Stand, even if you must do so alone

Published 7:00 am Saturday, March 15, 2014

By Jan Penton Miller

In the entire coliseum there were exactly two people standing, Aunt Sarah Lee and I.  Sheepishly, I sank into the safety of my seat only to be snatched up again.  The stern look on my maiden aunt left me no illusion that I would escape from the peering eyes of the throng so easily.

Aunt Sarah Lee never had children, but took her auntly duties quite seriously.  She was very refined, as was the way of the Old South, and opinionated, as was her way.

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My siblings and I were coached to be on our best behavior and mind our manners, especially when Aunt Sarah Lee came to visit.  Once after lunch she asked me if I had enjoyed myself.  “Yes Ma’am, I couldn’t eat another bite.  I’m really full”, I innocently replied. Her horrified expression puzzled me until I was firmly reprimanded, “Oh, Jan, a young lady never says I’m full.  She says I’ve had an abundance”. I still chuckle about that today.

Aunt Sarah Lee was the director of public school music for an affluent suburb of Washington, D.C., and undoubtedly noticed quite a difference in her students and her country relatives.   She did her best to close this gap by giving me chances for cultural events that would otherwise not have been part of my experience.

One such occasion was a trip to see “Up With People”.  The singing and dancing were wonderful. I was especially impacted by these lyrics,  “Good night I said to my little son, so tired out when the day was done.  Then he said as I tucked him in, Daddy, what color is God’s skin?  I said, It’s black, brown, it’s yellow; It is red; It is white. Every man’s the same in the good Lord’s sight”.

Enamored with the positive message and talented performers from all parts of the world, I was ready to clap enthusiastically from my seat as the performance ended.  Aunt Sarah Lee, however, had another idea.

My red cheeks burned with embarrassment as I felt all eyes on the skinny little girl and silver haired woman standing alone in the vast coliseum. A tear stained my freckled face as I bit my trembling lower lip, and wondered when we could finally sit down.

We stood alone for what seemed an eternity when much to my amazement I began to see first one, then another stand up.  Soon almost everyone in the coliseum was on their feet and cheering!

My frown turned into a smile when the young performers were visibly moved by the standing ovation.  A young lady stepped to the microphone and spoke, “We have traveled to many nations with our message in song, but have received our warmest welcome right here in Jackson, Mississippi!”

Humiliation drained away and was replaced with pride and joy.

Of the many lessons learned from Sarah Lee Ball, this message rang loud and clear.  Sometimes you just need to stand, even if you do it alone.