It was a great mid-summer morning, lit with anticipation. My dad was going to take me fishing and we were going someplace that would take us over the Mississippi River Bridge.
I was dressed and ready to go more than an hour early. My grandmother and I didn’t have a phone, so he couldn’t call when he was coming. I just had to be ready.
Soon, we were off, talking about sports and stuff in the car. I was smiling the whole time. Me and my dad were going fishing.
It was becoming light when we finally arrived at our destination, Port Allen, a place he called “The Locks.”
We climbed to a spot and I baited my hook with a worm as he had shown me a couple of days earlier. Over the next couple hours, I think I caught three or four fish. Each time a smile as wide as Texas crossed my face.
Shortly before noon, it was blistering hot and time for us to go. We had also eaten the sandwiches and Vienna sausage we had packed.
Now comes a familiar story, that fits today’s climate of race and race relations like a glove. It shows how there are no small acts of racism.
On the road back, we stopped at a Port Allen sno-ball stand. My mouth watered for a big strawberry sno-ball.
My dad walked up to a window where a white girl, about 17 or 18 years old, was standing. She walked away before he could say anything. So, he walked to a second window near her. She then left that window and went to the window he had left.
He seemed frustrated, but he walked to the other window. He announced that he wanted to purchase two strawberry sno-balls. The girl responded: “We don’t serve Negroes!”
My dad, one of the proudest men I knew, just slumped. A teenager had embarrassed and belittled him in front of his son. The perfect day now wasn’t.
How humiliating for my dad. He had served five years in the U.S. Army and had fought in Korea. He talked about his service into his old age.
(I would find out later, my dad would occasionally shout in his sleep, gripped by a recurring nightmare of the time his team was ambushed in Korea and he had to fight for his life in pitched darkness.)
Yet, a little white girl could tell him that because he was black, he and his service was not worthy of a 15-cent sno-ball. The pain and shame on his face screamed out to me. I hurt for him and selfishly for myself. I was angry and I knew he was, too.
But this was about 1960-61. I wanted him to do something. Challenging that little girl could have meant jail, a beating or death to him then. The most he said to me afterward was, “This happens.” I sensed he wanted to explode.
It so affected me that I found reasons not to go fishing with him over the next year. I wouldn’t go when some of the older boys in the neighborhood invited me to come with them. I hated white people.
Over the years, my dad would not be deterred. He still bragged about his military service in Korea and how “I looked over into China.” He even became a reserve sheriff’s deputy. He wanted to prove that he was an equal.
My dad died many years ago, but in the midst of the racial turmoil roiling across the country, I’m thinking about my dad, who taught me to be tough and how to navigate the evils of race hatred. And, whose life, courage and work was far more important to me and this country than the diabolical intentions of a sno-ball stand racist and her ilk.
Thanks, dad. Happy Father’s Day.
Email Edward Pratt a former newspaperman, at email@example.com.