Setting a Good Example / Dando un Buen Ejemplo

La versión español está después de la versión inglés.

MY ELDEST COUSIN’S GRANDDAUGHTER — SO also my cousin, and I adore her — just drove from New York State to Miami Beach, Florida, to do a video shoot for an up-and-coming rapper. She’s a gifted photographer and currently a student in NYC. She already does exceptional professional work and her art photography is a wonder.

We’ve been having the most amazing, warm and loving text chats recently (I’ve been chatting with her also-incredible sister, as well — a gifted artist and about to start at university. I am so lucky to have them in my life and to be treated like a friend). She texted me a couple of times during her drive to Florida (she wasn’t behind the wheel). They were driving through South Carolina at the time and that brought to mind my own first drive to Miami Beach the year I turned 14.

My family (the five of us) drove from Brooklyn for a 3-week vacation. It was a 20-hour drive and my father was the only driver, so we stayed overnight in each direction. On the way down we stayed somewhere in South Carolina. Dale (16 at the time), The Kid Brother (8), and I had our own room — so I could take care of The Kid brother.

We had dinner at a family style restaurant across the street from the motel. A man who looked and dressed exactly like Colonel Sanders of KFC fame (he was still alive at the time and still owned the chain, which hadn’t yet been shortened from Kentucky Fried Chicken) came in right after us and was seated alone. When a black waiter walked over to serve him, the Colonel said he wanted a white waiter. The waiter quietly got the manager, the customer repeated his demand, and the manager (white) told the Colonel to leave. We were stunned by the customer and astounded (and relieved) by the manager’s response. South Carolina in 1968. Not what we were used to. (The racism we were used to was more subtle.) I had fried shrimp and french fries (in a basket). As a result of that incident (the racism, not the fried shrimp), I have always had a visceral reaction upon seeing the Colonel.

The next morning, as we piled into our 1961 Rambler station wagon (Dale called her Old Betsy; we got a new car — A Chevy Impala sedan with air-conditioning — after that trip), I looked in back at the luggage and saw a small plastic trash can. Now, I didn’t have to think twice about where it came from. I didn’t even need to have recognized it from the bathroom in our motel room. At 14, I knew My Mother the Dowager Duchess well.

I picked up the trash can and said in shock, “You STOLE the garbage can?!?”

The Duchess said, “Shhhh!”

I repeated indignantly, “But you stole the garbage can!”

The Duchess whispered fiercely, “Put it down! I don’t want your brother to know!”

“But it’s OK for ME to know that you STOLE the garbage can?!?”

My father gave me a look (one of his tight-lipped, nostrils-flared looks that said, “Don’t even think about opening your mouth again”) and I put the 79-cent garbage can back among the suitcases.

In early 2008, San Geraldo and I redid the main bathroom in The Duchess’s apartment. We wanted to make her bath and shower easier to access. We removed the leaky glass doors my father had installed in 1964 and bought an elegant shower curtain. The bathroom had gray and black wall tiles and a white tile floor. We redid the room in gray, black, white, and silver — a huge improvement over the look that hadn’t changed since the shower doors were installed.

I picked up the trash can, the same little plastic trash can The Duchess had stolen from that motel in South Carolina in 1968, and I said, “We’re replacing this!”

“Why? It’s perfectly good!” she snapped.

“It’s orange and it doesn’t go with anything else,” I began calmly, “and you STOLE IT from a motel!” In response, she harrumphed imperiously.

We bought a new one. I think we paid $10.99. She loved her new bathroom and showed it off to everyone who visited. However, it took a few years before she finally stopped saying, “I don’t know why you made me get rid of that perfectly good trash can.”

It took ME about a year to stop responding, “Because it was old and ugly…

And you stole it!”

.

LA NIETA DE MI PRIMA más mayor — bueno, mi prima también y la adoro — conduje esta semana desde el estado de Nueva York a Miami Beach, Florida, para hacer una sesión de video para un rapero prometedor. Ella es una fotógrafa talentosa y actualmente es estudiante en Nueva York. Ella ya hace un trabajo profesional excepcional y su fotografía artística es una maravilla.

Recientemente, hemos estado teniendo los chats de texto más increíbles, cálidos y amorosos (he estado charlando con su también-increíble hermana, además, una artista talentosa y a punto de comenzar en la universidad. Soy muy afortunada de tenerlas en mi vida y ser tratado como un amigo). Me envió un mensaje de texto unas veces durante su viaje a Florida (no estaba detrás del volante). Conducían por Carolina del Sur en ese momento y eso me recordó mi primer viaje a Miami Beach el año en que cumplí 14 años.

Mi familia (los cinco) condujo desde Brooklyn para unas vacaciones de 3 semanas. Fue un viaje de 20 horas y mi padre era el único conductor, así que pasamos la noche en cada dirección. En el camino nos quedamos en algún lugar de Carolina del Sur. Dale (16 en ese momento), The Kid Brother (8) y yo teníamos nuestra propia habitación — para poder cuidar a El Hermanito.

Cenamos en un restaurante familiar al otro lado de la calle del motel. Un hombre que se parecía y vestía exactamente como como el Coronel Sanders de la fama de KFC (todavía estaba vivo en ese momento y aún era dueño de la cadena, que aún no había sido acortada por Kentucky Fried Chicken) vino justo después de nosotros y estaba sentado solo. Cuando un camarero negro se acercó para servirlo, el Coronel dijo que quería un camarero blanco. El camarero llamó discretamente al gerente, el cliente repitió su demanda y el gerente (blanco) le dijo al Coronel que se fuera. Nos sorprendió el cliente y nos sorprendió (y alivió) la respuesta del gerente. Carolina del Sur en 1968. No a lo que estábamos acostumbrados. (El racismo al que estábamos acostumbrados era más sutil). Tenía camarones fritos y papas fritas (en una cesta). Como resultado de ese incidente (el racismo, no los camarones fritos), siempre he tenido una reacción visceral al ver al Coronel.

A la mañana siguiente, cuando subimos a nuestra camioneta Rambler de 1961 (Dale la llamó Old Betsy; compramos un auto nuevo — un sedán Chevy Impala con aire acondicionado — después de ese viaje), miré hacia atrás en el equipaje y vi un pequeño bote de basura de plástico. Ahora, no tenía que pensar dos veces sobre de dónde venía. Ni siquiera necesitaba haberlo reconocido desde el baño en nuestra habitación de motel. A los 14 años, conocía bien a Mi Madre La Duquesa Viuda.

Lo recogí y dije en estado de shock: “¡¿ROBASTE el bote de basura ?!”

Con ojos enorme, La Duquesa dijo: “¡Shhhh!”

Repetí indignado: “¡Pero robaste el bote de basura!”

La duquesa susurró ferozmente: “¡Bájala! ¡No quiero que tu hermano lo sepa!”

“¡¿Pero está bien para saber que ROBASTE el bote de basura ?!”

Mi padre me echó una mirada (una de sus miradas con los labios apretados y las fosas nasales que decía: “Ni siquiera pienses en volver a abrir la boca”) y puse el bote de basura de 79 centavos entre las maletas.

A principios de 2008, San Geraldo y yo rehicimos el baño principal en el apartamento de La Duquesa. Queríamos facilitar el acceso a su baño y ducha. Quitamos las puertas de vidrio (con fugas) que mi padre había instalado (mal) en 1964 y compramos una elegante cortina de baño. El baño tenía azulejos grises y negros en las paredes y un piso de baldosas blancas. Rediseñamos la habitación en gris, negro, blanco, y plata, una gran mejora sobre el aspecto que no había cambiado desde que se instalaron las puertas de la ducha.

Recogí el pequeño bote de basura de plástico, el mismo bote de basura de plástico que La Duquesa había robado de ese motel en Carolina del Sur en 1968, y dije: “Estamos reemplazando esto.”

“¿Por qué? ¡Es perfectamente bueno!” Ella chasqueó.

“Es de color naranja y no combina con nada más”, comencé con calma, “¡y LO ROBASTE desde un motel!” En respuesta, ella gruñó imperiosamente.

Compramos uno nuevo. Creo que pagamos $ 10.99. Le encantó su nuevo baño y se lo mostró a todos los que lo visitaron. Sin embargo, pasaron algunos años antes de que finalmente dejara de decir: “No sé por qué me hiciste deshacerme de ese bote de basura perfectamente bueno”.

ME tomó cerca de un año dejar de responder: “Porque era viejo y feo…

“¡Y lo robaste”¡

In 1973, I made it all the way to Daytona Beach with a friend before staying in a motel. I didn’t steal the trash can.
En 1973, llegué a Daytona Beach (Playa de Daytona) con un amigo antes de alojarme en un motel. No robé el bote de basura.

Author: Moving with Mitchell

From Brooklyn, New York; to North Massapequa; back to Brooklyn; Brockport, New York; back to Brooklyn... To Boston, Massachusetts, where I met Jerry... To Marina del Rey, California; Washington, DC; New Haven and Guilford, Connecticut; San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Irvine, California; Sevilla, Spain. And Fuengirola, Málaga..

26 thoughts on “Setting a Good Example / Dando un Buen Ejemplo”

  1. What a great story! And it has survived all these years.Your mother was quite the character.
    There’s that date again…..1973. You look like a lot of us did back then……..relaxed/long hair/anything goes kind of look.

    1. Jim:
      My mother WAS quite the character. Our way of surviving was to save up all our stories for AFTER the visits, so we could laugh about them. Other stories weren’t quite so pleasant but they were laughable after the fact. If we started talking about things DURING the visits, we wouldn’t survive. She and Sylvie were great traveling companions. Very independent. Loved public transportation and exploring on their own. Both great walkers. Sylvie made the visits so much more pleasant for everyone… despite having double the genetic material at one time!

    1. David:
      Sylvie would say, “Oy!” The moral compass got a bit twisted over the years but it found its way back after I met SG. When it came to helping yourself, his family was the polar opposite of mine. (My father got us each Henry Grethel suits one year… “They fell off a truck”… And they just happened to be each of our sizes…)

  2. Love this post…and the fact that decades later you finally got to get rid of the damn trashcan…and remind the Duchess once again that she STOLE it! 🙂

    1. Mary:
      It drove me nuts every time I saw it. By that time, I had succeeded in ridding her linen closet of every towel imprinted with a hotel name… which meant I emptied almost that entire section of the linen closet.

  3. she STOLE a cheap-ass trash can!!!!!!!!

    and in 2020, the same racial attitudes from 1968 still exist…what does that say about us as a country?

    1. anne marie:
      If it wasn’t nailed down… Ash trays, plastic sugar and sweetener holders, creamers, silverware. The list goes on. My sister Dale inherited that trait (but outgrew it and then only took shampoos and soups). Her hotel in Athens had amazing antique brass keys to the rooms. Enormous. Dale brought hers home (but she was 19).

  4. I love the Dowager Duchess!
    And South Carolina. The racists have learned to be more quiet, which is nicer. But, to be fair, he did come in dressed as the colonel; that should have raised a confederate flag right there!

    1. Bob:
      It was the weirdest thing to witness. The guy to me was a cartoon character. And he had to be a really extreme kind of racist to not even want to waited on by someone who wasn’t white. I wonder why he even entered the restaurant at all. And now, as an adult, I sure hope revenge wasn’t taken.

      The Dowager Duchess could be brutally cruel in her comments, as well as very narcissistic, but she could also be fascinating, creative, worldly, and, in later years, generous. Most of the time, she had no idea how entertaining she was. She liked being called the Dowager Duchess because the name was inspired by Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess/Duchess (and the behavior of the character). She loved Maggie Smith.

  5. Mitchell, your story today brought back a memory that is quite similar….as a young child I spent quite a lot of time in the hospital. My parents were struggling with 3 children, ages newborn, 11 months and me…4 years old. Money was tight..to say the least. When we left the hospital, just before Christmas in 1957 my momma “stole” a child sized metal bedpan. I think she figured it was part of the hospital discharge “package”! Many many years later as we were helping my parents move to a new home, we uncover this bedpan. I am sure I shared my disappointment in her being a petty thief but mostly we laughed and she passed the bedlam over to me. 63 years later that bedpan sits in my small garden, filled with thriving succulents!!! Appropriate, don’t you think? Your story brightened my day. Thank you.

    1. Patty:
      Well, I’m glad you survived that rough start to life. Your mother sounds much more honest than mine; the bedpan sounds like an innocent mistake (well… maybe). Anyway, as part of a “discharge” package, it makes perfect sense. But I would LOVE to have that in my garden. What a memory! So much better than an orangish textured plastic bathroom trash can. I just remembered a garden I saw that had an old toilet bowl among the plantings. It was filled with plants, too. You could start a theme. Of course, you’d have to steal a toilet.

  6. I think taking things from hotel rooms (anything) was a big thing back then. She probably felt like a rebel. Now we now where you get it from (except stealing, yes to the rebel part though)

    1. Cheapchick:
      My sister inherited that gene, but in her 20s reduced it to simply taking shampoo and soap. I get that. Most of my mother’s towels had hotel names on them… and she didn’t buy them in the gift shops.

  7. Another wonderful DD story! My mother, a child of the Great Depression like your mother, could be exceptionally (and unnecessarily) frugal. One time she heard on the local small town radio station that a train had derailed just west of town, spilling a train car-load of sand. She gathered up her shovel and a couple of buckets because she needed some sand in her flower garden! She was probably 65 or 70 years old at the time.

    1. Wilma:
      The difference between our mothers is that mine would have sent Dale and me with the shovels!

      1. wickedhamster:
        That fits. That was an “in” color at the time, wasn’t it?

  8. HA! I actually wish you still had the trash can. You could have brought it to Spain! What’s wrong with you?!

    My mom, brother and I used to make the drive from Florida to Washington, D.C. and back twice a year. We always stayed in South Carolina too — usually somewhere between Orangeburg and Turbeville. Santee? Summerton? Manning? I remember all those little places.

    I don’t get why “Col. Sanders” objected to a black waiter. That seems very strange even for a racist.

    1. Steve:
      The trash can didn’t get better with age. You know how drab old plastic gets? I’m trying to think of we brought any of her stolen goods back to Spain with us after she died. I don’t think so.

      I wish I could remember the name of the town we stayed in in South Carolina. It’s odd because I have always remembered it when I’ve told that story and now it has completely gone from memory. I even looked at a map to see if I would recognize it. I do remember all the Stuckey’s billboards.

      I have no idea why the Colonel refused to be served by someone who wasn’t white. An extreme form of racism? It was shocking. And my parents, who were not always the most enlightened, were appalled. My father gave the manager a thumbs up when it was done.

    1. wickedhamster:
      Yeah, “oh my” would be the words for that! I DO often miss the hair.

    1. Kirk,
      Maybe it’s because you don’t have a criminal mind. But it’s very easy. First, it was a bathroom trash can. They ARE relatively small. But you can sneak out just about anything among your suitcases and jackets or other clothing. And it’s especially easy at a motel where you’re going directly from the door of your room to your car. You could take linens, coffee cups, the coffee maker! Nowadays, they have your credit card, so they can charge you later for whatever you steal or damage. In those days, it was all cash. Piece of cake.

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