By the time I was seventeen years of age, I was an adult. My father had been snatched away at the age of forty-one by a life ending heart attack, and my mother didn’t recover well. We lost her in another way for several years. Fortunately, she was back by the time I was getting married. She had fully recovered, in body and mind, for those happy preparations.
At about thirteen years of age I began choosing my own path in life. Decision making regarding friends, education, where I went, and what I did, was left up to me, as they say in baseball, by virtue of defensive indifference. Admittedly, I did not always make the best life choices. Often I traveled the rockiest road to reach any goal. When one is fortunate enough to have a trusted adult along side them, one with some age and experience and clear vision, perhaps life moves along a bit more smoothly. I say perhaps because I did not have the opportunity to know if that were true or not.
One of my short-sighted decisions was to drop out of high school as soon as I learned some business machines. I learned how to type on a typewriter, use a comptometer, and a key punch machine. I learned Gregg shorthand, as well. I was ready to strike out, armed for the world with the latest in business practices.
In those days, it didn’t take much to get a job. I put on my most conservative dress, combed my hair up in a beehive, and wore eyeglasses to make me appear older for my first job interview at Trade Bank and Trust Company. It was located on thirty-eight Street and Seventh Avenue. A Commercial Bank in the heart of the garment district in downtown Manhattan.
With balls of brass, and a gutsy bravado, that hasn’t left me yet, I lied about my age, my education, took a typing test, and landed the bank job in their central filing department. I was ecstatic. $60.00 a week to start.
Central Files was staffed with seven or eight women. Most a few years older than I, but not by much. One of the women was named Hazel. I always thought that was such a great name. Hazel was an African-American, (At that time she was black, African-American had not yet come into vogue). She was married to a soldier, Albert, and they had one little girl.
Hazel and I became great friends. We talked about all kinds of personal things, although I never told her that I was really a year younger. Jim and I were invited to she and Albert’s apartment in Washington Heights where we had dinner, spent a fun evening chit chatting, and where I learned to fully load an army rifle magazine in about ten seconds. Suffice to say I amazed Albert and we all really enjoyed the evening.
A few weeks later, while at work, Hazel invited me to a dance, sponsored by her cousin, William’s social group, the XLs. It was to be held at a grand ballroom in the Bronx. She showed me a professional brocheur which boasted what they were offering for the price of the ticket. I was a little hesitant at first. This was the time of gang wars between black and white, marches on Washington, CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) demonstrations. I asked her if the dance was going to be integrated. Were other white people going to be there? She assured me, “Yes, definitely”.
So, without further concern, Jim and I dressed for an evening out. I was eighteen and he was a very white nineteen. It was summer I was tan and looking pretty cute. We pulled up to the ballroom door in my mother’s 1960, Black Studebaker, Lark, and marched on in.
There were about five hundred guests at this event. Yes, as promised, it was integrated. Jim, I and the bartender were white. Well we paid for the ticket and we weren’t going to leave. I’m so glad we didn’t. We had the best time, and were treated graciously. We sat with Hazel, Albert, and their extended family of Mom and Aunts, Uncles and Cousins. There was a fashion show (I had never been to one before), a multi course dinner, and the music was fabulous. Everyone wanted to dance with us. It was a wonderful evening. I even got to kid Hazel, saying that when she told me it was a black and white event, I didn’t realize that Jim and I were the white.
A few weeks later, when I came into work I found Hazel with her head on my desk crying. Her cousin William, who I had danced with several times, had been shot dead during street violence in Harlem. He was a member of the XLs.