Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Signing: Clarksville Family Fun Fest

In Where Love Once Lived the male protagonist is white and his best friend is black. I'm not sure how that happened, but it made the story more interesting by providing thoughts about race relations.

In the following excerpt Brian is the white friend, Mr. McCullough, who is black, is the seventy-eight year old father of Brian's best friend and Cindy is Mr. McCullough's granddaughter who is about to announce her engagement to a white man:

"It's called historical, now," Mr. McCullough said holding a fork in the air. "It use' to be a ghetto, you know." He glanced at Brian. "I don't guess Cindy told you that. Most of the Negroes lived east of Austin, but there was a colony here in Clarksville."

Mr. McCullough continued. "When I was growin' up, there were boundaries, you see. We couldn't jus' live anywhere we wanted. Ever'one knew where the lines were. Our street here was as far south as we could live."

He shook his head. "Today, it doesn't matter. No one's shocked when black and white marry, even." He locked eyes with Brian, then moved his gaze to Cindy.

"When was this neighborhood a ghetto, Grandpa?" Cindy asked. "I've heard the story, but I think Brian would like to hear about it, too."

"Let's see." He touched a thumb to his fingers. "I'd say up until sometime in the 1950s." He pointed south. "Over at Mathews School, on 9 ½ Street, that was white. Our lot touched up to a white family's back yard." He laughed. "I'd forgotten about that. Fact is, back in the 1930's or 40's, I use' to play with the little kid who lived there. Well, not play, really. We mos'ly jus' talked through the chicken wire. My Mama and Daddy told me not to, but I did anyway."

In real life, I'm the one in his seventies who lived in the Clarksville area at the time. These are my memories. The difference is I lived on the white side of the border.

It's different there now. Sunday, April 17, 2011, I was invited to set up a booth in the artisans area at the annual Clarksville Family Fun Fest to sell books. I took a map showing the five places where I lived between 1936 and 1945 to show my credibility to be there. The map only brought up exclamations of how young I look.

I left only two books there. One I donated to the Silent Auction sold for $8.00, and the other I donated to the pastor of the Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church.

Rev. Steve Manning, the pastor of the church had stopped by to talk about the book and the history of Clarksville. When he returned later with his checkbook, I told him I wanted to donate the book to him for the church. He let me know he was prepared to pay for the book, but I told him I had donated copies of the book to other churches in Austin and Georgetown and it only seemed right to donate one to the church in the area where several scenes of the book take place.  He promised to read the book and let me know his thoughts about it.

After the Clarksville Family Fun Fest was over I drove by each of the places I had lived. I was flooded with memories, not just of the segregation that existed then, but I remembered World War II, going to school for the first time, the Confederate Home that abutted up to the end of the street, my childhood friends I biked with, my sister Barbara who took me school, my cousins who visited, the chickens and ducks we raised in the back yard, the time spent with my father, the birth of my sister Patty. So many wonderful memories of the time.

A few negative experiences popped into my head as well, such as cutting my arm on a broken coffee jar in the vacant lot playing soldier with Billy T. Nitschke, cutting my hair, eating an April Fool's Day sandwich filled with cotton made by my sister Barbara, falling on a sidewalk while running to meet my dad when he got home from work.

The memories of the time I lived in the area were good for me, but the Clarksville of today is not the same as it was when I lived there. People of all races without an apparent notice of the fact played side by side. The woman at the church's booth displayed historical photos showing an all-black church membership, but the church today stressed that it is a church for everyone in the area.

Rev. Manning is a 58-year old black man born in Louisiana and brought up in Lockhart, Texas, with a year in Oakland, California, just long enough to become an A's fan, a fact that was advertised on the shirt he wore. His degree is in biology, but he had a calling to preach. He said it was not the clear spoken calling some get, but it was a quiet, definite one. He is the type of person I could be friends with in an instant because of his openness and warmth.

While writing Where Love Once Lived, I thought about visiting the church in Clarksville, but never did. After meeting Rev. Manning, I'm planning to visit there soon.

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