Henry was my very bestest friend of all. Him and me, we was close but he couldn’t come to my house, He said I could come to his house but mom said NO! But he was my bestest friend of all time!
Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1949, we lived on Franklin Ave. near Chicago Ave. and there were streetcars and huge spiders that weaved the power lines to make them go. I had just started schools at Adams Elementary on Franklin and Bloomington Aves. It was seven hundred miles from where we lived and I had to walk it twice a day and all alone, until I met Henry, my bestest friend.
Henry lived one block from where we did. We were in the same class at school but we couldn’t sit by each cause he sat in the back with other kids like him. They weren’t really like him cause me and him was friends, besides he didn’t look like them either.
We had another friend we called Heidi cause she looked like Heidi in that story. She had long blonde hair her mom made her wear in pigtails and a pretty smile. She lived on the other side of Franklin Ave. from Henry so we walked her to school and back on her side of the street where we passed the place where they made the Old Dutch potato chips – yum, it smelled so good all the time. We were the three Musketeers!
One day, as we were talking home on Heidi’s side of the street, some men came out of a nasty bar. You could smell all the smoke and booze on them. They were dirty and stunk bad. One man tried to grab Heidi’s pigtails but Henry stopped him. Henry was big for his age so he was the muscle man but he was only six.
The drunk guy pushed Henry into the snow bank by the street where he got all muddy from the black snow. He tried to get up but the drunk man pushed him again and said, “Get your nigger ass on outta here!” Heidi and I grabbed Henry and started to run home. We ran all the way to Heidi’s house first then Henry and I ran to his house and told his mom who got mad and had Henry’s dad walk me home.
I couldn’t tell anyone at home about what happened cause I wasn’t supposed to be friends with “one of those people”. Mom would have gotten mad at me so I just sat in my room and wondered cause I didn’t know what “nigger” or “one of those people meant” but I was worried about my friend Henry.
The next school day, Henry’s dad met us after school and walked us home. He was big and looked mean so if those drunk guys came out of that nasty bar again he would take care of us – they didn’t.
Henry’s dad was really nice. He said Heidi and me was family and he took care of family. My dad wasn’t like that.
One day in early spring Heidi told us she was moving away when school was over. She said her mom and dad bought a house in a nice white neighborhood. I didn’t know what that meant but she was happy so it must have been ok. Henry didn’t say anything about it. He looked sad so I said I wouldn’t move away and he would always be my bestest friend in the world. He hugged me and I hugged him and Heidi hugged him and me. It was nice.
When school was out, I didn’t get to see Henry much cause I had to work in our little store and mom said I shouldn’t be friends with “those people” cause “our people wouldn’t like it.”
What does “those people mean, mom?
“Just do as you’re told!”
I would sneak out of our apartment and meet Henry in the alley behind his house. We would talk about stuff and say how much we missed Heidi and school. We even helped his dad fix the fence. I learned how to pound a nail in straight. It was great being with my bestest friend and his dad.
It was in August I think, that Henry told me some new neighbors had moved in next door to them. They were different and his dad called them “those people” like my mom did Henry. I was confused. What does “those people” mean?
When school started, Henry and I again met up to walk to and from school but that year we had one of “those people” with us. His name was Andrew but we call him the “Wolf Boy” cause he could howl like a real wolf and he had the neatest cool shirt with a wolf on it. I wanted one just like it but I only got hand-me-downs from my brothers who didn’t like me, or Henry or the Wolf Boy. They called us, “you people”.
During that winter, Wolf Boy’s dad was arrested for being drunk on the street. His mom said they was going home to the “rez” to be with “their people”. Henry and me had a goodbye party Wolf Boy in his backyard. I stole some Hostess cupcakes and Coca-Cola from our store. Some days I still hear him howl.
In the spring, my parents bought a house way out in Bloomington and we moved. It had a big back yard and was a real home but I missed Henry. My parents kept the store and sometimes, when I was working on sorting beer, soda and milk bottles to get the deposit money back, if I was done early, I would sneak over to see Henry. He wasn’t always home and I couldn’t call him cause they didn’t have a phone so I would leave him a note. But as time went on, we lost contact and I was alone.
I missed my bestest friend, there was no one like him in our neighborhood or my school. My mother said it was because “those people” didn’t belong in our community.
“Because no one will sell them a house.”
Can’t they rent one?
“No, once one of them lived in a house, none of our people would want it.”
But Henry is my friend and I miss him.
“I told you to stay away from him. He’s a nigger like his daddy!”
What’s that mom?
“A negro, one “of those people”, you know they do nothing but steal from us.”
Henry never stole from me!
“He’s not white like us!”
But mom, his mom is white like us and his dad is really nice.
“She’s a tramp!”
How come she’s white and Henry isn’t?
“She has bad blood.”
“Enough, go do your chores and forget about Henry!”
Henry, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing please remember, YOU ARE my bestest friend and always will be! Please don’t forget me – I haven’t forgotten you.