editors note: I'm not sure why I'm bringing this up now, I guess I just remembered it as being a moral dilemma.

Why'd You Have To Go And Say That? - 09.22.97

During the summer about 4 years ago, I went on a complete working binge in order to save as much money as I could for school. During the weekdays, I worked in a lab doing lackey work like filling 2000 test tubes with the same amount of cell stock. On the weekends, I waited tables in a state park restaurant, dealing with the happy masses. Besides these two jobs, I filled in some of my evenings painting for my mom and helping my younger brother keep up on his lawn mowing jobs. It was doing this last job, however, that I ran across a situation one day.

There was one lady that my brother mowed for on quite a regular basis. She was about 75 or so and lived in a house up on a hill with her little dog. She kept very close track of her yard, and during the main growing points during the summer, she wanted her grass cut about 2 times a week. It was actually a very easy job because she owned a nice self-propelled lawn mower and her yard was fairly level. It didn't take too long to mow, and she payed fairly well, so I totally didn't mind subbing when I was needed.

At one point during the summer, my brother was gone for a couple weeks, so I took over all his jobs. One day after I finished mowing the lawn mentioned above, something very strange happened. Like usual, the lady had given me my check and a soda as I sat on her step and cooled off. Her dog was out in the yard and he would fetch a ball sometimes while we were talking. She asked me about what I was studying in school and what I was doing this summer. After kind of a lull in the conversation, she said something that I still think about sometimes. She started talking about how people sometimes came to her house selling things, but one of her very next statements was, "The other day this nigger came around trying to sell something." She kept on talking about how she wouldn't even open her door, but I wasn't listening quite as well. Her earlier statement was still echoing in my ears. It wasn't as if I hadn't heard the word before, but it was the tone of her voice and way she used it that really got to me.

For a moment, I thought about saying something to her about it. After awhile, I decided it would just be best to let it go. In some ways I feel like I should have at least said that it bothered me when she used that word, but I felt like it wouldn't make any difference anyway. She had obviously been brought up in surroundings that deemed it acceptable to make such statements. I was probably one of the only people that she still talked with on a regular basis, and I guess I felt like she didn't need me lecturing her about things she had come to believe over the course of her life.

That afternoon I finished up my soda, said goodbye and hopped on my bike to go back to my house. On the way there, I was still thinking about what had just taken place. I was wishing that she hadn't said what she did, so I could still have an unspoiled view of the nice little old lady who lived up on the hill with her dog. Instead, the statement she made to me inevitably comes to mind when I think about mowing lawns for her and sitting on her porch chatting. With one short statement, she completely changed my perception of her and how I remember her being. I still can't bring myself to pass off judgement on her, though. The comment she made was totally racist to me, but I can't pretend to understand her life and what caused her to use such statements. Even though I may think so, I'll never be able to completely figure out the difference in our ages and the surroundings that we grew up in.

I've discussed the situation with people before, and I've gotten the inevitable response of "why didn't you say something?" It's really hard to explain, but I feel like my best response is that I don't think it would have changed anything for the better. I think that even if I would have stood up and said something, it wouldn't have had the effect that I wanted it to. Instead of making her aware of her statement and what offended me, she would have probably been more worried that she had upset one of the only people she had any sort of interaction with. I guess I felt like my actions could be pointed in much better directions, there are still a large amount of people in my generation that still think in this way. Getting through to these people makes much more sense to me. They're not as set in their ways yet, and making them aware only helps in the future. Getting upset with an old lady would have probably only resulted in her wondering why the kid who mowed her lawn was mad and never came back again.