We had 47 at the lodge installation last night, one of them black. Ed is only the fourth black person I have known in Oregon, and the only black Odd Fellow (making him odd even among the odd). I don’t know how much of it is due to him being black and me having a Southern accent, but when we are in the same room, we can’t stay away from one another, and I keep thinking that what I would really like to do would be to give Ed a big long hug. I tell myself that I should think of him as just another person—like a well-tanned white guy—but I keeping looking at how black he is, and thinking that I miss black people.
When I’m around Ed, I feel like a part of me is missing, and that Ed fills the empty space. He’s my black fix. What he gets from me, I don’t know. He’s from Pennsylvania, so I can’t remind him of home. Maybe he listens to my drawl, pictures Klan robes in my closet, and wants to figure out what I’m really about; not that we talk about any of this. Mostly, I don’t talk at all except to ask questions while Ed describes his various health problems. A person’s medical history is not usually a subject that makes me hang onto his every word, but when that someone is Ed, I can’t get enough. He could be reading the phone book for all I care.
If there’s a lot of emotional stuff between black people and white people in this country, there is probably a good bit more between Northern blacks and Southern whites. I can’t imagine Ed listening to me speak without my voice bringing up feelings that he doesn’t have everyday; and I can’t look at him without wishing from the bottom of my heart that history had been a lot different. Half of Mississippi is black, yet the racial division in which I grew-up was such that they might as well have lived in another country. Even when I had black friends, our friendship was like a tiny point at which two opposing lines momentarily came together and that had nothing to do with our real lives.
After lodge tonight, everyone retired to the dining room for a feast of pies, cakes, cookies, candies, donuts, cupcakes, and….fried chicken. Guess who brought the chicken? Forty-seven people at a dessert feast, and one guy brings fried chicken, and that one guy just happens to be the only black man present! If I knew Ed better, I might have teased him about this, but I would have my toenails ripped out before I would risk causing offense. If I were to hurt Ed, it would break my heart.
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