Category Archives: MY WINDOW

Insidious Invisibility

I love newspapers. One of the most joyful sounds of my late childhood was the thump of The Wichita Falls Times, artfully folded into a kind of double boomerang that eased its flight from the hand of the boy on the bicycle to our front porch. I would retrieve the folded newspaper, unfold it, and plop myself down on the living room floor to peruse the headlines, read Dear Abby, Dr. Crane, letters to the editor, a few comic strips and cartoons, and, on Thursdays, the high school news roundup, “Teen Times.”

My family was too busy for the morning newspaper, The Wichita Falls Record News, but on Sundays, the two newspapers were combined into an extravaganza for all subscribers to either or both papers: The Sunday Times-Record News. It was rolled, not folded, because it was so thick, and it hit the porch with a thud rather than a thump. On rainy Sundays, it came encased in plastic.

After church on Sunday mornings, my family members would divide the paper into sections and then exchange them as we finished. I always wanted first shot at the full-color comics or the society pages. I was enthralled by the photographs of beautiful brides in full wedding dress and the artfully retouched portraits of brides-to-be with their engagement announcements. I would watch for news and photographs of the Junior Forum Debutante Ball in May and the more elite Cotillion Debutante White Tie Ball in December.

Before 1964, black people were required by law to live in designated sections of town. In Wichita Falls, that area was east of the railroad tracks, Flood Street and beyond. Mexicans lived there too, by custom rather than law, clustered on the side closer to the tracks. A few of them lived in the “white” part of town, like Dr. Martinez from Mexico City and his pale and elegant wife and daughters, whom the town people called “Spanish” to distinguish them from darker and less prestigious “Mexicans.”

There were two high schools in Wichita Falls then, but if you ask any white citizen over 65 how many there were, he or she will invariably answer, “One.” Wichita Falls High School was not the white high school. It was the high school. Booker T. Washington High School had excellent facilities, although even now I can’t say where they are located–somewhere, I assume, way beyond Flood Street. I have never seen them. Booker T had a championship football team, an outstanding marching band, and a choir that was recognized statewide and occasionally came to sing in the elegant churches of the white people.

This is where my love of The Wichita Falls Times connects with the myth of one high school in Wichita Falls. You see, the newspaper was, for me, a mirror of my world. I knew that there was Flood Street and beyond. I knew that kids who lived there went to Booker T. Washington High School. I even ventured a few times to their home football games to watch the jazzy marching band. There were black people in town working in the few jobs open to them. I went on mission expeditions to teach Vacation Bible School in the Projects. Some white people even trekked across muddy Flood Street to benefit from the excellent work and lower prices of the “colored” dentist at his elegant home with a built-on clinic.

I didn’t hate black people. I thought racism was evil and spoke against it on occasion. I didn’t hate or dislike black people, but I didn’t see black people. The mirror of my world, The Wichita Falls Times, didn’t report Booker T.’s sports news. Their many band and choir awards got no recognition or photographs in “Teen Times.” There were no photographs of black students doing anything at all. Black brides and debutantes were never featured on the society pages. Black churches were not included in Saturday’s “guide to worship services.” Even black crimes were usually reported only in the police notes at the back of the news. Black people were not allowed to patronize the same local restaurants where I ate or the stores where I shopped. When I traveled by bus, they had their sections in the station and on the bus, and they used the toilets and drinking fountains marked “colored.”

No, Wichita Falls, Texas, had no problem with black people. We simply ignored them to the point of near non-existence. There were no black faces reflected in our mirror on the world.

Testimonies, Miracles, and Green Pastures

Reportable miracles are the material of “testimonies,” a staple of old-fashioned Southern Baptist culture, but they seem incoherent in the narrative of a life that doesn’t report steady progress heavenward. Twice-divorced, vain, intermittently unchurched, often confused, I have fewer answers to the really big questions than I did when I was nineteen.

Sometimes guest speakers came to my church–missionaries who lived and worked in other countries. They showed slides of themselves in exotic settings among dark-skinned people and told many wonderful stories of living by faith. They spoke of miracles: instant healing in response to a prayer; an exact amount of money that arrived soon after a prayer for that amount; an urge to go to a specific place where they found someone waiting to hear what they had to say. I wanted to be like them, but the people I prayed for died anyway, I had to work for the money that I needed, and what I thought were divine appointments sometimes ended awkwardly.

I’ve experienced a few reportable miracles: doors opened to a university that seemed out of my reach; a life partner with faith greater than mine; material goods to supply specific material needs; an unexpected intervention from a person of power to solve a problem, but these reportable miracles recede against the backdrop of larger miracles: an invisible hand and a still, small voice of a shepherd much larger than I who has guided me, not skipping joyfully from sunny hilltop to sunny hilltop, but trudging through valleys of shadows of death and evil; the incredible journey of the earth around the sun every twenty-four hours; the exquisitely-formed human beings who grew inside me and who have survived to middle age and produced their own exquisitely-formed beings; sunlight and shade; water and food; trees and flowers; work and provision; family, friends, pets, and love.

I am not blessed because I have special spoiled-child status with the Almighty, but because I have been willed into existence and consciousness by a power that I cannot possibly understand. I am blessed when I stop insisting on comprehension and start to accept and experience the wonder and the terror of the Universe and its Creator. My wishes to be a missionary or a pastor’s wife or the leader of some great ministry have not been granted. My life is not a running report of dramatic miracles and unmitigated progress toward heaven.

I sleep. I get up. I drink coffee. I eat. Most days, I read a chapter from the Old Testament and a chapter from the New Testament, and, more often than not, far from being instantly inspired and filled with wisdom, I find myself wondering what THAT was about. I worry about car accidents and climate change and epidemics and the economy and politics. I wonder if my life makes any difference. I wonder if I should do more and, if so, what I should do. But sometimes I think of a lamb, trembling as she walks through the shadows, trusting in a shepherd whose ways she cannot know, comforted by rod and staff and food and green pastures.