He was black, I am white. He was old and I was young. He'd worked at the company for over 20 years, since before I'd been born. I was four months on the job and already the management was considering promoting me to the position supervising Thomas and his coworkers.
I was stunned I suppose; I was a kid and these guys were well over 40 to a man and yet none of them were on the short list. Thomas was happy for me, slapped me on the back in fact. He'd trained me, not that catching shingles was rocket science; but as with any job there were tiny nuances, little body movements, a certain rhythm to accomplish before nailing the work. And he'd been there to coax me through all of them, and to defend me when my clumsy forgetfulness would screw things up so badly the plant would need to shut down while the wreckage was cleared.
I'd been so uncomfortable with the company's offer that I asked Thomas if he'd meet me for a few minutes after work, so I could explain to him that I knew it was unfair, that I didn't want to take the job, that if anyone deserved it, he did. He met me, but the moment I started to speak he shushed me and asked if I'd like to come to his house for dinner later that week. I was honored.
He lived in a spotlessly clean ghetto apartment, a one bedroom which was used by his daughter, a girl with multiple problems both physical and mental yet with a brilliant spirit and a sedate joy. His wife hovered over me like my grandmother would, making sure I was having a great experience as if I were a long lost cousin.
My wife and I were there a few hours and loved every second of the time, they were the most gracious family I've ever met and in the end they wouldn't let us leave without accepting a gift to remember them by. Bette, Thomas’ wife, crocheted the most hideous doilies, and they were everywhere one looked; while the patterns were all of the Irish lace variety, they were unsymmetrical and crude, some so poorly done they looked like the surf on a rocky beach. Anything in the home that sat atop something else was resting on a doily, lamps and books and ashtrays… even the placemats were just large, square, knit doilies.
She offered us one of her newest doilies, and by the look in her eyes when she did I was nearly moved to tears. She, this stranger, was giving us a piece of her soul, a symbol of her family’s love, a one of a kind memento of a one time meeting I’ve never forgotten, could never forget. It was like she’d offered me the moon, and that’s just how I accepted her prize.
The little dog laughed
To see such sport,
And the dish ran away with the spoon.