Memory 3, “Phoebe,” from Cool Nation:
Then there was the time he was turned away from the pool. We had ridden there on our bikes, towels over our shoulders, only to be told at the gate that our guest wasnï¿½t allowed in. It was Joe Witthauer, a lifeguard, swim team member and self-anointed god, who told us.
ï¿½Why not?ï¿½ I said.
ï¿½You know why not.ï¿½
ï¿½I donï¿½t care if youï¿½re owners. Heï¿½s a nigro and nigroes ain’t allowed.ï¿½
We got on our Stingrays and pedaled home. Mom asked why we were back so soon, Phoebe in the kitchen behind her. I told them, and took in her and Phoebeï¿½s silence as I told them. Ten years earlier my mother would have taken it, knowing she had no choice then. But this was 1967, and she wasnï¿½t taking it anymore.
She on the phone at her absolute shrillest: ï¿½I donï¿½t give a goddamn about your policies. If you donï¿½t admit him and admit him today, Iï¿½ll release the story to the Star this afternoon, and you can deal with its effect tomorrow. I will also resign my membership, and I have no doubt that I can encourage at least ten other families to do the same. Weï¿½re supposed to be living in enlightened times, Mr. Halroyd, or hadnï¿½t you heard?ï¿½
Afterward she drove us back down to the pool, neither of us wanting to go in now, and walked us to the admissions gate. Joe Witthauer, with his mirthless smile, was waiting. So was the manager, Dennis Halroyd.
My mother said not a word to either of them as she sent us in, signed the guest book for William, then turned and walked away, her heels clicking.
The silence as we entered that white domain, the unintelligent stares, the handful of approving glances.
William stood out that day like a black dot in a sea of white, his skin shining with water, so distinct amid the neat blue and cream of the pool, and the skin of everyone else. Like opposing magnets the other kids stayed away from him: stunned, surprised, unprepared. We ignored them, and played on our own.
I donï¿½t know that we crossed any great color barrier that dayï¿½-certainly nothing like the lunch counter battles of the Southï¿½-but for the few remaining years that we lived in Indian Heights, William went on swimming with us whenever he wanted, which he did often, and with great relish.