true for those who have lost a loved one recently. Grieving can make the glitter of the Christmas season grow particularly dim.

Admittedly, grief comes in stages. One milestone for me occurred late in the fall of 2011, when the remaining leaves on the trees were ablaze with breathtaking color. However, that Sunday afternoon the skies were dark and heavy with rain. The weather matched my downcast mood. When a rented moving truck pulled into my driveway, my heart sank. I inhaled deeply then waved to my stepsister, Cindy, and her husband, Mark. To me, it felt as if the Indianapolis couple were transporting the body of a loved one, instead of our parents’ old furniture.

Losing my mother, Glenna Sprang, suddenly in 2010 was devastating. There had been no warning or preparation. She was a Philadelphia organist who played two church services on the morning of October 10th. That same afternoon, pain from a kidney stone gone terribly wrong sent her to a Pennsylvania hospital where she died three days later.Mom and me

Mom was 78. Even though she had been in excellent health, I should have realized she wouldn’t live forever. Five months later on March 5, 2011, Neal Sprang, my 80-year-old stepfather of 35 years died. Theirs had been an age-old love story. Two hearts so intrinsically intertwined, that one couldn’t keep beating for long without the other.

My stepsister and her husband had made the difficult trip to our parents’ home in Philadelphia to retrieve the furniture that we had inherited. For me, there was my grandfather’s writing desk, a birds-eye maple vanity, and a mahogany table with six chairs. Long ago, Mom and “Dad” had purchased the dining room set from a church rummage sale.

That old table has seen many wonderful memories of Christmases past. Every holiday, formal china and the good silverware would be set on the linen tablecloth, which would be laden with my mother’s steaming homemade dishes. The iridescent flames of the candles decorating the centerpiece would reflect in the crystal chandelier. For hours, my siblings and I would gather around the table sharing stories and laughing solicitously at my stepfather’s corny jokes.  

For awhile, there was an eerie silence that greeted me each time I gazed at that Duncan Phyfe table that ended up in my dining room in central Ohio. Its presence reminded me of the permanence of my parents’ passing.

Then last December, I met Rev. Philip Chilcote who gave me some great advice on how to deal with my parents’ loss. “In a particular family, you might have five children….who lose a parent and that’s five totally different griefs,” explained Rev. Chilcote who is the chaplain at Wilson Hospice in Sidney, Ohio. He is also the bereavement coordinator for the organization who assists the families of hospice patients with their own grief issues.

In addition, sixty-year-old Chilcote is the pastor of Sidney’s First Christian Church. In his role as a minister he has walked alongside countless families devastated by the loss of a loved one. “Grief is a re-adaptation process meaning we have to learn to live our lives without somebody who has always been there,” said the hospice professional. “We have to learn to adapt to a different world. Not only is the world different, but we are different,” he said.

For grieving individuals creating new traditions and rituals is important. Some folks try to ignore the loss, but Chilcote believes that you should, “include the one who is gone in what you do.” For example, if you normally hang Christmas stockings, the expert who has led grief support groups for two decades, suggests that you should hang a stocking for the individual who died.

If the deceased family member “always had the chair at the end of the table,” Rev. Chilcote says that you could leave the chair empty, or choose someone to sit in their place. As for giving, if it was your tradition to purchase a $50.00 gift certificate for the late family member,  you could make a donation to a charity or ministry in their honor, or give to a neighbor in need.  

“People can buy a special candle and at the place at the table where they sat you can light the candle…and go around the table and have each person say what they meant to you,” suggests the seasoned grief counselor. “Tell funny stories about them. Most people who die, wouldn’t want you to be sad,” he added.

My parents would definitely not want the joyous season to be filled with mourning. They were both church choir directors who believed that Christmas wasn’t about presents and mistletoe, but rather about a baby born in a Bethlehem manger whose love lives forever.

That’s why I took Rev. Chilcote’s advice last Christmas and kept my stepfather’s place at the table empty. I placed a candle where my stepdad always sat, and lit it to honor him and my mother. My mother was always too busy serving to sit much, but I made sure there was an empty china coffee cup, since she always enjoyed her pie with a cup of hot coffee.

This past year, I tried to create new family memories around my parents’ beautiful dining room table, realizing that was why it had been entrusted to me. Memories that would make my mother clap her hands in delight, and my stepfather comment, “Very good,” a saying he used when something pleased him. I no longer feel sad when I look at the table, but rather grateful that I was given such a gift.

Yet if you are reading this and you are too depressed to partake in holiday festivities, know that it really will get better. You never stop missing your loved ones, but when we know Jesus, we know that there will be a great reunion someday soon. For now, in the words that my mother always signed her Christmas cards, I wish you, “Peace, Love, and Joy,” this holiday season. 

 Christina Ryan Claypool is an Amy award winning freelance journalist and  speaker who is the author of the book, Seeds of Hope for Survivors. Visit her Website at  www.christinaryanclaypool.com. This column originally appeared in the Sidney Daily News.

 

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