Who Is Anastasia?

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New Castle, Indiana Zone 5, United States
When I was 55, I decided to embrace the things I love and hold precious and dear, regardless of anyone else's thoughts and opinion. I am a visual folk artist who loves flowers - my own flowers, grown and/or painted by me. I love good, hearty, exotic foods, and I love to prepare them myself. I love the secret garden situated in my backyard, regardless of how overgrown and wild it gets. No longer able to afford a vacation, this will have to be it for the time being. In the winter months, I still enjoy it. Anyway, here I am sharing my art, favorite recipes, cocktails, gardening tips, and just my usual vents and bantering. After all, I'm old enough to say whatever the heck I want to now ...


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Stacey Torres ART Prints

Stacey Torres ART Prints
A very limited selection of reproductions from my paintings can be found here

January 17, 2010

I Remember The Drum Major

I was appalled and bemused as to the apathetic mood regarding the commemoration of Martin Luther King’s birthday had become. Some local schools referred to it as a “snow day” or “holiday” (to be used if you need to make up time), or by not acknowledging it at all. I know everyone does not acknowledge, reflect nor respect the day; which is their right. But when did I become so complacent and adopt the ‘just another day’ attitude? Somewhere along the way, I also took it for granted along with so many things in our daily lives.

When did I forget the horrors my forefathers endured in order for us to be able to enjoy the simple things of life, like voting for the candidate of your choice or eating wherever we wanted? I remember the courageous actions of four African American college freshmen (the Greensboro Four) who walked into F.W. Woolworth’s in Greensboro, NC, sat at the 'Whites Only' lunch counter, and ordered food. They were refused service, but stayed until closing. The next day they returned, and were again refused, as they were the next day, and the next. However, growing numbers of sympathizers, both black and white joined in their protest and sat-in with them. By the fifth day, there were over 300 protesters jammed in and around that lunch counter. Not surprisingly, the City of Greensboro took action with more stringent segregation laws, and over 40 students were arrested and charged with trespassing. Fueling protests across the country, both blacks and whites launched massive boycotts of segregated lunch counters and stores and businesses. As expected, profits fell sharply and some businesses either gave in or closed. Finally, six months later, the same four freshmen returned to Woolworth’s and were served lunch.

These protests reached the upper east coast, and hundreds of supportive marchers began to picket Woolworth’s on 125th Street in Harlem. I was confused when my grandmother would not let me get a soda or hotdog at the Woolworth’s on Jamaica Ave. We always had before? What did those people ‘down there’ have to do with us ‘p here?’ I was seven years old, and her explanations were even more perplexing to me. What were civil rights? Who was this Dr. King? Why was this our concern?

The civil rights movement got heated, and spread far beyond the Deep South. ‘Up Here’ became a playing field for me sooner than later.

In 1963, plans were made to begin construction of Rochedale Village, the largest housing cooperative in the world, with high-rises covering over 170 acres on the site of the old Jamaica Race Track – billed as a city within a city, housing 5,860 families; supposedly a huge step in integrated housing. The property was walking distance of our home, and I still did not see what all the hype was about. Why was it on the news every night? Why was my family attending meetings; what did it have to do with us? My grandmother decided to show me firsthand. Before ground was even broken, Rochedale had created enormous racial tension in Queens. The construction company that was contracted to build the complex refused to hire Black workers.

One night my grandfather took a call from someone at the local NAACP headquarters. William Booth, a local judge, civil rights leader and friend, had been arrested along with 24 other protesters at the construction site. It was on! There were rumors that Malcolm X would attend the protest at some point. My grandmother advised I would not attend school the next day, and we were going to pay a visit to Judge Booth; not in his office, but at the picket line. What awaited us that morning was a site I will never forget. There were hundreds of people gathered at the track with signs and pamphlets. My grandmother, a forceful woman with strong presence, pushed me to the front of the group and handed me a sign. That was it; I was a full-fledged protester of a cause I did not comprehend. We walked in circles; sang and shouted. And, slowly I began to understand. At the end of the sidewalk on New York Blvd., were several bulldozers, cranes, dump trucks; so huge, I thought they were war tanks. Judge Booth had returned and urged our group to press on and keep walking, singing and chanting. I went along with it, since Nana was held her ground, and I had no other choice. But things changed drastically. Nana grabbed me by the arm and forced me to the ground. Wondering what the heck was going on; I lay there with the others. Within moments, my mood had gone from excitement to one of utter terror. The ‘tanks’ began to edge towards the crowd, now prone on the street. They rumbled and roared as they approached us. To this day, I can still smell the fuel, the smoke, the asphalt, and the nervous, sweaty police dogs inches from my face. Judge Booth said to sing, and we did, for what seemed like eternity. He said Dr. King would want us to hold fast, don’t give up - don’t get up.
Mesmerized by the sight of a towering crane with its “headache ball” swinging precariously above us, I stared up at it, awaiting my death.

Suddenly, the tanks backed off, and I managed to get Nana up and away. No more singing and marching, we high-tailed it home as fast as we could. Still frightened, yet so excited to tell everyone our tale of adventure, we were almost giddy. We talked about it for years, and it became a family joke - how Nana made me lay down in front of a crane. Maybe that’s when my attitude changed, and I too seemed to take my freedoms for granted.

When I moved to a small town in Indiana in 1967, I joined my new friends at a lunch counter at in a local drugstore uptown. I never revealed my fear and hesitance to them the first few times we had a soda after school. Perhaps I was too embarrassed to say I didn’t know if it was ‘allowed’, but soon, like everything else, I took that for granted, as well.

I never met The Drum Major of Peace, as Dr. King was called. But his legacy is indelible in my life. Does non-violent direct action still work today? Maybe; but we live in a different world, and somewhere along the way, someone felt a snow day was in order.

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The Backyard --Today's Vacation Spot

The Backyard --Today's Vacation Spot
A simple garden meal in the shade. No, it's not my backyard, but it looks identical to the one I grew up with at our home in Queens. Looking for an original pic of it to post soon!

Old Fashioned Tips