Mama was engaged to a man after Daddy died. He was a nice enough fellow, a graduate from a fine southern university who had done very well professionally, financially. She met this fellow on a blind date. A friend and her husband invited Mama along to go bowling. They brought along this man and afterwards he began calling Mama everyday. I wrote about the man Mama almost married in After the Flag has been Folded.
He bought me a Billy Jean King tennis racket and tried to teach me how to play. I think he was sorely disappointed in my lack of athleticism but, bless his heart, he really did try to build a relationship with me. Years later, when I became a writer and wrote that memoir, I spoke with him. He was kindly even then, told me he wasn’t surprised I grew up to be somebody.
As I curled up on Mama’s bed last night, talking about times passed, I told my mother that for many years I prayed she would marry somebody, grow old with them, and enjoy the companionship and comfort of all that.
Well, that wasn’t to be, Mama said, and I could tell that there was a twinge of sorrow that didn’t happen.
I asked her how come it was she didn’t marry that fine fellow she had been engaged to all those years ago. He was good-looking, had a terrific job, a home he owned, and money in the bank, and he adored her.
She told me he wasn’t what he seemed. Then, she told me the real reason why she called the engagement off.
It was a nice spring day and Mama and some of her nursing buddies decided to go over to this fellow’s home for their lunch break. They were just going to get something to eat and head back to their afternoon classes.He met them there for lunch and was just as nice as he could be. Mama had no idea that he was upset with her about anything until later that evening when she went back by his place. That’s when he got right up in her face and told her in no uncertain terms that she was never, ever to bring a black person into his home again. Only I don’t think he used the word black person.
“It never occurred to me to not take her along. She was my friend,” Mama said.
My mother grew up in a racist south. She had kin who were card-carrying members of the KKK. But she said she knew right then and there one thing about the man who was her fiance — “I knew it would always be his home and not mine.” A home where people of color would not be welcomed. So she called off the engagement. A decision that cost my mother in more ways than one.
I am sure Mama’s fiance thought she was being foolish, walking out on him. He would have been able to provide lavishly for her and her three kids.
As kids all we knew is that this man was part of our daily existence for a long while and then he was not. We eventually moved out of the trailer park into a brick home. Not one as big or fine as the one the man Mama almost married owned, but a home nonetheless. One she paid for herself.
Mama never really dated anyone very seriously after that. Sure, she had dates, plenty of them, but she never again allowed herself to be courted by one man.
My mother was not the sort of woman who would have ever picked up a placard and marched in a Civil Rights parade. Public displays of social activism make my mother uncomfortable. She does not ascribe to the notion that Christians, or anyone else for that matter, ought to live their lives out loud.
Sometimes living life rightly requires us to walk away quietly.
Sometimes the best sermon we can preach is one of silence.