Though he was from humble origins, my father had become a successful business man. Like me, he may have never seen a black person until the war brought other races to Seattle. This was before the days of television, of course. But growing up in the Rockies near the Mexico border he must have encountered many Indian and Hispanic people, though I was not aware of that at the time. Raised in poverty, he probably experienced his own kind of discrimination.
One of my favorite bedtime stories was the true adventure of when he was a very young man working alone laying telephone cable in rural Mexico. He rode into an empty town at dusk. Not a soul stirred. Then on closer examination he discovered the trees in the zocolo were decorated with dead bodies: men, women and children, all hanging from nooses. "This must be the work of Pancho Villa and his men" he concluded. He rode out fast, learning the next day that this particular town was suspected of colluding with the government, and indeed Pancho Villa's men chosen them to set an example. It was a week or so later when almost dark, he saw a campfire in the desert. He was warmly welcomed and even fed by the men gathered around. A while later other riders came in, and it turned out to be Pancho Villa himself, who extended a warm welcome as well. When Daddy saw how much he was worshipped by the other riders he was puzzled. How could a slaughterer of women and children be held in such high esteem? It was the kind of puzzle we often discussed.
Back to me, age 12, and the sailor on the bus experience. “Daddy,” I said, after finishing whatever I’d cooked for dinner with our allotted ration stamps, “something happened on the bus coming home today”. I explained the whole incident, including my lingering discomfort. “Did I do the right thing?” A significant silence followed. Even my dog, Mike, looked pensive. It was then
I peered at Daddy’s tired eyes behind his trifocals and saw them softly watering. Finally he looked at me gently and said softly, “It’s ok, dear.” “Just don’t ever let it happen again.”