by Dr. Reve' M. Pete
It was around 1910, somewhere in the state of Louisiana. A little Caucasian boy named Johnny Matthews was playing with his best friend, a little African-American boy named Willie Malbrue. What was unusual about this friendship was not just that these two little boys of different races were friends when segregation was at its height, but that their friendship was rooted in the strong bond of friendship between their respective paternal grandfathers, John Whattel Matthews, the town’s mayor and James Sylvester Malbrue, the town’s chief welder.
On this particular bright and sunny Spring day, Johnny and Willie played together as their two families enjoyed their annual joint family picnic. As the women prepared to serve a feast of traditional Southern dishes like fried chicken, potato salad, dirty rice, cold slaw and iced tea, their men folk sat under a big shady oak tree, swapping stories of days gone by – both good and bad. Suddenly, there was the sound of two little boys’ voices raised in loud screeches as they argued. Then there was the sight of dust flying as they rolled on the ground in hand-to-hand combat.
John Whattel and James immediately rose from their seats and went to attend to what was by now a dust flying fight. Reaching the boys, each grandfather caught his own grandson by the back of his shirt collar and lifted him up in the air with each grandson’s arms and legs still wiggling like a puppy. Upon demand by both grandfathers of what was the matter, accusations of Johnny’s wrongdoing began to fly from Willie’s mouth. As fast as those accusations flew, Johnny answered them with vehement denials.
After calming both boys down and hearing the matter in full, it became clear to both grandfathers that Willie had “issues” and was unjustly accusing Johnny of wrongdoing. Smiling at each other with a mysterious smile that only the two grandfathers understood, they decided to make the two boys sit down under the big shady oak tree –- skipping the Southern picnic feast –- while they, the grandfathers, told them a story.