There are countless courts of justice but there’s nothing as powerful or as sweet when justice occurs outside them – when few even see.
Morgan Freeman, playing Judge Leonard White in The Bonfire of the Vanities described justice like this . . .
Justice is the law, and the law is man’s feeble attempt to set down the principles of decency. Decency! And decency is not a deal. It isn’t an angle, or a contract, or a hustle! Decency . . . decency is what your grandmother taught you."
In my own experience, it was my grandfather.
He practiced medicine in Beaumont. My grandmother, with a desire for music more than motherhood, practiced the piano and traveled a lot.
Mama already had the bat in her hands when she heard the boy say the N word. He saw Ida and the word spewed from his lips like the hissing sound of an overheated radiator.
So Ida Gilmore was hired because they had a little girl and, “she needed company,” they told her.
From the time Mama was two-years-old, it was Ida who orchestrated her birthday parties. Ida who walked her to school, waited from a distance and walked her home, fixed her supper and watched her eat, brushed her hair and put a plait in it. And it was Ida who came to the baseball field to fetch her that hot summer day. On that day, if only for a second, a wrong was righted in a small, segregated town — starting with a little girl in braids.
Mama already had the bat in her hands when she heard the boy say the N word. He saw Ida and the word spewed from his lips like the hissing sound of an overheated radiator. Years later, Ida would tell me the story with both pride and still a twinge of fear in her voice.
“Honey, she took the bat and cracked it right over his head,” she said. “Scared the fire outta me.”
Then Ida grabbed Mama’s hand and they ran back to the house as fast as they could. She dialed the number at the hospital and told my grandfather, “Dr. Williford, somethin’ terrible happened over here. Ann’s cracked a boy’s head wide open!”
But Ida never told the best part of the story.
In his calm, quiet way, my grandfather had come only to explain his household to the woman and he did so in two words. “Ida’s family,” he told her.
Turned out the only injury to the boy’s head was a large goose egg. That afternoon, Mama climbed in the car with my grandfather and they drove over to the boy’s house. The two walked up to the front stoop where, according to Mama, they didn’t have to wait long. The boy’s mother flung the door open and crossed her arms like snapping a stick in two.
“Daddy was wonderful,” Mama said. “He never made me feel like I’d done anything wrong.” In his calm, quiet way, my grandfather had come only to explain his household to the woman and he did so in two words. “Ida’s family,” he told her.
Then, he took Mama’s hand and they walked back to the car, leaving a screaming woman on the front stoop and the boy standing behind her suffering from something in his home more than an injury to his head.
In The Bonfire of the Vanities, the judge used only two words too.
Before dismissing his court, he made a plea. “Go home and be decent people,” he said.