A little girl grew up in North Carolina in the 1950s and 1960s, her name was Carolyn. Carolyn was her parents’ only child and as with all parents, they wanted the best for her. But what Carolyn wanted, her parents couldn’t give her. She was a black child growing up in the south before integration. For Carolyn, the world of her white neighbors was beyond her reach. There was a park that was only for white children and Carolyn longed to play in it. She begged her mother to paint her white so that she could play in the park. It pained her mother, Julia, to tell her little girl that no amount of paint would change the laws. Julia, herself, wished to see the inside of the hotel just down the street that was for white people only. She had long imagined how beautiful it must be inside. Carolyn’s father, Jimmy, decided to take his family north to New York where he believed there would be more opportunity for them.
While in New York, they had become close friends of my husband’s parents. Over the years, the family prospered in New York, but when it came time for Jimmy and Julia to retire, they returned to their old home in North Carolina. Their daughter, Carolyn, who had never married went with them. It was the 1980s when they returned, and the park and hotel were opened to all. Carolyn finally had the chance to walk through the park that had been closed to her as a child. And Julia was able to enter the hotel that had previously been for whites only and found that it was nothing special after all. But changing the laws doesn’t always change people’s attitudes.
My husband and I stayed with Jimmy and Julia in their home in North Carolina for a few days in 1984. As we sat in the shade in front of their house, we saw a young white woman with two small children have car trouble. Jimmy approached her and asked her if she’d like to take the children and wait in the shade as he looked over the car to see if he could help. I remember the fear on her face. She was afraid of Jimmy and he saw it too, but it didn’t stop him from helping her.
Years later, when Jimmy passed away, I felt that this world had lost one of the kindest souls that had ever walked its surface. I haven’t seen them in many years, but every year I send a Christmas card to Julia and Carolyn and every year I have received one from them. Julia always adds a few words to let me know that she enjoys seeing pictures of my children as they grow. Every year I am so glad to receive their card and to see the few words that Julia adds, letting me know that she is still alive and doing well. This year was no exception.
But I just heard today that Carolyn passed away unexpectedly at 63 years old. Julia called my mother-in-law to let her know. Julia is now completely alone at the age of 94. My heart goes out to her. I, for one, can’t imagine living to that age and losing my only child. I wish there were words that I could offer to comfort her, but there are times when even words fail.
http://www.theresadodaro.com Author of The Tin Box Trilogy