This picture is me with Ditto standing outside our house on Oregon Street in Berkeley, California but I am older than I was when this happened to me. I am in third grade in the picture, I think. The day I went to the playground happened when I was in between first and second grade, I am fairly sure. I just felt like showing the cars and me at a small size. I am sporting the haircut that my Dad gave me. He cut my hair to save money we didn't have. We were very poor in these days.
We all have tough ones. This memory is one of mine. I would wander on my own through the streets of Berkeley. My mom thought nothing of it either, as long as I was in my time frame. I had already proved that I didn't get lost. I was only half a block from Le Conte Elementary school. It was just across Ellsworth Street. The playground was on the far side of the building. The neighborhood was lower middle class as the middle class was in the Fifties. We lived there because both Mom and Dad were finishing at Cal up Telegraph Avenue from where we lived. There was a black neighborhood in Berkeley, I think mainly because of World War II and the industrialization it caused. That neighborhood was a fairly long walk from the school where this occurred. There was not much reason for the black kids to be in the neighborhood except it was on the way to Oakland from their part of Berkeley. This sounds odd today but in the Fifties it wouldn't have. And it was a remarkable thing that the black youth could feel safe enough to wander like that in a small crowd. These were junior high kids I encountered and I assume that's what they were doing, going home from Oakland.
I am happy to report that I did not turn against blacks because of this encounter. I easily could have, I think.
A Playground Memory
That playground called me on the wrong day, there alone except for the crowd, five blacks who showed up for no damn reason that day and one spit on me Sen-Sen chunks, my face wet and me with no idea what just happened here. I was six years old. I do not like licorish still at sixty three.
August 16, 2009 3:38 PM
I am actually nearing sixty five today.
Wiki says: "Sen-Sen is a type of breath freshener originally marketed as a "breath perfume" in the late nineteenth century by the T. B. Dunn Company, currently produced by F&F Foods. Sen-Sen bears a strong resemblance to Nigroids, a liquorice sweet made by Ernest Jackson & Company Ltd. "Sen sen can be purchased today, usually in small packets. In the 1930's it was available in more convenient small cardboard boxes. Similar to a matchbox of the time, an inner box slid out from a cardboard sleeve revealing a small hole from which the tiny sen sen squares would fall when the box was shaken."
Some years ago my poetry took on a mythic flavor and I became a character in my own poems, a mage, "the man of the Northern Wall". This apellation is not completely fictional. My middle name is Noordwal, a Dutch term for north wall, though in current Dutch it mainly means north bank as in riverbank. I was told that an ancestor, a Portugese Jew escaping the Inquisition, settled in a small Dutch town and took this name from where he settled, near the north wall of the town. I have thought for a long time that -wal meant wall, think my mother told me that. A linguist might say that my usage is no longer common, is an older usage, but then the Inquisition happened in Portugal a few centuries ago, right around the time the Moors lost control of the Iberian Peninsula and the Jews lost the modest protection given them by Islam. Now I write as this mage, my poetry persona.