While at the Texas Book Festival last week, peddling my book, Where Love Once Lived, I told a few potential customers how the book was set in Austin, and one of the scenes took place just a few yards from where we were in that tent on Colorado Street. Here is an excerpt from that scene:
“You know,” Mr. McCullough said as he and Brian walked through the capitol grounds, “a few years back, ever’one would be staring at us.”
Brian was six foot two, and Phil’s dad was five two or three at the most. Mr. McCullough had just gotten off work at the Driskill and still had on his white shirt and bowtie. Brian wore shorts and Birkenstocks. Still, Brian knew Mr. McCullough was talking about race, not stature or clothing. Mr. McCullough was from a time in history Brian could never fully understand, but he’d read about how blacks suffered. It was a time of segregation.
They’d walked from the Driskill to the capitol without discussing a destination. The goal was to talk, and Congress Avenue just naturally led them into the capitol grounds. The grassy area surrounding the huge pink granite building was inviting this time of year. It was hot, but the shade of the trees along with a breeze made it comfortable.
Phil’s dad led the way to a bench under a tree near a water fountain. It was a pleasant place. Birds soaked the area with song, and statues stood rigid watch over the grounds while people walked back and forth, seemingly unaware of their verdant surroundings. This was the perfect place for the conversation with Phil’s dad, and Brian silently thanked God for leading them here. The realization he couldn’t ask Karen to marry him until his faith in God was stronger had come to him on the trip to California. He wanted to love God more, but couldn’t. Perhaps God hadn’t forgiven him for what he had done thirty years ago.
Mr. McCullough looked around. “When I was jus’ a kid, nine or ten I’d say, my parents brought me here.” He motioned toward the spot where they sat. “My daddy told me to drink from a sulfur fountain that was here. Said it’d be good for me and make me healthy. But there was a problem. Back then, you see, we had separate drinking fountains. One marked ‘white’ and one marked ‘colored.’”
He paused, but Brian waited for him to continue. “There was only one sulfur fountain and it wasn’t marked one way or ‘nother, colored or white.” He laughed. “Didn’t matter. We sneaked a sip when no one was about. Only once, though.” He shook his head and made a face. “Terrible stuff. Smelled like rotten eggs.”
Let me know what you think of this scene.
See: http://sidneywfrost.com/capitol.htm for additional photos of the Capitol grounds.