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Doing Right Isn’t Always Easy

            Richard stood straight as he walked toward the front door that summer afternoon in 1963.  Mom, Dad, and I watched through our living room picture window.

            Richard had called the day before and asked to visit.  He said he’d just been discharged from the Air Force and worked with my brother Roger in Spain. He asked if it would be okay to stop by on his way home to Mississippi; he wanted to meet Roger’s family.

            He shook Dad’s hand and nodded, almost bowed to Mom and me.  He stood taller than Dad’s 6’2” and although Roger had written about his good friend Richard and I knew he was black, his presence in our living room surprised me.  As a 16-year-old, I’d hoped he would bring gifts from my brother, but that wasn’t the reason he visited. 

            After a bit of small talk, we realized Richard had driven many miles out of his way to our home in Byrdstown, Tennessee.  He sat on the chair’s edge, closest to Dad who sat in the red rocking chair.  Mom and I sat on the couch facing them.  Richard leaned forward, his back straight, his hands clasped between his wide spread knees.

            He began to tell stories about his and Roger’s service together at Moron Air Base.  As communication specialists, they had sat side-by-side in an underground bunker. It was stressful: twelve hours on, twelve hours off.  Roger was still there.

            After a few minutes, Richard dropped his head and was quiet.  Then he said that Roger had been his only friend when he needed one. I don’t remember how Richard was wronged or if he explained.  I do remember that he wiped the back of his hand across his tear-filled eyes and I left the room.  Maybe because I got a non-verbal message from Mom or Dad or because I was uncomfortable watching Richard cry.  I sat out of sight in the kitchen, but close enough to hear.

            Richard said he wanted to meet Roger’s parents and thank them for their son.  He said Roger stood beside him when no one else did and Roger may have saved his life.  They had both been punished, and Roger’s only transgression was that he told the truth. 

             Richard also talked about good times he and Roger had shared in town during their time off, and about Diablo, the horse Roger bought and trained in Spain. Mom, Dad, and Richard talked and laughed. 

            Richard hugged each of us before he left our home, and we watched through the living room window as he walked to his car.

            The only time I heard my brother talk about Richard, he said that he was a good guy and wasn’t treated fairly because he was black.

            Even as a teen-ager, I knew Richard travelled many miles to do what most people wouldn’t do; he was a good guy.  And whatever my brother did, he did all his life – he stood with friends to do the right thing, no matter the consequences.

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