Mrs. Clark Profiles in Courage piece was well received when the Hurricane came out during the week of November 23rd, marking the 56th anniversary for the JFK assassination, dovetailing that milestone with the story of Martha Mary "Stones" Gravel Clark, Hillsboro High School Class of '64 and how the JFK legacy affected her life before and after his death.
The Alumni newsletter ran the same story which received wider recognition because it was sent out electronically to alumni members spread across the country. Morris was happy with the results. He had written the first draft, Maria added her inputs and edits, and they submitted the final draft to Jenkins who thought it was a good piece.
Morris switched to Sports at Jenkins' (and Maria's) request. He didn't see Maria as much as they were on opposite sides of the newsroom and she avoided him as best she could. He noticed her at her desk in the newsroom one afternoon and he dropped a gift envelope on her computer keyboard.
"What's this?" She asked with a frown.
"Scholarship to Howell's Driving School," Morris told her. "Now you can get your license. Merry Christmas, Maria."
He left before she could respond.
Morris missed Maria (Mrs. Clark too). He wasn't sure what freaked Maria out and caused her to push him out of her life but he wasn't one to argue.
He covered a Saturday morning pre-season girl's basketball clinic hosted at the high school one weekend. Maria was there for a feature on an 8th grade Downs Syndrome player who had the knack of almost never missing a basketball shot.
"It could be a sports story," Morris argued.
"I like it better as a human interest story," Maria replied. "It's not as much about the basketball as it is the inclusion and acceptance of the special needs girl onto the team."
When the clinic ended, Morris offered Maria a ride, not expecting her to accept so he was pleasantly surprised when she said sure.
"Want to have a late lunch at my house?" Morris asked as he drove the car out of the parking lot. "My parents aren't around."
"Okay," Maria agreed. "My mother's working anyway."
He drove them to the house on River Road and Maria sat at the breakfast counter as Morris prepared grilled cheese sandwiches and warmed up some of his mother's homemade soup.
"How's Mrs. Clark?" Morris asked with genuine interest.
"I had to stop covering for my mother," Maria explained. "Now I work at Fontaine's."
"Really?" Morris asked with interest. "I was thinking of going back after Christmas. I've been symptom free as far as concussion affects go so I guess it's time." He glanced at her. "Would that be okay with you? Having me around on the same shifts?"
"Of course," she agreed but then she sucked in her breath. "I suppose I have a chip on my shoulder," she confessed.
"About what?" Morris asked, putting a plate with a toasted grill cheese sandwiches in front of her along with a bowl of soup. He did the same for him on his side of the counter.
"I guess I got self-conscious about being the only African American Puerto Rican kid in our school," she sighed.
"There's plenty of diversity there all things considered," Morris pointed out.
"I worry sometimes that because I'm different, somehow I'm not good enough."
"That's ridiculous," Morris said.
"It gave me a sense of low self-esteem and questionable self-worth," she said. "I often felt alone which made me feel even more self-conscious."
"I guess that's sort of how I felt when I had to quit sports," Morris admitted. "But I never thought about your skin color or ethnic background. I like you for who you are."
"It wouldn't be easy, you know," She said.
"Being in an interracial relationship together."
"Profiles in Courage," he said with a sad smile. "Mrs. Clark did it."
"That night when your mother drove us home?" She asked. "When I was sitting in the back seat and your head was in my lap?"
"I played with your hair," she said. "Running my fingers through your blond strands. It felt nice."
"Do people fall in love with hair color and frizzy hair styles and all the rest of it or do they fall in love with the person's personality and characteristics and whatever essence there is about them that attracts them to them in the first place?" Morris asked.
"We have different outlooks on life," Maria said. "You can never fully understand where I've come from because you're someone who hasn't experienced racism in the same way."
"We're supposed to be different," Morris reminded her. "You shouldn't have to apologize for who you date or explain why you're attracted to someone. It's nobody's business."
"I was just trying to explain…"
"You don't owe me an explanation, Maria," Morris told her. "You just owe it to yourself to be true to yourself and to the ones you care about. Some people might never understand what we're doing together but it's not our job to force it on them."
"I'm almost done with Driver's Ed," Maria said with a smile. "Thanks to you."
"You need to be able to drive when some guy gets hit in the head with a trash can in a Denny's parking lot," Morris said.
When they finished with lunch, Morris brought the dishes to the sink and Maria followed. She noticed a greenhouse looking fixture on the corner of the back patio from her view through the kitchen window.
"What's that?" She asked.
"The hot tub," Morris replied. Then he threw her a look. "It's pretty private."
She grinned knowingly. "What was it Mrs. Clark said about Woodstock?" Maria asked. "A time to forget inhibitions and embrace freedoms?"
"Something like that," Morris recalled as he took Maria's hand and led her out the side door and toward the greenhouse.
"Profiles in Courage," Maria smiled as she began to disrobe while Morris got the hot tub going.
"Our own private little Woodstock," Morris agreed, switching on the stereo system that was in the glassed in room before too he began to undress.