One Universal Song
My intentions of visiting New Orleans were to reconnect with former students and faculty. I wanted to interview them for my memoir. I spent endless hours of research trying to find these people after Katrina had stolen their homes, their lives, and their phone lines. My constant “people searches” netted few results.
However, by the grace of God, one phone number had not changed. It was Arthur McClain’s. I left a couple of messages that went like this.
“Hello, I am Mrs. Baron, your former Speech teacher at Carter G. Woodson. I am coming to New Orleans and would like to meet with you. If you are the Arthur I taught in 1967, please return this call.”
I had left many such messages to several other numbers to no avail. I was getting weary and asked God to intervene. As I came in the door from my walk, I heard the phone ringing. I hurried to answer it and the softest, Southern drawl said, “ Ms. Baron, this is Arthur McClain. I can’t believe you still remember me. I thought I would never see you again. “
I squealed into the receiver, “ Arthur, Arthur, it is you. I can’t believe I found you. Oh, Arthur, I have the poem you wrote two days after Martin Luther King was killed, and I would like to return it to you personally.”
At first there was silence. “You mean you still have my poem. Really? I can’t wait to show it to my kids.”
“Tell me about your kids, your life. “
“I was relocated by Katrina for a couple of years, but I am back in New Orleans now. I have three kids. One graduated from Tulane and my daughter is in college and her younger brother works here in the city. I have changed since you knew me. God is first and foremost the center of importance in my life.”
All this information was found jewels. I talked to him about loving Jesus and made an appointment to meet him the last week of January.
I was ecstatic. I called my writing friend, River. I called my neighbor. I called my sister. He was my first contact from our teaching experience of being the token integrators for the city of New Orleans. This black community had shaped Denny and me and I wanted to go back and thank them. “ Thank you, Jesus,” I repeated at the thought of actually seeing and interviewing Arthur for my memoir.
Finally, the time to see Arthur had come. Denny and I sat on a bench waiting for him, and my heart was thumping and my mind trying to recollect what Arthur would look like as a fifty seven year old man. My student, Arthur. It seemed surreal.
Denny spotted a couple coming up the escalator. It was them. Arthur sported a sassy, straw hat. His smile was contagious. I grabbed him and hugged and hugged him. I reached to hug his wife and then just stood back and looked at Arthur and then kissed him on each cheek.
“Ms. Baron, you look just as I remember you.”
“ Arthur , I was 23. Now, I am 67.”
“I don’t care, I would still know your smile and those blue eyes.”
“Lets’s go to Acme and have some good Cajun food.” Arthur suggested.
He was amazing. Arthur could remember stories that I would tell to keep the class’ attention. He remembered the first day he came in his room and saw a white teacher. He couldn’t believe his eyes. He said all the kids were talking about the two new white teachers at Carter G. Woodson. He laughed and reminisced about the first play I directed with such a large cast. I admitted that I had written new dialogue into the play so everyone who tried out could get a part. His wife was so grateful that I cared enough to keep his poem and return it. Our evening was filled with long conversations, Cajun food, and laughter and one song. Arthur taught me no matter how we might separate into individual notes, we still are involved in one song. Arthur and the faculty and students at Carter G. Woodson showed me I was a part of that uni(one)versal melody of hope , love, and relationships.