White Shoulders A Christmas Tale Part Three
It was Christmas Eve day. Zinnia and I were back at Lucky’s picking up last minute supplies and Christmas treats. I was idealistically hoping to rub-shoulders with humanity at this jolly-old time of the year, but what I got instead was an angry Christmas mob. Inside, checkout lines ran the length of the store. Free cookies were being passed out to mollify crabby shoppers, carts piled high with turkeys, hams, chips, dips, eggnogs, sodas, oranges, nuts, port wines, Irish Whiskies, fruitcakes, gingerbreads, candy canes, chocolate covered cherries… Piped-in above the din, Perry Como was wishing he’d be home for Christmas.
At one in the afternoon the sky outside was black and gravid with rain, making the lights inside the store all the merrier and brighter. Like Scrooge, I knew how to keep Christmas and was filling the cart (once a year) with all the same goodies as the rest of the world. To Zinnia, Christmas had come a day early. Beyond jubilant, she might have been the only happy shopper in the store. Which is why I could never figure out why she picked up the cube of tofu and tossed it at Donnie’s feet as we walked by him that day. (In retrospect, this was a foretelling of what would come later in Zinnia’s teenage years when she would view all natural foods as poison, tofu, top on the list.)
Donnie and I were both laughing as we simultaneously bent to pick it up.
Handing it to me, he said, “Ever since you’ve been coming here, when you walk by me I can smell your perfume. I love it. It smells wonderful. I still have time to buy my wife some for Christmas. What’s the name of it?” His dark eyes were bright and intent.
Surprised, flattered, pleased, I didn’t hesitate. “White Shoulders!”
“White Shoulders?” He repeated, wanting to get it right.
“Yes. White Shoulders. It’s been my perfume since I was three.” Donnie smiled big. I smiled big. At that moment I don’t think either of us thought of the centuries-old racism embedded in the name of my signature perfume, White Shoulders. I didn’t. I was just happy that my friend Donnie was buying it for his wife, thinking how much she would love it and how he would love it too. If Donnie felt the taint of White Shoulders that day, he never showed it.
Soon The Conversion which changed our thinking in 1967 would compel Keith and I to change our lives and get back to the land, and Donnie would slip out of my life for good.
We sold our home and moved to the Northern California wilderness intending to reconnect, body, heart and soul to Planet Earth. Forty years later, we’re still on the land, still reconnecting. Eventually I would come to realize our retreat to the land was the “feet on the ground” beginning of the Environmental Movement, the change in human consciousness that would one day grow to be an important, powerful and positive force in the world.
The week before we left, I saw Donnie’s family one evening. His wife was parked up front waiting for Donnie, her car engine running.
I knew her immediately. A young black woman to rival Donnie’s own beauty sat behind the wheel of the car, her hair corn rowed and beaded. The young boy on her lap, clambering to reach his daddy who’d finally arrived, had a promising afro, and I could glimpse what Donnie would look like with his own brand of African Hair Peace.
Life is big, full and never-ending building a homestead from bare land, raising a daughter, fashioning a new and meaningful life for ourselves. There wasn’t much down-time to spend thinking of old friends. But like White Shoulders perfume, my fondness for Donnie endured. For me, the two became inextricably linked. From time to time unanswered questions about him would come to the surface, like they do even now.
Did Donnie give his wife White Shoulders perfume that long ago Christmas? Did she wear it and love it? Did Donnie love it too? Or was the sting of the White too much to overcome? Thinking about it now, it would be for me.
And what about Donnie’s life? Did he grow an afro, protest for Civil Rights? Did he have a Conversion of his own? Or did he work his life out at Lucky Stores, prosper and raise a big family? He would be retiring about now.
And through the long span of years I wonder, had Donnie’s world grown bigger like mine, no longer whitewashed and pale, but richly, flamboyantly colorful and diverse, the way I know it was meant to be, because that’s what Nature, my longtime teacher has taught me.
There are times too I can’t help wondering, if Donnie and I hadn’t already been wildly in love with our partners and happy in our separate lives, could the short-term friendship we shared have grown into long-term love?
Hadn’t it already?