Pierre Fontenot Saturday, December 21, 2013 0

In Albertson’s, in the fruit section, I see what I see; an elderly white man and his black female aide. At first glance it all looks so sad to me.

He’s Greatest Generation aged. I take him as a widower. This is his once-a-week grocery shopping day. He’s got a grocery list written on a small piece of paper. He’s sort of stuck, over there by the bananas; his eyes are not good, and his hands are shaking and he’s having a hard time deciding what is next on the list.

Off ten, fifteen yards or so, is the black aide. She’s with him, I can tell. She’s dressed poorly, too large for her tank top, her sweat pants are old and shabby, and to pull the look all together she’s wearing those gawdawful Crocs.


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We all jump to conclusions; it’s natural, we’re right more than we’re wrong, and frankly it seems smart. In the animal kingdom all it takes is a whiff; prey don’t wait for visual confirmation before they run from the smell of predators. The deer that gives every wolf a chance to not be wolfish is soon lunch on the hoof.

Take that natural instinct of categorizing people by visual clues – that we all do – and then put it in a mind like mine and I’m writing biographies on people almost instantly. Show me a fingernail and I’m writing finger, hand, wrist and arm.

A lot of times I’m right. This wasn’t one of ‘em. Hallelujah.


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So here’s bad me on this one.

I give him the benefit of the doubt. He’s a white male, very elderly, and I instantly lump him into the category of all the older white men that I’ve personally known, who’ve led lives of great character. I’m glad that he’s alive, and can still get around, but I’m sad that he’s feeble and I’m sad that he’s now dependent on someone that I consider “beneath” him, not by being black, but the clues I get about her class.

Is this how his life ends, making small talk with her, in the loneliness of his empty house? Where are his kids, his grandkids?

I feel sorry for her too. Did she think her life would end up here, baby sitting an old white guy?

Everybody seems to be settling, and where there’s settling something good is dying.


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I linger over making a bread decision, watching the two of them. The old man stays near the bananas, having such a burden deciding where to go next. She seems patient, giving him his distance. She walks off an aisle or two over and returns with a bottle of Sprite and puts it in the man’s buggy. Then she steps away and waits for him.

This is going on for about two minutes. Already, I’m impatient. I knew already, and it doesn’t take much to remind me, that I am not cut out for care giving. My instinct would be to take over, to take the list, get the ball rolling, let’s get this done and go to the next thing. When I think those thoughts she rises in my esteem, because she’s more patient than I am, more respectful of whatever declining abilities and dignities that he still has.

I move on, about my own mission and up ‘n down an aisle or so until I’m surprised when I cross paths with her. I make eye contact with her, and she nods, and I say, “Must be hard isn’t it?”

To take care of a stranger. To make your living this way. That’s what I’m thinking.

She replies, “Ain’t hard not one bit,” and now I see in her face what her clothes didn’t tell me, that she is clean inside, that it isn’t about the paycheck, that she has extra love in her heart and has been gifted with patience, tenderness, and kindness to a degree that I’ll never reach.

I couldn’t keep eye contact; she was my superior.


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The other layer to this is the black / white thing, doubled by the generation thing. These old white men, that I see as honorable, the truth is, a lot of them did some pretty mean stuff to blacks. I saw some of it in the 60’s.

Where I give the benefit of the doubt, because he’s white, she has every good reason to not give him the benefit of the doubt, because he’s white. For all anybody knows this is exactly the kind of man that her grandmother warned her about…

And yet here she is, caring for him, and clean before God.

I don’t know who you are, lady, but you were better than church.


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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is brought to you by Eighty-one, where we think the best deeds are good deeds done in the quiet, without reward.  Uncle P can be reached at 81creativity@gmail.com.