Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Reminiscence and a Reason for Joy

In the summer of 1960, when I was 12 years old, my family moved from Calgary to Regina. We took over a month to do it because we drove to Atlanta, Georgia on the way. Down diagonally across the great plains to the eastern seaboard and into the south through Mississippi and on into Georgia where my father had been born.

We had a car break down somewhere in South Carolina. It took the better part of a day for the car to be fixed and we went to a movie. During the movie one of my little brothers went off to the bathroom and didn't come back for a long time. My dad went looking for him and found him sitting up in the "colored" section at the back talking to a little guy about his own age. Dad brought him back to where we were sitting and tried to explain that, in the south, my brother was putting that little boy in danger.

At the gas stations and restaurants we saw the washrooms. Men's, Women's and Coloreds. The Coloreds washroom usually had a door that was filthy and peeling and wouldn't close properly. Same with water fountains.

During a stay with my father's cousin, a preacher in Columbus Mississippi and his family, my two two older male cousins took me for a ride in their pickup truck. The ride included a high speed, screaming with laughter, side to side rip through what they called "nigger town". I was scared to death. When we got back I told my dad about it and he decided that was enough of a visit with his cousin and we left the next morning.

When we were in Atlanta we stayed with my dad's uncle who was quite a wealthy man. Dad's parents had come over from Hawaii for the visit too and stayed there too.

Dad's uncle owned a very large roofing company. At the time the biggest in the US Southeast. They put the first roof on the Space Center and the Astrodome, or so I was told. At any rate Uncle Ledus (yes, they did have names like that) was rich as Croesus. His residence in Atlanta included a 1/4 mile riding track and stable of Shetland and Welsh ponies.

The only permanent stable hand he had was a very old black man whose name I can no longer remember. His parents had been slaves. He'd been dad's uncle's lead stable hand almost all both their adult lives. He lived in a pretty nice little apartment that had been built out beside the big stable building and took all his meals in the house. But he wouldn't sit at the table with the white people. Not even when my dad was visiting, who was one of his favorites among the extended family. He would eat where he always did, where he felt comfortable. In a cleared, swept out part of the attached garage where my aunt set his table. The adjoining door was always kept open and conversation wasn't all that difficult if you spoke just a little louder but that's where he always sat and took his meals

This evening in Denver, Colorado something is going to happen that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. My dad is gone now but I know from conversations we had that he thought such a thing wouldn't happen for a few more generations yet. The old enmities were just too deep he thought and maybe they are still too deep for a black man to be elected president of the US.

This evening as I watch Barack Obama accept the nomination I will remember the little boy in the movie theatre in South Carolina and the frightened people scattering from the speeding truck in Columbus Mississippi and I will remember my great uncle's old stablehand.

I expect I'll weep.

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