About 30 years ago, in Houston for a convention with my husband, I invited an old college roommate who lived in a small town nearby to join me for lunch at our hotel. We made catch-up chat for an hour or so, then she left the room for the facilities. While she was gone I noticed a hand towel covering something on an end table and, thinking the room-cleaner had left it, lifted it.
And froze. Under the towel was the biggest pistol I’d ever seen, except in cowboy movies.
Coming out of the bathroom, my friend picked it up. “Oh, you’ve found my gun,” she said. “I carry it everywhere because you can never tell what these crazy people in Texas are going to do.”
I begged to differ. I grew up in Texas, and the only firearms I’d ever seen were two hunting rifles on a rack above our washing machine and one my daddy carried on the back seat of his car when he drove into the woods to visit the oil-rig operations he supervised.
Daddy was a bird, duck, deer and rabbit and squirrel hunter, and that came naturally since he’d been born on a farm in the piney woods in 1904. He and his five brothers chased anything that looked like good eating, even though their family had a smokehouse full of pork and beef and a yard full of chickens. It was a different world.
Fast forward to the late 1980s, and I have a heated political argument with my brother-in-law, who grew up in rural Alabama and now lives in Washington state. Our disagreement segues into gun control, and he uses the usual argument: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” and then tells me, “Would it surprise you to know that I carry a pistol under my seat in my car?“ I tell him no, but I don’t plan to ride around with him any more because I don’t like being near people who have guns when I don’t.
In the year 2000 I retired from work and began to deliver meals for a charitable agency dedicated to helping people with a specific illness. I don’t think the above-mentioned friend and many of the women I know in New Orleans would do it, because I go into some neighborhoods close-packed with folks who sometimes seem just to be loitering near the sidewalks and corridors that I pass along. Some of them are white, and some of them are black.
But I’m an indomitable cuss — must be that scary Texas blood — and I persevere. Nobody has ever bothered me. Instead, they’ve been friendly, courteous and helpful when they can be.
The other day, I was unloading meals from my car in front of an apartment building, and noticed a black teenager sitting on a box about 2 feet from the narrow opening through which I would have to pass. It wouldn’t have registered except for the fact that there was nobody else in sight, and call my reasoning what you may, I decided to stay on alert as I approached him. Would I have been as attentive had he been white? I’ve pondered that question, and I think yes, given the circumstances.
But the boy got up and walked over to the car and greeted me with a beautiful face and a big smile. “Are you headed for my grandmamma’s apartment in ‘D’?” he asked. “If you are, then I can take this for you.”
I was and he did.
What if he had been Trayvon Martin and I — like my friend — had been a nervous woman who carries a gun, or a man who likes to play cop in a gated community in Florida?
That’s why I mourn Trayvon, and have no use for the one who killed him.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of The Times Picayune Living section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.