Fear of the unknown

Published 2:48 pm Wednesday, July 21, 2010

In the 1970s while we were living in the first house we owned near Tampa, FL, I was surprised to see a car at the house across the street one Saturday morning. That house had not been occupied in the almost 2 years that we had been living in the neighborhood. I saw movement at the rear of the house and got a cup of coffee and walked over to see what was going on.

As I approached the house, I heard hammering and thought that it would be nice to have new neighbors. Rounding the corner, I found a young Hispanic man working on one of the supports of the A-frame structure. Dave was only 21 years old and was working as a painter of classic automobiles in nearby St. Petersburg. His was a rare skill and he decided that he would be better served by buying a house than by renting. Fortunately, in those days, he was able to get the loan and was getting the place ready to move his wife in the next month. We struck up a rapport and became close friends during the ensuing weeks and months.

Dave hailed from the Bed Sty area of New York City. He had escaped that ghetto and was working his way into the mainstream of America. He was bright, but poorly educated and had not been exposed to many things outside the city he grew up in. For example, I took him to a local farm so he could in person see his first cow. Later, after the birth of his son, we went camping in Alabama where he slept under the stars for the first time, saw his first natural waterfall, and met rural southerners for the first time. He was apprehensive about being in Alabama and meeting southerners, because all he knew of that world had been learned from TV coverage not a very flattering body of information.

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Before that trip to Alabama with Dave, I had called my parents to ask if would be OK to bring him there for an overnight before we headed back to Florida. I cautioned them that he was from New York and my father asked if he were black. I answered that he wasnt black, but that he was dark as in Hispanic (of Puerto Rican extraction). After a long pause, my dad agreed that we could come there for one night. He was apprehensive about this stranger about whom he knew nothing more than what TV presented about New York and the gangs that made headlines there.

At my parents house that Saturday afternoon, we cut a watermelon and Dave was given about of the whole melon. He looked startled and said, Ive never had a portion of anything that was this large. My dad found him asleep in the porch swing later and was tickled that Dave was so comfortable there. Dave told my folks that&bsp; he had always wondered why people had porches with swings, but that he had figured it out that afternoon. In short, it turned out to be a love fest between Dave and my folks. Dave eventually went back to school and the last I heard from him he was the head of the Nuclear Medicine Department at a large hospital in the Tampa area.&bsp;&bsp; &bsp;

At a recent gathering here at Birdland, a discussion about the current national debate on immigration was taking place. Most, but not all, of those in attendance were fairly liberal. As the discussion flowed around the room, I heard one of the participants say something along the lines of, If we could just get to know each other, we might not have such fear and animosity about this issue.

Quietly, I remembered Dave and thought: Yeah. I know what you mean and I think youre right.

Don Weathington is a retired psychotherapist and business owner who lives in Gillette Woods at a place called Birdland.