My family and I drove up to Yorktown Heights from the North Bronx to pick peaches on White Hill Road at Wilken’s Farm.
For some reason, I want you to know that.
A long enough distance away-but not far enough- in the wake of terror that has left New York City naked, vulnerable and afraid, we had to get out of the city, if only for a while.
If you watch the news as often as I try not to-these crimes are being perpetuated (rather, presented as being perpetuated) by urban youth of a certain hue, which increases fear and anxiety among ALL human hues. Sadly, as black history in America has proven, through racism and stereotype, the darker the hue, the more likely one is to be seen and treated as subversive, dangerous a natural born criminal.
My family and I, who happen to live in darker shade of skin unduly bear the brunt of subliminal shame, guilt and anger, on behalf of whites AND blacks in these types of situations, simply because of our melanin-rich skin. The sight of us as the complete antithesis of what the dominant culture considers threatening-a black family-strong and sturdy as a fort-conjures images and ideas about black folks that white folks can’t come to terms with: black people live peacefully, harmoniously and lovingly-as families, which means our kids come from fulfilled and functioning two-parent households. And guess what? We also enjoy picking peaches!
We (mostly I), yearned for a day of peace and quiet. Of open, sprawling spaces. Of freedom. A place where a cool breeze seeks you out, gently pats you on the back, and whispers, “hello old friend. Good to see you.”
Despite the employment of a young black boy who was left on his own to direct pickers towards the orchard, weigh the peaches, and accept payment, the otherwise, all white staff at Wilken’s Farm were not particularly friendly to people of color. Friends, I’m not gonna lie. Seeing the young brother and a splattering of color here and there from the golden-brown hues of one interracial couple and their children, a group of sistahs, and a Sikh family-put my paranoia at ease. For a while…
Until the arrival of another family…
A family (I assumed due to hues, head wraps and such) of not whites made their way onto the grounds. I continued to presume from the puzzled looks and eye squinting that this family seemed unfamiliar with the place, and perhaps, curious about the goings on at the farm, decided to check it out.
I watched them as they watched families leisurely strolling, smiling, and serene in an oasis miles away from the dystopia that New York City is becoming. The person I assumed to be the head of of the household was greeted with the hostility I always expect to receive (and often do in places such as this where more than 2 people of color within a five mile radius raises confederate flags.
“You here to pick peaches?” More of an accusation than a question.
The man’s English wasn’t too great. He shrugged and pointed to the people he saw, walking around, unfettered, enjoying the day. He wanted that too.
“You can’t just walk around here.” She tugged on her red cap. Stared at him-steely eyed. There was palpable hatred in her icy blue eyes.
The only thing missing from this standoff was an AR-15 rifle in her twitchy hands.
Now, my hackles are raised. He was going to ruin it for us. For me and my exemplary black family. We managed to fly below the radar. We were at the farm trying to escape exactly this! The tension, unnecessary confrontations with white folks on their turf (so to speak).
I sat on my hands, my heart in my throat ready for some trigger happy proud boys to come running out of the corn maze behind me with military grade assault weapons cocked and ready to fire…
The man waved a woman wearing a petal-pink head scarf over. She was nervously pushing a toddler stroller back and forth.
“How much?” She asked (for him) Her English was impeccable.
“$3.75 a pound,” barked red-capped blondie with the icy blue-eyes and fingers seemingly itchin’ for a trigger.
The pink scarf-hair covered woman whispered something to him.
I can still see the bewildered look on the father’s (assumptions again–he was the only male among the group of women) face. His eyes darted back and forth between my black family pretending to mind our business on the bench, and his own.
I watched as the man pulled his wallet from the back pocket of his jeans, take out a few dollars and hand it to the young black boy, who in return thrust the peach collecting basket into his hands. Clumsily, he accepted the basket and smiled.
“No problem.” Twitchy fingers huffed, head bowed, miserably trudging away.
I know that the man was wondering why my black family sat calmly, unmolested on a picnic bench, not too far from the scene, shielded from the glaring sun by a huge old oak (another assumption-it could have been a fir) tree, my husband and I cooly sipping our wine “flights ” and loving every precious minute of it.
I’m ashamed to admit what I felt. I can’t explain. But when we locked eyes briefly, I knew he did–I quickly dropped my gaze to the ground beneath my feet.
We picked peaches and sipped wine at Wilken’s Farm in Yorktown Heights. Despite the oppressive heat, it was a glorious day. My family and I managed to find a quiet place for ourselves in the shade.
After sippin’ wine, picking peaches and studying race-relations, I come home to “duties”.
No. not that kind.
Cooking and laundry to be precise. I’m fuming, deep sighing, banging cupboards while he kicks back, feet up on the couch and turns on t.v. I’m sorting clothes. He wants a glass of the Gewurztraminer-I bought at the winery. Right now.
“Hurry up and open that wine, I’m thirsty!” He’s joking. I know this but still.
I finish loading the laundry…
He gon say…
” Hurry up, I’m thirsty.”
I’m thirsty too so I give in. As usual. I’m having trouble uncorking the wine. The cork is nearly half-way down the neck, which if I can’t get it out, will be a disaster. But I don’t give up, definitely not on wine? Never.
I ask him for help. He refuses.
“Just knife it out,” he says, but I don’t want to. It’ll take some time but I can do this. If I knife it out I risk breaking the cork apart and bits of it will end up in the wine.
He should know me better-and I guess he does, which is why he won’t help.
The cork is screwed- literally-right down into the neck but I will get it out. It takes some time. Some panache. Finesse that only I possess.
He tells me to quit. “Just knife it out!” He calls out amidst canned laughter from whatever show he’s watching.
I twist gently, pull and push with ease, knowing when to use force, and when to restrain. It takes tenderness and time but finally, I coax her out.
I pour his glass first. Not before sipping of course-hmmmm…doesn’t taste like it did at the farm.
“Thanks,” he says when I hand him the glass. He throws its content down the back of his throat.
“See that?” He says, pushing the glass out to me for a refill. “When you want something bad enough, you’ll work for it.” He winks. “I knew you had it in you!”
I pour myself another glass. As the golden liquid flows from the bottle into the glass, I remember how the girl at the winery sneered when I feigned mispronunciation of the word Gewurztraminer. I did it, as some of us do, to make hapless idiots mitigate their ignorance. We feel sorry for them. I know how to pronounce Gewurztraminer. I know the wine quite well actually (another post for another day). I’ve been sipping it since before she was born. She saw my dark skin and figured…what she figured.
And I granted her the lie…
“Help yourself. The bottle’s on the table.” I told him. “I’m going to bed.”