My friend said to me …

“My  Grand-Daddy was a gambling  man,”  my friend said to me yesterday as we were packing her fresh eggs into boxes.  We had been talking about drunks.  The weekend kind who had a drink and went to sleep.  My friend does not drink.  But it was a natural jump to gambling.

“He had gambled all he had that one day so he bet his hat.”  She says.

I laugh..  I love her old family stories.

“… bet his hat.”  I say.  “Mercy!”

“They kilt him for that hat.  He lost the hand but he would not give up the hat.  Would’nt hand it over.  Would’nt do it.  So they kilt him.”

“They shot him?” I say. Laughter swallowed in horror.

“I reckon so.” She says.

We both sit quiet trying to make sense of such an action in our heads. Shooting a black man for his hat.  Our laughter still in the air above us. Watching.

A breeze wafts the scent of rain through the window, then is gone.

She shifts in her seat at my long table, the chair creaks, a gambling chair,  she turns one of the eggs we had been packing.  She absently measures it and wipes it,  inspects it as she thinks.   Our breaths in the same timing.  Our hands cleaning eggs in the same rhythm as we sit.  She moves forward in the chair and looks at me.  Her hands still.  Her eyes black and shiny with decision.

“I came here, to Chicago when I was 14 years old.” she says. “From Mississippi. Me and my family. They say folks is racist down there in the South, maybe so but I tell you they will always nod and say howdy. Everyone does. Black or white. They will always say g’mornin’. How are ya.  Whether they knows you or not. Every time”.

“Up here”, she nods North towards the big city.  “The white folks, they see you on the street and pull themselves to the side”.  Unconsciously she pulls her skirts closer to her knees, her shoulders tucking in, imitating those white folks, her voice softening from the hurt. “They won’t look at you. Like you are not even there. Their eyes go to the side. Or they look at the ground”.  She pauses.  Looking at the floor.  Not for effect, just to find the next words.  I can see the words running in behind her eyes, whole stories of them.  Her racing brain choosing and discarding.  Sorting.  How much to tell me.  Her eyes chasing dust across my floor.  Then she lets them go – those words.  She shrugs. Relaxing her body into my kitchen chair again.  Looking back at me again.  “Took me a long time to get used to that.   I cut you and then cut me,  our blood will be just red, just the same.  Bleed the same.”

We sit for a moment.  Our eyes seeing our blood and each other.  Just the same.  From different cultures, different looks, different accents. But bleed the same.  Hurt the same.  Love the same.

I reach across and touch her arm.  After a moment she nods, answering her own invisible question, then reaches up and touches my hand.  My strong farm-worn white hand on her black arm covered in that strong black hand of hers seemed as natural as breath to us – she is my oldest friend out here.  She hugged me the first time we saw each other.  She moves about me like a mother about a child.  She tells me if my face is dirty or my hair is a mess or if I need to get those cobwebs.  And where are your shoes girl. She tells me to Set a Spell when I visit her front porch with the rocking chairs.   And not often enough either, she says.  She worries about me being alone out here – a foreigner who does not understand how this country is.

“There’s trouble coming, Cecilia.  Things that were kept under..”  She pauses again. Then, I can see her folding it all back away again.  All her thoughts. These important words.  This dreadful history.  Cutting the words off.  We never talk like this, she and I.  Our friendship too young.  Feeling our way. Usually we happily talk of gardens and food and changing the beds and getting the clothes in off the line if it looks like rain or the house in the country they are renovating for their retirement.

Be careful she is thinking to me. Be careful I am thinking to her. My friend.

” Well, I’ll be glad when we are out of the city for good”. She says.

“Down here with me.” I say.

“I’ll teach you how to cook.” she says.

We both laugh.

She pats my hand. Pat, pat.  And leans forward to pack the last egg, allowing my hand to fall naturally back to help her close the lid of the egg box.

“Well.” she says gathering herself up.  She is the only woman I know who can gather herself up with such grace and consideration.  She is almost old fashioned in the way she moves her body in its proper order.  Reassembling  in seconds.  Ankles, knees, elbows, fingers. She stands.  She picks up the box of eggs and her bag and turns to the door.  The conversation is over.

“Time to be getting on. You got chores. Them hogs ain’t going to feed themselves, Cecilia.  And it looks to me like you are late getting John’s dinner on the cooker.”

The door clicks behind us as we leave the kitchen.  Our drifting voices parting with the usual called goodbyes.  Dogs, cats and pigs joining in the chorus as we descend the steps and fade and part.

Be careful my friend – up there in the big city.

Love celi

 

77 Comments on “My friend said to me …

  1. She’s definitely right about politeness in the South, I was really impressed by Southern courtesy 🙂

  2. Chilling words. And I get that feeling too. Outward politeness (or lack of it) covers a multitude of private inner feelings.

  3. She’s right about the courtesy, and she’s right about trouble coming, my gut tells me. What a wonderful friend you have, very wise, very gracious. We should all have friends like that…

  4. ‘There’s trouble coming . . . . things that were kept under . . . ‘ . . . . methinks many of us have a sense of that . . . .

    • Yes, so sadly I agree with you. And the trouble begets fear which begets more separation, and divisiveness and hate and it seems to go on and on.

      • I look at things happening in Australia at the moment . . . ignorance and fear beget the trouble, as does living in the past not hearing, not looking, refusing to think . . .

  5. J & D > Brilliant. There’s a lot more writing you’ll be doing one day, Celi. More than writing a blog. Right now, you’re just pacing up and down, gathering energy, gathering materials, gathering … yourself. Yup, gathering yourself up.

  6. Your friend sounds like someone I would like, and I could listen to for hours, a treasure. Sometimes I think people like that are few and far between. I really hope that trouble isn’t coming, though that is probably wishful thinking. Keep safe, both of you.

  7. I was riveted by this piece. Such truths are hard to hear. I hope she makes it safely to you and out of the city. Frightening times. Sometimes I feel like what has been uncovered in some has festered too long, like a boil ready to pop. And when it pops there is a lot of pus and bad stuff getting on everyone no matter who you are. How will this mess be cleaned? Makes me think of Wai and how you have persisted against all odds. It is what we must do.
    Blessings to you both for being friends and listening in stillness. Faye in Canada

    • Faye, the comparison to Wai seems so appropriate. And we must, somehow, come together to clean it up. That trouble is coming, or is already here, as expressed by Celi’s wonderful friend in this post, and others here in the Fellowship of the Farmy is true. I guess I’ve been in a dream world, living and teaching in diverse communities overseas, thinking that as a human race we were becoming somehow more open, loving, tolerant and accepting. This horrific political situation in the US, and the similar situations in other countries, and struggles worldwide have made me doubt all of my previous….hopes, as I see now that is all they are, hopes. I’m trying so hard these days to think positively, be grateful for each day, and still kindling the hope that we can unite and move forward with loving hearts.

      • Somehow I missed in my reply to you (DianeandJack) and it wound up farther down the page with TheDailyCure, so here’s my second attempt: As my GranMa said so often, “Hope for the best, but be prepared for the worst”, so don’t lose hope, as we all must work “for the best” together, for there is strength in numbers and love will win out if we only stand – as Celi and her friend were – hand in hand, together; to treat others as we wish to be treated; turn back darkness with light.

  8. This may be one of my favorite posts you’ve ever written.

    I think many view racism in the purist form – KKK, Neo-Nazi’s, blatant discrimination based purely on the color of someone’s skin. However, the subtle racism your friend has experienced in the north is still racism. Not looking at someone because of the color of their skin. Not speaking to them because of the color of their skin. Viewing yourself as better than another person based on the color of their skin.

    If we want things to change, we must do so by changing ourselves first. We must accept each person as a person regardless of the pigment of their skin. We must sit down and have conversation with other people. We need to hear their stories and gain more understanding. We must show compassion.

    Trouble is already here. How much worse it will get is the question. Ultimately, it depends on how many of us are willing to stand up and say “enough” and fight to make sure that each person is treaty equally in this country and in this world.

    Thank you for sharing. Hopefully your post will help open eyes and dialog.

  9. J > There’s a great deal of other forms of bigotry/prejudice/discrimination than just according to race. Thinking only of the things we can’t change about ourselves: Colour of skin, colour of hair (redheads – especially males – will know this is true), gender, disability, country or place of birth, caste or social class (not easy to shake off) … … and that’s before we get to things like politics, religion, education. And though not often talked of, whites too can be the subject of racist and other descriminatory attitudes: try moving from one district of an English northern mill-town to another, and you’ll be sure to find out how true that is. We all need to learn to see through superficial differences, and – quite simply – love one another. ‘Black Lives Matter’ is a movement that divides. Your writing, Celi, is the writing that brings people together. So, too, is the farm.

    • Yes I agree. Most of us, when we hear of racism, automatically think of black people. But here in NZ there are not a lot of black people, and racism is targeted mostly at Asians. It is a sad truth that some people will always feel the need to feel superior to someone else, and therefore are unwilling to open themselves to learning about different cultures and different customs. Instead of seeing people as themselves, not a skin colour or race.

  10. Why in this day and age people are still so racist to each other (regardless of what colour you are) is beyond me!!…there is good and bad in everyone of us. I hope your friend makes it safe back to you celi, as she deserves so much more than feeling hatred from evil minded people.
    As always a brilliant blog, love reading it, thank you.

  11. This took my breath away. So beautifully written. I shall carry it with me all day.

  12. Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” May we not do nothing, may we not be silent, may we resist division. Love one another. Hate has no home here.

  13. I am incredibly moved by this. I am from the South. I know what she’s talking about. But mostly, I am just very touched by this. There is much to say, and little to say. And what I have to say, I’d prefer to say in person. This one just runs too deep, I guess. I love the way you describe her, the way she gathers herself…the way your hands lay, layered, and I am hearing those prophetic words, and they worry me deeply. Because I think she is right.

  14. There are powerful lessons in these words, Celi. Truth. And Hope. Mankind is made for fellowship, kindness, and looking after one another. I think city life breeds fear, greed, distrust, loneliness and isolation. Small towns and country life do not. But like my church family, like my fellow military servicemen (male and female), I’ve witnessed all races unite. Storms will pass.

  15. Thank you for this beautiful rendering of a tender friendship and the constant fear that haunts the lives of so many Americans. How this suffocating hate will ever end I have no idea. But stories like this play a role. I hope your friend gets to the countryside quickly.

  16. To true about the South. I am a third generation Floridian very very rare. I was raised in the true Southern ways. I even had a boss how was younger than I was get upset because I used “Sir” told him that was how I was raised.
    Yes there are bad people down here but you must remember that most are transplants.

  17. There is trouble coming and all need to take care and care full. I am glad you have someone with such soul for your friend. In many ways you are two of a kind and I feel like a better person for it.

  18. As always, you bring us right along with you. The vast vault of thoughts not spoken, but preserved for another conversation. I pray your friend stays safe and can live out her days in your friendship close by. Peace.

  19. There is trouble coming…..we all need to gather ourselves up with grace and consideration.

  20. Sometimes all we can do is be kind to one another and set an example…and then sometimes we need to write to set an example. Well done my friend.

  21. Breathtakingly beautiful text. Poignant. Profound. In face of what we have now in our country, your text is painfully relevant.

    • Sally – the troubles are not just in your country – the world is catching a communicable ‘disease’ with more than one symptom and there is dis-ease all over – Down Under is more and more in line with the ugly and irrational . . . selfishly I just hope we learn from afar . . .

  22. I’ll go back and read the comments in a few minutes. I’ve wiped my tears hopefully enough to get this written. It’s the most powerful thing I’ve read in AGES! So many more should read this. You tell this with such heart and I’ve heard it.

  23. Marvelous conversation and post. Seems we are having many such conversations these days. Trouble is here and a’comin. More of the same and different, too. Thank you for sharing this touching moment with all of us hungry ones.

  24. Beautifully written, deeply felt message of the importance of friendship and caring – the being in close relationship of heart and purpose no matter the “costume” of person and place. This past year I have deeply involved my days with the teaching and practicing English language – written, spoken, read….and the friendship that has blossomed with refugees from DRC…and in particular one family with four beautiful boys 3 to 11. My little home garden a delight to them as they pull a carrot from the earth, pick beans and peas and always the sweet delight of eating fresh berries warmed by the sun. The earth is a good place to open the gates to heart felt communication with others…may your frieind find her way to the countryside and leave behind the rough edges that she feels every day in the city. Prayers for all that soon we will know peace and walk through this rough storm.
    Kristin

    • I misread an important line at first, thinking that there was the word “the” in front of” heart” – so I had to stop and go back to get it right. Now I like both versions: “The earth is a good place to open the gates to heart felt communication with others” and “the earth is a good place to open the gates to the heart.” It is so encouraging to hear stories like yours and Celi’s.

  25. Thank you for sharing this beautiful entry. Wrenching. Alas, the excruciating, continued pain and suffering of institutionalized racism in this country. We cannot heal until we face it and lance this terrible boil. We must acknowledge this whole history and all the pain and suffering and suspicion and superiority. Because there is also so much hope and goodness and kindness in the people of our country who long to know how we can change and grow and overcome. I’m grateful, so grateful you shared this.

  26. I go straight to writing this. Don’t want to lose what’s happening inside. Was at a funeral of a friend the other day. She was not a close friend, but that of a good friend of mine, and I sat there in the pew, with moisture leaking from the corners of my eyes. Mostly managing to keep it together, trying to swallow the knot in my throat, smooth the hurt in my heart; the hurt that’s back again after reading here today. Life is so unfair, the things that happen, the hurts we suffer. So worrisome, what’s happening right now and I pray for sanity to rise from this mêlée, so much muck and muddle, so very wrong. May we keep working to live together as the one human race we are; to recognise each and every one of us as separate and distinct, yet one and the same…

  27. Such a beautiful read, Miss C, thank you. Like so many others, I feel a great deal of truth in your friend’s prophesy of trouble coming. Thing I don’t understand is why, if so many others feel it, we seem to be powerless to overcome the problems. Just don’t bet your hat in troubling times.

  28. This was incredibly profound. Sometimes I just don’t ‘get’ people. It seems when common courtesy, basic manners, respect and cohesive family units fell by the wayside all the ugly was allowed to surface. I think it would be difficult to attack the person you greeted with a ‘good morning’ or who held the door for you. I pray we get back to those positives before the trouble gets here.

  29. As my mom (85) says so often, “I wasn’t born yesterday”. Neither was your friend.

  30. Pingback: Something Special | insearchofitall

  31. It is those unuttered thoughts, but understood all the same … precious friends. Laura

  32. Yes, a very sad truth that trouble is coming. My upstairs neighbor, a black man, says he worries about me (I’m white – but he doesn’t seem like he ever noticed – I understand, the exterior is so unimportant, I saw just a man when we met) . He’s an ex-pro boxer, but the gentlest man I’ve met in years. We sit and talk of an evening behind the building and we’re both uneasy about the state of things. I wish I could be out in the country instead of where I am. We all bleed the same, every one of us, we all hurt the same, we all should love the same. The hating is learned, unfortunately, from parents, peer groups, the media and that hate is bringing a retribution none of us wants to see, let alone have to deal with. I hope your friend will make it out before the trouble hits.

  33. When my dear friend Charlie and I would go to the grocery store together, he in his power wheel chair and me rolling a cart behind for him to toss supplies into, I noticed that people wouldn’t look at him. They nodded and smiled at me, but acted as though he wasn’t there. That’s when I understood another truth about separatism ( my term for the sad security that comes from a group identity). They didn’t look because his condition frightened them. They didn’t know how to relate to a man who can’t walk, a person who obviously suffers everyday from his condition but nevertheless smiles and says hello sincerely, and often tries to strike up a conversation just to put the other person at ease– or maybe not that, maybe just because he was genuinely friendly and didn’t see his living in a chair and having to look up as making him less a participant in ordinary social events. I can’t speak for anyone else than Charlie and me (we talked about this often), but I wouldn’t be surprised if what your friend is experiencing, Celi, is as much a matter of guilt and confused sadness on the part of others as it is of true alienation. In general I know that racist views are our greatest threat to intramural peace, but I also believe that sometimes the sufferer can do more than they realize to heal others as well as herself. At least that’s one big thing I learned from Charlie and his chair.

    (Sorry about messing with the pronouns there at the end. I’m feeling confused lately about group identities.)

  34. A moving, profound and beautiful story. I have just read t aloud to my partner, a beautiful American. He too was deeply moved by the beauty of your telling, and the profundity of the story. Thank you Dear Celi.

  35. I wish we did this more: had conversations about our experiences, listened, held it, absorbed. It’s the knowing another person and their experience that illuminates the right path.

  36. Oh my what a wonderful friendship … your writing is so moving and enveloping. It felt like I was there with you both. I hope that trouble isn’t coming, life is already too full of it. Thinking of you girls … special friends are the best

  37. Oh, how my heart aches. This post, this sharing of something so personal and meaningful and powerful has moved me to tears. This story of her story is an incredibly powerful piece of writing, Miss C. It is our stories, our experiences, that truly touch the soul. with grief and fear.

  38. Cecelia,
    I’m heartened about what your friend said about the South, because despite stereotypes, people are friendlier here, in my experience. I’m white, but I do make an effort to make eye contact and greet people on the street. And I’ve noticed that black people are friendlier, more willing to make eye contact and smile. The white people I see on the street look so pre-occupied and worried that they’re busy looking down and don’t even seem to notice the people they pass. Please tell your friend that those white people in Chicago who avoid her probably avoid other white people, too.

  39. I love this post. I love how you tell the story. You have a gift for that, for telling stories. I was there with you in the kitchen. I love that. Thanks.

  40. She didn’t have to say any of that. She is worried for you, and her own family, to speak out even a little, to tell the smallest of the stories she has about how she has been treated. No one better to say that what is underneath is still there, oh yes – it is there. It never left. I’m glad she has a way out, too. There do seem to be a lot of people fighting back, and the more that do the better. It won’t do to pretend or ignore what is happening, globally.

  41. Beautiful prose. I felt every bit of the conversation, every emotion, every thought and question. It was as close to a telepathic understanding as I can say I have experienced… except in dreams.

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