Monday, June 30, 2014

Odd Memory Popping In

Odd Memory that just Popped In


   I have never felt that I have been prejudiced against other people. I have grown up around all kinds of different folks, had friends and playmates without ever thinking of what color there skin was or what church they went to. To this day I still don't care. The only way I try to judge people is by what they do. Good folks come in all sizes, shapes and colors the same as bad people. But, sometimes I have to look back and wonder if I was raised that way without even realizing it.

   The first time I can remember seeing discrimination I didn't even know what the word was I only knew it's the way things were and no one ever talked about it. Now lot's of folks may think that since I grew up as a redneck in Oklahoma that would be the place I saw it. You would be wrong. Good ole Arizona was the spot. I can remember two separate water fountains on the outside of the Cozy Cafe and one of them was labeled Whites Only. As little kids we didn't pay much attention to that. If we were thirsty we drank from which ever one was available.  I don't know what the adults did, I don't remember ever seeing one drink from either. A lot of my early memories are fro the 50's and 60's so maybe that explains it but, at the same time, a lot of my early memories from Oklahoma are during that same time.

   Chandler (Az) was kind of like three separate towns back then one end was pretty well all white, then there was an area where most of the black folks lived and the very end of town was where the Mexicans mostly lived. There was over-lapping of course. The cozy was in lap-land. One of my best friends in Az. was Jimmy Chrispon. his family owned a car salvage yard next to the Cozy and they lived in a house right behind the cafe. Since we lived in a trailer behind the cafe it was only natural that we ended up as playmates and from there to friends. Another of our group was Elvis who just happened to be black. he was just part of our group and we counted him as a friend even though we all made fun of him over his name. All of us went to each others houses to play and all of us took turns spending the night at each others houses same as any other friends did. The only thing that confused me back then was some of my other friends, mostly white, didn't seem to have ant problem with jimmy but the didn't want to hang out with Elvis. I guess I was a little naive back then because I always thought they just didn't like him.

   My first memory of the Cozy was when it was just a square wooden building with an "L" shaped counter and booths around the outside.  I remember my stepdad and uncle building another room off the back of it. We really like it when it was done. It had this really neat Dutch door to the main cafe so we could get something to eat or drink. There were 4 booths along one wall but the best part was that they put pinball machines in it! We seldom went to the front part after that.

  Again, maybe I should have noticed more. They only folks that ever sat back there to eat were black. They would go to the dutch door and order their food and then go back and pick it up when the waitress brought it. The waitresses never brought the food into that room, they just delivered it to the door. It's just the way it was and since everyone else seemed to except it why would I question it?

   I started to school at Nelson-Wilkes in chandler. It was an integrated school even then but of course I didn't know that and wouldn't have know what it meant even if someone had tried to explain it to me. It's the school where all my friends went and that's all i cared about. My biggest problem with the first grade was the fact they kept trying to call me Johnny when i knew my name was buddy, me and the teachers had some problems because I wouldn't answer when they called my name..  Meanwhile, when i moved back to okieland and started to school there we also had black kids in our class so i didn't really see any difference there. I'm sure lots of folks will point out to me just how dumb I was when it came to things like that and maybe I was, but, in my defense, No one else every committed on how things were done and how many other grade school kids thought about that kind of stuff?

   I didn't even think about how things were until I was 11. I went back and forth between Oklahoma and Arizona several times when I was a kid. It seemed like I ended up living with most of my family on both sides before I settled in with my Grandma. i made s lot of those trips with other family members but the one that sticks out most in my mind was the first bus trip I made by myself. I caught a city bus right in front of the chandler Cafe where Mom worked and rode it to Phoenix where I transferred to the bus that took me to Oklahoma. I was 11 then and down right proud of myself for being able to do this on my own.

   I caught the bus just like I was supposed too and of course since I was a kid and the bus was pretty well empty I took the seat right behind the driver so I could look out the front window. About two stops later there was a little black lady that got on the bus. She was not a young lady  and she was having a little problem even getting on the bus because she was using a cane and had grocery bags in her arms. Since I was in the first seat i scooted over so she could sit next to me. After all these years i can still remember when she got to the top of the steps she looked at me and smiled. i can also remember that she just kept walking by me. I didn't understand that. She could have sat down instead of walking by. I thought maybe she just didn't realize that I had scooted over so she could share so I called out to her that she could share my spot and didn't need to go any farther. She just kind of waved and kept walking so, being a kid i figured she either didn't hear me (she was old) or didn't understand so I told her again, lots louder that time. She ignored me but the driver didn't. He turned around, touched my arm because I was busy looking at the lady and when i turned around he said in a quite voice that she couldn't share my seat because she had to sit in the back. I thought that was the rudest thing I'd ever heard someone say. I could see from where I was at that the back seats weren't any bigger than the one I was sitting in so there wasn't any more room for her to put her grocery's than there would have been next to me. I even told the driver that it was Ok, I be willing to move to the other side of the bus so she would have room for her grocery's. I didn't say it in a quite voice either which may have been the reason that he got a little rude with me and told me to sit down and be quite! Kind of hurt my feelings but being a typical kid I sat back down, shut up and didn't think anymore about it.

   Meanwhile, back in okieland. One of the guys in our class was black. Again we never thought about that, he was just another kid in our class. He wasn't a close friend but I always counted him as a friend. To tell the truth I can't remember when he came to our class it seems like he was always there. Neither Stanley or I ever thought anything about it until we were in the 7th or 8th grade. I don't remember which grade it was but I do know it was the year we discovered the skating rink in Henryetta. We feel in love with going skating so of course we wanted everyone else to get in on it. We invited everyone in our class to come skating with use including Leon. Most never did but it didn't stop us from asking. We had to work most of the time just to get the money to go skating and we knew that since most kids were just as pour as us they didn't always have the money to go. We both thought that was the problem with Leon. We both liked him and didn't want to embarrass him but we did want to share skating with home so we asked a few more times. we even managed to get in the fact that we had enough money to pay for him to go and we even had a ride that would come by and pick him up. We weren't sure but we thought maybe he didn't want to go because everyone knew that we hitchhiked to town al the time. but he still turned us down.

   We happened to be over at Stanley's house one time and I guess Stanley's dad overheard us talking about the fact that Leon must not like us because he didn't want to go skating with us and we couldn't figure out why. It's wasn't like we were trying to get to best friends or anything, we just wanted someone to go skating with us. Stanley's dad told us that liking or not liking didn't have anything to do with it, he didn't think Leon would be comfortable being in Henryetta after dark. That really threw both of us for a loop! We knew that Leon liked to go coon hunting and it didn't bother him to be out in the middle of the river bottoms after dark so why the hell would he be worried about being in town after dark! Yes, we were stupid but we really had no idea what Stanley's dad was talking about. I have to take my hat off to Wilton (Stanley's dad) we both got an education that night about not only discrimination but about the history of Henryetta at the same time. It may sound dumb to other folks especially folks that lived in cities or different parts of the country but it totally shocked us. Without even talking about it or thinking about it we both made up our minds that we would never treat Leon or any other black people any different than anyone else! No better and no worse, and I hope that we have upheld that belief to this day.

   As a side note. This is mainly for the folks that grew up in Schulter. Everyone remember Fred Coleman? He was an older black man that always came to town driving a wagon a a team of mules. Most of the kids have ridden it that wagon. A lot of the kids from home never asked, they would just run out. jump on the end of the wagon, ride for a little ways and hope back off. I never, in all the years I knew him ever heard tell a kid they couldn't ride. In fact I seldom ever heard him say anything. it was almost like having to out up with it was his cross to bear. I am proud to say that neither Stanley or I (and I'm sure lot's of other kids" never rode in his wagon without asking first. And we addressed him as Mr. Coleman when we asked just the same as any other adult. of course had Stanley's dad or my Uncle Ullis would have heard us call him anything else they would have busted our asses!