The Baby Stroller

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Inside each of us lies something magnificent, waiting to happen.

Submitted: August 27, 2017

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Submitted: August 27, 2017

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Racism is an ugly thing.  The Birmingham church bombing.  Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge.  “Separate but equal” drinking fountains.  I’ve seen things I’ll never write about.  Some memories are best left undisturbed.

 

Instead, I will tell a different kind of story.  This happened in 1977.  It was my sophomore year at Auburn University.  The apartment I rented on Glenn Avenue happened to be on the invisible line.

 

America is filled with invisible lines.  The boundary between where blacks and whites live.  From my front door, I saw mostly white, middle class American college students.  From the bedroom window, the view was starkly different.

 

Anyone who tells you money isn’t important has never been poor.  Poor means you live in a run down house with plastic sheets stapled over broken windows.   Poor means you walk because the transmission is shot and you can’t afford to fix it.  Poor means you worry about buying food and paying utility bills.

 

There were two distinct communities on Glenn Avenue, on either side of the line.  We intermingled at stores and restaurants, talked about football or the weather, worked side by side.  But the line was always there.  I got a glimpse of what life was like on the other side, thanks to Stevo.  

 

Steven Oliver Garrison, like me, was born and raised in a small southern town.  That, and the fact we lived in the same apartment complex, were about the only things we had in common.

 

I can’t claim to be a true Southerner.  My parents were immigrants from far away.  No one related to me was born in the South.

 

Stevo, on the other hand, is a redneck.  That’s not necessarily a derogatory term.  It encompasses a wide range of qualities.  Southern culture has a lot of warts, but it ain’t all bad.  

 

The deal is this.  I’m white.  Stevo liked me.  I knew he had my back.  Also, he had a car.  I did not.

 

Stevo’s opinion of the people who lived on the other side of the line varied.  The N-word was a part of his vocabulary, something that was not tolerated in my parent’s house.  My mother and father experienced a different form of discrimination where they came from.  They made sure I didn’t think that way.

 

But I had seen plenty by the time I got to college.  I knew I’d never change Stevo’s mind.  Like I said, he had a car.

 

As his Camaro drove to the grocery store, we passed a young black woman pushing a baby stroller.  Eliciting a typical Stevo comment:  “Somebody should have used birth control.”  I let it go.

 

The thing about Stevo, he comes from a long line of mechanics.  He can fix anything.  It was not unusual to see him bleeding someone’s brakes or patching a flat on a bicycle tire.  Maybe an instinct can be powerful enough to override the other programming in someone’s brain.

 

On the way home, we passed the young woman again.  This time, she was on her knees next to the stroller.  A wheel was in her hand.  Stevo parked the car and walked up.  “Let me see that.”  She handed him the wheel.  

 

He looked it over, then bent down and examined the axle.  “I can take care of this.”  He retrieved a tool box from the trunk of the Camaro.  In a few minutes, he was spinning the wheel with his hand.  “It’s fixed.”

 

The woman said, “I wish I could pay you but I don’t have any money.”

 

“That’s okay, it’s what I do.  I fix things.”

 

“I can’t thank you enough.  My name is Lenore.  This is my son, Jonathan.”

 

Steve introduced himself, they shook hands.  We got back in the car.  He turned right on Glenn, heading away from the apartment complex.

 

“Uh, Stevo, did you forget where we live?”

 

“Naw.”

 

“So, where are we going?”

 

“Did you get a look at that stroller?  It is falling apart.  The same thing will happen to the other wheels.”

 

“And?”

 

“We’re going to the mall.  Where I’ll buy Lenore a new stroller.  One that is built right.”

 

I must have had an incredulous look on my face.  “I just have two questions.  Who are you, and what did you do with Stevo?”

 

“Shut up, asshole.”

 

I did and we listened to the radio the rest of the way to the mall.  I was too dumbfounded for intelligent speech.

 

He wasn’t kidding about buying a well built stroller.  He picked the most expensive one at the store.  He looked in his wallet, turned to me and said, “I’m a little short.  How about spotting me an Abe Lincoln?”  Great.  I handed Stevo my last five dollar bill.

 

The stroller was almost too big.  The handle protruded from the Camaro’s trunk.  As we approached the invisible line, something occurred to me.

 

“Okay brainiac, you don’t even know where she lives.  How are you going to find her?”

 

“We’ll knock on doors until we find someone who knows her.”

 

A yellow Camaro crossed the invisible line on Glenn Avenue, carrying two white boys.  One of them was terrified.

 

Stevo knocked on a door.  I understood the look on the man’s face.  What the hell are two white kids doing on my porch?

 

“Hi, sorry to bother you.  I’m looking for a young lady named Lenore.”

 

The response didn’t surprise me.  “Nobody by that name lives down here.”  It was obvious the man didn’t trust us.

 

My friend wasn’t perturbed.  “Let me explain better.”  He pointed at his car.  “I bought that baby stroller for Lenore and Jonathan.  I want to give it to her.”

 

The man stared at Stevo for a moment, then walked over and peered into the trunk.  I could tell he was thinking about it.  He pointed to a house across the street. “Lenore lives there.”

 

Tears flowed when Lenore placed Jonathan in his new stroller.  I can still remember the look on Stevo’s face when her grandmother hugged him.  She was a large woman and he almost disappeared.

 

===============

 

If you think something more happened between Stevo and Lenore, you’re wrong.  It was near the end of spring quarter.  When I returned from summer break, I lived in an apartment on the other side of campus.  

 

Stevo was a lousy student.  He’d racked up two years of failing grades.  When his father pulled the plug on his college education, he joined the Navy.  They always need good mechanics.

 

Neither of us saw Lenore again.

 

===============

 

Fast forward to November, 2016.  America’s invisible lines have blurred a little.  But they are still around.

 

I got a letter from Stevo.  Retired after a long career in the Navy, he was back home in Red Bay, a couple of hours west of Lily Flagg.   He invited me to his house to watch the Iron Bowl.  The annual football extravaganza between Auburn and our hated rivals, the Crimson Tide of Alabama.

 

We talked through the four decades that elapsed since we’d seen each other.  His hair was gray and he had a few wrinkles.  Time catches up with all of us.  Mostly, he was the same old Stevo.

 

The game started okay.  Daniel Carlson kicked a field goal and Auburn took the early lead.  But field goals were all our offense produced.  As the game went on, it was obvious we had no answer for Jalen Hurts.  Their talented quarterback ran and passed his way through our defense as if they were wading through molasses.

 

Beer was consumed and Stevo cussed a lot.  The N-word happened.  No one ever said Southern culture isn’t filled with irony.  During the game he wore an navy blue jersey bearing the number 34.  His all-time favorite Auburn player is Bo Jackson, a black man.  Go figure.


© Copyright 2017 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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