I recall in many of my school years a fellow student named Adrian would often be in classes. His parents were migrant workers who traveled seasonally and worked when crops demanded their labor. As such he was in school for periods of time and then gone again.
The most poignant memory I have of him came after a series of taunts and ridicule from other students, language and insults they had no doubt heard in their homes, about the ‘big car’ his family owned. I recall that in a flat conversational tone he simply said that the car was not only for travel but also “that is where we live when working.”
I will never forget that conversation and the weight it had, especially for me as the decades have rolled along. Living in Waushara County meant that we often rubbed shoulders with Hispanics and as such, it would seem that more sensitivity to their lives might have resulted. But it never developed in that county to the degree that humanity would hope.
We had a few children on our school bus route who lived in small cabin-like dwellings not so far from where I lived, that were used by migrant families. Some would snicker that a scent of their morning breakfast would trail along when the kids ran to their seats to sit down.
One of those boys was always friendly and I once asked what breakfast was like in his home. He told me usually had fried bread on the stove with meat. I recall being told his mom made it herself with flour and it rose overnight for the morning meal. Decades later I was reminded of that bread when in Arizona a Native American vendor was making fresh flatbread on a low stone fireplace near a road. It was greasy to the touch when eating, but powerfully good. I imagined that was perhaps akin to what that boy had for breakfast many years prior.
Getting to know people has always been something I have embraced. Without really knowing it was happening or even why I am designed this way has allowed for good friendships to form, and a better sense of the world around me.
We all have assumptions about people, be it why some spend their money on a larger car, or the scent that comes from the coat near to the kitchen table so to wear when the bus approaches.
I just know that Adrian felt apart and different and some of his classmates made that divide deeper and more troubling. His parents were hard-working and obviously determined to have their child in school. So the snide remarks and bigotry from some of the homes that found their way to the school grounds was something no kid should have to encounter.
This is why I will always recall his flat and conversational tone about explaining his family car. No kid should need to confront such situations which resulted from bigotry, but that he handled it in such a calm manner is what strikes me these nearly 50 years later.
And so it goes.