A Family Trip to the Store
by Joe Freeman
One Sunday morning, after my momma and I returned home from church, I was sitting on our front porch. This porch had been enclosed with wood on the bottom three feet and had glass panels on top, so I was pretty much hidden from view. There was a seldom used road about one-and-a-half football fields in length in front of our house. This road led past a very large fresh fruit packing house to a section of town in which poor whites lived. So as I looked out this particular morning there was this scene unfolding right before my eyes. I looked down the road to my right toward the packing house because I heard a ruckus coming from that direction. I was all of about eleven years old. I may have already accepted Jesus as my personal savior, confessed my sins and been baptized by full immersion, which was the Baptist way.
This white man was trying to get someplace. This white woman kept running after him, crying and begging him not to go. She would run after him and throw her arms around one of his legs, weeping and begging. He would just drag her along for a few steps and then, when he tired, push her off him. Then she would run after him again, throw herself on a leg, be dragged along for several steps and then pushed to the ground again. This happened over and over again, about every ten yards or so all the way down this road until they were right in front of our house. This woman would be pushed to the ground in her torn, thin dress, then she would come crying after her man, throw herself on him, grabbing a leg, and be dragged along for several steps until he got tired and pushed her off again. Trailing along behind this man and this woman were three little chillin, all crying and all under five years. It seemed like I was watching for at least one-half hour. I couldn’t stop watching. I could hardly breathe. I told my momma. She just told me to stay quiet and stay out of sight. It finally dawned on me where this man was heading. There was a liquor store about 150 yards on the other side of our house.
My mother hated alcohol. She barely tolerated my daddy keeping a fifth of Canadian Club in her kitchen cabinet. He would come home at the end of the day, pour himself a shot glass and drink it right down. He said it was for medicinal purposes. It wasn’t until I was much older that I came to realize he did his serious drinking at the office before he came home. And it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I came to know from my aunts that most of my momma’s brothers were heavy drinkers. I suspect her first husband may have been a heavy drinker as well, and may have gotten physical with my momma when he drank. He was about twenty years older than my momma when he married her around her 17th year. My momma must have been terribly desperate to risk going to hell for certain for divorcing Mr. Coleman, that’s what her sisters said. Anyway my momma hated alcohol and I already had her fear in my body at eleven watching this scene unfold.
About twenty minutes later, I saw the same man walking back, resigned now, from the direction of the store. The same woman walked, quiet and slumped now, about five yards behind him, and the three little chillin still trailed along behind all in a row with tear streaked dust caked on their faces. Everyone seemed plum spent. I realized the liquor store was closed on Sunday.
Joe grew up in a small, segregated Southern town. He is a psychotherapist and parent educator in Storrs, CT. Joe is just starting to write about his childhood experiences.