By N. R. Robinson
Featured Art: A Window Seen Through a Window by Theodore Roussel, 1897
“Y’all are hungry,” Mama said, no question in her downcast whispery voice. “I’ll be back quick.” There was something definite behind the distraction in Mama’s careless hair, and in her careless face, and in the blue-veined hands that wandered as she spoke. Too young to understand, Cookie’s puzzled brown eyes darted back and forth between Mama and me. Cookie was weeping that day because I was.
That autumn of 1963 people were walking, and we were among them. But our walks, at the time, seemed purposeless. Or perhaps I did not see then their purpose. I barely knew it, but ’63 was a dangerous time to be wandering the heat- and frost-blazed roads of America. Over the months surrounding what would be our last family trek across D.C., a quarter million folk marched on Washington, protesters were beaten in Birmingham, a U.S. President was assassinated in the street.
When Mama called our aimless ambles anything, they were Our Family Walks. We strolled that September day, just weeks after my seventh birthday, Mama on one side, five-year-old Cookie on the other. It was late afternoon when Mama crooned—face demure, fragile, resolute—“Don’ worry babies, th’ angels are beside y’all,” then walked away. Because I’d learned it was useless to protest, I pulled Cookie to the sidewalk curb. Snarling cars and trucks belched heat and grit in our direction as we watched Mama flicker and fade down North Capitol Street. Before she left, I’d searched her eyes. She was telling the truth, I decided. I promised Cookie, “Mama comin’ back this time.”