I am old now. Lines criss-cross my face in no particular pattern as if some half-crazed spider forgot how to spin her web. Those two sentences are from a short story I wrote years ago when there were no lines on my face, no furrows across my brow. I was young then and never gave a second thought to aging. In a way, our country was young then, too. As women marched for equal rights and protestors yelled “Hell no, I won’t go” in reference to the Vietnam War, it was a time most people my age had never experienced.
Compared to today, those years from the last century had a sense of innocence. It was the first time many of us had seen angry women on the march and students pleading to be heard. The Hare Krishna movement was popular then. I lived in Dearborn and worked in downtown Detroit. Krishna followers were everywhere. In their strange, colorful garb and weird hairdos, they looked out of place on the streets of the cities. They shook their tambourines and chanted prayers in a language my friends and I did not understand. They were harmless enough and never rebuked us as we walked by. Nor did they try to convert us to the teachings of Krishna, the Supreme Person according to their beliefs.
I rented a flat on Indiana Street which separated Dearborn from Detroit. My neighbors were Arabs. Occasionally one of their daughters knocked on my door and handed me a special dessert indigenous to their culture or a plate of grape leaves stuffed with rice and lamb. Sometimes the little girls played in my backyard. When my cat got out and I was at work, the children kept him safe until I returned home.
Prior to working for a law firm where all the lawyers and their secretaries were as white as bleached bones, I worked for Wayne County Civil Service in the City-County Building on Woodward Avenue. The office was large. There were no partitions separating employees. Workers consisted of nine Black women, one Mexican girl, four White women and one White man. We worked together, ate our lunches at our desks and visited with each other. Even our White female supervisor stayed at her desk and talked to us. This was in the early 1970s.
Every weekday I rode a city bus to work. Diversity was as common as were the gas fumes. The bus was always quiet. People read newspapers, magazines or books. Some slept during the morning and evening hour-long rides. The bus was an express so once out of downtown Detroit, there were no stops until we crossed into residential areas. In all the years I took public transportation, never once did I hear an altercation of any kind. Nobody fought over a window seat. No one held his nose if a chocolate-colored person sat next to him.
Was that because most of the riders were young and had left racial prejudice in the hands of the older generations? Was it because everyone was too tired to argue? I caught the 8 a.m. bus in the morning and the 5:15 after work. During summer, the air conditioning was often on the blink. Maybe the heat made us too weak to spar with each other.
I am old now. The lines on my face, the veins on my hands bespeak of age. We elderly people have made a mess of things. We lost something perhaps given only to the young. We lost hope in the goodness of our fellow man.
— To contact Sharon Kennedy, send her an email at [email protected]. Kennedy’s new book, “View from the SideRoad: A Collection of Upper Peninsula Stories,” is available from her or Amazon.
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Sharon Kennedy: Age doesn’t always bring wisdom
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