Friday, November 30, 2007

Visiting Uncle Pete

When P and I were young and innocent we visited the relatives of J, our Afro-American friend, while we were travelling through the Deep South of the US. They lived in the boondocks of South Carolina, and we had trouble finding them, so we asked in a convenience store in a small town.
Oh, yes! They knew him. They knew that ole’ nigger, said the white owner. And he did, for his directions brought us to the farm.
Uncle Pete was expecting us. But he wasn’t expecting us to be white. We saw the double take he was trying to hide. The white salesman, however, with whom he was doing business at that moment, was quicker to react. He immediately came up to us and shook our hands. Why? Because we were one of his kind?
Uncle Pete quickly recovered from the shock and received us most warmly. We were introduced to his children and his grandchildren, who all flocked to the house, living nearby.
Aunt Jemima fed us a gorgeous meal with fried chicken and black-eyed peas and kale, and we all sat around the table talking and eating.
Jo, uncle Pete’s son had us completely sussed. We were Dutch, right? P worked at the Dutch embassy, right? Well, he knew how to deal with spies. Charm the hell out of them, that’s what one did. And so he talked and talked, and told jokes and slapped P on the back.
He was a charming man, and we only learnt later that he hadn’t trusted us at all.
We took a little walk on the land, and were introduced to more people. One of them, a retired fieldhand, had the clearest lake-blue eyes in his dark brown shining face. Absolutely stunning!
We then joined the family on their visit to the church, and sat as guests of honour in the front row. We were welcomed by the reverend in his sermon and had to stand up. Paul made a little impromptu speech of gratitude.
After the service everybody crowded around us. They all wanted to shake our hands, to touch us. They all wanted to greet and welcome us. The fieldhand also made his way up to us through the throng. “Remember me?” he asked. I think it was a test. All blacks look alike to a white girl, don’t they? But how could I forget those amazing eyes!
I was too young and shy to say it then, so I will say it now: I have never forgotten the most beautiful blue eyes in that old wrinkled black face!

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