I fondly remember fourth grade at South-side Elementary School as my pivotal elementary school year. It was also the first year I managed not to be sent to Mrs. Maltsberger’s office (she was my principal for all six grades at Southside and I had been sent at least once a year to have her lecture me on keeping my mouth shut and my ears open).
Several serious things happened during my fourth grade year; we got to be in the outside trailers and they had air-conditioning, my beloved teacher had a miscarriage mid-year which made me very sad because she was so sad, she eventually left for the year and I remember crying so hard on her last day with us; and it was also the first grade where I had a black student in my class. And although I can not remember his name, I do remember my other classmate Ronald’s name.
Ronald was a white kid who wore thick black glasses and a nasa-branded-pocket-button up shirts. Ronald also had a last name that was very near to my first letter-last name, therefore I spent a lot of time talking to Ronald during the first half of my trailer season, not because he liked me but because I just liked talking and he was closest to me.
It’s funny how some childhood memories stay with you even when others do not and the difference can sometimes only be separated via developmental circumstantial shock of someone else’s truth.
It’s odd because although I had played ball with black boys and girls throughout my grade school experience, before my fourth grade year I had never realized until I met Ronald’s hate that they were viewed by others as different than me. I had always known of the word nigger because my Daddy O watched tv and sometimes the grown-ups would use it, but it wasn’t until I met Ronald’s inflection I understood why I shouldn’t use it.
Ronald’s hate was palpable and every time my black classmate would speak you could feel Ronald’s snarl, which in turn, made me want to snarl back at him every-time he turned around and looked at me, no matter what the context of his eyes or questioning.
I’m what you might call a non-flighter and although in my later years I’ve mellowed some, I still like a good ole verbal throw down. Especially when I know I’m on the right side of right.
I remember the way Ronald spoke; nasally, but with conviction, as though he knew more than the average Joe and I remember how often Ronald used the word Nigger when he spoke on the playground. I remember going home to my mommy gah and asking her why some folks used that word so freely and yet she had been steadily teaching me not to use it, ever.
I remember my putrid-Jesus-can-only-help Uncle (I use this word loosely as I haven’t spoken to this devil-incarnate in over thirty years) Carol Tipton used that word as though he was speaking in rebellious tongue and not in hate. I also remember the day I had enough of slanky-nine-year-old-Ronald’s rhetoric about how he couldn’t stand niggers and if niggers didn’t exist then the world would be a better place because of it.
So I devised a plan. A plan that would show Ronald how wrong he was to think the way he thought; a plan that might fix ole Ronald’s generational-hate and make him see how wrong his parents were; you see, my Mommy Gah had explained to me that it really wasn’t Ronald’s fault he was like he was, because Ronald was too young to understand true hated yet, it was Ronald’s parents who were teaching him to hate with words.
Now I know some of you facehookers are thinking, well duh, but listen for a minute.
What my Mommy Gah said back then made me feel sorry for ole Ronald and I just knew if I could devise a scenario where Ronald could see how wrong he was about our black classmate then maybe we’d all be better for it.
So off I went to strategizing. I talked to my Nonnie the most about my strategy, I prayed about my strategy with my Ma-Maw and I talked about it to my brother, who of course, thought it was a stupid idea because he thought Ronald was just ignorant and I was an idiot for even giving a crap about what dumb ole Ronald thought anyways.
But mostly I talked to my Nonnie, cause like always, she was my best friend and she’d always chat me up like I was her equal, never dismissing any idea that came out of my restless nine year old mind and mouth.
To be continued…
My fourth grade bigot friend named Ronald
“Jesus is my lord and savior, is he yours?”, Ronald would always turn and ask me at least once a week, as I whispered in his ear to help me figure out what our teacher was talking about cause I was too busy trying to figure out how to make my friends laugh.
“Yes”, I would say back because it seemed wrong to say otherwise and although I knew Ronald was full of hate for black folks he seemed nice enough the rest of our time.
Its funny to me how the folks that always seem closest to Jesus never really understand why Jesus was a confusing part of my young elementary school mind. You see, although I have morphed into a non-literal, more figurative mind; back in my elementary school days I was more sheltered; therefore, I never had a clue why folks around me always wanted to talk about The Lord, or about God.
My years spent traveling between Rock Creek Park in Erwin, TN and Sinking Creek Baptist Church, outside Elizabethton, TN were at the very least confusing and at the very most, very enlightening. Because as a literal young person who didn’t really understand Art and Jesus, but understood the difference between hate and love, I stayed pretty confused growing up where I did.
Sometimes that confusion was masked by the basic general understanding of myself, and that I wanted people to like me; no matter what the cost to me might have been.
It’s funny, because thank The Lord I was as good, if not better , than your average Joe-athlete around the corner and I was a quick study. As my Daddy O often likes to say, “you might not be as smart as your Mommy but you pick up things quick” (a backwards compliment if ever there was one).
And being that I could play just about anyone’s street corner sport, even with my ever-increasing pot-gut, this helped me move past the generational-teasing that some girls might experience from both sexes.
You see, I went from being picked last on the playground in first grade to being picked first by second grade. And although Bonnie Garbiras gave me a run for my money when she moved into my hood, I could still out maneuver even her powerful leg.
It was only when I fell to me knees to stop myself from beating up my poor ole crush, Monty White (Monty was shorter than me but I loved him more than my favorite smurf) in sixth grade, did I understand that comedy, in it’s genuine form, could deflate a getting-too-serious heated discussion.
I try to use comedic deflection like Jesus using parables, one must always know when to pull out their comedic voice in order to deflate the combustion of both competing hot air balloons, and yet, a person must not be afraid to bellow down and yell and scream in order to get someone’s attention to what’s wrong with this place; and I’ve always suspected had the hand of God sacrificed Mary Magdalene over Jesus, well we might not even have Christianity as we know it today. Because although Mary Christ does have a symphonic flare to it, Jesus Christ just sounds a lot better.
“Hey let’s teach Ronald a lesson about how he thinks he knows everything but he doesn’t”, I whisper to my classmate next to me.
“Huh?”, they said back.
“Listen we need to teach Ronald that not all black people are bad and that he shouldn’t use that word my mommy is always telling me we can’t use”, I say back to my fourth grade co-conspirator
“Huh?”, they say back again
“LISTEN….I’m going to steal Ronald’s pencil (remember facehookers this isn’t a time when we have boxes of pencils, this was 1979 not 1996) when he gets up to go write on the chalkboard and you’re not going to tell him I stole it and let’s see who he blames?”, I say in hopes that my fourth-grade compadre is picking up on what I’m master-minding today.
“You want to steal Ronald’s pencil so he will want to fight you?”, they question back,
“NO LISTENNNNNN, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to show Ronald how wrong he is about black people and I bet you anything he’ll blame the black kid!”, I point over to our black classmates, and by now a few other classmates had joined in on my “joke”
“YEAH Yeah, that’ll be funny and let’s see what he does?”, my behind-my-chair neighbor to the left of me says as the popcorn machine of fourth grade boredom starts to warm up.
to be continued…