A Southern Lesson In Respect

(mushashugyo, from Creative commons)
I had an interesting experience several years back (okay, a LOT of years back) when I was a marketing rep for WordPerfect Corporation (remember that sweet little software company? Ah, they were grand to work for). My area was Indiana and western Kentucky, and one afternoon I was in Louisville heading downtown to try to find a few computer stores and get appointments to demo my wares. At that time Louisville’s businesses had spread to the outer edges of town and downtown was mostly pretty shopping and people on hard times. Bit of a mix. No idea what it’s like now.

Anyway, I was walking along a sidewalk where a city bus was idling waiting for people to load. An elderly gentleman was at the end of the line, and I was pretty sure he was going to make his way on, when the bus pulled away from the curb and started up the street toward me, leaving the man standing there in surprise. He began to run, limping, trying to get up to the driver and get his attention, but the bus kept going. So I stepped out into the street in front of the thing — far enough away not to get flattened — and waved to the driver, indicating the man running along in the vehicle’s wake. The bus driver saw me, pulled over, and the man got on.

I didn’t think a thing of it. It was no big deal. But the thing was, I was white, and the older man — along with most of the people around me — wasn’t. Again, no reason for me not to stop the bus. And I hadn’t really thought about it until I got a face full of surprised stares. Two really sweet much older gentlemen leaned away from their canes to tell me what a nice thing that was to do.

Now, I have to tell you, I was pretty naive at that point. I grew up all over the world, and the military is filled with people from every nation imaginable. I never knew from racial strife or prejudice. I literally, at my young age of 24, thought all that stuff had gone out in the 1960’s. So, it was enlightening to say the least to see how stunned people were (and this was in the ’80’s) that a white woman would wave a bus down for a man of color.

I learned something from the two men who paid me the compliment–a compliment I hardly deserved for the tiny bit of effort it involved. First, the world had come some distance in my lifetime but still had some to go. Second, those two gentlemen were two of the most gracious people I had ever met. I mean, I only had contact with them for a minute, if that. But they had spirits of grace, and a loving and accepting energy, and they took the time to thank me for something that had only involved them from the scope of race relations–something I had no idea was even involved in my little flagging-down episode. They were people who had gone through some things at the hands of people who looked like me, yet they treated me like I had done something wonderful for them.

They treated me with respect. And I never forgot it. Because in that barest moment of contact I felt a world of experience and choice embodied in those men. The end result of how they had decided to deal with it all was treating a naive young thing in a pencil skirt as though she’d done something great.

I was humbled, and amazed at what you can learn in a moment.

I’d love to find those guys and thank them. But it was so long ago I imagine they’re hanging out somewhere above me now. Its okay though. They left me a legacy and I’m going to see if I can pass it on.

About Janiel 433 Articles
I have managed to keep the same husband for nearly three decades, and the same four children for almost that long - although one or two of them say it has been much longer. I have been writing since I learned to hold a pencil, and trying to make people laugh even longer. I hope to do some good in the world before I go the way of it. And if not, I'd better at least get to visit Ireland.


  1. AWESOME!! I'm with you, since I grew up with you, in thinking that there is no color, we're all humans, sisters and brothers. Glad you shared that story.

  2. What a delight it is to be rewarded with this sweet and unexpected annecdote. I came due to Googling your name + WordPerfect after watching an archive of your interview on The Computer Chronicles. (I wondered what the “lady with the awesome hair” was up to these days!)

    • Oh my gosh. Mr. Joe Cassera! I’m sorry it has taken me so long to reply to your comment! I haven’t visited my blog since right before you found this post, as I have been incredibly busy with multiple projects since then. But today I got on and found you! You’re the guy who sent me the link to that old WordPerfect Big-Haired video I did a thousand years ago! Thank you for that! It was so great to see it again after all these years. My kids think the poufy hair and shoulder pads are hilarious, and they get a lot of mileage out of it. 🙂 So thanks. No really, thanks! And thank you so much for your kind comment here! How nice of you to take the time. I appreciate it!

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