Category Archives: Memories

Adjusting to cultural differences

CommunicationI’ve written a lot about my experiences in Korea.  I continue to be inspired by the beautiful people I’ve met in the Land of the Morning Calm, particularly at my university.  There are students, faculty, and staff who have demonstrated their kindness over and over again. The students are a constant source of inspiration.

I came to Korea fully aware that would be cultural differences.  By some standards, the work environment is conservative.  I knew I’d have to adjust.  Still, there is one thing that annoys me.  Sometimes male administrators need to communicate something to me, or they need information from me.  Instead of talking to me directly, they contact my husband.  Sometimes decisions are made about me without my input.

I’m the type of person who values direct communication.  Before I married my husband, I spent many years as the head of my household and a single mom.  Professionally, I served as an administrator in a male-dominated, competitive field.  By the time I was 20, I was all too experienced in handling gender challenges and miscommunication.

Once a graduate student and a staff member decided that an announcement needed to be made to my class.  However, they didn’t talk with me first.  They showed up in my class to make  the announcement.  It was all in Korean, and I had no idea what was being said.    I learned it wasn’t. The graduate student, I would learn, had an attack of self-importance.  He gave my students the impression that he had a lot of influence over me.  The presence of the staff member gave the impression that the announcement was official business.

The next day, I spoke with both men behind closed doors.  I told them calmly, yet candidly that their actions were unacceptable.  The men apologized.  No one ever tried that stunt again.  I went back to being my sweet, adorable self.

At the end of the day, it’s all about respect.  Today I can look back and laugh about experiences like the one I just described.  It’s all in a day’s work.  😉

Note from Deb:  Our family is blessed with a gifted poet, my daughter Winnie. She’s a young adult, but she writes about issues that evoke strong emotion and wisdom beyond her years.

Read the entire poem at thewirehangerbywinnie.com.

Faith Based Blog for Rising Entrepreneurs

Scared to fall
Your smile terrifies me
It has too much control
Over my heart
I could tell from the start
The way your teeth glistened and your dimples formed
Just gave me a feeling of warmth
I loved the feeling
Yet I hate it
Because of him
Him
And him

In my past
They wooed me
They gained my heart
Then tore it apart
First one took away my trust
He just used it to fulfill his lust

Second one took away my strength
My mind became weak
My opinions turned very bleak

Third one struck my soul
Just when I thought the third was a charm
I didn’t see just how much he could harm
Me
My heart
My love for him

I try not to let these thieves of my past effect my now and future
But you look at me with that same smile
Like he…

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Remembering my father

Dad almightyI’ve been in Korea a year-and-a-half now.  Over the past 18 months, I secretly hoped that I’d never get a call that someone in my family had passed away.  But that’s not the way life happens.

The call came from my son on Thanksgiving Day.  My father had died suddenly.  Even though I thought I’d always be prepared for such a call, it still left me a bit numb.  I couldn’t cry.  (I still haven’t.)  I was thousands of miles away from my family.  Even though I’m the eldest of my siblings, I was in no position to “take charge,” as I was used to doing in times of crises.

Coming home for the funeral was not a practical option because I was still teaching, and we were near the end of the semester.  In many families, the oldest children are typically used to taking control of situations.  I had been groomed to be the responsible one.  In this case, however, there was not a lot I could do.

I made sure that my kids were OK.  I spoke with my brother Sylvester often.  He handled the arrangements beautifully.  I offered to write Dad’s obituary.  It was the least I could do, I thought, and it gave me something to do.  My father’s story came to me quickly and smoothly.

My dad, Sidney L. Caldwell, was born in Forrest City, Ark., on July 29, 1929.  He was raised in St. Joseph, Mo.  My father had two sisters; he was the middle child.

Daddy graduated from Bartlett High School in St. Joseph, where he excelled in academics.  A short time after graduation, he enlisted in the Air Force.Sidney Caldwell Air Force

At the time, the Korean War was ending, and President Harry Truman had issued an executive order to integrate the armed forces.  My father served in an integrated unit, starting as a mechanic.

Dad was told that he tested well enough to qualify for officer’s training school, but as the Air Force began to integrate, there was no room for a “colored” man in those ranks.  According to the tests my father took, he had the aptitude to train as an attorney.

Another man might have been angry when he learned that he wouldn’t be allowed to go to officer’s training school.  However, my dad was not that kind of man.  He decided that he would become the best airplane mechanic he could be.  His hard work paid off.  He quickly earned the nickname “Boy Wonder.”  By the time he turned 21, he had earned the titles staff sergeant and crew chief.  He was the youngest man in his unit and the only African-American.

While he was in the service, Dad began to date the woman who would become his wife and my mother, Mary Louise Freeman of St. Louis.  My parents married on February 10, 1952.  They lived in San Antonio, Texas, where my father was stationed. After Daddy was honorably discharged from the service, my parents returned to St. Louis, where they started a family.  (My parents had planned to remain in Texas after my father left the service, but they returned to St. Louis because my maternal grandmother missed her only daughter.)

Four children were born.  Sadly, the first died when she was eight months old.  I made my grand entrance three months later.  My brothers followed, three and six years later.

Our parents were our first teachers.  My father was very hands-on.  By the time I went to kindergarten, I could read, count to 100, and enunciate my words.

That early training in elocution would serve me later when I began a career in broadcasting at age 18. My brothers became mobile DJs (disc jockeys) in high school; one has been working in radio for years.  When we were small, my dad would play around with the tape player, pretending to be the super-cool host of “Big Sid’s Jazz Show.”  My father had no idea that his children would “follow” his lead.

Mom stayed at home and raised us kids.  As a young parent, Daddy worked at International Shoe Company, Combustion Engineering, and Union Pacific Railroad.  He then changed careers and began working in real estate.  By the time he retired, he had put in 30 years as an operations chief.  In his free time, he indulged his hobby, amateur photography.  He built a dark room in our basement.

Sidney Caldwell July 2011 411x371For most of his adult life, Dad held two jobs.  He worked 20 years as an inspector and administrator for the St. Louis County Health Department.  He was one of the first African-Americans to be hired as a housing inspector.  During his tenure with the health department, my father also served as a restaurant inspector, coordinated the County’s lead poisoning prevention program, and worked on the hazmat team in Times Beach, Mo., the site of dioxin contamination in the 1980s.  While with the County, Dad also completed specialized training at a technical college.  He grew up poor in a family that valued education, so he was really proud of his diploma.

My father retired from St. Louis County and his real estate position in 1991.  However, true retirement did not happen for a few years.  Dad served as building commissioner for a County municipality in the 1990s.  Eventually, he would fully retire and pursue his love of travel.

We were fortunate to have my father for 83 years.  We know that he’s in heaven now with my mother, grandparents, and other family members.  The first Sidney in our family was my grandfather; my father came next.  Dad leaves more Sidneys to carry on the name, including my brother and a nephew.  My daughter’s son, age six, is the youngest Sidney.

My son and daughter represented me at the funeral and kept me posted on the details.  Many family members have been left behind to recount many warm memories of my father.