Seeing the new movie Loving made me remember my mom and dad and the way they raised us kids. Comparing Richard and Mildred Loving to my mom and dad, you wouldn’t notice a lot of resemblances, necessarily. The two couples didn’t have much in common, except the thing that mattered most. Both married for love and across race lines, the latter back in a time when doing so meant risking pretty much everything. I’m pretty sure neither would have thought of themselves as particularly romantic. From the looks of things in the movie, and what I’ve read about their case, the Lovings pretty much just wanted to mind their own business and get along with their neighbors. Same with my mom and dad. Oh sure, my parents had some political opinions that might have set them a little apart from some of their neighbors. (They were pretty outspoken about their views on integration and equal protection under the law.) But most of the time, they just wanted to fit in and have a chance for a decent life—just like the people who lived around them. Just like the Lovings.
I’m not sure how to spell the name of the old farmer who sold my parents the property where they built their first house—Kruse, maybe. It couldn’t have been Cruz, that much I know: not in Lake Oswego, Oregon in the early nineteen sixties. Come to think of it, I don’t think the farmer actually sold my parents their plot of land. It was probably the developer with an Irish name who went around the neighborhood, asking people if they’d mind having a mixed-race family move in. They didn’t. One of them asked what my dad did and when the developer told him my dad was a psychologist, he thought it meant a real doctor and the possibility of free medical advice made him all the happier to pull out the welcome wagon.
Still, if that old farmer didn’t actually sell my parents their plot, he was a looming presence nonetheless. I think his farm must have once extended over the whole neighborhood, and the line separating it from the new houses was right next to ours. I’m not exactly sure why I remember hearing his name so much. Oh, there was the time that my mom called him up to complain that his cows were coming into her yard and eating all her rhododendrons, or whatever it was she had growing out in the back yard, and the next thing she knew a couple of his field hands were out there putting up an electric fence to keep the cows from wandering into our yard. And when she asked them what the hell they thought they were doing because she had two young boys and what would happen if they touched the wire, the field hands pointed out that they’d only touch it but the one time.
Well that’s true enough, my mom said to herself. It’s not that my mom was easily mollified. It’s just that she grew up on a farm and in an era where such reasoning made perfectly good sense. Maybe growing up on a farm when and where she did gave her some kind of rapport with Mr. Kruse and his whole live-free-or-die, keep-the-government-off-my-back approach to life. One thing’s for sure: any dealings with Mr. Kruse were my mother’s department and not my Hawaii-born, Japanese-American father’s.
Still, the cat was bound to get out of the bag. One day my mother and Mr. Kruse got to talking over the fence post and he suddenly asked her if she was married to some kind of Oriental.
Well yes I am, Mr. Kruse. Walt is Japanese-American.
He thought about this for a bit. Clearly he liked my mother and needed to find some way to make the mixing of their races okay in his mind. Well, I guess it doesn’t much matter, what with the Jews are taking over the world anyway.
Mr. Kruse, I guess I’m a just little more optimistic about the future than you are.
Well someone has to be.
And he was right. Someone does.