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Sunday, February 3, 2013

1961! The year that changed my Life

Bermuda, when it truly was "Another World."

While watching an old video promoting tourism to Bermuda in 1961, I allowed myself a nostalgic walk down memory lane concerning my life in that year in my home country of Bermuda. Among other things, that was the year I first dated a girl from across the racial divide. I didn't intend to do that. It happened by accident.

First the background:

In 1954, the United States Supreme Court, in a hearing of Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, ruled that segregation practices in public education were unconstitutional and therefore illegal throughout the country. Thus began the movement of school boards to bring themselves in line with the law. It would take some time to fully comply with the law owing to opposition and other issues such as the busing of students.

The effort to desegregate the system in Arkansas didn't begin until 1957. However, in Arkansas, there was a truly awful man, with the even more horrid name of Orval Faubus, who I will simply refer to as Awful. He was governor of the state, and he ordered his national guard, complete with guns and bullets and knives to form a line blocking access to nine very courageous black students from entering Little Rock High School. This situation continued for one month. Finally, President Eisenhower ordered Awful to the White House and told him that segregation must end in Arkansas, to which Awful replied, "Over my dead body." Fair enough! Somebody shoot that man.

It is important to note that those nine children were daily subjected to insults, assaults,including being spat on and drenched with piss and shit. One girl was set on fire and another suffered acid in her face.

In 1961, tourism was booming in Bermuda. One American student decided that she would come to work at a hotel in Bermuda when her studies ended. I will refer to her as Cindy. She began work on a Sunday evening as Food and Beverage cashier, working in the cocktail lounge with myself and my fellow waiters.

Hi y'all! I'm Cindy. She was Cindy from the South. We worked reasonably well. My shift was to last between 6pm and 8:30pm. However, at about 7:55 Cindy said to me, "Boy! Do you'all have a check for those drinks? That was like hitting me in the head with a sledgehammer. The bar manager hurried over to her and said that we didn't refer to the waiters as boy. We call them by their names. Cindy said, "ah'm sorry, it's jest that ah'm from Little Rock, Arkansas, and there we call 'em boy."

My head exploded! I started to shake as the images of all that the nine children had suffered came flooding in. I asked one of the other waiters to serve my drinks, and as quietly as I possibly could, I growled at Cindy, " don't you ever call me boy again!"  In Little Rock, Cindy, and everybody else referred to blacks, young and old, as boy and girl without anybody ever making a challenge such as I made. She was aghast! "Say what?" For the remaining half hour of my shift she and I had our own quiet and private war going on. Before leaving for my next department I said, Cindy, I'm not through with you We must talk. Meet me in the car park as soon as you cash in. Cindy said, "I will!"  See what I mean? Cindy and I had a date and it had happened completely by accident.

Picture Cindy walking towards me. She was so angry that fire was coming out of her hair and her ears; she was breathing fire like a dragon. I held my car door open for her but she snatched it from me and slammed it. I hate when people slam my car door. She said that I should take her some place where there were no people because this was going to get loud. So, I took her to Make-Out point. People went there to make love. We went to make war. We parked overlooking a long stretch of pure white sandy beach with a palm tree or two, and a clear moon.

I yelled at her and she yelled at me, but she dominated with a long stream of the most awful monologue I have ever heard from another person. Talk about shock and awe! Finally, she had to take a breath, during which I asked,"Did you attend Little Rock High during its crisis?" No ah did not. ah was in another school, but all we talked about was what we would do when the first nig- negra tried to come into our school. We was ready, we were going to----------------. She stopped mid sentence and stared out to sea, and then, looking up towards the Heavens she said, "Oh my Dear God! Ah'm so sorry."

Cindy seemed to have had an epiphany, some kind of manifestation of God that helped her see clearly through her life and her customs and the difference between right and wrong. She began to cry, deep body wrecking, cleansing sobs that caused her to collapse, in MY arms. She carried on in this manner for what seemed like forever, until she had no more tears. Then we talked. Quietly! We talked about our thoughts and our true selves without the influence of others, and we confronted our own demons and talked about how we thought we should be left alone to live our lives. The sun arose and still we talked until finally we could hardly stay awake.

I took Cindy back to the hotel and left her at the gate. We not only became friends that Summer, we became lovers and pioneers in a Bermuda where dating between blacks and whites was not the done thing. The more opposition we faced the more determined we were to stick together, she and I, against the world.

The moral of this story is that no matter how extreme our positions may be, in the final analysis we are all just folks. We are born equal in the eyes of our Creator, and when we die, we die in equality.

A very useful life lesson to have learned that I live by as I write this recollection.

  Cindy, I'm so glad that we met. I have never forgotten you, and I never will.

Copyright (c) 2013   Eugene Carmichael