Biographical Non-Fiction posted September 10, 2022 Chapters:  ...6 7 -8- 9 


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A brief profile of the black man I called father for 9 years

A chapter in the book I Didn't Know I Wasn't Black

I Didn't Know I Wasn't Black 8

by GARY MACLEAN


A Black Man was my white Mom’s illegitimate lover and my surrogate father figure from age five through age 13. His name was Arnold. He stood about 5’6”, had a slight stoop to his stance and always carried a healthy potbelly. My real Dad was 6'4" and stood as straight as a board till the day he died. 

Arnold was bald with no comb over because of the type of hair he had and the lack of it.  He looked okay bald though. He always sported a thick moustache and that gave him the hair he needed. His mouth was highlighted with big lips that were always chewing something.

Arnold didn’t work much; he spent most of his time at home or visiting people. I don’t know why he didn’t work. Maybe it had something to do with the prejudice against black people in the fifties that made it difficult for him to find a job. I know a lot of it though was just the fact that Arnold didn’t like to work. It got in the way of his socializing. Was he lazy? I would have to say he was.

Arnold was the man that introduced Mom to the Seventh-Day Adventist religion. The way I remember the story as Mom told it; she was driving home from work one day, she still lived with my dad at this time, and she saw a man with a flat tire. The man was Arnold. Mom decided to give the man with a kind looking face a ride to help him get his car back on the road.

Arnold was very thankful and began talking to Mom during the ride to the service station. Arnold was a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, and a part-time preacher as well as a gospel singer. He couldn’t help himself; he had to tell everyone he encountered about the mystery of being a Christian. He spoke to Mom about it. Mom was hungry for something spiritual and listened intently to every word Arnold said. Before the ride was over Mom had agreed to meet Arnold and go to church with him some Saturday.

I don’t know much of anything about the rest of the story until the day we ended up in court for mom and dad's divorce. I know later on in life that Arnold's Seventh-Day Adventist church turned Mom and I away. We were banned from attending the church and our memberships were cancelled. Something about “Mom was a cardinal woman living in sin!” Arnold quickly got back in the good graces of the “white only” congregation but Mom was not allowed to attend any longer. The church board had only tolerated Mom’s presence because of their loyalty to Arnold, but not his white wife.

This was my first real exposure to extreme hypocrisy. This white only church accepted a black man because he could preach and sing and he did odd jobs around the church. But they refused his white wife because she had stooped to the level of marrying a man of a different race. This was a God-fearing congregation, who supposedly welcomed all who wanted to seek out the Lord, but they drew the line at interracial marriage, even though it included their "prize" black member. Mom quit attending and moved back with my dad, taking me with her.

While Mom was working, Arnold would either travel the countryside visiting other churches or he would pick fruits. Arnold would get up with Mom and get her off to work. Then he would roust us kids and get us ready for a day at the orchards. Many times, Arnold would drive us to the orchard, leave us to pick fruit and say he had to deal with something, then come back and pick us up at the end of the day.

It was important for us kids to pick and do a decent job because we were also picking for our school clothes. The money we made from picking fruit would be used to purchase shoes or a shirt or something else we needed for school. Mom would sew all year long trying to get clothes together for us for Christmas. She knew she couldn’t dress us all for school on her meager pay, so she depended on us to earn some of our own money to help supply ourselves for the school year. What we could earn, what Mom could buy and what she would end up making for us would give us a decent wardrobe for the next year.

One year Mom made me a shirt out of a material with a lot of different deep-sea fish on it; sharks, swordfish, sailfish and so on. It was beautiful; the greens were so bright, and they were accented with whites and grays. I loved the shirt so much that I wore it nearly every day. After it was well worn I asked Mom if she could please use it in a quilt for me. Mom always had a homemade quilt under construction. She made me the quilt with the “fish-shirt” in it. Even though I no longer have the shirt, I still have the quilt and pieces of my “fish-shirt.”

Arnold was a decent man; please don’t get me wrong; I don’t mean to insult him when I say he was lazy, it’s just, that’s the way it was. He did good things and had a calm nature about himself most of the time. He would sing at neighborhood churches and help local choirs get things organized. He would also canvas for those even worse off than us. He was a good Christian; except when it came to providing for his own. He used to say, “The Lord will provide.”

Arnold would send me about a mile away to the local train tracks. Arnold had me go to the railroad tracks with my wagon to collect as much coal as I could find. Trains would come through Holton and invariably they would lose a few smaller pieces of coal when they jerked during departure. If I were lucky I could fill my wagon to overflowing with loose coal pieces.

I knew if I brought home a big load of coal that Arnold would be pleased with me, and I knew we would have a nice warm night next to the stove. He always gave me credit for that. He would thank me in front of everyone and tell them all that they were lucky I was such a good coal gatherer. I was proud of it even though I really didn’t like having to go down to collect it.

On one occasion I was having a particularly lucky day. I just kept finding one large piece after the other. They were as big as softballs. I couldn’t contain myself. I was audibly making exclamations of delight every time I found one. I liked it better for hauling too. Even though they were bigger the wagon weighed less when it was full of big chunks than it did when it was full of the little, tiny pieces.

The train had started to move so I knew I had to get out of the way. The train kept getting a little faster and it started blowing the whistle. Suddenly one large chunk of coal came rolling down right at my feet. It was much bigger than any I had already collected. I thought it was magic or something. I stooped to pick it up right away. I put it in my wagon and here comes another one, right at my feet. This one was even larger than the first one. Another miracle I thought to myself. It took me two hands to pick this one up. I put it in my wagon, stopped, looked up and saw this man with a great big smile on his face.

The man was hanging out the door of the train and he had a dark blue uniform on. I will never, ever forget him. He was an older white man, but he looked so clean and neat. His suit was so crisp and bright. He flashed me another great big toothy smile as he tossed another big chunk of coal my way. Then, he did what no one has ever done to me before. This powerful man, who was clearly in control of everything, saluted me just like I was a soldier or something. He saluted me like I was something, like I meant something to somebody. He made me somebody; he made me a real person for that one second.

I dropped my coal, snapped to attention and slapped my hand to my brow in the clumsiest salute I’m sure this man had ever seen, but I saluted him back. He dropped his hand rolled his head back in a big laugh and gave me a big wave. He tossed me one more chunk of coal and waved again. I watched him until he was out of sight. He just hung there watching me watch him, the whole time.

I searched for this man every time I came to the tracks from that time on. Sometimes there was a train, sometimes not, but there was never that man. I would see other men, but they didn’t like me hanging around the tracks. Sometimes, they could even be harsh about telling me to get out of there and would tell me the coal was railroad property; I had better leave it alone. One of the men even made me empty my wagon right in front of him. I went home empty handed that day. Nobody made me feel like that man in the blue suit did, ever again.

It was difficult to be with Arnold. Early in my life with Arnold, I learned to duck my head beneath the dashboard of the car pretending to look for something I had dropped when I saw people I knew on the street. I had no reason to be concerned about being seen by them. They were nothing to me, they didn’t like me, and I didn’t associate with them. I guess I didn’t want to give them any more ammunition than I had to, by letting them see me with Arnold. I would usually feel bad that I felt that way after we were past them but that is how it was. Besides, everyone knew the situation about the black and white family that lived on the hill on the corner; hiding my face didn’t change that one bit.

Life was hard with Arnold. He had access to so many resources but never seemed to use them. Arnold never had a garden with sweet corn or tomatoes or anything. He never had chickens and seldom ever had eggs, fresh or otherwise. The chicken dinners he provided were certainly rare. Arnold didn’t have grapes or berry bushes or fruit trees of any kind even though we always lived in the country. He didn’t keep a patch of rhubarb or anything edible. There were no lilac bushes, flowers or any special places to play in. Overall, Arnold had it all, he was self-retired, satisfied living on my mom’s income, but at the end of the day … he had nothing!




Recognized


My white mom divorced my dad and moved in with her black lover ... in 1950s America. She took myself and two sisters with her but did not want any of my other seven siblings and she made it clear she didn't. This chapter is a brief profile of the black man this white boy called Father for nine years.

One of the differences between 7th Day Adventists (SDA) and typical protestant churches is that SDAs take the 4th Commandment, Remember the sabbath day, literally and worship on the 7th day, or Saturday. They have many other differences and rules, that are too numerous to mention in this article, but that is one of the primary ones. There is no written SDA rule against interracial marriage that I am aware of, but it can be applied individually by churches very easily, which is what happened in our case.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

Artwork by suzannethompson2 at FanArtReview.com

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