In grade school I can only remember one Black member of my classes. Her name was Virginia and we always stood next to each other for our class photo. We were the tallest in our classes. She was a bad reader, so I had no interest in her. Since February is Black History Month, I’ve been thinking about Black people in my life.
While working for our community in Jaycees (Junior Chamber of Commerce) and Rotary I’ve had the opportunity to make lots good friends and many of them have been Black. When Peg and I began our video production and opened our own studio in the early days of video recorders, we were surprised when many of our customers were Black. From churches to clothes and modeling we had steady Black customers. I think the most important person to most of my life, however, was a Black LPN from my school days. My friend Helen.
Helen and I worked the swing shift together at Western State Hospital. We were assigned to Ward X, a violent geriatric ward, all women. I think I had my glasses broken twice and my Speidel twist-a-flex watch band was ripped off my wrist one time.
I was twenty and Helen was probably around twenty-eight. She had a young child. I had classes at the University of Puget Sound in the morning and early afternoon. I would report for duty at Western State and we would share our latest happenings. I would drink coffee that had been brewing the entire day, take a NoDoz tablet or two and then nap for most of the night.
If I wanted to purchase booze, Helen would buy for me. We talked about our lives and friends. At the last dance of the school year in May I met Peggy Harrington. We dated and I shared the news with Helen. One night about a month after we met I went to work confused. Peg and I really hit it off. She was a great combination of cute and smart. We both loved books, liked to dance, enjoyed films, and adored concerts. She was pretty much the girl of my dreams.
Helen sensed something was amiss. I told her that Peg and I had gone out that evening and stopped at a drive-in for burgers and fries. It was a summer evening and I had the top down on my Austin-Healey “Bugeye Sprite.” We were sitting in the car talking and eating. I looked away and for some reason Peg gleefully poured her Coca-Cola and ice down the back of my shirt and just laughed. I was bewildered and said to Helen, “Why would she do that?” Helen laughed at my predicament and said, “Oh, my god. She’s in love with you.” I just looked at Helen, while she laughed at me . . . it was pretty much like Peg had done.
Over the next few weeks Peg and I continued to date. I also applied for work at Boeing. After I was hired by Boeing, I took Peg to MacDonald’s and proposed. She didn’t pour Coke down my shirt ever again. That was a good sign, but she said she would have to think about my proposal. I reported later to Helen when Peggy said, “Yes” and Helen was as happy for me as I was.
I don’t often think of Helen, but February and Black History Month is a great time to recall an event that changed my life. Thank you, Helen.