I traveled to Milwaukee last weekend to attend my 50th class reunion or as some might say a gathering of well worn but still standing seniors. Before I left to head back east my dearest friends and our wives headed to our old hangout, Solly’s, a old-fashioned hamburger joint where gobs of butter overwhelm the bun and a chocolate malt shake along with fries are a must. We all knew that the Solly’s experience might do a job on our digestive system and our cholesterol count but no one seemed to care, this was a celebration of the old days past.
At Solly’s something wonderful happened that restored our faith in humanity and in race relations. On one side of the counter were a group of African-Americans celebrating two birthdays. Part of their group was a decorated veteran with his VFW hat proudly displayed. A white couple quickly offered to take photos of the group with smiles all around. At about this time an Asian family entered and sat at the counter.
After a bit, the cake was brought out and the singing of Happy Birthday began. Without prompting the entire restaurant sang to the two women celebrating a big day, not just quietly, but so loud that anyone within ear shot could hear the happiness exuding from Solly’s.
So a group of aging whites, an Asian family and African-Americans joined together in a spontaneous songfest. Later one of the birthday women came over and offered us a piece of cake as well as the Asian family. Everyone was in a joyous mood.
This was admittedly a small event in a small hamburger joint in a Midwestern city, but to me it was a hopeful sign that with all the examples of racial mistrust and racial tension in our country there are indeed islands of racial hope, perhaps more than we think and certainly more than the media reports.
We all left Solly’s happy not just because we had relived old memories, but because we had been witness to one example of how we as Americans can get along and go out of our way to bring ourselves together. We certainly will never see those people again, but that impromptu birthday party will have a lasting memory. The dream does live on.