Friday with Friends.
People are complex.
Do you agree?
Cruising on a shrimp boat in Louisiana
Our lives are made up of interwoven roles. Mother, daughter, sister, brother, son, father, company employee, volunteer. The list goes on. However, sometimes its easier, healthier even, to distance one role from another.
For example, I once worked in a very competitive and stressful environment. I never discussed my personal life with anyone there, so much so that after two years when I resigned, people were shocked to learn that I was married.
(No, I didn’t even wear a wedding ring to work.)
In the complexity of life, it is said that none of us escape childhood without at least one wounding. As adults, we learn to protect our hearts and hide our wounds. Keep them from plain sight.
Is my wounding smaller than yours? Is yours smaller than mine? What causes a wounding in one person, may not impact another in the same way. Yet the wound is still there. I choose empowerment over victimhood. I choose to be informed by my childhood and not controlled.
It’s my opinion that anyone experiencing racism and prejudice feels the sting of it. The degree is not the important measure. The critical point is that we have the power as individuals and groups to make the decision to conduct ourselves with integrity and accountability. To be inclusive. To stand down fear of differences. To have our actions come from a place of compassion within ourselves. We have the power to strive to be the best “self” we are able. It’s all about choice.
Shrine on top of Mt. Hakone in Japan.
Cajun grandmother and me.
Below is a story. It’s fiction. However, the event that prompted the writing of the story is a real-life experience. Mine.
by Linda Joyce
Brakes squealed as the driver slowed the school bus and passed a smaller one stopped by the side of the road. Hannah peered out the window. Flashers from the other bus snapped off and on, quick stabs of yellow, the only color in the grey Nebraska countryside glistened against the snow. She tried to catch a glimpse of the kids on the other bus, but fogged windows made it impossible to see anything except faint silhouettes in the last rays of the December afternoon.
Mr. Charlie pulled off the road, and the bus jerked to a stop.
Why is the bus stopped? Did someone die from the cold?
Hannah rubbed her mitten-clad hands and blew warm air into them as she’d seen her daddy do whenever he came in from the cold. Since she’d started kindergarten, she paid more attention to grownup things. After all, her mother reminded her daily that she was a big girl now. She had to be brave and do big girl things, like riding the bus to the city for school.
“Stay in your seats,” Mr. Charlie barked. He pointed to Mary in the seat ahead of Hannah. “You’re in charge.” Then, he opened the doors. Cold air whipped down the aisle. It reminded Hannah of a cartoon where Winter had long skeletal fingers like the bare branches of trees and blew a frosty breath that covered everything. Hanna shivered against the chill.
Mr. Charlie hopped down the steps and signaled to Mary who jumped up, ran past the first two rows of seats and closed the doors behind him. Turning around with lips pursed and eyes squinted, Mary scanned the bus, as if daring anyone to move. She planted her feet and crossed her arms like the avenging angel Hannah had seen in a picture Bible. Mary looked as scary as that angel, but Hannah wasn’t afraid. Though Mary was a third grader, she had tried to help her several times. Besides, Mary had said she only made mean faces to keep the third-grade boys in line.
Hannah pulled her knitted scarf closer around her neck to block a frigid draft. How late would she be? The bus ride to and from school usually took thirty minutes. Hannah’s mother had bought a watch and taught her to tell time.
“Now, you always know when you come home,” Mother had said.
But Hannah hadn’t needed the watch. The bus driver kept a reliable schedule. Daily, when the bus reached the weathered wooden wagon next to the Danby Farm sign, the watch’s little hand landed on four and the big hand on nine. Then, bus ride would take only fifteen minutes longer. Yet, only when they reached the Danby farm, half way into the trip, was when the bus finally warmed up against the bitter cold– at least warm enough so that when she got off the bus, she could run home without her teeth chattering.
Hannah ran home every day even though her mother scolded and told her not to. “It is no good lady-like behavior,” Mother said. “If you run, you fall, you ruin tights. I bought two new pair already. No extra money.”
After the last time she fell in the mud made from melting snow, Daddy had made her march the path from the bus stop to home with him. “It’s only a hundred yards. I expect you to obey your mother, sugar pie,” he had said and tweaked her ear.
But, after leaving the bus each day, Hannah ran most of the way home to escape the boys. She walked the last few yards to catch her breath, so her mother wouldn’t know she’d disobeyed.
Once, her mother had caught her running. Mother was visiting a neighbor who lived half way between home and the bus stop. Mother stepped from the porch and surprised Hannah.
“I saw bus through window. I meet you and we walk home together,” Mother said. “Now, I have to punish. You not obey.”
Hannah hung her head. Her mother’s disappointment weighed heavy in her heart. But she couldn’t dare explain why she disobeyed. Mother wouldn’t understand. Hannah accepted that breaking the rules brought consequences. She took three whacks on her bottom with a paddle without a sound. No dessert after dinner had been more painful.
The boys taunted her in whispers and brought her thoughts back to the cold bus. Humming under her breath, she tried to shut the boys out. Tried to think of something warm. That’s what Daddy had taught her. He said it never snowed in New Orleans, his hometown, and he’d gotten used to the Nebraska cold. It only took mind over matter, whatever that meant, and she had to focus on something warm like the waters of Lake Pontchartrain. He made her close her eyes and picture them riding in Grandpa’s boat with the sun on their faces. She did as he said, but had lied when he’d asked if she felt warmer.
Later, she’d learned Daddy sometimes practiced “do as I say, not as I do,” like the night she pretended to be asleep when Mother checked on her. Mother added a blanket on top of the bed, turned on the night light and left the bedroom door opened a crack. Hannah could hear Daddy talking from the next room.
“Darlin’, this place is going to kill me. Death by freezing. I hate working in the cold and the snow. I especially hate being stuck in a place where pig stink is the smell of money.”
That night, Hannah snuck into her parents’ bedroom while they slept. She opened her father’s wallet and pulled out a dollar bill. Sniffed. What was wrong with her nose? The money hadn’t smelled like Darby Farm. It had no smell at all.
Mr. Charlie’s return interrupted the boys’ taunts. “Kids, we have to help these students. Their bus is broke down and we’re gonna give them a ride. Boys stand. Girls, scoot over. Three to a seat. Once the girls from the other bus are seated, you boys fill in the empty spots. Some of you older ones may have to sit on the floor.”
In relief, Hannah exhaled. She wouldn’t have to sit on the floor. The snow they’d tracked in when they boarded the bus had melted into wet pools. If she came home with a dirty coat and stained tights, Mother wouldn’t understand.
A murmur of protest followed Mr. Charlie’s instructions. Earl Barton, the biggest third grader, grumbled something, but Hannah couldn’t make out his words.
“We’ll do this in silence.” Mr. Charlie’s voice rang sharp as cold air snaked on to the bus.
The girls from the other bus boarded single file. “Girls, go to the back and fill in those seats first.”
Hannah peeked at them as they passed. She didn’t know any of the girls. Each wore a navy blue coat, navy blue tights and a plaid navy blue-and-white skirt. Except for their hair, some blonde and some brown, she couldn’t tell them apart.
Once the girls were seated, the kindergarten boys from Hannah’s class filled in the few open seats, but Mr. Charlie didn’t make the older boys sit on the floor. They stood, including Earl, and held on to the metal loops on the side of each seat. Then, Mr. Charlie put the bus in gear and pulled from the side of the road.
Something hard stung Hannah in the back of the head. A penny dropped to the floor. She whipped around to see who threw it.
“Pst.” Earl stood in the aisle next to the seat behind Hannah’s. He looked like a green snowman in his puffed out jacket and a hoodlum with his ski cap pulled low over his forehead. “You wanna be one of us for a change? Here’s your chance. You gotta help us when we get off the bus.”
A tiny thread of joy spread through Hannah.
I can be like the rest of the kids?
“Well, yes or no? You in or out?”
Hannah bobbed her head “yes” several times, then faced the front of the bus with her heart pounding hard in her chest. Uneasiness crept up her spine. A ribbon of fear replaced the joy.
Mr. Charlie turned the bus onto the snow-covered gravel lot the neighborhood used as a bus stop. Silence replaced the crunching sound the bus tires usually made when rolling over the rocks. Snow had covered the ground since Hannah boarded the school bus for school at noon. Now the world looked clean and fresh, though it was almost dark outside.
Hannah hugged her book bag close and waited to exit the bus. When it was her turn, she rose from her seat and followed Mary.
“When you get off the bus, go to the rear so the driver can’t see us,” Earl whispered from behind.
Hannah stepped off the bus. Ahead to her right, Mary had stopped and turned. “Come on, Hannah, I’ll walk you home today. It’ll be dark as pitch by the time we get there.”
Hannah stepped toward Mary.
Earl piped up as he exited the bus. “Naw, Mary. You go on. Pipsqueak is gonna be one of us today.”
“Hannah, don’t listen to him. Anything he’s up to is bad.” Mary reached out a hand, but took a few steps away from the bus. “Come with me.”
“Move away from the doors!” Mr. Charlie shouted. “The rest of the kids have to get off.”
Hannah froze. Her stomach knotted. She took two steps away from the door, then found herself sandwiched between Mary and Earl. Other kids exited, turned and walked in front of the bus, leaving the snow-covered lot while Earl’s boys gathered behind the bus. Twilight had faded. No streetlight lit the way. No stars shined overhead. Snow reflected a bit of light.
Hannah watched Mary walk away. Earl grabbed Hannah’s arm and pulled. She fought to stay upright as he yanked her along with him.
“We don’t like them Catholics. They worship idols. We’re gonna get them stinking Catholic girls.” Earl’s whisper was razor sharp.
A boy Hannah didn’t know shoved a snowball into her hand.
Earl glanced around the group. “Wait until Mr. Charlie pulls onto the street. Then, throw the snowballs at the targets.”
Hannah trembled. She wanted to run away, but if she did, the boys would throw snowballs at her, like they had before. It hurt when they struck her head, legs and face. The boys had packed the snowballs with rocks, but snow-covered rocks hadn’t hurt as much as when they threw just rocks at her.
December 7th. She would remember it always. There was no snow on the ground that day. The boys had pelted her with stones. They shouted “traitor” and “killer” and other things she hadn’t understood. When she made it home, bleeding from a sharp rock that hit her face, her mother took one look and cried. Shame washed over Hannah. What had she done wrong?
Later that same evening, Daddy took her aside. “Today is Pearl Harbor Day. In 1941, the Japanese bombed the harbor, which brought America into a war. Some people blame all Japanese. Even Japanese-Americans, like you.”
His sadness scared Hannah. She held back tears remembering her mother’s words about having to behave like a big girl.
“Later in the war, Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Japan. Mother had family who died… That was thirty years ago. The war has nothing to do with you. Mother loves you. I love you. We’re a family. The Bible teaches that God loves all of His children.”
As Mr. Charlie pulled the bus onto the street, Hannah remembered her mother’s tears and heaved the snowball across the lot away from everyone.
“No!” she shouted.
Startled, the boys looked at her. She turned to the girls from the Catholic school. “Run! Run for your lives! I’ll stop them as long as I can.”
“You dirty Jap,” Earl snarled at her. “Grandpa told me never to trust a dirty Jap. They’ll try to do hari-kari on you. I thought ‘cuz you were only half, you’d help get them Catholics.”
Hannah threw down her book bag. Faced the boys. She planted her feet as she’d seen Mary do. She held her arms out straight. No boy would run past her to hurt those girls. “Run!” she shouted again, then closed her eyes tight. Waited for snowballs to hit her.
She squinted through one eye to peek at the boys. They were running away. Confused, she opened both eyes as the boys disappeared into the darkness.
Mother’s voice sounded scared. Hannah turned.
Mother ran toward her, arms extended like angel wings. She bent down, scooped Hannah up and held her close.
“Daijobu? Okay?” Mother asked as tears streaked down her face.
Hannah hugged Mother. Snuggled close. Warmth wrapped around her. Just like the child in the picture bible comforted by an angel with large white protecting wings, safety enveloped her.
“Yes, Mother. Daijobu desu. I’m okay…now.”
What choices will you make today?
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