“We don’t call black people that any more,” I said.
“I s’pose I’m not to call him colored either,” Dad sounded annoyed.
Jimmy, my brother, elbowed me in the ribs. I ignored him.
“Miss Yurokov says the correct term is African-American.”
“Yurokov? That your teacher? What kind of name is Yurokov? Nevermind.”
Jimmy quickly turned on the radio to the local station; we rode the rest of the way home in silence.
The next time Jimmy and I saw the man fishing was when we were walking the creek path home from school.
“Catch anything?” I called out.
He looked up and smiled. “Not yet. Got any suggestions?”
We walked over. He looked to be in his 70s, in farmer overalls, with calloused hands and an easy grandfather-like smile.
We talked about fishing, the weather, everyday things.
On days when our dad didn’t pick us up from school, Jimmy and I would visit with our new friend.
We learned his name was Nathaniel. When he told us he had grandchildren living nearby, I must have looked puzzled. I couldn’t remember seeing any dark-skinned kids.
“We’re a mixture. I’m originally from Jamaica. My first wife was French. After she passed, I married a lady in Puerto Rico and became a U.S. citizen. Our kids didn’t feel tied to any race.”
“Then you’re not an African-American, like our teacher says,” Jimmy said, ignoring my elbow in his ribs.
“Well, I’m not from Africa. I just think of myself as an American,” Nathaniel laughed. And he didn’t seem to mind that two white kids were curious about the history of his skin color.
During one visit, Nathaniel asked if we liked chocolate. “Every year the grandkids and their moms create special Valentine’s Day sweets to hand out.”
He reached into a cooler sitting in the grass and pulled out a clear plastic container of identical hearts, some various shades of dark brown, light brown and even some white ones, which he said were also chocolate.
“I wonder if there’s a message here,” he smiled. “That in our hearts we humans are all the same, just sometimes we come in different colors.”
Our mouths were too full of chocolate to say anything other than “thank you.”
Then, once again, my brother elbowed me in the ribs. “Do you have enough that we could take a couple of pieces home,” he asked.
“Of course, take all you want,” Nathaniel smiled again.
Jimmy took a dark brown heart and a white heart, and put them in his shirt pocket. Nathaniel and Jimmy exchanged grins. They didn’t know I was watching.
“Tell your father I said hello,” Nathaniel called out as we waved good-bye.