by Larry Pace
"To a small Southern boy and his siblings,"
writes Larry Pace, "a KKK motorcade presented
such a strange sight that a reasonable explanation
had to be found."
The rented house we occupied in Tyrone, Georgia, in the early 1960s had electricity but no indoor bathroom. Throughout my early years, I recall drawing water from wells and going to outhouses. I remember taking a bath in a washtub near the stove.
The song "Playmate, Come Out and Play with Me" had a special significance for us because we really did have a rain barrel. On days when there was no relief in sight from the heat, we would don our swimsuits or shed our clothing entirely and jump into the collected rain water. The soft rain water had a peculiar smell and slippery feel that I still remember. These experiences, I'm sure, did something for my character development, although I'm still not sure exactly what.
This was one of those times when my father didn't live with us, and we were making ends meet as best we could. I honestly didn't know how poor we were, or how little we had, until I began meeting others and visiting their homes. But as poor as we were financially, we were rich in love and family.
My mother had gone to the post office, and on that hot summer afternoon in 1961, we kids were all sitting on the front porch out of the summer heat. By this time there were already six of us children, and later there would be two more.
Danny, at twelve, was the oldest and wisest of us. Patricia was my older sister. She was (and is) beautiful and popular, but slightly offbeat in her outlook on things--possessed of a completely novel way of seeing the world. Phyllis was my younger sister and somehow always my boon companion and the apple of my eye. Alvin was the beginning of what I considered the younger group--an alliterative collection of A's--Alvin, Andy, and Alan. Born in rapid succession, less than two years apart, these three tow-headed boys frequently seemed like interchangeable units, and my mother often called "AlvinAndyAlan" in such a fashion that it seemed that any one, two, or all three would do for her immediate purposes. Becky was the last of the eight, and I always marveled at how she kept up with the boys. She became the complete tomboy and was, unfortunately, rather spoiled by all of us, although I must say I'm rather pleased with the way she turned out.
I was the third. As always happens in large families, everyone specialized in something. Not being particularly good at coordination, or athletics, or looks, or things mechanical, I discovered the world of books, music, and school work. There I could excel, be accepted, and prove my worth. I fell in love with words and things academic, ultimately going to college and graduate school at the University of Georgia.
When my classmates and siblings cheered the arrival of summer vacation, I shuddered to think that school was over. I read insatiably all summer long. In those rural Georgia days the bookmobile would arrive at your door. What a wonderful device! Those times may not really have been any kinder and gentler, but they sure were less complicated than our modern era.
But back to the KKK.
We were Southern Baptists. Always had been. Born and bred. Still are, for that matter, at least those in the extended family who go to church. Our experiences with such things as race relations, Catholics, Jews, airplanes, and wealth were severely restricted. However, like most people, we never let our ignorance of such matters stop us from discussing them, speculating about them, and passing judgment on whatever subject was at hand.
Limited as the rest of us were in our experience, we did have the benefit of Danny's keen insight and superior knowledge. Since he was twelve, not one of us questioned his authority.
As I have said, we were sitting on the front porch without benefit of adult supervision. It was a peaceful day, and there were no sibling rivalries raging at the moment. Our camaraderie was exemplary, at least for the present. We were mellow fellows and girls that day, at peace with God and man.
All of a sudden, there arose such a clatter of cars and honking horns that we rose from our seats to see what was the matter. A boisterous procession of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in white sheets and hoods was passing in front of our house! We were astounded. Never in our born days had we seen such a sight. Some of them were in convertibles and standing as they passed. Their signs clearly said "KKK" and other things I can't remember. I am appreciative in this case for the failure of memory.
Seeking an explanation for the strange events, we turned to our wise older brother and asked what it could be. In his best and most authoritative twelve-year-old manner, he explained that the hooded creatures were Roman Catholics (of which none of us to our knowledge had ever met a single one). Furthermore, the KKK stood for "Kwick Kampaign for Kennedy." We were immediately satisfied with his explanation, since we could offer none better. Besides, his interpretation fit the facts reasonably well.
My mother had been held up by the motorcade, and when she finally returned from the post office, she set the record straight. We learned more about both Catholics and the KKK that day. But part of me still prefers the whimsical view of Kennedy's quick campaign.
Note to non-U.S. readers: John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) was the youngest person, the first person born in the 20th century, and the first Roman Catholic to be elected President of the United States. He was president from 1961-1963.
Larry Pace is a management consultant. He earned the Ph.D. in industrial psychology from the University of Georgia, and has served as college professor, college dean, MBA program director, internal and external consultant, business owner, and a manager for a Fortune 100 firm. Larry has published more than 80 articles, chapters, and reviews, and has co-authored a book on employee assistance programs. He also writes poetry and enjoys teaching poetic form. He lives in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Contact Larry at this address.
COMMENTS ON THIS STORY:
From: Mike Kingdom-Hockings of Gaborone, BOTSWANA
Message: Brilliant. Where does USADS get these writers? Or is storytelling as much a part of southern culture as singing is of Welsh culture?
From: Chris Cox of Sterlington, Louisiana
Message: Larry, Loved the story. Do you get by the Superior Grill much there in S'port? Love the Crazy Javier! Again, great job.
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