It's Hard To Know
It had been a bad week. It was 1964 and a lot of ugly things had been happening around the country. Now I can't
remember which things were happening back then. I'd have to look them up in a history book. It's funny to remember
things that are now in history books. Anyway, Patrice (who was about 1 1/2 years old) and I were in the grocery
store on Nostrand Ave. We used to go there about twice a week. We knew all the clerks and often met our neighbors
there. It was a friendly place until one afternoon. We were at the counter getting our groceries checked out by
Margie. Pat was flirting with her as usual. He was the cutest boy-child who ever existed, and I wasn't the only
one who thought so.
Two elderly ladies with canes came in and stopped and looked at Pat who was giggling at Margie. The one said to
the other, "That's one of the mixed breed" pointing at Pat with an ugly sneer on her face. They moved
on into the store. I stood absolutely still as if someone had slapped me across the face. I wanted to yell at them,
scream ugly things back at them. But I just stood there, sort of paralyzed. Margie, the clerk, rolled her eyes
at them and then said to me, "Honey, don't pay them no mind. They just ignorant folk" I smiled at her
and said “I know, you're right”, but it hurt. I'm not sure whether it hurt or enraged me. Probably both. I felt
so helpless. I couldn't even think of what I should have said that would have made a difference. Pat hadn't noticed
the two old ladies at all. But he was only 1 1/2 years old. What would happen later when he understood more?
The next day he and I were walking to the park. He liked to inspect things on the sidewalk, so walking was a very
slow proposition. I stood waiting for him as he crouched poking at a line in the sidewalk that had some interesting
pebbles, I suppose. Maybe bugs. Then I spotted an old lady with a large black hat on, wearing a longish black dress
the block towards us. She was not black however; she was white as the driven snow. She wasn't one of the two I
had seen yesterday, but she was going to pay for them, I thought. She stared at me and then down at Pat as she
made her way slowly toward us. I was ready. I had a number of sentences lined up to fight back any racist remarks
she might make. I had been thinking them up the night before. If they didn't do any good, at least they would make
me feel better. Boy oh boy, here she comes, I thought, I'm ready this time. Just as she got within a few feet of
us she looked at me with a lovely smile and said," When they're that age aren't they just cute enough to eat"
and she passed us on by. I stood there, my mouth hanging open. I sighed deeply in confusion. I took Pat's hand
and we walked on down toward the park.
Another time Pat sat on my lap on the subway not long after the above incidents. I was always alert to anything
that might harm my child. A man got on and sat opposite us on those seats that border the train doors. He scowled
at me and at Pat. He did it for quite a while. I got more and more tense. All of a sudden my very social child
called to him and waved. "Hi" he said to the grim stranger. The man's eyes widened and then he grinned
and said "Hi" back and I relaxed.
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