One afternoon—I was about five and my little brother, Rodney, was four—Mom and us kids were carrying shopping bags home from the grocery store. The walk was a few miles, and my mom usually didn't mind it, but it was so hot that day that we were walking from tree to tree, stopping in the shade to catch our breath and drum up the courage to walk under the blistering sun to the next tree. Laden with shopping bags, my mom, dripping with perspiration, looked longingly at a nearly empty bus that drove right past us.
"It's so hot out," I said. "Why won't the bus stop for us, Mom?"
"Because we're Negroes," she said.
Mom was gasping for air, she looked like she was ready to pass out, I was beyond uncomfortable, and even my little brother was panting. Another bus, completely empty, sped by us, and then another. When a fourth bus was about to drive on past us, it slowed, pulled over to the side of the road, and stopped. Mom walked cautiously to the stairs as the white bus driver opened the door. She looked in questioningly, glancing at all the empty seats, hoping against hope that we might be able to ride home.
The driver said nothing and neither did my mom. She just hustled us to the back of the bus and we fell onto the seats, breathing heavily. We sat quietly in our private chariot, grateful to be out of the hot sun. Mom knew this man was risking his personal security by picking us up. He obviously had a big heart under that white skin. He never looked at us, and we kept our eyes straight ahead as we neared our apartment complex. Mom told him when we got close to home, and he stopped to let us off.
She knew she was not allowed to speak to him, and she fought the urge to show her appreciation with a light touch on this kind man's shoulder. That could have gotten her into trouble. We faced these kinds of issues every day when the grocery clerk put our change on the counter instead of in our hands to avoid physical contact. How my mom managed to hold on to her dignity in such a condemning and shaming society, where we had to take what we were given, I will never know. But somehow she was able to turn everything around and convince us it was a blessing.