With the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which you have been called (Ephesians 1:18)
Chloe smoothed out the hem of her dress and sat up as straight as her arthritic back would allow. She was ready. As if on cue, a tall, slender young woman walked through the door.
“Grandma . . .”
“Oh my, take a look at you! You are all grown up!”
The young woman leaned down for a hug, but Chloe cupped her face with her two hands and held her gaze, a pair of soft hazel eyes locked in harmony.
“My granddaughter going off to college in a few days! To my alma mater! Honey, I couldn’t be more proud.”
She let go of the young woman, so she could pull up a chair next to her grandmother’s rocker.
“Tell me, Grandma, what was it like for you?”
Chloe raised a eyebrow.
“You know,” her granddaughter continued, “What were you thinking about before you left for school.”
“Oh, let me reach back . . . I can see myself, even now, getting ready to board the train. I was tall, like you, but I didn’t hold myself up as straight. I love the way you look ahead, as if you expect to learn something. I always looked down.”
“Honey, a black woman had to know place in those days and a black woman’s place was in the gutter. I remember my Papa telling me, ‘Chloe, you keep your mouth shut now and give yourself a chance to learn the right words.'”
“Great Grandpa said that?”
“Honey, your family tree is heavy with deep thinkers.”
“Well, there were separate train cars for black folks. Far fewer seats. I stood up most of the time. And I always had to bring food because they wouldn’t serve me.”
She paused and saw her granddaughter’s anger smoldering just below the surface, like a crocodile swimming in the liquid pools of her eyes.
“But let me tell you about the black porters.”
“What is a porter?”
Chloe laughed, “Oh child, I’m sure showing my age now! A porter was employed by the railroad to help the passengers. They’d help you abroad, carry your luggage, things like that. And they had black and white porters for the separate cars.”
“Of course they did, those racists!”
“You’re right; there was a lot of racism. Sexism too.” It was her granddaughter’s turn to raise an eyebrow. Chloe laughed. “You don’t think that your Granny’s too old to know a word like ‘sexism’, do you?” She then continued, “Now, mind you, I don’t know for sure what happened in those white cars, but I know this: our black porters were there for us. They gave us extra orange juice in the glasses and would make sure that you got, not just one, but two pillows.”
“Grandma, what difference would that make? They kept you pinned up, like cattle! And you remember extra orange juice? And pillows?”
Chloe smiled. “You’re right to be angry. But listen to me. Holding on to resentment is like drinking rat poison and expecting the rat to die. My love, there isn’t a thing you can do about the past. But you can remember the kindness as a way to change the future.”
This story was inspired by an interview with Toni Morrison about her new book, Home.