Reminded July ’16 of Not a Particularly Big Event in Maryland, Mid-60s

Reminded July ’16 of Not a Particularly Big Event in Maryland, Mid-60’s

Their old school was Sojourner Truth, which, back then, could not be for any kids but black, the new school built between a patched-shack road and an almost spanking white subdivision, with a wavy-lined mosaic down one side.  Me with my long blonde hair always tried

to be nice to everyone, though all the blacks in my class were boys, and girls age 8 didn’t play much with any boys back then, till one day

they followed me home, Kevin, class clown of chocolate brown, face up-curved as if even

his nose smiled, and Earl, who was the darkest person I’d ever seen, stretched thin, his sometimes grin almost more beautiful than Kevin’s against

his blue-black skin, and a couple of soft-cheeked others,

and Kevin danced away my hair brush from my bag–its plastic handle long broken so it was just

a bristle head–and Earl, palming it, brushed his nap, and by then, we were on the front lawn of my next door neighbor, and I was afraid–they were so very alive in the middle of that still, mown lawn, half-under

its short magnolia–it felt as if a cloud had descended upon us, making us move

in slow-mo, as if clouds were not just vapor, but deep sea

and I said, from my side of the brush’s keep-away, you’ve got to go home, really you better get out of here, Kevin, and his smile dropped as Earl too dropped

my hair brush, and, after they turned, I picked it up, pretty certain I’d never use it again, redly embarrassed by that,

as I watched their backs get smaller up the street, where the sloped curbs also watched them, even the bits of sand and grit in the sloped curbs watched them–though at least the sand and grit were perfectly open about it–not like the eyes in the windows–


A drafty sort of piece for Brendan MacOdrum’s (Blue Oran’s) wonderful prompt on Real Toads about finding some depth in the shallows (and doing it briefly).  I don’t know that this qualifies as deep and it’s certainly not brief  but it is the poem that came to mind for me; again I hope that I am conveying here the inchoate fear I felt for my friends, the boys, at that time, when honestly, I didn’t know that much of what was going on in the greater world. 

Also note that the image is mine, based on a collage (made rather clumsily on the iPhone) of some street graffiti, a beautiful and agonizing picture of civil rights demonstrators being fire-hosed in Birmingham, Alabama in the mid-60’s (taken by Bob Adelman) and a picture of the American flag on the Moon (I am guessing that photographer was Neil Armstrong).  The picture is not in any way meant to be blase or detrimental to the suffering of any one, particularly not the Birmingham protestors and certainly not of any one now, but just one I could make from the images I had.  All rights in the collage (such as I have) are reserved.  

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20 Comments on “Reminded July ’16 of Not a Particularly Big Event in Maryland, Mid-60s”

  1. Brendan Says:

    MId-60s integrated school days, sheesh, been there done that: You capture the colorblind essence of childhood (kids, like animals, don’t discriminate) right at the border when all the nuances count and can hurt. Race here is only starting to matter, or the speaker is only just becoming aware of it, and as it enters everything flattens – those eyes in the windows. Wonderful stuff and riveting. This is news we need to hear.

  2. There is a lot in this piece. The way you handled the historical with fiction was masterful. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  3. I find this fascinating – your kindness, your embarrassment at maybe not wanting to use the brush again, and your fear of the neighbors and the harm that might come to the boys… and I loved our description of them. Excellent writing.

  4. This so much pinpoint why it’s hard to integrate, how aware, yet ashamed we can be, maybe it’s compliance to laws unwritten. So at some point we will follow don’t we?

  5. Rosemary Nissen-Wade Says:

    It’s a wonderful piece, and the collage evokes the atmosphere beautifully. But I, not living in USA, got the impression you suddenly became afraid OF not FOR them. I guess it’s to do with not having that background which would have had me understand immediately about the eyes in the windows and all that implied – so I didn’t get it until the eyes were actually mentioned. I thought you were afraid OF the boys’ aliveness, afraid that the clowning might turn rough, two against one (the way that boys can easily go from play to fight). A complete misunderstanding of your meaning, obviously. So I think maybe a little something is needed just there to make it a bit clearer?

  6. Kerry O'Connor Says:

    It can take a lifetime to learn how to ignore those eyes in the window. Hatred likes to hide behind a curtain. This is a poignant tale, honestly told and really a case in point of how divisions may begin in the suburbs of society, the schools, the playgrounds. Children are the witless victims of adult prejudice, with fear a presiding factor to learned behaviour.

  7. hedgewitch Says:

    ‘as if clouds were not just vapor, but deep sea…’ I was in junior high–middle school I guess they call it now–before I ever saw a child of color close enough to speak to–some were very cruel, one was my best friend, Nerissa, who walked almost-home with me every day, a shy, sweet-smiled girl lost behind a huge pile of books, carried without a bag, as we did in those days, pendulously hanging from our arms and supported on our stomachs as we walked, like babies. Anyway, you brought back exactly the flavor of what that was like for me, and I hope gave some who weren’t there a taste for how the past makes the present.

    • ManicDdaily Says:

      Dear Hedge, thanks for your comment and sweet description of your sweet friend. Maryland (where I lived) was South then, and Virginia, which I was also very close to, just a short ride over a bridge, felt then like deep South (at least to me.) I didn’t go to Mississippi etc till much older. People like to paint the past in rosy colors, but it was a pretty harsh time in many many ways. k.

  8. Bryan Ens Says:

    Oh those eyes in the windows that stare in silent condemnation of that which is different in inconsequential ways.

  9. Mama Zen Says:

    This is raw, brilliant writing, K. So very, very real.

  10. The depth of the meaning in this poem aches in my heart center. thank you, K.

  11. Candy Says:

    The 60s were definitely an “eyes in the windows” time

  12. Jim Says:

    When I was in college I had to walk a mile to my rented room and part was through a “bad part” of town. I would sing then, nobody followed me, not even dogs.
    In about the third grade the big kids put corn cobs in a neighbor’s mail box. I came along behind them and put in a few more. Dad was waiting for me when I got home, he knew.

  13. Marian Says:

    Interesting and evocatively penned, Karin. Maybe many people can relate to this… I’m thinking of a somewhat similar experience, from high school. Thank you for sharing this story.

  14. Sherry Marr Says:

    Wow, definitely depthful and I appreciated the description of your beautiful collage as then I went back and saw more in it than at first. That is just how it was, too, the girl skipping, with so much else going on around her. The poem is wonderful, you took us right there. I wonder if the boys experienced the girl’s fear as them being unwelcome, or if they took it as concern for their safety. You captured so many layers in this piece, in both art forms.

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