by Angie P. Buck
Bev and I wandered around the F.W. Woolworth’s Five and Dime store looking at all the items laying neatly in their individual bins and trays. My favorite color, red, was everywhere in ribbons, barrettes and nail polish.
“Come on, Tee” said Bev, “Mama can git all that stuff at the ribbon factory. ‘fo free too.”
“Oh, Ok,” I said hesitantly.
I moved slowly down the aisle running my hand over the bins, touching everything as we made our way toward the front of the store.
“You better keep you hands off that stuff `fo they think we be stealing,” Bev said snatching my hand off the counter.
“I ain’t stealing nothing,” I protested loudly. Just ‘cause you the oldest don’t mean I can’t touch what I wanna touch. I’ll be eleven in just three mo months and you’ll be just only a year older than me!”
“I know you ain’t stealing, you know you ain’t stealing,” Bev said trying to keep her voice low. “But, they always think we be stealing. So come on now, we gotta hurry up. You know Mama told us to be home ‘fo that sun reached the other side of the sky.”
August 13, 1960 felt like the hottest day of the year. Most of the time the huge, black fans that hung precariously from the ceiling kept it pretty cool in the department store. But, this particular Saturday it seemed hotter than usual. The stifling heat in the store hastened our leisure browsing. Anyway, the jiggling sound of the seventy-five cents in our pockets reminded us of what we really came to town to do -- spend the money we earned from selling the big fat green and black target worms that lived in the bean tree in our back yard. Our neighbors loved to fish with the ugly green and black critters. It was easy money for us. All we had to do was just shake the tree limbs and they felled willingly into our wash buckets.
After milling around a few more minutes, and looking at just about everything in the store, we finally decided, as usual, to buy something to eat. We darted across the uneven, buckling, wood floor toward the row of bins that housed the cookies, candy, and popcorn. I paced back and forth peering through each one of the glass plates that covered the bins, trying to decide what and how much to buy. I just couldn’t seem to make up my mind. There was so much to buy. I wanted everything. I momentarily looked up and saw Bev standing at the candy counter rolling her eyes at me with her hands on her hips, patting her feet.
“Whatcha gonna git Tee?” She asked impatiently. “Will you hurry up? I ain’t gitting no whipping ‘fo being late on a’count you can’t make up yo mind.”
I took a few more minutes—just to infuriate Bev, then, finally got a fifteen cent bag of popcorn dripping with butter.
I crowded a handful of the popcorn in my mouth, savoring the rich buttery taste—licking my fingers and smacking my lips from the salt and drippings that ran down both sides of my mouth. I sauntered over to the candy counter where Bev was paying the cashier.
“Candy corn! I bet that’s what you bought.”
“Course I did,” Bev answered matter-of-factly.
Just to irritate me, she began the ritual she knew I hated. First, she would bite the yellow tips off all the triangle shape pieces and put them back into the bag. After all the yellow tips couldn’t be seen on any of the pieces, she would then eat the bottom part of the candy. Everything was methodical with her.
We leisurely strolled around Woolworth’s eating and looking at all the glittering earrings and colorful bracelets we couldn’t afford. I was getting extremely thirsty and so was Bev. As if on cue, we glanced toward the soda fountain near the back of the store, longing to have a nice, cold Coca-Cola to quench our thirst. Sighing, we turned away knowing that colored people weren’t allowed to buy anything from the counter. Anyway, it was time for us to start the long five mile walk back home. The buses didn’t run through the colored section on Saturdays and Sundays. Even if they did, we weren’t about to give up our hard-earned fifteen cents just to ride the bus.
We headed toward the rear of Woolworth’s and stopped at the water fountain. There were two of them—the one on the left had a sign over it “WHITE ONLY” and the one on the right had a sign marked “Colored Only.” Bev gave me one of her mischievous grins and said,
“You go first.”
“OK.” I drank from the fountain with the “Colored Only” sign over it. After I’d finished, I walked toward the rear door happily eating my popcorn. My hands felt slippery and greasy, so I turned around to push the door open with my butt. I looked over toward the water fountains and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Bev was drinking from the fountain marked for “WHITE ONLY.”
I quickly turned around and pushed the door open dropping most of my popcorn. Fear engulfed me. We had overheard Grandmama talking to Mama just last week about how Mr. John down the street was beaten up by a group of white men. They left him in the alley behind the Greyhound bus station, just because he used the white folks’ bathroom.
I was halfway down the steps when I heard the door slam open. I risked looking back and saw Bev running down the steps, jumping over the bottom two steps, grinning like a Cheshire cat.
“Let’s go ‘fo they come,” she said out of breath.
We ran at breakneck speed for about three blocks before stopping near the city park that divided the colored section from the white section of town.
“How did theirs taste?” I asked wide-eyed and out of breath.
“Just like ours,” Bev said throwing another candy corn in the air and catching it in her mouth. “You better not tell Mama either,” she warned.
We started laughing real hard and continued walking in the hot sun toward the park. We had to walk about a half mile around the park because colored people weren’t allowed to walk through the park.
“We could git home much quicker if we could go thu that old park,” I absently said to Bev wiping sweat from my face with greasy fingers.
Thoughtfully, Bev plopped another candy corn in her mouth. She squinted her eyes, shielded them with her hand as she looked toward the bright sun. I watched her—nervously. She wasn’t looking at the sun, she was really looking at the sign over the entrance to the Park - - Anniston City Park, “For Whites Only.”