Phyllis Bernard-May and Dann May. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)

DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: More in common than different with these couples

AS I SET out to interview interracial spouses, I expected disheartening stories about family rifts and struggle for acceptance.

And frankly, I dreaded asking uncomfortable questions about race.

The great thing about interviews: You rarely hear what you expected.

I got to spend time with two pairs: Andre and Mikki Hughes, who tied the knot in summer 2016, and Dann May and Phyllis Bernard-May, married 24 years now.

Both couples are unmistakably, madly in love.

Mikki, who is white, and Phyllis, who is black, are passionate talkers. These women throw themselves into the given topic of conversation. Their husbands, meanwhile, gaze upon their mates, their enjoyment obvious.

Dre, a dark-chocolate-skinned man with chiseled cheekbones, sat quietly in his kitchen, a smile in his eyes as he listened to Mikki.

Phyllis, in her dreadlocks highlighted with yarn, held forth about her youth in Oklahoma while Dann, who grew up in Wisconsin, rested his attention on her like a light touch.

Dann and Phyllis met in Oklahoma City, where they got looks.

“People are curious. They’re going to stare,” said Dann.

“Invariably, the person would come up and say, ‘Ma’am, I love your hair,’ ” with its beads and shiny thread woven into the natural gray.

In rural Clallam County, where Dann and Phyllis have lived since 2015, many women have stopped her in the grocery store — again to praise the hair.

It’s as though Phyllis’ locks open doors so people can just talk to her.

She and Dann feel freer here than they did in Oklahoma. Evenings of live music at the New Moon Craft Tavern and the Dam Bar have brought them together with artists and musicians — their tribe.

But Oklahoma City, where Phyllis grew up, is where she and Dann found each other. They made a new home together, a place with lots of open space around it, in Norman, Okla. One of the first things Dann wanted to do when they moved in was take a walk together under the full moon.

When Phyllis heard this, she knew she’d married the right man.

This pair values the same things: music, art, nature, freedom. Their parents raised them to seek it all. Dann remembers a procession of guests in his boyhood home, and dinner-table conversations about anything from science to human rights.

There have been incidents involving stereotypes and outright bigotry — from bankers when they applied for their home loan and people telling black jokes to Dann when Phyllis wasn’t around.

Dann’s response was a calm comeuppance: “Really?”

As for Dre and Mikki, there are times when people stare at them, too. Port Angeles is not known for its diversity.

Yet when it comes to in-laws, both couples have been embraced.

“My parents fell in love with Phyllis,” said Dann. Turning back to his wife, he added, “You’re just likable on so many levels.”

For her part, Mikki said she is married to the type of man her family wanted for her, a kind man who makes her happy.

Mikki and Dre were brought up by single parents: Mikki by her grandmother in Port Angeles and Dre by his mom in Kent, south of Seattle.

When Mikki met Dre’s mother, she was reminded of her grandma. Both were women of strict, old-school morals.

The pair is now a family with five children: “his, mine, ours,” as Mikki says. The kids range in age from 9 to 21. Mikki’s daughter Maizie, now 19, let her mom know that she approved of Dre — “and she’d definitely tell me if she didn’t.”

Friends expressed surprise when they announced their engagement — but for reasons other than race. Mikki is 50 and Dre 41, and they’d had a lightning-fast courtship.

Here’s where Dre speaks up.

“I knew,” he said, “I could be with her for the rest of my life.”

“I love that she’s always concerned, always worried” about others, he added. And there are the little things, such as the cake she baked for his 40th birthday — right after they met.

Lest you think I’m reducing this to a fairy tale, I know from experience that marriage challenges you to your core.

Yet these two couples share a core strength: They are each other’s ally and refuge.

They call to my mind African-American journalist Tavis Smiley’s book. The title sums it all up: “Love Wins.”

_________

Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Angeles.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday of month. Her next column will be Aug. 2.

Reach her at [email protected]

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