Tuesday, February 01, 2005

retro moment

I have the acquaintance of a woman whose son will also be making his first communion this spring. We were chatting today about this and that, and the subject of what the boys will wear came up.

"I can't do the white suit thing," she said. "It's way too Guido."

At that point, a loud buzzing sound filled my head so I'm not really sure what-all amplification she gave to the original statement, but I did catch the fragment, "... all the Guineas on Long Island do it..." before the buzzing noise drowned it all out again.

All I know is, 20-odd years ago in Boston, all the little boys wore white suits -- and that's what I said, relying on my memories of my nephews making their first communions.

The world I live in, it's easy to forget that people ever used terms like that. No one I know does -- except this one woman. I've heard her use ethnic slurs to describe Jews and Hispanics, too. Every single time it floors me, and every single time I'm ashamed of myself for not calling her on it.

I mentioned this to my mom and she told me that kind of thing was common when she was a kid -- 60, 70 years ago: You're a guinea, you're a wop, you're a 5-cent lollipop, she recited for me, and then she sing-songed Oh, it takes one pole and one log to make one Pollog... (there may be some transcription errors there) She shrugged. Obviously these little ditties didn't leave any permanent scars on her Polish self-image. "We were kids," she explained -- it was how they teased each other. The implication was, once you grew up you realized how stupid it was to refer to people that way.

I wonder how or if I would react if she slipped up and made a snide remark about Micks or Pollacks in front of me. I don't know.

I do know that part of the reason I don't say anything is that it just isn't worth it. She has been this way her entire life, 40+ years, and a little pep talk on political correctness from me isn't going to change anything. There's no point in stirring up any controversy with her because I literally have no idea where it will end up. So I just let it go.

I do have to say, if she ever says anything like that in front of my kids in a way that they notice, then I will have to say something, by way of explanation: My kids aren't familiar with those terms, and I don't see any reason why they ever should be.

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