I saw the old farm dog approaching me. He trotted towards me on the dirt road and was carrying something small in his mouth. His tail wagged as he got closer and he proudly dropped it at my feet.
A black kitten. Barely a week old. With a broken neck.
I ran to the barn and climbed the ladder to the hay loft looking for the mama cat and her four black kittens. The kittens were gone and the mama was crying as she paced and sniffed around the hay.
A dog can’t climb a ladder.
I was sobbing as I ran to the farmer’s house and pounded on their door yelling “Mr. Winters, Mr. Winters – the kittens…they’re gone….they’re dead. Please come help!!!!”
Mr. Winters came to the door and knelt down to wipe my tears and comfort me. This man who I spent almost every moment with after school, on weekends, during Summer vacation. This man who had his wife bake cookies for me and would take me for rides on his tractor. This man who would help me save all the county cats and bring them back to his barn to be my playmates. This man who made this Yankee girl from the big city up North who moved to this small town just north of the Missouri Compromise feel like this could be home.
And then he told me he broke those n*gg*r kitten necks because he didn’t want any of them around his farm.
I walked away sobbing even harder. Not for those kittens but because I just lost my best friend in the whole world.
The cats were the last straw in trying to accept or ignore the hate in that town. The town that according to the 2000 census is still 99.9% white.
The first straw may have been the way this nine year old was called a Yankee in 1977. Or hearing the n word used like it was just an everyday noun. By children. Maybe it was the way I was made fun of for my Northern accent. Or maybe because this girl who knew Catholicism was suddenly Methodist..because wasn’t everybody?
Or maybe it was the way our school principal made an announcement when an Asian family moved to town that we were not suppose to talk to the children if they showed up at school. Or maybe it was how that family left 24 hours later. Maybe it was the way everyone would stop and stare if they saw an African American family drive through town on their way somewhere else. Quickly.
And I was only nine and ten and then eleven and then twelve. And I just stood there angry. SO DAMN ANGRY at that town for what they were. And what they said. And how they treated people. And for what they taught their children. MY FRIENDS.
So escaped it all..and spent my days up at the old barn. Feeding and chasing cats, making ‘wine’ from the old farmer’s grape vines, enjoying honeysuckle butter, playing hide and seek among the rows of corn, and chasing the cows in the pasture. Spending time with my best friends – a 60 year old farmer and his wife.
Until the day he broke my heart beyond repair.
This was written as a Memoir for the following prompt for Write on Edge.
“We all have them.
Memories that we wish we could forget…things that we wish we could banish from our minds.
Imagine that writing down your worst memory will free you of it.
What is it?
Why does it haunt you?
What could you have done differently?”