Quantico, Virginia, the town I grew up in and Fourth Avenue, the street that watched me play baseball with the boys, and heard me say I was okay, even when I had to grit my teeth; with knees so bloody, I could hardly walk. I’d pick myself up and jump without a limp; for I feared they’d throw me out of the game, because I was a girl. In these restless rush of years since then, it seems to be a blurry echo in my memory, just beyond my reach, a moment slid sideways. But, I’m here to say, “those boys were bullies!!”
The street that I grew up on was not one of the more picturesque in town. Nor was it so historical as most of Prince William boasted. But, tall willow oaks, bending and sticking their branches into the eye of the sky, and houses clustered on generous lots, made a homely statement of beauty. Like most children I took it all for granted.
My school was on the Base, but our church was down the road about seven miles through what Mama considered part of glory’s gates, “Triangle Missionary Baptist Church.” I can see Mama sitting in her same old pew, in that same old church, in that same old town for all my growing days.
It was a comfortable church. If you were ailing, they visited. Funerals and weddings were well attended, and if you didn’t attend church on Sunday, it was assumed you had passed away on Saturday night.
There was a drugstore, Ferlazzos’, one of the teen hangouts. Each booth had its own hookup to the main juke box. Just flip the cards until you found ‘that song’ and put your money in. Johnny Ray ruled the airways with his “Crieeeee.”
There were other drug stores, but only one Ferlazzos’. He even let us swing our pony tails around his makeshift dance floor, every now and then. Although he’d ring his hands and say, “I don’t got no license for dis.” Still we danced.
It had a fancy dress shop where I could press my nose against the window and see myself reflected, “Ohh, la, la” in Paris. The lady who owned it was actually from Brooklyn. She chewed gum and wore her hair in tightly baked, feisty curls, but nevertheless went by the name of Madam.
There was a store named Limings that wasn’t so fancy, but sold everything, worth having, and a big white post office that sort of squatted comfortably in the middle of town.
Lou Mary’s house sat near the Catholic Church. She was one of Mama’s special friends. They say she lived to be well over 100, and had a disposition so sweet that even her in-laws couldn’t find a word to say against her. By 12:00 noon on Sundays, she could be found in her starched white apron, tightly stretched over her abundant chest, singing away, ready for company.
To eat at Lou Mary’s house was a little bit of heaven. Every time Lou lifted a chicken leg, browned and dripping with gravy, she further justified her angelic presence on this planet.
The sounds of female voices would drift up like dust particles in the sunbeams, scattering softly after a full meal. Their light laughter spilled out the windows onto the porch, into the town. Ah, they were sparkling, funny women; mother, Lou Mary and their friends: always full of foolishness, as they called it.
Their stories, more colorful and mysterious than any TV show today, left just enough to the imagination to keep me awake.
Sometimes Lou Mary would shake her head and talk about her mother. “She was so tiny that she said ‘Papa had to shake the sheets to find her: He’d sort of lean down over his cane and squint through his good eye, pretending to look for her.” Minnie” he’d say, “if you don’t quit all that traipsing around and speak up, I’m gonna shake these sheets ‘till I find you.” The women would laugh and shake their heads-and then somebody else would chime in with another story; and they’d swish their funeral home fans, and say “umm, umm. Then silently they would swim in the reflections of their own thoughts.
Just before darkness fell on those Sunday afternoons, we would slowly make our way home. Pale light still held the worn-out town in the hot palm of a backsliding day. Summer was that time of year when light seemed to melt into the Potomic River, and the old town was kissed with gold as the reflections on the river moved away from the fading sun.
“Look at that river,” Mama would say. “Why, if a body were skilled enough they could set sail on that old Potomic River to any port in the world. They could go anywhere, do anything.”
Mama was right ; and of course many had and many would. But, who in their right mind would ever want to leave home, or Mama, or Lou Mary and her fried chicken. But, then I didn’t know the first thing about anything, except that I was secure in my moment of happiness. There was no call, none that I could ever imagine, to make such a fuss about it right then, not on such a perfect day.