“Mammay. What’s a piccaninni?” Cal Al wanted to know.
The ten-year-old fixed a gaze on the elegantly slim neck as he asked, knowing truth of the matter would arise from that spot. Sure enough, at the same moment of the boy’s last word, silky cocoa skin took on a tautness previously absent. Muscles beneath ribbed themselves in cords of sinewed potency though energy driving the display remained deliberately tamed.
No word had been spoken, yet the reaction informed Cal Al that the matter was, as he supposed, profound. The peculiar word was unknown to him; insight needed for meaning. He quietly awaited words to fill blanks in the question.
Cassandra Casseiopia Broadhearst continued measured peeling of carrots in preparation for dinner to come as her backside body language held son in check. While an already tall, slim youth remained still and mute, he inwardly summoned up basis for the query…
…An hour before, Cal hopped the gate outside the Roosevelt-era red brick schoolhouse across the Coosa River from his family home. The dull thud his cross-trainers made hitting ground muddled the word he heard from behind, “Piccaninni!”
Unsure if he had understood the alien term, he glanced over a shoulder. Ansley Hightower stood watching him from a few feet distant, just behind the bush bordering the gate and therefore out of sight. “Huh?” came Cal Al’s request for clarification. He viewed the grimace marring a big seventh grader’s pale features, thinking hot afternoon sun must be dazzling the older boy’s eyes.
It wasn’t. “I said, ‘piccaninni’, ya dumb darkie, cain’t ya hear?” The grimace intensified up to a full scowl as thin lips spat the next words. “Lemme guess: ya don’ be speakin’ Anglish. ’Huh’s the onliest word ya know how to say, I’m a’bettin.”
Slow to rile, Cal Al nonetheless warmed at the low-rent vernacular; a little more by inclusion in a category of ignorance. He didn’t know this boy, having only laid eyes on him before now when passing in the hallway a few times. Why the animosity? The fifth-grader tried defraying rising tension with a quick smile so commonly disarming to most. “No, I’m quite able to express myself. What might you be meaning was more my point. I couldn’t quite make it out.” Cal’s diction was flawless. His truthfulness, a little less so. He had actually caught the new word; his footfall had only stepped on it a mite.
“Dumb as a stump, fo’ sho’…what a idiot. Can’t hear and dudn’t unnerstan’ nuttin’. Just like all ya’ll.” The vituperation hit another nerve but Cal attempted placation yet again, invoking his parents’ exemplary behavior and genteel manners as example. He was taught to respect elders and avoid violence. The fact that a lanky grade-schooler stood taller than the rest of his class still left him smaller by inches and tens-of-pounds in comparison to this blusterer, although the factor had not registered with the younger boy.
“I’m not dumb. I speak just fine. But never have heard that word, now, that is sure. Were you asking or telling something, sir?” Adding the term of respect, same way he’d heard Father intone with others.
Without further reply the blowhard suddenly rushed Cal, stooping to grab a handful of dusty sand then raising up in a fluid motion, slinging the decoy toward Cal’s face. An opposite fist followed in roundhouse arc with coldcock intent.
Even at ten-years-old Cal was not fooled by a basic boxing tactic. He dodged the dirty shower, then easily blocked a curving wind-up blow with his forearm. The quick fist of his left arm darted reflexively at the bully’s face, forcefully popping an exposed eye. The smack resounded around the almost empty school yard. A high-pitched yelp followed, bluster now replaced by a short blub on the way to sandy red dirt just sampled.
The fledgling self-defender assumed raised fists, leg-crouched position awaiting the next move. He quivered a little as adrenaline release hit. This was a first. In another second, seeing the bigger boy struggle, the youngster retracted fists and reached down to offer a hand up to the white boy.
“Stupid scum-bucket,” the chubby ground rider chirped. He fumbled up, slapping away the proffered hand in the effort. Stumbling to his feet, Ansley bulled off down the cross street, palming a fast-bruising eye. Cal Al listened at a gradually diminishing spit of epithets as would-be bully distanced. Then brushed himself off and turned toward the river bridge to home…
…The memory receded as Mammay’s soft voice broke in on the pregnant pause, “Child, wherever did you come upon the word…at school?” Cal related the episode just endured, with no little bit of trepidation in telling of the punch, knowing his mother’s penchant for diplomacy. And he then…waited.
Still viewing the back of her head, no eyes to gauge, no lips to study, only the neck to judge what ground he might stand on just then, the boy was not fearful; only subdued. “Calumet Junior, my handsome and intelligent son. The word derives from an amalgamated contraction of terms through four centuries. Different meanings through varying times. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. Spelled one way one decade, another way the next.” Her elegant southern lilt elucidated more than Miriam Webster’s sound bite. The explanation was used as a lesson on more than one level, employing vocabulary meant to challenge her children’s curiosity. It worked well. Her son would be soon researching at least one word she had utilized.
“In this day, my son, it is still cited, though rarely, as an epithetical term. A demeaning method exercised by weak-minded people to evince superiority as a brace against inner inferiority.”
“In the language of Cameroon, from where our ancestors were stolen and enslaved, a precursor term once designated a Prince of the Hinterlands. And this, my son, is to what you must hearken whenever the word is uttered. Because your father has determined our own lineage arises from those same Hinterlands. You, my son, are born of the blood of Princes. And you must grow into a man able to fill the size of those shoes. With great gifts come great responsibility. Never, ever forget these tidings.” She turned resolutely as she spoke those final five words, both eyes coming to laser focus on the ten-year-old son raptly alert to this delineation. Goosebumps pervaded him inside and out.
“When you have mulled the concept, your father and I will clarify any paradoxes raised. Now, off with you to change that filthy shirt. Find your brothers and mind that you finish homework before chores. Then play. My young prince.” Fondness smiled in a perfusion of palpable affection. Calumet Alfrederic Broadhearst, Junior, hugged her tightly before hightailing it up the staircase.
The doorbell sounded at two minutes till dawn the following morning.
A yesteryear mechanism, the chime had been installed in the Civil War era. Having fallen into disrepair a hundred years before, the device had apparently been forgotten over ensuing time. Professor Calumet Broadhearst, Senior, had discovered the ancient extravagance while refurbishing the home in the first year after Cassandra and he acquired the old dilapidated estate.
Calumet’s position at the local university as a Professor of Biochemistry was a milestone in newlywed lives eleven years before. The man meant to establish a home as complement to the station he had attained. Only by merit of an obliging friendship between a Rome City Clerk and the Broadhearst couple had the purchase been consummated. Sale of property in early 1980’s between races was not common.
The clerk had smoothed transaction between a young couple of color and last remaining member of an old plantation family who had moved out amid losing the home place due to unpaid taxes and penalties. An old, destitute owner never knew of the buyer, only that the sale relieved her financial worries in age of dotage to which she had awakened one day. Assisted living was much preferred, and resultantly affordable, at this late stage in life.
History behind the ancient three story edifice on banks of a meandering Coosa River proved obscure, yet enough data remained in county archives to establish facts that the manse and outbuildings had housed only one family through many generations. Along with their slaves.
Several years, precious funds and much sweat equity had been expended but finally lustre of the antebellum mansion with iconic Corinthian columns adorning a spacious loggia had been reasserted. Every effort had been effected in discovering details and accoutrements crafting the grand house at its conception. Likewise, a contrasting exertion had been exhausted for uncovering history of it. Methodically, purposefully and quietly, all evidence of the macabre evil staining its fabric as a harbor for involuntary servitude was erased.
The outbuildings had been razed and ground plowed deeply under where slaves and livestock had once ‘stabled’. Established century oaks were adorned with crape myrtle, magnolia and evergreen trees in major transplantation over the gently sloping river view expanse. Landscaping in Italianate style of the Renaissance Era was meticulously laid out beneath them.
Dumbwaiters were installed in place of slave closets which had functioned as hidden crannies for on-call servants in a past era. New fixtures updated all aspects of the home until it rivaled any in the Rome, Georgia region. Revitalizing the old estate, in conjunction with the couple’s intellectual gravitas, marked the Broadhearsts as upscale denizens with whom to be reckoned.
Mindful of an edifying sentiment the doorbell apparatus might impart, Calumet Senior had taken trouble finding artisans capable of bringing about its resurrection. He discerned essence of his soulmate in the thing’s rebirth. Repair of gong-like bells next to a grand front entry had been a final plum in the pudding rechristened as The Broadhearst Estate.
The doorbell system served, by serial synchronicity, multiple sites throughout the house and back verandah. Far Eastern flare of low, reverberative resonance reminisced an earlier period which Cassandra dearly cherished. Subtle tactility complemented audibility. By the effect, it endowed peaceful verisimilitude to an extant character of the worldly woman’s refinement. Imbuing familial credence, it named the place ‘Home’.
When it engaged so early in the morning, Cassandra detected a caveat of caution in its reverberations. She arose from her marriage bed, leaving a sleeping husband to drowse. Gathering a robe around herself, in slippered feet she descended to answer the bell’s plaint. For, she sensed, such was what it must be.
On opening, the over-sized heartwood oak door gaped at three forms filling the entryway. Sheriff Lancaster, a deputy and the family lawyer were framed in a huddle which broke apart at her greeting. “May I help you gentlemen at such an early hour this day, Sirs?” Her charming manners counterbalanced somberness of both law officers; Counselor Black was previously familiar with her style.
“Good morning, Cassandra,” Claudius Black began. “We regret calling at so obnoxious an hour,” and at this, he cast a meaningful glower in the direction of two others, “yet I found myself duty-bound to accompany these gentlemen on an overstatedly urgent errand of which they first informed me an hour ago.”
“Please, do come in, then, and let us see to it.” Again, Cassandra assuaged sensibilities of the men by her grace. Standing aside, she ushered the three into a spacious foyer, offering seating which was refused.
“Mrs. Broadhearst,” the sheriff removed his hat as he began, “I am afraid that there has come to the attention of the night magistrate a matter of some seriousness. The deputy and I have been dispatched to inform you of charges being filed against your oldest son, Calumet. And to escort him to the courthouse. We were informed of an incident at the school yesterday. Bodily harm was inflicted by him in a physical attack on Deacon Hightower’s son, Ansley. The young man is presently in county hospital being treated for wounds from a blindside attack."
Cassandra’s stiffening at roll out of these words altered the atmosphere in the room. A protective lioness could not have evinced more distinctive body language by response. Cold haughtiness now filled the voice that spoke, “I am very hopeful to hear that Mr. Ansley is not badly injured. That said, surely, Claudius, you have informed the local authorities and magistrate of several particulars which immediately spring to mind. Am I correct?”
Mr. Black nodded obsequious acquiescence and proceeded to summarize the situation, for obviously another time, in front of the law men. Due to the nature of the attack--- ‘alleged attack’, the lady interjected--- the sheriff had been instructed of need for bringing in young Cal for questioning. It seemed Deacon Hightower had pulled strings with the county judge, a family friend. Orders were plain, he explained.
“And am I to be informed as well that these gentlemen are fully aware of the age and nature of my son’s minority status? It would be unsuitable for any reputable law system to approach such a matter in this way, or am I missing something?” Unruffled demeanor had become coldly detached from directly addressing two-thirds of the visitors to her home. A queen at court, reflected Claudius Black.
In that moment, Professor Broadhearst appeared. Wide awake, dressed and bright-minded, despite a recent bed-ridden state. Greeting the men, he shortly garnered tenor of the conversation. Astutely absorbing rare display of his wife’s regal rancor, he took lead. Inquiring of the sheriff, it came to light that the boy, Ansley, had limped into his parents’ home the previous evening following the school day. A badly blackened eye, a fractured arm and a deep head laceration with possible concussive effects had been brought along. Compliments, said Ansley, of a cowardly and unprovoked attack by a young black boy bent on violence. For unknown reasons, he had insisted.
Dr. and Mrs. Broadhearst traded glances, begged a private counsel with Mr. Black and retired to the kitchen for a pow-wow. Following a curt interchange, seeing no alternative, the three deemed it best to raise their son. All of them would accompany the law into town for a talk with the magistrate.
Two hours later, a confused ten-year-old and his thoroughly exasperated parents sat in a small windowless room at the courthouse in downtown Rome. Differing reconstructions of the altercation had been hashed and re-hashed before the night justice--- not the family friend of the Hightower’s--- and decision to allow departure of the accused with parents had been summarily decided.
Evidence and deposition gathering were ordered, and, with a miffed tone, the magistrate informed the sheriff such should have been carried out before a precipitous move of detaining a pre-teen for allegations of unsubstantiated nature, short of charges involving homicide.
Young Calumet, remorseful at such turn of events, felt directly responsible for the bully’s condition somehow. Even with firsthand knowledge that he held. It would seem a criminal justice system was intent on righting the wrong of an ‘ethnic incident’ in custom of a past century ethos. Could he be sent to prison? Were there prisons for ten-year-old felons? Might he be lynched, he fearfully considered? The boy had heard chilling stories about ‘strange fruit’.
Reassurances had little effect, what with Cal Al’s mastery of 1990’s tech-driven information sources. Cable News, a nascent fixture in an apprehensive society, lent weight to implications regarding downfall of civilization by just such transgressions as Cal found himself presently accused. He concluded doom.
Arriving home an hour after that, the three were bombarded by five boyish mouths full of foreboding brainwaves. Via morning television news reports. Their saintly big brother had been demoted, in absentia, to lawless miscreant during the interim. They were in uproar. Sophie, lone little sister, lay asleep in her two-year-old dreams. Unfazed.
Parental remonstrance dissolved the kangaroo court in lieu of backyard landscape maintenance. Still, Cal Al had to deal with his twin later that Saturday evening as the two laid up amid sorry states of mind in their shared bed and bedroom, taking refuge from literal and figurative maelstroms around them. A deluge of rain, hail and winds had engulfed the riverside sanctuary in a fast-forming tropical storm. It provided perfect excuse for walling out the mess torturing Cal’s small sphere.
Laying together familiarly, in fashion of twins, Coy Al begged the question, “How’d ya break his head and his arm with just one punch to his eye?” He could not come to grips with either the violent outburst or unbelievable talent for so great a damage quotient. The alter-ego twin both elevated and further debased Cal’s tattered status, depending on gist, during seclusion together. “Why’d ya do it, Cal,” provided recurrent refrain of the interlude.
The minutes-younger carbon copy rarely ever got under Cal’s skin: their binding connection precluded most occasions for discord. The present scenario’s confusing details, however, were trying his already thinned patience. “Coy, I already told you, none of that happened. The pea-brain guy is making it all up. Something else had to have happened after I saw him leave. No way I did any of what they’re saying. Except the black eye…”
Having broken down the matter inside a nimble brain during flowerbed de-weeding a while before, Cal had cleared his bothered conscience. But if this twin brother couldn’t grasp a sympathetic side, then there really must exist the proverbial creek without a paddle in the boat. Both boys started at a sharp clap of thunder, warm bodies pulling close in reflexive search.
Coy’s dark brown leg wrapped through his brother’s and he buzzed audibly as an inexperienced mind sought balance. Sense of angst between bosom brothers was palpable. The two were certain of sameness in feel of the other. Cal pushed a bush of hair onto his twin’s chest; Coy responded by gathering closer. Each was a port in every mammay-less storm. They sensed things before the other knew it themselves. A two-way street regularly shared.
The next worry gelled in Cal’s head. “Well, what do you think is going to come down at school on Monday? Am I gonna get gang-banged by the jerk’s friends, ya think?” The idea wasn’t pretty.
Coy let drop his previous line of questioning, quick to defend. “Bra, you know I got your back. Ain’t no white boy militia gonna be houndin’ on you, you know that. And Doy’ll be there, too. We be good, Cal.” His skinny arm pulled tighter.
The reassurance redounded inwardly, channeling a picture of three-musketeers facing off against forces of evil…it made things better. They soothed each other by communal closeness over the next hour. Falling into a peculiarly patterned shared body language, spoken words receded to mootness. Sleep settled and at least inner turbulence receded. No better place to be in a squall than their room, their bed… their bro.
Monday morning at school turned out to be more of the same. Virtual and tangible tempests. The weather-system hovered over the region in alliance with human dissonance. The minority faction of a recently consolidated grade school--- this despite decades-past judicial rulings--- found a few dozen students-of-color bastioned against coalesced raucousness effected by a ‘put-upon’ majority. The first black president’s portrait, Mr. Clinton, might grace the principal’s wall but a white student body reflected parents’ stilted Jim Crow perspectives in perilous parallel to that supposedly bygone era.
Cal was hauled into the vice-principal’s office a minute after arrival. Instructions by the Anglo administrator were concise and by-the-book. Every day upon arrival Cal was to report to the office. He wasn’t to interact with other students. He was to conduct himself in a non-threatening manner. He must follow a teacher’s aide assigned to ‘assist’ him these next days. Until an over-heated atmosphere cooled. In a condescendingly prejudicial lecture, Cal was also cautioned there was to be no further perpetuation of physicality. As if such a warning had either relevance or basis.
Cal’s lesson wasn’t anything but abject humiliation...and that, he figured out, was the precise intent.
The boy found exceeding strangeness in the fact of lists of rules pertaining to himself and his conduct, but nary a one for the rest of the school. And the rules certainly didn’t stop words.
For ensuing weeks, every turn accorded the youngster a new round of puerile reproach in some form or fashion. The white populace in school bandied their majority. Despite the aide’s presence--- Cal’s brothers were kept from him--- catcalls and belittling commentary sprouted. Even neutral adults exuded passive antagonism. ‘Black attack’ became the motif by which the issue was known; Cal was the lightning rod for a nodus of discontent.
A Friday morning dawned as day for the hearing. Not at school; at the courthouse. Judge Posner, the Hightower family ally, had speciously dictated a judicial hearing within sanctity of court confines. Translation: a trial. For a ten-year-old boy. Cal felt convicted before proceedings began. He and his stoic parents found themselves escorted everywhere, from the lane leading to the Broadhearst home to courtside seats provided by the judge.
Why a packed courthouse resulted was a mystery to the Professor, his wife and the ten-year-old accused. Counselor Black fronted the family, shielding them as much as possible, but harsh lights of media cameras simply exacerbated circumstances. The little group inwardly flailed. Never had the parents, let alone innocent child, ever been subjected to such public humiliation and scorn. Kangaroo court, indeed. Professor Broadhearst feared for his family.
Judge Posner, traditional southern throwback, began the hearing with ostensible words of admonition. His courtroom wasn’t to be trifled with, order being of first and foremost concern. He fixed a gaze upon a congregated First Rome Baptistery surrounding the Hightower family. Pudgy Ansley sat in woebegone despair, head bandaged, arm splinted and strung, eye yellowish and brown in its slowly healing state of guiltless existence. Poor little white boy. The poster child for victimhood factions had been well coached.
An assigned child psychologist, Mrs. Newman, sat as bookend shield opposite Mammay. The judge hammered order at the crowd and the process progressed through a fraught morning. Little Cal wilted further down in a hard, sterile seat with each passing minute. Along unfortunately ethnic lines, opposing sides presented cases before ‘court’. Bailiffs stood ready for any inkling of acting out. With only one lone, unnamed witness, a proverbial stand-off of ‘hesaidhesaid’ idiocy took darker turns by rotely ingrained attitudes of those in positions of authority.
As a third hour of monotonous testimony unfolded, the erstwhile quality of justice seemed unlikely to rescue the day. Cal Al began counting down final minutes of freedom toward inevitable incarcerated future as, one-by-one, God-fearing character witnesses, intoning a pious childhood to the plaintiff, overwhelmed the stand.
One bright spot, the unnamed witness, arrived in the wee form of DeWayne Smithers. The first grader had been straddled in a spread-limbed oak during the episode, quietly communing with a resident squirrel following emancipation by school bell.
Well, kind of. Emancipation, that is. Avoiding return to an abusive daddy and drunken mamma in a wrong-side-of-the-tracks abode ‘sheltering’ DeWayne and several sad siblings, the little guy sought daily succor hanging with the little tree rodent. From their hidden perch, boy and squirrel chewed over all matters schoolyard. That day, a seven-year-old had shared bird’s eye view from a high leafy bower with Rocky, his bushy-tailed buddy.
Exuding boyish inelegance, DeWayne had bravely come forward on his own--- parents nowhere to be seen--- bravely equating a more truthful version of an ugly encounter than had been told to that point. Open guffaws and expressions of doubt met a little big man’s courageous, stuttering stand.
Unsympathetic presiding authority, Judge Posner, repeatedly admonished proper decorum in farcical display of neutrality. He frequently coached the tiny witness, “Speak up, young man.”
Despite an antagonistic atmosphere, a stoic witness managed to lay out his testimony. Hope arose on defendant’s row. Short-lived though it was upon discrediting by an astute prosecutor, wise to the ways of refutation. Disreputable home and background distracted from a truthful deposition. ‘How could anyone in their right mind believe this little…?’ An angry gavel and courtroom tittering drowned a derogatory descriptor. Nonetheless, the seven-year-old stood no chance.
Counselor Black presented a case worthy of mediocre merit, not a veteran of many courtroom trials and never expecting the pseudo one in this situation. Missing crucial points, overlooking salient objections, forgetting obvious inroads to repudiation of the plaintiff’s case at multiple junctures, the several hours’ waste of taxpayer money came down to a judge’s final decision.
The interim called for while the judge absented himself in deliberative cloister was excruciating for Cal and his folks. Parents were still in shock state that the case had been allowed at all, perceptively aware of a ridiculous courtroom setting for such a complaint. Disrespect for normal protective safeguards considering Cal’s age amounted to criminal negligence in not just their eyes.
The courtroom buzzed with negativity, only subsiding upon return of vested authority: Judge Posner. Black robe swirled with an air of resoluteness as spectacled magistrate seated himself, gaveling ‘court’ back into session.
Clearing an already clear throat, he almost uttered first final words when an abrupt whirlwind of commotion sliced through the hush.
A bailiff at the rear door started in surprise as a tall athletic form pulled it open and stood in profile. The resonance of high school wrestling coach, Randall Costner, reached the bench. “Judge Posner, please forgive my interruption, your Honor. I bear firsthand evidence needing exposure before the court and request your Honor’s forbearance in order to provide it. May I approach, Sir?”
The judge, noticeably flustered, considered a moment before managing cautious assent. Middle-aged and crew-cut, the muscled figure of Coach Costner strode the aisle in confidence. All eyes followed as a harried bailiff scurried to keep up, barely reaching the swing gate demarcating gallery from pit before the intruder. He closed on the judge’s bench and quietly conferred with his Honor for several minutes. Nervous buzz revived amidst a disconcerted crowd.
Though not a jury trial, Posner finally gestured toward the tall German-American in an assembly address. “It has come to my attention that we have not heard all relevant testimony in the matter before this court. In effort at fairness I have made a decision to allow testimony of Mr. Randall Costner. Bailiff, please show Coach Costner to the stand.”
Showing no hesitation whatsoever, the tall athlete took the witness chair and settled for a moment. At Judge’s beckoning, he began. “I am, as some of you know, wrestling team coach at Floyd County Consolidated High School. My family has been born and raised here these past thirty years and I am consummately gratified to be a citizen of this, my adopted country. My wife and I immigrated here at the time of President Kennedy’s assassination. Pride fills us in observing the way America has rebounded to preeminence in its democratic experiment. Would that the world could learn by example.” A ripple of assent bounded around the room in affirmation of an Aryan male’s ringing elocution. Sanction was granted.
Continuing, Mr. Costner unveiled his account. “On the Friday in question, I visited the grade school for a conference with Principal Evans about establishment of both a computer science program and a developmental format for youth athletics. Both disciplines are sorely missing from the curriculum. I presented the cases in hope to establish new classes and extra-curricular involvement for priming grade-school children. Early exposure to important avenues of growth for this age group is my goal.”
“Finishing presentations and receiving positive feedback for going forward, I loaded my project equipment. I was in a rush to get home, pack and then travel to Savannah for my brother’s wedding. Serving as best man. Having put in for temporary sabbatical, my wife and I stayed on afterwards. We joined our small family circle in preparing an Old Town Savannah bungalow for my brother and his bride’s return from their…doings…during an extended honeymoon in the old country.” The knowing smile appearing on his lips brought chuckles of indulgence.
“I was taken by surprise yesterday morning upon coming across a wire story in the local Savannah paper outlining this very case. It jarred me. The account described a viciously malevolent and pre-meditated attack by a young man of ten against an unsuspecting thirteen-year-old. To see the gist of the article play on racial lines, picked up by the press and pushed in uproariously divisive fashion, gave me pause. Enough to cause a change of set plans.” The blond man’s hands motioned as he spoke, giving dimension to the account. The crowd was enthralled, but not yet comprehending. They were soon to be enlightened. Ansley Hightower now sat, alert, squirming fretfully in his seat.
“In my hurry to get out of town,” the coach went on, “I exited by a rear doorway. Rounding the corner, I stumbled upon a familiar scenario playing out. It bore no resemblance to the story being heard here today. The newspaper summaries are sadly mistaken in their focus.”
“You see, folks, I witnessed the very case before you. I noticed, because of the young man’s” --- pointing out Cal Al--- “very athletic vault over a sizeable gate fronting an enclosed schoolyard. Not many children his age are capable of such a move. I was impressed, watching to see what next move he might make. The youth is just the type for whom I intend to provide focus by my athletic program.”
“Imagine my surprise when I viewed, and overheard, a very racist epithet thrown, unprovoked, at the young boy here. By the Hightower boy over there. Having grown up in a country with a dark history of racism soaked in ethnic animosity--- which almost overtook an entire world--- I was not happy to behold yet another occasion for such incivility.”
“But, before I could interrupt the situation, I observed a most diplomatic attempt, in multiples, as a well-spoken youth, Mr. Broadhearst, tried de-escalating the scene. Never once raising his voice, he artfully worked to make lemonade from the lemon being thrown at him. With a smile on his face. It was only after the older boy,” here, the coach pointedly gestured at Ansley Hightower, “tried a truly cowardly blindside attack, did a much smaller defendant avail himself of a simple defensive move to block brutishness. He only punched once, in reflex, to avert further attack.”
“The bigger boy--- a bully by any description--- fell to the dirt, then proceeded to further insult a regretful defender. I watched as this younger boy reached out a hand to help an aggressor rise. Still attempting to defray the unexpected foray. The gentlemanly offer was slapped away.”
“Hauling himself upright in obvious embarrassment at a thwarting of bullying tactics, this boy departed in shame. On both legs, with both arms intact and absolutely no head wound besides a justifiably blackened eye. All the while shouting sordid curses I am certain would not be condoned by church members gathered here today in misguided support.”
“Those hateful words made me cringe. Nonetheless, this boy simply watched to make certain of no more sneak attacks. Satisfied of this, he brushed himself off and headed an opposite direction over the Coosa bridge.”
“I was taken aback on different levels at this display and never uttered a single word. Believing that similar situations have played out uncountable times over generations, I felt a proper ending and just comeuppance had been meted out, so went on with my rushed plans, leaving town directly. I harbored a desire to attempt identifying the youth on my return with offer to enter him into new programs I am hoping to guide. His athletic acumen and manners are commendable.”
“More importantly, a true measure of character is best counted in the dark. With no one watching. There was, indeed, darkness that day. And I witnessed a measuring on both ends of the scale from my vantage point.”
“It provided disbelief when I came across the news article yesterday. Because of twisted truth, I was instigated to act. You now hear my version of a boyhood experience gone awry and reasoning for hustling back here. Apparently, just in the nick of time.”
“Whatever happened to young Ansley Hightower that day did not come at the hand of Calumet Broadhearst, Jr. And, by the young bully’s display of true character, I rather doubt much truth would come from asking. Young Mr. Broadhearst should not be suffering in this manner for what occurred that day. He should be commended for strength of character.”
“I beg the court and especially citizens of this community to all step back a moment, reassess, and come to grips with a hard fact of our contemporary culture. There is a jaundiced view being foisted on this country presently. In direct result, incidents such as this one are being misconstrued to unrecognizability. The wrongness serves only to divide this great country.”
“That is all I have to say.”
The atmosphere could have collapsed on itself in the opaque stillness. Silence deafened.
Finally, Judge Posner, chastened in his own right, uttered a simple phrase. “Case dismissed.”
It let the air out of the room.
Back at the kitchen table, the entire Broadhearst family sat in reflection of the recent tumultuous events. The Professor reckoned a teachable moment. “Do any of you boys have ideas to take away from what we have just been through?” Cassandra sat with Sophie, listening to her soulmate.
“Yeah, that white boys lie,” Doy Al offered.
“Not all white boys do. Look at Coach Costner. He did all that today and he didn’t have to. You can’t say that, Doy, even though coach isn’t a boy.” This from Coy. He had heard of the heroic intervention exonerating his twin, already lionizing the man.
“Well, I think that most people think what they wanna think and everybody takes the side they are on because of what their friends say.” Roy Al piped up in his six-year-old capacity for profundity, glad to be able to offer an opinion with his older brothers. His own twin, Loy Al, nodded agreement. Ironically. The two were closer than any two people in the family and mirrored one another, to their parents’ chagrin. Independent thinking pretty much topped the parents’ list after unconditional love…they worried sometimes over the younger twins’ exclusivity, even though understanding it.
“Want to…not wanna, young man.” Cassandra offered grammar lessons regularly, intent that her children master the capacity to communicate properly in the real world. “But, you are right to cite the fact that many people just go along to get along. It is the easier path and requires little critical thought. Very good, Roy.”
Cal Al, the target in the issue, was exhausted at having to rehash the over-analyzed event yet once again, but still had many questions. “Well, I don’t understand why Ansley had to make all of it up. He knew what he did and he lied when the truth would have been better. Is there a difference between us and them, Dad? I mean, do you think his parents don’t teach right and wrong? How did he end up getting hurt so bad? Was it fair, just because he did what he did to me?” All of it came out in a rush, now that the pressure was removed. He was in his safe place here.
The youngest brother, Voy Al, kept eyeing the fruit in the center of the table, uninterested in the whole affair at four-years-old. Food was more important. Especially the apple calling to him.
Waiting a bit for things to simmer, Professor Dad allowed the silence to permeate before making his point. “First of all, Doy, you must take away from this that any person in a given situation might tend to lie. There is no monopoly by anybody or any group for that bad habit. It be an easy trap to fall into and we must always stay on guard for it whether it comes from others or wells up to tempt oneself. It is a deceit which is infective and can take over the mind if not careful. The lie is like a snowball rolling downhill: it grows as it travels and gets out of control easily. And, keep in mind, a liar is never believed, nor respected. Once caught, it is very difficult to retrace one’s steps. The trait undermines your conscience.”
“Cal, you have experienced suffering by someone else’s hand as well as their mind in this situation. I am proud of the way you conducted yourself through it all. We will probably never know the why of this affair. But, keep in mind that there were many underlying currents pulling that boy to decisions made. Even the first one which put you in a bullseye to begin with. Remember that we cannot force anything on others, nor may we be responsible for their mistakes. But we are able to rise above the frays in life and know in our heart that we did the right thing. Like Coach Costner.”
“Coy, the man exhibits great strength of character and you would do well to emulate him. I do have a thought, though, which has stuck in my craw. As good a thing as the coach did, my dilemma remains why the court and attendees could not afford young DeWayne Smithers similar respect for the stance he took in Cal’s behalf.
"Knowing what little we do about the boy’s home life, I find a tougher row to hoe attempting to bolster the truth in light of so many obstacles. Yet he hurdled them. He had nothing tangible to gain and everything to lose, given his youth and station. Who do you imagine instilled such character traits in him? In the end, he was neither recognized, nor believed. Let alone thanked. We all should find food for thought in pondering the why of this over anything else before us, I do believe.”
Cal turned inside himself at the premise. Leave it to his father to dissect to bare bones of a matter and expose the proverbial elephant in the room. The boy would debate the idea for years to come.