Photo: The stomp rockets? Yeah, they got bored with that pretty quickly. Now? It’s a dirt gun. One little boy loads the dirt, another little boy stomps on the pad, dusty messy dirt goes flying, everyone falls over in a fit of giggles. Giggles, of course, devolve into screams of rage when Mama has to give little boys a bath before lunch time. Did Mama mention that she’d just scrubbed the bathtub that very morning? Oh, the joys of having little boys…
One of the interesting things about being a Black woman in suburban New England is that I find myself utterly invisible most of the time. Seriously. Straight out of Harry Potter of something–I walk through the world without much notice or care from anyone around me, which is usually fine. It makes me miss the South (where everyone you pass looks you in the eye and nods their head in acknowledgment as you pass), but there are benefits to it. But, as such magic powers go, when you take an action that makes you visible again, the record makes that ripping sound in the background and the whole world stops to stare at you. Well, not (always) that dramatically, but it is still noticeable.
Sometimes it is the subtle stupid shit. Like a few weeks ago when I’m at the Roche Brothers (without my children) to pick up a few things, and I roll my cart over to a desired fruit that is being blocked by an unattended cart with a purse in it. A woman comes flying past me in a flash of a moment to quickly pick up her purse, but not move her cart. Lovely. Or, like on Monday when I took my sons to the playground with the big sandbox and a mom, from clear across the playground, left her kid at the swingset to jog over and pick up her purse and diaper bag as I found an empty bench to sit. Didn’t even notice the thing until I noticed her running. Nice.
But these are rare occasions. Noticeable and annoying, but rare.
This week, however, was remarkable, because I experienced three instances when the invisibility cloak was taken away and I was pleasantly surprised.
The first came on the playground on the same day as the purse incident. I’d settled into some good momentum with my knitting, and a little old lady came to sit next to me. She must have been around my grandmother’s age. Longtime readers already know how I feel about little old ladies: I have a lot of respect for my elders, and they are usually harmless and even a touch hilarious. And this woman was no exception. And she wouldn’t stop talking. Her stream of consciousness went from everything from her youth in Brooklyn to some Black sailor she met in New York after World War II and segregation and racism and how it’s so wrong, and how cute my boys are and and and… seriously. I didn’t get a word in edgewise. I sat, stitched, nodded, mmmhmmed and uh-huhed in appropriate intervals… asked probing questions, which she either answered or didn’t answer and enjoyed myself. I don’t really know a lot about New York or Brooklyn, and certainly not in the World War II era, but that woman certainly took me there. Block by block. Story by story. And she made me forget my kids for a minute. “You know, it’s so relaxing to just sit here and talk to somebody for a moment. I figure, I see a young African-American woman with knitting needles in her hand! If that’s not someone to talk to, I don’t know who is!” It would happen to me again yesterday, with a woman going on and on about her successful children and her dramatic young grandson. Hilarious.
Then there was the local farm-stand this week. I took the boys on Wednesday in a mad search for corn to grill for dinner. I’d been meaning to stop by for a while after seeing all of the road-side signs for native corn, fresh peaches, and farm-fresh eggs. And I wasn’t disappointed. When the boys and I walked into the little shed full of some of the best fruits and veggies that I’ve seen all summer, the woman at the register was all over us–but in the best of ways. She started pointing out different items to the boys, letting them sample, putting stuff in their hands to feel or smell. She pointed out a butterfly and watched the boys chase it. While I was putting (way too much) stuff into my little shopping box, I kept giving the boys directives, reminding them to say “please” and “thank you,” and she turned to me and said, “You’re such a great mom. You’re doing an excellent job.”
My East Coast don’t-trust-anybody brain quickly told me that she was saying that to keep me shopping. But my eyes and ears told me differently. She was being sincere. And when she rang me up and I whipped out my card, and it didn’t go through because her machine was down, she asked me if I had cash or a check. I never carry cash or checks. It was a small total, so I told her I could run to the cash machine. She smiled warmly, gave me all of my items, told me to put them in my car and come back.
I found that remarkable. I was a first-time customer. We’d never met. I was trying to pay in good-faith, yes, but she really had no idea if I was going to come back. And yes, in a world where I feel like race relations are going to hell in a hand-basket, I think it is particularly remarkable that this woman would just let this random Black lady drive way with a bunch of her product without a care. I told her 20 times I’d be right back. She waved me off. Said she’d see me soon.
So when I got to the ATM and it spat my debit card back at me, saying that it was expired, I raced home, sprinted across my lawn and went up to get our (dusty, never used, has the wrong address on it) checkbook, sprinted back across the yard and drove as fast as I lawfully could back to the farm-stand. The woman greeted me with a warm and happy look as I, sweaty and out of breath, jogged back to her with a pen and my checkbook. “Our machines are back up! My dad had tied up the line!”
I puffed and laughed. It was funny. God just wanted me to get some exercise, clearly.
“Do you want to do the card or do you want to do the check?”
I ran back to my car to get my card. I handed it to her and said, “put an extra $5 on my order.”
“What? No! I’m ringing you up for $15!”
“Seriously,” I insisted, ” Please! Put an extra $5 on it.”
“I’m not even listening to you!” She handed me the receipt (for $15) to sign.
“You were really kind to me, and you didn’t have to be. I just… I really appreciate it,” I mumbled as I signed.
The woman patted my hand. “We’re all in this together, girl.” She walked over to the little fridge and handed me a bottle of cold water, gratis, and then walked me out to the parking lot.
“Your boys are so sweet. Especially the older one. He’s a great big brother. You’re doing a great job.”
“It’s not easy, but we try. It’s a lesson every day, you know?”
“I do know. You’ve gotta meet my son! There is no manual for this, you know?”
I nodded solemnly. “There is no manual for this.”
As I started walking toward my car, she told me her name (which I won’t write here). “It’s nice to meet you!”
I turned around, extended my hand, looked her in the eye, introduced myself. She laughed, “You’ve got such a good handshake! I mean, really good!” I thought it was a weird thing to say, but I thanked her anyway.
I type out all of that because it’s striking to me. Where my actions were all normal (keeping my children under control, reminding them to say please and thank you, doing my best to repay a kindness, giving a good strong handshake when formally introducing myself), they were remarkable to her. Take that as you will. There can be a lot of interpretation there. On the other-hand, what was normal to her (giving good customer service, allowing boys-to-be-boys, giving the benefit of the doubt to another mom) was extraordinary to me. You can take that as you will. There can be a lot of interpretation there, too. Something really powerful happened in those moments, though, and that’s why I share. In a world where a lot of stuff is going wrong because of closed minds and cold hearts, it’s nice to write out the good and hopefully have it spread.
So on this Friday, which is cold and rainy here in Massachusetts, I wish you a warm heart, an open mind, ears to listen and a mouth to speak support and truth. I wish you the wisdom to say “please” or “thank you” or to give someone the benefit of the doubt because you have no reason not to. I wish you a loving act of kindness, performed by yourself or received from another. I wish you food, prepared by loving hands, served with the intention of building you up as summer wanes. I wish you a prayer (if you are a person who believes in it and wants it) from people who you love and maybe even a few who you don’t know. I wish you the powerful understanding that you are a person who belongs here, that you are deserving the the good things that happen to you, and that someone out there, somewhere, loves you.
Until Monday, take care.