The Summer of 1968 was miserably hot and humid just like it was every summer growing up in Alabama. But, Summer of ’68, I remember that one well. Mother didn’t make me wait til June to go barefoot. Since the temperature was warm on Easter of that year, she let me kick off my shoes after family pictures. Dr. Martin Luther King had been killed on April the 4th. I was sad because Loey, Lois Mae, my grandmother’s maid told me a man had shot him outside of his motel room. The day after Dr. King died I knew something was different. That day we took Loey home just like we did every day. We always drove right up to her house. Loey told my Nana, “Stop right here, Mrs. Brewer. You don’t need to go all the way over to my part of town. It ain’t safe for you. Just let me get out here and walk the rest of the way.” Her large dark eyes were fixed and determined; they were sad and concerned. I don’t remember Loey getting out of the car that day, and I don’t remember driving to her house. Time just stopped. How could a man stand there in front of the big window to his motel room holding onto the railing just get killed? How many times had my daddy driven our car up to the spot in front our room and gotten out and walked up the stairs? Would they kill my daddy? Loey told me not to worry that Dr. King was trying to help her people and my people didn’t like it. I didn’t know we had different people.
Before school ended we played in my grandparent’s yard playing freeze tag and feeling the cool grass under our feet. Mr. Rogers, a man who worked for my paw paw, lived with his mother, Grannie Rogers, near my grandparents home. They weren’t related to us, but she was always Grannie Rogers to us. Paw Paw took care of Mr. Rogers. Let him work when he was able. When he wasn’t drunk. I didn’t know what drunk meant, but I did know it wasn’t good. I knew he stunk like overripe food and sweat. I didn’t know that was the alcoholic smell of beer seeping out of his pores. Grannie Rogers would spit into a metal vase. It looked like something that should hold flowers. I didn’t know any women who spit, so I would visit Grannie Rogers because she looked like a gnarled up witch spitting her special powers into her magic vessel. My family did not look down upon Mr. Rogers or Grannie Rogers. My grandparents were benevolent people who were always helping others. I just thought they needed us. I didn’t get too close for fear that she would cast some spell on me. I had a morbid fascination with both of them. I was taught that ladies sat up straight and didn’t spit unless it was the bathroom sink when you were brushing your teeth.
The Rogers lived next door to a family I don’t remember who they were, but they had a son a few years older than me. I was over there one day the beginning of the summer, and he took my hand and put it on top of his jeans where I knew I didn’t want to be touching. I jumped up and took my hand away. I wasn’t even afraid. I remember thinking what an idiot to think I would want to do that. I never told anyone, and I never went back.
June came, and my family and I went across the bay to my grandparent’s beach house in Bear Point, Alabama. Bear Point was the setting for the idyllic childhood unless you are a precocious 6-year-old aware of the unrest around you. I played with my cousins and aunts who were close to my age. We sang songs. This was the summer at Bear Point that my first brush with addiction surfaced. We always had snacks in the summer. We didn’t snack a lot during the school year, but in the summer we were allowed to snack. I loved dill pickles. I remember walking down to the beach and sharing a jar of pickles with my aunts. I ate one and then another. I picked up another one, and my aunt said, “if you eat another one, you’re gonna get sick” I ate it anyway. I got sick.
We all went down to the pier to jump and swim. One of our friends did a back dive off the pier and came back up. Her face was bleeding, and we had to call an ambulance. Her face had brushed the post of the pier, and the barnacles lacerated her face. There was lots of chaos and screaming. I never got near the barnacles after that.
The Vietnam war was in full swing, and every night we said our prayers. We always prayed for the boys overseas and asked God to bring them back home safely. We had family and friends who were fighting in the war. Parents all around me were worried about their sons.
The Easter season was supposed to be about hope and the summer about bare feet and the beach. Fathers were not supposed to be dying. People shouldn’t have been killing people who were different. Old ladies were not supposed to be frightening children. Young men should not have been preying on little girls. Soldiers needed to come home safely. Bear Point was not about blood and ambulances. I should have learned that one more is too many.