Wednesday, July 25, 2007

You don't belong here!

"You don't belong here! Get back to your section." The words stung all the more because they came from Beautiful Girl.

Beautiful Girl wore a white starched dress covered with cherries. Little cherries even dangled from her collar which was also starched. Her two perfect braids were held together by bright cherry-red ribbons that had been tied into perfect bows, and on her feet were the shiniest patent leather maryjanes I'd ever seen. She was a princess and I wanted to know her very much. I imagined us having tea parties and playing with our dolls. But all I knew about Beautiful Girl was that her name was 'Pearl' because that's what I had heard her mother call her.

I shuffled back to my section on the bus and slumped against my grandmother who promptly slapped me hard on my leg.

"What makes her so special?!" I demanded, "Why does she get to sit there and not me!?"

"Hush up!" Nanny whispered sharply, "You don't belong there!" Then she reminded me that if I was 'good' I could have all the ice cream I could ever eat when we got to Thalhimers. That cheered me up. I spent the rest of the ride on the bus thinking about all the banana splits and chocolate sundaes I would consume. I hoped Nanny had brought enough money to pay for them all. She would need it!

I loved riding on that big city bus even if I wasn't allowed to sit in the 'Princess Section'. I loved the smell of diesel as it pulled up to our stop. I loved being lifted up those high steps by Nanny. I loved hearing the clink clink of the coins as I dropped them into the token box (a special treat that only I got to do because my little brother had run away with the coins once too often).

Once in our seats, I loved staring out the window at all the marvelous sights going by as the bus slowly made it's way to downtown Richmond. There was Hollywood Cemetery with all the wonderful statues. There were the steepled churches and the shops and the townhouses where the rich people lived. There were the people that constantly got on and off the bus at every stop. I loved it all. But I coveted the 'Princess Section'.

In the Princess Section was the very best seat on the bus. It was the longest and it had the biggest window I'd ever seen stretching all the way along it's length. But the main reason I wanted to sit there was because it was the bounciest. Oh my God how that seat could bounce! With every bump and turn and jerk the bus made that seat would bounce high up in the air, then land back on the floor with a BANG.

I turned in my seat and watched with envy and resentment as Pearl and her mother bounced up and down in that seat. At one point, they bounced so hard that Pearl's mother's hat fell off her head and rolled down the aisle. Both of them giggled as Pearl retrieved the hat and plopped it back on her mother's head. When the bus got to their stop, Pearl took the opportunity to stick her tongue out at me and grin as she passed my seat. I returned the favor but it was clear that Pearl had won the day.

That was the first time in my life that I remember feeling 'second class'. And it didn't feel very good. But it was 1953 and I was 5 years old and, because I was white, I wasn't allowed to sit in the bouncy Princess Section at the back of the bus. But Pearl was.


Dawn said...

Wow. What a strong post on race. My husband is "mixed". Half black, half white. As a child, he was never accepted by either race because he wasn't black or white enough. It was nice to hear things from your perspective.

Sassy63 said...

What a strong writer you are! And thinker! I enjoy your writing, as you know! Love your take on childhood, race, and ice cream.

Melissa said...

What I love about this essay is how it shows how arbitrary the notion of color is. Any issues we have with race are all social and basically meaningless.