Friday, August 24, 2012

Judgements

This won't be my typical blog. Usually I'm all sunshine and light, with silly stories about somebody's misadventures. But not today. Something has been stuck in my craw for a while now, and after trying to digest it for over a month, I think the whole topic deserves its own blog.

I went back down south this summer, time spent mostly in North Carolina. And although it was a good trip, after two years in New York, it just wasn't the soul-refreshing homecoming I was looking for.

For two years, I've lived in Upstate New York, where generally the attitude is one of relaxed acceptance for everybody. I'm not saying we all link hands and sing kumbayah with strangers, but here, I've found, as long as you're a decent human being, no one really gives a whoopie doo if you're protestant/catholic/muslim/hindu/white/brown/black/sunburned/Republican/Democrat/Libertarian/gay/straight/gay/bisexual/(insert your own label here). I've really been spoiled here, I think.

So I tootled on down to NC without a care in my head, all sunshine and light, just wanting my sweet tea, my biscuits, and my fried chicken, all served with a bit of ya'll and you'uns. Which is how I ended up at a Bojangles in Shelby, NC.

Many people have never heard of Shelby, NC, because it is a tiny, insignificant speck of a place, situated somewhere between Asheville and Charlotte. It's farming county. Rural. Pretty. Full of nice, ordinary people. The sort of place you think of if you ever think of boring, run-of-the-mill, southern towns.

So I'm in Bojangles, third in line.

The first people in line are a black family. A woman, a man, and two children-a boy and a girl. The girl was quietly standing there, and I honestly didn't pay her any attention, because it was the little boy who drew my interest. He looked to be four or five, and reminded me immediately of John. He had this plastic snake and was running around, telling me and everyone else in line that it was going to bite us. We were endulging him and playing along. He was a nice kid. High-spirited and happy.

In front of me was an elderly white lady, dressed head to toe in pink. She had big fluffy Southern old lady hair, and in all that pink, she looked like cotton candy and just as sweet. She was the sort of woman you loook at and just know that she's got a pie baking somewhere, and has fifteen grandchildren that all call her Meemaw, and has a big laugh and an equally big heart. Or at least that was the conclusion I drew after staring at the back of her Southern Lady separates for five minutes.

And then there was me. Southern girl, living in the North, about to go visit my best friend from college that I hadn't seen in over a year. Excited about my upcoming girls' weekend, thrilled to have left my boys in Asheville, and wondering whether I should get a bacon egg and cheese biscuit or stick to sausage. Well that, and survive a snakebite.

Finally I'm up to the front of the line. I order my biscuit (went with chicken, for a change), and then take my tray to the drink station to get my tea. Pink Lady is standing there too, and when she sees me, she sidles over to me and indicating the black family that has just taken their meal to go, half-sneers, "You think they was man and wife?"

I couldn't understand her heavy southern accent and said, "What?"

And she repeated, vitriolic, "You think they was man and wife?"

I do not do well with ugliness and confrontation, or racism and stupidity. Maybe if I had had an hour to compose a well thought out response, I could have come up with something better than, "I don't know." Which, as far as responses go, pretty much sucks. In my defense, I did add a Northern, "What the f--- do I care" tone to my "I don't know". But it wasn't enough.

What I should've said to Pink Lady, and what I'm saying now is this:

In a world of 7 billion people or so, where there are wars going on, millions dying of preventable diseases, polar ice caps melting, horrific natural disasters, poverty and starvation on a scale you can't even wrap your head around, rape, genocide, and mass-murdering serial killers, you are in Shelby, North Carolina, where, for the most part, life is pretty idyllic. And here you are, an older woman, on the tail end of the approximately 2,366,769,450 seconds you've been alotted to experience your life, wasting precious seconds getting bent out of shape about the domestic relationship of two individuals you will most likely never cross paths with again. For one thing, it's none of your business. And for another, in the grand scheme of things, what a trivial thing to get bent out of shape about. Those people were just minding their own business, trying to order some biscuits and gravy. And the whole time you've been playing with their son, and smiling at them, and I was imagining you in the best possible light, you've been standing there judging them!  And not just judging them, but stereotyping them in the worst possible way!

You know what, at least the dad was there! Have you thought about that? And at least the family was together! Doesn't THAT matter to you? Because let me tell you from experience, my dad and mom *were* "man and wife", briefly anyway, and that didn't prevent him from throwing me across the room into my crib like a football or making me stand in the corner of the room with my nose pressed into the crack when he wanted me out of the way. And no! I wasn't even being punished for anything. He just didn't want me around! And it didn't prevent him from abandoning me when I was two, never to be seen  again. But I guess that's ok with you, because my parents were white, and married. Or maybe it's not. Maybe you're judging me too. I don't really care right now. I'm not going to waste another second on you, you bitter, unenlightened harpy.

Oh, I'm judging you?

Well, that's the thing about judging someone. You can't always be right.







3 comments:

  1. amen, sister.

    i am so sorry to hear how your father acted toward you. good for your mother for carrying on without him.

    that old lady gets the phrase i have hated since i was little, a born southern girl raised in the north, and living back down here after 40 years away, other than trips to see extended family: bless her ever-loving pea-sized heart.

    up north, you know exactly where you stand with people. down south, it's a huge suspicious guessing game.

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  2. No matter where you come from there are people like this.

    So sad, for all I can feel is pity for them in their small-minded little, shallow lives. And so I tell them that.

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  3. Here's another Amen, Sister, from a fellow Southern girl. I've lived in the capital of South Georgia, otherwise known as Jacksonville, Florida, for 32 of my 46 years. We unfortunately have lots of those Harry's around here as well. Jacksonville's racism issues are the proverbial elephant in the room. It's very sad. I'm also very sad to hear what you endured as a child. I am a child of four divorces, so, no, "man and wife" isn't always the best...

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