Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Times, They are A’Changin’

The Times, They are A’Changin’

Come gather round people, wherever your roam…

As a Southern Baby Boomer, my childhood memories paint an era reminiscent of Bob Dylan lyrics. The times were charmed for me, yet tumultuous for society; I experienced it firsthand. During the long hot summer of 1957, at the age of three, I moved from Mobile, Alabama to Camden, Arkansas. I know we traveled through the Delta, because consequent trips back to Mobile, my city of birth, seared the landscape into my memory. Flat, hot, farmland turned into kudzu-covered ravines around Vicksburg; we crossed the mighty Mississippi by way of a scary, narrow bridge with a train track smack dab in the middle. I remember praying that a train would not cross at such a precarious time. It would surely cause the structure to pitch us all into Ol’ Man River. Stuck to the hot vinyl covered seats on those road trips, I soaked in all there was to see in the Deep South. Cotton, no longer king, was still planted along the two-lane highways; remnant bolls trapped in farm equipment reminded passersby of changing times.

Upon hearing that we would be living in Arkansas, my pediatrician warned Mama that I might need shots usually reserved for trips to Third World countries. Thank goodness, he was unnecessarily concerned. The worst we found was a lack of decent housing and grits. Both were resolved with time.

…as the present now will later be past…

Root beer Fizzies and hula-hoops created fun during the summer days. Loud attic fans as well as oscillating ones lulled me to sleep while fireflies and heat lightning performed light shows; crickets provided raspy percussion accompaniment outside the screened open windows. The septic tank was the downside sans air conditioning. Dime stores, pre Wal-Mart, smelled of an amalgam: roasted peanuts, cashews and mothballs. Ice cream tasted sweeter in those days.

Long before Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers and years before Kermit was a nappy green twinkle in Jim Henson’s eye, we made do with Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Green Jeans, Mr. Moose, Grandfather Clock and Tom Terrific in grainy black and white. Color televisions were yet to make it to the average household; we were ignorant of that luxury and didn’t care. I never tired of Soupy Sales and pie in his face. Those early television icons helped raise us; they instilled moral fiber into the middle children of Baby Boomdom.

I was too shy to commit to kindergarten and this was long before attendance became mandatory. I guess you could say I was home schooled. Lazy days were filled with observations. We lived directly across the street from the football field. I watched as the high school band marched around our neighborhood for practice. During the early autumn months, Thursday and Friday nights provided plenty of entertainment in my small town. The black high school used the field on Thursday nights; their cheers were much more amusing than the white high school’s. “Our team is red hot. Yo’ team ain’t doodly squat! The black band put the white one to shame with their strutting. Even our cat approved, perched on the corrugated tin roof of the ticket booth.

Radio tunes emitted mono sound from the kitchen counter as Mama performed her daily household duties. The MacGuire Sisters sang harmoniously of Sugar in the Morning and Doris Day tugged at my heartstrings with Que Sera, Sera; I wistfully thought about the day when I would leave the comforts of home. Our black ironing lady, Stella, drank milky coffee from a saucer. It cooled faster that way. Those were indeed the good old days.

…And admit that the waters around you have grown.

There were bi-annual trips to Mobile and obscure Gulf Shores, before Hurricane Frederick put Alabama’s private vacation spot on the map, transforming it into a condo-ridden nightmare. Back then it was a pristine beach with houses on stilts, looking very much a village of huge birdhouses in the sand. Getting there was a lesson in patience. Prone to car sickness, I was given a front seat and would watch as we traversed the changing scenery; Mobile Bay would turn to Baldwin County farms, then tall pines, and finally, the sand and surf. Pitching colorful green striped canvas, we constructed makeshift tents by water’s edge, eating sandwiches and drinking cold sodas from Grandaddy’s aluminum ice chest. We rode waves until sea sick, some knocking us into the surf and below the water; we managed to find our way to the surface. Tired and often sunburned, we rode back to Mobile late evening, happy, despite the chafing sand in our bathing suits. No air-conditioned cars, the daily Gulf thunderstorms were a welcome relief from the heat on the way back to Granny’s. Hot baths and frilly baby doll pajamas made for sweet dreams on pallets thrown on the floor. Trips to Mobile made it possible for my sister and I to play hopscotch with cousins, slide down the hill in the backyard on makeshift cardboard sleds, and make forts and shady retreats with blankets and quilts under the trees; we took trips to the local TG&Y to spend our allowance on paper dolls and coloring books. Summer squalls were perfect for naps. We couldn’t wait for the ice cream truck in the afternoons. Granny cooked fried corn, okra and squash; field peas, and buttered cornbread rounded out the meal. You know what they say about Southerners and fried foods. We ran behind the mosquito truck at night, sucking up toxic misty fumes, more than likely DDT.

…There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’…

I screamed in adolescent frenzy as Paul, John, George and Ringo shook their mop tops and sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on Ed Sullivan, still in black and white. As birthdays passed, I watched the first space flight and then man land on the moon. Silly Putty and Slinkys were overnight sensations and toys of choice. Kruschev banged on the table with his shoe. China became Red China. At school we watched films on how to survive an atomic blast and avoid radiation poisoning. My house lacked a basement full of canned goods. What was I to do? My obsessive/compulsive disorder was rearing its head and I feared each plane that flew over was a crew of Communists (probably a mixed group of Russians and Chinese with Kruschev and Chairman Mao as pilots) with an A-bomb aimed right at my house. I took the Cold War personally. Later in the decade, nightly reports of our defeats and fallen soldiers in Viet Nam dominated the airwaves and added fodder to my psychoses. The hippie movement was a welcome respite. I gladly donned bell-bottoms, strung beads, and ruined my arches with suede moccasins.

…Come senators, congressman, please heed the call.

Don’t stand in the doorway, don’t block up the hall…

In junior high I devoured Gone with the Wind like a hot fudge sundae. I read fast and couldn’t put it down. I listened to Kim Stanley narrate as the older voice of Scout Finch’s character in To Kill a Mockingbird, her voice like slow honey. I related to small town Southern life. Atticus Finch made me swoon. I had a crush on Andy Griffith’s Opie. Stories about the South still fascinate me. Perhaps it’s because I lived through much of its history.

Poignantly, I recall looking into the heartbreaking soulful eyes of old black men; their gazes seemed to look beyond everything in hopes for a better day. Each ebony wrinkle told a story. I saw the obvious humiliation, yet quiet acceptance in African Americans when forced to use bathroom facilities and drinking fountains marked “colored.” I sat in a movie theatre, downstairs for whites, balcony for blacks. I got an extra day off from school Thanksgiving 1963 when President Kennedy was buried. I remember the Birmingham riots, the Selma March, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Segregationist/Governor George Wallace was shot and crippled during my youth and as an undergraduate at the University of Alabama, I personally watched him kiss the University’s first black homecoming queen from his wheelchair on the Quad. Busing, integration, and other racial issues were in the paper and news daily. My school had forced integration; Camden High School Class of 1972 never had a prom due to a paranoid school board. Fights at school were commonplace. Not all of my black fellow graduates attend our high school reunions. Some of them choose to have their own celebrations. But the ones that started with us in junior high, that played football, basketball, and ran track, that shed and shared the tears of adolescence as well as integration, those friends come, like long lost buddies. Their parents were paid to place them with the whites, human guinea pigs in a social experiment. We shared history, didn’t we? We wear our years of civil unrest like a badge…survivors. Bob Dylan was prophetic with his lyrics.

…Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide, the chance won't come again.
And don't speak too soon for the wheel's still in spin;
And there's no tellin' who
that it's namin'.

For the loser now will be later to win for the times they are a-changin'
January 20, 2009 I watched on my color, flat screen television, in high definition, as a black man, an African American, became President of the United States. I heard the collective gasps and sighs of my fellow Baby Boomers. The times are still a’changin’.

Nita Risher McGlawn

Nita is a freelance writer and visual artist living in Katy, TX. Her most recent published work was in the University of Alabama Alumni Magazine. The piece, “Born to Be Bama Bound,” chronicles how she came to attend the University of Alabama during its glory years of the early 1970’s, even though she grew up in South Arkansas.

Prior to that publishing, Nita’s two Louisiana poems, “New Orleans Ambience” and “It’s Called Acadiana” were written. The poems describe two distinct cultures in South Louisiana. Her “Mardi Gras Madness” is a companion piece to compliment both poems.

Soon to be published, “A Bama Primer,” takes a whimsical tour of the University of Alabama. Children, university students, and die-hard fans will enjoy the alphabetical journey with landmarks, famous Bama folk, and trivia represented. Verse and graphics are original work by Nita.

In addition, Nita is working on her memoir as an expatriate in Indonesia and Oman. She has a plethora of poignant and hysterical accounts of life abroad. Another children’s book, “Butch, the Traveling Expat Cat” is in the works as well.

Visit to view some of Nita’s original artwork.