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Sunday, July 9, 2017

I BARELY NOTICED THE SIGN SAYING "WHITES ONLY." (5)


The War on Poverty

      Many Americans live on the outskirts of hope, some because of their poverty and some because of
 their color, and all too many because of both.  Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.
from LBJ’s first State of the Union address, January 8, 1964, in which he announced his War on Poverty

It was the spring of 1967, three years since President Johnson first declared his War on Poverty and less than three hours since Leon resolved to enlist by moving our family to Mississippi.  When he first told me of his decision, I considered my options.  He’d already made up his mind and signed a contract.  There was no way he’d let me convince him to reconsider.  This meant that I could either do as he expected or I could refuse.  I knew that if I said no, he would go alone, leaving the children and me behind in Boston.  He’d plan on visiting often and returning after his two-year commitment came to an end, and he would promise to send some of his salary each month to help with expenses.
AURA'S PARENTS TOLD HER SHE'D NEVER BE PRETTY ENOUGH TO
      ATTRACT A HUSBAND.  HOW WRONG THEY WERE!  [bbm 11-26-12]
To outsiders looking in, we had the perfect marriage: college sweethearts still together after twenty-five years.  We were partners in everything we did – raising our children, building his pediatric practice, participating in local politics.  More than that, we were soul mates, agreeing philosophically in almost every way, caring deeply for the community around us, dedicated to helping those less fortunate than ourselves.  But my parents’ words haunted me, telling me that I had to be smart like Eleanor Roosevelt, because I would never be pretty enough to attract a husband and would instead have to rely on my intelligence.  No matter how many times Leon told me  he loved me, I was never confident that he meant it, and I lived in fear that he would one day desert me.  I was afraid that if I balked at moving to Mississippi, that day would arrive.
AURA WITH PHILIP, JO & CHARLES BEFORE ANY TALK ABOUT
       MOVING TO MOUND BAYOU IN MISSISSIPI
All this ran through my head within moments of Leon’s announcement.  He went next door to his office and the children returned to school for the afternoon, leaving me alone with my astonishment.  Others might have stared at the wall or paced about, trying to get a handle on what had just happened.  But I wasn’t one to look back.  I’d considered my options and resolved to follow Leon.  Now it was time for me to implement that decision to the best of my ability.  And so I started planning our future.  I called my friend and neighbor, Mary Louise O’Malley, who happened to be a real estate agent, and asked her to sell the house.  Leon had said we would move by summer's end, so that’s what we would do.  I told Mary Louise to give us until the end of June when the children finished school.  We’d then spend the summer on Cape Cod with my parents until we were ready to leave for Mississippi.
I walked about in a daze.  This beautiful house, which we’d worked so hard to make into a warm, loving home, was soon going to have a new family under its roof.  As I drove around the neighborhood, running errands, I kept thinking about how soon I would be in a different neighbor-hood, how everything was going to change, and I tried not to let it bother me.  I reminded myself of how wonderful and exciting my travels during World War II had been, how I’d loved living in all the little towns where Leon was stationed for training, how I’d made a home for myself everywhere we lived.
Mound Bayou would be no different.  Leon told me what he knew of the place and the challenges we would face, but always with the attitude that we would accomplish miracles and overcome any hardships.  I wanted to buy into that mindset, to push aside my concerns about the safety of our children, but the Pollyanna in me was sorely tested.  Every time I pushed for details about where we would live or where the children would attend school, I was told not to worry, that everything would work out.
Leon had always appreciated my level-headedness when it came to handling real-world issues.  He said he could be a dreamer and reach for the stars because I had him firmly by the ankles holding him down to earth.  As the upcoming move loomed closer, however, I felt more like a ping-pong ball than an anchor.  Everybody was batting me about and all I could do was try to land on the table.
What worried me most was the children’s education.  I’d read that the schools in Mississippi were poor, and I wanted to see them for myself, to meet with the people who would be responsible for teaching my children and satisfy myself that we could manage.  At last, Leon told me he’d arranged for us to visit Mound Bayou.  
DR. KRUGER AND FAMILY BEFORE MOVE TO LIFE IN MISSISSIPPI IN
          TWO TRAILERS: CONNIE, LEON, AURA, JO, CHARLES, AND PHILIP
“We’ll take a few days for you to see the place," he said. "You’ll meet some of the town leaders and we’ll figure out where we’ll live and where the children will attend school.  I know you’ve been worried and this should help.”
My husband was my partner again.  No longer interested only in his new clinic, he recognized how concerned I was.  It was a relief to let myself think more positively again, and I began to create an image of Mound Bayou in my mind.  I pictured the beautiful farming communities of New England, with their rolling hills, meandering streams, and quaint covered bridges and fantasized about what it would be like to live in such a place
When the time came for our first visit to Mississippi, we dropped off the children at my sister-in-law’s and drove to the Boston airport.  There we met up with John Hatch and his wife who would be going with us, both on this trip and eventually to live in Mound Bayou.  John was a social worker who’d spent six years working as a community organizer and was on the faculty at Tufts University as an assistant professor of preventive medicine.  He was black and had grown up in the cotton fields of Arkansas and Mississippi.  Unlike Leon and me, he and his wife knew what to expect.  They hadn’t just read about the terrible poverty in the Deep South, they had seen it first hand.
During the plane ride to Memphis, Leon and I chatted  about our upcoming adventure, focusing on  the things he could accomplish by opening his clinic.  Over dinner at our motel, however, John spoke about the difficulties we were likely to encounter, the dangers involved, and the resistance we would have to overcome.  Leon had said nothing to me about that side of our under-taking, describing it as a difficult challenge rather than a perilous mission.  Perhaps he was worried that if he were more open about  the problems we’d face, I’d have second thoughts about going.  More likely, however, with his optimistic outlook on life, he assumed that nothing bad could happen to us.  Because he didn’t dwell on the dangers, he saw no need to discuss it with me.  In any case, I was completely naïve until John provided a more complete picture.
The more John said as he tried to prepare me for what lay ahead, the more stressed I became.  I had to excuse myself every few minutes to go to the bathroom, prompted by the nervous bladder that has plagued me ever since childhood.  When I tried to sleep that night, I had to get up every hour or so to use the bathroom. I couldn’t even sit through breakfast the following morning.  When the four of us piled into our rental car and started to pull out of the motel parking lot, I asked Leon to stop so I could run back one last time.  How was I ever going to last for a 2-hour trip?
As we drove toward Highway 61, the road that would take us to Mound Bayou, we passed Elvis Presley’s home, Graceland, which I recognized from its gates decorated with musical notes.  The road took us over lush rolling hills, through beautiful, dense foliage, and past one magnificent home after another.  The poverty I’d heard so much about during dinner the night before was nowhere in sight.  Surely John must have been exaggerating. I could feel my excitement building as I began to see this could be a great experience for the Kruger family.  Leon would be performing important work, and the children and I would learn all about another part of the country.
As my thoughts focused on our future, I was pulled back to the present by the sight of a large billboard with a picture of an ante-bellum mansion surrounded by magnolia trees, along with the words “Mississippi. Welcome to the Magnolia State.”  We were finally there.  It was thrilling to look at the beauty all around me and realize that this was to be my new home.
I wasn’t surprised when the road switched from a well-maintained four-lane highway to a somewhat badly maintained two-lane one.  I knew Mississippi was a poor state.  That’s why we were moving there to set up a clinic.  What did surprise me, however, was the change that occurred as we rounded a curve a minute or so later.  The trees and rolling hills suddenly disappeared.  Instead, as far as the eye could see, there were nothing but flat, muddy fields.  All that broke the monotony were a few ramshackle dwellings.   At first I thought they were deserted, until I saw smoke coming from a chimney and children playing in a yard.
Leon slowed down so we could take a better look at the shacks as we drove past.  I didn't see how anyone could live in such squalor.  Instead of windows, there holes in the walls.  Some were papered over or boarded up to provide at least a little protection from bad weather.  There was no indoor plumbing, as I could see by the rickety outhouses behind each shack.  Never before had I seen such a deadly, devastating landscape.  I kept hoping we’d eventually see something different.  Twenty minutes went by and nothing changed.  Then another twenty.
The longer we drove, the more my bladder began to act up.  It wasn’t long before I felt desperate, anxiously watching the endless fields for a glimmer of a gas station or restaurant where I might find a bathroom.  I joked that there wasn’t even a tree for me to hide behind, but as my discomfort turned to pain, I could no longer make light of my predicament.  My hopes rose as I saw what I thought was a town in the distance, but as we got closer, I saw that it was just a few shacks clustered together with a pile of junked cars nearby.  Before I had a chance to consider asking Leon to stop so I could hide behind the junkyard, we were past it.
I had begun to think that wetting my pants would be preferable to the pain in my bladder when we spotted a decrepit gas station.  The rusting pumps looked as if they hadn’t been used in years and the windows of the little building beyond were all cracked and broken.  The wood on the walls was rotting away and hadn’t been touched by paint since the gas station was first built.  Not a soul was in sight.  I was afraid  the bathroom might be locked.  I decided that if this was the case, I’d squat behind the building.  As Leon brought the car to a stop in front of a door that said, “Women,” I barely noticed a second sign that said, “For Whites Only.”
When I started to jump from the car, I heard John say, “Don’t get out.”  Thinking he was concerned for my safety in this desolate spot, I answered, “I’ll be fine.  I’ll only be a minute,” and ran for relief.  As I closed the door behind me, I thought briefly of that second sign, feeling grateful that I wasn’t one of the people forbidden to use the facility.  I was unaware that I had just committed a dreadful indiscretion.  By ignoring John’s warning, I had acquiesced to the segregation still flourishing throughout the South.  In my naiveté, I didn’t understand that by entering a “Whites Only” bathroom, I was sending a signal that I didn’t care.
As we drove for mile after mile through the dreary fields, I kept hoping that Mound Bayou would be pleasanter.  However, as time passed, my heart sank lower and my head began to ache.  Finally, after passing through the small town of Shelby, I saw a highway marker saying, “Mound Bayou – four miles.”  I perked up at the thought that our journey was almost over, only to get depressed again as I saw one auto junkyard after another, the only signs of civilization.
         As we got closer to town, the shacks grew more frequent, but they were as flimsy as the ones we’d seen along the road from Memphis, their wooden porches looking as if they could blow away in a mild wind.  I was grateful for Jack Geiger's promise that a new home would be built for us because I certainly didn’t see any that were suitable for raising my three youngest offspring.  I felt saddened that the local children had to live in these pitiful shacks.  There was no grass to be seen, no trees, just mud and dirt everywhere we looked, with the occasional dog or chicken running around in the tiny front yards.
         Within moments after passing the city limit sign, we arrived at the single paved crossroad in town.  I could see the high school to my left and a small diner to the right – the kind of hole-in-the-wall restaurant I would have shied away from in my prior life, but which I soon discovered produced the best barbecued ribs I’d ever tasted.  Just beyond the diner were the railroad tracks that had run parallel to the highway for the entire drive down.  Earlier we’d passed the longest trains I’d ever seen.  A car waiting to cross the tracks by the diner might have to wait for twenty minutes before proceeding.  I noticed there were no cross guards to warn of an oncoming train and began to worrying that my children, unfamiliar with railroad tracks in suburban Newton, might race across the tracks without looking and get killed, as had happened to my paternal grandfather many years earlier.
Beyond the crossroad, we came upon the few shabby buildings that provided the essentials of small-town life:  a little post office, a bank, a grocery store that carried just a handful of items, a laundromat, a few bars, and a stand where the children could buy Sno-Cones for a nickel.  Everything looked so run down that I was surprised when Leon pulled the car up in front of an attractive two-story brick building, the parsonage.  We went in and walked up to the second floor where eight or nine people were waiting for us.  By this time, my headache had become considerably worse and I must have looked as if I were in pain, because one of the women kindly suggested I lie down in a back room while the rest of them talked.
The couch felt wonderful and I was just beginning to relax when I overheard John telling everyone how I had used the “Whites Only” bathroom, declaring I had “crossed the line.”  It was clear that the others were appalled by my behavior, finding it hard to believe I could be so insensitive.  I was mad at myself for not having paid more attention when John told me not to get out of the car.  I was even madder at Jack Geiger for not having briefed us in more detail about what to expect.  And I was sick that Leon remained silent, not once coming to my defense with a word of explanation.  Here I was, ready to give up a wonderful life in Massachusetts, and the people who were to be my new friends and neighbors already disliked me.  In an instant, I had become persona non grata.
As I lay there, holding back tears, I wished I could disappear into the couch and never have to face these people again.  Gradually, however, I regained my composure and began to see the situation from the townspeople’s perspective.  The whole rationale for our coming to Mississippi was that the Blacks faced discrimination in obtaining medical care.  Patients requiring emergency treatment waited as long as 14 hours at the back entrance of the hospital because they were denied access to the “Whites Only” emergency waiting room.  Only after all the white patients had been seen could a black person hope to get any attention.  A few days before our arrival, a pregnant woman had died after waiting all day a few feet away from where proper medical treatment could have saved her life.  No wonder the townspeople hated anything having to do with “Whites Only” facilities.
The voices from the next room droned on and I stopped listening to the conversation.  As I  was dosing off, I vowed I would be more sensitive in the future to the history of my new community. I would make them understand that the bathroom incident reflected not a lack of caring on my part but a lack of awareness added to desperate physical discomfort.
Eventually I was wakened by the inviting aroma of barbecued ribs wafting in from the other room.  My head still ached but I pulled myself together to join the others for lunch, devouring the meal as if I hadn’t eaten in days.
After lunch, I remained with the rest of the group for the afternoon’s conversation.  Still shaken by John’s harsh words about me, I was silent, not wanting inadvertently to say the wrong thing.  At one point, however, I had to jump in.  The discussion had revolved around the logistics of our upcoming move, yet there was no mention of where we would live.  I kept waiting to hear about the new home Jack had promised, but nothing was said.  Finally, when it looked as if they were ready to move on to a new topic, I spoke up and asked about housing.
There was an awkward silence.  Then one of the women said, “Y’all need to live in a shack.  There’s not much else in town and the few real houses have folks living in them, and they sure don’t want to move out to make room for you.  Besides, if you really want to help, you need to understand us, and you can only do that if you live like we do, in a shotgun.  If you don’t, folks might not want to come to the clinic.”
I answered that there was no reason to subject my family to such a hardship.  I added that any parent whose children were ill would be grateful to the doctor who took care of them, regardless of where he lived.  I didn’t expect our home to be anything like what we had in Newton, but I at least wanted indoor plumbing and electricity.
My comments were met with a stony stillness.  I looked to Leon for support, but I could see from the tight line of his jaw that he didn’t want me rocking the boat.  He was more than willing to live in a shack and although he’d acknowledged my concerns when it was just the two of us at home in Boston, here he was unwilling to give them credence and he sided with the others.
Toward the end of the afternoon, everyone stood, saying it was time for us to head back to Memphis.  I interrupted the good-byes to say that we still hadn’t talked about our children’s education.  The main reason I had accompanied Leon on this trip was to look at the schools in town, and I wasn’t leaving until I had done this.  Although sympathetic to my concern, the others pointed out that it was the weekend and everything was closed.  I would have to wait until another time.  Still smarting from the hurtful comments  regarding my use of the “Whites Only” bathroom and fearing that their reluctance to help was tied to that incident, I said we would have to find a way to show me the schools, despite the inconvenient timing.
 Everyone sat down again and one of the townspeople started to explain our options.  Mound Bayou had its own school district with one elementary school, one junior high, and one senior high to serve not just our town, but also the families living in the surrounding cotton fields.  In addition to the public schools, there was a Catholic school with classes from kindergarten through eighth grade.  The local priest, Father Guidry, was in charge and there were five nuns from the Caribbean islands to serve as teachers.  Neither the public schools nor the Catholic school was accredited, but the quality of the teaching at the Catholic school was considered to be significantly better than at the public school.  What a dilemma!  I’d never liked the idea of private school, and the thought of sending my Jewish children to a Catholic school did not sit well with me.  Despite that, I agreed that it would be a good idea to meet with Father Guidry.
As we pulled into the dirt parking area next to the school, I saw an older black man in well-worn clothes incinerating garbage.  Assuming he was a custodian, I was surprised when he was introduced to me as Father Guidry.  He greeted me warmly, taking my hands in his and not letting go until he’d stated several times how happy he was to meet me.  His eyes smiled and his gentle voice soothed, and I could tell right away I was going to like him.  It wasn’t much longer before I knew I’d be comfortable entrusting him with the education of my children, for he clearly loved his small school, the nuns who ran the classrooms, and the students who attended.  There was no problem too small to get his attention or so large as to intimidate him.  His practical wisdom and gentle caring would help me out many times over the next two years.
After telling us about the school, he took us to the small convent where the nuns lived.  There we met Sister Rosarita, the woman who doubled as the school’s principal and eighth grade teacher.  Then we walked the few steps to the school itself, consisting of five classrooms.  She said that because there weren’t enough students or teachers to have a separate class for each grade, kinder-garten and first grade students sat in a room together, as did second and third graders, fourth and fifth graders, and sixth and seventh graders.  Only the eighth grade students had a room of their own. Each classroom was neat, clean, and colorfully decorated.  It was easy to see that the nuns had worked hard to create an inviting learning environment, one in which I believed my three children could thrive.
As we said goodbye to Father Guidry, I felt a sense of relief that at least one of the major aspects of our new lives was settled.   I might not have known where we would live, but I knew where my children would go to school.  Exhausted by all that had happened, I felt relieved when the suggestion was made for us to leave.  
Leon got behind the wheel and told me to ride in back, since we were being joined by someone else and they needed to talk.  When the passenger climbed in, Leon didn’t bother to introduce me.  I tried to join in the conversation when the men began discussing the day’s activities, but Leon cut me off sharply, saying, “Don’t say a word.”  He spoke as if I were a child, to be seen and not heard.  I sat there quietly, listening to the men talk, wondering what had become of my partner-ship with my husband.  When had I become a silent partner?  Alarms went off in the back of my mind, but I couldn’t bring myself to think about what lay behind Leon’s behavior, let alone ask him about it.
That evening at the motel, I kept hoping Leon would raise the matter himself and offer an apology for not coming to my defense when John complained of my “crossing the line.”  I longed for some gentle comments assuring me that all would be well again.  Instead, he hardly spoke to me.  I was unable to put into words all that I felt, powerless to tell Leon what I needed from him, afraid that anything I said would be interpreted as a criticism and met with resistance.  And so the evening passed with no discussion about our day in Mound Bayou.
           When we returned to Boston, I said nothing of our trip to anyone.  Whenever I was asked, I simply said, “It was okay,” and discouraged further conversation.  I was not yet ready to acknowledge all my feelings to myself, let alone share them with anyone else.  This changed the following weekend when my sister Karyl came with her family for a visit.  The four adults were sitting in the living room talking, when her husband, Herb, commented that he’d never seen me drink so much before.  
          Without stopping to censor my reaction, I said, “I’ll tell you, Herb, when you’ve been through what I’ve been through, and your husband orders you not to say a word, drink is a solace!”  
           Upon hearing that, Leon apologized for the incident in the car, explaining that he hadn’t meant to be rude when he told me to be quiet; he just hadn’t wanted me to talk about anything in front of our travel companion.  He seemed contrite, but I found it hard to forgive him, frequently reliving the sting I’d felt at his harsh words.
The more I thought about that disastrous weekend, the more distraught I became.  But I couldn’t speak with anyone about my feelings, especially not Leon.  If I raised any concerns, he became defensive, unwilling to hear any criticism about the project or his boss.  So I put on my Pollyanna persona and tried to see our new life as rewarding.  All that the outside world and my children ever heard was that I was excited about the upcoming move, and most of the time I had everybody convinced.  Some of the time, I was  able to convince myself.
AURA AND 10-YEAR-OLD CHARLES
In the midst of everything else that was happening, my son’s fifth grade math teacher called me in for a conference.  She said that Charles was bright and wanted to do well, but despite his best efforts, his performance was sub-par and he frequently disrupted the class.  She offered as an example a description of a test they’d taken earlier that week.  Everyone else jumped right into their work, but Charles couldn’t find his glasses.  He was noisy, stood up, and went through all his pockets.  When he finally sat down, despairing of ever finding them, he saw that they’d been on the desk the whole time.  Breathing a sigh of relief, he put them on, only to drop his pencil.  It rolled away, ending up under another student’s desk.  Charles crawled on his hands and knees to the pencil, disturbing the children around him in the process.  Finally, almost ten minutes after everyone else had started the test, Charles was ready to begin.  She summed up her description with a recommendation that we take him to a psychiatrist.
I knew that my son’s problems ran much deeper than his difficulties at school.  For years I’d been aware that he was unhappy, that he didn’t fit in and found it hard to make friends.  Aching for acceptance, he’d beg his schoolmates to let him join in their games, only to be rejected unless a teacher interceded.  His siblings were better about letting him tag along in their activities, but only because they knew that if I heard they’d been mean to him, they’d be in trouble.  Left on their own, they too would have avoided spending time with their brother, for he tended to be a poor sport and nagged at them to have his own way.
Even his father had difficulty dealing with Charles, angering quickly when Charles’s weak eye-to-hand coordination led to spilled drinks at almost every meal.  I constantly played the buffer between the two, calming Leon down whenever something happened to irritate him, reminding him that Charles was trying the best he could, and assuring our son that his father truly loved him.
Leon, not wanting to believe that anything was inherently wrong with Charles, balked at the idea of having him evaluated.  My parents agreed with Leon, so I felt alone in my assessment and did nothing to seek expert help.  Now, for the first time, one of his teachers saw things the way I did, so Leon acquiesced and we scheduled an appointment for our son.
We sought help from a well-respected child psychiatrist.  After a few sessions, he said, “Charles is seriously ill and will require therapy at least through high school.”  He suggested we go into family therapy, saying that the problem began with Leon, not Charles.  He suggested that Leon hated his mother and because Charles looked and acted like her, Leon had transferred this hatred to Charles.
I caught my breath, thinking how it would have hurt to hear that said about me.  But when I looked at Leon, he was nodding in agreement.  The doctor’s words had struck a chord.  Despite that, Leon balked at the suggestion, saying he was too busy, at which point the doctor said we should at least keep Charles in therapy so that he might learn to deal with his father. 
Disturbed by this assessment, I asked if it would be possible for me to work with Charles, rather than have him continue to see a psychiatrist.  In response, the doctor said, “It’s as if he were drowning.  You’re successfully holding his head above water so he can breathe, but he can’t go anywhere.  You need to let go, to allow him to struggle so he can learn to tread water on his own.  Only then will he be able to swim where he wants.  If you don’t do this, he’ll continue to be totally dependent on you.”
I was shocked.  How could he ask me to stop helping my son?  Couldn’t he see that I had to hold Charles up or he’d sink?  Surely there must be some other way.  This wasn’t what I’d envisioned at all.  I’d hoped the doctor could magically make Charles better, helping him learn to fit in with his classmates and make friends.  Once that was accomplished, then I could back off.
Before I had a chance to completely process what the psychiatrist had said, he added that we should cancel our plans to move to Mississippi so that Charles could remain under his care.  Then he concluded by advising Leon to charge his patients more because Charles’s treatment was going to be expensive.
I looked to Leon for support and saw that he was staring blankly off into the distance.  He’d physically withdrawn from the situation, sinking into his chair and lowering his head so that his neck was entirely covered by his sweater.  He reminded me of a turtle with its head pulled into its shell for protection from the world.  He was frozen, unable to respond, and it was up to me deal with this new advice.
  Knowing how important our upcoming move was to Leon, I told the psychiatrist that we would not consider changing our plans.  We’d leave for rural Mississippi in a few weeks, as scheduled, and there would be no therapist there for Charles.  I said it was a 2-year commitment, after which we might place Charles in long-term psychiatric care.  In the meantime, I’d continue holding his head above water as best I could.
The psychiatrist’s response was chilling.  He said any attempt on my part to help Charles would be counterproductive, the worst possible option.  He added that he would spend the first nine months of therapy persuading Charles to hate me.  Only then could they begin the real work.  Horrified by his words, I turned to Leon, still sitting there in his shell, and said, “Come on, we’re leaving,” and we walked out without another word.
Perhaps prior to Leon's unilateral decision to leave Boston, I would have urged him to discuss the matter with me so we could jointly strategize about what was best for Charles.  But I was beginning to feel as if I no longer knew the man I’d been married to for twenty-five years.  He seemed driven to move to Mississippi no matter the cost, and I was afraid to reach out to him, fearful that I’d say the wrong thing and make him angry.  I resolved instead to do the best I could, to stand by our earlier decision to leave Boston, even though there might be serious repercussions for our son.  The wall of silence between us grew higher as we failed to grapple with what the therapist had said. 
Soon after this disastrous meeting, we returned to Mississippi for a 3-day weekend, during which we would go to Jackson, 3 hours south of Mound Bayou, to sign papers for the house that would be built for us.  A house!  I was ecstatic.  After weeks of worrying whether the children and I would have a proper place to live, I could finally relax.  Apparently, the town leaders who’d wanted us to live in a shack so we could appreciate the difficult life the locals faced had changed their minds and decided on a real house..
When we arrived, however, we were told that nothing was final.
 Mid-June turned to late June and the school year drew to a close.  Leon distributed his patients to other pediatricians in the area.  I started giving away our possessions, knowing that our future housing – whatever it might be – would be significantly smaller than our ten-room home in Newton. Books, bone china, sterling silver, and furniture were given to Connie and our grown nieces and nephews, as well as to our friends and neighbors. 
Leon’s patients, in the meantime, organized a farewell party for him.  At the banquet, one person after another stood up to thank Leon for his care over the years, praising every aspect of his work.  I was moved again and again by the tremendous impact my husband had had on all those lives.  Leon was touched as well and said on the way home, “If I had realized how my patients felt, I might not have wanted to leave.” 
But leave we did.  School finished and the movers came.  All too quickly, it was time to go and we piled into the car for the 2-hour drive to Cape Cod.  Before we could pull away, the grown daughter of a neighbor came running out to say one last goodbye.  I’d held my tears back until that moment, but as we hugged each other through the open window, we both began to weep.  Not wanting the children to know how sad I was, I hastily mopped my face.
It helped that we weren’t starting out immediately for Mississippi, but would be stopping at my parents’ home at the Cape.  The beach had always been a special place for me, bringing back warm memories of childhood summers spent at the coast with my grandparents.  They had a house right on the water with a porch where we could sit and watch the waves.  A few steps down from the porch, Grandpa had planted geraniums, splashing the tiny yard with color.  Just beyond the garden was a gate to the boardwalk, and then four steps down to the soft sand.  I can still feel it squishing between my toes, cool in the morning and burning hot by afternoon.
On the other side of the house was a little street where we could stroll and look in the storefront windows.  We could smell fresh bread at the bakery and hot dogs and hamburgers grilling in a restaurant.  I loved the candy store where every afternoon Grandma would give my sister and me each a penny to buy a piece of candy.  Some days we’d go for ice cream after our long afternoons playing in the sand and the ocean.
In the mornings, Grandpa Philip would wake Karyl and me, saying, “Only lazy little girls stay in bed.  Get up and we’ll go for a walk.”  
In minutes, we were dressed and ready.  We stepped onto the porch, through the garden, across the boardwalk, and down to the beach, breathing deeply of the salty sea air and intrigued by the changing colors of the morning sky.
When Karyl and I became tired from from trying to keep up with Grandpa, he turned toward home where he knew Grandma would have orange juice on the table and hot coffee ready to pour.  We stopped at the bakery to buy warm rolls for our breakfast.  As we walked in the back door, Grandma would greet us with a big hug.  When I think of her now, I picture her standing in the kitchen, barely five feet tall, with a ready smile, her hair in a bun, and dressed in a clean, pretty outfit with a matching brooch.
After breakfast, Karyl and I would go down to the beach to play while Grandma stayed inside to prepare snacks.  Later in the day, she’d bring out a basket with fresh fruit, the tastiest grapes, peaches, and plums imaginable.  Then she baked cupcakes covered with chocolate frosting on one side and vanilla on the other, the way Karyl and I liked them.
On rainy days when we couldn’t go to the beach, Karyl and I whiled away the hours with our dolls and books and, best of all, playing with Grandpa Philip.  He may have seemed gruff to other people, but I was always able to find his soft spot.  Our favorite game was to have him lie on his stomach on the living room floor while we climbed on top of him, pretending he was a train or a ship or a mountain.  While we played, he would read a book by one of the Russian writers, and every once in a while he’d stop and make intriguing comments about Tolstoy and Dostoevsky to whet our appetites for great literature.
AURA WITH CHARLES, PHILIP, CONNIE AND JO
Years later, when I was married with children of my own, we continued this special tradition by spending our summers at Cape Cod.  My grandparents’ home was long since gone, having been demolished after the Great Hurricane of 1938.  In its place, my parents had purchased a charming cottage just a few blocks from the beach.  Although Grandpa Philip had passed away, Grandma Lena was still a strong presence, helping to watch the children at the beach and taking them for long walks each afternoon.
Between Karyl and me we had eleven children and they’d all bunk together in one big room, the little ones sleeping soundly while the teenagers whispered and giggled until exhaustion took hold.  Our husbands would join us each weekend, sparing every moment they could from their jobs in the cities so that they, too, could luxuriate in the surf and sand.  Those were idyllic times, and the ten weeks of relaxation each year refreshed my body and soothed my soul.
Daydreams of a carefree summer at the Cape got me through those difficult few months prior to our departure for Mississippi.  Whenever I felt overwhelmed by all that was happening, I could look forward to hours spent lounging on the beach, watching the children at play, and visiting with my parents and sister.  However, when the school year ended and we drove to Cape Cod, it was anything but relaxing.
My parents had sold their wonderful home that was within walking distance from the beach and instead purchased a small, two-bedroom cottage a little further inland.  It was a lovely spot, just right for the two of them in retirement, but quite cramped with the arrival of my family.  No longer was there room for eleven grandchildren.  In fact, there wasn’t even enough room for Connie to stay with us.  I couldn’t complain, for my parents were generous to have us there at all, but I was sorely disappointed that during the last summer I would share with my 19-year-old daughter, she had to stay in a separate apartment with her college friends rather than with her family.  She was perfectly happy with her independence and even preferred it, but I would have liked to have her near me.
And something else bothered me as well.  The more time went by without any resolution on our housing in Mississippi, the more I worried whether I’d made the right decision about following Leon.  I’d wake up at two in the morning, unable to sleep, and sit on the edge of my bed staring out the window, wondering what to do.  I no longer had a home in Boston and no progress had been made on building us a home in Mound Bayou.  I thought about the possibility of staying permanently with my parents and cringed at the prospect.  The Cape was a wonderful place to visit, but I couldn’t live in my parents’ home, nor could I afford to get a place of our own.
Mom and Dad would have been happy to have us stay with them, even though there wasn’t enough space for all of us, and the three children had to sleep in the garage.  All my life, they’d made it clear that they were my safety net, that I could always come home if I needed them.  But I’d had enough difficulty dealing with my father’s controlling nature when I was a child, and I couldn’t bear the thought of living with it as an adult.  Ever since Leon and I were first together, Dad had tried to impose his will on us, and in many cases succeeded.  His actions were often so subtle that I often didn’t even know what was happening until decisions had been made.
Typically, he’d tie his suggestions to financial support.  Leon and I shouldn’t take a vacation because we owed Dad money.  And we owed him money because he didn’t want us to live in the relatively poor housing that was all we could afford, and he had supplemented our resources with loans.  Leon initially balked at my father’s offer, saying he preferred that we live within our means, but Dad waved aside the objection, saying, “Don’t let your pride get in the way of my daughter’s happiness.  Take the money so you can give her a better life.”
It had been a relief in recent years to get out from under my father’s thumb.  As Leon’s private practice took off and we were able to better manage ourselves financially, we found it easier to ignore Dad’s unwanted advice.  The thought of returning to his sphere of influence was alarming; I didn’t want to subject my children to his authoritarian approach to child-rearing, to the incessant demands I knew he would make of them.
           So I’d stare out the window feeling hopeless and helpless, with nowhere to call home and no prospect in sight.  My partner of 25 years, the love of my life, the man to whom I’d always looked for support, seemed oblivious to my needs.  Sleep eluded me as the tension grew and I didn’t know what to do.  There were other difficult times in my life, but this was the only time I felt as if I had no control at all.  Once again, I was a ping pong ball flying every which way but where I wanted to go, and I wasn’t even sure where I wanted that to be.
I did know that if we moved to Mound Bayou, I wanted to do so before the start of the school year so we could get settled before classes began.  With each passing day, this looked less likely and I grew more despondent.  Finally, when the summer was almost over, Leon’s boss agreed to bring in two trailers for us to live in.  At last the waiting was over.  We would have a home in which to begin our new lives.     
The day of departure arrived.  It was difficult saying goodbye to Connie and my parents, knowing it would be many months before I’d see them again.  I kept a smile on my face, not wanting anyone to know how my heart ached.  As we drove off, I watched the three of them through the back window of the car, waving their goodbyes, and I stored up the memory.  Leon turned on the radio and as if on cue, the bittersweet lyrics of Sunrise, Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof filled the air. The magnitude of my losses hit me, and no longer could I hold back the tears.

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