I remember my outrage bubbling up as she spoke.
“Mrs. Langley,” my fellow first-grade classmate and yellow-bellied, snitch-of-a-former friend said to our teacher. “Tink had her eyes open during the prayer.”
A few words of explanation are necessary. My nickname is Tink. This was 1971, in Mississippi.
Segregation was over. I remember, however, black children sat at desks in one part of the classroom. White children grouped in another part. No one told us to do this. We just did.
Black and white children didn’t hold hands when picking buddies. A buddy was required for passing through the corridors to the cafeteria or auditorium.
Black and white children didn’t play together at recess. This meant we didn’t use the swing set at the same time. Or clamber together on the jungle gym.
Black and white children spoke only when necessary. And I don’t remember there ever being a situation that made speaking seem necessary.
I can’t explain why things were like this. It was Mississippi. Way down south in the land of cotton. Race relations weren’t good.
In prayer only did we become one. Black and white, we all gathered in a circle each morning. We held hands, dutifully shut our eyes, and listened while Mrs. Langley recited the day’s prayer.
My eyes were open, that’s true. Regardless of her other sins, that little snake-in-the-grass didn’t speak with a forked tongue.
Thirty-eight years later I remember the feeling of shame. The looks on the faces of the other children, black and white, united for once outside of prayer. United in disapproval of me.
I didn’t fail to shut my eyes as a political statement — too young for that. I was a daydreamer. I’d gotten lost in thought. And didn’t shut my eyes during the prayer as apparently mandated by God, at least for all 5-year-olds living then in Mississippi.
What immediately struck me, but obviously escaped Mrs. Langley, is the tattletale’s eyes must have been open if she knew mine weren’t closed.
Mrs. Langley picked up the yardstick. Ordered me to hold out my hand. And lightly smacked my palm.
The use of a yardstick probably wouldn’t be tolerated these days. But Mrs. Langley’s method of control worked. We children quaked at the sight, even the thought, of that yardstick.
I remember the popping sound. And the sting that followed. The tears that squirted out and streamed down my face.
Which is a really longwinded introduction into what I’m about to do. That is, rat out my liberal friends. Turn about is fair play, they say.
I keep seeing all of you in Wal-Mart.
Peculiarly enough, most frequently we meet in the ice-cream aisle. Where you blush, glance around wild-eyed, and babble excuses.
“I’m just here to get ice.” And, “I haven’t been here in at least six weeks — I came to pick up some toilet paper.”
Not to name names, Steven, but they sell ice elsewhere. Including at locally owned stores. Which I’ve heard you rail at others about supporting.
Not to name names, Ellen, but it hasn’t been six weeks. I saw you in Wal-Mart two weeks earlier. I ducked, without speaking, down another aisle.
It isn’t just Steven and Ellen. It’s all of you. I’ve seen dozens of former customers of mine from the farmers markets. From those days when I was a simple farmer, wielding a hoe instead of a pen … OK, wielding a keyboard … regardless of what I’m wielding, answer me this.
What are you doing in Wal-Mart?
I thought Wal-Mart was off-limits. It’s the corporate entity that most represents what green, oh-so-Barack Obama types oppose. Wal-Mart kills downtowns. It doesn’t pay its employees a living wage. It harms local businesses. Remember?
But Steven needs 10 bags of ice to cool down meat and runs to Wal-Mart. Ellen needs toilet paper and runs to Wal-Mart. My former customers forgot to pick up peppers, or greens, or winter squash last Saturday at the farmers market, and all run to Wal-Mart.
Shame, I say. Shame. Shame. Shame.
In case you were wondering, I was at Wal-Mart to buy cat food. Because there is simply nowhere else in Sylva where I can buy cat food. Or ice cream, for that matter. It is simply amazing how other stores in the area fail to stock ice cream.
But not ice, Steven. Or toilet paper, Ellen. Those are items you surely could have found.