Sunday, November 14, 2021

Not Even Not Zen 229: Biomythography - Note 6, My Color

A Biomythography - Note 6
by Secret Hippie

How I Found My Color

In the back of my mother's blue Ford Falcon, I rode to visit her elementary school. The day was bright and warm, a Saturday near the end of summer. My mother had to prepare for her next week of work. I was six years old.

"Do you want to come in?" she asked as she stepped out of the car.

"What are you going to do?"

"Prepare lessons." I knew what that meant. It wasn't anything interesting.

"Can I stay and read?" I asked.

"Haven’t you already read those comic books?" she said.


"Well, if you get bored, come in and find me."

She walked away and, for a long time, I sat reading and rereading a pair of ten cent Dell comic books starring Peanuts characters. In years later, I read them to pieces. But when I was six, they were almost new. One had a forest green cover with Charlie Brown and Snoopy looking at a book. The other had a blue cover with the same two looking at a box camera.

After I finished both books, I set them down in my lap and stared out the window. My eyes took in the green shadows and the light through the trees. For a while, I daydreamed about having a dog like Snoopy. Then I picked up the magazines and started reading again. Around page five, I heard a tapping on my window.

I turned and saw the top of a child’s head.

The kid's fingers looked thin to me. They made an awkward fist and rapped another time with two knuckles on the window.

“What do you want?” I unrolled the window to hear the answer.

“Do you want to play?”


After I got out, we shook hands and introduced ourselves. I learned that he was “Charles but everybody calls me Charlie. I’m thinking Chuck is better but my sister won’t let me.” Charles or Charlie or Chuck was five, so about a year younger than me, plus he was a haircut shorter and skinnier.

“What were you doing in there? Sleeping?" He had apparently kept watch on the car after my mother got out.

“Reading comics."

“You have comics?" He bounced on his toes. "Can I see?"

I got out the comics, gave him one, and we sat down on the pavement to read side-by-side. After about five minutes of turning the pages, he told me, “I can’t read.”


“Can you read this one to me? I like Peanuts. Because his name is Charlie. But it is really Charles. Like me.”

So I read him one comic and then part of another until he got bored. Then we threw pebbles at the trees for a while. We talked and realized that we both knew freeze tag. So we played that. But freeze tag isn’t much fun with only two players. The game waned along with our interest until we both sighed and stopped. We kicked dirt and wondered what to do next.

“Are you colored?" he asked.

“Sure.” It was the end of summer. All of the adults in my life had been commenting about how dark brown I had become.

“Really? Because you have yellow hair. I never met anyone who was colored but had yellow hair.” Then Charlie backed up a step and rolled his eyes. “Except for my aunt. She has yellow hair. But I know that it’s a wig."

“Do you have a color?”

“Sure, I’m colored. I know that I am kind of light but everyone tells me, I’m colored. If you are not colored, you are white. Does anyone tell you that you’re colored?"


“Then maybe you’re white.”

No one had ever said that. It seemed preposterous.

“Maybe?“ I said, trying to be agreeable. The idea was stupid, though, and it seemed worse as I mentally compared myself to the colors in my school paint sets.

“But I never met no white person who was darker than me.“ Charlie took my arm and put it next to his. We looked at our skin. To me, our arms looked a lot the same but he was thinner. He had the skinniest fingers. That's what I found myself staring at. He said, “See, you are darker than me."

“Oh, yeah.” I noticed what he meant. My skin was a lot browner than his.

“Look, even the hairs on your arm are yellow. Are you colored or not?”

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe you are mulatto."

“What’s that?"

“That’s when your mama is colored and your daddy is white or the other way around. Is your mama colored?”

“I don’t know. Her hair is dark but her skin is lighter than mine.”

“So maybe she is white. But maybe she is colored and just light like me. How about your daddy? Is he white or colored?"

I had a prickling, almost uncomfortable realization. My father's skin was so white that other men made fun of him. Even I had sort of done it when I commented on how pale he was in the middle of summer. His skin shone a little at night, so he was always the first person I spotted if I got lost while we were camping. His face was visible by the light of the stars when there was no moon. During the day, I could see the blue veins beneath his skin.

“My father,“ I realized. “is white. He really is white."

“Okay,” said Charlie. He was not the slightest bit fazed by what for me, had been a huge revelation. “Then probably your mama is colored. Did your mama go into the school? We could ask her.”

We wandered around the school for a little while until we found the front doors. Charlie wasn't in first grade yet so he didn't know where things were and I didn't remember anything about the building from the year before. When he saw the doors, Charlie put his arm on me to hold me steady.

“We can’t go in," he hissed.

“Why not?”

“Those three, the big girls? They’re mean.”

On the steps of the entrance to the school, we saw girls playing jacks. They looked tall and tough, third graders at least, maybe fourth. I had graduated from first grade, though. I tried to move forward but Charlie kept his grip.

“Don’t do it,” he whispered.

As if to back up his point, one of the girls elbowed another girl during the game of jacks. That was cheating. And the other girl, just as big, hopped up, grabbed the bouncing ball and threw it hard at the girl who had cheated.

The cheater said something that I didn’t understand.

“Oh, so you’re going to kick my ass, huh? Here.” The stronger girl gave an evil smile. “I’ll make it easy."

She turned and presented her behind to the other two girls.

“Go ahead. You kick it and I will pound you into the steps right here. Go ahead. Free kick.”

The cheater mumbled something and backed down the steps.

That is the moment I chose to walk forward. Charlie tried to drag me away by my arm for a second or two more but then he got so scared, he couldn’t stand it. He let go of me and dashed behind a tree.

“Hi,” I said.

“What do you want?" snapped the girl.

“My mother teaches here. I have to go in.”

“Oh you do?”

“We have to find out!” Charlie shouted from behind the tree. “His daddy is white. But he don’t know about his momma.”

“Charlie is that you?” she called. "Your sister said you ain't supposed to come here."

“We gotta find out if he’s mulatto. Don’t he look mulatto?” The boy burst out of hiding, he was so excited. But he remained fearful of the bigger kids. He took position beside me and, a moment later, crept two steps back to take position behind my left shoulder.

The big girl leaned to one side and gazed at me doubtfully.

“Your momma’s a teacher?” She folded her arms. “What’s her name?”

“Mrs. Gallagher.”

The faces of the three girls lit up. They beamed at me. Over the span of a few seconds, they all relaxed. The effect looked sort of dopey on them.

“Mrs. Gallagher is your momma?” one of them said, almost breathlessly.

“Uh huh.”

The strongest one fluttered her eyelids.

“She is so nice. She is so smart. And so pretty.” She wheeled to the other girls. They backed off. Then she gave Charlie some side-eye. “And she is white. She ain’t no colored lady. She might be the nicest teacher in the whole school. But she’s white.”

“Aw.” That little voice came from behind me. It was Charlie.

“Don’t you know that you’re white?” the girl demanded. She focused on me.

Helpless, I shrugged.

“What if I was going to slug you?”

“That’s what big kids do.” I shrugged again. “Go ahead, I guess. I still gotta go in.”

“I ain’t gonna slug you." She laughed. "You go and say hi to your momma. She is so, so nice.”

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