Today, as Americans celebrate the extraordinary life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am reminded of another African American—Lloyd Scott—whom I never knew. My father, however, was so captivated by him that he wrote a one-page story, “Touched by a Man of Color,” about their first and only brief meeting. I found this moving recollection tucked inside the manuscript pages of the autobiography he completed two weeks before he died in 2003.
Shortly before then, my parents, who were retired and lived in Western Massachusetts, often drove to Waterbury, Connecticut to lunch at the Old Hometown Buffet. As I wondered aloud why they traveled so far when there were plenty of closer and finer dining options in the Amherst area, my father raved about Hometown’s “all-you-can-eat” assortment of comfort foods. I soon realized that the hunger he had experienced as a child growing up in an impoverished immigrant family in Harlem had never been fully sated. He always ate quickly, as though his meal was in imminent danger of being yanked away. His plate went to the dishwasher spotless. Before trying a new restaurant, he would call and ask if the buffet dishes were “replenished” and how often.
When my dad met Mr. Scott, also a Hometown Buffet regular, I’m sure he at once recognized a kindred spirit. Like him, Mr. Scott had grown up in Harlem. His mother had worked for a wealthy Park Avenue woman; my father had delivered medical prescriptions to “the swells” on that same street to help support his family. Mr. Scott, who was 86 at the time of their encounter, had served in World War II; my dad was a Korean War veteran. Both men left Harlem for kinder terrain and found professional jobs in their new communities. (Pictured below: my father on his First Communion and as a young G.I.; the first page of his autobiography; the silver dollar his father saved.)
Mr. Scott told my father that while he and his first wife, also African American, were courting, they were forbidden to dine in white-only restaurants. While my father hadn’t been subjected to such degradation, he had been bullied and beaten for his strange-sounding Polish surname, “Sharshunovich,” which his classmates changed to “son-of-a-bitch.” This stopped only after his older brother legally changed the family name to protect him.
While the similarities between these two men jumped out at me when I first read my father’s story, I discerned something noteworthy between the lines. Despite having suffered multiple challenges, neither had born ill will about their past. My father mentioned this about Mr. Scott, and it’s also a trait I admired in him. Although my dad had faced many obstacles, such as going to sleep hungry, being knifed for a loaf of bread, and jumping over rooftops to avoid the Harlem streets, there was no bitterness in his voice when recounting long-ago events. Instead, he suggested our family adopt a Fresh Air child to give them the same pleasant summertime experience he’d enjoyed as a kid. He gave generously to organizations helping African Americans and other minorities, and supported local food banks.
At my father’s funeral, one of his closest friends described him as having a “black soul,” which he would have considered a compliment. Perhaps Mr. Scott picked up on this, as he and my father had connected through their shared humanity, not their differences. In meeting Mr. Scott, my father could also see how his life had come full circle and was reminded that against all odds, he had married the woman with the “sweet smile,” fathered three children, become a well-respected professor, and was able to give back to society. No wonder he was so grateful for their “one-half delightful hour” at the Old Hometown Buffet. I am, too.
If you would like to read the full story, I’ve retyped it below, as there were so many typos on the original. Thank you for your interest!
“Touched By a Man of Color” by Joseph Tyrol
On Friday afternoon, April 11th, my wife Gloria and I were on Route 84 in the vicinity of Waterbury, CT. We were hungry and the Old Hometown Buffet beckoned. We like this restaurant chain because of the variety of food and the informal, relaxed, unhurried atmosphere. We put our coats on two seats at an empty table and went to pick some food. The restaurant could seat 200 comfortably. That day, we had a choice of kebab meat, pizza, baked chicken, mashed potatoes, French fries, baked beans, collards, etc.
I was bringing my plate to our table when an older man of color said, “Isn’t it wonderful not to have to wash dishes?” I nodded and said, “Yes.” Shortly after, Gloria sat down; she noticed that this same man was eating cantaloupe and honeydew melon and smiled at him. About 10 minutes later, after he was finished, he came over to our table.
He introduced himself as “Lloyd Scott,” and said he was fascinated by Gloria’s sweet smile and how people today don’t take time to be polite. He spoke about the different phases of life and how he’s “seen it all.”
He began by telling us about his mother, who had worked for a Mrs. X at 375 Park Avenue, and how well Mrs. X took care of them, to the sad years at 116th Street after Mrs. X died. Unable to find work in New York, he went to Waterbury, CT, where relatives were able to find him a job. Eventually, he worked up to a position in Waterbury’s municipal government due to his innate math ability, even though he never got beyond 7th grade.
He had served in WW2 and afterward, met his first wife, who was from Waterbury, and mentioned that they were not allowed to dine out in a restaurant at that time. After she died, he remarried, and his neighbors—black and white—treated them to the wedding reception. He spoke without ill will or hate as he went through some of the prejudices he’d encountered and how he is warmly welcome in Waterbury. His second wife died four years ago, and he treats himself to the Old Hometown Buffet twice a week.
Mr. Lloyd sensed that we were cordial and sympathetic and was enthralled with Gloria’s smile. At age 86, he still had a thick head of salt-and-pepper hair, a moustache, a slight bend in the knees, and an engaging smile. He was an open, lovely person.
I believe Gloria and I shall always remember fondly the one-half delightful hour spent with Lloyd Scott.