Editor's Notebook

Neighbors' kindness changed Dad's views

| July 2008

Readers of this column probably know by now that my father was one of my life's greatest influences. My sense of whimsy, my appreciation of language, and my inquisitive nature - all were gifts from my dad. I value finding the right tool for the job, and know to put tools back where I found them. I know nothing is more important than family, and that relationships can hit some very choppy water and still sail on.

I also know, thanks to his vivid example, that old dogs can learn new tricks and long-held prejudices can lose their grip if we let them.

As a son of the South - with a childhood in Arkansas and Texas - Daddy was no stranger to racial prejudice. Throughout my childhood, he harbored his biases, but didn't speak them aloud because my mother simply wouldn't have it. Daddy loved Mom a lot more than he loved his own prejudice, so he kept his thoughts to himself. Still, we knew he held no affection for people of color.

All that changed in the late 1970s, when he and Mom bought a house in a nice neighborhood, then watched as their white neighbors moved out to escape encroachment by darker residents. My parents liked the house and weren't interested in moving, so they just stayed put as the neighbors got darker all around them.

My dad eventually helped one of them start a car, and had another return the favor by coming over to help Dad work on a bad transmission. The man next door got a new riding mower and thought it was a simple matter to just keep riding and get my parents' front yard whenever he did his own. The couple on the other side liked Daddy's tomatoes and repaid the bounty he shared with them by bringing melons their family members raised.

By the time Dad passed away in the early 1990s, he enthusiastically proclaimed that he had never had such good neighbors. The only person in the neighborhood he and Mom didn't like, he said, was the 'crabby old white man on the corner.' By this time, the neighborhood had reached a sort of racial stasis with a mix of black, white and a couple of Asian families. As it turned out, that was just fine with Daddy.

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