LOUISE: Black and White

When I was in grade school in the mid fifties, a teacher walked up to my friends and me on the playground and told us we would be having a new student and she wanted us to be nice to her. As she walked away, we looked at each other in confusion. Why wouldn’t we be nice to her? Once we got inside the classroom and settled into our seats, the teacher introduced the student. Gwendolyn was as skinny as I was and a little taller. She also had darker skin but I thought nothing of it. Much of our little community consisted of people of Native American heritage so what was the big deal about having a student with African American heritage?

Louise with her granddaughter MonicaGwen became friends with all of us and as we entered high school, her height made her one of our star basketball players, guarding the goal against our opponents. We were a team and none of us thought about color until one night coming home on the bus from an out of town game. As was our habit, the bus pulled up to a restaurant. The coach ran inside to make sure they had room for us—both girls and boys teams traveled together. On this particular night, he got back on the bus and told the driver to find another restaurant. But something was different. He was angry and finally word filtered back to the players that the eating establishment was segregated. Call me naïve, but that was the first time I had heard that word and was shocked at what it meant. Whoever heard of not serving someone because of color?

As a young child I had seen water fountains in department stores marked “white” and “colored.” I always wanted to drink the colored water, having never seen such a thing, but my mother never allowed it and didn’t explain the meaning of the signs.

Just before the 11th grade, Gwen transferred to an all black school. We girls were devastated. We had been friends since we were eight years old. I couldn’t imagine why she would leave and finally asked the reason. Always the tease, Gwen laughed and remarked, “I want to date!” Well, there it was! This was before cross-cultural dating in our community and nearby towns, so as a 16-year-old, I definitely understood and reluctantly hugged my friend goodbye.

I’m grateful to have had this experience early in life. To learn that friendship doesn’t depend on race, color or any outward appearance. It’s the same with families. Love isn’t confined to heredity. Though most children are born to their parents, many come by adoption as did our daughter, a four-year-old little girl of Hispanic and Native American heritage. When she grew up, she married a man of African American heritage and gave us a beautiful granddaughter, Monica, who stole our hearts the minute we saw her.

I write all of this because I think the world is tired of racism. I think most of us are quite comfortable with people of other races and nationalities. Racism is not really a “black and white” issue. It’s actually a matter of the heart. Unfortunately, our adopted daughter dealt with an attachment disorder her whole life and eventually abandoned her family, including her lovely daughter. But Monica still remains in my heart and in my life. She is my granddaughter and I will always be her grandmother. Nothing will change my love for her. And just for the record, you can put that in black and white.

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