HOLD MY HAND
A few years back, more than I want to remember, I was born and grew up on the South side of Chicago. It was an interesting neighborhood as people came from all over the world and settled here because they couldn’t afford something better.
My childhood best friend was Georgie, my next-door neighbor. We did everything together and equally got in trouble on the same equal basis. We were kids. Boys like to play in mud and coal, not to mention the fun it is to walk in the rain. Everyone knew Georgie, and I were boys just like all the other boys in the neighborhood. We never thought about getting dirty or watching the horrified looks of our parents when they barely could see the white in our eyes or the teeth when we smiled. We talked about our getting spanked and how our parents or grandparents were so serious about everything. Like I said, we were kids.
My aunt Minnie was a cook. She was very good but didn’t make much money. Rich people had Minnie cook special dinners for them, and she always brought home the leftovers for us to feast on. Georgie’s grandma and my aunt were best friends, so Aunt Minnie always made sure there was enough leftover food to share. When we had these special meals, Georgie family had what we had. It was just the natural thing to do. Sometimes we would all talk and eat together. Those were cool times. Georgie’s mom and dad worked all the time like my dad, so there were times it was just my grandpa, Aunt Minnie, Georgie’s grandma and us kids. Sometimes, when it was possible for my mom, she would join us. It was fun how we all laughed and had so much fun.
A man who lived down the street was a junk man. I’m not sure what he did, but he sure had a lot of junk that he collected from people who didn’t want it anymore. One day he gave Georgie and me pup tents. We each got one because we liked to help him carry stuff into his house and he couldn’t pay us, so the tents were like getting paid. We put the tents in the backyard, took turns sleeping in each other’s backyard and loved to watch the stars and the strange formations of the night clouds when they drifted above us.
I remember asking Georgie why his skin was so different from mine. He told me he didn’t know that God probably made us different so he could tell the difference between us. Georgie’s skin was like chocolate and mine like milk. I never heard anyone say why there was a difference in our skin. Georgie and I wondered why we weren't told us about skin colors or why they didn’t match. We assumed it didn't make any difference. He was Georgie, and I was Billy, and we were best friends. His mom and dad were like my mom and dad. His grandpa and mine were best friends too, and seemed to talk and laugh about the dumbest things.
Those were some of the best times in my life.
When Georgie’s grandfather fell down, we thought he’d just get back up. He didn’t get back up. In fact, he never got up at all. I was young and didn’t know about people dying or what it meant. They brought Georgie’s grandpa home and put the casket in their living room. Neighbors came to pay their respects. Georgie and I kept thinking everything would be okay. We watched to see if his grandpa would get up, and crawl out of the box he was in. We didn’t understand why his grandma and all the other people in the house were crying so much.
The Minister came to the house and said some prayers. Everyone was sad.
Georgie’s grandma reached out with her soft callused had and whispered to me. “Billy, hold my hand.” At the time, her hand was much larger than mine, but it was so warm and comforting I didn’t want to let go. We all gathered around the casket, heads bowed and the Minister starting talking about Georgie’s grandpa. He talked about how hard he worked, and badly he would be missed. When he finished, Georgie’s grandma continued to hold our hands. She led us to the couch where we sat. She wrapped her arms around both Georgie and me and after a while asked if we wanted to say goodbye to his grandpa.
I remember asking, “Where is he going?”
With tears streaming down her cheeks, she answered in the softest of voices, “To Heaven.”
“Is it a long trip?” I asked.
“No,” she whispered, “but he won’t be coming back. He’ll be with God.”
I looked at Georgie and he started crying, so I cried along with him. I looked back at his grandma and wiped the tears away with the back of my hand. “I think we should say goodbye.”
Georgie’s grandma stood and reached out with both hands. “Come, hold my hand boys and we’ll all go and say goodbye.”
Hold her hand we did. We said goodbye to Georgie’s grandpa and she let me touch his cheek. When I was younger I used to touch his cheek when I sat on his lap. He always laughed when I touched his cheeks, and I wanted him to laugh again, but he didn’t. When I whispered goodbye it felt strange, and for the first time in my life I understood what death meant I would never see him again. It broke my heart like it did Georgie’s and his grandma. We all cried together.
Not long after that everything changed in my life. We moved away from Chicago and although Georgie, and I promised we would never lose touch, we did. It was out of our hands, and we were too young to be able to honor the commitment. His family also moved, and we had no idea where they went. My family settled in Denver Colorado and soon after that I learned quite a lot about how different everyone thought about each other.
Throughout my adulthood, I have honored the life I have been given and treated it as a gift. I come from that old school my grandpa taught me. He said it over and over if you reach out others would do the same back to you. One helping hand can change a life, an attitude and the workplace.
In a way, the life of an innocent child had it right. Georgie wasn’t the black boy who lived next door; he was Georgie my best friend. Today I have neighbors with different colored skin, and they all have names. The color of their skin means nothing, and if any of us need help the whole neighborhood would be there to help.
Too many years have gone by to remember their last names, but Georgie’s grandma taught me a lesson I have never forgotten. Hold My Hand and I will show you the way. Hold my hand for there is a better way and I’d like to show it to you.
We have a strange hate in the world, in our country and sadly in many neighborhoods. We have become a country divided and yet we’re all the same inside. Our skin color may be different, but our minds are equal in every way possible. He all hurt, feel pain, understand loss, and cry when things get out of hand or become an overwhelming burden to the body.
Many of my personal friends have been people of color, and each and every one of them had or has names just like I do. I am Bill, and they are Charles, Jim, Nan, Minnie, John and Pam. They are and have been welcomed in my home, my car and at my table. If given the chance, we laugh about the same things, shop on equal terms and even enjoy entertainment on the same level albeit auto racing, football, basketball, baseball, skiing, swimming and on and on.
So what happened? Why hasn't such an ugly division been done away with a long time ago? We can look back in history, but history has created enemies everywhere and most of the time color had nothing to do with it. Yes, slavery makes me sick to my stomach just knowing it happened. Thankfully it was a long time ago, and most have moved on. Many have not, and that’s their problem, and it needs to be dealt with. If we look at history, we’ve had wars, bad things have been happening for centuries and yet we have managed to move society into the 21st century. It’s time to move on, to put all the ugly where it belongs, in the past. May it be buried once and forever?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. When a child is born, he or she comes into the world a bundle of joy. All babies are happy, content and know nothing of hate or anger.
Traits are taught and learned. If you live with kindness in your heart, everyone around you will grow and feel the same. There will always be danger and evil regardless of how we prepare for it, bad does happen. I look at it the other way. Good happens to. For every rotten apple, there are thousands of good ones. If we teach to love, honor and respect one another regardless of how people look, or the variations some have with their bodies, love will prevail. Love is a powerful thing. Georgie’s grandma taught me how to hug and hold hands, and I will always be grateful for the love she shared with a little boy named Billy.
It’s time to hold my hand and the hand of others. It’s time to feel the warmth of a friendly hand and pay forward not look in the rearview mirror. We can always find a reason to be angry, to start a fight, to use a weapon, to speak hateful things, but if and when we all stop and take a good look at the options, they look pretty good. We can do this thing called life and do it well. God is among us all, and if we move together instead of apart we can change things, and make our world a place of joy and happiness. As I often tell my friends, a smile goes a long way. Tell a stranger to hold your hand and then help when assistance is needed. There is nothing like helping a stranger feel welcomed.
William Byron Hillman © 2013
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