Sambo, Jews, Detroit, My Grandfather and Stitches

Detroit. 1969. My grandfather: Robert Smith: 5, 8” - one hundred and sixty pounds of deep south, blue collars, coffee kernel skin, and good religion hit his head on his garage door while closing it. He knows right away it’s nothing peroxide and a band-aid can take care of, so he gets a couple of rags, holds them to his head, and drives his Chrysler to the hospital.

He gets there and his suspicions are confirmed – he needs stitches. A doctor of Jewish decent (can’t remember his name) begins to perform the procedure. The doctor is chatty. He talks cars, riots, and Tigers. However; one thing concerns my grandfather – he keeps referring to him as Sam. By the third time he says it my grandfather is certain he’s using this as a racial epithet. My grandfather thinks it’s because he’s short and dark that the doctor is calling him “Sam” (short for “Little Black Sambo,” an old children’s book from 1899; the name of the book has since been changed). And what’s infuriating my grandfather is that he can’t say anything to the doctor because he’s putting stiches in his head! By the time he has finished, the doctor has probably said “Sam” 7 or 8 more times. My grandfather says nothing to him, just signs his paperwork, and storms out.

Back at the home, he walks thourgh the door, his temper still hotter than burning oil, tells my grandmother the whole story, and she immediately burst into laughter.

My grandfather yells at her, “What is so funny?”
“Robert; go look in the mirror.” She replies while still cracking up.
My grandfather goes to the mirror, and sees the name “Sam” stitched on the top left hand corner of his overalls. He burst out laughing with my grandmother.

Is there a moral to this story? Probably, but I don’t care to explore it. Of the many stories my grandfather told (over and over again) – this was easily my favorite.

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