You see, when I was five or six years old, growing up in Georgia in the late 60’s and early 70’s, a black family moved into my neighborhood. A couple of neighbors actually circulated a petition to try to block their move. My parents didn’t sign.
The Etheridges had a daughter my age and before long, we were best friends. We often checked to see who was having what for dinner and planned our invite strategy accordingly. We made pine straw huts and played with Light Bright and Spirograph. Sleepovers were the norm.
Our parents played pinochle together. Our families celebrated Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve.
One night I remember being at the Etheridge’s house and watching “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” I cried that night too. I climbed up in Mrs. Etheridge’s lap and wept at the ugliness of racism. And she comforted me.
One hot summer day, my mom loaded us kids up in the car to go to Misty Waters, a public swimming pool in Augusta. As we were leaving Jeanine’s house, Mom asked Mrs. Etheridge if she had any suntan lotion (these were the days long before sunscreen) that we could borrow. Mrs. Etheridge replied,
“Cleo, we don’t need any suntan lotion!” and we all laughed.
Once we got to Misty Waters, we unpacked our towels and got ready to take a dip to beat the heat. It was then that it happened. Someone came over to my mom and explained that Jeanine would have to leave. She couldn’t stay because she was “colored.”
I don’t recall how Mom explained it to Jeanine. I never heard the conversation that occurred in the car. We stayed at the pool while they went to the store. Mom bought Jeanine some blow pops before taking her home. My guess is – Mom was at a loss for words and blow pops were her attempt at making things right.
Jeanine is now a guidance counselor who retells the story to students at her school. I’m sure her recollection is much more powerful because it’s her story, her experience with discrimination.
Tonight, when I heard Obama was elected I thought of Jeanine and Mrs. Etheridge. And I cried. I haven’t seen them since my mom’s funeral nearly two years ago. I have no idea how they voted, and the truth is, it doesn’t matter.
I woke up our children and gave them the chance to watch Obama’s speech. Three of the four chose to forego sleep in favor of watching his acceptance. As we watched, I cried more.
Thankfully, our children won’t have the same experiences.
Maybe that’s why I want them to remember Miss Jane Pittman, my friend Jeanine and Mrs. Etheridge, the lady who was like a second mother to me. And I want them to remember how things can change. Even things as ugly as discrimination and racism.
What will you remember about this election? And if you have children, what do you want them to remember?
Creative Commons photo on Flickr.