Come play in the deep end

“Do you remember being the only little White girl who would swim in the public pool?”

Three times in as many months I have been asked this question by as many hometown African American lady friends.

The answer? Honestly? No.

“Do you remember teaching the Black kids how to swim?”

Sort of. I remember that if you couldn’t swim, you couldn’t play in the deep end. You couldn’t play with me. I remember that I was lucky enough to get swimming lessons. I remember that everybody’s Mama and Daddy couldn’t afford to give them lessons every summer.

Here’s what else I remember. I remember that I lived right across the street from the swimming pool – the cat bird seat, if you will. I remember that it was a sparkling oasis of ice cold, blue chlorination in an otherwise miserably hot, dry South Alabama town. I remember that I had a lot of friends and we played Marco Polo, and raced, and did crazy dives off the diving board.

I remember that if my grandfather took me to the creek, there were no other children to play with. It was just me. And Baw. And the river.

Now that you mention it, though, most of those pool friends were, indeed, Black. Now that you mention it, I do remember getting called nasty names, names that I will not repeat, because of who my friends were. Now that you mention it, I didn’t care what those hateful people said then — and I don’t care now. They weren’t going to change me. They weren’t going to stop me from playing with my friends. They weren’t going to stop me from going to the pool.

I remember thinking, how sad for them that they feel that way. How sad that they would deny themselves the fun of the public pool because of their prejudice. How sad that they would give up a whole afternoon of playing with some of the most fun people I knew just because of the color of their skin.

Back then, back in the early 70s, a few people felt compelled to say hateful, ugly things, but they had to approach me, look me in the eye, and speak their awful words out loud. They had to risk the possibility of a swift kick in the shins. Now though, thanks to social media, people are able to spew their vitriol right out in public for all the world to see — a glowing screen separating them from the real world and the black and blue consequences. And spew they do. Freely. Recklessly. Thoughtlessly.

Freedom of Speech is a right that we all have. It is a right I am thankful for, just like I am thankful for all of the freedoms we are granted by virtue of the fact that we are Americans. Freedoms that are unique to us, to the United States. Freedoms that many, many other people would give anything for. But just because you have this right, doesn’t mean you have to exercise it. As Granny used to say, sometimes it is better to be quiet and thought a fool than to open your mouth and prove it.

This election season, played out on Facebook, has shown me an unprecedented amount of ignorance, selfishness, and hate. I have seen some of the most disgusting displays of prejudice — racial, gender, economical, sexual orientation — you name it. Forget about the least of these! Forget about loving thy neighbor as thyself! To hell with you, Samaritan!

Well I wasn’t raised that way. I was raised by a Mother who took groceries to shut-ins no matter what side of the tracks they lived on. I was raised by a Father who taught English at a historically Black community college during the Civil Rights era. They instilled in me that you should help those who could not help themselves without question, without judgment. I was raised to stand up for what I thought was right and to defend those weaker than me. I was raised to treat everyone – old, young, Black, White, rich, poor – with courtesy and with respect. I was raised at the pool.

Don’t be alone at the river. Alone with hate, greed, and prejudice. Why don’t you come to the pool and play in the deep end with me?

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Milt Bolling says:

    Hi Audrey…..This is absolutely your BEST!!! The title itself is intriguing and I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to read it…..and to thank you for sending it to me. Excuse me now….but time and energy is pretty limited for me with Milt still in rehab. He is in the facility called Crowne Health (on Navco Road.

    The original name was The Heritage……the place where your great grandmother Mimi (aka Edith Lambert) spent the last ten years of her life. Crowne bought the facility in 1986, refurbished it. Also Angie worked there as Art Director,etc about 40 years ago. Thanks again……best to Husband, keep

    happy hearts……love and God Bless…..Joanne and Milt

    1. Audrey says:

      Thank you, Joanne! All my love to you and Milt!

  2. Lee padgstt says:

    I love you.

    1. Audrey says:

      Love you too, Lee! Let me know if you ever head down this way. I’d love to see you!

  3. Al Rees says:

    Amazing! How I wish that my parents had taught me what yours taught you. I grew up in the 60’s with an extremely racist father, and a mother who, for the most part, did what my father said. I always enjoy your writings, and look forward to the next one.

    1. Audrey says:

      Thank you, Al. I think I was very lucky to have the parents I did.

  4. tanya says:

    Love, love, love this and you should absolutely post it on the Janes and everywhere else.

    Your experience is so different from mine – and yet so similar. I lived in Iowa from roughly 4 – 9. In a very small town in a very rural county that had maybe two black families. One was couple from Africa — academics at the college where my dad worked. The other I just knew about, never met.

    In fact, the only black person I ever remember talking to as a young child was Mr. Smiley (our name for him), the really nice man who always fueled up my grandmother’s car. Grandma lived in the big city, Washington DC, and Mr. Smiley was always a highlight of my trips to visit her.

    When I moved to Florida in third grade I suddenly went from an all white (mostly german/swedish/et descended) school to a very diverse school and many of my good friends were black. I loved line/step dancing with them, learning how to platte hair, etc. I was often the only white kid at their birthday parties… I probably got strange looks from some of my white peers at school, but honestly, I don’t remember … I was having too much fun with my friends!

    1. Audrey says:

      Thank you for sharing your story, Tanya! And for your encouragement!

  5. Carol says:

    I was raised in southern Ohio and had no clue about the civil rights movement when I was little and growing up. When I moved to the south I learned a lot regarding the history. But even now, I must not hang around with racists because I never hear anything negative or racial. Thank God.

  6. T.K. Thorne says:

    A great post, Tanya. I was brought up as you were. I think my parents took me to the YMCA to swim on purpose (there was a private pool we could have utilized). I’m afraid I didn’t have black friends, however, but I am older than you and don’t remembering the schools integrating until I was in high school! I missed out.

  7. Dina Hagler says:

    What a well-written and meaningful piece, Audrey! Thank you for sharing.

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