I’m an Old Woman Now and I Still Remember

I am always grateful for the adults that share the stories of their past here, because it is the same reason I chose to. We don’t forget. We don’t forget the bad and we also don’t forget the good. Sometimes, as in the title of this story, someones we don’t forget the ones that didn’t beat us up or pick on us. Not only that, but I am grateful for a writer that shares such clarity in their words as Polly has below. I am honored to share her story. ~Alan Eisenberg

I’m an old woman now, and I still remember one girl didn’t beat me up that day

I’m an old woman now, and I still remember that one girl, pretty and blond and from the South, didn’t beat me up that day the others jumped me in the alley, going home at lunch time. In fact, Lucy–I don’t forget her name–came over during recess where I stood around, alone as always, to warn, “Listen, Christie says they’re gonna get you. You better take the street–don’t use the alley.”

It was autumn, in fifth grade. Golden leaves lay on the lawns. A few of the neighbors had real gardeners–Black gardeners, for this the early 1950s, Washington DC; the gardeners were raking up the leaves. And some of the housewives might be looking out to watch them, or maybe stepping out to get their mail, or looking through the window from a store delivery truck, or waiting for their kid, with lunch all ready on the stove. If I walked home down the street–six blocks, past four or five brick houses with big windows on every block–someone would see me. Someone’s mother, or a friend of my mother’s–anyhow, some neighbor–surely would notice me walking alone. Alone–down the street alone.

A neighbor would come stand outside her door and say “Are you all right? Why are you walking all alone?” And I would have to say, “Because.” And she would say, “Because? Is that an answer? Why?” And so I’d have to tell, full of shame, “No one wants to walk with me. They beat me up. If I go by the alley, they will get me, someone said”–I’d certainly not blab a name–“today.” And surely the neighbor would tell my mother, and my mother–or my father, or both–would lecture me, “You need to make friends, like other little girls. If you would go to school more regularly, you would have friends. Why don’t you make friends, you’re smart, there isn’t any reason you can’t make friends, like other little girls.”

Meanwhile, after lunch my mother would be driving me back to school, for safety, angrily saying, “Why do I have to drive you like a little child, is that what you want? I’m tired, why can’t you let me have some time for myself? You know I have to vacuum the house and do the washing before your dad gets home,” and all the girls would say, “How come your mother had to drive you?” and make jokes.

So I took the alleys. And Lucy was there but she stood at the side, and shook her head, and moved back and forth like she wanted to run away, or go for help, but was afraid, while Christie held me down and twisted my wrist while Barbara and Mary helped and scratched my arms and rubbed me on the gravel and Christie twisted harder to make me scream.

Of course it was I who became a scholar and author and went to a major university, while Christie and Barbara and Mary stayed on as government typists or maybe unhappy housewives in DC. It’s I who joined in the radical antiwar protests and the changes and the women’s movement of the Sixties. It’s I who, sometime in the Seventies, by candlelight laughed with my elegant lover, as we walked our San Francisco hills, at the image of who and what–father of six, mother of eighteen, eternal salesclerk, stockyard worker, clerical aide–our bulliers must have become.


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