Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

August 12, 2013

Looking into the eyes of youth with hope of seeing a better tomorrow

— Willie Martinez taught me an important lesson about wearing comfortable trousers on a trip. Admittedly, as an old trucker who spent five years shining the seats of tractor-trailer rigs from here to Timbuktu, I’m used to wearing pants that are slightly on the thin side where I carry my wallet. However when Willie asked: “Grandpa Bill, why do your pants have a hole in the back?” all I wanted to do was hug him.

I’ve always been a working man, with little time for anything else. I got that from my dad. Sure, he taught me baseball and loved me as much as any person can, but he spent 20 hours on the job when he was working to support his family. I saw him work, and that became what I knew how to do.

I have to thank my youngest daughter, Coleen, for getting me to look at my calendar while she looked at her calendar so we could sandwich a couple of days in a row where I could spend some quality time with my grandsons, Josh, 6, and Willie, 4. Of course, it was great seeing Coleen and her husband, Oscar, playing ball, talking and just saying goodnight to two grandsons was too cool.

Time is so precious and it flies by so fast. When the three of us played with my American Flyer train set under the Christmas tree in December, it seemed like just a few months had passed, but it was actually eight months. Even on day two of my visit when I was resting on the deck with Coleen, I was in heaven as the two boys crawled all over me, urging me to play golf, football or both with them. I hated leaving, but I had miles to drive before I could sleep.

It didn’t take long before reality knocked me in the head again. A little ways after I-40  gives birth to I-81, I stopped at a convenience store to buy gas. I was at one fuel island and a couple other fellows were at another fuel island — all just pumping gas. They may have known each other. I don’t know, but the guy in front complained about the price of gas, and added that it was all because of the African American in the White House.

Of course, you know he didn’t say African American. The other guy laughed and the conversation went on. I was too chicken to go over and give my opinion as to why the price-per-gallon is high at the pump. Politics certainly play a role in that, but I don’t think race enters into that at all. Unfortunately, the election of a black president has opened up the opportunity for too many people to spread those vile comments in the name of politics.

So why didn’t I march over and tell them they ought to be ashamed of themselves for using a hateful, derogatory term to make idle chit-chat about the price of gasoline? Well, I’m not as strong as I was when I was young, and at my age, I need to hold on to as many teeth as I have. Besides, I’m sure that it wouldn’t make a difference in their lives, but only reinforce their opinion about meddling Yankees.

I took a pause in writing this column to head home, and as I walked through the parking lot to my car, my wife’s good friend Renee Whitehead, came up and gave me a big hug. Evonda and Renee got to know each other several years ago when they were both working on the CASE West Virginia Meals on Wheels program.

We talked for a short while, and I continued on home, but I started thinking about how many close friends my wife and I have —friends of many races, faiths and national origins. I have black friends, Japanese friends, Italian friends, Native American friends, white friends and more. Coleen and her husband, Oscar Martinez, Ph.D., receive surveys as being an Hispanic family, but it would be selling Oscar way too short to think of him only as a product of his heritage, although he is proud of that. He’s a genius. But he’s also a loving father, a patient husband and a great provider. Frankly, I’m honored just to know him.

I loved having Josh visit me right after he woke up, and I loved having Willie tell me he loves me in sign language before he went to bed. When I think about the future, I pray that their generation will free all Americans, black and white, from the relentless chains of slavery that still shackle us all — those who enslaved and those who endured slavery.

National events of recent months should be a lesson to all that using inappropriate words can have an impact. I wonder what would happen if I just cut loose among my buddies and ranted and raved on and on about superiority and inferiority based on skin color, faith or heritage. They would likely forgive me, say I’m not that kind of person and give me another chance. But could they forget? I don’t think I would want them to. I don’t think I could forget, and I think that’s something I should always remember.

Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.

 

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