Updated: Aug 2, 2021
“ We had signed up to be a Fresh Air Fund host family. Kids from 5 to 13 were bussed up for two weeks each summer from the inner city blocks of New York, often their first venture outside a concrete life. "
In the summer of 1974, we stood in the parking lot as a wavy haired, brown eyed, nine year old cocoa skinned Puerto Rican boy in yellow denim pants and a matching blazer stepped off the bus. He was so beautiful the waiting crowd gasped. “Hawleys!?” The woman with a clipboard called out. My mother took his hand and we walked together to the sign-in desk. He had a name tag on his shirt: Tony Rodriguez. We had signed up to be a Fresh Air Fund host family. Kids from 5 to 13 were bussed up for two weeks each summer from the inner city blocks of New York, often their first venture outside a concrete life. For our white, lower middle class community, it seemed like a chance to do a good deed and it was a new experience to have kids of other cultures in our midst. Tony was my age and we played well together, although he used curse words and seem to know more than I did about everything, even making a list of “how far he wanted to go” with the girls in the neighborhood. It went so well that we asked to have him back the next year, but this time at the bus he never got off. We were offered a “spare kid” whose host family didn’t show and we said yes. He was a tiny, cute 8 year old African American boy named Paul. He said nothing as we walked to my mom’s Chevy Caprice, opening the back door for him. “Are you hungry?” asked my mother. No response. “Did you like the bus ride?” I inquired. Silence. We kept trying all the way home down the Vestal Parkway. “Have you ever been on a trip before?” Nothing. Finally, we pulled into our driveway. “Well, here we are!” my mother cheerfully exclaimed. She turned off the engine and swung around in the seat to face him. “Are you ready to see your room?” He looked up at her. “I hate white people,” he said, and pulled his hat down over his face. My mother’s smile cracked slightly as she opened her door, leaning back to me as she put her feet on the blacktop. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” she whispered.