View Full Version : Southern Shade

May 15th, 2012, 03:23 AM

In 1956, across the winter/spring semester of sixth grade, I would celebrate
my twelfth birthday. While that fact alone was hardly Grit newspaper fodder,
some of what I encountered during the period might draw interest from those
who have sunk into depression lower than whale poop, risen to greater heights
than Hillary on Everest, or felt more disgraced than the Chicago Tribune’s editors
after the “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline – all while rarely straying more than
five blocks from their own front door. One need not be a world traveler to travel
the world – of emotions.

I was a flighty innocent, on the cusp of puberty, living in what should
have been an ideal age for making that sometimes difficult transition from
preadolescence into pubescence as simple as possible. I was perfectly happy in
the deepest sense of the word, but was often at odds with myself over little things
that seemed important at the time. My weightiest problems stemmed from an
inability to harness my out-of-control tongue. “Think before you speak” was an
axiom I had not yet latched onto.

Scarecrow, a character in my favorite book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,
became my inspiration. Being absent a brain seemed preferable to having one
stuck in malfunction mode. At the very least, brainlessness provided a handy
excuse for my frequent oral bloopers. My older sister, Irene, defined perfection
in everything that mattered – beauty, scholarship, and personality, making my
average grades and less than stunning appearance seem all the more lacking.
Nevertheless, and without the flimsiest evidence to substantiate my belief,
I felt certain my time was coming – that I would become like Irene, or, as close
as I could get, given my limited resources. Physical beauty was a stretch. My
becoming an honor student was an even greater stretch. But, a winning personality
was within my reach. I was determined to open my ears, close my mouth, and
develop a brain to make Scarecrow proud. Incorporating those simple acts into
my daily life was a much taller order than I could have imagined.


Village Creek, forty feet wide in spots, coiled its way through our West
End community of Birmingham, Alabama. Beyond the creek were three sets
of railroad tracks. Across the tracks was a black neighborhood. In some ways, I
suppose those tracks might well have been forty miles across.

My two brothers, along with some friends, occasionally made the slippery
voyage across Village Creek, hopping from one wobbly stone to the next, trying
to avoid waterlogged sneakers. Usually, they crossed for one purpose – to engage
in rock battles, and rocks of an ideal size and weight for throwing were plentiful
along the tracks. Had true anger been at work, they probably would not have had
an unspoken understanding that only one rock at a time could be airborne. Even
though no one broke that rule, the day came when a small, black kid was struck
in the head, causing an immediate cease-fire, for that was not meant to happen.

Following a brief hesitation, everyone rushed to the fallen child, except for a
couple of white boys, including the one who had launched the wayward stone.
Those two lit out across the creek in a full sprint, making no effort to stone-hop.
When the youngster sat up, looking dazed, one of my brothers told him to
count backward from a hundred to “check his thinking cap.” He said he wasn’t
but six and the only way he knew to reach a hundred was by going forward in
tens. Without hesitation, he did so.

“Ten-twenty-thirty-forty-fifty-sixty-seventy-eighty-ninety and one hundred.
Tar baby. Here come Petey!” Everyone agreed; despite the rising knot on his
forehead, Petey seemed none the worse for wear. After tossing around a few
ideas, the boys concocted what they considered the perfect alibi to account for
the child’s misfortune, a tall tale having nothing to do with rock battles.

The boys sent Petey home and quickly rehearsed their plan. Presently, Petey’s
mother emerged from the stand of trees bordering the tracks and demanded an
explanation for her son’s injury. Though the boys scoured the area in earnest,
some resorting to getting on their hands and knees, no one was able to produce
the piece of fallen meteorite that had supposedly done the damage. With sad
faces all around, a permanent truce was declared. For many years thereafter, no
boys – black or white – ventured across the natural border.

Aside from my parents employees, I had little contact with “colored” folks.
The television show, Amos ‘n Andy, was my gateway to the black community, but
kid’s were seldom featured on the program. I often wondered what life was like
for the children across Village Creek. Nevertheless, I had more than a gracious
plenty to deal with on my own side of that border.


“Dannie Jean Beechworth, I declare!” From my mother’s tone, I knew she
was about to engage me in another of her one-sided conversations. No way could
she see me at the back door, not from her position behind the kitchen sink. But,
Dad said she had eyes in the back of her head, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to
assume she could also see around corners.

“Be sure to wipe your filthy feet before you come traipsing into my kitchen.
Out running all over creation through dog poop and Lord knows what all else.
I’ll swanee, young’un, I don’t know what to think about you sometimes. Better
yet, now that I am thinking about it, take off your tennie shoes and drop ‘em on
the side of the steps. I’m settin’ up some new rules. We’re gonna start doin’ like
them Chinese people. They take their shoes off ever’ time before they go inside
their houses, uhhh, believe they call ‘em ‘haciendas.’ Wonder how come nobody
else does that. It’s a rilly great idea… don’t ever have to worry about moppin’ up
tracks. I’ve also heard tell they don’t have dog poop in their yards either, because…
well, just never you mind about that right now.

“The point is, I don’t wanna hafta be cleanin’ up ever’ time I turn around.
You’re old enough to pitch in on more of the heavy work, just like your sister, Irene.
What’re you, eleven now, baby?” My mother, known to her brood as “Mama,”
had a curious habit of sprinkling endearments amidst a tirade.

“Yes’m. Eleven years, three months, and two weeks,” I said, while untying
my shoe laces.

“Bless my soul, with six of you kids, it’s nearly ‘bout impossible to keep
track. Anyhow, I was down on my knees scrubbin’ floors and wipin’ walls at
half your age. By the way, sweetie, I need you to go round up your brothers and
sisters. They’re pro’bly scattered out from Village Creek to Hobbses Drugstore,
and I’m not gon’ be able to call ‘em home today. Blistered a whistle finger on
that hot coffee pot this mornin’. Supper’s gon' be ready in about an hour and I
don’t want y’all comin’ in here lookin’ and smellin’ like little guttersnipes. Your
Daddy’ll be home in a little bit, and he just might tan all y’alls hides.”

Anyone happening through our well-traveled back alley might have taken
Mama’s warnings seriously, but I was used to her periodic rants, which were,
typically, all bark. Even so, it was best to let her speak until the well ran dry, once
she got going. And, listening closely was a must, for she would often follow up
with a pop quiz. Her bark could get a little toothy if she caught us daydreaming
during her lectures. Dad hardly ever raised a hand to any of his children, and
certainly not over trifles. We had to make an intentional step beyond the invisible
line of doom before Dad’s warning turned into a warming – of our breeches. But,
that didn’t prevent Mama from treating Dad’s imminent arrival as a potential
health hazard. More often than not, it worked.

Mama continued, “Now... you been listening to me, Dannie Jean? What’s
a Chinese house called, hmmm?”

“I don’t rightly know, Mama, but it sure ain’t ‘hacienda.’ Them’s houses up
in Mexico. I learned that in jog’raphy class last semester.” I was re-shoed, ready
to begin the roundup, but I knew, as soon as it left my mouth, how my remark
sounded. I held my breath, fingers crossed. If Mama thought I was getting smart
with her, she could return to the warpath. Luckily, I was soon able to exhale.

Measuring her words, Mama said, “Well, I’ll sewanee. Okay, then. But, uhhh,
Mexico’s not up, baby. It’s down... down south. Go on, now. Scoot!”

May 15th, 2012, 09:09 AM
This manner of writing seems so last century.. XD I don't know if you aimed for this feeling - but as I read it I saw an English teen boy with shorts and you, the writer - being 80 or.. more than 100 years old. I think it's good, unusual for modern writers.
Not exactly what I was expecting to see under the humor category and not really in my taste - but the writing is good, my father would enjoy, if he read it. :3

May 15th, 2012, 01:33 PM
Actually, tshuki, the setting IS last century - 1955/1956 to be exact, in Alabama. The humor is mostly situational. The protagonist is an 11-year-old girl.Thank you very much for posting. I appreciate it.