1968 was a strange time that stood in a world by itself, where armed militia waged war against college students, while blocks away, colorfully-robed Hare Krishnas chanted mantras as they danced in the streets. The Beatles were dominating the pop music charts, peace and love were the outcry, and young children walked the streets of cities unsupervised.
Seven-year-old Danny stood waiting on the front porch of a small yellow house on Kennedy Street, just past where it crossed Aines. Danny held a change of clothes in a brown paper bag in his hand. His family was too poor to afford things like overnight bags. He and his friend Kevin had just walked roughly a mile from Danny’s house, where Danny’s mother had fed them sandwiches and agreed to let Danny spend the night at Kevin’s polite request.
“Wait here, I gotta ask my dad first,” Kevin had said when Danny tried to follow him through the door of Kevin’s house.
“You mean you didn’t ask him already?” Danny had asked. The thought was an impossible one to him. Danny had been in trouble too many times for making plans without consulting his mother first.
“He wouldn’t remember anyway,” Kevin had said before he disappeared inside and closed the door.
Danny stood there waiting, listening to the sounds of laughter from the living room. He’d been waiting a long, long time. It was cold. The sun was going down now. The streetlights turned on behind him out on the street and darkness began to settle over the city. Finally, Danny rang the doorbell. A tall young man answered the door.
“What choo want?” he asked.
Danny was scared by the young man’s sharp tone. He looked nervously through the door where a hushed silence had fallen on the room. “Is Kevin here?”
“Kevin don’t want nuttin wit choo,” the man said, and he started to shut the door.
“But he said I could spend the night.”
“Kevin!” The door slammed in Danny’s face.
A few moments later, Kevin poked his head through. “I don’t think you can spend the night,” he said.
“Didn’t you ask?”
Kevin shook his head.
“Are you going to ask?”
Kevin shook his head again.
Kevin looked over his shoulder back in the direction of what looked to be the kitchen. He shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s dark, Kevin. I don’t want to walk home all by myself. Ask if you can stay the night at my house then.”
“Wait here,” Kevin said and he closed the door again.
Danny waited another long time. He didn’t understand the things he overheard in the living room now, but he was sure some of it was said about him. He wasn’t sure Kevin was even coming back anymore, but he was too nervous to ring the doorbell a second time and it would be rude of him to leave without at least saying goodbye to Kevin. It was completely dark outside. He was going to get in trouble for walking home alone in the dark. Finally, in frustration, he turned toward the steps just as Kevin opened the door.
“You gotta go home,” Kevin said.
“Did you ask?”
Kevin shook his head.
“Why won’t you ask him?”
An adult voice hollered out from inside the house. “Kevin, what I tell you? Shut that do’ and getch yo butt inside!”
“Why won’t you ask him?” Danny asked again, lowering his voice to a whisper at Kevin’s frightened eyes.
“‘Cause I did already,” Kevin finally admitted in desperation. “I asked him the first time.”
“Well, what did he say?”
“He said you can’t stay the night.”
“But, it’s dark now. I’m going to get in trouble. Can I use your phone to call my mom?”
“Don’t you understand?” Kevin pleaded in exasperation.
Danny shook his head.
“It’s because you’re white!”
Danny stared at his friend in bewilderment.”
“I can’t let you in because you’re white. I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head, and he closed the door in Danny’s face.
By the time Danny arrived home, he was nearly in tears over the trouble he was sure to get into. To his relief, his mother was just surprised to see him, and glad he’d arrived home safe. He did his best to explain why it had taken so long.
“Mommy, what does honkey mean?” he asked.
“Oh my goodness,” she said. “Did your little friend call you that?”
Danny shook his head. “No, someone in his house did. It’s bad isn’t it?”
Danny’s mom put her arm around her son and sat him down on the sofa. “No, honey, it’s not bad. People might say it in a bad way, but it’s just a word. It just means you have white skin.”
“But Kevin’s dad thinks it’s bad.”
“What do you mean?”
“He said I couldn’t come in the house because I was white.”
“It’s hard to explain,” she said with a sigh. “You’ll learn more about it in school, but maybe not for a few years. Sometimes people treat each other unfairly. It doesn’t mean they’re bad people. The important thing is that Kevin is still your friend, but it looks like you’re just going to have to be friends at school, okay?”
Danny was sad, but he nodded. He saw something he’d never seen before, something he’d have been better off if he’d never seen.
Danny saw color.
© 2013 Anne Schilde