“This is the dolly that I like best
This is the way she likes to rest
Here in my arms in her best gown dress
My sweet dolly baby.”
The next Saturday, Patty and I sat at the kitchen table eating a tomato sandwich, the soft, white bread wet with mayonnaise and tomatoes. Moonrose was singing to our doll. We had to share Betsy. She was a big doll, almost 2 feet tall, with blonde hair with legs and arms that didn’t bend. Santa had given her to the both of us so we had to share. We had to take turns, which was okay with me; I’d rather have a bunny.
We were all trying to glue Cheerios on a piece of paper using egg whites as glue when the phone rang. I answered. It was Irene.
“I’ll get Momma,” I answered. “Momma! Phone!”
Momma spoke to Irene then told me to get my sisters; we had to go get Irene to take her to the hospital.
“Is she sick?” I asked
“Oh, no dear, she just needs to visit someone who is in the hospital and she needs a ride.”
“Girls come in and get washed up. And don’t forget to wash your feet. We all got ready and ran out to the car. Patty stood in the front seat beside Momma so Momma could throw her arm out to hold Patty when she stopped the car. Moonrose and I pushed into the back. Moonrose stuck her hand behind the seat looking for coins. Nothing.
“Come on, girls. Irene’s waiting.” We drove down the dirt road, passed Carolyn’s house, passed Scranton’s store, passed the church, right down into the colored part of town. There were lots of colored people walking and shopping and talking to each other. We were the only white people there. I stared at the houses. Most were little more than old shacks. I saw boys with no shirts or shoes playing right by the road, throwing rocks into circles drawn into the dirt. I wondered what their names were and where their school was. I knew where everything was in my part of town. But I hardly knew all of this was even here.
Then I saw a colored man, really only half of a man, as he had no legs. He was sitting on a square piece of dirty wood which had small wheels on it. He was pushing himself along the side of the road his hands in the dirt. I looked at Momma but she acted like she didn’t see anything and I knew not to say anything either. I just looked at my nice clean feet.
I was taught that it was not polite to stare but the lessons to be learned were lost in the immediacy of the moment. It was a shock for me to see that man, but his self-reliance and resilience was stamped into my memory. Was he hurt in the war? Was he a hero? I had lots of questions. And I still do. Why do we as people in the same community as others with disabilities look away instead of reaching a hand to someone in need? I still see it time and again, people sometimes avert their eyes believing themselves to be polite when a simple “Hello” would be infinitely nicer. And support, encouragement, and a helping hand so much wiser.
It felt odd to be the only white people in an area of town that I had never seen and didn’t know existed. But the odd feeling of being a white person driving in the black part of town is nothing compared to what a black man would encounter if he had to drive in a white neighborhood. He would risk arrest or worse. It was just not done. To me, even at a young age, it seemed like grownups were mixed up about a lot of things.
Soon we pulled up in front of a small house which looked like it had been in a fire and was partially burned. All the houses were very small, unpainted shacks with a crude outhouse out back. Irene’s house looked much like the others but it had a weathered, wooden rocking chair on the front porch. The front porch leaned and steps were bowed from much use. The crawl space under the house was open. If Bear lived under our house, I wondered… what lived under this one? The yard had no grass and we parked in the dirt. Her whole house seemed to be only big enough for living room and kitchen. I wondered where she slept. Irene stepped out of the house and walked down the sagging steps as we pulled up. She slowly climbed into the car beside Patty.
“Wanna sit on ole Irene’s lap, honey?” Patty shook her head and stayed standing right beside Momma.
We drove into the next town over where the hospital was. Momma parked the car and got out, “I’ll go in and see.”
“What’s she gonna go see?” I asked.
“She gotta see where the colored entrance is.” explained Irene.
“Why cain’t you go in this door?” There was no answer. We just sat in the hot car and waited for Momma. The windows were down and Moonrose stuck her head out of one window and I stuck mine out of the other. There was a stand with a man selling boiled peanuts. They are one of my favorite things to eat. I thought I would ask Momma for some when she got back. Then I saw a colored boy standing looking at a water fountain.
Irene spoke to him from her open car window. “Boy, you go on and jus git that co-cola bottle to get some water. Yo know yo cain’t drink out of that foun’en.” He picked up the cola bottle off the ground and dumped out a couple of cigarette butts. He then got a little water in it and poured it out on the ground making muddy drops splash onto his feet and then he put some water in it so he could get a drink. Eww…. I wouldn’t want to drink cigarette butts water. I read the sign….’whites only’ and I figured he wasn’t allowed to drink out of the fountain, but I guess it was okay for him to get some water in the bottle from it.
“Now go on and throw that bottle in the trash.” Irene told him. He tossed the bottle into the trashcan and walked on. “Don’ even have half the brain the Good Lord gave a flea…” she muttered to herself.
Momma came out of the hospital and said, “I’m glad I asked, it’s on the other side of the hospital. This way I can drive you and you don’t have to walk around.” Momma drove to the other side of the hospital and as Irene climbed out of the car, she said, “I’ll get a ride home, thank ya, Ma’am.”
“Are you sure? We can wait.”
“Yes’m. Someone’ll come along to take me home.”
“Okay, see you Monday.” Momma waved.
“Bye, Irene.” As we drove away, I saw that little colored boy walking down the road. And, I felt sad.
to be continued....