Sunday, June 7, 2020

Fresh Air Kids

My anti-racism training began early.  I must have been only about six or seven years old during the summers when my parents hosted several little black girls from a nearby city.  (The term “African-American” was not in common use in the 1940’s or 50’s.)  During several summers, these new friends spent a week or two on our little farm with our family as some of their city neighborhood children spent time on the farms of other members of our church.
None of the children had ever been on a farm before.  So we called them the “fresh  air kids.”  None of us had ever had the chance to make interracial  friendships.  
So it was a learning experience for all of us as well as a vacation  for the “fresh air kids.”
Most of the time they followed us around and helped with our normal farm chores: feeding the chickens and gathering the eggs, walking back to the pasture to help us bring the cow up for her evening milking, feeding the pigs, pulling weeds in the garden, freezing or canning fresh garden produce, helping fix meals and wash the dishes.
Some of us planned special excursions with our new friends.  Our family took them with us to the zoo and art museum in nearby cities and the public library in our local small town.  Of course they accompanied us to church and Sunday School and any church events during the time they were with us.
But around the planned events, there was plenty of time to become friends and ask many innocent and child-like questions. From questions such as “Are collard greens  something like golf greens?”  or “You have two  pairs of shoes, even in the summer?” 
We learned a lot about our differing lifestyles and cultures.  
Sunday was home going day for all the guests as their hosts returned them to the downtown city church that had coordinated the program.  This downtown black city church was an active member of the Council of Churches which had developed the “fresh air kids” as an outreach program to their own communities.
There were many mixed feelings on homecoming day: thanks for new friends and new experiences, a new  feeling of security with people different than themselves, fun in new places, homesickness overcome (perhaps), the similarities between people that are hidden  behind differences.
Mixed feelings, indeed, but not as vicious as those that have erupted on city streets in 2020.  Has it been the passage of 70 years that has made the difference or the  perspective of  a child?

7 June 2020 - mshr