1934: We walk into the barber’s shop and Dad shakes hands with Mr. Kindle. The place looks pretty much the same as Grady’s in Ranger, but instead of a boxing poster, there’s a framed picture of President Roosevelt. Something else different too. There’s a colored man standing in the corner holding a rag. Dad walks up to him, shakes his hand and says, “How ya doin,’ H?”
“I’m jest fine, Mr. Wayne. How ‘bout yerself?” They shake hands.
“Any better ’n I’d be dead.”
“Well, that’s fine then, jus’ fine,” H. laughs.
“H., this is my boy, Cono.” H. bends down, looks me square in my eyes and says, “We’ll, it’s a real pleasure Little Dennis, a real pleasure.”
I like how he’s Squatting so he can see my eyes. Like we’re playing on the same team. I don’t have to look up to him and he doesn’t have to look down on me. I stare back into his eyes where I can see right into the middle of him. What I see is safe and comfortable. So I say, “I ain’t never met a real colored man before.” I hear Dad laugh.
“Yes, sir,” corrects Dad.
“Yes sir,” I say.
“Well, Little Dennis, I’ve never met a young man so strong and smart lookin’ as you.” Dad gets in the barber’s chair and H. pulls up a stool to start shining Dad’s old black shoes.
I like the way H. looks at me, like I’m worth a jar full of quarters.
Excerpt from No Hill for a Stepper