I flatter myself to believe that, just a little bit, Evelyn Fields was my friend.
From time to time, she would come in to work out of uniform, wearing jeans or some old throw-on dress. I must admit, the first time that I caught her doing this, there was just the merest fleck of gold from her hat, peeking out of her purse, to clue me off. I quickly understood that this was a game … maybe the only pleasure she had in a very, very difficult position.
Because, of course, you know what happens. During the day, in uniform, she received stern, dignified respect from the white pot-bellied associate directors. But let her show up out of uniform and not even the guards recognized who she was. Instead, they would treat her the way they saw her, as some old black lady trying to take advantage of the system. And so she would be openly dissed.
And I? Well, I guess that I was the only little white boy to ever look her in the eyes, and see what she looked like, and recognize that little twinkle of an impish. boyish miscreant that she got when she knew she was making fools of them. I knew exactly who she was and what she was doing. She earned huge respect from me for the incredible rigidity that she had to display, without the faintest hint of a crack, whenever she was around other folk. Once in a while, we got to do silly stuff alone together in the elevator.
At the end of her career, when she announced that she wished to retire, she was asked to serve for six months more while they found a replacement. Reluctantly she obliged. And during that time, the application for promotion of my boss’s boss, among others, came to her desk. Perfunctorily she passed on it.
And at the end of six months, it came to pass that someone noted that those applications for promotion had not been passed on through Congress as was the protocol.
Don’t you know that after her brilliant career, after attaining a rank never before held by either a woman or a black person, and executing it with aplomb and grace, they had to find this petty, petty excuse to denigrate her and even demote her, after her retirement.
As for my boss’ boss, she was soon forced to leave the corps because she had difficulty keeping her mouth shut, at the dinner table. She stayed on in her position for many years afterward, in a most undistinguished role, bringing many a man to his knees begging, yelling, pleading, her to allow them to do some useful work.
So it goes.