We moved to Georgia from Florida in June of 1965. It was hot, viciously humid. As usual, my brother and sister made friends right away. I sat in the relative cool of my and Kathi’s bedroom, reading Gone With the Wind. Every where we lived, I’d read a book about that state. So in Wyoming, I’d read about Jackson Pollock. He was from Cody. My mother and her pals used to race their horses from her home town of Douglas up to Cody.
But here we were in Dad’s home state, sweltering like workers in a steel factory. As I was reading yet another “Fiddle-dee-dee” from Scarlett, Bob came running into my room.
“Hey, girl! There’s a pool over in th’ next town.”
“So? Dad’s at work. We won’t be able to get there.”
“We can ride bikes.”
The bane of my existence, bicycles. I never could figure out how to balance on my blue Schwinn for longer than half a block. It was start, stop, start, stop for me.
“C’mon, fool! It’ll be fun.”
A stranger’s face appeared in the doorway.
“This is Chris. He lives down th’ road. Chris, convince my goofy sister to go swimming with us.”
“In th’ swamp?” We lived right on the edge of the Okeefenokee.
“Whaat? No! The pool over in Hoboken.”
“We can’t swim on a Sunday. That’s Negro Day.”
Bob let out a rough laugh. “NEGRO day? What the heck does that mean?”
Back then, “negro” was a sign of respect. I was glad to hear this southern boy calling black people by their preferred title, rather than the perjorative which rhymed with trigger.
“Negro Day is when no white people can swim. It’s only for negroes. Then at night, they drain the pool and clean it for us. The water turns black from negroes.”
“You have Got to be kidding me!” Shouted my brother. “That is a huge waste of water! Nobody would do that. Water doesn’t turn black from their skin, you fool! Does water turn white because white people swim in it? No, it stays blue. Or clear.” My brother never worried about insulting his friends. He was all about The Truth.
“My Daddy said so.” Chris sounded unsure of himself.
“OK, here’s the deal,” my brother was always making plans. “We’ll go down there tonight. What time does the pool close?”
“So we’ll get down there around 7:30, climb up a tree and wait to see if they really do drain the pool. Dixie, are you with us?”
Lord, I thought. This book was just getting good. A ball at Tara with Scarlett and all her beaux.
“OK, I guess.”
That evening, we filled up on Mom’s home made fried chicken, mashed poatoes, gravy, yeast rolls and tons of iced tea. Mom never put sugar in it like Aunt Inez. The way our aunt made iced tea was this:
One pot boiling with eight tea bags. Another, smaller pot boiling with a cup of sugar! Mix it up, pour into a pitcher filled with ice. Swig down the syrupy stuff. Yuck!
Chris came over and Bob asked Mom, “Can we go ride bikes?”
“Yes but you be back before dark.” Luckily, it was summer. Dark didn’t come until around 9:00.
Off we dashed on our bicycles, leaving five year old Kathi behind. She loved helping Mom out with the dishes. She never liked being too far away from Mama at that point.
We got to the park after twenty minutes of hard riding. I was sweating like a demon from Hades. So were the boys. Shouts from the pool could be heard all the way over where we stopped, at the band stand. We leaned our bikes against the wooden steps and crouched low, running behind my crew-cut, fearless brother.
“OK, guys. Here’s a great tree! Oak. Sturdy.” We climbed up into the thick branches each one covered with long streams of Spanish moss. It was easy to see the pool from our vantage point.
Bob had brought supplies. He was always prepared. He handed Chris and me a Tootsie Roll Pop to suck on so we wouldn’t get dry mouth.
We watched swimmers splashing around. Music blasted from the PA system. Stevie Wonder, singing “I Was Made to Love Her,” Sam and Dave shouting, “You Don’t Know Like I Know,” and “Money” by Barrett Strong. Cool tunes.
Before we knew it, there was the blast from a whistle. Muscular black lifeguards circled the pool, blowing on their high powered whistles. People exited the pool, heading toward the mens’ and womens’ bath houses.
Bob whispered, “See, the water is still blue.”
Chris was having an epiphany. His father had lied to him. The entire world looked different. His eyes were as huge as pancakes.
A worker picked up the pool skimmer and walked around, clearing the water of leaves just like after any long day at the swimming hole. He left. We waited and waited. 1950s Chevys and Buicks drove away. Even the lifeguards and janitors drove or walked toward home. Evening began to fall around us, an orange and pink shawl.
“OK, now do you believe me?” Bob demanded of Chris. “Nobody’s here. The pool is still full of water.”
Chris had no words. We climbed down from the tree, jumped onto our bikes and rode hellbent for leather toward home. That September at school, Chris, Bob and I tried to educate the masses about Negro Day at the Pool. Nobody believed us except the Army Brats. They’d moved around like our family. They knew what was what.