She was the only African American at the convent, and I the only Jew, don’t ask me how many years ago. We were not friends. Or enemies either. I have a distinct memory of Roz, tiny, with very carefully groomed hair in a flip, in her uniform which was just like my uniform: a white shirt, a plaid skirt, and when it was required a delphinium blue blazer with a prominent white crucifix on the pocket. I think of that blazer and I sort of cringe; I, great-granddaughter of a Jewish scholar in a Jesus blazer? Roz, the daughter of a Methodist minister had no problem with the Jesus blazer, and to tell the truth here, I only have the problem in retrospect. Back then it felt perfectly natural, even good. Being a Jew in a small town in Louisiana a thousand years ago was to know you do not fit in. The jacket made me look like I had a chance to.
Roslyn was a very well brought up girl. A girl with great composure. I was aware from a distance of her obvious sang-froid. A sang-froid that was required—as the only person of color there at the convent—except, of course, for the janitor, the maids, and the ladies who spooned out the lunch in the cafeteria where I never ate.
I ate at home with my mother, who didn’t have much to do at the time and needed a lunch companion. She picked me up, drove me home and we had the same thing every day: a hamburger patty with a side of frozen mixed vegetables. I slathered mine with hot sauce, a habit I have to this day with food I don’t like. Mama was always on a diet and because I lived with her so was I.
At the convent, there was no nun of color, or priest of color. Certainly no Jew nun or priest. It was a weird world for both of us. No wonder we looked askance at each other. No wonder we did not reach out our hands and declare ourselves comrades.
Roz was here in LA teaching a workshop on her specialty, Alzheimer’s Care. When she walked in my door last Sunday, we hugged as though we were long lost friends, and in fact she felt exactly like a long lost friend from far away. Of course we had talked on the phone, we had exchanged a few emails when Lavina came out and she read it and talked me up back in Shreveport. Still, this was something different. This was a true bond. She has told me since then she felt the same way I did last Sunday: friends at first sight!
But not back then.
I think we were afraid, both of us, of contamination.
I wonder too, what my mother, the proud liberal would have done if I had brought Roslyn home to eat dinner and spend the night? I always saw through Atticus Fitch / Gregory Peck, because my mother was that kind of liberal. One stood up to the racists, one was good to one’s help, in fact my mother sent our housekeeper Aline back to school so she could pass the literacy test to vote. But bringing a person of color home as a girlfriend, God forbid a boyfriend?
All that was behind us, last Sunday, when Roz and I sat on my couch and drank some wine and just schmoosed, about growing up in Shreveport.
My husband was there and they liked each other. And Henry liked Roz too. Henry sat when Roz said, “sit!” He never does that for me except when food is involved. Roz has her own love affair with a poodle named Maxx. She told me she wants me to meet Maxx!
Everything seemed so easy, stuff that used to be so hard. To this day, I cannot abide how hard it was growing up for all of us. The bad old days are over, but are the bad old days really over? Roz and I talked about that too.
My husband, Henry and I drove Roz back to where she was staying with relatives, a ways away from where we live. Roz said, “I should have Uber-ed but I wanted you to see where I lived. I never saw where any of my friends lived growing up.”
I felt like crying when she said that. I feel like crying as I type this.
Back then was a long time ago.by