Friday, August 23, 2013

Face in the Mirror

When I was younger, so much younger than today, I went to Detroit with my boyfriend to see his aunt. Rheba was the kind of woman about whom you would say, "she had a magnetic personality". Added to the curves of her shapely figure, she had a wide, luscious mouth that was always turned up in a smile. Her huge brown eyes alight with the fullest appreciation of life, she had the ability to make a whole room of people think she was talking to each one individually. Her nephew and I loved to visit her.

Besides, Rheba owned a bar.

In my memory, it was a long, narrow room with dim lighting and lots of chairs that could be pushed back if dancing broke out. Which, on the few times I was there, it often did.

The crowd would be so enormous that we would be packed face-to-face or back-to-back and dancing was the alternative to standing so close to a stranger, with no purpose. Conversation had to be avoided for the most part, because there was always a trio playing loud music in the corner, or the blast of a sound system.

Since it was the early 70's, the music was, of course, Motown. Loud, rhythmic, heart pounding, sweaty music to jump and fly with. I knew the words, felt the cadence, sang and danced and lost myself in the sound of hoots of laughter and raucous calls.

On one particular turn around the bar, I happened to look sideways into the mirror that framed the room. There I was. Young, slim, blond, blue-eyed. Starkly white. The only white face in the room.
Black and brown bobbed and whooped it up around me. I stood stock still, stunned by the paleness of my skin. Aware for the first time that I looked so much different from my party companions.

Suddenly I thought about how my boyfriend must feel in our very white city. Years later I was to contemplate our children: when they look in the mirror, they see a combo color; a light brown that's not quite one or the other. They very often have no comparisons, no one whose color matches theirs, no crowd in which to get lost.
My daughter and son with their Grampa.
Does this matter? Not usually. The question did lead me to include racial perspectives in my book, Sweet Karoline. I did write about my children's heritage (fictionalized) of an exotic mix of white, black and native. We're fortunate because my children grew up in middle class Canada, where their racial mix was interesting, not offensive. We did have some negative reactions, which I'll tell you about another time.

For the most part, their faces in the mirror are not startlingly different, not pasty white, not dark berry. They have a part of several heritages all in one (in my humble opinion) gorgeous countenance.

Get Sweet Karoline here.

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