I was afraid of everyone, no matter the color of their skin!
|The story continues...
For part one of this story, click here:
Once the weekend was over, weekly actives started and were different. Kids from the neighborhood came to the settlement house for organized activities, and I was expected to join in. That's when I discovered that there were children with dark faces as well as adult women.
I liked them. They smelled just like me, not like my lady roommate. You know the smell...of dirty kid who has been playing hard. That's how we all came to smell.
Some of the girls taught me some really great jump rope verses. The recreation leader brought out a hula-hoop and I started showing off with all the moves I'd learned. The other kids had never seen one, although hula-hoops had been on the market for two years by then. I was an instant hero. The rec. leader gave me two smaller hula-hoops too, and I really dazzled them with the big one going around my waist while the twirling the two smaller ones on my arms.
Not bad for a quiet, shy little girl. I wasn't used to being the center of attention, and I think I enjoyed it.
We also roller skated both inside and out. I'm not sure my relatives would have liked having us skate inside, but we discovered that skating on tile floors was fun. It was certainly different than the rough parking lot and sidewalks outside, where there were holes and uneven surfaces. Inside, we could really get going!
I probably don't swim because of that same trip to Morgantown. I'm not sure how many times I'd been to a swimming pool before that trip. I know I'd never visited a "city pool" where there were people of all colors swimming together. That was another new experience. We all looked funny, though, with our white swim caps on. With those caps on, no one could tell if your hair was straight or curly. I wondered to myself that if the water made my hair straighter, did it also make my new friends' hair curlier? It was a question I wanted to ask the nanny, but later forgot.
Anyway, I was standing at the edge of the deep end of the pool when some 6th grade boy decided to push me into the water. That was not such a good idea, since I didn't swim. I'd probably never been in water deeper than my knees to that point. Suddenly I was in about 6 feet of water. I can still remember thrashing around, and the feeling I had that I would certainly drown. Someone finally realized that I was having problems and fetched me out of the water. Thus began my fear of water, swimming pools, and drowning.
There was one other bad part of that trip. If I was alone during the day, and not reading in the library, then I was probably playing jacks. I did that a lot.
Once, I was playing jacks on the wooden floor of the apartment, and as I scraped my hand across the floor, I got splinters under each fingernail on my right hand. I screamed and cried again. Can you imagine how painful it is to get splinters underneath your fingernails? Perhaps not. But if you bit your nails short like I used to do, and had raw and sore fingertips anyway, you'd know that was a most unpleasant experience. I did learn something from it, though. I discovered that if you used hydrogen peroxide on a splinter, it helped bubble the splinter out. That doesn't hurt as much as having someone dig out a splinter with a needle! Especially when the splinter is hidden in the tender part of your skin that hides beneath your fingernails.
My time in Morgantown was fun. It was only later when I related the fun to my friends back home that I discovered how wrong it was for my relatives to have made me share a bedroom with a black "servant" woman. As I recall, it wasn't my friends who enlightened me about this, but their parents. Grown ups surely did have some strange ideas about what was right and what was wrong.
A few years later, when I was 11, a black family moved in down the street from us. I remember how outraged some of the white people in the neighborhood were. They hated the former owner of the home, and the real estate agent, for having sold it to them. The crazy adults claimed that their property values would decline because that family moved in. I couldn't understand that at all. The father was a white collar worker in the midst of a community of blue collar workers. This man had been to college. How could having him in our neighborhood be bad for us?
We had a 6th grade dance that year, and Jesse (the black boy my age) had a pastel of white girls who gathered around him to first watch him dance and then take instructions about dancing from him. I do believe that was the only 6th grade dance we had. Someone didn't think it was right for Jesse to dance with white girls, so they put a stop to it.
How unfair that was. They stupid white guys used to stand in a corner and talk amongst themselves. The girls wanted to dance, and Jesse was the only boy brave enough to dance. Jesse was told that he should dance with girls of his own color. Since there weren't any in our elementary school, it was suggested that he wait until he got to junior high to practice dancing with girls. Poor kid.
When we got to junior high, there were only two black girls there. One was Jesse's cousin. The other girl was super fat and really quite ugly. But beyond that, she believed that just because Jesse was the only black boy and she the only black girl that he had to be her date. He passed on that idea, though, discovering that if he dated rich white girls, their parents accepted him. The rich people were more prejudiced against blue collar families than against black ones.