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Column: Good influences shaped me in the right ways
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

What influences you? 

I once heard a preacher give a sermon called “Heavenly Sandpaper.” He suggested that God sends us in directions that shape our ways.

Sometimes, when I hear about people who have committed crimes, I wonder what influenced them. In college, you often see athletes who did not have one or both parents. A number of professional athletes who are signed by a major team will give priority to buying their mama a house.

I think my mama was one of my greatest influences.

Mama grew up dirt poor and wanted things to be better for her boys.

She lived in a house that didn’t have electricity or running water until she was almost finished with high school.

My daddy was the same way. He came home from World War II and met my mama. He was not an outwardly affectionate man, but you knew that he loved you.

My mama and daddy ran a restaurant. Mama ran the front and Dad ran the kitchen. This was in the era of the civil rights strife. My folks treated people of all colors the same.

The woman who kept us was steeped in the old ways. She would never have a meal at the table with us. She would only sit at the kitchen table when she was feeding me. This was before I learned to manage a fork, knife or spoon.

Occasionally, mama would send us downtown to get me some shoes at Rich’s or Thompson Boland Lee, a big shoe store. She would sit me down in one of the chairs and then would stand behind me. She never sat down beside me.

For some reason, I can remember the lady at Rich’s. She was a large woman with hair piled high on her head. She had a pin on her lapel identifying her as a certified shoe fitter. 

She would measure my foot, then would return from the back with a couple of shoe boxes. My foot was inserted in the shoe and she would feel her way around to see if it was wide and long enough. She would leave about a half-inch in the toe and would tell us that I had some room to grow.

I saw Black people who would stand out of the way to allow White customers to go to the counter. As I got a little older, I could not understand this secondary status.

I had preachers who I admired, but I can remember Sunday School and Training Union teachers who taught me about Jesus. I will never forget the woman who brought her portable sewing machine and would sew strips of cloth together to make us a coat like Joseph in the book of Genesis.

I had teachers, 4-H leaders and good neighbors who taught me many things.

I remember going to a political dinner. I was just 12 and the campaign sent me a complimentary ticket. Mr. and Mrs. Eckles from next door brought me over and showed me how to eat with a full set of silver and fine china. 

Mr. Eckles taught me to stand up and offer a handshake to those who came to my table. He also said I should stand when a woman approached or left our table. I received a number of compliments for being a young gentleman.

My daddy taught me how to dismantle a car engine. We would take it to the machine shop after we took it apart. It would come back like new and Dad would put it back together. “It runs like a sewing machine,” he would say when we got it running.

Fixing cars and eating with the right utensil didn’t make me a better person, but the combination of all those things I learned prepared me for the world to come.

I had a lot of good influences and they sanded me in the right places.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns publish weekly.