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And Unlikely Friends…

November 23, 2006

When you develop such an intimate, tightly held bond with someone … surely you have to wonder, “Was this destiny?”

Growing up “Polk County” I had little to absolutely no exposure to people of other races. I have heard the “n” word all my life … sometimes in a derogatory fashion, sometimes because that’s the only word someone knew to describe black people. But in my mother’s house … the word was NEVER used … and quite honestly, it wasn’t even an issue probably because until I was a freshman in high school — it was not a topic of discussion.

In high school, that’s when I actually encountered people of other races…through sports and 4-H club. I remember meeting a fella’ from Meigs County named Jeff. We had a district-wide camp retreat in Greasy Creek and the poor boy was the only black person on the place. Nevertheless, he was treated just the same as everybody else. And innocently enough, we conducted activities just like we always did at camp. It was not until the music started playing and the “coupling” took place that we noticed the BIG difference.

Now I was a dancer from way back. And all red-neck, white boys knew was slow dancing … and still that was just shifting from one foot to the other while wrapping your arms around your partners waist or neck. But Jeff … now he was up for “bustin’ a move.”

So I danced with him. And I had a great time. So did he. And the “watchers” stood in awe that we held hands as he would spin me under his arm or do whatever “disco” move we could fumble through. No one said anything … they just stood and watched. A few joined in “The Hustle” (or Electric Slide…or Boot Scoot, depending upon which side of the tracks you were from). Everyone had a good time. The music stopped … so did the dancing … so did the coupling. And we all went to our cabins and then back to our respective communities the next day. And mostly, that was all there was to that.


I started getting letters from Jeff. At first, it was just friendly letters, but then there was a lot more heart revealed in them. He wanted to date me … but I was scared. And I was embarrassed because I was scared. Scared of what? First of all, my daddy. Second of all, public opinion. Thirdly, I was scared of me. (I wasn’t sure if I could handle the thoughts and ideals that were developing inside my heart and head).

So I tried to ignore him … but that didn’t work. I ended up hurting his feelings … and I’ve never had or taken the opportunity to rectify that.

A few months after that, I became friends with another young man. He and his brother were to that date, the only black people to ever attend Polk County High School. The kicker was that they did not accept that they were black. Truth was, except for the color of their skin — they were not black.

His name was Joe. And he was a gorgeous person — inside and out. We talked on the phone most every night, but we weren’t “boyfriend/girlfriend.” We were just friends.

He played tight end for the Polk County Wildcats. He was Number 82 — an awesome defensive player. Tall, slender, muscular and fast as lightning.  And he was as redneck as they come.  Though his hair was kinky and full, he parted it on the side. ( a pick or a fade would have done wonders but that would have required him embracing his ethnic roots) And, being from Greasy Creek, except for the brown skin, he looked like every other “ridge runner” always packing a dip of Skoal in his lip, donning work boots or “pulp-wood haulin’ boots” to school and claimed hunting and hill-climbing on his motorcycle as the best pastimes a man could have.

I remember once we were playing Charleston High School — a school that to us seemed predominantly black. (at least the football team was. )  Joe told me that upon arriving at Charleston for the game, some of the players from CHS came to him and asked him what he was doing on “that” team, and going to “that” school. (You see, Polk County has had a reputation for many years of being very prejudiced against black people)

Joe told them, “Man, it’s where I live. And I ain’t black. I’m just a dark-skinned white boy.”

Interesting, huh?

I guess one might wonder how Joe and his brother came to reside in Polk County.  Well, I don’t know the whole story, nor can I vouch for what is the TRUE story. But best I can gather from what he told me, and what the rumor mill dished out … His mother, who is white and from Greasy Creek, moved to “up north”  in the early 1960’s.  She had two older daughters who are white.  (blond and blue-eyed)   Somehow, she had twins who are black.  I’ve heard upon that happening, the man to whom she was married, BOLTED!  So she and the children (all of them) moved back home to Greasy Creek.  (she was a braver woman than me to do that in the 1960’s)

Joe and I talked about “everything.” Dreams we had for life. Family. Football. My “want” to be a cheerleader. His “want” to prove himself to those who had judged him for so long. We became best friends.

Other friends made fun of me for being Joe’s friend. But that only made me more determined to go against the norm. Joe never knew this. He and his brother had fought most every day of their young lives with people who would call them the “n” word. Finally, in high school and through football, they had become such formidable opponents and eventually “assets” to the PCHS Wildcat team … that the “n” word had been held for only private conversations “about them.”

Joe thought he had finally won their respect. I knew differently but I didn’t tell him.

Then one day, in the gym, some boys were messing with me…sort of cutting up. I knew they were up to something, but wasn’t sure what it was. Suddenly, three of them grabbed me, pushed me up against the wall and held me there … Joe was standing close by.  Seemingly, they were just playing and kind of wrestling around. Then one named Michael called out to Joe, “Come on, Joe. Kiss her!”

Joe walked over and kissed me on the mouth … as I was still resisting and kicking and trying to push them away. After he kissed me, they let me go … and Michael started dancing around, and singing, “She kissed a n****r!” Joe’s face went ashen. I started crying and called them some terrible names. Joe didn’t know what they were up to. He too was a victim of their game.

He met me after school a few days later and apologized. He really didn’t expect it to turn out the way it did. I accepted his apology and told him it wasn’t his fault. As I turned to walk on home, he took my hand and pulled me back towards him … and kissed me on the cheek. Then we both looked around to see if any one had seen. And without any further word, he went his way — and I went mine.

At the end of that school year, the annual athletic banquet rolled around. Joe was expecting to get “Defensive Player of the Year” because he had scored the most defensive points. He asked me to accompany him to this honor banquet and I gladly accepted.

Then someone called my daddy and told him that I was going with Joe, to which he threw what we endearingly refer to as a “Hicks Fit.” And again, I was afraid … and I ended up having to tell Joe I could not go. I didn’t tell him all that my daddy said … just that he said I could not go. Joe asked, “Is it because I am dark skinned?” And I said, “yes.” He said he understood and that he didn’t blame me. And that was the end of that.

I always felt like I had let him down by not standing up to my daddy. Things were never exactly the same again. We talked but it was all surface stuff after that.

Many years later, when I was going to Cleveland State, I suddenly realized that in this world … there are lots of different kinds of people. I also realized just how deprived I had been all my life “not knowing the richness of diversity.”

I was in a history class at CSCC and we were studying the civil rights movement and it was only then that I realized that I had never studied any of this in my life … and I was 28 years old at the time. I had never heard of Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Frederick Douglas…the list could go on and on and on. Basically the only thing I knew about Martin Luther King, Jr., was that he was shot and he “had a dream.”

Suddenly with a little bit of education, a whole new world opened up to me. It was a world of unlikely friends. Unlikely because I could have lived my whole life in Polk County … never leaving the county … never knowing anything other than what I had always known. I guess that’s not really a bad thing. After all, familiarity brings great comfort to a lot of people.

But I KNOW what I have experienced in my heart and life … and I can’t honestly imagine living a full and fulfilled life without the love and friendships I have found and experience through diversity.

In the past, there was a period of my life in which I was a “minority” in my social circle. Everyone I knew and hung around with was black. Friendships and relationships developed in a way that I never dreamed could happen. It was so unlikely … and yet, in all honesty, I’ve never felt more connected or comfortable in my own skin than when I was around these friends of “color.”

It got to the point that I really, really never even noticed a difference between us … until someone “on the outside looking in” would point it out.

For several years, I became somewhat of a “foster relative” to a little boy named Artie. He was about six years old when he first started coming to my house to spend the weekends. For about three years, he was at my house every chance he got. I loved him dearly … and he loved me. I took him with me just about everywhere we went … including church.

I remember one day we were riding in the car and he said something about “white people not liking black people at church.” He said he could tell by the way they stared at him.

I wanted to say it wasn’t so … but I really wasn’t sure that he was altogether wrong.

So I admitted that there might be some people that way … but not all. “I’m white and I love you, Artie. I love black people.”

He said, “Carole, you are not really white. You are sort of gray.”

That may have been the best thing anyone has ever said to me. And he was only seven years old when he said it.

For the past seven years, I have had very little contact with these friends. Not because of any ill-feelings or such … just simply because my life and time has been spent in the throes of being a single mother and my job at church. But I’m going to tell the honest to goodness truth — I miss them so! And I just didn’t realize how much until of late.

A few old friendships have been renewed. For various reasons (even excuses), I had avoided these relationships. There were reasons that would have created some personal discomfort … but still not because of any animosity or ill-feelings. There had been some miscommunication and pure old “lack of communication” that has led to some awkwardness. But in recent days, this has been worked out … and the friendships have been restored.

As I have pondered upon the seven year gap, and the very truth that we are such good, good friends … I have experienced a roller coaster of emotions regarding the “fate” and/or “destiny” of such relationships. I have missed talking with my friends. I have missed laughing … and crying … and singing … and dancing … with my friends. I have missed the incredible connection that we have … not physically … but mentally and emotionally. I have missed the fullness that I feel in my heart when I am with them. And, I have missed the “ME” that I know when we are together … enjoying and experiencing life.

And I wonder … “how and why did I ever let that go?” And, “is it possible to ever enjoy it once again?”

I asked at the beginning of this blog about experiencing such an intimate and tightly held bond with someone that you might wonder, “was this destiny?”

These friendships were indeed “unlikely.” But I don’t see how such an incredible bond could have been created and even remain without some bit of “destiny.” Our objective now is to embrace and maintain these friendships in a healthy and honoring manner to bring glory to our Lord … our Creator … and the Best Friend we’ll ever have … Jesus Christ.

I look back over my 43 years, and I see such markers that pointed me to this place where I stand today.

I am no longer afraid to be friends with anyone … regardless of race or color.

I am no longer afraid of my daddy … nor the opinion of others … and I’m not afraid of me.

For if I were to succumb to any of those influences, I am afraid I might miss the opportunity to give and experience a love and friendship so strong and deep, that I might never get the chance again.

Lord God, please help me to love people … unlikely people like myself … in a way that brings you honor and glory.

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