Episode 6: What can I give?
How do you stand against evil, but not the evildoer?
How do you go to war for what's right with love for the people you're fighting? Carvell Wallace talks with legendary civil rights lawyer and activist Eva Paterson. And at long last, he also reconnects with his Aunt Bea — the white woman who partially raised him — for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Eva Paterson & Aunt bea
Civil rights attorney EVA PATERSON is co-founder and President of the Equal Justice Society, a nonprofit organization transforming the nation’s consciousness on race through law, social science, and the arts. Paterson is co-chair of the California Civil Rights Coalition (CCRC), which she co-founded and previously chaired for 18 years. As co-chair of CCRC she was a leading spokesperson in the campaigns against Proposition 187 (anti-immigrant) and Proposition 209 (anti-affirmative action) and numerous other statewide campaigns against the death penalty, juvenile incarceration and discrimination against lesbians and gay men. As a 20-year-old student leader at a time of turmoil, Eva Jefferson Paterson was catapulted into the national spotlight when she debated then-Vice President Spiro Agnew on live television. Dubbed the "peaceful warrior" for fostering non-violent protest in the aftermath of the 1970 shooting of student demonstrators at Kent State University, she was named one of Mademoiselle's "Ten Young Women of the Year," featured on the covers of Ebony and Jet, and called to testify before Congress.
BEA LONGO is Carvell Wallace’s aunt. She spent her career as an educator and lawyer advocating for children and youth in Western Pennsylvania. She lives in McKeesport, PA. Until recently, Carvell and Bea had been out of touch for nearly twenty years.
Episode 6 Transcript
WHAT CAN I GIVE?
Eva Paterson: [00:00:07] You said I could ask questions, what is on your arm?
Carvell Wallace: [00:00:09] Oh this is... love that you asked that... this is the tattoo of my mother's name.
Eva Paterson: [00:00:17] Oh, that's so sweet.
Carvell Wallace: [00:00:17] Yeah, that's on my arm. She died...
Eva Paterson: [00:00:18] Parthenia?
Carvell Wallace: [00:00:19] Parthenia, yeah.
Eva Paterson: [00:00:20] You should put like red roses or something.
Carvell Wallace: [00:00:23] She would love that.
Eva Paterson: [00:00:24] Where was she born?
Carvell Wallace: [00:00:24] She was born in McKeesport, the same town that I was born in.
Eva Paterson: [00:00:30] No, but when? How old?
Carvell Wallace: [00:00:30] Oh, she was born in 1953.
Eva Paterson: [00:00:33] She was born when "separate but equal" was the law.
Carvell Wallace: [00:00:36] That's right. I'm Carvell Wallace and this is Closer Than They Appear. How do you even describe Eva Paterson?
Eva Paterson: [00:00:49] I'm Eva Jefferson Paterson. I am a civil rights lawyer. I'm in a band. I'm taking singing lessons and I like to get in people's business.
Carvell Wallace: [00:00:58] She's the kind of person who knows instantly that in order to understand your mother, you have to understand the time and place where she came from and that she needs to understand that in order to understand you. And right now, that's the kind of person I need to talk to, someone who's got a lifetime's worth of wisdom and experience finding ways to go forward politically and personally.
Carvell Wallace: [00:01:22] She's a lawyer who spent nearly two decades with the ACLU and founded the Equal Justice Society to fight for fair representation in the justice system. She's testified before Congress and in 1971, when she was just 20 years old, she sat on stage at Northwestern University and debated civil rights with then Vice President Spiro Agnew.
Eva Paterson: [00:01:45] There's an honest difference of agreement on issues, but when you make people afraid of each other, you isolate people. And maybe this is your goal. But I think this is it this could only have a disastrous effect on the country.
Eva Paterson: [00:02:02] There's that great poem, "And Still I Rise," Maya Angelou. "I'm the hope and dream of the slave." I feel that and many things.
Maya Angelou: [00:02:11] I am the dream of the slave. And so I rise. I rise. I rise.
Carvell Wallace: [00:02:24] I'm looking. Today, I'm looking. I'm looking for answers because I am, to be completely honest, afraid and unsure.
[00:02:35] I don't understand what's happening in our country. I don't understand how bad it is or why it's so bad. I don't know what it all means or what we should do about it, what I should do about it. And then if that weren't enough, I'm having this personal experience where I'm just a few days away from seeing my Aunt Bea face to face, the person who raised me from ages 8 to 13 and whom I haven't seen in almost 20 years.
[00:03:00] Am I safe? Am I loved?
[00:03:04] Do I belong anywhere? Do I have value?
[00:03:08] These are the kind of questions I didn't used to even have room for. I had heartache and depression, homelessness and addiction, drama and tragedy and racism. Those things took up all the room that I had. But in many ways, the drama in my life has stopped. I'm healthy. I'm happy now. I'm a grown-up. I have a family. I'm successful at my job. And so these questions that I shoved down for all these years are now finding their way back to me.
[00:03:40] When so many of us are wondering if we're safe, if we're loved, if we belong anywhere, if we have value. I need help and I'm looking and something inside me believes or thinks or hopes that Eva Paterson may have answers.
Eva Paterson: [00:04:02] This is a picture of my heroine and hero, Constance Baker Motley and Thurgood Marshall.
Carvell Wallace: [00:04:07] In Eva's office, we're surrounded by art and by history.
Eva Paterson: [00:04:12] They sued people and desegregated the South and just look at how they look. They just look so vital and alive.
Carvell Wallace: [00:04:22] Her story is a story of progress. It's a story of alliances, of views changed. It's a story of hope.
Eva Paterson: [00:04:31] When I entered Northwestern, I supported the war in Vietnam. My father had just come back. And this is what I call the seed of doubt theory. There were teach-ins at Northwestern where I heard people talking about the war, talking about feminism, talking about black studies, and my mind was slowly changed over time. So if my mind can be changed, the mind of other people, the minds of other people can be changed.
Eva Paterson: [00:04:55] I believe that to my heart. If I if I didn't, there still be slavery, women wouldn't be able to vote. All kinds of things would not have changed in our society. It's a very arduous struggle because those people on the other side generally have more money. They're more evil. They seem to be more tenacious, but it's kind of this constant cosmic struggle if you will. But I believe you can change people's hearts and minds. I've seen it. My own heart and mind was changed about many things, many things.
Carvell Wallace: [00:05:30] This may be the first time in this whole podcast that I've heard someone sharing a message of hope and my mind didn't immediately start looking for loopholes.
[00:05:40] But I believe that Eva Paterson has my best interests at heart.
Carvell Wallace: [00:05:47] It's the other thing that I think about and this is what I maybe hope you can help me understand, is that it from my point of view, I was born in 1974 and so I came... it feels everyone of my generation we feel like we came after something, like it feels to us like we got here and everyone was like, man we just... You should have been there yesterday, we had this incredible thing which was the 60s. And for us, I think a lot of us felt like we look, we grew up in the 80s, and maybe this is just the ungrateful youth, but we looked around and thought well, this what is this? What is... I mean, everyone is interested in money and drugs and everything is just for sale all the time and it's all commercials and it's all capitalism and like, did we make any progress at all?
Eva Paterson: [00:06:36] The thing that people forget when they think about the glory days of the 60s is in '63, four little black girls were blown up in a church. Young men were coming home in body bags and particularly, poor black and brown people. That's why we were out on the streets with the antiwar movement.
[00:06:57] A lot of it was principled, but a lot of it was young men did not want to go to Vietnam and die. Four students were shot dead on a campus at Kent State. Two were shot dead in Jackson State. So people people tend to look at that era with a lot of mythology around it, but there was an extraordinary amount of pain going on. So I don't know. I'm an optimist and I feel like your generation to some degree faced less oppression which is good. But I think, and this may sound really corny, but I think love is more powerful than any of this stuff. It's intangible.
[00:07:43] And I think that's where we come from. And we're trying to create a world that really does have love, because if we all loved each other we couldn't kill each other. We couldn't oppress each other. We couldn't call people "n*gger." We couldn't have Puerto Ricans just dying because we're not thinking that there are real humans. So if we really move from a deep place of love, if we really do it's really transformative and that's the I mean, I once said you know you have your mother's name on your arm. If I had a tattoo, it would say "born to sue." And so I kind of have a different approach. And if you're messing with folks, I'mma sue you and I'm going to enjoy that.
[00:08:25] So I'm not a pacifist, but and this is something I work on, I think love will win ultimately.
Carvell Wallace: [00:08:37] I think a lot of people are afraid of that. They're afraid to be loving when they are in danger.
[00:08:52] Actually you said this in this in the Agnew debate and you said, "The main problem..." and this actually was the big applause line, was that you said the the thing that was most troubling is that their language was working to make Americans afraid of one another.
Eva Paterson: [00:09:08] And of their children.
Carvell Wallace: [00:09:08] And of their children. And that is currently the case. We we are afraid of one another.
Eva Paterson: [00:09:17] Absolutely, and we hate each other.
Carvell Wallace: [00:09:17] And the great and the greatest... Well, but I also tend to think that hate and anger are guard dogs to fear. And so maybe if we dig a few layers down, now what's really what I what I really hate is what I think might hurt me. So we're in more fear of each other now than it seems to me that we've been in my lifetime, that I can remember. And it's really hard for people to love when they are in fear, but when we talk about how to motivate people collectively, does a message of collective love carry the same power in 2017 as it did in 1956-57?
Eva Paterson: [00:09:58] Let me give you a concrete example. We were part of a coalition of people that sued the Kern High School District.
Carvell Wallace: [00:10:04] Just an aside, this is a school district in Bakersfield, California where black and Latino kids were significantly more likely to be suspended or expelled than white kids.
Eva Paterson: [00:10:14] ...percent higher. So we were in pitched battle for three years. We finally settled the case. We had a big community meeting where we talked about what was going to happen going forward. So in that circumstance, where we had been at war and we felt the district was harming our children, we said OK the war's over. Let us deal with each other with respect. And from my perspective, trying to beam love to them.
Eva Paterson: [00:10:39] But in all of my encounters with the other side, I tried to beam love, while I was saying, you're harming our children. So standing really firmly for right and saying, this is not right. This is racist. Straight up. But I but you're going to feel that I'm not demonizing you, that I think you can do the right thing. So you're... It's a combination of... what is it? The iron fist in the velvet glove.
Carvell Wallace: [00:11:11] The more I think about this idea, the more miraculous it becomes to me. To stand firmly, fearlessly, uncompromisingly, against evil without demonizing the evildoer. It's deceptively complex. There are so many ways to do this wrong and really only one way to do this right. So how do you get there?
Eva Paterson: [00:11:38] The I think it's important for young people like you're doing with me, just sit down and talk. I've seen a lot of stuff. And I'm still fighting. I'm still hopeful. I think cultivating a spiritual side not necessarily religious, but there are things higher than you. I pray. Breathing, meditation.
[00:12:01] There are all kinds of things you can do to feel better.
Carvell Wallace: [00:12:04] When you're not when you're not thinking about this stuff, when you're not thinking about litigation and suing for equal rights and equal protection under the law, what do you think about?
Eva Paterson: [00:12:16] I think about being in love again. I miss being in love and having a boyfriend. So I'm working on that. I'm taking singing lessons because I'm in two bands and I'm going to Michigan in two weeks to sing in Grand Rapids. I'm very bougie and I just got a really bougie hotel to stay in when I'm there, so that makes me happy. I like to read. I like to sit in the sun.
Carvell Wallace: [00:12:40] I guess this is the final question the big one. Do you think this country all under one collective label, do you think we can go forward together?
Eva Paterson: [00:12:53] Yes I do, but part of the... and part of the problem is both political parties trade on demonizing the other side. It's not just the Republicans. The Democrats do it as well. And so, when we look at the opposition as evil, that's just not going to work. And I don't... this is something I think about a lot, I think about well, what of my own political agenda will I have to give up in order to come to a cohesive whole as a country? Because I know the other side needs to yield. Am I willing to yield on some things? Is there a common denominator that holds us together as a people? And who's the person to do that?
Carvell Wallace: [00:13:42] I know I said it was the last question, but...
Eva Paterson: [00:13:44] You did.
Carvell Wallace: [00:13:45] I did.
Eva Paterson: [00:13:45] Bait and switch.
Carvell Wallace: [00:13:45] Bait and switch, well this isn't really a question, but a comment. It just makes me think of something.
Carvell Wallace: [00:13:49] My last question for Eva wasn't political, it was personal. After talking with her so long about fear and love, I wanted to tell her about the fear that I was about to face.
[00:14:07] My Aunt Bea and I, we were always kind of an odd couple. Here's this salty, no nonsense white lawyer from a Connecticut dairy farm. And then this delicate and somewhat obsessive black kid who had just survived a year of hunger and homelessness and abuse. I mean, it would have made a great sitcom, if it were at all funny.
[00:14:30] When I was a kid, I was afraid of her. She was tough, exacting is a word that comes to mind.
[00:14:39] But for years, she was the only one taking care of me, feeding me, buying me the clothes that I was constantly growing out of, making sure I had lunch money and backpacks and Styrofoam boards and rubber balls for my various science fair projects.
[00:14:56] I could always tell that she loved me, but I couldn't always tell if she liked me.
[00:15:11] And I haven't talked to the woman... I talked to her on the phone, the woman who raised me twice in the last 20 years.
Eva Paterson: [00:15:19] What? That's your mom.
Carvell Wallace: [00:15:19] Well, she's like my mom. I guess she is.
Eva Paterson: [00:15:21] She raised you, right?
[00:15:27] She raised you... But that... this is awful, I'll bet she feels hurt. Wouldn't you think?
Carvell Wallace: [00:15:35] I mean, I think we both feel hurt because she hasn't called me either.
Eva Paterson: [00:15:41] Oh really, what do you think that's about?
Eva Paterson: [00:15:41] The two of you, why is there a wall? But you're breaking it down, right?
Carvell Wallace: [00:15:46] We're breaking it down. I think both of us are the kind of people who tend to just kind of put the past behind us and move on.
[00:15:56] And part of that has to do with not acknowledging emotions or connections, because you're always just focused on working and keeping going.
Eva Paterson: [00:16:04] But now you have the space to not do that.
[00:16:07] And you got to take the wall down around your heart.
[00:16:09] She was... she was your mom. You had two moms. You're going to... it's going to be good. It's going to be good. It's going to be good.
Carvell Wallace: [00:16:17] I feel... I believe you're right. And I also feel terrified... Let me rephrase that. I know you're right. And I also feel, honestly I feel terrified.
Eva Paterson: [00:16:29] What's the worst thing you think that could happen? And does she know you have this terror? Oh, you need to tell her.
[00:16:37] And say I'm really I'm this bossy woman I interviewed said that I need to like, no really just to be vulnerable. Oh, you have so much to gain, because most people I know who were tough like that, there's a softness under them. They're protecting themselves. What's the worst you think that could happen?
Carvell Wallace: [00:17:00] I mean it's so silly because I know nothing... She's not going to like, reject me. I mean, I think maybe this sounds weird, but maybe one of the things I'm afraid of is just the letting go. I
[00:17:15] mean, just letting go of.
Eva Paterson: [00:17:17] You're probably gonna cry, you're gonna sob. If you let that go, you're just going to sob.
Carvell Wallace: [00:17:18] I don't necessarily want to do that either.
Eva Paterson: [00:17:21] Why not? It's healing, it's healing. You need to cry now.
Carvell Wallace: [00:17:26] I know, I'm always on the verge of tears...
Eva Paterson: [00:17:32] You need to. And she does too. You need to let it go. Oh it's going to be so wonderful. It is, it's going to it's you need. It's going to be cleansing. Oh my god.
[00:17:43] I'm excited.
Carvell Wallace: [00:17:50] I'm pulling into the driveway now. Wish me luck. I'm probably going to need it.
[00:18:10] Hello. I know, it did not take 15 minutes.
Aunt Bea: [00:18:19] How are you doing?
Carvell Wallace: [00:18:20] My Aunt Bea didn't want me to record this first meeting. She's a private person is what she told me.
[00:18:26] So I turned off the tape recorder after this driveway greeting and instead we sat in her house for hours while she told me everything that I didn't know about my childhood and about hers. She told me harrowing stories of survival, stories about her past, my mother's past, about my own past. She told me how bad things in our house had really gotten. How hard a time it was for her.
[00:18:55] She helped me understand where I came from, where she came from.
[00:19:05] After we talked on that first day, we went out to mediocre pizza at a local Italian place and for the first time in my life, I bought her dinner. At the end of our conversation, she agreed to let me come back with the recorder to talk some more.
Aunt Bea: [00:19:23] Hi, I'd Bea Longo and I'm Carvell aunt.
[00:19:28] Very honored to be his aunt and I spent some rough years with him, but we both survived. I'm glad to see him again.
Carvell Wallace: [00:19:41] It is two days after our first meeting. Her home is warm, clean, and full of art and small sculptures. There are books everywhere. She's currently reading Arundhati Roy's latest. She told me that Roy's first book, The God of Small Things, is one of her favorites of all time. It's one of my favorites of all time. At one point, we had to stop the interview to turn off some music she had playing in the background.
Aunt Bea: [00:20:11] It's probably Sarah Vaughn...
Carvell Wallace: [00:20:11] I love Sarah Vaughn too.
[00:20:12] Although lately I've been more into Ella Fitzgerald.
Aunt Bea: [00:20:17] I like Ella too, but I like Sarah Vaughn better.
Carvell Wallace: [00:20:17] Sarah Vaughn is perfect.
[00:20:23] She offers us juice and cookies that she bought from the Italian bakery to mark the occasion. When we sit down, I remember that at Christmas when I was a kid, she used to make these very same cookies, shortbread with a dollop of chocolate in the middle.
[00:20:37] She called them thumbprint cookies and then I had another memory. It came to me right as I opened the box of pastries. Somewhere around 2011, I went a year without eating sugar.
[00:20:53] After a while, it wasn't even that hard. I lost like 30 pounds, but then randomly and suddenly, I sat down one day and just ate an entire box of cookies and they were shortbread cookies with a dollop of chocolate in the middle. That was like a year after my marriage ended. I was feeling adrift and unsure of myself or my place in the world. I was feeling rejected.
[00:21:20] I was feeling alone, so maybe I needed a family.
[00:21:26] Maybe I actually needed the warmth of a home at Christmas time, with cookies in the oven and the people you love buzzing around the kitchen. And maybe that container of cookies in my apartment was like the closest thing I could get to that. It starts to occur to me that this woman's influence in my life is layers deeper than I've really understood. There are some very specific ways in which she helped make me, so I wanted to know who or what made her.
[00:22:03] You've always tried to help people. Always. Like, you like you've like you've worked with kids, you take in stray cats, you volunteer with kids at foster homes. You took me in. So I guess I wonder where that comes from for you. Like how... Why are you like this?
Aunt Bea: [00:22:22] I don't know where it came from, maybe because I was really sad as a child. And.
Carvell Wallace: [00:22:27] Bea was born on a Connecticut farm. She grew up with a host of brothers and sisters and experienced abuse from an early age.
Aunt Bea: [00:22:35] And there were times I thought about running away from home. But I couldn't leave my little sister.
Carvell Wallace: [00:22:42] But she left home for good as soon as she could. She moved to McKeesport sometime around 1970 and began to work with local organizers to address inequalities in schools and employment. She would dedicate the rest of her career to fighting injustice and one of the first activists she met was my aunt Beverly, who then introduced her to her younger brother, Carvell, my uncle. Ten years later Bea and Carvell were married and two years after that, I moved in.
Aunt Bea: [00:23:21] And I did really love children and that's why, when you came with us, I was all excited, but there was so much going on.
[00:23:32] It's like my one opportunity to be a mother. And and I think I fell short in many ways, because of things that were going on.
Carvell Wallace: [00:23:41] You know, I was thinking about how you said that yesterday and I don't know how else to get this across to. I guess, I just want to say that I know you feel like you felt fell short, but you had a lot going on and you did the best you could.
Aunt Bea: [00:24:00] Well, I don't know that I did the best I could looking back. But in hindsight, it always looks like it will be easier.
Carvell Wallace: [00:24:13] She did the best she could. My mom did the best she could. I did the best I could.
[00:24:21] It wasn't good enough. It just was enough. You know, it had to be because that's all there was. I once heard someone say that serenity means giving up all hope of a better past. I've been thinking about that one for years. I still don't know everything it means, but I know it's true.
[00:24:45] Maybe it just means seeing the past for what it is, not what you thought it was, not what you wish it was, not what you tell other people it was, just what it was.
[00:25:00] Would you be willing to look through some of the things? Because I think I remember most of this stuff, but I haven't looked at this... I have in my hands this scrapbook that she sent me when I was in college, more than 20 years ago.
[00:25:15] So this is my birth certificate. And here's the first picture of me ever.
Aunt Bea: [00:25:21] Yeah, I just remember we thought you were one of the cutest babies that ever was.
Carvell Wallace: [00:25:29] I mean in this picture, I'm pretty cute, I've got to say.
Aunt Bea: [00:25:29] Yeah, you are.
Carvell Wallace: [00:25:29] Back then I had sent her this letter about not knowing how to process our time together. And I waited months for a reply, but I got none.
[00:25:40] Then one day, I didn't know where... I suddenly get this package in the mail.
[00:25:46] I opened it up and it's a scrapbook.
[00:25:51] She had made this scrapbook of every picture she had of me. There was no note. By that time, I had lived at close to 40 different addresses in four different major metropolitan areas. I've been to 11 different schools. I didn't have anything from my childhood. No books, no photos, no stuffed animals. I didn't think I needed them.
Aunt Bea: [00:26:18] This was... You asked me earlier today to think about some of the really good memories. Well, Christmas was always a good memory. Somebody always came in. Your mom tried to come in. Most Christmases she was there. Also, there was a lot of anticipation and your parents went overboard on the holidays. It's like topping them was very difficult. But we had the advantage of living with you, so we kind of knew what your interests were and what you might especially like.
Carvell Wallace: [00:26:57] Yeah, this was the first one I was with you guys.
[00:27:00] We flipped to a photo of me, 9 years old, with my entire family of stuffed bears.
Aunt Bea: [00:27:07] Now, the bears. Oh god the infamous bears.
Carvell Wallace: [00:27:09] Let's talk about the bears.
Aunt Bea: [00:27:09] Now, which was the one that your mom gave you?
[00:27:14] She got you this bear so that you would have something to hug and love when she wasn't there.
[00:27:21] So it was really important for her. And then, you loved bears. So different occasions, we would buy these other bears and you got the camera at Christmas time and you didn't know what you could take pictures of.
[00:27:37] So it was suggested to you that maybe you could pose your bears and take pictures of your bears.
Carvell Wallace: [00:27:45] Yeah.
Aunt Bea: [00:27:46] So that's what all this was about.
Carvell Wallace: [00:27:48] Absolutely. This is my this... is bears at a cocktail party. You see little shot glass.
[00:27:56] These were bears playing football. Here's...
Aunt Bea: [00:27:59] Bears just hanging out together.
Carvell Wallace: [00:28:00] Bears just hanging out. You know, and this is Adam.
[00:28:03] This is this was Buster.
[00:28:06] I don't remember this one.
Aunt Bea: [00:28:07] It was very sad about your bears.
Carvell Wallace: [00:28:10] Didn't I get sick?
Aunt Bea: [00:28:11] What happened was...
[00:28:12] Yeah, it was it was like you were always a good eater and so one night I'd made chili and you ate a big bowl of chili and then you wanted more. And I was raised, you finish... I said, if you want more you have to finish it. And you said that you didn't want to finish it, you were full and you didn't feel well.
[00:28:34] And that night, you got sick and you.
Carvell Wallace: [00:28:39] I remember that.
Aunt Bea: [00:28:39] I mean, it was projectile all over everything. And your uncle Carvell just picked up the bedspread with all that was all over all the bears. And I said, well we can try to wash them. He said, no, we're just going to throw them away. We'll get more bears. So your uncle Carvell threw away the bears.
[00:29:04] You talked to your mother. You were upset about your bears.
[00:29:07] You told them Aunt Bea threw the bears way and your mother thought I was being vindictive because she got the bears.
[00:29:16] Because there was kind of a... your mom still wanted to call all the shots even though she couldn't be here. I felt really guilty later. I don't think I ever made you finish your food again.
Carvell Wallace: [00:29:27] We keep paging through the scrapbook and I realize, I've never actually talked with her about what it felt like when she sent it to me.
[00:29:38] The story of how I got this really resonates for me, which is that when I was in college I hadn't talked to you in a little while. I was off in New York and one day, I decided to write you a letter. And I remember I remember being really nervous writing the letter because I didn't want it to be any typos because you were always... you always checked my homework for dotted i's and crossed t's and but I wrote this letter.
Aunt Bea: [00:30:00] So you sent... you typed me a letter.
Carvell Wallace: [00:30:02] So I typed you this letter.
[00:30:03] And in this letter, I think I just remember saying we haven't talked in awhile.
[00:30:08] And to be honest, I don't quite know how to process even our time together. You're sort of like my mother, but you weren't my mother. But there was this time and we haven't talked. And what do I do and I don't even know what I'm asking. Here's my letter. And then I didn't hear from you. And at the time, I thought you had so many other things going on in your life that in some ways, you were emotionally distant. And I thought, well maybe this is too much for her and maybe she's not going to respond or she doesn't know how to respond or whatever. And then I didn't hear from you for a while.
Aunt Bea: [00:30:34] I don't remember ever getting that letter. Did I ever tell you I got it?
Carvell Wallace: [00:30:38] No.
Carvell Wallace: [00:30:39] Maybe you didn't get the letter?
Aunt Bea: [00:30:41] I didn't get the letter. I don't think I ever got it. One thing about me, anytime somebody wrote me a letter I answered it. Almost, yeah, yeah yeah that's really odd.
Carvell Wallace: [00:30:53] She didn't get the letter.
[00:31:01] She did not get the letter. She didn't even get the letter. This story, this whole story that I've had in my head for like, 20 years, had been based on this idea that she had heard my intense pleas for re-connection and she simply couldn't bring herself to address them directly.
[00:31:18] That the most she could make of this gesture was this scrapbook. That she couldn't even talked about it, she just made me this thing. But then it turns out, she didn't even get the letter. She just decided on her own that she needed to connect with me and she took all these photos and she put them together and she sent them to me at the same moment that I was reaching out to her. That's what really happened. That's what the past really was. Some broken people doing their best, misunderstanding each other.
[00:31:57] This is the single worst school picture ever taken of anyone. That's why we have so many because I like didn't want us to give them to anyone. It's the worse picture.
Aunt Bea: [00:32:08] You can take that page out if you want. I don't care.
Carvell Wallace: [00:32:09] Well, now it's an archive, but it's really....
[00:32:09] I think I'll leave that page in there.
[00:32:17] I looked awkward as hell in eighth grade. I mean, it's a fact. My features were mismatched in size. My hair was shaped like I just spent a week wearing Darth Vader's helmet and I was ashamed of who I was.
[00:32:31] I was embarrassed and corny and sad and angry and lonely and timid and afraid, but I was also beautiful and I was loved, you know, by my mom and my Aunt Bea and my uncle.
[00:32:52] I mean, I was loved imperfectly, but loved nonetheless. I love my Aunt Bea. It's that simple. I love her now that I'm an adult and I'm no longer afraid of her. It's not feeling love that we struggle with. That part's easy. It's doing love. We struggle with doing love.
[00:33:17] We struggle with caring, with forgiving, with recognizing the humanity and holding to high standards, expecting good things from, making good things for.
[00:33:29] Before I went to see my aunt, Eva Paterson asked me what I was afraid of and you know, I still don't really know, but maybe I was just afraid that I wouldn't know what to do with her, how to love her, how to even like, show up. And what if I did it wrong? It's a gamble, you know.
[00:33:52] But then, everything in life is a gamble because we never know exactly what's right, what's enough. It's all just guesswork. So we have to just make our decision and live with it.
[00:34:03] But the one thing I do know is that no matter what, I'm going to continue to try and help people and to find out from people how I can help them. Maybe it's never talk to them again. Maybe it's stay in touch more frequently. Maybe it's to help with money or resources if I can. But whatever it is, it's to do love and maybe helping people in these little ways is not enough. But it's all there is. So I guess, I went to meet my Aunt Bea not to see what she could do for me, but what I could do for her. What kind of relationship does she want? And if me being present in her life is helpful to her, then I guess that's what I'm going to try and do.
[00:35:04] So now what? Can we all go forward together, in our families, as a country?
[00:35:11] Next week, I talk to Alexis Frank, a 27 year old biracial, Army veteran, and mother who's been doing a lot of what we've been talking about this season.
[00:35:20] And that'll be our season finale.
[00:35:24] So what have I learned? What have you learned? Think about it and come back next week.
[00:35:45] Your phone calls keep coming. And we love hearing them.
Phone Caller: [00:35:50] I feel invisible to America as a black woman and I would like to read to you a poem that I wrote, for myself, to let myself know that I hear me. And that I see myself.
[00:36:01] I am the daughter of Haitian immigrants, the descendants of Haitian slaves, that fought in a revolution for freedom. In my blood runs the descendant of a great Haitian general, that fought, directed, and led his brothers and sisters towards their self-worth, of freedom. In my veins run the blood of women that bore 13 and 12 brave souls that journeyed into the Americas to provide me with this opportunity to live free and speak and follow my dream. I am my mother’s daughter who taught me to fight for my right to stand against injustice. Who looked me in the eye every day and told me that I was beautiful and black.
[00:36:57] You can always reach us at 949-522-5587. 949-522-5587. Leave a voicemail. You don't have to use your name if you don't want to. And you can always find us on social media. We're on Facebook and Twitter @closershow. I love hearing your messages so much.
[00:37:19] Thank you.
[00:37:28] You've been listening to Closer Than They appear from Jetty Studios. You can always find links to episodes and full transcripts on our website, CloserThanTheyAppear.FM. Our senior producer is Casey Miner. Our producer is Lacy Roberts and our editor is Leila Day. Graelyn Brashear and Paulana Lamonier run our social media and our associate producer is Meradith Hoddinott. Our show is engineered by Mark Behm with mixing and sound design by Ian Coss. Music is by Antique Naked Soul. You can hear more from them at Antique-Music.com. We've got a great video of them on our Facebook watch page. They're amazing to see perform, every sound you hear from them is totally a cappella. They're fantastic and I really want you to check it out. Megan Jones runs our podcast operations and Jessica Wang is our senior video producer. Jetty’s executive producer is Julie Caine and the general manager is Kaizar Campwalla.
[00:38:22] Thanks for listening.