Posted by: Lawrence D. Elliott | August 13, 2011

Let me tell you a story

Sit down, my friend. Let me pour you a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you a story.

One hot summer day, a car made its way down a Texas highway. Inside sat a middle-aged couple with their daughter and her one-year-old child in need of feeding. Fortunately, they neared a restaurant. They stopped and asked the owner if it would be possible to warm the infant’s bottle.

“Sure,” the owner said. “Ya’ll just go ‘round back.”

The young mother was livid. Her immediate reaction was to refused to accept such treatment. But her parents grudgingly complied. The year was 1962. The family was black and as was the custom for that time in the American South, if they wanted service in such an establishment, they had to use the back door.

And even though they probably endured such treatment more than they cared, the grandparents did what so many black people were forced to do. They thought about their child and put their own needs second. The young mother’s mom took the bottle around back to be warmed because her young grandchild needed to be fed.

This story was first told to me a couple of years. And to say I was surpised to learn the identity of this child would be an understatement. That hungry child was me. My mom is the one who told me this tale and as soon as she did, I went home and wrote down the details. I felt I might be able to use it at a later time. Just another one of those interesting facts in our family’s history.

The first time I thought about it again was in the midst of the storm over whether President Barrack Hussein Obama was actually born in the United States or whether he was born in Kenya, therefore making him unworthy to maintain the office to which he was elected.

I asked the following as I watched people spend countless months debating his fitness to be President base on a “phony” birth certificate and a “planted” news item in a Honolulu newspaper 50 years earlier:

Do you really think someone in 1961 believed an infant born to a white mother and a black father who gave him such a name really thought he would someday be President of the United States? Really?

Well, if this is possible, I think the mastermind who cooked up such a scheme should be President. Or maybe he already is. {wink}

As we all know by now, President Obama recently turned fifty. A belated-Happy Birthday to you, Mr. President. Next month, someone else will be joining you in the 50-Club. Me! And although I haven’t reached the heights of greatness that you’ve achieved, in recent days I’ve began an early 50-year reflection on my life. That is when I began to think about my mom’s story a second time. You know, my life could have been better in some areas and it hasn’t been bad in others. But there have been those few moments when I’ve asked myself, “Man, did you really do that?”

Thinking of the stories of my family gives me a greater understanding of how blessed I truly am and what special gifts I’ve received from both my grandparents and my mom.

My grandparents had to endure so many indignities in their lives to ensure my mom and her children were in a better position than they were. Yet, they were never bitter. They were always fair, kind, generous, helpful, hard-working, and patient. Very patient. I often struggle with the latter.

My mother also has those traits but there was one other important thing I’ve learned from her: standing up for myself when it’s necessary. As anyone who knows me will attest, when I feel I’m right, I don’t like to back down. And I like to make my own decisions. They may not always turn out to be right, but they are mine. I believe if I have to live with the consequences, I should be the one who makes the decision.

These traits in me are often difficult for people to accept, but unfortunately—or fortunately, depending on your outlook—it’s who I am, no matter how much I try to “smooth” out the edges. It’s what I was taught by people who are very special to me. And as I became older, I have more and more pride and honor in treasuring my family’s rich history. It reminds me how much responsibility I have in making sure what my predecessors did for me were not done in vain.

I’m grateful to them for what they have done for me, just as I’m sure President Obama is grateful to his mom and his grandparents. They all did what they did to sacrifice for us so that we would be prepared to stand on their giant shoulders. Because in spite of everything, their son (or grandson) just might grow up to be President of the United States…or just a writer like me.

©2011 Lawrence D. Elliott. Author photograph by Cornelia G. Becker


  1. Thanks, Lawrence. Beautiful, touching, inspiring.

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