Considering the Unconsidered at the Library: “All American Boys”

September 7, 2016

by Bill Peak

After church each Sunday, there’s always a long line of cars working its way out of our parking lot.  Ours is a big congregation—five different sub-lots feed the single lane that leads off parish property.  And of course, as we’ve all just been to church, we’re all feeling charitable toward our neighbors, and, consequently, those of us already in line tend to slow as we approach each sub-lot to let one of the cars waiting there enter ahead of us.  In this way, eventually, the entire parking lot empties in a more or less fair and orderly fashion.

It was a beastly hot day and I had already made it past the last of the sub-lots, righteously fulfilling my obligation at each junction to permit one (and only one!) car in ahead of me, when, absently, my brain registered the fact that there was a maid walking home from work down the blacktop beside us.  Then, noticing her outfit (gauzy black blouse, bright red skirt, high-heeled sandals slapping against the bottoms of her feet), my mindless reverie evaporated and I snapped into full alert and functioning mode.  This was no maid.  Or, if it was a maid, she certainly wasn’t on her way home from work; she was on her way home from the Mass she had just attended with the lot of us creeping along beside her in our air-conditioned cars.

Shamefacedly, I braked, lowered my window and asked the lady if she’d like a lift.  She nodded gratefully, ran around to the passenger side of my car and got in.  As it turned out, she spoke almost no English, but with my limited library Spanish I was able to work out that she lived somewhere up off Aurora.  What you have to remember here is that Ss. Peter & Paul Church sits at the far end of a vast soybean field that sits at the far end of Washington Street just before it gives up the ghost at the far end of the bypass.  I drove my unexpected passenger up Washington till it reached Aurora, and then north on Aurora till she asked me to let her out on Dover, a distance of 2+ miles.  Had she walked all the way to church that morning on her own?!  And if she had, on how many Sundays now had she made that long, lonely journey?

But then, of course, it came to me that this was one lady who probably knew a fair amount about long, lonely journeys.  And clearly, for all her finery, she was a lot tougher than I.

This year’s One Maryland One Book is called All American Boys.  One Maryland One Book is the program of Maryland Humanities in which people all across the state read the same book at the same time.  All American Boys [written by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely] is the story of what happens when a policeman allows an unconsidered first impression to determine his behavior.  In a day and age when patrol car cameras have unexpectedly illuminated a few dark and (hopefully) seldom frequented corners in our policing of America’s underclasses, the subject is a timely one.  Of course I would like to think that as an enlightened Southerner I have long since risen above such unconscious prejudice.  But then I come up against that “maid” I saw walking down our church lane.

On Monday, September 12, at 6:00 p.m., in the Easton branch of the Talbot County Free Library, and again on Friday, September 16, at 3:00 p.m., in our St. Michaels branch, I will host a discussion of All American Boys.  I hope you will join me.  Who knows?  We might all discover a corner or two in our own particular lives that could use a little light.

 

Bill Peak is the communications manager and all-encompassing “Library Guy” at the Talbot County Free Library on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. He is the author of the novel “The Oblate’s Confession” (2014). Bill writes a monthly article for The Star-Democrat about working at the Talbot County Free Library.  This essay was originally published in The Star-Democrat on August 2, 2015.

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