Black tablecloths drape over oval tables scattered about the square room, with its square doorways, chairs, and ceiling accents. Oranges and tiny cinnamon rolls sit on a silver platter in the corner, and the last light of the sun filtered through the blackout curtains over the wall-length windows. The olive-green carpet patterns stood against the flurry of heels and brown dress shoes. However, near the front is a pair of blue converse sneakers with bright yellow socks. Next to him, red heels, red suit, red lipstick. Then, to the left a man with short blonde hair shifts his navy jacket over his pink dress shirt and brown tie—melded together with a silver clip.
Their clothing was reminiscent of vines. The kind of foliage that you imagine in a rose garden filled with the generational knowledge of the gardener—whom tenderly cares for us all from the bugs, diseases, and birds that seek to feed off it. Although even he cannot keep watch all the time.
With violet flowers on her dress, pink flowers on her scarf, and vines connecting the two, Riva Hirsch sat with her square jaw set into concentration. The points came to her cheek as she looked on to the crowd.
A deep olive-green pullover with stripes in the fabric sat on her shoulder, with embroidered vines creeping from her other. A turquoise bracelet dripped from her wrist, a greener string of stones from her neck, and her fingernails were as bright as the oranges on the tables. Josephine Bolling McCall sat with an earnest look on her face, as she smiled at her family among the audience.
Riva started the conversation, and retold her story about surviving the Holocaust in Ukraine.
“My mother said to ‘Kiss the mezuzah, because we won’t be able to come back here,’” said Riva, as her strong Ukranian voice rang in the room.
She told her story about how she and her family were captured in the forest—about how they separated them all apart from each other—about the trail of dead babies, young men, and old folks—as she was taken to the train filled with the dead.
Silent tears dripped on the tablecloths, while sniffles replaced the sound of the usual cell phone rings at public events such as these. “The future is in your hands!” she yelled to the audience, stopping to look into a few specific faces. “Never let it happen again!”
Josephine told the story about being 5 years old and seeing your father dead in a ditch. Her eyes looked into the past as she spoke.
“A car followed him and blinked three times—which back in the day meant to pull over—so he did, thinking they needed help,” she paused. “Then, they shot him multiple times with a pistol and once with a shotgun. I saw him dead in the ditch with his eyes wide open.”
The family went through the ordeal of losing everything. They lost a father, husband, breadwinner, and a respected community businessman. They had to move away to Montgomery to escape the corrupt sheriff—the same one that assisted in the murder.
Josephine spent years researching her father’s death and who was responsible for the lynching—which is defined by a unjust murder done by more than one person.
She survived the Jim Crow South, the other the Holocaust. Their scars surround them like vines, the ones that remind them they are alive, they survived, and continue to grow—to show others that they can grow without vines, without prejudice, without hatred.