Positive poignant lessons learned from a beloved businessman as told by his daughter.
Misguided Traditions… Jadis and Freddie turn wounds into wisdom
By Connie Aron Meyer
The most influential woman in my life was an amazing American woman who happened to be Black. I identified Jadis in this way, because this is the way Jadis taught me. Being American always came first, before being identified by the color of her skin. Jadis and I spent our days together in the turbulent 1960’s, when I was a child and Jadis was the glue that held our household and family together. Jadis helped us in our home “watching out” for me, cleaning, washing, drying, ironing, prepping meals-everything my parents did not have time to do for us since they both worked long hours. My dad, Freddie, was at our men’s clothing store, Rogers Clothes, from 10am to 9pm. My mom was a teacher and Foreign Language Student Teacher Supervisor who would usually return home around 4:45pm. Make no mistake, what Jadis did for our family’s home was hard work.
Since Freddie’s children were his treasures, anyone that Freddie trusted with his two little girls was, without doubt, a valued member of our family. Jadis’ family and my family together lived through some of the difficult decades of racism and antisemitism that just seemed ingrained in some folks’ hearts in southern Virginia. Jadis’ Black family and our Jewish family often had to face hate head-on. The hate and prejudices we faced in the decades of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s were less camouflaged then than they are now. And in many ways, now is better.
So it is sad to know that all these decades later, the fight cannot be over. What does this moment ask of us? What wisdom can we give to children of every color to help guide them along the way?
Today’s fight against racial injustice takes me back to my childhood with Jadis and my dad Freddie. There is no doubt that we are now, in 2020 and 2021, actually living history-a time that will be talked about and be taught to children for generations to come. The very definition of “remembered history”.
When times are trying I always go back to the values and wisdom learned from Jadis and my dad. Jadis taught me to turn your “wounds into wisdom and your pain into purpose and that hate has no place here- not in our homes and not in our hearts”. For me there was no safer or better place than in Jadis’ warm arms. Black faces meant welcoming love and affectionate kindness to me-and they still do to this very day so many decades later. I learned by Freddie’s example that all people, including people “of color”, deserve our respect. That was sadly not a very popular approach in the 1950’s and ‘60’s.
Riding the bus in Portsmouth, Virginia in those days was not always pleasant if you were a black woman riding alone. So Mr. Leon, Jadis’ husband, would drive Jadis to our house each morning. We lived on the other side of the Elizabeth River in Churchland and Jadis and her family lived in Midtown. On the occasional days when Mr. Leon had to work late and couldn’t pick Jadis up to bring her home, my dad would leave Rogers Clothes and come home to give Jadis a ride. A discussion would happen each and every time. Jadis would say –Mr. Aron, you do not need to leave your business to take me home. The bus stop is just three blocks away. Freddie would say – It is my pleasure to take you home, it is a much longer ride on the bus and you’ve been on your feet most of the day. (He didn’t say – I would never subject you to the hate some white people use to terrorize black women on the bus!)
Then came the next discussion. My dad, the consummate Southern gentleman would open the front passenger door of our car for Jadis to get in. Jadis would say – Mr. Aron, it would not be good for YOU to drive through your neighborhood and into mine with just the two of us in the car, with me in the front seat with you. My Dad would say – That is ridiculous and a lady always has the door held open for her and sits in the front. He’d say-It is really a “hot one” today Jadis and you know that the air conditioner blows the coolest in the front seat of the car. (What he didn’t say is- I value you greatly and would never put you in the rear seat.) Then Jadis said- Mr. Aron, it would not be good for ME to sit in the front seat with you. Making Jadis feel uncomfortable was unacceptable, so that’s when my dad would relent.
I’d watch them go back and forth with a similar conversation every time and then they’d agree together that I would be the compromise. I would jump in the back seat, excited to be able to go on the short ride with Jadis and my dad. And my dad would hold the back seat passenger door open for Jadis to get in our car.
This negotiation however, went a bit further. Jadis would agree, at my dad’s insistence, not to get out of our car when it stopped in front of her home, until my dad could get out and walk around the car to open the back door for Jadis to exit. A gentleman always holds the door open for a lady! You should have seen Jadis’ neighbors who were trying to keep cool while sitting on their front porches, watch a white man hold open a car door for a black woman in the 1960’s! My dad did not want other’s small –minded prejudices to affect his deep respect or his behaviors towards Jadis. My father Freddie was not about to let the misguided “traditions” of Southern society at the time affect this deep respect for Jadis and every other honorable person-no matter their color, religion, or country of origin. And more importantly, the little girl in the back seat of the car was watching her dad’s every move towards the warm wonderful woman who took such great care of her every day, and whom she loved so very much. Thank God I have parents who never judged others by color or country- simply by the heart of the person. Jadis taught me that children love naturally, it is the adults with their misguided prejudices who get in the way.
Fast forward almost forty years and I get a long distance call from my mom that Jadis was not doing well and was taken to the hospital. She was suffering from a brain tumor and my mom feared there was not much time left. I was living 3000 miles away on the opposite coast, but I asked my assistant to book a flight for me and I ran home to pack a bag. Phones on planes had just come into their own back then, so I called Jadis’ room in the hospital from that plane to tell her how much I loved her. That would be our last “I love you”, for Jadis passed away surrounded by her family while I was flying 36,000 feet above her.
A few days later Jadis’ family gave me the honor of speaking at her funeral. Every seat was filled in Mount Herman Baptist Temple that day with folks of all colors and ages. Those of modest means, the wealthier folks in our city, and elected leaders all slid into the pews. Freddie and I took our seats next to the Mayor of Portsmouth. She was there to pay her respects since Jadis had been instrumental in improving the foster care system and had sat on the Social Services Board for the city of Portsmouth. Jadis had welcomed five foster children into her home over the years in addition to her own four children. Our entire family was there.
I had never been to a funeral quite like this before. This was not a somber sad remembrance – this was a celebration of Jadis’ amazing loving life. It was a “Going Home” celebration and everyone in that church knew Jadis earned a coveted place in Heaven by the wondrous way she had lived her life full of virtues and values here on Earth. All of the women in Jadis’ immediate family were dressed beautifully, entirely in white. And the ladies of the church had on their Sunday best. They wore the most amazing outfits in rich jewel tones; lace overlay dresses, bright suits with pearl buttons and the most extraordinary hats to match! The whole front of the church was filled with large, bright floral arrangements. As I walked to the pulpit, I was nervous that my words could not adequately describe how much Jadis had meant to my life. When I came closer to the front I spotted a large spray of soft pink roses. On the top was attached a plastic, pink, toy, princess-style phone, just like the one I had as a child. On the front was attached a sign in silver letters that read “Jesus Called!”. Seeing that immediately put me at ease and as I delivered my tribute to Jadis, people began to applaud. They even yelled out encouraging lines like “Tell It!”, “Tell it little lady!”. Their enthusiasm and kindness felt like the enveloping warm hugs I had always gotten from Jadis.
When the “Going Home” ceremony was complete, Freddie and I followed the family to the reception hall of the church. Dad and I smiled at each other as we stepped in, because there we found “heaven-on-earth”. There is nothing my Dad and I liked better than the Southern comfort food of my childhood. As Jadis’ celebration of life continued, we found food so good, as my dad would say, “It’ll make you smack your Mama!”. That’s Freddie’s highest compliment given to the fried chicken, sweet potato casserole, stewed tomatoes, black eyed peas and greens, sweet corn pudding, green beans, macaroni and cheese, sweet tea and biscuits we found there.
Rows of long tables with chairs on both sides filled with folks eating lined the reception hall. All the food was served on heavy-duty paper products for easy disposal. When I finished my plate, I walked back to find the kitchen. I saw some folks grabbing large, plastic, trash bags to clear the tables. So like Jadis taught me, I joined in to help clean up after our incredible meal.
I approached one of the long tables filled with the older church ladies and began clearing away their finished plates, silverware and napkins. As I got to the middle of the table those ladies were deep in conversation, so I gently reached in to clear their plates. Just then their conversation immediately stopped! I looked down into the bright brown eyes of a regal lady with silver gray hair dressed in sky blue lace with the hat to match, whose plate I had just cleared from the table. She smiled at me and said, “Jadis sure raised you right young lady.” And I answered, “Yes mam, she surely did”. I told Freddie about it when I finished clearing and he explained to me that the ladies had stopped mid-conversation when they saw my white hand and arm reach in to clear their dirty dishes. Dad was quite sure that no white person had ever helped clean up for them at Mount Herman Baptist Temple.
My dad Freddie lost his battle with cancer just 9 months after we lost Jadis. The significance and love in those relationships lasts long after Jadis and Freddie have left this earth and continues to inform most decisions and judgments made throughout my life.
Back to those two important questions. What does this tumultuous moment ask of us? What wisdom can we give to children of every color to help guide them along the way?
I guess you can say that Jadis and Freddie believe in that positive spark held inside the heart of every human being. And that given enough patience, kindness and love anyone could feel confident enough in themselves to be guided by that good. That kind of love from Jadis and Freddie that I was lucky enough to live, is real and lasting. It sets the very best foundation to go out into the world and form lasting rich bonds with folks of all faiths and colors. And we must remember, just like that little girl watching her father Freddie’s every move from the back seat of the car that day so long ago, our children our watching.
What advice would Jadis and Freddie give us? It is time now to think beyond ourselves to what is right and just. And time to take peaceful, thoughtful actions to be a part of the lasting solution. It is time for us to now live the life that will make our children proud!