My grandfather Kingsbury was in Thailand and Indonesia for all of my sixth year so I do not have the benefit of his recollections of what I was like at this time. My parents were separated for 2 ½ years so for all of my sixth year my mother and I lived with Nana, Buck and Kenny at 103 East 33rd Street on the south side of Richmond. I think Nana’s mother Nanny may have also lived with us too.
I had a friend named Debbie Ligon who lived at the other end of the street. It seemed like such a long walk to get to her house but when I’ve been back recently I see that it really wasn’t that far. (And the houses seem so much smaller than I remember them!) We played with Barbie dolls and I remember that she moved away before I did. We visited each other on weekends until about fourth grade and then we drifted apart. I have a vague recollection of going to Catholic mass with Debbie and being intrigued by the formality of the service – the candles, the kneeling, the Latin, and feeling excluded because I couldn’t take communion since I wasn’t Catholic. I think this must be a memory from when I was older.
My family did not attend church but they were happy for me to go with friends and neighbors and I must have wanted to go because I remember attending Friendship Baptist Church on a fairly regular basis. I can picture the Sunday school rooms and the stained glass windows in the sanctuary, but I don’t recall who took me to church.
It was some time during my first year in Richmond that we found a stray dog. The dog’s owner was offering a reward for its return. The owner lived a few blocks away so one afternoon when my older cousins Emmett and Stuart were visiting, Nana agreed we could return the dog. It was probably only a two block walk and when we got there the man gave the reward money to Emmett since he was the oldest. He was probably 9 or 10 at the time.
On the walk home, Emmett and Stuart began taunting me – “We’re not going to buy you any ice cream.” Before long even Kenny joined in and it was three against one – boys against girl.
“Hey – wait a minute – you didn’t even find the dog, why do you think you should get any of the reward money in the first place,” I remember thinking. (I had a highly developed sense of fairness at an early age or rather, intolerance for UNFAIRNESS!)
The taunting continued and I was really angry. So I said, “Well if you’re not going to buy me any ice cream, I’m not going to walk home with you.” (As if they cared!) So I set off in a different direction, thinking that they would get in trouble when they got home without me. After all, wasn’t that the whole reason I had to wait until they were visiting to return the dog – weren’t they supposed to be looking out for me?
The logic of my indignant 5 year old self didn’t align very well with that of my frantic grandmother who knew that a little girl had recently been molested in the neighborhood. I don’t think it took me all that long to get home but it was long enough for Nana to get very scared and very angry (at me) – NOT what I was expecting. When she met me walking down the street toward home, she began spanking me, maybe even with a switch, and I was flabbergasted. Talk about injustice! She didn’t even let me explain what they had done. Why weren’t they the ones getting a whipping? It was terrible – mostly because Emmett and Stuart just stood by looking smug and innocent. My plan to get them in trouble had back-fired in the worst way.
This was also the year that I made the first trip I remember to the emergency room. We were having a family cookout in the back yard for Father’s Day. There were probably 5 or 6 steps leading up to the back porch. I was running back into the house to get the salt and pepper when I tripped and cut my forehead on the stairs. I had to get stitches, just over my eye.
In September 1961 I FINALLY got to start school. I was 5 when I started kindergarten but turned 6 that October. I was ready – really ready. I was actually ready to attend an elementary school that was only half a block away from our house but the summer before I began school, that school became a “black” school. This was Richmond, Virginia in the early 1960s, before desegregation. So instead of Franklin Elementary I went to Patrick Henry Elementary. Nana and Kenny walked me four blocks to and from school every day.
My teacher for kindergarten and first grade was Miss Hankins. I adored her and would do anything to please her. My people pleasing days began in earnest once I started school. I don’t remember exactly what we did in school but I know I loved it. I’m pretty sure I learned to read from the “Fun with Dick and Jane” books.
So the adjective I’ll choose for my 6th year is: independent.