A city life tempered by rural values. Dynamics of the Bullock family are responsibility, respect, and love
Durham, N.C. — THE city is drowsing in Sunday morning stillness when four Bullocks step out their front door in suits and polished shoes. Piling into Shirley Bullock's big black '83 Buick, they head for the country. They drive out past the broken windows of the abandoned house on the corner, past the used-car lots and grimy streets, out to where the land gives way to cornfields and cattle pasture. There they pull in at Red Mountain Baptist Church.
``It's a family church,'' says 12-year-old Cedric, who estimates that 30 or 40 Bullocks gather from surrounding counties each week. ``Nearly everyone is related somehow.''
``The kids see their relatives, and they see how they get through problems,'' his mother explains. ``It gives them a set of values they can lean on in tough times.''
The family isn't facing such very tough times, just the usual pressure of modern life. The father, Connie Bullock, is a policeman in the city of Durham (pop., 115,000). His wife is a medical technologist, who works long shifts.
Their daughter, Christy, 14, attends an inner-city school with a reputation for drug use, teen-age pregnancy, and high dropout rates.
In trying to raise a family under these conditions, Mr. and Mrs. Bullock draw on all the resources they've got. That includes hardworking family members, who have raised many a good kid despite hard circumstances.
``I'm more concerned with the kids being able to meet life's challenges than being a doctor or a dentist,'' says Mr. Bullock, one of 13 farm children.
``I'm more concerned with teaching them responsibility than whether they make $100 a week or $1,000.''
Whatever her parents' philosophy of family life, it works, says Christy. ``I think I can only remember three times they raised their voices and got kind of upset. I know some families argue all the time. Some of my friends tell me about how their dads hit them or fuss at them. I think we're pretty lucky that we all get along.''
The smooth order of their house does not come without effort. ``It's very difficult raising kids, if you want to do it right,'' admits Mr. Bullock, shifting in his big armchair in the family's living room. ``Trying to keep them in line and provide for them is not that easy.''
He grew up carrying wood and feeding chickens for an elderly neighbor, who would often give him a quarter. But, he remembers, his father would make him give the quarter back.
``He felt like we shouldn't have to take money for everything,'' he recalls. ``You don't have to be paid for neighborliness.''
Now Bullock has transferred that sense of rural interdependence to the city, lending his tools and ladders to neighbors, cutting the grass at the abandoned house on the corner with a casual, one-word explanation, ``neighborhood.''
And as a patrol officer on the street, ``he doesn't mind being very firm..., but he has the ability to show his concern and compassion for people who are in a difficult situation,'' says Capt. George Hare, his commanding officer for 3 years. ``That's something you don't see often.''
But raising kids is a demanding task for this concerned parent.
``If you tell either one of them to vacuum the floor and do it right, you have to be prepared to tell them again next week,'' Bullock observes, frowning. ``You have to keep the pressure on.''
``Not high pressure,'' Mrs. Bullock says calmly, leaning back in her chair. Her husband grins suddenly, relaxing his muscular frame. ``I've, as the kids would call it, `chilled out' a little from my former days.''
Slam! goes the door as Christy runs out of the house, hooting with laughter, her dad close behind.
``My sister - when my dad's around they kid a lot. They laugh,'' says Cedric. ``Sometimes I can hear them up the block.''
Mrs. Bullock isn't as playful, but then she isn't as strict, either, Cedric explains. ``She's easygoing. It's fun to hang out with her.''
A native of the small town of Gastonia, N.C., she sees life in a very different way from her husband. ``You've got to teach kids and even yourself how to be satisfied in life,'' she says.
``You can't continuously be striving and not be happy. You have to look around and feel satisfied from time to time.''
When the kids were small, she made them child-size quilts, sitting up quietly at night sewing while they were asleep. Now, stitch by stitch, she is making full-size quilts for each member of the family.
``According to my parents, I got a dose of doing crafts from both my grandmothers,'' she says. ``When I don't do crafts, I feel incomplete. Quilts seem to show so much love for someone. You don't go to the store and buy it.''
``I'm barely bigger than my quilt, but I'm bigger,'' boasts Cedric. ``She's working on a new one for me. I don't know why, but I've grown attached to my quilt,'' he adds. ``It'll probably take a while when I get my new quilt to get accustomed to it.''
The two working parents feel the inevitable conflicts of time with their jobs, family, and community.
Mr. Bullock takes turns cooking and tends the family's neatly trimmed yard. He also works extra jobs as a security guard, adding to the family's income.
``There is still the feeling that the man should be the breadwinner,'' he says, recalling that when they were renting an apartment four years ago, he worked second and third jobs, until he got enough money to make a down payment on their house.
Now he looks ahead to the day that Christy will need money for college or technical school.
``Sometimes I'm out there [working] when perhaps they want to see me,'' he acknowledges.
``When it goes on too long, I tell him, `You should spend more time with us,''' says Mrs. Bullock.
Some of their tastes and views have diverged after 15 years of marriage.
``He doesn't like to go to the movies,'' she says. ``All the cultural things I force on the kids he doesn't like to do.''
``She's a conservative, and I'm a liberal,'' notes Mr. Bullock. ``I don't understand how we stay married.''
They met their freshman year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She was a student activist, sitting in at the chancellor's office to demand more responsiveness to black students' needs.
They married between sophomore and junior year and were caring for young Christy before they graduated.
In the first years of their marriage, they lived in a trailer park. They moved to her hometown of Gastonia, where Cedric was born. After they settled in Durham, Mr. Bullock decided to become a policeman.
``I had a hard time dealing with the gun in the house,'' says his wife, as well as with his working nights. The dangerous nature of the work took some getting used to, too.
But ``that's his attitude in life,'' she acknowledges. ``What you're supposed to do you go out and do it.
``We have to work at it,'' she says now of their marriage, noting that they took a class in upholstery to spend more time together.
``It takes a lot of trust,'' she says. ``It takes a lot of love.''