At what point is a town not the same town it used to be? Is it when the Super Walmart shows up? Is it when the local restaurants give way to fast food chains lined up by the interstate like guests at a party who act like they own the place. Or is it when all the people you used to know have either left or changed beyond any hope of recognition?
No, my feet say no, this is the same town. This is the same street I use to walk down from my little church house to the corner market for candy and a Coke. My ears hear the same cry of the blue jay and high song of the park swing. The smell of the pine and cedar still rest on the same breeze and rise to the same steeple of the old church that I called my home. And I knew that when it rained on a warm sidewalk, that the fragrance of rainwater and concrete still rose to meet the smiling faces of bare-footed children exploring the puddled terrain.
And maybe the events of the past that formed this town had fallen out of the memories of its inhabitants, but the pain still flowed through there veins, knit into the fabric of their beings. This town would always bear the curse of its past. The bitter would always be mixed with whatever sweet was to be found among the big houses that still stood at the center of this old plantation town where the bare feet of an enslaved race toiled and suffered and blistered and bled.
If you looked deep enough into any open eyes, you could still see it. If you walked to the east of the old park, you could still see the deep division of color. You can still meet folks who remember what this part of town used to be called and was still called behind the closed doors of the big houses. I can still remember the warnings of the old schoolteacher who’s grandson I used to play with, “Don’t you boys be riding your bikes over there in N—-r Town. There ain’t nothin’ over there for you.” The same teacher who stood with us, white children and black children, and led us in the Pledge of the Allegiance and the 23rd Psalm. The same teacher who used to paddle our little first grade bottoms for speaking out of turn, who’s mother and grandmother did the same, and who’s grandfather used to hold a whip, was teaching us to say
The Lord is my Shepherd;
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
And I can still say it, and so can all of the children she taught, no matter which side of the park they lived, even while her body rests in the family cemetery along with the forgotten memories of this old town that will always be the same no matter how it may change.