One Southerner who grew up during the Civil Rights Movement travels the slow …

| February 13, 2013 | 0 Comments

Linda Campany, a newcomer to southern Vermont, originally read this piece during the Local Voices program at Moore Free Library in Newfane. The program, which meets the last Wednesday of each month, welcomes readings of unpublished works by writers of poetry and fiction; all writers are welcome to read from their works for up to seven minutes. For more information, visit moorefreelibrary.wordpress.com.


Originally published in The Commons issue #190 (Wednesday, February 13, 2013).


Newfane

I wonder what I don’t see now.

Columbus, Miss., was my universe in those days before World War II. A small town of maybe 13,000, it was pretty much evenly split between black and white.

Columbus was home to the Pilgrimage, a tour of antebellum houses held early each April, when the place was alive with azaleas in bloom. Girls and women, dressed in hoop skirts for this occasion, displayed themselves on green lawns and shady porches.

Our Friendship Cemetery, with its gnarled magnolias, was one of the places where Memorial Day observances began, with the decoration of the graves of both the blue- and the gray-uniformed soldiers who had lost their lives nearby during The War Between the States.

I felt safe as the town lay between the Luxapalila and Tombigbee rivers, as I had been told that tornadoes don’t cross rivers.

On the surface, as in most of the Deep South, life was pleasant and quiet.

My parents and I lived on Third Avenue South, halfway between the gracious campus of Mississippi State College for Women with its huge old trees and traditions (where I attended nursery school, kindergarten, elementary school, and college), and downtown (where we did all our shopping, including groceries from Piggly Wiggly).

Both were 2{1/2} blocks from our apartment in a white frame house. We had a living room, kitchen, and one bedroom, which I shared with my parents, and a bathroom with a flush toilet.

* * *

Five blocks south, my nurse’s house, one in a cluster of unpainted dwellings, shared an outside faucet and an outhouse. I use “nurse” because that was the appellation, a shortened form of “nursemaid,” no doubt.

Cotton, to her friends and to me, was hired to take care of me, clean house, do laundry by hand, and cook, while my mama worked downtown as a bookkeeper at Loeb’s Department Store.

Cotton was a negress. No one had thought to use “black” or “African-American” then. This was less than 100 years after emancipation. She must have been very young when she first came. I don’t remember, and no one is alive today to tell me.

We had no cars. Mama walked to work, as did Cotton. We also walked to church. (My family was Baptist. Cotton was Methodist. We seldom missed a Sunday.)

In my first memory of her, it’s 1942. I am in first grade. We sit at the kitchen table. The back door is open. I can see the Partains’ house, where I play Monopoly sometimes, and the elm trees and the mimosa on the corner.

Cotton is teaching me to embroider a tablecloth as a gift for my mother. We cross-stitch green men in red sombreros, yellow clothes, black donkeys.

I don’t know where the money came from for the white cotton cloth with the design stamped on it. Money was hard to come by in Cotton’s family and in mine, too. When we finished the stitches, she took the cloth home to her “auntee” to hem and crochet a border.

* * *

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