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19th Street South & Pussy in the Corner . . .

I lived with my family in the house on Nineteenth Street South in Columbus, Mississippi for an estimated four years with my mother and three sisters, one just eighteen months older than I, one about ten years older and the eldest sister some seventeen years older.

Neither I nor any of the other children on the block were ever allowed in the house next door to our house on the north side, nor was the only child in that family allowed into our house. It never bothered us, and I don’t remember whether my family ever discussed it, but in retrospect it seems a bit strange. This posting may shed some light on the subject.

The family’s name was Berryhill, a family that was comprised of the mother, the father and a young daughter named Sue, a cute girl around my age, with blond pigtails and a really nice wardrobe. Her mother was always dressed in, I suppose, the latest fashions—I remember the women in my family discussing Sue’s mother and how she dressed. I know nothing of the father’s profession, but judging by their clothing and the fact that the mother always left the house in a taxi and returned in a taxi they had money to burn. Very few people on our street owned cars, and a limited number ever used taxi cabs—they walked, whether to the grocery, the picture show, to church, to visit, to the doctor, to the barbershop, etc. The late 1930s and early 1940s were lean years in our nation but especially in Mississippi, a state still reeling from the War Between the States and the resultant reconstruction era.

Sue was allowed to come outside and play games with us, always with the stern admonition to not soil her clothing ensemble. Sometimes she was allowed to stay outside while her mother took a taxi to some unknown point, probably to the local Black-and-White department store on shopping trip for the latest styles in women’s clothing. Speaking of that store, its name and it storefront were black and white, but the store sold clothing and accessories of all colors. I’ve always wondered whether the name was intended to inform the public during those days of segregation in the South that the store welcomed people of both races—perhaps—could be—who knows? I got no help from Google on this one—I found a White House–Black Market store that sold only white and black clothing, but also sold many accessories in color. However, no reference to a Black and White Department Store—it may possibly have been a partnership between Mr. Black and Mr. White—again, who knows?

On one memorable occasion while she was away from home Mrs. Berryhill’s daughter and I and several other kids from homes on our block played games, one of which was called Pussy in the Corner, and that was the one we were playing in her front yard when she returned in a taxi.

Ordinarily we would have delayed our game to watch her dismount from the taxi and stroll up the sidewalk and into her house, slowly and deliberately, looking to the left and to the right with the steps of a runway model as she progressed, dressed in the latest fashions—or so I gleaned by listening to my mother and my older sisters. However on this day our game was at a really exciting point and as she passed us someone shouted Pussy in the corner! and all of us shifted positions as required by the rules of the game, none of which I remember.

Sue’s mother stopped her runway walk abruptly and turned toward us and we froze in our Pussy in the Corner positions. She faced us and said in strong forceful tones, “Children, I feel that it would be much better if you would say Kitty in the corner, so please do.” She then resumed her strut to the front door and into her house.

We tried mightily to do as we were told—for the remainder of the game we laughingly shouted Kitty in the corner when the game demanded it, but our fun was ruined. A short time later the kids dispersed and went in search of pastimes that posed fewer restrictions, games such as Kick the can, Ring around the roses, Pop the whip and Hide and seek, but the thrill was gone—taking out the term pussy took out the fun in the game.

And speaking of thrill—one of the most popular songs of that day was by Fats Domino, a  haunting melody in which the singer would say, I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill, the moon stood still, etc., etc. Without exception, every little boy on my block and probably all the big boys and the men, had at one time or another sang Fat’s song as, I found my thrill on Mrs. Berryhill, etc., etc. Speaking strictly for myself, I had no idea why the corruption of the song was so funny—I just played along with a joke that I didn’t understand.

I’m serious—I was probably the world’s least knowledgeable kid in matters of sex and all its ins and outs—so to speak. The sister seventeen years my senior birthed her first child in the house on Nineteenth Street. I was at home when the baby was born—I remember my sister making lots of noise on the day my niece arrived, but I was out playing when the doctor came to our house. After he left and I returned home, I learned that I now had a niece—I  questioned her source, and I was told that the doctor delivered her. Since I was not present when he arrived, I had no reason to believe otherwise. I didn’t really care where the doctor got the baby—the place from whence she came was of no particular interest to me.

I am totally serious. While living in the house on Nineteenth Street, I spent a long summer with one of my sisters, the second oldest of my three sisters, and when I returned home my mother asked me if my sister was going to have a baby. I told her that I didn’t know, and that if she was going to have a baby she said nothing about it to me.

In retrospect I remember going to a nearby creek several times with my sister and her toddler son to bathe—the toddler skinny-dipped, I wore undershorts and my sister wore a one-piece bathing suit, and I clearly remember that she had gained a tremendous amount of weight, most of which seemed to be centered in her abdomen. The big boys always explained such a condition as the result of the woman swallowing watermelon seeds—I suppose I believed that just as I believed the doctor delivered my first niece—hey, nobody ever told me the difference between delivered and delivered.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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I downed a lion in South Africa . . .

Synopsis—A prequel to this posting:

In 1985 I traveled to Botswana under the auspices of the United States’ Department of State. At that time I was gainfully employed with the United States Customs Service, and the purpose of my travel was to represent our government and U.S. Customs in a law enforcement conference. The conference took place in Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana, at a complex that included a Holiday Inn, several restaurants and two Las Vegas-style casinos. Except for South Africa, every country in Africa was represented. That nation was not represented because it was not invited, ostensibly in criticism of its rule of apartheid.

This posting is intended to discuss other facets of that many-faceted trip. It is one of a series of discussions covering my travel to Botswana via New York City, England and South Africa, and my return therefrom via South Africa, Germany and New York City, and discussions on everything that occurred in between. For related postings, click on I married my barber, Sojourn to Botswana and Botswana’s urinals. My intentions are to narrate some of the details of my trip in the hope of entertaining visitors to my blogs, and perhaps even, to some small degree, educate visitors with those details. And now, on to the posting!

I downed a lion in South Africa . . .

After landing in Johannesburg, South Africa I spent several hours in the company of two agents of that nation Secret Service unit, an organization similar to our Central Intelligence Agency. I surrendered my U.S. State Department passport to an immigration officer at Johannesburg’s municipal airport. It would be returned to me on my return to Johannesburg from Botswana. I did not ask why my passport was held, nor was any reason given.

I would learn later that it was held to ensure that I came back through Johannesburg, rather than leaving Botswana for a different country. The two agents questioned me on the purpose of the conference and which countries would be represented, and questioned me on my return. I answered all their questions freely to the best of my ability, although my knowledge was rather limited. They seemed satisfied with my answers in the prebriefing as well as the debriefing following my return to Johannesburg after the conference.

We stopped at their office and I was asked to wait while they reported my arrival to their superiors, a report that was made behind closed doors and obviously without my presence. Left to my own devices I toured the hallways of the building, taking in views of the city through the windows and views of offices through open doors. In my wanderings I found restroom doors and drinking water fountains marked Whites only and Coloreds only. I also noted that in the wide hallways of the building, colored maintenance and cleaning people stepped well to one side as I neared, and made no direct eye contact, looking away or down as we met and passed.

Those obvious signs of the apartheid rule that still existed in South Africa—a system that would endure until 1994—turned my thoughts back 24 years, back from 1985 to 1961, to a time when racial segregation—our nation’s apartheid—ruled the South. In 1961 I left my assignment at Craig Air Force Base in Selma, Alabama to begin a two-year tour at Bitburg Air Base in Bitburg, Germany, a small town in Germany’s Eifel mountains (a definite subject for future postings!).

My tour of duty at Craig had been pleasant in every respect, both for me and for my family. That tour had lasted more than five years, and I was extremely reluctant to end it. However, my transfer was not an object for negotiation, not even for discussion, so I grudgingly and unwillingly accepted the new assignment. Bummer!

My newfound friends from South Africa’s Secret Service treated me with a tour of Pretoria, the capital city of the nation. Our tour of the city included a marketplace, monuments and various civic buildings. The most impressive part of the tour was the Voortrekker Monument, a massive granite structure built to honor the Voortrekkers, pioneers that left the Cape Colony in the thousands between 1835 and 1854 to explore and establish settlements. Click here for a digital tour of the monument.

We returned to Johannesburg shortly before my flight was scheduled for departure, and a suggestion was made to have a beer before the flight. I declined because the cuisine at the Holiday Inn had not been kind to my digestive system, particularly to the elimination apparatus of that system. However, under duress inflicted by their urging me to have a beer, I accepted a cold beer, attractively packaged in a can. Oddly, however, neither of my friends ordered a beer, explaining that they could not drink while on duty.

I noticed that they watched me intently while I downed the beer, rather quickly because boarding time was near. When I finished the beer, they both smiled broadly and told me that on my return to the States I could truthfully claim that I downed a lion in Africa. A quick glance at the can’s label confirmed the fact that I had indeed accomplished such an unlikely feat—pictured on the can’s label was a male lion with a huge mane and an open mouth featuring large fangs, obviously a roaring lion.

I made it safely home with the empty Lion beer can, and it became the nucleus for a rather extensive collection of beer cans. Several years later  while converting our garage into a rec room, I bagged the cans into several black plastic trash bags, set them into a corner. The bags occupied that space for  a considerable length of time, right up to the time my wife tossed them out with the other trash. She apologized profusely and claims to this day that it was an accident, absolutely unintentional, but I have some doubts. The cans must have clanged and rattled a bit en route to the trash, a sign that the bags contained something other than routine trash. Oh, well, easy come, easy go, right? Bummer!

I downed a lion in South Africa—I no longer have the evidence to prove it but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it!



 

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