I grew up in the 50s with parents who both worked while a neighbor took care of me after school. Except on Fridays. Fridays were special because Annette came to clean house and I was allowed to come straight home from school. I loved Annette and while she worked, we talked. I guess I mostly asked questions and Annette answered them, always in a way that satisfied my seven year-old curiosity.
Annette was a large woman who had never married, but lived at home to take care of her mother. I can close my eyes right now and remember her nurturing scent and the feel of her flabby arms holding me close to her enormous body.
Annette felt like a member of our family and I heard my mother say on more than one occasion that she didnt know what shed do without her. One time when my parents went out of town for the weekend, Annette stayed with me. When she tucked me in that night she kissed me on the cheek and stayed to listen to my prayers. Before she left the room, I stopped her with another question.
Are your toes black?
She tilted her head back and let out the loudest laugh I had ever heard from her.
Annette? Whats so funny?
You are, she said. She laughed until she had tears rolling down her cheeks.
What did I say?
Oh, baby, youre one of a kind. Its not what you say so much as it is the innocent way you say it.
Well, are your toes black? I waited for an answer.
Yes, honey, they are. She pulled my covers back and grabbed my toes with her hand. Your toes are white, just like the rest of your body, and my toes are black. Do you think God would make our toes a different color than the rest of our bodies?
No, I guess not. It made perfect sense. Good night, Annette.
Good night, sweetie. You have pleasant dreams and Ill be here when you wake up in the morning.
Annette stayed with us for many years. Others followed but never replaced her. When my father had a heart attack I was living in Oklahoma City and didnt make it home before he died. After the funeral, Annette called and said she read about his death in the newspaper. Now, as a 27 year-old mother of three, I cried about how sorry I was that he had died alone.
Honey, he didnt die alone. God was there with him.
But I wasnt. There are still so many things I want to say to him, I said.
He knows you loved him, baby. Dont worry. Now he has all the answers.
I hope so.
Have I ever lied to you before? Annette said.
Now dont you go worrying your pretty little head over this. Your daddy knew you loved him, so you just remember the good times. Hes in Gods hands now, and what better place could he be?
Annettes words were comforting and suddenly I was seven years old, wanting to feel her big arms around me again. I knew I would bury my head in her neck and cry until there were no tears left. I remembered another time when she tried to help e believe everything would work out.
At the age of 15, I worked in a restaurant and became friends with a young man named Jimmy. We were about the same age but because we were from different backgrounds and lived on the opposite ends of town, we always had something to talk about. He traveled a great distance to come to work and gave most of his money to his mother at the end of the week. At times I wondered why Id been given so much while others had so little.
After awhile it became apparent that my friendship with Jimmy was upsetting to some. One day the owner pulled me aside and said, Youre going to have to quit associating with that boy.
Do you mean Jimmy?
The dishwasher, she said.
Okay. I want you to quit being friendly to Jimmy. It looks bad.
What do you mean? I asked.
Its just not a good idea for you to be so friendly.
Why? I asked with the persistence of a two year-old.
Facing me, she put her hands firmly on my arms. Just listen to me. If you want to keep working here, you are going to have to stop associating with that boy. End of discussion.
His name is Jimmy, I said.
I stood firm and looked her in the eye but she couldnt look back at me. she turned around and walked off. I felt the tension in my body. I was both furious and confused. Jimmy was my friend. Why did I have to pretend he wasnt?
The following week I came to work and discovered Jimmy was gone. I never knew if he quit or was fired. He just left without a word.
Not knowing where else to turn, I called Annette. I hadnt talked to her in years but it felt like yesterday. After a few minutes of catching up, I went right to my problem.
I work at a restaurant and am friends with a guy named Jimmy. Last week the owner told me I couldnt be friends with him anymore. It didnt look good to the customers. I never meant to hurt him. I just treated him like I do everyone else, just like you always taught me. Now Jimmy has lost his job and I feel awful about it. Did I do something wrong?
No, baby, you didnt do anything wrong. You have a wonderful gift of viewing people just as God intended. Always listen to your heart and that still, small voice you know as your conscience. Just treat others like youd want to be treated. Dont let others discourage you, even if they are older and think they are right. God is the only one you need to worry about pleasing.
That was thirty years ago and Ive tried to live by her advice. We may learn attitudes from our parents, but that doesnt mean we cant break the cycle. Todays young adults are not only teaching their children, but educating their parents.
This weekend I went to San Antonio and while waiting to be seated at a restaurant on the Riverwalk, I observed a middle-aged man with a man who appeared to be about 25.
The older man said, I feel like Im in Mexico.
Why? the younger man asked.
Because there are so many Mexicans here, he said.
The comment caught my attention and I strained to hear the other mans response.
They prefer to be called Hispanic, Dad, not Mexicans, the younger man said.
Well, whatever they are, there are sure a lot of them.
Really? I hadnt noticed, the younger man said.
Good for you, I thought. Its one thing to ignore differences and yet another to not even see them at all. I was reminded of a conversation I overheard between my son and a classmate years ago.
Where do I sign up for the class? Spencer asked.
Get in line behind that Oriental guy, his friend said.
You mean the guy in the red shirt? Spencer asked.
Yeah, I guess so.
Let me tell you something. First of all, hes not Oriental. Hes Asian. Someone from Asia is Asian; something from Asia is Oriental. Hes a person. Not a thing.
Why are you making such a big deal out of it?
Because it is a big deal.
I had to smile. I knew Annette would be proud.
Just last week I had an interesting conversation with one of the young girls in my Sunday School class who asked if I thought interracial marriage was wrong.
Wrong? I asked. No, I dont think its wrong, but marriage is difficult even if youre from the same cultural backgrounds. Try mixing cultures and youll have obstacles you havent even considered. If you really love each other and pull together against the world I believe you can make it work, but you cant allow the prejudices of others to tear you apart. Unfortunately, many still believe love shouldnt cross religious, racial, or cultural boundaries, and you will both feel prejudices from each side because you have crossed that line.
I watched the expression on her face as she tried to absorb what Id said.
Have you ever seen A Patch of Blue? I asked.
What is that? she asked.
Its a movie about a blind girl who falls in love with a black man. Not only is she visually challenged, but blinded to prejudice. In her world, there is no color.
She was color blind, wasnt she? the young girl asked in complete innocence.
Yes. Thats an interesting way to put it, I said, wishing I had used that phrase myself. For a moment I was lost in time as I remembered my own innocence and how it had been taken from me by adults who thought they knew what was best.
What are you thinking about? my young friend asked.
Oh, I was thinking about a young man I used to know when I was about your age, I said. We worked together and became friends until one day we were told we couldnt be friends anymore.
Why? she asked.
It made people uncomfortable, I guess.
What happened to him?
I wish I knew.
What was his name? she asked.
His name was Jimmy.
back to the Short Story Page.His Name is Jimmy, 11 August 1997