Thursday, June 01, 2006

Growing Up Buttermilk

I grew up in a neighborhood that became a black neighborhood as the 60s social experiment known as Model Cities tore down the ramshackle downtown and moved the blacks that lived there into the better poorer neighborhoods to the north of the city. Slowly but surely, we became the minority living in a minority neighborhood. Some fanciful Hollywood movies attempt to portray the American South during this period, but most concentrate on portrayals of the black side of that experience and many miss the real experience of both sides. It was tough at times but seldom as violent or strained as the movies make it out to be. It was the slow begruding acceptance of each other and the coming to lose our fears and our anger. It was sometimes very funny.

Blacks have a word for a white kid growing up in a black neighborhood: Buttermilk. I grew up Buttermilk. No regrets. I don't think that will be understood by some historical plumbers, but I don't care much. It was a time of stories. Here is one.

While I was in college, my younger brother decided to engage in a horticulture experiment by putting marijuana seeds in my Mother’s wooden flower pot on the front porch of our house. My father made the flower pot for my Mom. Night after night I would come home from class and see it growing there, large and healthy by dint of my Mother’s talented but na├»ve skills. In such a neighborhood, that shade of green does not go unnoticed but it did go unmolested as my Dad was not someone to trifle with. One night, I decided it was just too risky so at 2AM, I picked up the flower pot and took it into the backyard.

When I came home the next afternoon from class, my Mother greeted me at the door and asked if I knew where her flower was. I hemmed and hawed and finally confessed that it was in the backyard. She asked me why and I told her. She immediately collapsed on the couch in a fit of hysterical laughter. This was not the expected reaction so when she calmed down, I asked why she wasn’t mad. She said she should be but that at that moment my Dad was walking up and down the street asking the neighbors if they knew who had stolen her ‘pot’. I imagine the conversations when he left were quite interesting.

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