In the spring of 1970 I take my boyfriend to Pineville to meet Sarah Butler. I want to thank her for her kindness and care during the summer and fall of 1965, so we stop by the grocery in St. Stephen. I plan to fix breakfast – pancakes – for her and her husband. Pancakes are easy. I figure I can handle pancakes on the wood stove.
“I got so tired of hearing your name,” Sarah’s youngest son Henry said to me in 2006. “You’re all she talked about.” He left me wondering why that was so. […]
I stand on the dormitory steps with my suitcase in my hand. Why didn’t I pay more attention? In 1965 being the only white student at historically black Allen University in Columbia, South Carolina, keeps me busy. I go to class, do my homework, participate in the Human Relations Council, talk with folks about the Civil Rights Movement and write letters home. I didn’t heed the announcement that Coppin Hall, the girls’ dorm, would be closed for the Thanksgiving holiday. And here I am on the street wondering what to do. It’s cold and the wind whips around me. I haven’t got a coat; I thought it was always hot in South Carolina.
My Hispanic girlfriend laments, “You are so white.” In a black community I do stand out. In 1965 and at eighteen, except for college, I have never been away from home more than a week. Certainly not three thousand miles away. Not for an entire summer. Not living in a segregated black community. Not working in the Civil Rights Movement. Bold, surviving on adrenaline, I’m also a kid – lonely and afraid.
There’s just something about outhouses that isn’t endearing. Afraid of the dark? Sick? Tired? Drunk? It doesn’t make a difference: inconvenience is a major trait of an outhouse.