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MARCH 8, 2024



~~~  O N E  ~~~

        On a visit to my parents, I stopped in New Orleans to see my aunt Claire, everybody’s favorite aunt. She had downsized after my grandmother and my great aunt died by moving across Crete Street to a smaller, but very nice, house where she lived alone.


         I had told her I was coming, but she wasn’t there. Puzzled and wondering if she was okay, I walked around to the back. Still no clue. As I walked back to the front, a colored lady came out of the house next door. When I was growing up, right around the corner, on Bell Street, there were no Negroes living within miles. It was “a nice neighborhood”. No Negroes allowed. It was still a nice neighborhood, but Claire had Black next door neighbors. Times had changed. For the better.


         “Are you looking for something?”, she asked. I explained the situation, and she graciously accepted me and my intrusion. As we talked, Claire drove up. I thanked the colored lady for being a good neighbor and looking after my aunt. She replied, “We always look after Miss Claire.”


         That “Miss Claire” bothered me. Sure, Claire was a generation older, but I would have bet the farm that If Claire had been Black, she would have been called simply “Claire”. I am still bothered about it today. The neighborhood was integrated, but I could feeel the vestiges of the ancient division between the races. I felt that the Black neighbor was being deferential to a white lady, as if “she knew her place” as we used to say during Jim Crow days. But I couldn’t say that to her. All I could do was show my belief that the old ways were over by being sure to let her know that I was happy that she was Claire’s neighbor and that she was “looking after” my aunt.



~~~  T W O ~~~


         Our phone rang about midnight. It was my daughter, Claire, named after my aunt. She needed advice and help, explaning that her friend, Barbara, had come to her house to crash as she was coming down from a bad drug trip. Barbara had slept it off on Claire’s sofa. She was now awake, but she had no way to get home to her two little children.


         I went over to see what I could do. Barbara was lucid now but distressed about her situation. After evaluating the situation and with Barbara’s permssion, I called the number she gave me for her mother. The answer saddened me, but I did understand: “I told Barbara if she did drugs again, don’t bother to call me.”


         That left two options, let Barbara go back to sleep on the sofa or take her home. There was really one choice. Her babies needed their mother. I told her I would take her directly to her front door.


         There was a problem. Barbara was Black and lived in The Cut, a neighborhood where white people didn’t go at night if they had any sense. I didn’t have any sense. Following Barbara’s directions, I drove up to her house, but it wasn’t a house. It was an apartment building, and Barbara lived on the third floor. I looked up and down the street. The only people were a young couple, Black, leaning against each other and on a parked car. I was afraid. My car was a Cadillac Seville. That and my white skin made me a likely target, but I had told Barbara I would take her to her front door. We got out, entered the building and started up the stairs. On the second floor, there was an apartment with a screen door. I could tell that the wood door was open, and I could sense a presence within. I spoke to the presence, “You all know Barbara?” A woman’s voice said, “We know Barbara.”


         “Barbara’s had a bad trip. Can you look after her?”

“We always look after Barbara.”


         One more flight up. Then back down. Do NOT rush! Out to my Caddy. Still there but the young couple was gone. Get in. Drive SLOWLY away. Phew!


         As I drove, I wanted to praise myself for being brave, but there was another voice inside that spoke with more intensity: “You aren’t brave. You are a damn fool who was showing off. The front door could have been the front door of the apartment building, but you had to show Barbara you weren’t afraid. I admit it, but I learned there are good people who look after others. One of them lives in an apartment on the second floor.

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