My Sixth Year – 1960 – 1961 – My Life as a Southerner Begins

Kathy and Kenny - 1961
Kathy and Kenny – 1961 – Nana made our outfits

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.

“See Dick run. Run Jane run. See Dick and Jane run.” Fun with Dick and Jane

So the adjective I’ll choose for my 6th year is: independent.

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