Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

A Bit of Ethnic Wisdom

Helen Losse

I was taking a bus trip alone in December 1967, across half of America. A college junior, I had finished first semester exams earlier in the day. The trip to Asheville, North Carolina, where I would meet my boyfriend to continue by car, was one thousand miles. The bus portion alone would take over twenty-four hours.

Shortly after I had eaten an early supper, my parents drove me to the station, leaving me with only a vague idea of the route and three bus changes to manage. I brought a few snacks along and shared oranges with a young woman I met on my first leg of the journey. I then tried sleeping with little success.

I caught a second bus and continued my trip, reading after the sun came up. As my journey continued, busses were filled with more and more soldiers in uniform, going home on Christmas leave. I met a soldier named Clay, who offered to French kiss. I declined.

Here I must digress, letting you know I came from Joplin, Missouri, a conservative Midwestern town of just over 38,000 people.

How do I say, I lived a sheltered life?

I boarded my third bus in Nashville along with three other women, two nuns and a heavy-set black woman. The rest of the passengers were men. The nuns sat together, and I sat—quite safely now—with the black woman.

When we struck up a conversation, the woman inquired as to where I was going. When I told her North Carolina to spend the holidays with my boyfriend and his family, she rolled her eyes ’til I saw only their whites.

And now comes the part that I quote to this day.

“Be careful,” she warned me, speaking from experience, I guess. “Watch out for that boyfriend. Be careful. Mens is mean!”

It’s a bit of ethnic wisdom that still makes us laugh.


Helen Losse is a poet, freelance writer, and Poetry Co-Editor of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. Her recent poetry publications include Domicile, Mastodon Dentist, Right Hand Pointing, Blue Fifth Review, Southern Hum, Adagio Verse Quarterly and forthcoming in Subtle Tea and The Blueprint: An Assemblage of the Fifth Element. She has a chapbook, Gathering the Broken Pieces, available from FootHills Publishing. Educated at Missouri Southern State and Wake Forest Universities, she lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where she writes about race relations and occasionally book reviews for the Winston-Salem Journal.

© Helen Losse

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012