The Move to Paris

It took a lot of moxie to get her here to Paris

but it is her faith in God that keeps her going.

Leaving Toronto with its familiar

haunts, a job she loved, family and friends

to settle in a city she had only visited once

wasn`t an easy thing to do at all.  She didn`t

think she had it in her.  Her friends rooted for her,

and already made plans to visit her in the

summer but her family was a different

story.

 

Her mother didn`t like the idea of her being in

Europe all by herself and was fearful of terrorist

attacks.  Mia had to remind her that she was old

enough to take herself.  And she assured her that

God would protect her.

 

Her father warned her to be careful of the

French men.  And her sister, well, she was glad

to see her go because it meant that she didn`t

have to share the bath-room with her anymore.

And she could move into Mia`s room which

was much bigger and nicer than hers.

 

Mia paused to look at the Eifle Tower.  She was

here to begin a new life, on her own.  It had

always been a dream of hers to live in Europe.

She had considered London, Rome, Barcelona

and Lisbon but she decided on Paris.  She could

speak French fluently and she loved the food.

And besides, she could always take the train or

the Hovercraft to London any time.

 

Upon her arrival in Paris, she applied for a

job to teach English and was accepted.  Her first

day on the job was tomorrow.  Her heart did

a little somersault.  The thought of standing

in front of a classroom was daunting.  Then she

heard the words, “Fear not: for I am with thee.

Peace filled her heart and she offered a silent

prayer of thanksgiving.

 

She asked one of the people standing nearby to

take a photo of her.  Her first Sunday afternoon in

Paris.  She smiled broadly into the camera.  Paris

is a beautiful city and she had all the time she

needed to enjoy it.  For now she was content to

stay here a little longer and just soak up the

atmosphere and admire the view.

 

Asian woman in Paris

Papa Joe

August 12, 1952.  It was a date she would never forget.  It was the day she buried the man who had been a father to her for over twenty years.  It seemed so surreal.  Papa Joe was gone.  She stood there alone in her grief, shivering although it was a hot and muggy day.

She stared at the ground where Papa Joe lay.  The tears rolled down her cheeks as she cradled his worn Bible, remembering how he used to read it to her when she was a child. When her parents had died he took her in and raised her as his own. She had grown to love the old man as if he were her very own blood.  Many of the townspeople had a problem with the widower raising a black girl and didn’t hide their displeasure but Papa Joe ignored them.  His business began to suffer.  Papa Joe was a tailor.  He knew that business would pick up again if he got rid of Cassandra but he refused to do so.  Even if he went bankrupt, he would never part with her.  He vowed that only death would separate them.

It was Papa Joe whom she shared her dreams with.  It was Papa Joe who comforted her when she went home crying because of the racial slurs and taunts.  Papa Joe was the only one who knew that she loved a man she had no right to love.  She had known Dr. Baker since she was a child.  He used to stop by and see Papa Joe.   He was always kind to her and brought her treats.  As she grew older, the visits became more frequent.  Papa Joe was no fool.  He could see that feelings were developing between them and he warned her, “You and the doctor have to be careful, Cassie.  This town will not take kindly to a relationship between a black girl and a white man.”

One night when Dr. Baker visited, Papa Joe excused himself and went to his room.  As soon as they were alone, the doctor took Cassandra into his arms and kissed her.  “I have wanted to do that all day,” he whispered when he raised his head to gaze down into her face.  “I know that there is a considerable age difference between us but I love you, Cassandra.  I tried to stay away when I realized that I had fallen in love with you but I couldn’t.  I had to see you.”

“I love you too.”

“I’m leaving for Paris in three weeks and I would like you to come with me.”

“Paris?” she exclaimed.  “Why there?”

“I have always wanted to go there and set up a practice.  My mother was French and your family was from Haiti.  So the language won’t be a barrier for us.”

“I can’t go to Paris with you, Robert.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t leave Papa Joe.  He has been so good to me.”

“Joe would want you to be happy and you won’t be as long as you remain in this town.”

“I can’t be happy knowing that he is here all alone.”  She could see the distress on Robert’s face and she reached up and touched his face.  “I love you for wanting to take me away with you, but I can’t.  I hope you understand.”

“I do,” he sighed.  “Well, I better be going.  Please say goodnight to Joe for me.”  They kissed and then she walked with him to the door.

“Goodbye, Cassandra.  Write me and let me know how you are doing.”  He gave her a piece of paper with an address on it.  She took it.  After a lingering look, he was gone–perhaps out of her life for good.

That was three months ago.  They had exchanged letters since and when Papa Joe died, she had written and told Robert.  She stood now at the grave, the tears falling.  Papa Joe had left the house to her and all the money he earned from his tailoring.  She had the money locked away in a box.  She didn’t want to go back to the empty house.

She had no idea of how long she stood there but the biting cold prompted her to start making her way back to the house.  She had just reached the front porch when she saw a car pull up and Robert got out.  He walked over to her and taking her arm he led her up the steps.  “I’m sorry I didn’t make it on time for the funeral,” he apologized as she unlocked the door and they went inside.

Once inside and the door was shut, she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.  She sobbed, letting out the pent up grief that had closed around her heart like a fist.  Robert stood there, holding her until the sobs subsided and then ceased.

When she was spent from all that crying, Robert took her over to the sofa and sat her down.  “Joe wrote me this note,” he said, handing it to her.  “I think you should read it.”

She wiped away the tears before she reached for the note.  Frowning, she slowly unfolded the paper and read it.  Dear Robert, I know that you love my Cassie and that you wanted to take her away from this cursed place.  If I know my dear girl she will not want to leave me.  She feels a sense of obligation to stay and take care of me as I have taken care of her all these years.  I don’t want to be a burden to her.  She is young and deserves to live her life.  There’s no future for her here.  I know that she loves you and that it broke her heart to be separated from you.  She thought I wasn’t aware, but I could see the unhappiness in her sweet face and I could hear her crying in the night.  She had sacrificed her chance for happiness for me.  I haven’t told her but I don’t have much longer to live.  When I pass on, which should be any time soon, please come and take Cassie away from here.  Take her to Paris where you and she will be free to love each other.  She can use the money from the sale of the house to pay for her fare.  I am sorry that I won’t be there for your wedding but know that I wish you both all the happiness in the world.  Please take good care of my precious girl.

Yours sincerely,

Joe

Fresh tears fell.  “I had no idea that he was dying.  He was tired more but I just thought that it was to do with age.  I am thankful that I was here for him.”

“Now, you can get on with your life.  We have his blessing.  Let me take you to Paris.”  He reached out and took her hands in his.  “Cassandra, I want to marry you.  Let me take you to Paris.”

She nodded.  “I will go to Paris with you,” she said.  Her life here was over.  There was nothing to keep her here.  Her future was with Robert now.  She would sell this house filled with so many wonderful memories and leave this town which had been the source of her unhappiness.  Yes, she will go to Paris and marry the man she loved.

 

crying african american woman in the 1950s

Moving Out

She stood there, suitcases packed in the small flat she had called home for eight years. Memories flooded her mind as she stepped to the window and gazed across at the park.   They had been so happy when they moved in.  After dating each other for two years, they decided that they would take big step of moving in together.   Of course, her parents hadn’t been thrilled.  They were Christians and didn’t believe in unmarried people living together.   At the time she wasn’t into church that much and felt that if two people loved each other, there wasn’t anything wrong with them living together.  This flat was Mike’s and hers.  Besides, they had talked about the possibility of getting married one day.

She smiled as she remembered how they had to order take out because she had burnt the roast because she had forgotten to set the timer.  It was the smoke coming out of the oven that alerted her and she managed to turn off the oven and open the windows before the smoke alarm went off.  Mike had been a good sport about it.  Since then, she had improved greatly in the kitchen.

The smile faded and tears sprang to her eyes.  She was leaving Mike.  After ten years together, she was ending their relationship.  It was hard.  She had invested so much in this relationship but she couldn’t continue like this.  Whenever she brought up the subject of them getting married, he seemed reluctant to talk about it or hedged around it until she dropped it.   Then, one evening she asked him point blank as they were having dinner if he wanted to get married.  He told her that he wasn’t ready.  He said that he liked things the way they were at the moment.  Marriage was a big step and he just wasn’t ready to take it right now.  Besides, they hadn’t really seriously talked about it, right?  It was something that was possible one of these days, just not now.  They were still young and had plenty of time to think about tying the knot.

She didn’t mention marriage again after that but it weighed on her mind.  Living together was troubling her now and it became a conviction when she started going to church with her friend.  The first time she went was when Mike was away on business. Carla invited her one Saturday morning and she absolutely loved it.  The people were so warm and friendly and she felt at home.  She went to church every Saturday after that and one day, she could have sworn that the pastor was speaking directly to her.  That day she was convinced that it was wrong for her to be living with a man she wasn’t married to.  When Mike got back from his trip she shared her feelings with him and he got angry.

“I will not be forced into getting married just because you suddenly have an attack of conscience,” he declared before he stormed out of the apartment.  After that their relationship was strained.  Whenever he wanted to make love, she said she had a headache until he finally stopped trying.  They hardly spoke.  Most of the time she ate alone.  He was gone when she got up in the mornings and was in bed when he got in. The business trips became more frequent.   She was miserable.  She spoke to Carla about it and her friend encouraged her to pray about the situation.  She did and she was convinced that God wanted her to move out.  And here she was.  Suitcases packed and ready to say goodbye to the man she had loved for ten years.  Marriage was out of the question as far as he was concerned and she couldn’t settle for less.  So, this was it.  She had to leave.  She was taking only her clothes and trinkets and books.  Everything else she was going to leave.  Carla offered her the guest room until she found a place.

She turned away from the window and walked over to the mantelpiece where several photos of Mike and her stood.  She reached for the one of them standing in front of the Eiffel Tower.  They had spent two weeks in Paris.  She had believed that they would return there one day–perhaps for their honeymoon.   She was tempted to take the photo but shook her head and turned away.  She didn’t want any reminders of what they once had.  The memories would always be there.  She didn’t need any physical reminders or mementos.  She glanced at the letter she had propped up beside the photo.  She had written it last night.  In it she explained why she had to leave and that she loved him. She will always love him.  She also mentioned that she would leave her key in the rental office.

She walked over to where her suitcases were and she pulled them behind her.  She opened the door and put them outside in the passageway and then turned and locked the door.   As she went slowly down the hallway, she felt as if her heart would break.   She left the key at the rental office, not seeing the curious look the woman gave her as she walked away.

Before she climbed into the taxi, she turned and looked up at the window of the flat which overlooked the park one final time.

looking to the sky

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was one of 13 children to Susan and George Coleman, sharecroppers.  The family lived in a one-room cabin in Atlanta, Texas.  When she was two years old, Bessie’s father left the family in search of better opportunities in Oklahoma.  Bessie’s mother did her best to support the family until the children were old enough to contribute.  When Bessie’s older brothers went to work, she took care of her two younger sisters.  She became the family leader, reading to her sisters and mother at night.  Bessie promised her mother that she was going to “amount to something.”

Bessie began attending school when she was six and had to walk four miles every day to her segregated one-room school.  There she loved to read and had the distinction as an outstanding Math student.  The school closed whenever the students were needed in the fields to help their families harvest cotton.

Bessie attended Langston University, known then as Oklahoma Colored Agricultural and Normal University.  She was able to complete one term before she ran out of money.  She returned home.  At 23 she moved to Chicago where she lived with her brothers.  It was when she was working at the White Sox Barber Shop as a manicurist that her interest in aviation was kindled.  She heard stories about flying during the war from pilots returning home from World War I.  American flight schools did not admit black women and one of the pilots was willing to teach her how to fly.

Determined to earn her pilot license and encouraged by Robert S. Abbott, founder and publisher of the Chicago Defender, Bessie went to France after taking a French language course at Berlitz School in Chicago.  In France, she learned how to fly in a Nieuport Type 82 biplane and on June 15, 1921 she became the first African American and Native American to earn both an aviation pilot’s license and an international license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.  For the next two months, Bessie took lessons from a French ace pilot near Paris to polish her skills.  When she returned to the United States she became a media sensation.

She specialized in stunt flying and parachuting.  She earned a living barnstorming and performing aerial tricks.  In 1922 she made her first appearance in an American airshow.  It was an event honoring veterans of an all-black 369th Infantry Regiment of World War I.  She was billed as “the world’s greatest woman flier.”

It was Bessie’s dream to establish a school for young black aviators but she didn’t live to fulfill it.  On April 30, 1926, Bessie was killed in an accident while preparing for an airshow.  She was only 34 years old.

Bessie Coleman remains a pioneer of women in the field of aviation.  “Because of Bessie Coleman,” wrote Lieutenant William J. Powell in Black Wings 1934, dedicated to Coleman, “we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers.  We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.”  Lieutenant Powell served in a segregated unit during World War I and pushed for black aviation in his book, journals and through the Bessie Coleman Aero Club which he founded in 1929.

Notes to Women is pleased to honor this remarkable woman who broke down gender and race barriers by daring to dream big.  She kept her promise to her mother.  She did “amount to something”.

The air is the only place free from prejudice.

I refused to take no for an answer.

You’ve never lived till you’ve flown!

I decided blacks should not have to experience the difficulties I had faced, so I decided to open a flying school and teach other black women to fly.

 

Bessie Coleman painting

Sources:  Biography; Notable Biographies; Wikipedia; Brainy Quote

Elizabeth Smart

While I was at the hairdresser, I came across People Magazine with Elizabeth Smart’s wedding featured on the cover.  Elizabeth met her husband, Matthew Gilmour, a Scotland native while doing mission work in Paris.  After one year of courtship, the couple on February 18, 2012 in a private ceremony in the Laie Hawaii Temple.  I looked at her radiant face and was thrilled for her.  She had been through so much.  She deserved all the happiness she got after her horrific ordeal.

At the age of 14, Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom on June 5, 2002.  She was found nine months later on March 12, 2003, in Sandy, Utah, 18 miles from her home, in the company of Brian David Mitchell and Wanda Ileen Barzee. Her abduction and recovery were widely reported and were the subject of a made-for-TV movie and non-fiction book.

On October 1, 2009, Elizabeth relived those months of horror when she testified to being threatened, tied, and raped daily while she was held captive.  Her captor, Mitchell was sentenced to two life-terms in federal prison. 

What I admire about Elizabeth is that she didn’t let this rest at the trial.  She went on to take action–to make a difference.  She went from being a victim to being an activist.  On March 8, 2006, she went to Congress to support Sexual Predator Legislation and the AMBER Alert system, and on July 26, 2006, she spoke after the signing of the Adam Walsh Act. In May 2008, she traveled to Washington, D.C., where she helped present a book, You’re Not Alone, published by the U.S. Department of Justice, which has entries written by her as well as four other recovered young adults. In 2009, Smart commented on the kidnapping of Jaycee Lee Dugard, stressing that dwelling upon the past is unproductive. On October 27, 2009 Elizabeth spoke at the 2009 Women’s Conference in California hosted by Maria Shriver, on overcoming obstacles in life.  On July 7, 2011 it was announced that she would be a commentator for ABC News, mainly focusing on missing persons.

I learned about the Elizabeth Smart Foundation and the story behind its creation.

Too many families experience the nightmare of having a child go missing. I know what it is like to be that child. I know what it is like to think that one false move may lead to not only your own death but the death of family members as well. Nobody can ever blame a child for their actions when they are being threatened, bullied, forced, or coerced into doing something unthinkable. That is why the “Elizabeth Smart Foundation” was created, because what if we could prevent future crimes against children? Wouldn’t it be worth it to do everything to bring home that one child?

Elizabeth is a young woman of action.  She is working to prevent future crimes against children.  Her foundation’s mission is mission to end child victimization.  She doesn’t want families to go through what hers did.  And they were among the lucky ones.  The family of Samantha Runnion was not so lucky.  Samantha was kidnapped outside of her home and driven seventy miles away where she was sexually assaulted, beaten upside the head and asphyxiated.  In memory of this precious little girl, her mother Erin founded The Joyful Child Foundation.  I encourage you to visit their site and learn more about Samantha and what the work the organization is doing to help prevent another family from suffering like the Runnions.  As I read Samantha’s story, I pulled my child onto my lap and held him closely as tears filled my eyes.  We have to do everything possible to protect our children.  Don’t wait to talk to them about personal safety.  Erin Runnion offers these tips for parents.

In March 2011, Elizabeth was one of four women awarded the Diller-von Furstenberg Award.  The award included a $50,000 prize which she announced would be used to create her foundation.

Notes to Women salutes this remarkable young woman who has dedicated her life to preventing crimes from happening to children.

All of the children out there deserve to come home to their parents the way, the way Elizabeth has come back to us, … And I just hope and pray that Congress will quickly pass the Amber alert so those children will have a better chance.

I just had to ask about three times whether it was really true, … Then I just had to give thanks to God that she was found, that he has answered all the prayers.

Elizabeth Smart quotes

Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_Smart; http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20572162,00.html

http://elizabethsmartfoundation.org/