Home Town Tales

Actions of Affection Do Not Make Headlines

December 8th, 2014

Actions of Affection Do Not Make Headlines

There’s a lot of talk and no small amount of heated discussing these past weeks concerning racial relations. It all has me remembering my first encounter with a black person. Sometimes love and friendship wins over discrimination.

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Grandpa never drove fast, but Grandma thought otherwise. I had stayed the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and we were driving to visit one of their friends. “Can I read the signs Grandma?”

“Go ahead.”

Slow down, Pa…
Sakes alive…
Ma missed signs…
Four and five…
Burma-Shave…

This gave Grandma a reason to comment on Grandpa’s driving “I told you, George; you’re going too fast.”

Next to me in the back seat was a basket full of vegetables. “Grandma, what’s this basket for?”
“They’re for John and Peggy.”

“Don’t they have a garden?”

“Yes, but we’ve plenty to share.”

“Are they relation?”

“No, friends. They helped us during the depression.”

“Why haven’t I seen them?”

“You’re not always with us.”

“What’s a depression?”

“Never you mind. It was a bad time.”

We turned off the highway and on to a gravel road through green wheat fields. When we reached a wooded area Grandma turned to Grandpa and pointed her index finger at him. “Don’t miss the lane, George.”

Grandpa chewed on his unlit King Edward Cigar then spoke. “I know where it’s at May. Don’t fret. It’s at the maple tree. The one with a sign that says eggs for sale.”

We followed the lane through a dense forest of maple, oak, chestnut, and pine trees. “Watch those ruts, George. Slow down.”

Grandpa went so slow it seemed like we weren’t moving at all, but eventually, I saw an old house with a big porch across the front. There was a bay window and the roof in front had a high peak. The house siding was grey with a bit of color in the cracks. I think it was blue. It must have been the color of the house at one time.

As we pulled into the barnyard, scared chickens ran in all directions squawking and flapping their wings, like they did when I’d chase ‘em in Grandma’s yard, and a barking, black dog was circling our car.

Grandma wasn’t done with Grandpa’s driving. “George, mind those chickens. We don’t want a kill one.”

A woman, with her hair rolled up in a rag on top of her head, was sitting on the porch in a ladder back wooden chair. As we stopped she rose and started walking toward us with what looked like cherries in her apron. Grandma waved while talking to no one in particular. “Sakes alive, I hope she didn’t climb no ladder for those cherries.”

As she came closer, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I whispered. “Grandma, she’s black.”

Grandma was unconcerned. “So?”

“It’ll rub off.”

“What’ll rub off?”

“Her color. I don’t want a be a black.”

“Oh, shucks no. Look at me. I’ve hugged her. Do I look black?”“No, but your white powder could be covering it up.”

“See, Grandpa’s out of the car and shaking hands with John.” Indeed Grandpa had gotten out of the car and was lighting his cigar while John was lighting his pipe.

Holding the door handle, Grandma turned to look at me. “Come on, what’s the real problem?”

“Uncle James says we shouldn’t be near their type ’cause they’re causing trouble. They tried to eat at a Woolworths.”

“I’m sure they were hungry. Look at the loving, not the color. We ain’t hating nobody. Take the basket and give it to Peggy.”

I stood as far back as my arms would allow and gave the basket to Peggy, being careful not to let her touch me. “Is this your grandson? Come inside. I’ve got some fresh cherry pie.”

Taking a few steps backward, I stopped. With arms firmly crossed over my chest, I looked at Peggy with eyes reserved for bullies. “I’m not supposed to eat something someone like you baked.”

Peggy just kept talking. “John picked the cherries yesterday. Lord knows we’re both too old to be on a ladder. I picked what I could from the ground.”

Arms still crossed, I stared at Grandma and then at Peggy. “I don’t care who picked ’em. I still can’t eat ’em.”

Peggy paid no attention. “Pitted the cherries yesterday, got my hands all red.”

My feet were planted as firmly as a six-year-old boy could. “I’m not eating any pie.”

My best stubbornness not working, Peggy chatted with Grandma and me as if I had said nothing. “Cooled the pies in the window this morning.” I could see the wrinkles around her eyes as she smiled, like I was one of her own grandkids. “Taste it. Tell me if it don’t taste as good as your grandma’s.”

I uncrossed my arms, but still refused look at Grandma or Peggy. Then I noticed Grandma walking away. “Grandma, you’re going in?”

“Yes, and you better come if you want supper tonight.”

I never again refused one of Peggy’s pies. I even let her hug me a couple of times.