I grew up on the North side of a small town out on the Kansas prairie. Our town was divided by the railroad track, Union Pacific. I loved seeing the trains and listening to them at night. There was even a fast Zeph train named “The city of Salina” that raced through our town. My dad was a flagman on The two major streets in town Santa Fe and Ninth street. I used to take my dad his lunch when he worked until midnight.
I also would go to check on him to ensure he wasn’t drinking on the job. He was an alcoholic and his well meaning friend would sometimes take him a drink while he was working. It worried me because there were no “gates” to come down and block the streets when a train came through. If he got drunk and didn’t stop the traffic some one could get hurt, even killed. I didn’t want that to happen. My dad kept that job until I was a sophomore in college. I could ride the train for free on a “pass” to anywhere. He was fired when I was a junior in college. It was end of train rides.
We went to Minnesota one year to visit his brother, my Uncle. It was fun, even though we packed our own lunch and only brought sodas on the train. My sister who was four years younger than me drank a “lime” soda and had an allergic reaction. They had to stop the train and call a doctor to come and give her a shot. I will never forget that ride. I will never forget some of the Christmas I experienced growing up on Eighth St. it was the poor section of town.
The rich folks lived on the “hill” with big homes. Our homes on the North end were run down, but it was all we had back in those days. We couldn’t buy homes on the South side, if you were black or poor. The Magic was we didn’t realize that we too poor to dream of being anything we desired. We also played together black, white and brown on the North side of town. We ate good because our parents worked and made sure we were never hungry. We went to church on Sundays and had faith in God too. We drove cars to visit relative in southeast Kansas every year and had fun with cousins, aunt, uncles and friends. We were “rich” in a magic way. We had segregated schools until 1954 when Brown vs Topeka made it possible for all of us to go to school together. I had attended a segregated school, Dunbar until I was 11 years old, so Linda Brown, the little girl whose parents “sued” and I went to integrated schools that year. I had white neighbors and many white friends, we ate, slept and played together everyday. I was a “nerd” and read every book in every classroom at Dunbar. My teachers encouraged me in every school I attended. Black teacher and white let me read and never scolded me for reading. I was “rich” in that aspect too. Christmas time was special for us “po” kids on the North end. We had programs at schools, in the Episcoplian library on Ninth street and in church. I remember them all, the good ones and the not so good ones.
One year when I was about 10, we went to St.John’s Baptist church to practice for the Christmas play. When we were walking home, my dad came by and picked us up to take us home, he was drinking. He took us to an bar on the outskirts of town and left us in the car. It was cold and snowing outside. We were all crying because we were missing our Christmas program at church. He was too drunk to care. We got home late that night, cold and hungry. We all cried. He hit my Mom and my sister, she had a black eye for Christmas. It was a very sad Christmas, although Mom tried her best to make it up to us. It was not the saddest, I am sorry to say.
One year at Christmas my brother who was my “hero” and Boy Scout was over at the Carver Center. It was where all the black kids hung out to play sports, have parties, listen to music, hang out with friends and have fun. My brother was one of the “good” kids, never in trouble. He had lots of friends, had a job, owned a car and went to church. One night just before Christmas he was “stabbed” by a kid who was envious. He tried to kill him by stabbing him in the groin, in his artery. My brother would have died that night, if God had not intervened by having one my brother’s Eagle Scout friends closeby. He applied a tourniquet and God saved his life. My sister, my cousin and I were home getting ready for bed, when we heard, we got on our knees and prayed all night. We didn’t sleep until Mom called and said my brother Jimmy would live It was a miracle because they inserted a “plastic” tube in his groin to encompass him artery. It was new and experimental, but it worked. We were so happy on Christmas to learn he would live to “torment” me. He had in the past ” dismantled” many of my .Christmas toy shoes to improve them. It was part of that magic that made us dream.
One of my best memories of Christmas was when my Uncle Lancer, my mother youngest sibling and brother came to visit us on Christmas Eve. He must have been in his twentiess he had served in the Air Force for four years. My cousin, my sister and I were in bed upstairs in our old house on Eighth St. when he came up to tell us he saw Santa Claus right around the corner from our house. He said he had talked to Santa and been told he was definitely coming to our house this year because we were good little girls. I think I was about 12 years old, my cousin was 9 and my sister was 8. We were so happy to know there really was a Santa Claus, because my Uncle Lancer had actually seen him and talked to him. I think I had almost decided there was no Santa Claus but my Uncle Lancer gave me the gift of magic and I believed it.
I am glad I grew up I that”little town on the prairie” because you could be so “poor you didn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out”and still dream. I overcame my poverty, rape, domestic abuse and discrimination. I will always dream and believe in the “magic” of Christmas. My faith in God, my mother’s love ❤️ enabled me to complete two degrees and become a teacher, a librarian and a University Librarian for 45 years. I always teach young folks to dream. It’s magic.