“Can I help you?”
I shook my head no, his reply made me grin.
“Y’all just out playing?”
I laughed. He hit the nail on the head. The Martins had loaded up for an afternoon trip to the big box store that I despise, so Scott Martin and I thought we would introduce our 3 to a hidden gem shared by the same city as the Big-Box-hate-it-store.
As we meandered north on the interstate we were questioned multiple times about where we were going. I wasn’t exactly sure how to answer so I just said, “We’re going North to run a few errands.”
We pulled into a parking space a little after four, Scott made note of the time,
“They close at five.”
I was standing just inside the entrance when I met the nail-on-the-head hitting Proprietor. He introduced himself by his first name, offered us light snacks and gave us a quick rundown of all the things to see. I said thanks and told him we were the Martins.
In no time the history, weird object loving, have to touch it to actually see it, Martins realized we weren’t just on an errand, we had opened the door to a treasure trove. They were amazed by the huge doors and obsolete fixtures. The loose keys and endless supply of oddities. They are scavengers, they love a treasure and an oddity. I reckon they get that from their Mama. I too, love the very same things. As we meandered down rows and aisles, gigantic doors and ornate everythings, we picked up and held hinges and door knobs (the one who resides on the autism spectrum was especially fascinated by the doorknobs), all manner of locks, things that were vaguely familiar and some that were not.
We decided on a fire brick, it had our name stamped on it. “Martin” in a nice font. We got a broken one, it cost less.
We ventured into rooms and eventually made our way to another room. Comparatively speaking it was a bit more sparse. There tucked away in a corner as if it had been put in time-out for bad behavior was a rusted door with the faded word “Colored” on it.
I stopped in my tracks. I walked closer and touched the letters, almost as if I were trying to discern if they were real. My eyes quickly fell to the “Not for Sale” note and the words that had been placed there by the original finder of the door. The note confirmed I was not the first to stop dead in my tracks in front of it, and it asked a question I have continued to ponder.
I traced the letters again and I wondered what all they’d witnessed. How many dark and worn hands had touched them in submission, in disgust, in fear, in outrage and maybe even in hope. Hope that one day such an object would be unnecessary, unwanted, appalling and obsolete.
I called the Martins over to me and their reactions were surprising to me. I had expected outrage, I had expected anger, but that is not at all what I got. They walked up took a closer look for themselves. After I read the letter out loud to them and snapped a picture, the three of them were soon off to see other more intriguing oddities. I stood a moment and pondered the door, my children,… I pondered much.
As the evening moved on and we left with more than our share of complimentary goodies, the firebricks and a couple of metal letters. I thought about that letter on the door and the challenge it posed,
“Do you keep the writing on the door showing an era in America’s history or do you erase the words to not promote such a negative time in America’s history?”
I was undecided in the beginning. As a mama of multiracial children I want nothing more than to protect them from the hate of this world, the hate of our history even. I never want them to feel they are anything less than the beautiful humans they are. My first reaction, my knee jerk reaction as they say, “Paint it. Sand it. Erase it. Get rid of it.”
For the record, my knee jerk is rarely right.
As the night went on I realized what my children must’ve realized but weren’t able to verbalize. It was a terrible part of our history but it is our today that matters most. They are a living, breathing testimony to that. That door did not represent hate to them because they are no different than their lighter skinned brother, mother and father. They are Martins just as much as we are. There is no distinction between us. We are one family.
The King restored Hope when He designed our family. What was meant for evil and done in hate, He is redeeming for good and for love’s sake, one day at a time, exchanging hate for Grace.
My answer to the question? Keep it. Keep the letters as a testament to redemption and grace. Acknowledge that hate once prevailed and moved forward with the knowledge that it doesn’t have to. Exchange the hate for love one door at a time.