That Girl’s Blog: One Word

I give a great deal of credit to my mother for raising me in such a way that I judged people based on their behavior and not by their appearances. I grew up on Cape Cod, attended college in the Midwest, a spend a little time living on the West coast and at the age of 19, I thought I was worldly and wise and ready to handle any and all situations that came my way.

I was naïve.

After college, I had the opportunity to travel around the country, not sure what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I was on my way to visit a friend and former classmate many miles from home when I stopped along the way to visit other friends for a weekend. On a whim, I called a radio station and was hired the following Monday.

I will not say where I was, because I don’t want to misrepresent a beautiful state which is home to beautiful gardens, beautiful beaches, and amazing food. The history of this state and the city I was living in is rich and varied. There are colleges and museums and theatres. There were grand houses with ivy-covered walls and gates. There are wonderful people who have lived there for generations and there is a great deal of pride and history everywhere you look.

There are novels based on the mysteries of this city and, while I was there, a major motion picture was being filmed on location. The people of the city were caricatures of their culture and everyone loved to tell stories – so long as you had time to sit and listen.

I have my own story from my time there and, although it will seem short, it has stayed with me for a very long time.

It was a five-mile drive from work to home. I was just outside the city in an area that reminded me a lot of parts of the Cape. There were duplexes and rental houses in neighborhoods. There was a high school with ball fields where I jogged and walked my dog. I waved and said hello to strangers and I felt safe at night and safe living alone.

Exactly half way between home and work, there was a grocery store. On this particular morning, I stopped to pick up a few things. As I was on my way into the store, a man whom I would guess was the same age as my father was on his way out. His arms were full of groceries, so I politely held the door open for him with a smile.

Just as he was thanking me, a large car pulled up. In my mind it’s a pick-up truck, but it could have been a sedan, too. I didn’t see the vehicle, I didn’t really hear it. What I heard was the voice from the driver:

“BOY! HEY! BOY! I’m talking to you!”

‘Boy?’ I looked around trying to find the child who was clearly in trouble for something.

There was no child. There was only the tall thin man holding his groceries.

“You know better than that! Don’t you ever let me see you doing that again!”

I was baffled, shocked, confused and a little scared. What had this man done?

“Do you hear me, N*****?”

The world around me when silent. My ears burned as I tried to digest what I was hearing. One word. One hateful toxic word. Obviously, I had heard that word before, but never delivered with such a jagged edge in front of me. 

Then through the silence: “Ma’am… please don’t hold the door again. You’ll get us both in trouble.” The soft voice was from the man whom I put on the same level as my father. His voice was as soft as a kindergarten teacher. He was someone I might have high-fived at the end of a jog or chatted with at the laundromat while waiting for the dryer to stop.

But with one cutting word shouted across a parking lot, suddenly he was black and I was white.

I was not as wise and worldly as I once thought. 

The only way I can describe how I felt was ashamed and scared.

The car (or truck) circled the parking lot a few times and finally left.

I never went back to the grocery store, although I often scanned the parking lot for the tall thin man with his groceries when I drove by. I wanted to ask his name. I wanted to know if he had children. I wanted to tell him I was sorry and that I should have told the man in the car to swallow his own ugly words.

It was a moment that only lasted a minute or less, but has stayed with me throughout my life. To this day, I make a point to hold doors for people, I smile at people whenever I can, I speak up and I cannot wait until I can throw my arms around my friends for great big hugs again. 

I am fortunate to have known a lot of people in my life and to have lived in many different parts of the country. The best lesson I learned is this: There are wonderful people everywhere and there are horrible people everywhere. In reality, most people fall somewhere along the spectrum of good and bad. The color of their skin, the books they read and the religion they do or don’t believe in has NOTHING to do with how I describe any of them. We are all human.

Treat each other better.

In the words of Johnny Cash: All your life you will be faced with a choice. You can choose love or hate. I choose love. 

 

If you have a story you’d like to share, I would like to listen: CatWilson@CapeCountry104.com 

There is also an inspiring Facebook group called “Let Me Tell You A Story” started by a Cape Cod woman named Marie Younger Blackburn, where you can share and read stories about race relations from the people who lived them.  

 

About Cat Wilson

Cat Wilson is "That Girl" on Cape Country 104 – a Cape Cod native and longtime Cape radio personality. She is a passionate supporter of Military and Veteran causes on the Cape and also hosts local music spotlight program, “The Cheap Seats” on Ocean 104.7.



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