TRIPPING OVER A ROOT WITH ESTERLEEN

As I have gotten older I tend to view my past through, at the very least, a guise of humor. My own form of historical “rose colored glasses.” It was not always that way when the past was just too near the present. My wife hates it when I try to hide behind present day humor. In fact, seconds ago I got the “Your humor is inappropriate” speech. Geez I feel like a slug. I often wonder if there are some subjects that viewing with humor should be a taboo? My interactions with the opposite sex, including my wife? Yes, we still interact and I did write a book entitled “Floppy Parts.” My heart attack? There is little humor in an elephant sitting on your chest. Race Relations? I am always unsure about joking about race relations.

By 1977, seven years after complete desegregation came to the state of South Carolina, tensions were still raw but at least they were being kept in check…and mostly under wraps. Then came the miniseries “Roots” and LeVar Burton’s debut as Kunta Kinte. My little classroom world suddenly became a little less calm. As a faculty, we were warned that this television production based upon Alex Haley’s book of the same name, might cause ill will and the trouble associated with it. We were instructed to be ever vigilant and try to defuse any situation that might arise from the unrest. Enter Esterleen Hill.

Esterleen could cause unrest on the calmest day. It was just her way. She was impressive in size, not fat, just very healthy especially in the areas that men like for women to be healthy. She had a healthy grin and laugh to go with her healthy size and tended to wear her ”healthy” feelings on her sleeve for all to see…and hear if you were blind. While seemingly mature beyond her years, she was not likely to let her feelings go unheard by anyone willing to listen. Actually you were going to know her feelings whether you were willing to listen or not. Outspoken? You bet. Using the vernacular of the times, she was also just a tad bit militant when it came to race relations. I am not saying she had Black Panther posters pasted to the inside of her locker but if given the choice between an autograph from Huey Newton or Martin Luther King, Esterleen would have picked Huey’s. She told me many times, “Just go on and leave me alone! I didn’t ask to be here anyway.” Here would be the recently desegregated Mauldin High School.

For reasons that escape me, Esterleen and I connected although at times the connection would be strained. Because of our connection, when a “good old boy” attempted to stir the racial pot by saying, “I don’t know why God made n@#$%^s!” I took it upon myself to try and defuse the situation and steered Esterleen and her half dozen or so minions into my room. My intent was to utilize what is called a “teachable moment” and have them participate in a “healthy” discussion. First, I had to get control of the situation which at this moment was controlled by Esterleen. With her voice at its highest volume setting she proclaimed that she was not going to let that “honky son of a bitch get away with that shit!” I fixed her with one of my “teacher” stares and in my best authoritarian voice instructed her to “BE QUIET AND SHIT RIGHT THERE!” Did I just say that? Judging from the look on Esterleen’s face, I guess I did. In a somewhat less authoritarian voice I said, “I mean sit! Sit right here!” Judging from the laughter that had exploded and the bodies rolling on the floor I guessed that I had “defused” the situation. Teachable moment? Healthy discussion? No just laughter…and the calm that followed.

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