The Colored Water Fountain: A Tale of Innocence

Vintage reads

 

For three months in 1961 while my father trained to fly the F-101 at Maxwell Air Force Base, I spent a portion of second grade in Montgomery, Alabama, a city that made international news with its race riots earlier in the year.

freedom-riders

Keep in mind I was a protected, naïve child of the North. I knew nothing of Martin Luther King, Jr., of civil rights marches, or even of any resentment that whites and blacks had for each other. Back then, the word, “African-American,” hadn’t yet been invented. Instead, the politically correct term in the northern states was “negro,” and the southern states held to the traditional “colored.”

Once Dad had finished his training and was assigned to a base in Niagara Falls, it was time to buy airline tickets to send us to our new destination. While waiting at the ticket counter—forever—in my seven-year-old mind, I spied two, side-by-side water fountains. Each sat under a label attached to the wall. WHITE and COLORED. Intriguing.

I approached them, not particularly thirsty. WHITE sounded boring. It must be regular water. They should’ve labeled it CLEAR. But COLORED. What would colored water look like? I skipped over to the colored fountain and turned the handle to find out.

elliott_erwitt_segregated_water_fountains_north_carolina_1255_67-water-fountains

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A shriek from the ticket counter pierced through the hubbub of the busy airport, stopping everyone in their tracks, including mine. “Little girl, little girl, get away from there!”

How many other little girls might be here? I hadn’t seen any.

Mom was at my side as I pivoted in search of her. “Linda. You can read. Why did you go to the colored fountain?”

Why was I in trouble? Why had a stranger screamed at me? My lip started to tremble. “I wanted to see the rainbow water.”

A negro lady close to me in the crowd that had gathered, smothered a giggle. Mom smiled. Taking my hand, she led me back to the counter. After explaining what had happened, my dad laughed out loud. The ticket lady didn’t think it was funny.

While Daddy finished the transaction, Mom gave me my first lesson in race relations as they existed in our country. “Linda, we’ve been in Alabama for a few months, now. Didn’t you notice the negroes are called ‘coloreds’ here?”

I shook my head. I had never paid attention to anything except my home and my classroom.

Mom sighed. “Down here everything is separate for negroes and whites. So we’re supposed to use the white water fountain, and they use the colored fountain.”

It didn’t make sense to me that people had to use different water fountains because their skin color was different, but I didn’t question it. Besides, I was more upset that the colored water didn’t look any different from the white water.

At seven, kids accept what is, even when they know it’s not fair. Give them another five years. They’ll either perpetuate the mores of their culture, or they’ll rebel and work to create something new.

You’re certainly welcome to comment on the personal story I’ve shared with you, but my purpose is to set you up for the next time I post. I want to share three books that portray the prejudice within our American heritage, then move on to the prejudice tearing apart our country today. How can we heal the rift?

rift

Dave Burnell, Creative Commons

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To 13-Year-Old Me

I see you’re feeling pretty sorry for yourself. You think it’s the worst year of your life, and I don’t blame you. You’ve taken some awfully hard punches in 1968. It’ll be another four decades before life knocks you to the mats, and you’re almost down for the count.

Let me assure you. You and Jesus make it through the eighth grade. He never leaves your side. But if you could know now, what I know from the future, the next couple years could be a little easier. Here’s what I’ve learned.

credit to chaoticsoulzzz.wordpress.com

credit to chaoticsoulzzz.wordpress.com

  1. Forget boys. Really. They’ll still be around in a few years, and you’ll be a lot better able to handle whatever they throw at you, be it a baseball or a slick slide from your waist up and across your chest. Invest in a couple of good girlfriends instead. If you have to choose between a heart-fluttering jaunt around the bay with Surfer Joe or keeping your girls’ day out date with Laurie Lee, stick with Laurie. She’ll be there long after Joe motors off into the sunset with someone else. shutterstock_119402656-480x320
  2. Forget the In Group. I know you think they’re your ticket to a great social life, but you don’t even like big parties. You hate to talk about the latest fashions, the coolest rock stars. Why do you want that kind of social life? Could it be the boys? See Lesson #1.

    publicdomainpictures.net

    publicdomainpictures.net

At least, you figure some things out by senior year in high school, and you enjoy choosing some good friends. I’m telling you: you could have had that blessing a lot sooner.

  1. Use the talents God gave you. Now. You don’t have to wait until after college and make one of your gifts a career. People have started to tell you that you have a great singing voice. You’ve even sung solos. Enjoy those times. Work at getting even better.

    hsdiploma.com

    hsdiploma.com

You’ve known you wanted to be a teacher since you were four. What about helping out with the nursery class at Sunday school? Or, here’s a daring thought. What if you offered babysitting services to the unwed mother down block? Teen moms must be even lonelier than you.

You know how you enjoy writing? Surprise! You publish several magazine articles during years when you’re not teaching. And after you retire? You write FULL TIME. How cool is that?

  1. Kick self-pity out of your life. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Your dad’s at war, your sister’s in and out of doctors’ offices, your mom needs your support, and your friends faded into nonexistence just because you moved away for four months. Will it help to learn your dad survives, your sister grows up to be a teacher just like you, your mom was a lot stronger than you gave her credit for, and new people were quite willing to be your friend? But you blew it. The self-pity blinded you. So don’t blow it.

    hdwalls.xyz

    hdwalls.xyz

You asked Jesus into your life when you were ten, and your current Sunday School teacher makes a lot of sense as he shares his faith in class. Listen to him, and copy him.  If you’re looking at Jesus instead of your poor little self, YOU WILL HAVE JOY!

  1. This is a question, not a lesson learned. While you have a great sense of rhythm, a nice smile, and a voice that projects across the basketball court, you are one of the most uncoordinated people I know. Do you really want to be a cheerleader in high school, or do you just hope Quarterback Kevin will notice you?  See Lesson #1. Again.13 yr Linda

A Baseball Mom and the Mudville Nine

 

My initiation into the world of sports began thirty-three years ago when my oldest son ventured into the world of t-ball. As each brother reached the grand old age of four, he joined the ranks of youth baseball teams. I have no better memories than those balmy evenings in June bruising my behind on bleachers and cheering my little boys to victory.

Tee_ball_player_swinging_at_ball_on_tee_2010

With spring’s arrival, we leapt into all things baseball. Visiting the baseball card shop. Practices. Washing uniforms. Games. Washing uniforms. Concessions. I even sold an article to a magazine extolling the agony and the ecstasy of a six-inning Little League game!

We instituted baseball traditions at home. The season opened with our favorite videos. Major League, Major League 2, The Sandlot, and my husband rediscovered his childhood favorite, It Happens Every Spring. Other baseball movies rotated in and out, but those four were the staples of our viewing diet. To gain relief from hotdogs and nacho dinners fresh from the concession stand, I could be counted on to bring the boys’ favorites of tuna macaroni salad or ham and cheese sub sandwiches to their games. By the time, the youngest was in high school, those subs had won the distinction of a home run meal for the team between doubleheaders.

hs batter

Years passed. The oldest boy dropped baseball to create a successful high school sports career in swimming. The next son earned a college baseball scholarship but declined the money once he realized baseball practice and travel to games plus premed courses and biology labs equaled not enough time to succeed in either endeavor.

With one child left in baseball, I cherished every inning. He did not disappoint. We were able to attend games through all of his college years. Even better, he coaches his own high school team now. My husband will travel out of state to visit him later this month to attend their tournament. I’m jealous.

My boys will tell you that I never truly learned baseball lingo (“It’s not a hit, Mom. He only made contact with the ball.”). I don’t mind the teasing. Even though the words rarely come out of my mouth correctly, I’ve learned a lot more about baseball and life raising my sons than the years my parents dragged me to my brothers’ games.

PleaseGodpleaseGodpleaseGod, don’t let him strike out. PleaseGodpleaseGodpleaseGod, help him to pitch over the plate. Not every one of those prayers was answered with a yes from the Almighty. Through God’s grace, this mom and her kids learned how to handle the success of RBIs and sacrifice bunts, as well as how to endure the humiliation of fielding errors and hitting the batter.

casey at the bat

All of this to say: my favorite sports-oriented poem is “Casey at the Bat.”  As literature, I enjoy the rhythms of the poem. As a baseball aficionado, I appreciate the details of the game. As a Christian, I love the spiritual lesson. If you’ve read it, you know the moral of the story.  If you haven’t, read it! Then comment and let me know what the life lesson is.

WONDER — The Spark of Truth

I’ve been working on a memoir of my sister and me covering the first five years of her life. Struggling with author voice and the art of stringing events together in a cohesive fashion, fellow Scriblerian TJ Akers suggested I read Wonder.

Wonder-by-RJ-Palacio-e1387718254694
Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, is a novel, but it reads like a memoir. In both my story and Palacio’s, the subject matter focuses on growing up in a family where one of the siblings has special needs. My sister overcame several physical handicaps. In Wonder, Auggie must tolerate people’s reactions to his facial disfigurements, and he must have the fortitude to become vulnerable to others if they are to ever know the soul behind the face.

 

 
Published in 2012, Wonder has already been noted as a modern classic, and I can see why. Classic literature takes readers beyond a good story, rich in emotion. It takes us deeper into the meaning of life. Secular or Christian, it doesn’t matter. Humans are made in God’s image, and all of us have been created with kindling in our hearts that bursts into flame at a touch from the spark of truth.

spark to kindling
Palacio’s writing style in displaying Auggie’s courage and honesty is such a spark. She has accomplished what I’m aiming for. I want my sister’s perseverance and spritely spirit to set hearts on fire.

 

 
Many of the books I review here at The Scriblerians fall into the “classics” category. Which children’s books have you read that sparked fire in your heart?

Jeri Massi

As most of you realize by now, I’m a great fan of Jeri Massi’s novels for tweens having posted two book reviews: Derwood, Inc. a year ago, and Hall of Heroes earlier this week. Jeri graciously agreed to an interview. After all, how could any author resist my enthusiasm?

Hall of Heroes

 

Whenever possible, the Scriblerians invite our honored authors to “sign” our slam book.

Nickname (in childhood or now or both): Jeriwho

Genre: I prefer to write fantasy and SF but rarely get a chance to do so. I’ve written across many different genres: Westerns, mysteries, adventures, historical, fantasy, SF, etc.

Favorite scripture: Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.

Isaiah 53:10-11

Favorite quotation: All warfare is based on deception. – Sun Tzu

In high school, I was… loud, and tall.

 

 

Jeri blog
Jeri, welcome to the Scriblerians.
Thank you, Linda. It’s an honor.

 

 
As you know, I love your Peabody Kids series, especially the first book, Derwood, Inc. The humor is timeless. In fact, I recently spoke with a fifth grade teacher who still uses Derwood in her classroom. She shared with me that the book is her kids’ favorite choice in the curriculum. How have you updated your characters since the Derwood Series was published about – what – 30 years ago?
If a character works in a story, he or she should never need to be updated. Jack will always be the charming leader, and Penny the loyal companion. Scruggs will always be the person in transition. Humor and mysteries alike tend to be built on certain familiar character types, so while their clothing or jargon may change over time, they remain essentially the same whatever the time setting of the story. We see the same characters clearly in Hall of Heroes, which is an exact mirror of the characters from Derwood, Inc.

 

 
While Derwood was fun and adventurous with lessons for the Peabody Kids in each book, Hall of Heroes strikes deep. I took in such themes as: “Love God and enjoy Him forever,” and “Heaven completes our creation.” Have I nailed it, or would you add another theme dear to your heart.
“The Christian life is built on humility.” The humor of the story is built on the fact that the “good guys” think they are always going to be victorious, just because they are the good guys. They’re actually pretty arrogant and full of themselves. In short order, the bullies overthrow them and steal their club house. There is a thematic link to Martha Jenkins, who has done so much good in her life, but is facing certain death while still too young for it. Both groups have to accept their lot with humility. Jean herself notices that Digger seems much more heroic when he is helping around the house for Martha. He fulfills the role of a manly Christian effortlessly when he forgets about acting like a hero and simply offers his work to a suffering person.

 

 
Many of the readers of the Scriblerians blog are also writers, so I’d like to ask questions in relation to how you write your novels. Do you consider yourself a plotter or a pantser? When I think of Derwood, Inc. I assume it had a bare skeleton which you fleshed out with twists and turns that might have surprised you as you were writing. But did Hall of Heroes need a stricter outline?
All of my stories are outlined. I always think of the plot first, then complete it in outline form, and then start writing. If I decide to throw in a new twist, I usually outline it into the main outline.

 

 
While you had several comical moments with the villains in the story, the mature spiritual issues caused my chuckles to subside as I contemplated eternity and how God sees our mission on earth. When your readers finish the last sentence of the book, what do you want them to come away with?
Well, first, that nothing is as it seems. Martha Jenkins had a lot to offer, but she was pretty much ignored by her church. And nobody meant to be unkind to her; they just didn’t look hard enough to realize their Christian duty towards her. The real Hall of Heroes meets in Martha’s living room, three overlooked people who love each other and have fellowship in the face of a great tragedy. Christianity today is blinded by grandeur, and that’s a horrible blindness. We will find the power and the fellowship of Jesus Christ with the least of His brethren, always.

Second, we all die, and yet we all must live. Digger’s joy over regaining the club house is not misplaced. Martha herself had a full life until close to the end. We ought to live joyfully and make our boast in God, and we ought to approach death with humility and willingness to go where He leads us, even there.

 

 
I always enjoy teen and tween fiction when the main characters have GOOD parents, intact families with Mom and Dad loving each other and watching out for their children. Jean experiences growth as she makes her own decisions, and her wisdom comes from the example of her parents. Am I in the minority of adult readers today, or do you find the reading public does want wholesome material for their children?

I think the best readers want the truth, whether that truth is couched in a conventional story with a home and a hearth, or whether it’s couched in science fiction, or fantasy, or talking animals, etc. The reality is that many children do lose one parent, or both parents, and so fiction should also reach out to them. I have given up on figuring out what most readers want. I write what I believe makes a good story. I assume that if it keeps me and my spot readers entertained, it ought to entertain others.

Jeri Massi

Jeri and Ben

 

Want to know more about Jeri Massi? Read her Blog on the Way (www.jeriwho.net), follow her on Twitter (@jeriwho), or like her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/jerimassi).

Hall of Heroes

Hall of Heroes

Just over a year ago, I posted a review about Jeri Massi’s Peabody Kids Series, in particular, Derwood, Inc., my favorite title to teach in fifth grade reading classes. I recently found out she has a new book – also set in Peabody, Wisconsin – Hall of Heroes. While she employs a style of humor similar to Derwood, Massi’s latest title goes far deeper than the surface plot of a club of middle-schoolers battling a new gang of bullies.

The ongoing war of pranks between the two groups keeps the mood light even when the gang manages to steal the the Hall of Heroes’ clubhouse, a broken-down old shed. The club members  lose more battles than they win, but “right is on their side,” and they press on toward victory.

dilapidated-wooden-shack

publicdomainpictures.net. photo by Karen Arnold

Meanwhile, Jean, the youngest member of the Hall of Heroes, experiences a serious adventure of her own. She volunteers to help Martha Harris, a reclusive lady in her church. What begins as a do-gooder project grows into a beautiful relationship, and Martha teaches her what it means to be a real hero.

Jeri Massi is able to communicate Biblical truths on a kid’s level of understanding. As Christians, we all know we ought to love God. Massi starts with this taken-for-granted cliché and guides her readers to a clear understanding that loving God brings the beautiful experience of enjoying Him forever.

enjoy God forever

Jeri isn’t content with the standard “Heaven is a beautiful place where Christians go to live after they die.” No, heaven is much, much more. Not only is its beauty incomparable to anything on earth, heaven completes us as creatures made in God’s image.

Jeri Massi has continued to write nonfiction over the years, but I believe this is her first new fiction title since the 1980’s. I love it when a favorite author creates new work, especially after a long hiatus. Welcome back to the world of novels, Jeri!

The Hero Stands

shelob

credit to periannath.com

 

Nothing rings epic like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy. While I am not a fan who follows every bit of trivia regarding the movies or the books, particular scenes thrill me. One is the battle in the spider’s lair. Frodo the Hobbit lies helpless, wrapped in a cocoon of spider silk. Sam, his friend who sticks closer than a brother, defends him from the spider with light and sword. Bruised and exhausted, Sam does not give up, but presses the fight until he wounds the evil arachnid badly enough to force her retreat. Sam is willing to give his life for his friend. He refuses to desert Frodo even as Frodo is driven toward madness in his the obsession with the ring.

frodo and sam

art by Josi Fabri

Although Frodo is the main character given the responsibility to destroy the ring, Sam is the true hero. In spite of all the magnificent battles and the courage displayed by elves, dwarfs, mythical creatures, and men, Sam loves Frodo and will not turn back, will not abandon him to failure. He can’t force Frodo to give up the ring, but he remains nearby pleading for him to do the right thing.

Ephesians 6:13 tells the Christian soldier to put on the whole armor of God in order to withstand evil, and when you have done everything you can, you stand. Do not retreat. Do not give up. Sam exemplified that soldier. He did everything he could, he refused to retreat, refused to give up. He stood at his friend’s side, and he faced evil even when he was helpless to stop it.

spiritual-warfare 2

credit to nightshade130.wordpress.com

Am I as faithful to my friends? Do I hold up the light of Christ as I pray for a friend who has turned away from truth and has been captivated by the world? Do I wield my sword of the Spirit to battle evil that would dare touch someone I love? Do I exhaust myself in defending him? Do I remain at her side no matter what? Regardless of my friend’s decisions, have I done everything possible to plant my feet and face the Enemy? Oh, may I, like Sam the Hobbit, be the hero in service to Christ!