Yesterday in a belated Father’s Day celebration, my step-daughter (she the math teacher, she with the 9-month-old boy) took her dad and me to Target Field to watch the Twins. It was hot. The Twins were not. But we were sitting in the shade, high up with the swallows.
Baseball allows for drifting with tiny birds and balls hit high. Below, figures race around a diamond laid out in green green grass. Hawkers in bright green shirts pause at the bottom of our third-tier stairs, and shout “Peanuts” or “Kettle Corn,” or “Pale Ale.” Some smile as they shout as if to admit it is a hard sell from the bottom of the steps. Some add a sing-song or quirky intonation, making me giggle. One handsome young man with copper-brown skin and beautiful chest and arm muscles shakes the “product” at us, then throws it back in the bin. A few lift their heavy packs and charge up the steps. Some climb slowly, chatting with the spectators as they go.
That morning, email brought rejection: my novel did not “make the cut.” My step-daughter said, “It’s hard in your business getting so many rejections.” I felt as if some of my innards had been scooped out. Still it was a beautiful day, we were in the shade, and the swallows swooped and twittered almost within reach. The Twins gave up four runs.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” I said. “Want anything?” Both my husband and step-daughter asked for something sweet and cold. Wandering the corridor below, I was nudged by groups of kids in identical t-shirts, by families with toddlers or babies, by swaggering dressers in high heels and bangles. Every ice cream seller had a crowd waiting. Almost every person I saw was white: Minnesota nice, pale-eyed, with blonde or brown hair, and the tall, sometimes beefy body of a Scandinavian or German heritage.
That is, every person but the people working the concessions. They were African-American, or even African.
It’s pricey going to a Twins game these days. We, in the top tier, paid $30 each for our tickets. When I finally settled into a medium-length line before an ice cream concession with “dots” in its name, I discovered I’d be paying $4.50 for each small cup. But, what the heck–we were celebrating fatherhood, and I had money in my pocket.
The seller was a kindly African-American man who smiled at the youngsters as they bought their miniature Twins caps filled with cold, sweet “dots.” When my turn came, I opted for cheaper, clear-plastic cups. They were cold in my hand as I turned back to find the stairs up to our tier. Halfway up, my foot caught in my long skirt and I fell onto the step. One cup tilted and some of the “dots” splattered out.
Suddenly a peanut seller was calling to me from below. “Are you alright? Did you hurt yourself? I did that yesterday.” By now I was standing up, thinking to jiggle some of the dots from the full into the half-empty cup. I looked down: the man had a kindly, brown face. He was the smiling peanut seller with glasses I’d noticed earlier on our tier. The one who called out his wares, then slowly joshed us as he climbed the stairs.
“Come with me, Miss,” he said. “I’ll get you another.”
“Oh no, that’s ok,” I tried to resist, still befuddled
“No, no, you come with me. Look at my knees. I fell on those stairs yesterday, right in the same spot. They’re mean. Come on. We’ll get you another cup.”
He led me back to the “dots” concession and we waited as the seller filled an order. Then with a look of recognition between them, the “dots” seller replaced my half-empty cup. Two black men taking care of a faltering white woman. Two black men working that day soothing a white woman’s misstep with amused dignity and camaraderie. “Look here at these knees of mine,” says the peanut seller as we walk back to the killer stairs.
“You are so kind,” I tell him. “Thank you so much for being so kind.”
“It’s nothing,” he tells me, smiling through his glasses. “This is the best summer job in the world. I love people. I get to see the game, and I’m outside. What could be better?”
“You have a wonderful attitude,” I tell him, thinking of the scowling seller who threw his “product” around.
“You are a lovely human being.”
Back in my seat, I hand my husband his cup of “dots.” I tell him I met his friend Teferi on the stairs. He looks surprised: Teferi came to Minnesota from Ethiopia years ago. Then moved to California. He just died. “I mean it,” I say. “Teferi was right there at my elbow.”
“Someone named Teferi?” asks my husband.
“No. The real man.”
Behind my dark glasses, tears slowly creep down my cheeks. It is a beautiful day. Swallows twitter and swoop. The Twins give up more runs. And a hand reaches out and helps me up. A hand across one of the biggest divide we know.