“In a suburb atop a hill, five kids energetically enjoy fun with two red wagons. The energy of play is an art form of multiples only young children can achieve – children sharing rides – moving – laughing – – smiling while happily rolling down the slope in the red wagons. Days fly by and all is well from morn ‘til night. Time to wave goodbyes to all. Then a question, ‘How did you like playing with those black kids?’ Looks of question by all, then a voice. ‘What black kids’” (Varrelmann)?
In so many cases distinctions between groups, beliefs, politics, ethnicities, and the like definitely do not begin with youngsters. The attitudes rub off from adults at dinner tables, in party gatherings, outside in parking lots, and in clusters of hushed chatter and quick silence. “Must be a secret – I’ll find out” thinks the curious child. And so bias and prejudice ‘sneak’ into the play, the ‘they must be different, must be shut out.’ I suppose this holds a simplicity far from today’s explanations, but Tom strikes a certain truth. What adults model, so the youth mimic to be “like the big folks.” As a late, last child in a family of six, my wagon play was accompanied by imagined heroes based on early TV characters given new names. I mimicked pea harvest, my wagon the huge truck trundling out the long, dusty drive and losing cargo for me to pick up with my wagon-truck. A Farmall pedal tractor plowed the dirt fields of fancy and my morning ‘til night play paused only for lunch. Outside was the norm and a selfie a look in the mirror to help get the dirt from the lines in my neck.
Grade school brought bullying due to my “odd walk” and being a “poor farm kid.” A move to a new town brought northside/southside competitions, bike tag, and kids of all backgrounds into village play – but no ethnic interaction. That came in college in the late sixty-something years of tension, unrest, and a divisive war. My work at Stop-N-Go stores brought racial protest through the door in defiance to pay, taunts, mockery – and me alone in the just before closing hours. I didn’t later involve police. I went to the leadership of the marches and placard carriers, the white professors supporting equity and trying to keep everything on an even keel, on a path away from the big city burnings and violence. One conversation, a half hour of talk, and the issue at my workplace ended. Soon, an African-American fraternity was granted charter. Tension eased. But things never got back to Tom’s small group of play, “What black kids?”
In my formative years, the “N” word dominated much talk. The onset of TV also brought “Those _____ are taking over that channel – I’ll never watch that station again!” Little Richard, a rock-n-roll icon, in order to have his music played, had to relinquish all rights to his lyrics, never enjoyed the riches of his fame. Stereotype roles in film. On a broader scale, the media world of today…. I cannot get any further into the politics of things. Tom makes the point in the best manner possible, in the manner of a child. And this, too, is the way of my faith. A childlike simplicity of belief, in assurance that, though the path be very long, the guidance of God will come at the time He knows is best. I tend to walk away from much of the media mania, though sometimes I do fail and let my pen shout without my full brain engaged.
Wouldn’t joy be once again found in five sharing two wagons, in five figuring out the concept of “taking turns” and “compromise”? Effortlessly, seamlessly – just innately understanding that arguing over who’s first denies the play and the day escapes. Thank you, Tom, for poking a think my way and for reminding me of the KISS that always seems to work. “Keep It Simple Stupid.” And the greatest of these is love. submitted by Tom Varrelmann & Dave Smith