Growing up in the 1950's in the town of Minneapolis on the north side I never doubted how the world worked. There were only two seasons. Winters would bite you in your ass through the snow pants Mom made us wear. And in summer, heat and humidity melded into waving patterns from concrete sidewalks then dissipated into a cloudless blue water sky. Glenwood Lake was our refuge on those days if we could sneak out of the house. We were three among the hordes of chocolate colored children, sweat running down legs and arms glistening in the steaming sun climbing weathered barked elm trees, thick with crayon green colored green leaves. Building tree forts from discarded lumber or stealing it from the almost constructed houses on the street where wealthy Jewish families would live.
I never doubted that in the south and in the west colored people could be strung up like marionettes on branches of hanging trees. That's how the world worked. When we traveled to Grandma and Grandpa's house in California, Daddy carried his pistol under the driver's seat and we never stopped in the motels that flashed neon vacancy lights because I knew it wasn't vacant for us. We slept in the car, in the back seat, sharing with my brother. He had one end and me the other. Little sister slept in the back seat of the big black Dodge with silver fins, we called Black Beauty.
Tires hummed as we drove west on the ink black tar road of Route 66 with the white snake line dividing the two lane highway while I listened then dozed to the static of radio with strange voices as Mom switched from station to station. Giving up on the radio she would talk to Daddy to make sure he didn't fall asleep and kill us all, she told us. Daddy drove Black Beauty night and day. He didn't let us sightsee, get out and explore the dusty little towns with white people who stared at us as we zoomed by in our shiny midnight black car. At road side rest stations for what seemed minutes he'd sleep on tops of picnic tables with his plaid blanket and pillow borrowed from their marriage bed. We stopped at small municipal town parks off the highway to eat our picnic breakfast packed before we left with individual cold cereals in card board containers that split open in the center thrilled we didn't need to use cereal bowls. We picked our favorites, mine was Sugar Pops. There was milk, pop, fried chicken, bologna sandwiches, potato chips and our favorite Oreo cookies for lunch. If we were lucky one of the semi trucks would pull up next to us and the gigantic tires drew us like a magnet, looking at them with awe, wondering where you could find tires that big.
A nameless town near Salt Lake City Utah I saw my first white people only sign in the window of a drab rusty restaurant as we sped by in our shiny new car. I wish Daddy would've stopped. I wanted to examine that sign, touch it feel it. I wanted to tell the people inside that restaurant my Mom cooked better food packed for us in our car than what they could ever have in that drab rusty restaurant.
We came back from our California vacation ready to run with the children of the neighborhood, tell them of the earthquake that shook and broke all of the dinner dishes off the dining room table at my grandma's house. Run the rest of our summer vacation until the brisk air of fall would slow us down prepare us for the arctic blasts that would try to penetrate the layers of wool making our limbs stiff and awkward like an Egyptian mummy.
Debra Stone lives in Minnesota and is co-founder and co-facilitator of the Northside Writers Group in North Minneapolis, a community based writing group that has been meeting at Homewood Studios for ten years. Her poetry has been published in the chapbook, “Bringing Gifts, Bringing News, short stories published by Black Magnolia Literary Journal, Tidal Basin and is forthcoming in other literary journals. She has received residencies at the Vermont Studio Center, Intermedia Arts, Beyond the Pure, and Callaloo. In 2015 she was a finalist for the Minnesota based Loft Mentor Series in fiction. Debra was a past participant in 2011 participant in the Givens Foundation Black Writers Retreat. Debra is currently writing a collection of short stories. Some of her writing can be found at http://debrajstone.wordpress.com.