My Turn, Susan Beard: My activism is new, but my role model isn’t

Published 10:20 pm Sunday, May 14, 2017

My family and I moved here to Salisbury 29 years ago, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with, get to know and love many people in this community.

Some of you may have noticed that since the election in November, I have become somewhat rabidly opposed to how our government is now being run and particularly to the person supposedly running it. My husband, Jim, and I have been to the March for Women and the March for Science in D.C., and we are open to other such opportunities as they appear.

I’m writing letters to various legislators and making phone calls to them on a regular basis (some of them now remember me when I call and are so thrilled to hear from me again).

But let me share with you that this is the first time in my life that I have done this. I had never been a part of a protest before I was 68 years old. The reason for that is that I, like most people in our country, believed that we were somehow magically protected from any bad guys running our government or changing it from what it has been for 241 years. After all, we have checks and balances. I learned that in 10th grade civics.

Now, I don’t feel the same confidence. The leader of this wonderful country tells lies repeatedly, and if anyone calls him on it, he just says it louder and insults the character of the questioner.

I could go on about all this, but the primary thing I was wondering about today was how did I become the person I am? And the only answer I can come up with is the early influence of my mother, Louise Patten Wright. Wouldn’t it be great if she were the first liberal I ever knew?

There were several things I remember about my mother that I recognize may have impacted me more than I have ever known. First of all, she was a Democrat. My daddy was a union man, and we were certainly middle class, and there was no question about which party supported those groups (and still does).

Second, I grew up on a gravel road in Louisiana, and while our side of the road was white, most of the neighbors across the road were black. Remember this was in Louisiana in the ’50s and early ’60s. I never thought anything about it, but I realize now that none of my closest friends lived across the road from black people. I always was kind of oblivious.

My parents never said a nasty word about our neighbors. They knew each other, spoke to each other, and if any of them had a death or illness, Mama would always take them some food. She cut her hand pretty badly before my brother’s high school graduation, and she couldn’t iron, but she knew exactly what lady from across the way to ask for help. She also paid her, of course. I don’t even know how she knew them all, but she knew their names and about their families and actually treated them like neighbors.

I never realized how unusual this was until much later in my life.

Third, and this is one of my favorite stories about my mother. One of her brothers and his family had come to our house to visit, and we were all about to eat dinner. Again, this was in the late ’50s or early ’60s, and lots and lots of people smoked. Out of the blue, my uncle, whose family like so many others struggled financially at times, looked at my mother and asked “Louise, do you think it’s a sin to smoke?” If I remember correctly, there was a little silence after that question. Both families, including the children, were already sitting at the table. But then my mother spoke plainly and firmly said, “If buying cigarettes takes food out of your children’s mouths, then yes, it is a sin.”

She spoke her mind without condemning her brother for smoking but perhaps for his priorities with his money. She got a little flustered but never hesitated to say what she believed. I’m not sure I had ever heard anyone be so direct with an answer to a question before, and I admired her for that.

Finally, one of my older brothers and I were a little older when we married. I think he was 29, and I was 37. I had brought my best friend and her two children home one time to visit in my early 30s, and it only occurred to me later that my mother probably wondered if I was gay. If she did, she never questioned me about it, and it is my opinion that if she thought that, she would have said, “Well, I’ll just have to accept it if it’s true.”, and she would have.

I loved her dearly, and after nine years, I still miss her. She was a strong, smart and assertive woman, and I can only believe that if she were still here, she might be protesting with me to the best of her ability.

Susan Beard lives in Salisbury.