I decided to head to the lake one weekend to do some shooting, when I made a last minute decision to stop by an old historic black church nearby. I have photographed this church in the past, but wanted to check out the current scene. I could tell some work had been done to the church. The most noticeable change was the bright red steps. I decided that I would set up my DSLR and make a photograph.
The clouds were moving very fast so the light was also changing fast. I wanted to catch the sunlight on the face of the church. After I found my composition, I metered the scene and was just about ready to click the shutter when a gentlemen walked up behind me. He introduced himself as Bill. Little did I know, I would not click that shutter for another 2 hours.
As always when someone approaches me taking pictures, I tell them that this is my hobby and I explain why I am taking a particular photo. Bill lived in the area and started to tell me some history about the church. He knew people who attended the church and started pointing in the direction of where various black people lived in the area. He knew each by name. He also gave me the local obituary as well dating back several years. He explain to me how the little back road that I drove on to get to the church was the main road a long time ago before the two lane highway was built. He talked about homes that used to be and are now no more. After the local history lesson, things took a more personal turn.
Bill made a reference to when he was in the military, so I inquired about the particular branch which he served. He said he was a mechanic in the Air Force. He told me a few stories about his service and his travels throughout the country. Ultimately he led up to his disdain of the military. He told me about being passed up for a promotion by one of his coworkers. This coworker was the guy whom he had caught sleeping on numerous occasions while he did the work. Bill requested several times to be reassigned with another person. Each time he was denied. Bill later found out that his lazy partner spent a lot of his time brown nosing with the boss. This was just one of many issues that caused Bill to dislike the military. I gather it was not so much the military that Bill disliked, but more of the good ole boy system of doing things.
While still in the military he met his wife. He talked about how he and his wife lived in a tiny apartment with a military allowance of somewhere around $50 per month. He said things were tight, but they made it work. Bill eventually got out of the military and had a couple of kids. He then started his own business. He ran a handy man service. He could repair just about anything in a house. His clients were mostly singled moms, the widowed and the elderly. He charged a fair wage and even did work for free if someone was struggling. He never advertised. All of his business came by word of mouth. Toward retirement he started taking less referrals. I believe he still does some handy work for a few local clients.
Things continued to get more personal when we veered into politics. Before I go further, I must disclose for those who don’t know me, I am what they call an African American even though I have never been to Africa. In fact, the closest I ever been to Africa was when I swam in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy. I also must disclose that I am one of a handful of black conservatives in the country. I mention this because whenever conservative white folk or any non-black person speaks to me about politics, they assume that I am a liberal. Thus, they tip toe around the issues that divide liberals and conservatives so that I won’t be offended.
We began talking about current events. Of course at that time, the confederate flag issue was still raging. When I told Bill that I was in the camp that thought the confederate flag should stay right where it was, he looked surprised and somewhat relieved. Thanks to my wife I was able to explain to Bill my views based on the truth behind the flag and the truth about Nathan Bedford Forrest that the liberal media doesn’t want you to know. Bill then started to open up even more and talked about how he could not stand Hillary Clinton. He also made it clear that he doesn’t like the things the current administration is doing. I won’t bore you with a lot of political talk, but the gist of the story is that Bill and I agreed on everything.
The takeaway from this story is twofold. I hope Bill takes away the fact that not all black people live on the liberal plantation. I hope those who read this takeaway the fact that there is a wealth of information and wisdom residing in our elderly. If you have older people in your family or know older people in your community, make time to talk to them. Carry a recorder. Take notes. Once they are gone, everything they know is gone, too.
After my conversation with Bill, I finally got to take the shot.
I rarely ask strangers for their portrait, but I felt I bonded with Bill and figured he would say yes. I was right and his only stipulation was that he didn’t want to be in the local newspaper.
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