Adelaide B. Shaw
Millbrook, New York, USA
There are only four black children in my eighth grade class, three girls and a boy. “Colored” was the word used then. I was sort of friends with Ruby. We hung out at recess and walked part of the way home together. One day Ruby asks me to her home. My grandmother will be annoyed when I come home late, but I say yes, I'll come.
I expect a single family house or a two family one, like the one I live in. The building, one in a street of such buildings, has four levels. The paint is peeling and the railing is broken.
A few people and kids are in the street, and they are colored. I'm in a colored neighbored, a new experience for me. There is bare dirt in front of the buildings, unlike my grandfather's neat plantings of roses and hydrangeas. I follow Ruby on worn and uneven steps up to the third floor through dun colored halls, smelling of food and noisy with crying babies and shouting voices. I'm beginning to regret I came.
Upon entering the flat I see an old woman, Ruby's grandmother, scrubbing the raw wood floor on her hands and knees. Unsure of what to do, I look around: a wooden table with a linoleum top, scrubbed wooden counters neatly arranged, white curtains floating on the breeze coming through an open window. There is the fragrance of baking, and I see a plate of buns on the table. Ruby's grandmother stands up, smiles and motions me to sit down.
"Now ain't this nice. Ya brought a playmate home wit ya, Ruby. Sit. Sit and have some biscuits."
This is another new experience. Not the crusty rolls or chunks of Italian bread I know, but something soft, and light.
"Ah'll get some butter and honey and milk. Ah allus have somethin fresh baked fo my little girl atter school. What's ya name, child?"
I tell her and say thank you for the biscuits, eating three, keeping up with Ruby. We don't talk, just eat, quietly sitting in that kitchen smelling of soap and baking. There are more biscuits in the oven which the grandmother watches as we eat. When we finish, not sure if I should stay or go, my timidity gets the better of me. I murmur another thank you and leave.
I do not go there again, nor do I invite Ruby to my home, but we still hang out at recess and walk part of the way home together. After graduation that June, we never see each other again.
the names and faces forgotten