Friday, October 9, 2009

The Sixties - Part IV - Serendipity

Tough Times Never Last But Tough People Do

In an earlier post I stated that our life has always been ruled by serendipity in a beneficial way. Mystical occurrences are commonplace and an invisible presence seem to follow and help us. For example, we never discovered how we got our first apartment and never discovered who recommended my husband for his job in the '50s as a lab technician.  We were blessed the way some things just kind of happened. We just went with the flow.

Twice in my life, it was expected that I was die.  The first time was in elementary school when I was ill with pneumonia.  It was June, the school year was almost over, so they took up a collection for flowers for my funeral, which was expected to be sometimes in July. The second time was in 1962, when pneumonia presented itself again. After spending three days in the hospital, I left, because the bills that were accumulating made me sicker. Somehow, I made it again.

After the birth of our third child, we were having financial problems.  Back in those days female teachers didn't take maternity leave because they wanted to, nor could you use sick days for pregnancy.  You had to leave in your fifth month and returned, with a doctor's note, when your baby was six months old. During that year of "leave" you received no pay so it was tough.

Neighbors, like the Wootens, used to bring us meals, claiming they had accidentally cooked too much food.  My sister, Susie, would accidentally buy too much food for her refrigerator and ask us to eat it so it wouldn't spoil.

Front Row: Sister Susie, who would bring food, Moody's sister, Martha

It was 1962, and Moody was a substitute teacher making $25 a day, our only income at the time, with no fringe benefits. He came home from work, and asked me how we were doing.  I told him that if we had $300 everything would be OK.  A moment later, the doorbell rang. It was a special delivery with a $300 check from his sister, Mary.  In the letter she wrote that she had been thinking of us and sent the check in case we needed something.

Moody, Martha, George, Mary, Joe, James, Horace, Albert
Seated is their Father, Professor Moody

One day, in August 1964, we were were over to a neighbor's house listening to his new stereo, which was high tech at the time. The neighbor wanted to hear my new Dinah Washington's album so I went home to get it. The phone rang while I was at home and I hesitated to answer it because I wanted to go back to hear the new stereo. Fortuitously, I lifted the receiver, and it was the Evanston School District, one of the best districts in the state, offering my husband a science teaching position.  Because it was so late in the school year, they were offering jobs to the first people they found at home.  I ran back to the neighbor's house, shouting the good news.  Suppose I hadn't answered that call?

In 1968, when my husband was a school superintendent in Harvey, Illinois, he was sitting at his desk while his secretary took lunch.  The telephone rang and he answered it. It was a wrong number. The caller was looking for someone in East Chicago Heights, and instead of hanging up, he identified the party for the caller and got the number for her.  They continued talking and the woman told him about her job, which was providing funds for people who needed grants.  Moody said, "That's ironic.  I'm looking for someone to fund my dissertation."

Well, before you knew it, he was on his way to New York to meet with Hylan Lewis, Dixie Moon, and Dr. Kenneth Clark, the psychologist who provided much of the research in the Brown v. Board of Education case that desegregated schools. It was a fruitful meeting and the Metropolitan Applied Research Center decided to fund his study to form the organization and help him complete his dissertation.

He wanted to study Black superintendents because there was zero research on the topic. Therefore, his dissertation had no review of the literature, usually a very vital part of a study.  At the time there were less than twenty in the entire country, all of them male in Black districts.  He was keeping a roster as he traveled to meetings around the country. His idea was to form an organization, the National Alliance of Black Superintendents that eventually grew to include all Black educators, the National Alliance of Black Educators (NABSE) that at its peak had over 10,000 members. (More about the organization in later posts.) This happened because he was nice to someone who dialed the wrong number.

We try not to dwell on disaster.  He sees the glass as half full and I see the glass as half empty. I began to tip over to his side when I heard a speaker in Tulsa.  She told the story about a young man who fell into the river after his boat tipped over.  He could not swim and was in danger of drowning.  His father, who also could not swim, watched in agony while standing on the shore.  He found a rope, threw it to his son, and began to reel him in.  The young man clutched the rope and as he began to pull, noticed there was a break in the rope.  Danger still awaited.  He yelled to his father and asked him what should he do. His father examined the rope, shouted to his son to reach beyond the break, which he did, and the father hauled his son to safety.

Dedication of Martin Luther King, Jr. School

That sort of summarizes our life.  We try to reach beyond the breaks.

Hard Times Will Make a Monkey Eat Pepper and Swear It's Sweet


  1. You and Moody have angels sitting on your shoulders. You must be here for some very important reasons to be watched over so carefully. I have had similar experiences which make me feel very blessed.

  2. It's a wonder how things seem to work out somehow. Whenever things get too tough, I remind myself that God does not give us more than what we can handle. You and Moody are definitely blessed.

  3. I like that. Reaching beyond the breaks. Good advice!

  4. Reminds me of Robert Browning's line from Andrea del Sarto, "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?" - again, a wonderful post - when does the movie come out?

  5. Thanks. Appreciate your comments and caring. Yes, Flory, God does not give us more than we can carry.

  6. Serendipity...that's my all time favorite word.

    You should write a book. Really. I'd buy it and tell everyone that I know to buy it too. :)

  7. I love the word, also. No matter how well we plan, things happen.

  8. Thanks a lot for a bunch of good tips. I look forward to reading more on the topic in the future. Keep up the good work! This blog is going to be great resource. Love reading it.

    dissertations buy