THE FOURTH OF JULY
1 The first time I went to Washington D.C. was on the edge of the summer when I was supposed to stop being a child. At least that's what they said to us all at graduation from the eighth grade. My sister Phyllis graduated at the same time from high school.
I don’t know what she was supposed to stop being. But as graduation presents for us both, the whole family took a Fourth of July trip to Washington D.C., the fabled and famous capital of our country.
2 It was the first time I'd ever been on a railroad train during the day. When I was little, and we used to go to the Connecticut shore, we always went at night on the milk train, because it was cheaper.
3. Preparations were in the air around our house before school was even over. We packed
for a week. There were two very large suitcases that my father carried, and a box filled with food. In fact, my first trip to Washington was a mobile feast; I started eating as soon as we were comfortably ensconced in our seats, and did not stop until somewhere after Philadelphia. I remember it was Philadelphia because I was disappointed not to have passed by the Liberty Bell.
4. M y mother had roasted two chickens and cut them up into dainty bite-size pieces. She packed slices of brown bread and butter, and green pepper and carrot sticks. There were little violently yellow iced cakes with scalloped edges called "marigolds," that came from Cushman's Bakery. There was a spice bun and rock-cakes from Newton's, the West Indian bakery across Lenox Avenue from St. Mark's school, and iced tea in a wrapped mayonnaise jar. There were sweet pickles for us and dill pickles for my father, and
peaches with the fuzz still on them, individually wrapped to keep them from bruising. And, for neatness, there were piles of napkins and a little tin box with a washcloth dampened with rosewater and glycerine for wiping sticky mouths.
5. I wanted to eat in the dining car because
I had read all about them, but my mother reminded me for the umpteenth time that dining car food always cost too much money and besides, you never could tell whose hands had been playing all over that food, nor where those same hands had been just before. My mother never mentioned that Black people were not allowed into railroad dining cars headed south in 1947. As usual, whatever my mother did not like and could not change, she ignored. Perhaps it would go away, deprived of her attention.
6. I learned later that Phyllis's high school senior class trip had been to Washington, but the nuns had given her back her deposit
in private, explaining to her that the class, all of whom were white, except Phyllis, would be staying in a hotel where Phyllis "would not be happy," meaning, Daddy explained to her, also in private, that they did not rent rooms to Negroes. "We still take among-you to Washington, ourselves, "my father had avowed, "and not just for an overnight in some measly fleabag hotel."
7. I n Washington D.C., we had one large room with two double beds and an extra cot for me. It was a back-street hotel that belonged to a friend of my father's who was in real estate, and I spent the whole next day after Mass squinting up at the Lincoln Memorial where Marian Anderson had sung after the D.A.R. refused to allow her to sing in their auditorium because she was Black. Or because she was "Colored", my father said as he told us the story. Except that what he probably said was "Negro", because for his times, my father was quite progressive.