An Early Biracial Memory

Just a short post before I go off to the Writer’s Digest Conference—my first writers’ conference ever.  I typed up the following (previously scrawled in the margins of a notebook) to distract myself from major anticipatory jitters.  I am amazed that my mother still had this photograph of my 5th birthday party.  I’m in the red, white and blue flowered dress (I don’t remember being such a shrimp!)  Lynn, the girl mentioned below, is the one handing me a present.  You can’t see her feet but I believe she’s got on the coveted pink Mary Janes.

Crossing 79th Street

My mother had her purse and some Zabar’s bags draped over one elbow, leaving only one hand free for my friend Lynn and me to share.  We were crossing busy 79th Street, heading down Broadway to where she’d parked the car.  Between quick-stepping shoppers, Sabrett men pushing carts, and taxicabs swinging around the corner, not holding hands wasn’t an option.

Barely hip-level to passers-by, I remember nevertheless catching the eye of a woman a generation older than my mother.  She smiled warmly, first at Lynn and then at my mother.   Only I noticed the smile; they took it for granted.  And, though I was just five, I guessed what the woman was thinking.  She saw their matching, straight brown hair and narrow, angled noses.  Lynn, to the eyes of the world, was my mother’s child.  I, the brown girl with wild curls (my mother had no idea how to tame them), was just the friend, the outsider.  In any case, I got no smile.

I let my gaze drop to the pavement: grey, rubbery, dank and moist.  The rain had stopped an hour earlier, but the heaviness remained in the air.  The sour smell of a wet, city spring rose to fill my nostrils.  The soles of my navy blue Mary Janes made a pleasing slap-slap-slapping sound on the sidewalk, spattering oily drops as I tread.  Lynne’s Mary Janes were pink.

10 responses to “An Early Biracial Memory

  1. This post so beautifully captures NYC in the 70’s, Lisa. And what a poignant post it is. And how lovely seeing you and your mother together. You are clearly her daughter. Can I just note one irony here. I was scrolling down and the lovely auto-populate advertising feature showed me a “hair straightening Japanese style” ad. Ironic for me on so many levels (as you know).

    Anyway—thank you so much for your lovely writing and for sharing.

  2. Thank you, Nicole, for your thoughtful comment!

  3. In those moments of feeling that we do not belong we find our sense of direction. Your direction is so clear. So beautiful. So inspiring.

    Thank you for sharing this. It is beautiful.

    Have fun at the conference. Can’t wait to hear all about it!

  4. This memory which has left such an indelible impression on you, as so many others, is what has shaped you into the highly sensitive, compassionate woman and mother you are. It is one nugget from your buried, but retrievable past, rich ore for your writer’s imagination. Good luck, Lisa, at the Writers Conference, and keep me informed! Love, Wilma

  5. It’s amazing, the things we remember as kids, and even more amazing how we retell these stories through our eyes as children. A smile to a child can mean so much, which is one reason I always make the effort to smile at children, all children; because there is also a very inexplicable feeling a child gets (and remembers) when a smile is withheld. Disapproval is not quite the word I’m looking for, but it’s something like that that a child can sense and see.

  6. Thanks for your comment, Jodi!

  7. I am the only one in my entire family who is NOT white. I have always been treated nicely in my family,, but now that I am grown, i feel like the niceness was judgmental in some way. Like these people in my family were only nice to avoid anyone thinking they were mean for not accepting my moms decision to have a multiracial child. Being grown and having my own kids has given me the oppertunity to see how people react with a grown mind. I just have one question…”Why are “MY” kids called the bebe kids? Just because they are multiracial and I am multiracial, the white folks in my family think it’s okay to label them as bebe kids within a joke and its only because of their not being white.Also my white family assumes that we all like hip hop music and sagging clothes as if thats the only thing black folks would ever be interested in in life.If i could only write as well as you my dear, i’d have a few stories to post.

    • Joelena, this is sometimes so hard. You want people to understand you and your kids, but why should you have to educate your own family members on their own family members? I hope your children grow up surrounded by those that see them as the beautiful individuals they are.

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