by Linda Rodriguez
For Sunday brunch, my husband and I were at our favorite restaurant when two older women seated in the booth across the aisle from us began reminiscing about attending a Holly Near and Ronnie Gilbert concert years earlier. Director of a university women's center and instructor in women's studies courses, I was a big Holly Near fan--to the point that my husband and I processed into our wedding to Holly Near’s The Great Peace March--and I went to several of her concerts in my day, so it set me to reminiscing.
My youngest son, 13 years younger than his older siblings and extremely precocious, grew up listening to her music and had become a huge fan himself by the time he was five or six years old. When her memoir came out, he wanted a copy and read it until it was falling apart. Then, she showed up in Kansas City to give a concert the year he was six, so I took him, to his great anticipation and excitement.
It was during one of Kansas City's summer heatwaves with weeks of triple-digit temperatures, much like what we are enduring at this moment. At the beginning of an evening concert in an older concert hall that was packed to the rafters with women and gay men, the power went out in that whole block of downtown. It took them almost two and a half hours to restore power, in which time the interior of the concert hall grew unbearably hot, and everyone was miserable and restless. No one left. That included my little son and me, because he insisted that we stay to hear his beloved Holly Near. Finally, power was restored, and along with the air conditioning, we got our concert. Though she must have been as hot and tired as all the rest of us, Near gave a fabulous performance with four encores to a standing ovation. My little one was standing on his seat to cheer her performance at the end, although it was after midnight, and he could hardly keep his eyes open.
After the performance, they set up a signing table on the stage for the singer to sign copies of her memoir. My son had brought his battered copy with him and insisted that we go down to join the line. This line snaked across the stage down one side of the auditorium around the back, down the other side, back around in front of the stage, and partially down the center aisle. It was there at the end of this long line in the center aisle that little Joseph and I took our places. Soon, however, the women and men in front of us insisted that we move up to the front of that part of the line. Obviously terribly sleepy and rubbing his eyes, he was the only child in the audience, and soon cries went up all along that long winding line of “Let the little boy go to the front!”
Everyone there had to be as exhausted as I was. I would never have stayed for the signing, if Joseph hadn't had his heart set on it. Nonetheless, every single person in that line made room for us, and we moved up onto the stage. Not one person demurred or complained, even under their breath. Soon enough, we were standing right at the signing table, waiting for Near to finish talking to and signing for the person in front of us. My son could hardly stand still, because he was so excited that he was about to meet his idol. Surprised to see such a young child, Near asked him questions and spent a great deal of time conversing with him, then signed his book with a lovely long message.
Joseph practically danced down the steps from the stage, clutching the book to his chest, and as we passed the people still waiting patiently in line, many of them spoke to us, praising him for his patient behavior and congratulating me on having such a bright and well-behaved boy. We had a long walk across the parking lot to find our car, and the minute that he was in his seat, he conked out, overcome by sleep, book still clutched to his chest.
To this day, when he has a Ph.D and is the dean of humanities at a local university, this is still one of his fondest memories. In these bleak and ugly times, when so many people behave so callously and cruelly to others in a very public way, I remember this night when hundreds of hot, sweaty, tired, mostly white adults decided together as a community to behave in a kind and generous way to a little dark-skinned boy that none of them knew. To me, this is what civilization and true culture are all about, and I would really like to think that, as a country, we could get back to that kind of behavior someday. Soon, I truly hope.
Linda Rodriguez's 11th book, Fishy Business: The Fifth Guppy Anthology (edited), was recently published. Dark Sister: Poems is her 10th book and was a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, were published in 2017. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee detective, Skeet Bannion, and Revising the Character-Driven Novel will be published in 2020. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, Every Last Secret—and earlier books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.
Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Native Writers Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Learn more about her at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com