Food For the Body and Soul

In the west, we are often fed stories of racial tensions that cripple the south, so I was a bit leery about traveling to such hostile territory by myself. But I have encountered no hostility, no resentment, no reserve. In fact, everyone has treated me with a warmth and kindness that feels genuine. Eyes spark with friendliness, and I have yet to see the dulled gaze that comes from holding oneself apart.

The deeper I got into the south, where I saw more blacks than whites, the more confused I became. Sometimes I am the lightest-skinned person around, yet no one has ever made me feel out of place. I have wanted to ask someone about this conundrum, this difference of perception, but I was afraid of opening a perhaps unwelcome discussion, of hurting someone by acknowledging a color difference.

I was pondering this very question when I happened to see a billboard advertising a buffet. I took the appropriate exit to Mebane, North Carolina, and entered The Iron Skillet. My server, a lovely black woman, was welcoming, kind, and gracious. In no way did I get the feeling she was putting on a show for the sake of a tip, especially since there is a general, though hopefully fading, belief that women are poor tippers. She was simply a kind woman.

I had a wonderful meal chosen from the buffet of real home cooked dishes, the kind you would make for yourself: smoke sausage with onions and peppers. Rice, chicken, and cheese casserole. Chicken and vegetables. In addition, there was a good salad bar and a great selection of cooked vegetables: tasty squash, black-eyed peas, green beans, broccoli. All the things that are so hard to find when one is tripping the highways of the United States.

In the middle of my meal, there was a change of servers. The new woman, white this time, was equally attractive, kind, and friendly, so much so that I ventured to voice my quandary. She seemed a bit unsure of my question at first, as if race wasn’t an issue, and perhaps for her it wasn’t. She explained that in previous generations there might have been a problem, but starting with her generation, everything got mixed up. Kids all grow up together and learn to ignore the differences. That made sense to me, and I planned to drop the subject, but when I saw my original sever at the cash register, I wondered if she had the same view. I gathered my courage and told her of my experiences in the south. She didn’t hesitate to expain why she treated everyone alike. “We’re all God’s children,” she said. “We all have the same color blood.” We talked for a few minutes about the need for everyone to work together to save our country, then I thanked her for being so kind. She gave me a radiant smile that lit up her eyes, and said she was glad of the chance to have such a dialogue. We shook hands and exchanged names (hers is Tatiana, a lovely name for a lovely woman), then I headed on down the road.

I don’t suppose this encounter at The Iron Skillet will have any great affect on how we all do or don’t get along, but it was nice to come away with not only food for my body but also food for my soul.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)

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6 Responses to “Food For the Body and Soul”

  1. Malcolm R. Campbell Says:

    Great conversations and a wonderful meal.

  2. kencoffman Says:

    I had never met a black person until I entered the Air Force, which is a big melting pot. I remember one of my first conversations with a black person, he said, “Shitty-damn, boy, how can you live in Seattle when there’s 6-feet o’ snow up there all year ’round.” I guess we both had things to learn from each other.

  3. Coco Ihle Says:

    I was reared in the Northeast, went to college in the Midwest and lived for more than twenty years in the South, Alabama to be exact. I always have loved the southern U.S. for its friendly, somewhat slower way of life. I’ve made more friends in the South than anywhere else. Terrific people of all colors and creeds. Perceptions can be dangerous.
    So glad you are enjoying the South, Pat!!!

  4. kims7141 Says:

    Lived in the south all of my life. Have always felt that the racial tensions were because there is such a lack of opportunity for people of color. Truly believe the divide is being bridged now thanks to better education which as you know can lead to opportunity. I would love to see the pain and unrest of former gens to be healed. Thanks for sharing!

  5. rami ungar the writer Says:

    I get so many stories about the continued entrenched and systemic racism every day, it’s heartwarming to see that there are people who believe that we’re all the same and that together we can banish racism to the dark ages. Thanks for sharing, Pat.

  6. frederick anderson Says:

    I think people get along fine with each other for the most part; there are only a few with anger or distress in their souls who pollute the pond and stir up hatred. Here in UK I think we’re getting to the point where white is fading from the palette altogether, but we all get on OK.


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