Happy 60th To Kill A Mockingbird
Growing up, I often rode with my mother while she did her errands. She’d drive up Avent Ferry Road, and come out on Western Boulevard. Those from Raleigh will recognize the names of these streets. One time we pulled out onto Western Boulevard, probably going to the A&P store, and as usual, I sat in the front, gazing out the window. There was the “cow college,” the big silos, the sheep in the field near the Reserves.
A car came up alongside us and I saw an elderly white woman riding in the back seat and on either side of her were two black men. A black man drove, and there was another in the passenger seat. I hadn’t seen a lot of black people in the six years or so I’d been on Earth, only Mr. Blackwell who sometimes did odd jobs here and there for my Dad.
“Why’s there’s a white lady riding in that car with them black men?”
“Hush, Donna. Don’t look over there. Sit back.”
My mother didn’t even spare a look when I asked my question. Her hands were ten o’clock, two o’clock. Eyes pinned to the front windshield. I looked anyway. In seconds the car had surged passed us, but I’d noticed how the woman in the other car looked neither left or right, either. Her own eyes were also pinned straight ahead. Nobody talked that I could tell. No lips moving. No smiling. Nothing. All five of those people acted like crash test dummies out for a ride.
I grew up in a household that didn’t discuss topics like racial tension or politics, and if we think the world is on fire now, it was certainly like that back in the 60s too. What my parents always seemed to discuss were the prices of things at the store, and how they were going to pay the bills.
When I was in 5th grade, a young black boy joined our classroom. His name was Ricky, and he was the first black child I’d ever been around. I liked Ricky. He was funny, wore starched shirts, and was double-jointed in his knees. (He could keep one foot planted and turn his body until that foot was backward. I asked him to do it all the time) One day, the class was coming in from the playground, and the boys were roughhousing, and pushing as always. Someone suddenly blurted out the “n” word and the whole atmosphere changed. Every student froze, and looked at Ricky. He’d been happily involved in the play, and suddenly, it was like each one of us had walked up to him and smacked him in the face. He leaned against the wall, and wouldn’t look directly at anyone anymore. It was like his insides had been sucked out, his spirit gone.
Our teacher had us file into the room, and then she sent Ricky out, to do something for her. We all received a collective tongue lashing. I’d never heard the word before, but it’s like knowing a cuss word, even when you’ve never heard one of those, as a kid, you know an ugly word when you hear it.
I think about these experiences and more as I watch all that’s been going on in our world today. With this in mind, I thought I’d share one thing we can all get together on and celebrate. On this very day, sixty years ago, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD was published.
The world is still complicated, Scout.