Saturday, December 06, 2014

Springfield, Oregon, 1965

I remember the first black kids, they came when I was seven, two brothers. I had never seen a black person before. In the showers, I had to look: and incredibly, they were black even where their swimsuits would have blocked the sun. 

It didn't occur to me then or later to make them welcome. I had my own problems, and being befriended by the weird kid would have done them no favors, anyway. But I pondered the blackness. I could have forgiven the strangeness if it had been only a burning of the sun. But no, black all through: except for their ghostly whitish palms and soles, which was so contrary to all reason. It's your hands and feet that get dirty, that you have to wash. These creatures turned the world over. And life was already hard enough. 

What became of them? Where are they now? I don't know, but I doubt they have much reason to look back fondly.

Back then, black people weren't ordinarily on television. I had heard of negroes, of course, but they were in far away places, states in the south, of which my parents definitely, if obscurely, disapproved. I knew "nigger" was a very bad word. But the kids who could get a laugh, the ones who actually knew what swear words meant, used it when the adults weren't around.

"Where did you get that?" one would ask.

"Stole it off a dead nigger, and he ain't gettin' it back!" was the reply. Gales of laughter. 

It had nothing to do with the real world, any more than the half-understood sex jokes did. They were just essays, sallies into the forbidden. What happened if you said those words? Where you struck dead? Or did you gain access to something, some secret power or pleasure? Well, I didn't know. Better watch and see what happens to kids who could get a laugh. I had a feeling, and so did they, that they were courting destruction. I don't know what became of those kids, either.

1 comment:

Tom said...

I liked this post very much!