I still have the first toy I ever got. I don’t remember much about getting it because I had just been born that morning and was more concerned with why I was no longer in the warm, floaty place and the manner by which I’d been extracted. Seriously, if you’re go to the trouble of putting in an exit, make sure it’s big enough to actually fit through.
My first toy was a little doll, a gift from my parents. For the longest time I thought she was another baby — a very quiet and still baby. Either that or she was ignoring me because she didn’t like me. I quickly eliminated that as a possibility, however, because who doesn’t like a baby? Maybe she didn’t like sharing the spotlight and was more active while I was asleep. It was the only logical conclusion I could draw for why I never saw her eat or poop. And I slept a lot, so she’d have plenty of time to take care of business during that time.
I also noticed, as some of you may have, that we didn’t look a lot alike. Below is a picture of my family taken during the Just Wear Anything period when people no longer cared about what they wore, no matter how plaid it might be. The picture on the left is my doll.
You may ask yourself, “What’s the big deal? My kids’ Little People and Polly Pocket sets come with different races.” And you may ask yourself, “Where is that large Automobile?” But you’d probably only ask the latter if you’re a Talking Head, or if you currently have Letting The Days Go By on an endless loop in your head. Curse you, ear worm!!”
Things are obviously different now than they were when I got here. My arrival came not far on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement and locally, the Watts Riots. My parents didn’t get the doll for me because they to store was out of white dolls; and it wasn’t a packaging error where the doll inside the box wasn’t what the picture on the outside of the box indicated. They did it deliberately and for admirable reasons.
I’ve heard the city I grew up in referred to as “the island,” because it was very white while the towns around it were had large Black and Hispanic populations. And a lot of people wanted to keep it that way. I don’t know old I was when the family across the street moved it; but I remember how angry my folks were when some neighbors came to the door asking for their support in attempting to stop the sale of the house. Apparently, the mere presence of a Hispanic family in our neighborhood would destroy everyone’s property value.
My parents had the foresight to know that not only was it very unlikely I’d go to school with any black kids, it was a real possibility I’d end up making friends with kids raised in less-than-tolerant environments. Giving me that doll was a proactive approach to making sure I didn’t come home from school a little racist. And given what was going on in the country at the time, I think it was pretty brave of them. It might have been braver to have done something that didn’t involve putting a defenseless baby in the possible path of a rabid racist, but I guess parents can only do so much.
I’m living back in my hometown again, and it’s definitely different than it was growing up. All manner of people now live on my parent’s street, and I imaging the neighbors would only try to shut down the sale of a home if it were being purchased the the Acme Crystal Meth processing plant.
I was at Walgreen’s today at around the time school let out, so there were quite a few kids inside. A group wanting to buy some marked down Valentines candy reminded me of being in middle school and stopping at the little mom and pop grocery store on the way home to get candy and sodas. The 7-11 across the street was actually cooler and better stocked, but I wasn’t allowed to go there because that’s where the kids who smoked hung out. My parents failed to see the irony of keeping me away from my smoking peers while being raised by smoking parents.
The kids at Walgreen’s were in deep discussion about how to get the most bang for their buck. So as I was leaving, I handed the cashier five dollars so the kids could get what they wanted rather than settling for what they could afford. I didn’t stick around because I thought a stranger buying candy for a bunch of kids might seem creepy, and I didn’t want to weird them out. Or get arrested.
As I was getting to my car, I heard one of the kids call to his friend outside that they now had enough money to get whatever it was they were after. The outside kid asked where the money had come from and the first kid replied, “Some white lady just left it for us.”
When I was growing up, referring to someone as a “white lady” was about as unnecessary as referring to a priest as “that Catholic guy.” That someone here was white was always just a given, and it did my little hometown heart good to know that’s not the case anymore. The times, they are a-changin’ …