May is Older Americans Month and Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month (also called Asian American – Pacific Islander Heritage Month), a month set aside to recognize, honor, and celebrate the contributions made by older Americans and Asian-Pacific Americans.

Mareetha was in her 80s. She had always been kind to others and willing to go the extra mile to make people comfortable, but she was also quick to demand that people give her and others respect. Although Mareetha had grown up poor, she and her sisters had been fortunate enough during their youth to get free piano lessons from an elderly neighbor. The lessons were given in exchange for the errands and small chores Mareetha and her sisters performed for this neighbor. Mareetha became a fantastic pianist through her own efforts.

As an adult, poor health and a low income made Mareetha struggle to pay her bills and put food on her table. In spite of her suffering, she always felt that life would get better. She had been brought up in church and believed in a higher power, a higher power that was merciful and forgiving. Even though the occasional infighting in church bothered Mareetha, she still attended. This was her church since childhood, and she was committed to being a member there. 

One Sunday, the church organist and the choir director of the church got into an argument just before the service began. The organist marched down to the front of the church, sat down in a chair next to the piano and looked down at the floor.  She refused to play. The minister did not know the argument had occurred, so when the choir stood at the back of the church waiting to march in after the minister’s prayer, the puzzled minister looked back and forth at the choir and the organist, trying to catch the organist’s eye to motion her to play. The organist did not look up.

Choir members looked at the minister and shrugged, pursed their lips, sucked their teeth, and rolled their eyes at the organist. The organist did not look at them.  Exasperated, Mareetha stood up and said loudly, “I forgot I was supposed to play at this time.” She hobbled down the aisle with her arthritis affecting her walk and sat down at the piano. 

The choir looked at Mareetha, wondering what was going on and what song she was going to play. Mareetha looked back at the choir and said loudly, “We are going to sing ‘How I Got Over,’ a song that Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson [1911-1972] sang because today we need to get over.” 

With that, Mareetha graced the keys with her magical fingers, and the choir sang as they marched in and the congregation joined in, “How I got over, How did I make it over? You know my soul looks back and wonders how did I make it over… .I’m gonna thank God for ole time religion and I’m gonna thank God for giving me a vision. One day, I’m gonna join the heavenly choir. I’m gonna sing and never get tired…”

The organist kept her head down, hopefully ashamed, but Mareetha was not angry with her. The organist’s refusal to play had given Mareetha a chance to play and sing her favorite song before a host of people.  When Mareetha and the choir finished singing, the organist left her chair and sat down on the piano bench next to Mareetha. Mareetha looked at her and whispered with a smile (or a smirk),“I guess you have got over now.”  Mareetha got up and limped back to her seat. The organist played for the rest of the service. Mareetha thought to herself, “People sure can make you lie just to get over.”

Peggy Tarr

Peggy Tarr has been a columnist for the Evanston RoundTable since its founding in 1998. Born in Bruce Springsteen's hometown of Freehold, New Jersey, she graduated from Rutgers University with a degree...