You Get What You Give

You Get What You Give

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Create Your Best Future

You Get What You Give

If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.

~Maya Angelou

In 1953, moving into a newly built home in Levittown, Pennsylvania, was the American Dream for a blue-collar worker like my father. These affordable houses included modern automatic clothes washers, radiant heating in the floor, carports and complete landscaping. New schools cropped up, surrounded by parks, pools and baseball fields. It was a dream come true for my family of five, as well as hundreds of other families — providing they were white. Levittown’s builder refused to sell to blacks. As an eight-year-old, I was unaware of this racial discrimination. I innocently played with neighborhood kids in the safe streets of Dogwood Hollow, one of the town’s subdivisions.

It was four years later when my eyes were opened to the harmful and odious effects of prejudice. That summer, I turned twelve: the age of accountability. I planted a flower garden. I went to a girls’ camp with my best friend, and we both changed our names. It was the summer that I was awakened to life’s lessons of hate and love, courage and conviction, and the darker side of human nature.

Although Levittown’s builder would not sell his homes to black families, there was nothing in the books that prevented a resale to blacks. That is exactly how the Myers family bought their house on Deepgreen Lane, just around the corner from my house. At first, neighbors thought that the black family had come to clean the house for the new residents. But when it became apparent that they were moving in, crowds began to gather around the house and in the street. The crowd turned into a mob that remained outside the house for weeks, terrorizing the Myerses with hurtful remarks, death threats and broken windows. Crosses were burned on roofs and lawns of any sympathizers. The Ku Klux Klan recruited angry homeowners who felt that their property values would decline.

As a naïve young girl, I was shocked and horrified by the events taking place in my neighborhood. I couldn’t believe that people would hate other people because of their skin color. “Why?” I kept asking everyone. No one could give me an answer that made sense. The unfairness and hatefulness of it all pierced my heart deeply. I had to do something. I had to show this family that they were welcome in my neighborhood. I recruited my best girlfriend to help me.

The flower garden I had planted was now in full bloom, so I decided to pick some flowers and take them to the Myerses, my friend in tow. I was oblivious to any dangers or negative consequences of my decision to act. I didn’t tell my parents of my plan either. I sensed that they wouldn’t approve. Off went my friend and I, through the crowds and up to the front door of the Myerses’ home.

Mrs. Daisy Myers answered the door. “Welcome to our neighborhood,” I announced as I held out my bouquet of zinnias, snapdragons and marigolds. She smiled and invited us in.

The memory of her smile and her peaceful presence will forever inspire me. Here was a woman whose family was endangered, hated and victimized by members of my community and my ethnic group, yet she graciously invited my friend and me into her home. She trusted us enough to show her little baby girl to us, and she talked to us like equals. It was a time of transformation for me. I walked up to that door thinking that I was doing something good for that family, but it was my life that was changed. I saw courage, love, endurance and faith in the kindness that Daisy Myers offered me that day.

In 1999, forty-two years later, the city of Levittown invited Daisy Myers back so that a formal apology could be made to her. At the age of seventy-four, Mrs. Myers drove herself to Levittown from miles away, declining a chauffeur-driven ride in a government car. When I heard of the event, my heart nearly burst with joy. At last, I could be at peace with my hometown. I felt proud that they wanted to rectify the past injustices and create a new memory of acceptance and love. Daisy Myers lit the community Christmas tree in Levittown that year. Her memory still lights my heart.

~Terri Akin

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