Ode to Kim: A Story of Racial Healing

Corvette Stingray

Corvette Stingray (Photo credit: kenjonbro)

This story doesn’t exactly have a happy ending, but it has some heart-warming aspects to it, so please keep reading.

My best friend in elementary school was named Kim.  Kim, if by some miracle of heaven and social media you are reading this, may blessings and every good thing be upon you now and eternally.  We moved in the middle of second grade.  I was the new, shy kid, and Kim was outgoing and popular, but we quickly became inseparable on the playground and everywhere else.  We were frequently over each other’s homes.  I remember how Kim, (who was required to clean her plate prior to being excused) would feed her unwanted dinner items to her dachshunds Paula and Puffer surreptitiously under the table, and her family wondered why the dogs were getting so fat while Kim remained so skinny.  We were partners in crime.  Kim’s parents thought that I was the bad influence, as I had the bigger mouth (surprise, surprise) but Kim had the stronger personality.  As one of the few more intellectual and academic students, I was the brains of the operations, while Kim was the guts.

Kim had an annoying younger brother, just like I did.  I remember one time Puffer had peed on the tile floor at the bottom of the carpeted stairs.  From our hidden perch behind the railing, we watched with eager anticipation as little brother John Jr. took his last step off the stairs and slid into the difficult to notice puddle.  We roared as John lay helplessly on his back, his clothing soaked in Puffer’s urine.

While my family was crazy, Kim’s parents were unbearably strict and punitive.  One day Kim sassed her grandmother, who lived with them, and her parents gave away Paula as punishment.  I understand that Kim was born when her parents were both just 19, and if you did the math, you could probably figure out why they got married so young, as a premature baby does not weigh almost eight pounds.  They wanted to ensure that Kim had the education and opportunities that they never had.  And Kim’s dad worked very long hours to support their family, while her mother was the playground aid at our school for a time, sold Tupperware and had other part-time gigs.  I recall Kim would get a spanking if she ever got a “C,” which was frequent, and perhaps only less frequent because I let her copy my homework and sometimes helped her with assignments.  Kim wanted to cheat off me for tests, but that plan failed because the teachers had already separated our desks so we wouldn’t talk so much or pass notes.

I remember the time we combined our meager allowances in fifth grade so Kim could buy a $5.00 ring to make her “cheating,” boyfriend Gordie jealous.  While I was busy with swimming lessons, Kim’s mother signed her academically apathetic daughter up for a Latin course during the summer, despite her vigorous protests.  Kim, the immutable mediocre student, was told she would need that course to prepare for medical school.  Perhaps the only reason they let me stick around was that they hoped that my success in the classroom would rub off on their daughter and she might absorb by osmosis the disciplined study habits they assumed I possessed.  But they were in error on this account, as I never studied for any class until college, unless you count seventh-grade Algebra, and that studying didn’t do me any good.  Usually, I brought magazines or other preferred reading material, hidden inside my notebook, to keep me occupied while the interminably monotonous teacher droned on.

Kim was able to convince her parents to allow her to attend Camp Kaufman, a Jewish camp, two summers in a row with me, even though Kim’s family was not Jewish.  All that comes to mind about camp is the insatiable mosquitoes, the painfully uncomfortable beds, reading Archie comic books under the covers by flashlight after lights out and a girl who stole a bunch of our stuff.  But the food was wonderful, and we stuffed ourselves with the donuts which we were allowed in place of a real breakfast on Sunday morning and rejoiced over the sumptuous Friday night chicken dinner with all the accouterments.  I remember the awkward mixed dances, where the beautiful and charismatic Kim had the boys lining up to ask her to dance, while I sat out many of the songs.  We played lots of pranks on our hapless teenage counselors, who were far more interested in checking out the counselors on the boys’ side than keeping tabs on their young charges.  One time we dug all the counselors’ underwear and unmentionables out of their foot lockers and threw them up on the ceiling crossbeams.

Camp Kaufman required that all campers attend religious services weekly.  There was a Friday night Shabbat service for the Jewish majority, and a bus was provided that shipped the others to either Catholic or Protestant church on Sunday.  Kim received permission to join the Jewish group, and we both sang in the choir.  Kim had a lovely, lilting Soprano voice, and we had great fun practicing harmonies together.  “Bim bam, bim bim bim bam, bim, bim bim bim bam.”  They put on a camp wide talent show.  Kim sang, “A Taste of Honey,” and was crowned Miss Kaufman Camp.

The summer before I started seventh grade, or Junior High, which has currently been relabeled, “Middle-School,” we moved again.  My parents were concerned that our local Junior High was rife with a gang called, “the Stonies,” and they wanted to move to an area with a better school system.  Perhaps this was the working of the divine hand of protection for me, as Kim’s harsh home environment provoked her to rebellion, and once in Junior High, she got into drugs, sex and rock’n roll in a big way.  Well, perhaps just drugs and sex.  And in my youthful adulation and loyalty, I know I would have followed Kim down the yellow-brick road or anywhere else.  Our new home was perhaps a thirty-minute drive away, and we kept in touch by phone.  I spent the night at Kim’s house when I was 14, and it was the only time I tried marijuana, with Kim and some of her friends, and thankfully, I didn’t like the experience.

Following high school graduation, Kim opted for a job at the phone company rather than college, and when she turned 18,  escaped her oppressive home and moved in with an older man who was still married, much to her family’s consternation.  But there was nothing they could do about it.  I went to college and we lost touch.  A few years later my dad ran into her at a grocery store, where he found Kim working as a checker.   So much for the summer Latin class and her parents’ dreams of a doctor in the family. We caught up.  Kim informed me that she had gone the “freak,” druggie route for a number of years, and she was done with that.  She had dropped a lot of LSD, smoked a lot of dope and drank heavily for a while.  Kim believed these practices had ruined her once delightful voice, and perhaps her cognitive processes to some extent also.  She related she had also gone through scores of lovers in the few short years following high school graduation (she didn’t even use the more neutral term, “boyfriends.”)  She told me her dad said to her, “Kim, I don’t know what to think.  You’ve been to bed with everything except a black guy and a woman.”

Now Kim’s dad was racist, having grown up in the South somewhere.  He didn’t hate people because their skin was a different color, but he expected them to stay in their place as janitors, maids, and guys to mow the lawn.  He certainly didn’t want his daughter dating one.  And this was during the 1970’s. Kim’s latest live-in relationship was a polite, soft-spoken and very black mechanic named John, who she met when she took her car in to get fixed.  Suspicious, I questioned Kim as to whether John was just another attempt to piss off her dad, as I thought this would be counterproductive, and it wasn’t fair to exploit a nice guy like John.  “Oh, no, of course not,” Kim insisted.  “John is different from the other men.  He is like my best friend.  We are talking about marriage.  He really is a great guy.”  And besides, Kim always had a fairly new and well-maintained car to drive, something John picked up and repaired.

John really was a great guy.  Since the possibility of marriage was on the horizon, he decided he needed to win over Kim’s family.  Kim’s younger brother liked him and her mother was reluctantly civil.  Even Kim’s dad wasn’t going to demonstrate poor manners and say anything nasty to his daughter’s boyfriend to his face.  You can imagine what he was saying behind his back. Boyfriend John ignored dad John’s gruffness, and was unfailingly respectful and friendly, even if it was one-sided.  Then boyfriend John discovered he could bond with dad John through their shared love of cars.  One day Kim’s dad came home with a new Corvette Stingray without previously clearing this extravagant purchase with his wife.  Kim’s mom had the mother of all meltdowns.  But the deed was done, and the shiny, new Corvette sat in the driveway.  Kim’s dad spent hours polishing and fretting over his baby and looking into the latest techniques of pushing its power to the limit.  Boyfriend John offered to work on his future father-in-law’s car for free and even got him parts at his discount.  They spent hours together making the Corvette the most souped up, testosterone laden, vehicle on the planet. Dad was stoked. Kim’s dad apologized to the boyfriend for his previous chilly response and admitted that even at the advanced age of 40, he could still learn a thing or two.  Dad didn’t like the idea of them “living in sin,” and if John wanted to put a ring on it, he had dad’s blessing.  Some of the relatives might not be happy, but that was their problem, not his.

And they all lived happily ever after.  Don’t we wish?  Once it became apparent that dad’s affection for John was genuine, and not a ploy to obtain free labor, Kim dumped “great guy,” John, moved out and moved on.  In 1981, I left the East Coast, never to look back.  Kim and I lost touch, and I never discovered what became of her.  Did she marry?  Have children?  Get her life back on track?  I sincerely hope so.  I will never forget my dear childhood friend, the freckle-faced playground queen with long, sweeping, golden-brown locks and pure, angelic singing.

A Taste Of Honey
Written by Ric Marlow and Bobby Scott

Winds may blow over the icy sea
I’ll take with me the warmth of thee
A taste of honey
A taste much sweeter than wine

I will return
I’ll return
I’ll come back for the honey and you

I’ll leave behind my heart to wear
And may it e’er remind you of
A taste of honey
A taste much sweeter than wine

I will return
I’ll return
I’ll come back for the honey and you

He ne’er came back to his love so fair
And so she died dreaming of his kiss
His kiss of honey
A taste more bitter than wine

I will return
I will return
I’ll come back for the honey and you
I’ll come back for the honey and you!

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