Where Are All the Black People?
...Rosy and Becky's arrival in Bucklin, Kansas, created quite a stir. Heads turned, windows rolled down, and cars inched along to catch a glimpse of them, for few people in the town’s population of 900 had ever seen a Black person before. My sisters became something of a novelty and held celebrity-like status for the few months we lived there.
By the end of the summer, the four of us learned to swim in some form or fashion, though neither Rosy, Bertie, nor I ever gained the confidence of Becky. She thrived in the water and even learned to dive off the high board. Rosy struggled to maintain a steady rhythm with her feet, her polio leg dragged behind the other, though she hoped no one noticed.
When we weren’t at the pool, we played indoors. Temperatures in Bucklin got into the 100s on most days.
Mommy’s mom, Grandma Scott, lived alone in a small one-story house in the middle of town. We spent that summer and part of the fall crowded inside.
One afternoon, after unpacking our suitcases at Grandma’s, Bertie and I sat in the kitchen on red metal stools and sipped root beer. Grandma tied her apron and stirred potatoes on the burner. She turned around, bent over, and pulled on a large section of the linoleum flooring. “I’ll be right back.” A trap door opened in the middle of the kitchen, and Grandma disappeared below.
Bertie jumped off her stool, poked her head beneath the floorboard, and yelled, “Grandma, Why’s there a hole in your kitchen floor?”
I jumped off my stool to see the gaping hole in the floor that had swallowed our grandmother.
Bertie and I scrambled after her, tripping over each other down the dark opening while we raced to the bottom of the steps.
Grandma yanked on a string hung in midair, and a light bulb flickered.
We walked into a small, damp room. “Grandma, what’s in here?”
“You girls act like you’ve never seen a cellar before.”
“We haven’t,” Bertie said, what’s a cellar for?”
“For tornados. Everyone in Kansas has an underground cellar. When a loud noise, like a train, starts whistling in the wind, people run to their cellars for protection. Just in case the house implodes.”
My sisters and I had not considered tornados when we dreamed about what life would be like in America. We worried people wouldn’t be accepting of our mixed-raced family and the possibility of getting shot. The thought of being caught up in a whirlwind like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz terrified me even more.
I pointed at a glass jar that rested on one of the shelves. “Grandma, why do you have jars filled with food in here?”
“I wouldn't touch that if I were you. It would be best if you girls went back upstairs. I need to find the corn I put up a couple of years ago. I'll be right behind you soon enough.”
Bertie and I climbed out of the abyss, slurped down the rest of our drinks, and waited. Grandma emerged from the cellar, arms full of canned corn. Two tucked under her arms and two in each hand. “Bertie, come help me with these jars.”
Bertie pinched my ear, stuck her tongue out at me, and hurried across the room. She took the two jars from Grandma’s hands and placed them on the counter.
“Grandma, where are all the Black people?
“Black people. We haven’t seen any in town since we got here.”
“We don’t have any Blacks in this town.” “Why not?” Grandma opened the cans and dumped the corn in a pot.
“You girls are full of questions, aren’t you?”
She walked over to the opening between the kitchen and the living room. “Doris, come get your girls. They’ve got more questions than I can answer right now.”
Thanks for reading a draft excerpt from my WIP. See more excerpts HERE