By Samuel Glover
The stage was set with a WELCOME banner for the 1965 Lawton High School class reunion. The host sat alone with someone he didn’t know at a round table for twelve in the hotel ballroom. The band broke out with Beatles music, “Twist and Shout.” Their wives left the group from the table to go dancing. No telling how long they’d be gone. The men looked at each other and both seemed to think it better to break the ice than freeze in it. Both spoke at the same time. The host let the man repeat himself.
“This is the first reunion I’ve been to,” he said.
“I’ve come to them all, except for when I was in Vietnam.”
“You still live in town?”
It was awkward talking across the wide table, so the host came around and introduced himself.
“I know who you are, football team co-captain, state star running back. So, you get to relive your Glory Days every year. But you don’t know me. Jerome Jackson, not to be confused with the Jackson Five. Why don’t you sit down?”
Jake did and asked if he could buy him a drink.
“No, thanks. I only drink water.”
Saying this, he remembered the “colored only” drinking fountain at the Greyhound bus station the day he left town for college.
“Didn’t you run track?”
“Hundred yard dash. I had to be faster than the white hoods if I was out after dark.”
“I was too skinny for football. You wouldn’t know it to look at me now.”
“Where you been the last fifty-five years?”
“When I left Lawton for college, I vowed I’d never come back. I was one of three black kids in the school, all army brats. My dad was master gunnery sergeant at Fort Sill. We were treated like any other kid on base but off base, a different story. School was worst. The white cafeteria lady the first day of school set me straight. ‘We don’t serve coloreds in this line. You come around back and I’ll feed you what’s left.’ ‘You’re going to serve him same as me!’ my friend said. Oh no, I’m not. I take orders from the principal and that’s what he said. Now, move along. You’re holding up the line.’ So, we did an end run. My friend went back up, got in line, and got a second lunch. There was nothing she could do about it. We did that every day till I graduated.”
“I’m not saying there wasn’t prejudice.”
“Is that an apology? What are you sorry for?”
“Nothing. Hey, come on. Drink up. This is a party. We’re going to have a good time.”
“It was the regional track meet to qualify for state. I had to go to the toilet before the 440 relay race.”
“I wouldn’t know about that. Lighten up, Jerome.”
“So, I had to take a crap and the porta-potties were under a tent but the official wouldn’t let me in. Told me to hold it. There was nothing doing. I got two of my teammates, the shot putters, one on either side of me, walked me in and left. I go in to do my business and the door gets locked from the outside. The porta-potty gets rocked back and forth until it tips over and me and a stream of shit meet. I didn’t have time to change and I had to run with shit on me from my shirt to my shoes. You remember that? No investigation. No report, not even in the school paper. Rumor was that it was you and some of the offensive line from the football team.”
Jake didn’t say anything.
“That’s something you never forget.”
“It wasn’t me, and I don’t appreciate the accusation. How did you get a seat at my table anyway? The table was reserved.”