The Kimbilio Blog inaugurates a new feature: Excerpts from new books by our Fellows and Faculty.
In October of 1994, while my mom attended a funeral, I spent time with my grandmother at the Wash Tub Laundry on Fifth Street in Hartsville. I had wanted to be outside riding bikes with my cousins instead of watching daytime soap operas on ceiling mounted televisions. My grandmother removed a load from one of the large dryers and dropped the warm clothes into a rolling laundry cart. She pushed the cart over to a clear table and ordered me to help her fold. While we worked she tried to explain the plotlines on the Young and the Restless.
“You see him, with the mustache?” she said raising her chin in the direction of the nearest screen. “That’s Victor Newman. He’s a handsome white man. Him and Chuck Norris on Walker, Texas Ranger.”
I ran a finger over my smooth upper lip.
During commercial breaks, advertisements for the nightly news played clips of Susan Smith crying for the return of her children, “I just can’t express it enough, we just got to get them home. That’s just where they belong, with their momma and their daddy.”
I didn’t understand why I couldn’t play outdoors or how my freedom related to two missing children I had never met. I pleaded with my grandmother to let me leave the laundry mat. Again, she said no.
“It’s not safe for black boys to be riding around until they catch the man that took that white woman’s children or she confesses to having taken those kids out herself.”
“But I’m nine, Old Lady.”
“You think they care? Shit. They were putting children younger than you on slave ships. Ask your daddy, he’s from Ghana.”
“That was a long time ago.”
She stopped folding to remove a crumpled paper towel from the pocket of her ratty stretch pants. She pulled the Winston butt from her lips, tucked the cigarette and its fading embers into the wrinkled napkin and crushed it in her fist. A final wisp of smoke rose from between her fingers.
She leaned close to whisper to me, “It was only two decades ago, right down the road in Lamar, a hundred white folks showed up at a schoolhouse and turned over a bus full of black children. They didn’t care if they were kids. Black is black. Not a one of those people saw any real time in jail. They’re still out here, walking around. They never went anywhere, they still own everything, and who knows what they’ve raised their children to believe. They’ll treat you like a dog. Shit, a dog’s life may mean more to them.”
The Old Lady reached for the lighter and Winstons she kept in the breast pocket of her jean jacket. She lit a new cigarette, breathed deep and continued folding.
“White people get funny when they think their women are under attack. You ever hear of Rosewood?”
“No, Old Lady.”
“Cause they don’t want you to know. A town in Florida made up of freed slaves. One white girl claims a black man hurt her and the town is burned to the ground, people are hanged all strange fruit. They’re serious about their women.”
We continued folding in silence. We finished as the saxophone squeals of The Bold and The Beautiful theme song filled the laundry mat. I didn’t bother asking to go outside again