It has been a long time since the African American student protest march in my hometown, and a long, long time since my perception of the world shifted forever. Today, when I gaze through the windows of my past, it is hard for me to understand how I could ever have sanctioned a myopic community that patently ignored the basic rights of too many of its own.
It shames me that I never questioned the existence of separate drinking fountains and toilet facilities. I was aware that black children were relegated to swim in the river away from where we swam and played, but it was not until years later that I challenged the injustice. I, like many Southerners, too easily accepted the status quo and that will forever be my cross to bear.
I realize that times change, issues change, and sometimes even people do. Diversity makes our lives sing and not ding. But needed change, whether domestic or far-reaching, must be purged from the predilection of ideas and beliefs handed down from parent to child. To be effective, change must claw away at the marrow of our primal souls.
My hometown is no longer the small, sheltered place where my brother and I were acquainted with every backyard and Chinaberry tree within a six-block radius. We knew all of the kids, their parents and most of their aunts and uncles. There were no strangers back then.
Some landmarks are left, but they become fewer in number as time marches on. The big clock in front of The First National Bank still stands. The statue of the Confederate soldier that once stood proudly in the town square, however, has been taken down. In its place, a patchwork quilt of multi-colored azaleas now cover the area each spring, a gentle reminder that beauty can even be found in diversity. The tired old Civil War, fought and refought long after Appomattox, has lost some, but not all, ground.
Schools I attended for twelve of my young years managed to survive the unrest and subsequent rebellion of the turbulent Sixties. They have since been rebuilt, renamed and revitalized. I don’t recognize them any longer.
When I return, I have nowhere to go. There are no remembered haunts where I might bump into old friends; no special gathering places where I used to pig out on hot dogs and hamburgers and shag dance till I dropped. None of those places are left.
The Edisto River Bridge is still there, rotten to the core and condemned to die as slowly as so many other worn out traditions.
The kid area with its green water barrels disappeared long ago. The wooden platforms off which both children and dogs loved to jump, no longer exist.
Rocky Bottom itself was dredged and done away with more than twenty years ago for some harebrained, probably bureaucratic reason. The shallow area floored with tiny pebbles where hundreds of kids learned how to dogpaddle is no longer available to any children.
The one thing that remains pretty much the same is the river. It is still swift and deadly; it still moves toward its inevitable end. That frightening, black body of water grasps and holds onto bits and pieces of remembered childhoods, the carefree days spent at Rocky Bottom.
*Return to Rocky Bottom, Cappy Hall Rearick's fictional memoir is available at Amazon.com in both print and on Kindle