Preston was not racially diverse in the 1960s when I was growing up. My sisters and I stood out because we had red hair! The entire community applauded when the Norwegian Lutheran Church and the German Lutheran Church joined together and built a new church. Anything different was suspect, like the way Elvis moved his pelvis and the Beatles’ long hair. I didn’t know that words like “Jew down” or “to gyp someone” were insulting to a certain group of people. I really believed that the name for Brazil nuts was _______ toes.
When my brother had an African American roommate his first year in college, my mother was worried and upset until my brother brought him home, and he complimented her chocolate chip cookies. Then he was really a great guy! My mother was very much against war brides. She thought they married Vietnam soldiers just to live the good life in America . Then a soldier and his foreign bride moved next door. It took about a month before she and my mother were coffee buddies.
I taught in an all white school in Caledonia. When I chaperoned the senior class trip, I could not believe the names a boy from a well-to-do, Christian family used to refer to people of color. I decided I needed to broaden my horizons so I could do the same for my white students. I taught in a summer program for minority youths at the University of Wisconsin at the Lacrosse campus. The first summer my class was made up of Somali children and Native American children and I Jewish boy from La Crosse.
I had a lot to learn myself. The Somali kids were very quiet and respectful. I needed to draw them out of their shells so they would feel free to discuss the subject matter and even disagree with me. They had to back up their opinions with facts. It took some time for this to happen. The Native American kids were not shy! They glared at me with distrust. If I moved toward them in a friendly way, they backed away. I learned that in their culture they were nervous if I invaded too much of their body space. They didn’t smile just to be polite; they needed a reason. Eventually they accepted me. That did not always work out so well. One day they were talking and smiling and laughing loudly. Trying to quiet them down so everyone in the class could hear me, I yelled, “Stop it! You are acting like wild Indians.” When I realized what I had just said, I covered my mouth in horror. There was total silence during which I realized this would be my last day teaching in this program. Then seeing my reaction, they laughed uproariously. The leader of the group replied, “We all make mistakes.” I was always repeating that statement to all my students. I did not get fired. A sense of humor is needed when reacting to people no matter what their color or culture.
My only excuse for all my mistakes was summed up by the writer Maya Angelou, “I did then what I knew to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” Recently, my husband bought a couple of salads from a local deli. The taco salad was made with pasta, mayo, black beans and taco seasoning. It was quite good. I guess it was the Norweigan take on taco salad. I guess I prefer the Mexican taco salad but variety is the spice of life.
Nonstick cooking spray
2 1/2-3 pounds of chicken, cut into serving pieces and skinned
8 new potatoes, scrubbed
8 small onions, peeled
4 medium size carrots, peeled and cut into 3 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
3/8 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. parsley for garnish
Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Coat a 9” by 13” pan with cooking spray. Arrange the chicken, potatoes, onions, and carrots in pan. Blend the chicken broth, wine, and lemon juice and pour over the chicken and vegetables. Sprinkle with spices. Bake uncovered for 40-45 minutes, turning the chicken and vegetables occasionally and basting with pan juices until chicken is fork tender. If juices evaporate too quickly during baking, add more chicken broth. Transfer chicken to a warm platter. Arrange vegetables around it. Sprinkle with parsley. Serves 4-6.