Redlining

For $5 a day once a week Mildred cleaned our house,
ironed Daddy’s white shirts, uniform of 1950s salesmen
and took care of a preschooler – me

We weren’t well off; Mom was a school secretary
Daddy was a salesman on the road most of the week
Mom needed help with the housework

So Mildred became our Monday maid.

Mildred seemed like family to me
She gave me hugs when I was sad,
scolded me when I acted spoiled

Made me pick up my toys, speak with respect,
encouraged me to give up my little-girl dirndls and puffed sleeves,
convinced me I didn’t need crusts cut off my sandwiches

My family prepared for Mondays, washing clothes,
leaving those needing ironing damp in the bathtub
to make ironing easier for her

Mom bought her Cocolas for afternoon treats
Daddy told her jokes that made her laugh
She used our one phone to call friends and family

I was taught to use prefixed names to be respectful –
Aunt Lucile, Uncle Billy, Miss Irene, yet
Mildred was just Mildred,

Offered a job at a dry cleaners, she left us when I was 12;
I had learned to iron by then, business shirts were now permapress
Months later we heard Mildred had surgery,

Mom made a meal as she would any other neighbor
Daddy took me along to deliver it
The landscape changed as we neared her house

I was appalled at the shanty town where her family lived
Dirt for lawns, tiny frame houses, no driveways or sidewalks 
Daddy made me sit in the car as he went to the porch

When he returned, I asked him about conditions of this segregated area
“That’s just where the colored people live, Honey”

White privilege wasn’t a term I knew back then but
seeing Mildred’s house, neighborhood, her children playing in the dirt yard
shocked me into understanding that my family saw her family as “other”

We made that delivery in 1967, a year before the Fair Housing Act
prohibited housing discrimination based on race and
ended redlining policies that have had a domino effect to this day

My parents received an FHA loan to purchase the
brick home on a paved drive where I grew up
Mildred’s family couldn’t get a loan for a house in our neighborhood

How did the inability to build real estate equity affect her family’s
job opportunities, access to health care, quality of education, retirement funds?
For how many generations has redlining widened the gap between races?

I was raised to study hard, go to college,
get a professional job, buy a house, and I did.
Did Mildred’s children have that advantage?
Doubt it.

Top photo from Mediadrumimages.
Bottom photo of me and my older sister on our front porch.


13 thoughts on “Redlining

  1. It isn’t the truth when people say if you work hard you can get/achieve anything. That one line in your poem, where your father spoke is the most powerful line in your poem. It shows just how “normalized” the disadvantages were/are.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Powerful telling, LuAnne. Takes me back to the day I rode along with my mother (then an elementary teacher at a school “on the other side of the tracks”) – there was an outbreak of skin infection (Impetigo) and Mother was delivering underground medication to a family in hopes of stopping the spread. I recall her comments as she got back in the car: “They took it, but I don’t know if they’ll trust it, use it.” Sitting in the car for the 5 minutes or so she was on their doorstep has haunted me all these years. I’d seen that part of town before only in passing, easily dismissed. But that day the reality of “different” settled in. Taking me along that day may have been the best lesson my mother ever taught me. (I’ve no idea how she got her hands on those meds!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That is a powerful story, Jazz. I’m not sure why my dad took me that day. I may have asked to go so I could see Mildred. She was such a strong influence in my early childhood. But he made me stay in the car. I don’t think he was trying to teach me anything, but it did. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story, Jazz.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. For some reason I ‘lost’ your blog, LuAnne, until you commented on mine, and now that I’ve found it again this is the first post I’ve read. It’s such a moving and thoughtful piece and should make us all think about our place in the world and how an accident of birth can make such a difference. I’m sure the US will move into a more compassionate time now, and let’s hope that the day will come when the daughters and sons of people like Mildred can hope for a fair and equal future.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I am looking forward to a more compassionate US soon but we have so far to go. I still discover ways that my white privilege has aided any of my successes. I’m glad to hear from you again. I didn’t blog for almost four months so there won’t be much ‘catching up’ to do here. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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