Monday, Martin Luther King holiday. 8:30 AM. –12 degrees F, wind W, moderate with strong gusts. It is overcast, cloudy and hazy, with snow still falling and blowing after getting another 4” last night. The barometer is still up at 30.19 in. and the humidity is 81%. While out shoveling snow earlier I blew the whistle to call Buddy, and it froze momentarily to my lips, which reminded me of the gullible kid in grade school who was persuaded to put his tongue on the flagpole (it wasn’t me, and I didn’t have anything to do with it).
This holiday is always a somber one for me, as it brings back all the tragedies of the ‘60’s; the assassination of not only MLK but also JFK and RFK, and the riots. The divisions and failures of Vietnam, the constant unrest and acrimony of those tumultuous times, which wore one down, and down… and down. Many of the memories are very personal and unpleasant, and I have to counter them with happy memories of early marriage, a young family, and the challenges and rewards of education and an accelerating career. The ‘60’s, like most of life, were for me a mixture of joy and sadness, success and failure, hope and despair.
I also remember well my first experience with the old Jim Crowism of the South, encountered during a trip by automobile to Florida in 1953, the year my father died (no family trips after that last one). I remember my disbelief and revulsion at the “whites only” signs outside restrooms, waiting rooms and restaurants, even on drinking fountains. I remember pulling into a filling station and, because I was working in a filling station back home, I started to clean the windshield of our car, and the gas station owner coming out and remonstrating, “Wait up there son, I got a boy here to do that,” and an old black man shuffling out to finish the job. And I remember my father, on his last vacation, stopping along the highway to talk to old “colored folk” as they fished from bridges to ask the eternal question, “What’s bitin’?” And I remember standing inspection in basic training a few years later before a black officer, who was all spit-and-polish, but who didn’t chew me out for the deficiencies in my own less-than-perfect appearance.
So here we are, a half-century and more later and sometimes I fear no more united or further ahead than before, but that’s not really true either. Martin had a dream, and so did I… and so did we all. And so must we all, once again.