The national landscape of the 1960s unfolded radical and controversial domestic ideologies. At age six, with dreamy innocence and considerable imagination, the parameters of my world filled a smaller, local radius. My Brooklyn surroundings, within a predominantly Jewish and Italian neighborhood, provided a sensual palette of colors and sounds that engaged my childlike sphere.
The neighborhood candy store was my local paradise. Captivated by spinning red vinyl stools, coveting a new stack of “Archie” comic books, inspired by my emerging literacy skills and comforted at my mother’s side, I was satiated.
Eventually, I’d be scolded for crimping comics again. Now I found myself sighing and bored, leaning my tiny body against the wooden entrance door. Focusing on sidewalk cracks and embedded chewing gum deposits along the concrete, I barely noticed the passerby. Perhaps the cement patterns aligned themselves in such a way as to twist my gaze out and up. Or maybe it was the juxtaposition. I was unaccustomed to peering at swollen, pink soles plodding upon gray canvas.
I studied her back, fascinated by her wide stance, the deliberate gait as she clutched, under one doughy arm, an enormous rectangular, gild-framed mirror. Across the other forearm, lay a simple black pocketbook. She emanated a powerful force. Encompassed by a bewildering sadness, I attempted to reconcile what little I knew of deep poverty with a regality I couldn’t quite comprehend.
Mysteriously perceiving my presence, she quickly turned to face me. Mesmerized, I met
her gaze, stunned by her spate of anger, I seeped into the doorway, hoping for an opening and a soft place to land.
“Wuz de mad-da, yew ain’ nevah seen no nigga befaw?”
My naive heart descended. With a flurry of internal responses, I remained silent: “No! No! I mean...You’re not ONE! (and whatever does ‘that’ word mean, anyhow?), and I was told not to say that word, but I don’t know why!?” My child-self couldn’t fathom what I was hearing. I felt an unknown shame, an eerie disconnect.
I observed this woman as she revealed herself to me. Somehow, I wanted to meet her in-between, have her understand how her essence affected me, and how I respectfully acknowledged her powerful humanness. I also knew, on that particular day, I was carrying upon my fragile shoulders the insurmountable weight of all those who had done this woman wrong.