Uncommon Commoners: Sketches and Stories by Henry Pashkow


I recently heard Lillian Tinsley's story on the NPR program Story Corps. The man honoring her said Ms Tinsley was a member of the church his family attended. She worked as a domestic in the homes of white women living in the middle class neighborhoods of the fifties and sixties.

Ms Tinsley stepped up when she heard that the story teller, then a boy of sixteen, was getting ready to quit school. Ms Tinsley urged him not to quit. She offered to buy him what he needed to stay in school, out of her meager earnings. She persisted and her efforts took hold. He graduated high school, and so did his seven siblings. Six of them graduated college. He is now a professor at one of the California universities.

I grew up in one of those neighborhoods in the fifties. We had a maid coming in one day a week. They led lives quite separate from our own. Had Ms Tinsley come into my home Iíd have overlooked what she really had to offer. Those were the times; that was the way society was back then. There were factors too numerous to get into in a short piece like this.

Lillian Tinsley is real to me now. Itís strange to think of it that way. Itís uncomfortable, but cleansing, in a way.

— May 8, 2013