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There are certain events in life that leave a line of demarcation, the beginning of things, the ending of something else. For me, meeting David was that line.

It all began my freshman year at Lancaster High. What amazed me about the year 1961 was that my feelings for David emerged at the exact moment I became isolated from the soul of my town, my birthplace. I was apart from all that I knew or understood. It all happened so fast that I felt split, like some multiple personality separating into many different identities.


It reminded me of last September. We fought then, Mama and me. It was the night Ole Miss rioted and federal marshals came to Oxford. I watched events unfold that entire week: the threats of secession by Ross Barnett and Governor Wallace of Alabama; the refusals to enroll James Meredith, a Negro, at the University of Mississippi; and the Saturday night football game with the giant rebel flag, the band playing Dixie as Governor Barnett promising the cheering crowds that Ole Miss would never be integrated. It reminded me of Nazi rallies, the ones I had seen in old news reels.

By Sunday, the inevitable happened. The news that Meredith had secretly registered and was hidden away in one of the dormitories spread across the campus. Students began to gather, shouting obscenities and threats. Things turned ugly in an instant; tear gas, bricks hurdling in the air and cars turned upside down and burning. There were news bulletins on television. And I, along with my family, gathered around the TV set, everyone except Mama. She claimed she had better things to do. Daddy said life was going to change and Mama couldn't stop it by acting like an ostrich. Mama went into the kitchen, refusing to acknowledge any of it, until President Kennedy appeared on TV, pleading for calm. Mama rushed from the kitchen, shouting, "The stupid son-of-a-bitch doesn't even know about the rioting he caused."


Trinity Episcopal Church was the oldest standing church in Lancaster. In fact, it was the oldest in the Diocese. The Church was erected in the 1820's, not long after Mississippi became a state. A gothic structure made of old brick, its inner sanctum was wrapped in lush red carpeting, ornate stained-glass windows and prayer benches made of dark mahogany. Trinity was a beautiful church, increasingly so at that time of year, and precisely on that particular day. Phil Bhaer, David's brother, and his bride-to-be were going to be married at Trinity that night at eight o'clock.


Despite our misgivings, part of the trip was fun. Mary Anne was a pain in the ass, but New Orleans was an exotic adventure for two teenage girls. The three of us spent our mornings drinking coffee and devouring beignets at the Café du Monde in Jackson Square. We lunched at the Court of Two Sisters, dined at Galatoire's and savored egg custard in the opulence of Antoine's.

Lisa and I took a carriage ride through the Quarter and I had my fortune told by a gypsy woman in the Square. We spent a full day in Audubon Park, and the next day Mary Anne took us to shop at Maison Blanche and D.H. Holmes. She even arranged for us to attend a floor show at the famous Blue Room. I loved the old-world atmosphere of New Orleans and the way it came alive at night with crowded streets and music blaring on every street corner.

But there were other sights and sounds that were not so pleasant, such as Negro men shining shoes that were carelessly referred to as "boy", and signs that separated the races. Even public water fountains in the park were labeled "Whites Only" and "Colored". It reminded me of a book I had read the previous year, Black Like Me. It was the story of a white journalist who temporarily darkened his skin and traveled throughout the Deep South as a Negro. As I walked down Canal Street, I remembered what the author said about New Orleans. Public restrooms were nonexistent for Negroes, and sometimes he had to walk miles with a full bladder. As I rode through the Quarter in a horse-drawn carriage and sipped my coffee at the Café du Monde, I wondered about those shoeshine boys and day laborers. I wondered if they had trained themselves to hold it. Or maybe they just went without food or drink until they were safely in their own neighborhoods. That book had a way of invading my thoughts. As I looked at those tired, dark-skinned faces, I suddenly felt uncomfortable in my own skin.


I would meet David after football practice. He had an old black car that looked like something out of the 1940s. We would ride around in that old wreck that he loved, or go to the Circle and talk. Boy, would we talk! The months that followed were idyllic for me. I shared my private thoughts, my most secret feelings. I told David how I felt separate and apart from my neighbors, even friends. Unlike most of Lancaster, I was disturbed by the burning bus in Anniston, Alabama, and disgusted when thugs smeared ketchup on the heads and faces of young demonstrators at the Woolworth's lunch counter in Jackson. I shared all this with David and how witnessing history both frightened and excited me.


The next day all hell broke loose. It was the class period after lunch and Principal Nevin's voice came over the ancient loud speaker. All I heard was President, motorcade, and Dallas. In less than an hour, President Kennedy was dead and nobody knew who did it. We heard that the Governor of Texas and the Vice-President were dead too. We heard it was the Russians. Everyone was scared, even our teachers.

After school, I went straight home and turned on the TV. My parents joined me. It wasn't until the six o'clock news that we knew it was a lone gunman, or so we thought. As Jackie left Air Force One with Bobby, Mama said, "She's in shock."
"How do you know?" I asked, wanting to cry but refusing to in front of Mama.
"Her eyes are unfocused. She looks like she's in a trance," said Mama.


Dear Katie:

More fire-fights. I'll never forget the first one. About twenty of us were doing recon; our Point, Rodger O'Malley from Wisconsin, took a direct hit. His left leg was blown clean off. All a sudden the sky lit up like the Fourth of July, and it was coming from everywhere - the trees, the left and the right. It seemed as if we were surrounded. We returned fire for about twenty minutes, and I thought all of us would meet our maker that day. Miraculously, fifteen of our platoon survived.

After that, I saw a lot worse than Rodger losing his leg. You stop making friends with new arrivals because you don't know who might end up being a mass of blood and pulp the next week or even the next day. I saw a man hanging upside down in a booby-trapped tree impaled on a sharpened stake attached to the tree. Then there are the pitfalls, woven mats covering a hole in the ground disguising the stakes underneath. You have to be on the alert constantly, looking up in the sky to see an enemy who might be in a tree staring down at you.


The lush landscape and the soft sultry Mississippi nights inspired the imaginations of many, and I could be counted among them. I sometimes imagined the dead freely mingling with the exotic animal life that populated the Mississippi swamps. I envisioned the numerous rivers and lakes that crisscrossed one another and decorated Mississippi maps with their blue veins turning scarlet with the blood of so many victims whose deaths were never declared, whose funerals were never held and whose final resting places were muddy rivers, named by the long ago Indians that once inhabited Mississippi territory. James, Michael and Andrew joined these nameless victims in their undisclosed graves, and their story appeared on the noonday news that following Monday.

It was announced that three civil rights workers were missing from their COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) headquarters in Meridian. They had not been seen since they left the area the previous morning to investigate a church burning in Neshoba County. Their names were James Chaney, Michael Schewerner and Andrew Goodman. None were over the age of twenty-five. All were involved in voter registration, and Andrew was part of a student-filled migration to Mississippi, better known as "Freedom Summer." The newscaster said they were only missing, but I knew they were dead. Everyone did, despite public statements to the contrary. A massive manhunt began once their burned out station wagon was discovered in a swamp thirteen miles northeast of Philadelphia.

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