I remember when I was a little girl we had a lady come to our home to help my mom out with the tons of clothes to iron that we had. Mom was a stay at home mother as most were back in the 50’s and 60’s, and there were 4 of us kids and a new baby. Dad worked and my mother just couldn’t handle us all. She really didn’t have much patience, so Dad hired a lady to do the ironing to keep the Levis creased and his white shirts pressed while mom either napped or did other things around the house. For the *times* this wasn’t unusual to have an extra hand. Families in the neighborhood all had *help*. I remember my Dad picking her up and dropping her off at home in Oakland once a week. She never took a bus and Dad did not want her too. He liked her and she became a part of us as a family.
Mrs. Fuller was short in stature, yet stout in her figure. She was a big little lady. So Mom set her up once a week with a chair and lowered the ironing board so she could iron while sitting. I would come home from school and there she’d be almost straight through the door I would go and I’d sit right down at her feet and listen to her sing and hum. She could belt out some awesome gospel hymns. She always breathed deep with every verse and when it was hot it got heavier. We had no air conditioning back then and I remember her more from the Summer months when she made me lemonade. We would both drink it down and she would continue singing while my mom took a nap. I never knew it at the time how much I loved to hear her sing. I just sat there and listened. I used to fall asleep at her feet because it made me feel so comfortable. She was always kind and loving to me. Always had one hand on my head, and sometimes I would just fall asleep under it.
One day, while sitting at her feet, in an innocent voice, I asked the question…
“Mrs. Fuller, why are you that color?”
With that question, my mom immediately grabbed the top of my ponytail and said, “Oh Kathy be quiet don’t say that”! (Something she used to tell me often). I remember being confused at the time and a little scared that I just got into trouble for some reason unknown. The look on my mom’s face was red and a bit of anger came over her along with embarrassment. I’ll never forget it. I thought it was a simple enough question at the time and yet it caused a fuss with mom. I didn’t know much about race issues back then if anything at all. I was just curious why she was a different color, that’s all. So the moment went on…
Mrs. Fuller sat there looking down at me and did one of those giggle smiles. Just milliseconds after my mother grabbed my ponytail She then reached down and set her hand upon my head where my mother’s hand was, looked her straight in the eyes and said very pleasantly, “No Mrs. S. I want to answer that”. My mom’s hand left my head and she took a step back. Looking down at me again Mrs. Fuller simply said in her low slow voice:
“Why… that is because God made me this way”.
I remember very distinctly her hand brushing the top of my head and then patting it all the while looking down at me smiling. I will never forget that as I turned down to look at her feet which were out of her Zories and on the bare floor as they always were. Her feet were lighter on the bottom and darker on the top which brought out my curiosity. I remember touching them and she was tickled. We laughed…together. As young as I was I still remember that moment. It truly was a blessing to my life indeed.
I also will never forget the stink eye my mother gave me either. She told my dad when he got home and he looked at me and laughed. He didn’t take too many things seriously and his sense of humor was great.
I really loved Mrs. Fuller with her stories and songs. She told me a few of her kids and family. I do know she had a large family too. I can’t remember too much about the stories anymore but there was a lot. I just knew she made the best lemonade.
One day she was gone. Never came back and I never knew why. All I know I was told and then cried then life went on.
Later, in 1968 I entered high school. Entering a school with more diversity in ethnicity was a move my parents made for us as a family. There weren’t too many families of color in my previous city and the move to Alameda showed me life as reality. I enjoyed my friends and life there. I seemed to flourish in going a bit crazy at that time back when, but one thing was for sure… I learned a good lesson with Mrs. Fuller and she, without even knowing it, was an angel that stuck with me through the civil rights movement of my time and today with issues of this country. We both had not a clue of that little moment in our lives and the strength it would give me through my life, in many ways.
I wish I had a photo of her. I think there is an old polaroid around someplace with one of us kids. But I do know that a photo of her is in my memory banks and it was just me and her together for just a short while and no one else. Like a snapshot forever embedded in me, she taught me my biggest lesson…
Love One Another.
I think of her often and the love of a good Baptist musical voice that stops me in my tracks always reminds me of her. And when I am listening to the political nonsense of today, her face comes to me often. It is her that reminds me that good will endure.
Thank You, Mrs. Fuller. You showed me the way, the truth, and the light.
Til next time…