I live in a rural area where, until very recently, very few people of colour lived. This was especially the case when I was growing up in the sixties. In my earliest years, I never once laid eyes on a person who was not the same ethnicity as me. My mother tells me a story of taking me to the local swimming pool when I would have been aged 3 or 4. There was a black mother with her child and of course, with my then-blond, straight hair and fair, freckled skin, I was fascinated. After staring at the child – who would have been about the same age as me – in open-mouthed wonder for a long time, I finally asked, in a loud, childish voice, “Mom, why is that boy chocolate?”
Chocolate is one of my favourite things in the whole world – always has been – so although I do not remember this occasion at all, I have no doubt that my question was a very positive one, filled with wonder, and admiration and perhaps a touch of envy.
My mother – not sure how to handle the situation – was mortified, and quickly and quietly shooed me away.
I’m not sure how it is that we do not maintain that lovely innocence: when the way a person looks is just another detail to be admired, simply for what it is. When skin colour doesn’t matter. When age and wrinkles don’t matter. When height and weight don’t matter.
When judgement isn’t even a concept in our lovely young minds.
In his final years, my Dad drew stares wherever he went: his throat cancer had taken his voice and the device he used to replace the vibration of his missing vocal chords made his voice sound loud (he could no longer whisper; could not turn down the volume) and computer-generated. It was a voice that drew attention: in public, adults would surreptitiously – almost with distrust – give him side-long glances when they thought he wasn’t looking, and quickly glance away if they caught his eye. Not so with the children: they would march up to him in open-mouthed amazement, staring unashamedly as he spoke to the person beside him until they could catch his eye. “Why do you talk funny?” they would then demand loudly, as their mortified parents rushed forward to grab them away.
Dad always managed to grin and give them an answer before the parents could get there though, which of course, put everyone at ease. He loved the candour of the children’s questions and he never minded answering (and the older ones got a life lesson about the dangers of smoking, to boot).
A friend of mine – carrying a bit of extra weight, used to laugh as she told me how one of her nephews always sought out her lap at family gatherings: “I love to sit in your lap, Auntie P_, he would say, snuggling in for a long, delicious cuddle. “You have such nice, lumpy stuffing.”
How do adults lose that ability to see everything – and everyone – as inherently, uniquely beautiful? When do we start to compare? To judge? To define what is beautiful? And what is not?
When – and why – do we lose that childish wonder?
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com