David Bruce: Friends Anecdotes

In Charlotte, North Carolina, feelings ran high when the schools desegregated. Parents worried about their children, but desegregation proceeded smoothly after Judge James B. McMillan ordered that children be bused to integrate the schools. Actually, the children themselves eased the fears of the parents. The children of black parents came home from school happy, and the children of white parents ate their breakfasts early because they wanted to be at school on time. Two white parents learned that their child had made a new friend at school, but not until the school year was half over did they learn that their child’s friend was black. Then they realized that their child didn’t see any difference between the white and the black students.

Julie-Anna Asriyan is an Armenian girl who went to New York City with her family to escape from prejudice in other countries. For a while, she lived in Azerbaijan, where there was great hostility between the Armenians and the Azeris. Once, her grandfather was stopped by a group of Azeris who asked if he was Armenian because they wanted to hurt or kill him. Fortunately, an Azeri friend of his saved his life. The Azeri friend told the hostile Azeris, “Leave him alone.” But the hostile Azeris said, “Why are you defending him? He’s Armenian!” So the Azeri friend lied, “No, he’s not. He’s Azeri — I’ve known him for years. There are no Armenians around here. Go on home.” The hostile Azeris believed him and left.

In high school, one of the best friends of Paul Laurence Dunbar, the first African American to make his living as a writer, was Orville Wright. Later, Orville and his brother, Wilbur, became famous for making the first successful fight in an airplane powered by a motor. When Mr. Dunbar was eighteen years old, he decided to begin publishing a newspaper for African Americans living in Dayton, Ohio, so he went to his friend, Orville, who owned a printing press. Orville knew that Mr. Dunbar would be short of money at first as he tried to make the newspaper a success, so he printed the few first issues for free.

While attending school in Berkeley, California, Yoshiko Uchida was a member of the Girl Reserves, along with several white girls. Once, a photographer from the local newspaper arrived to take a photo of the Girl Reserves, and he tried to move Yoshiko out of the photo. Fortunately, her white friend Sylvia saw what was happening and said, “Come on, Yoshi. Stand next to me.” The two friends linked arms and stood firmly together. Later, Ms. Uchida became the renowned author of Journey to Topaz.

Lucretia and James Mott were outspoken abolitionists, which made them very unpopular with people who supported slavery. Once, a mob started for their house with the intent of doing violence. Fortunately, a friend of the Motts saw what was happening. He joined the mob, pretending to be on their side, and told the mob members that he would lead them to the Motts’ house. However, he led them away from the Motts’ house. The mob became so discouraged that they gave up, disbanded, and went home.

Movie actor Christopher Reeve’s life changed on May 27, 1995. While competing in an equestrian event, he broke his neck and was totally paralyzed. In October of that year, a Russian doctor entered his room and started making insane comments. Mr. Reeve recognized the Russian doctor as an old friend — the comedian Robin Williams — and he started laughing. Mr. Reeve says, “I knew I was going to be all right.” Well, maybe not totally all right — Mr. Williams was pretending to be a Russian proctologist.

Eight-year-old Nicole suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which reduced her ability to walk, run, and play physical games. However, her friends included her in their games anyway. In games that required running, Nicole served as referee. When her friends had skating parties, they invited Nicole, who played arcade games while the others skated. Once her friends had finished skating, they played arcade games with Nicole.

Friends sometimes humorously insult friends. While waiting to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, movie critic Robert Ebert asked fellow movie critic Gene Siskel, “Do I look okay, Gene?” Mr. Siskel replied, “Roger, when I need to amuse myself, I stroll down the sidewalk reflecting that every person I pass thought they looked just great when they walked out of their house this morning.”

When she was 17 years old, Evelyn Cornwall teased a friend because he had lost a drag race. Her friends told her, “Put up or shut up,” so they went to the drag racing strip, where she raced and won! Her mother was very upset and told her, “You’re not going to do that again.” Later, Evelyn Cornwall changed her name to Lyn St. James and drove in the Indianapolis 500 — she was only the second woman to do so.

When Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play in baseball’s major leagues, he was subjected to torrents of racist abuse from fans and opposing players. Once, Mr. Robinson’s fellow Brooklyn Dodgers teammate Pee Wee Reese, a white man, stopped the abuse. Mr. Robinson was standing at first base, and Mr. Reese walked over and put his arm around him.

Many people knew and liked tennis star Arthur Ashe, ranging from celebrities such as Bryant Gumbel to his next-door neighbor, an elderly woman who set a kettle of water on the stove whenever he returned home from a tennis match so they could sit and have tea together.

African-American jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong was friends with white jazz trombonist Jack Teagarden, who once told him in the slang of the time, “You a spade and I’m an ofay. We got the same soul. Let’s blow.”

When Francis Ford Coppola, a friend of Star Warsfilmmaker George Lucas, directed Apocalypse Now, he included an in-joke. Early in the movie, an intelligence officer wears this name tag: “Col. G. Lucas.”

Peg Bracken has a friend who enjoys going to sleep, so he does it twice each night. He sets his alarm for 2 a.m., so that when it rings, he can shut it off and go back to sleep.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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