IT'S ALL A MATTER OF TASTE

by Irving Kenneth Zola


As we drove toward her home in Lexington, the sun was setting and I was preoccupied with trying to keep it in view. I guess that's why I missed the perturbed look on Amanda's face. She was nearly four but already had a well-developed pout which was clearly in evidence now.

"What's the matter?" I asked in my most fatherly fashion. "You look upset."

"Hmm," she answered in rather low tones indicating she wasn't quite ready to tell me.

She shook her head and proceeded to inspect her hands. First, she'd look at the right palm, then the left, then she'd turn them over and inspect them again.

"Did you hurt yourself?" I asked with some concern. I couldn't really look at her and still keep my eyes on the road.

"Nope," she answered and now she rolled up her sleeves for what looked like a more thorough inspection.

"Is there a rash? Are you itchy?"

To this she only shook her head. Now she rolled down her sleeves and went to work on her pants. To her legs she gave the same careful attention.

By now I'd gotten the hint. When she was ready, she'd tell me.

Whatever it was, something told me I wouldn't like it. I wanted to reach out and touch her, but with my right hand on the hand-operated gas lever and my left on the spinner knob, no hands were available for comforting. So with increasingly sweaty palms, I gripped everything a little tighter.

"Daddy," she finally began, "Daddy, I don't like my color."

It took all my self-control to keep the car from swerving. I didn't know when, but I knew this day would come ever since we'd adopted her as white parents. Slowly, I began to move the car to the right hand lane, partly because I thought I might have to stop and partly to gain some time.

Stupidly, I asked her to repeat what she said.

She did it patiently. So I wouldn't misunderstand, she pointed to her hands and said, "I don't like this color...my brown."

Trying to be both matter-of-fact and calming, I told her I thought that was very interesting and began my well-rehearsed speech about how color was relative, how many people tried desperately to tan themselves and get that way, and finally concluded with the statement that it was no big deal to be 'white'.

All during my speech, her eyes grew wider and seemed puzzled, but I, like a record that couldn't turn off, went blithely on.

As I caught my breath, she interrupted me. "I know that, Daddy!" she said quite emphatically, "I don't want to be white."

"You don't want to be white!" I shouted with an air of disbelief.

"Of course not," she said and began to shake her head in that way that kids have when they have reached their limits of tolerance with parents. "I don't want to be brown! And I don't want to be white! I want to be purple." And since that ended the conversation, she went back to careful inspection of her hands.

 

copyright Irving Kenneth Zola

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