Vol. 22, No. 5,514 - The American Reporter - September 7, 2016

by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
Seattle, Wash.
February 26, 2003
Ink Soup

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SEATTLE, Wash. -- Each time I walk through the dining room, my eyes caress briefly the beloved image of my "black grandmother," Corrie Scott, in an oil portrait that I painted as an adolescent. My grandmother in all but biological fact, she was an orphan left to the care of my grandfather by her dying mother and raised almost as a daughter in his family.

She learned reading, writing, and arithmetic at the kitchen table over which she was later to preside for half a century as cook and housemaid.

On the death of my grandparents, she took their place as the pivotal figure of my by then very large extended family. The eldest grandchild, I always called the place "grandmother's house." My younger cousins knew it as "Corrie's house."

If my grandmother taught her everything she knew, it was Corrie who taught me much of what I ever learned about loving kindness. When she died, she alone of the inmates of that house was buried in the plot next to my grandparents, surely the only black body in the Anderson cemetery at that time.

I think often of Corrie, and not only during February, which is Black History Month.


Yesterday, waiting for the No.48 bus in the U-District (as the Seattle home of the University of Washington is called), I heard a loud voice behind me: "NO! You want a dollar, go work for it!"

Everyone turned. The unkempt old man in dirty clothes to whom these words had been addressed, leaned on his cane, smiled at us all, and said, "All I did was wish him a good afternoon!"

Had he really been a panhandler, there were about twenty people there who would gladly have given him money just for the laugh.


Minutes later, on the bus, this scene took place. An old man got off at a regular stop. The bus had no more than pulled away before a young woman shouted, "Wait, driver! Stop! That old man just lost a lot of money!"

I was in the front seat next to the door. She rushed up with a wad of tens and twenties in her fist, and when the driver stopped (illegally) in the middle of the block, she leapt out and looked for the old fellow, but he had contrived to vanish.

So she handed the small fortune to the driver, who asked, "Is that all?"

"Yes," she said, and sat down. He stashed the money and then called his dispatcher to report the loss.


Later that day I told this story to my friend Kurt Leitze, who said, "Anywhere else, that would amaze me. But this is, after all, the Northwest."

Like me, a South Carolinian, Kurt, from Minnesota, is a resident alien here and has swallowed whole the local self-image. Which, truth to tell, is not much off. By and large the people in this region (as far removed diagonally from my point of origin as you can get and still be in the Lower 48 - really are not only honest but also friendly and courteous.

There are moments when this can be a royal pain, as when the driver ahead of you stops to let two cars enter the road, or when a young fellow, seeing you approach, stands there holding the door while you risk dislocating your ankle to oblige him.

The man who yelled at the old fellow mistaken as a beggar must have been from California, which is, in Seattle, the source of all rude misbehavior. (In S.C., it was New York.)

Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.

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