My dad is semi-old. 64 this year. So he remembers a lot, having grown up in the South. And he generally tends to gauge the white people he meets by how they respond to him. He has enough experience to be pretty accurate with how they are – whether they’ve got race issues that are too much to be bothered with, or seem to not have any at all. But I think sometimes, because he grew up in the times that he did, he’s willing to deal with more people having race issues than I am. I don’t know if that makes sense or not, but … well, see for yourself…
I’ve already talked about his one friend (Exhibit B) who has issues. A long time ago, she wanted our church to move to the other side of town because, basically, too many black people had moved into the neighborhood. That was me reading between the lines, but, I wasn’t the only one who came to that conclusion. So, you get the point.
Then there’s the lady we’ve had over for Thanksgiving as long as I can remember. She’s really old (85-ish), and single, so, she comes over to eat with us. She’s been pretty spry for the most part, though her health seems to be starting to go, now. Well, maybe two years ago, at the table, we were talking about something and she came out with…the n-word. Yeah. I was just sitting there, tilting my head in confusion. Here, she’s been spending this holiday with us for more than 20 years, and it drips out of her mouth with a piece of the collard greens Daddy made for dinner. It was in the course of conversation, and she seemed to go back and talk about another friend of hers, who is black, who calls this same other person/family the n-word, as some type of justification.
So, my brain was rattling around in my head, trying to make sense of what she said, and reconcile it with who she is. Since I was pretty well flabbergasted, I didn’t really say anything, the conversation moved on, and dinner ended. When she left, I said something to my dad about it, and he said that she was old, and so the word was more a part of her vocabulary. OK. I get that. But hasn’t it been about 30 or 40 years since that word was actually acceptable? Eh. It was weird, but otherwise, she’s no different than before – still a family friend. Still a …nice lady. I basically forgot about it by the next Thanksgiving, and the word hasn’t come back up.
Now, there’s a really sweet old lady at my church here in Podunk. She’s full of love and hugs and is generally the nicest person you ever wanna meet. [Way, way sweeter than our Thanksgiving friend.] She treats everyone the same – love just pours out of her. She happens to be 84 and spry, but totally cute and grandmotherly, as opposed to the Thanksgiving friend. Anyway, a bunch of the church ladies were invited to her house yesterday evening, and I went. There were two young (30ish) people [me and another black woman], then there were about 8 little old white ladies (60+). So we’re hanging out…Podunk not being a totally happening town…and I walk into the kitchen to refresh my punch.
There, on the kitchen floor, is a wooden Mammy figure. In the middle of the floor. Not behind anything. Staring at me.
Once again, I’m baffled. Dad talks about this lady like the nicest white lady he’s ever known. She seems to not be racist at all, he says. And I would agree – she treats everyone the same as far as I can tell. Just beautiful to everybody.
So it’s the next day, and I still don’t know what to think. Is this another one of those things I push to the side because she’s really old? Cuz I really do like her.