Some of the most progressive minded people are White guys who wear John Deer baseball caps, drive pick-up trucks and chew tobacco. How oxymoronic does that sound? As unlikely as it may be, it’s probably true. I remember when I was about twelve years old, I was working one summer with my grandfather. We were bailing hay, outside of my grandfather’s small farm operation, to make some extra money. We were working with a poor White family, who sharecropped on-what I thought to be- a rich White guy’s land.
I don’t remember much detail about the family with which my grandfather and I were working, but I do remember how they interacted with us. You’ve got to remember, this was in 1962, John F. Kennedy was still president and none of the historic Civil Rights Legislation that would come in the sixties had been put on the books. Separate but equal was still strong in Southern public schools, even though the Supreme Court had ruled separate schools for Blacks and Whites was unconstitutional. Let me get back to this poor White family. These folks were like no other White family I had ever been around. The father treated my grandfather with respect that I had never seen any White person treat him. His sons even referred to my grandfather as Mr. Jeffrey, and they always answered him with yes sir and no sir.
Bailing hay was some of the hardest work I had ever done. At twelve years of age, I hadn’t been asked to do a lot of the really hard work. I, along with the other young men, would remain on the trailer and arrange the bails for transport to a storage facility. If memory serves me well, one of the boys drove the tractor. My grandfather and the father of my co-laborers did most of the heavy lifting.
I had gone on other part-time work assignments with my grandfather, and we had always brought our lunch along with us. Normally, we would find a shady place to sit, rest and eat our provisions until it was time to return to work. The most shocking thing happened on the first day of working with this family. When lunch time came, the father invited my grandfather and me to come into their home to have lunch with them. The look on my grandfather’s face was indescribable. This had to be the first time in his life, and it would be the last time, that he would be invited to sit down to take bread with a White family.
I don’t remember a lot about these unusual White folks. I don’t even remember their names, but fifty-six years later I do remember their hospitality. Maya Angelou is famous for a saying, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Fifty-six years later, I still feel a comfortable level of warmness in my being whenever I think about our encounter with this poor, unusual White family, in Arkansas, in 1962. This was the first time I was afforded a sense that people are just people; we work, eat and laugh at the same things. We’re motivated by all elements of God’s creation to react similarly in seeking comfort, survival and success in the much the same manner.
I’ve experienced a lot of life since that summer of 1962. Much of it has been dark and unaccommodating; however, I’ve been blessed to have numerous encounters with people from all walks of life that have shattered stereotypes assigned to them. Usually, these were people who lived as God would have them to, whether they knew it or not.
I’m old and blessed…hope you will be too.