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Read the first part of the story and pay special attention to the atmosphere of the coming small town holiday
The people filled the stands behind the wire screen, waiting. Us kids, dripping from the lake, ran between the white cottages, past the resort hotel, screaming, and sat on the bleachers, making wet bottom marks. The hot sun beat down through the tall oak trees around the baseball diamond. Our fathers and mothers, in golf pants and light summer dresses, scolded us and made us sit still. We looked toward the hotel and the back door of the vast kitchen, expectantly. A few colored women began walking across the shade-freckled area between, and in ten minutes the far left section of the bleachers was mellow with the color of their fresh-washed faces and arms. After all these years, whenever I think back on it, I can still hear the sounds they made. The sound on the warm air was like a soft moving of dove voices each time they talked among themselves. Everybody quickened into amusement, laughter rose right up into the clear blue Wisconsin sky, as the kitchen door flung wide and out ran the big and little, the dark uniformed Negro waiters, janitors, bus boys, boatmen, cooks, bottle washers, soda jerks, gardeners, and golf-links tenders. They came capering, showing their fine white teeth, proud of their new red-striped uniforms, their shiny shoes rising and coming down on the green grass as they skirted the bleachers and drifted with lazy speed out on the field, calling to everybody and everything.
Us kids squealed. There was Long Johnson, the lawn-cutting man, and Cavanaugh, the soda-fountain man, and Shorty Smith and Pete Brown and Jiff Miller! And there was Big Poe! Us kids shouted, applauded!
Big Poe was the one who stood so tall by the popcorn machine every night in the million-dollar dance pavilion farther down beyond the hotel on the lake rim. Every night I bought popcorn from Big Poe and he poured lots of butter all over it for me. I stomped and yelled, “Big Poe! Big Poe!” And he looked over at me and stretched his lips to bring out his teeth, waved, and shouted a laugh. And Mama looked to the right, to the left, and back of us with worried eyes and nudged my elbow. “Hush,” she said. “Hush.”
“Land, land,” said the lady next to my mother, fanning herself with a folded paper. “This is quite a day for the colored servants, ain’t it? Only time of year they break loose. They look forward all summer to the big Black and White game. But this ain’t nothing. You seen their Cakewalk Jamboree?”
“We got tickets for it,” said Mother. “For tonight at the pavilion. Cost us a dollar each. That’s pretty expensive, I’d say.”
“But I always figure,” said the woman, “once a year you got to spend. And it’s really something to watch them dance. They just naturally got...”
“Rhythm,” said Mother.
“That’s the word,” said the lady. “Rhythm. That’s what they got. Land, you should see the colored maids up at the hotel. They been buying satin yardage in at the big store in Madison for a month now. And every spare minute they sit sewing and laughing. And I seen some of the feathers they bought for their hats. Mustard and wine ones and blue ones and violet ones. Oh, it’ll be a sight!”
“They been airing out their tuxedos,” I said. “I saw them hanging on lines behind the hotel all last week!”
“Look at them prance,” said Mother. “You’d think they thought they were going to win the game from our men.”
The colored men ran back and forth and yelled with their high, fluting voices and their low, lazy, interminable voices. Way out in center field you could see the flash of teeth, their upraised naked black arms swinging and beating their sides as they hopped up and down and ran like rabbits, exuberantly. Big Poe took a double fistful of bats, bundled them on his huge bull shoulder, and strutted along the first-base line, head back, mouth smiling wide open, his tongue moving, singing:
“…Gonna dance out both of my shoes, When they play those Jelly Roll Blues;
Up went his knees and down and out, swinging the bats like musical batons. A burst of applause and soft laughter came from the left-hand grandstands, where all the young, ripply colored girls with shiny brown eyes sat eager and easy. They made quick motions that were graceful and mellow because, maybe, of their rich coloring. Their laughter was like shy birds; they waved at Big Poe, and one of them with a high voice cried, “Oh, Big Poe! Oh, Big Poe!” The white section joined politely in the applause as Big Poe finished his Cakewalk. "Hey, Poe!" I yelled again.
“Stop that, Douglas!” said Mother, straight at me.
Now the white men came running between the trees with their uniforms on. There was a great thunder and shouting and rising up in our grandstand. The white men ran across the green diamond, flashing white.
“Oh, there’s Uncle George!” said Mother. “My, doesn’t he look nice?” And there was my uncle George toddling along in his outfit which didn’t quite fit because Uncle has a potbelly, and jowls that sit out over any collar he puts on. He was hurrying along, trying to breathe and smile at the same time, lifting up his pudgy little legs. “My, they look so nice,” enthused Mother.
I sat there, watching their movements. Mother sat beside me, and I think she was comparing and thinking, too, and what she saw amazed and disconcerted her. How easily the dark people had come running first, like those slow-motion deer and buck antelopes in those African moving pictures, like things in dreams. They came like beautiful brown, shiny animals that didn’t know they were alive, but lived. And when they ran and put their easy, lazy, timeless legs out and followed them with their big, sprawling arms and loose fingers and smiled in the blowing wind, their expressions didn’t say, “Look at me run, look at me run!” No, not at all. Their faces dreamily said, “Lord, but it’s sure nice to run. See the ground swell soft under me? Gosh, I feel good. My muscles are moving like oil on my bones and it’s the best pleasure in the world to run.” And they ran. There was no purpose to their running but exhilaration and living.
The white men worked at their running as they worked at everything. You felt embarrassed for them because they were alive too much in the wrong way. Always looking from the corners of their eyes to see if you were watching. The Negroes didn’t care if you watched or not; they went on living, moving. They were so sure of playing that they didn’t have to think about it any more.
“My, but our men look so nice,” said my mother, repeating herself rather flatly. She had seen, compared the teams. Inside, she realized how laxly the colored men hung swaying in their uniforms, and how tensely, nervously, the white men were crammed, shoved, and belted into their outfits.
I guess the tenseness began then, I guess everybody saw what was happening. They saw how the white men looked like senators in sun suits. And they admired the graceful unawareness of the colored men. And, as is always the case, that admiration turned to envy, to jealousy, to irritation. It turned to conversation like:
“That’s my husband, Tom, on third base. Why doesn’t he pick up his feet? He just stands there.”
“Never you mind, never you mind. He’ll pick ‘em up when the time comes!”
“That’s what I say! Now, take my Henry, for instance. Henry mightn’t be active all the time, but when there’s a crisis — just you watch him. Uh —
“Look at that Jimmie Cosner playing around out there!”
I looked. A medium-sized white man with a freckled face and red hair was clowning on the diamond. He was balancing a bat on his forehead. There was laughter from the white grandstand. But it sounded like the kind of laughter you laugh when you’re embarrassed for someone.
“Play ball!” said the umpire. A coin was flipped. The colored men batted first. “Darn it,” said my mother.
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