As a junior counselor, part of my job, in addition to being in charge of a bunk of girls, was to oversee a table of campers at mealtime. Most of them hated breakfast, especially the lumpy oatmeal. One morning, I was doing my best to encourage them to eat when I heard a loud, unpleasant argument coming from the kitchen. Soon the cook stormed out of the dining room, followed by the director who stood, dismayed, watching the cook leave. I heard her say to some of the senior counselors, “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ll be lucky if I can get another cook by tomorrow.” No one suggested any action.
What possessed me, I don’t know, but without thinking about whether I could do it, I went up to the director and said, “I can make the meals until the new cook arrives.”
As the newly elected executive vice-president of the association, I was in line to become the next president. Normally the president would have chaired the meeting but he’d been called home to deal with an emergency. I got a message from an administrator telling me I had to chair the meeting fifteen minutes before it was scheduled to begin. I wasn’t worried. I had the agenda that had been sent to the new board members, and running a meeting didn’t seem all that different from meeting new students at the beginning of a semester.
He was Black. I was white. He was tall. I was short. He was a southern Baptist. I was a northern Jew. He was a scientist. I taught world literature. He dressed with elegance. I favored loose-fitting ethnic clothing. He lived in the city. I lived in a small community about seven miles away. He grew up in the south in a time of overt segregation. I grew up in the north in a time of mostly covert segregation. He was married. I was divorced. Outwardly we were totally different.