During early March of 1923, a young mother and her two small children boarded the Kansas City Southern railroad train, the “Katy,” bound for Kansas City, Missouri, to join her husband and two older children who had arrived two weeks earlier. The family of six planned to live with the paternal grandmother living there. A train ride was a completely new experience for me, a child of seven born in Fulton, Arkansas. It was the very first time that I had ever seen a railroad train up close.
The 1920s was an era when deep and intense segregation prevailed, especially in the southern part of the country, so my mother, my sister and I were seated in the “Jim Crow” coach car which was located immediately behind the train’s engine and fuel car. The train conductor, an older white man, appeared to delight in intimidating my mother each time he came through the car by making rude, derogatory comments to her. The trip which had begun with so much anticipation and excitement soon became a nightmare, and I trembled with fear each time he appeared.
As we left the train and entered the lobby of the huge stone building, the Union Station, I was overwhelmed by the enormous size of it. I stared in amazement at the bustling sight before me. There were people everywhere, some walking around and some were seated on long wooden seats. An air of excitement pervaded the entire place. Then an even greater surprise awaited me as I stepped through the doorway of the station to the outside. Although it was nighttime, the brilliance of the street lights and the lights in a parking lot lined with rows of Yellow Cabs left me wide-eyed and filled with awe. It was as if it had suddenly become daytime again. The only lights at nighttime that I had ever seen before were fireflies as they darted through the darkness. The ride in the taxicab to the house where my grandmother, father, and two sisters were living was the climax to an unbelievable day.
Our joy of being reunited as a family was short-lived, however, as my grandmother’s landlady was so dismayed at the idea of six more people living in the house with her that she ordered the entire family to move from her home at 25th and Michigan.
Within the period of slightly more than one year, our family occupied three different houses located no more than three blocks from the Michigan address, before my father decided to build a home of his own at 24th and Euclid. Our home was a very simple one. It had a combined living room and dining room area, three bedrooms, a kitchen, and bathroom. It also had electric lights which consisted of a ceiling light fixture with a single light bulb in it in each room, and each light had its very own switch on the wall. Not too many years passed before my father had a coal burning furnace installed in the unfinished basement. Some of our neighbors still had coal and wood burning stoves. We felt so-o-o proud of our home.
A few years after we had settled in our new home, we were paid a visit by one of our young cousins from Arkansas. She was terrified of those strange looking light switches, and we (by then her “city slicker” cousins) laughed uproariously until we were reprimanded by our mother.
May 13, 2008