Monday, January 16, 2006

My hero for Martin Luther King Day: Bill Cosby

Bill Cosby was my childhood hero, the man whose voice could make me laugh, the man who taught me all about Buck Buck, and the 49th Street Bridge, and The Belt. His stories are still available on CD and in December we listened to "Ice Cream" with our son. (He just had his tonsils out.) He laughed and laughed the same way my husband and I did when we were kids.

I credit Bill Cosby with my first spark of interest in the man I was to marry. We were working together and someone tossed a wad of paper at him. He looked up in surprise and said "Did some one just throw a piece of paper on me?" I laughed and said "Buck Buck!" We talked about Bill Cosby for an hour after that, recalling our favorite bits. EHarmony should include that as one of their compatability tests, because we've been married for ten years and I love him more every day.

So why do I think of Bill Cosby on Martin Luther King Day? Because my introduction to African American culture was through Bill Cosby. Not through hideous rap music, not through gangster films and clothing, not through reports about the latest mugging, rape, killing. None of those terrible traits of inner-city black culture can dislodge my original foundation of love and respect for the moms, dads, and kids of Bill Cosby's world. They are black, and they are different than me, but they are wonderful human beings.

On Martin Luther King day, I think of Dr. King's speech about how a person should be judged by the content of their character, not the color of their skin.

And I remember my very first introduction to Bill Cosby. I was very small, about five years old, and my mom was a very unhappy person. She had a bunch of kids to raise, not a lot of money, a husband who was always working and she'd lost her last baby, James, at term. He'd lived for a few minutes and my mom had almost died. They gave her a hysterectomy, so no more kids for her, and none of this I understood at five years old. I just understood that my mom seldom laughed and when she did it was a tinkling, false thing that made you think of forks scraping down a crystal glass.

So I heard a man's voice downstairs and I crept out of bed and came down the staircase. The man had a beautiful voice, deep and rich, and he wasn't my father. He was talking to my mom and she was laughing. Not tinkling false laughing, but happy belly laughs. I'd never heard my mom laugh like that. Who was this man?

I finally peered around the corner of the staircase and my mom was sitting by a record player and there was no man there. The voice came from the record player, and the man was Bill Cosby.

You made my mom laugh again, Bill. You are forever the man who made my mother laugh.

Happy Martin Luther King Day.


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