by Walter B. Jackson
It was the winter of 1954. I remember well the excitement I felt when my Uncle Buck told me he would take me to the farm and help me cut a Christmas tree for my 2nd grade class.
"We'll go pick out the best tree in the pasture," I told Uncle Buck. "I'll help you saw it down and load it in the back of the pickup. We can take it back to your paint shop. I want you to paint it gray and flock it with a lot of snow."
I knew this would be a special treat for my classmates. Most of them used cedar trees for their Christmas trees; however, they weren't lucky enough to have an uncle who could paint them and cover them with snow.
I also hoped Mrs. McGown, my 2nd grade teacher, would think I'd done something special. I sure liked pleasing her because she was really cool and had a fine looking granddaughter my same age.
On the first Saturday in December, Uncle Buck bought me a Dr. Pepper and asked, "Walt, you ready to go get that tree?"
"Let's go. We'll get one that'll make everybody else in my school jealous," I flippantly remarked.
Uncle Buck smiled and told me to get in the truck. We drove five miles south of town to my grandfather's farm. With my dog, Prince, running beside the pickup, we slowly drove through the pasture inspecting the various cedar trees. I was determined to pick one just right for room 2B1, the first room on the 2nd grade hall of Ross Avenue Elementary School, in Mexia, Texas.
Finally, we found the perfect tree. It was at least six feet tall, well rounded and full on all sides. "That's the one I want," I announced with excitement. Uncle Buck got out of the truck and took the saw out of the tool box. He hewed the perfect Christmas tree.
Just as I knew he would, Uncle Buck built a sturdy stand for that tree. I think it added almost another foot in size. Wow, I thought, Mrs. McGown is going to love this.
Curiously, Uncle Buck wanted to know how I was going to get the tree to my school. I didn't know why he would even have to ask. "Why, you're going to bring it to my room," I dictated to my uncle.
"Well, Walt, I don't know about that," he replied.
"Uncle Buck, I want you to bring it to the school in the pickup and then carry it to my room."
We agreed on the day and time he'd deliver the tree. I told him I'd ask Mrs. McGown if I could go out and meet him at the front entrance.
Sure enough, Mrs. McGown allowed me to go the front entrance and wait for Uncle Buck and the Christmas tree. I ran to the front and immediately saw Uncle Buck's pickup sitting there with that beautiful Christmas tree -- but Uncle Buck wasn't there.
What happened to Uncle Buck? Where was he? The pickup was running, but there was not a soul to be seen.
I went to the office to see if he was there. "No, we haven't seen anyone," the secretary said -- so I walked back to the truck to wait for Uncle Buck.
I waited and waited, but no Uncle Buck. I knew something was wrong. I headed back to the office to call my dad. (Uncle Buck worked for him.)
I reached my dad at his tractor dealership. He said, "I don't know what's wrong with him, but Buck just came in with his nose bleeding and he's out of breath. He looks like he's just seen a ghost."
The principal had the janitors unload the Christmas tree and take it to my room, and the students were impressed. Mrs. McGown, in her kind and appreciative manner, came over and gave me a hug. "Walt, that is the best Christmas tree I have ever seen," she said. "Thank you and your Uncle Buck very much."
I was glad everyone liked the tree, but something inside me wouldn't let me enjoy all the accolades. Something was wrong with Uncle Buck,
and I didn't know what.
Uncle Buck picked me up and sat me on top of the tractor that he was painting. He began, "Walt, I really wanted to bring that Christmas tree to your room. I sure wanted to meet your teacher and all of your friends. I know how much it meant to you. But I couldn't. I panicked. My knees started knocking and my hands began shaking. I was scared to death!"
"You see, Walt," he continued, "when I was a child growing up, it was okay for me to play with the little white kids in their front yard. I could even go with them to the school playground in the summertime. But, I was never allowed to go into their school. I was told if I ever went into a white kid's school something bad would happen to me."
"I wanted to bring that tree to you more than anything in the world, Walt," he said with tears forming in his eyes. "But I couldn't make myself walk into that white folks' school. It was like voices started hollering in my head, 'Run, Buck, run!' All I knew to do was to break and run just as fast as I could. I hope you aren't disappointed in your Uncle Buck."
I was never disappointed in Uncle Buck. Who could be? He taught me at
a very early age that it is the content of a person's character and not
the color of his skin that is important. Although we had no familial
relationship, Uncle Buck was the best friend for whom a young boy could
have ever wished.
Walter B. Jackson holds a B. A. in Political Science from the University of Houston. Walter lives in Mexia, Texas, where he teaches English and Spanish at Coolidge High School.
Walter spent most of his professional life as a chamber of commerce
executive in the Gulf Coast Region of Texas. He served as president of
the Humble, Conroe, and Galveston Chambers of Commerce, and later as
Director of International and Domestic Business for the Greater Houston
My Sunny Friend
A Nun's Tale
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