by Ericka Midtgard
High Springs, Florida, USA
My Dad was a social worker for a few years, before he finally retired. He had a keen sense of compassion and did not hesitate to go outside the rules to get people the help they needed. For instance, when a family’s window broke in a winter storm, rather than wait for bureaucratic wheels to turn he bought a window at the local hardware store and installed it himself.
He had no patience with people who wouldn’t take steps to fill a need. He chewed out agencies who tried to pass the buck versus help the client. When a family was living in a home with no septic tank, he helped dig the hole to install the state-funded tank.
My Dad did not brag about these things. To my parents, there was nothing noteworthy in such deeds, they were “just what people did.” He once offered a family without beds the use of our bunk beds for their children. Though meant as a loan, when they thought it a gift he could not bring himself to correct their mistake. What impressed his coworkers, was not his giving the beds, but that he never told them about it — they heard about it later from the client.
One of my Dad’s migrant worker clients had an emergency appendectomy. With a 10-month-old baby, and again pregnant and convalescent, she could no longer pick cherries. The county didn’t want to pay for her family care, so it gave her bus money to go home. Her friend, with a 6-year-old, was to accompany her to Florida.
Put a pregnant woman on the bus with two small children and a friend? Not my Dad! My parents put them all in the car and set off, July 4th weekend, 1965. Civil Rights conflicts were erupting everywhere in the South, and the four passengers were Black.
My parents were fairly naive about conditions in the South, but the two women had a very clear idea where the “line” was. They ate meals in the car because Blacks and Whites did not dare to go into a restaurant together. As they drove further into the South, the women would duck down when another car passed so as not to be seen. Yet further South, they lay down in the back entirely to hide, since the safety of everyone in the car was at stake.
When they arrived in Florida my parents had to sneak into the ghetto at night to drop the women off. Of course, being who they were, Dad and Mom left Mom’s old maternity clothes, and gave the baby and the 6-year-old toys and clothes that my sister and I had outgrown.
My Dad passed away recently after battling emphysema for years. He left me a lot to live up to. What a difference he made in the lives of others! But to my Dad, it was “just what people did.”