Saturday, April 30, 2005

life of buddy don, chaptur 135: crackin the wall twixt black n white

by the time the fall quarter of 1982 wuz a'gittin off to a start, i kindly figgerd i had made a purty good compromise twixt the deemands of the real worl n them of my ambishun to becum a grate riter. i had mos everthang fit into cumpartments, lease in my mind.

fer wurk, i wuz teachin in collidge, witch seem lack twuz a job i wuz born fer. i wuz teachin a total of four classes:
  1. composishun 1010 at utk on tuesdys n thursdys frum 8 am till 9:30
  2. composishun 101 at kc on mundys windsdys n fridys frum 1 to 2 pm
  3. composishun 102 at kc on mundys windsdys n fridys frum 8 to 9 am
  4. fundamentals of grammar 1 at kc on mundys windsdys n fridys frum 2 to 3 pm
teachin four classes give ye credit fer full time in them days even tho i only had to spend frum 8 till 9:30 on tuesdys n thursdys fer the comp 1010 class at ut. i wuz gittin reglar pay fer teachin that one class. twernt much, but it hepped. them three classes at kc wood earn us a big check cum januwairy or whenever twuz paid. emily dint lack us havin to wait so long fer pay but once i tole her that i figgerd twuz the best way to keep us frum spendin, she quit bellyachin about it.

that give me plenty of spare time fer ritin, witch i figgerd twuz time to rite sumthin truly wurthy. i had been thankin bout a novel twixt a father n a son set up on the obed river since befor we moved to west germany so twuz time to git on with it. i tride n tride, but the more time i give it, the wurser it went. i couldnt satisfy myself no how n wood rite a few pages n throw em out n write a few more n git disgusted. or i wood git a idee whenever i wuz walkin round campus at ut n jes sit rite down n reel off a few good pages. but twernt no way to wurk.

partly twuz how the group wuz changin. going to group had always been a fun thang to do on a fridy nite, but now that bof me n bud wuz a'wurkin on novels thay wuznt as much new innerestin stuff bein red. i wuz trine to use sum stream of conshussness stuff n thats hard to listen to. twernt meant to be a fast movin story n thays limitayshuns in ritin sumthin yer a'gone read the verr nex week. bud wuz smartern me bout that on a counta how he woodnt read nun of hisn till twuz dun, witch that meant he dint never read nuthin new atall.

but the group warnt the only thang a'keepin me frum ritin that novel. seem lack thays a limit to how much i kin use my creativ energy on. fer instunts, whenever i wuz ritin songs, i wuznt ritin nuthin but my diary but whenever i wuz ritin crap notes, i dint hardly touch the peeano. seem lack ifn i dun the one thang in a day, i dint hanker to do tuthern. so twernt how the group wuz a'goin that kep me frum ritin.

twuz how i wuz gittin so minny idees frum my students n larnin so much bout whut everbidy calld 'the black communty' to whar i couldnt hardly thank bout no obed river n such. my mind wuz too stuffed with other idees that cum frum my wurk. fer one thang, i needed to member the names of all my students n twuz a bit of a sprize whenever i tride it how easy twuz. that made me notice sumthin i hadnt never noticed before, witch thays a lot more differntses in how black folks looks than thay is in white folks. i had kindly always bleeved whut i wuz tole, witch folks generly claimed how all black folks looks alike. ye mite could thank i wooda noticed how that warnt true, but i hadnt.

that set me to pondern why twood be so n heres how i figger it. blackness is lack sum kinda uniform fer mos white folks. ye take yer pleecemen fer instunts, ifn ye dont know nun then ye aint lackly to look to close at inny one ye mite pass. ye know ye dont know no pleecemen so ye dont half to check him by lookin close lessen ye need a pleeceman. it seemed to me lack blackness wuz jes lack that pleecemans uniform. ifn ye dont know too minny black folk then ifn ye see a black person, ye aint a'gone look too close on a counta taint lackly to be sumbidy ye wood know.

but that all changed on a counta how i had that grammer class. i thank i dun menchuned how i dint know whuther i could teech grammer on a counta i dint know ifn i knew it. so i figgerd i wood larn along with everbidy only lease one day in add vants. we wuz a'usin a book name of Fundamentals of Grammar, witch it twernt nuthin but a book of sentences ye could study innerspursed with sum splainayshuns of whut part of speech wuz bein taught. furst ye had to larn to spot the verb n draw a circull round it n then find the subjeck n underline it twicet. that thar book had em a way to handle ever part of speech n purty soon ye wood be able to splain the grammer of mos inny sentence.

so i deecided i wood teach it thisaway. i give em homewurk to do three pages of that thar book, witch that wood be 30 sentences n then we wood go over em in class. then i wood randomly call on folks to have em do them sentences. at furst twuznt wurkin so well on a counta i dint know but a handfull of names. i wood wurk frum my class register book, but twernt the same. ye gut to know yer students names. ye gut to look em in the eye sos to tell whuther they dun thar homewurk.

so that gut me to lookin close n noticin ever skin color frum 'blue black' to purt near white. ye wood see ever mixtcher of skin color n hair thickness n fayshul featchers ye could magine. i member the furst day a cuple gurls that wuz sittin in the back gut into a lil fuss n fite over sumthin n one of em sed, 'shore im black but i aint gut no nigger lips.' i wuz shocked but dint nobidy else seem to notice. (jes lack on the block, that wurd nigger wuz used by near ever student i had at kc. twuz used as common as ye mite use the wurd 'guy' or 'pal' or 'person.' i wuz tole minny a time twuz a wurd with a differnt meanin in a white mouth. i dont doubt it.)

at furst, that grammar class wuz hard to teach. i dint know my students n wuz readin frum the register or callin on whoever had thar hands up, witch twood be the same two or three mos times. but once i gut to know thar names, once i gut to whar i could 'see' black folk, the worl changed. whar once i saw a mask, often sumthin that seemed lack twuz made of wood, now i saw jes plane folks with all the eggspresshuns folks has gut.

not that i dint git fooled a time or two. i member a student in comp 102 name of garry williams frum gary indiana (witch i used that coincidents to member his name at furst). seem lack he wuz arrogant n so angry twuz all he could do to keep frum eggsplodin or laffin at me. furst time i noticed it, twuz a lil unneverin. thar he wood sit, way back in his seat but jes glarin at me. corse, i pertended lack i dint notice it n kep teachin.

corse, i had em rite in class essays n i lacked to wander roun n hep em ifn they had questchuns. i wuz always sayin that ye dint need to know everthang yerself since taint possibull, but ye need to know whar to find the thangs ye need to know. yer dickshunairy, fer instunts, or yer harbrace handbook or the liberry. but the bes place to find whut ye need is in other people, witch thats why ye pay to go to a collidge. so i tole em to use me when they dint know whut to do. corse i wood be keepin em ritin n not lettin em daydream n ifn they hadnt writ nuthin, we wood talk bout how to git started, that kinda thang.

as i walked aroun, i had a habit of puttin my hand litely on the students lef shoulder whenever i wuz takin a look at thar paper. i never give it no thought, but garry shore noticed it. whenever we had our student confernts, he cum down to my offus n sat in the chair n woodnt even look at me in the eye. we talked fer a bit bout his ritin n whut he needed to wurk on n how he wuz doon in the class. wheneever we wuz dun he stood up n then he looked me rite in the eye. 'i never had no teacher like you, mr d. you like you really wanna make us learn.' i thanked im n prazed him fer his deesire to larn but he innerupted n sed, 'you dont understand, mr d. i aint never let no white man touch me befor.' he cum a lil closer, still a'lookin me rite in the eye. twuz that same angry glare. i kindly wunderd whut he wuz a gone do n probly flinched a lil whenever he stuck out his hand n sed, 'you all rite, mr d.' twuz one of them moments.

then thay wuz the musick. thay had em a choir with a choir die recktor name of esther james, witch she looked lack a white woman with a lil tan but she wuz black. innywho, early in the fall quarter they had em a concert over at ut put on by the black cultchurull center so i figgerd i wood go. i wuz sittin by the center aisle fer the show, witch twuz a musickull vershun of the histry of black folk in amurka. twuz all innerwove together n ackted out, with one of my students name of denise meyers a'wakin up on the shore of amurka. she wuz a verr purty gurl, verr lite skinnd with almond eyes. as she wuz a'lookin roun her lack she wuz trine to figger out whar she wuz, ye could hear the choir hummin. then frum behin me i herd the mos beeyootifull voice ye ever herd a'sangin, 'sometimes i feel lack a motherless child.' it give me chills. i turnt to see who twuz n saw a ole woman with gray hair but whenever she pull even with me she looked at me n winked. i seen then how twuz dolores g miller dressed lack a ole lady. i wood cum to find out that more than half my students were in the choir. sides that, the way esther james dun the choir, ever concert wuz a show. i couldnt hep but git idees.

whenever i say idees, i mean idees bout mayhap ritin a play or sumthin. i dun mentchuned how we had classes in the colston center fer the performin arts n all. ifn yer a'gone have performin arts, ye gut to have a place to perform, so turnt out thay wuz a theeater with a prosenium arch n curtains n seatin fer 1,100. i wuz in awe furst time i went thar, witch that wood be fer 'cuntemp,' witch thats whut all the students called a program name of 'cuntemporary issues.' furst quarter i wuz thar, i dint know nuthin bout it on a counta tiz a gatehrin of everbidy on campus in that theeater fer shows of all kinds. the presdent wood splain this n that bout skool rules n such. the choir wood perform, witch ifn i had been a'goin to cuntemp all along, i wooda dun knowd bout my students bein in the choir.

so plane fack wuz, i wuznt gittin much ritin dun. my mind wuz too full of other thangs. part of that wuz how i wuz a'trine to live in two worls at once. me n johnny mayhew n sumtimes bud rankin wood wurk out over at ut ever tuesdy, thursdy n saturdy. me n billy stewart wood play racket ball once a week. we had cards bout once a week n group once a week n the farm n fambly wood call on me fer gatherns to whar seem lack i dint hardly have no time to do no ritin.

corse that warnt cumpletely true. fack wuz, i had that 8 oclock class n nuthin else till 1 in the afternoon. dint nobidy know me on the yard at kc n dint nobidy cum by my offus. ye mite could thank i wooda writ durin that time, but i dint. eethur i wood grade papers or read the bible. odd thang wuz, whenever i red that bible, i wood feel gilty. i wuz thankin i should rite n ever time i wood spend a cuple hours readin, i wood figger i had tuck the easy way out. but i couldnt stop till i had dun read it cover to cover.

twuz my secunt time n turnt out to be one of the bes thangs i dun fer myself, ifn i did feel lack i wuz shirkin my duty at the time. even ifn ye ignore the relijus meanin of the bible, even ifn ye thank yer a atheist, ye still need to read the bible. i had been knowin ferever how the bible wuz a mane lens fer my way of seein the worl, a mane part of the white hillbilly cultchur i grew up in. i knew frum daddy a'leckchurn us bout it how twuz part of the 'jewdayo christchun tradishun' or the 'westurn intelleckchewall tradishun.' so i had dun been a'knowin how twuz importunt. but whut i never knew befor i went to wurk at kc wuz how relijus black folks is.

thar wuz prayer at ever cuntemp n dint nobidy never cumplain. the choir sung gospel songs ever cuntemp. the students went to church. i could barely bleeve it on a counta dint hardly nobidy i knew go to church. dint matter whut they bleeved, they still dint go to church. but at kc everbidy dun it. not only that, but them students knew parts of thar bible verr well. i had known thar wuz sum identificayshun with the children of israel escapin bondage, but i hadnt never seen how that wuz a livin breathin part of everday life. my readin the bible rite then n bein able to talk bout them stories turnt out to hep me git my students attenchun. ifn i gut to talkin bout moses or jacob or david n bathsheba or jesus in the garden of gethsemuny, everbidy new whut twuz about.

thay wuz minny a differnts twixt them two worls, the 'white world' n the 'black communty.' i wood walk back n forth twixt em a few times each week. twernt but a twenty mint walk, but ye mite coulda been goin to a nuther cuntry. i bent yer eye a nuff on that so far, but lemme give ye one last eggzample. them questchunairs i handed out.

i give the same forms to all four of them classes. fer the mos part ye gut the standurd stuff on a counta twuz name n birthplace n birthday n all. but on a few questchuns, the differntses twixt whut them kids at utk writ n whut them at kc writ wuz stark. as it happend, ever student i had at utk that fall wuz white n ever student i had at kc wuz black. that dint always happen, but twuz so that quarter.

thay wuz one questchun that stood out fer me, witch i ast em who is yer hero? heres the top three heroes fer composishun 1010 at ut n fer that grammar class at kc, bofem pure freshmun (my otherns at kc warnt):
  1. Superman
  2. Bugs Bunny
  3. James Bond
  1. Martin Luther King
  2. Jesus Christ
  3. Malcolm X
thay wuz sum other innerestin ansers. at ut we had wonder woman n kwai chang caine n luke skywalkker n such. at kc thay wuz maya angelou n sojourner truth n frederick douglass n booker t washington n george washington carver n one othern i dint recognize: alice walker. twuz on the paper of a gurl name of cassandra wurthy. i member whenever i furst gut them papers back n saw that. i went out n gut the color purple, witch it hadnt been out long. i red it in one nite. ye mite could say i wuz impressd. nex class, i took a look at cassandra. she sat in the back, kep her hed down. she wuz dark skinned with long limbs n braided hair. her voice wuz deep n she seemed well spoken, but she never volunteerd to go over a sentence. she could do the wurk ifn i calld on her, but she seemed to resent it. she seemed to have talent tho, so i tride to reach out to her n give her sum encouragment. she wrote a cuple of extra essays witch were fine. i couldnt understand why she wuz even in such a basick class. i wuz even more perplexed when she quit cummin to class after jes a few weeks.

twuz an odd thang that her disappearin lack that kep her in my mind fer sum reason. up till she disappeard, i had kep the white n black worls sepert. i purty much fergut bout kc once i cum home n dint hardly thank bout it on tuesdys n thursdys. n weekends we mite be in clinton or oak ridge. i kep the black worl on tuther side of the innerstate. i wood even go over on sundys to grade papers on a counta i dint wonta git my ut papers mixed in with my kc ones.

corse life went on n purty soon i could barely member her. twuz a tiny thang then, almos lack the memry of a smell. i dint thank nuthin of it. but the wall twixt black n white wuz broke fer me, fatally cracked by the puzzle of cassandra wurthy a'disappearin.

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