Originally posted at ACFW Virginia Blog
Penny stared down at her patent leather Mary Jane shoes. They were shined up bright, gleaming blacker than the pavement. Her white socks rose above her ankles. Mama had used bleach to make sure they would gleam in the sunlight. Her blue-and-white plaid dress was starched, fanning out at the knees. Even though it wasn’t Sunday, she had her best outfit on. Mama said she had to look nice because they were going to hear Doctor King speak. She wasn’t so sure how he could be a doctor and a king. Mama had laughed when she asked her. Said his name was King and he was a doctor.
He had to be a very special doctor. Whenever he spoke, all the grownups would gather around the television afraid to miss one single word. She didn’t know anything could be better than cartoons. Her brother Johnny called her stupid and said lots of things were better than cartoons.
Mama said to pay him no mind because teenagers were odd, whatever that meant.
“Penny! Johnny! Time to leave.”
Penny took one last look at her outfit and walked out of her room. Johnny came out at the same time. He had on a tie. She giggled.
“What’s so funny?”
“You look like Daddy.”
He puffed up his chest. “That’s cuz I’m a man. You don’t no nothing.”
“Johnny, that’s no way to talk to your sister.”
Johnny frowned at Daddy’s words. I gave him a hug. Johnny called me a daddy’s girl. He always said it mean like, but I don’t know why. He was my daddy and I was a girl. Why wouldn’t I be his?
We walked down the sidewalk. Lots of people were out, all dressed up like we were. Daddy smiled at Mama happy we were all going to see Doctor King. Daddy said history was being made and one day, we’d be proud to say we heard him speak. Johnny smiled at Daddy, like he knew something I didn’t. Sometimes I wished I was older.
When we got there I was surprised to see how many people were there. I thought it would be a lot of people from out neighborhood, but it looked like the whole wide world came outside that day. We weren’t really close but Daddy said Doctor King would use a microphone.
The principal used that on assembly days. Finally, something I understood. Daddy put me on his shoulders so I could see. I stuck my tongue out at Johnny. He was too big to sit on Daddy’s shoulders and kept jumping up trying to see. He stuck his tongue out right back. I covered my mouth, trying to hide my giggle.
There was silence and then I heard him speak. I would know his voice anywhere. Like I said, the grownups were always listening to him on the television. But there was something different in his voice today. It rose up and down, kind of like the swing does when you’re high up and low down.
I leaned forward, gripping Daddy’s head. I wanted to get closer. Hear what he had to say. He was talking about freedoms. About all of us being friends. I nodded and noticed everyone else doing the same. They were probably tired of getting spit on like me. Some of those white kids sure were mean. It was the only time Johnny was nice to me and he would even defend me.
I wonder if his dream came true, would I be able to go anywhere I want. Sometimes I wished we could sit closer to the screen in the movie theater. Daddy always said we had to sit up top.
His speech seemed to last awhile, but everyone clapped and cheered when it was over. I even saw some white people there. They must be the nice ones. When we got home, Daddy and Mama couldn’t stop smiling. Everyone seemed so happy. I knew Doctor King was a special kind of doctor.
“Grandma, why are you crying?”
Penny looked down at her granddaughter. “Doctor King was a special man, Penelope. I got to see him when I was around your age.”
“He was a real person? Why they make him into a statue?”
Penny looked at the white marble statue of Doctor King. Faces of all ethnicities snapped photos of the monument in their nation’s capital. She looked at the granddaughter named after her. “Well, Penelope, he was a great man. Wanted all people to have the same freedoms. Get the same education regardless of their color.”
“Ohhh,” she intoned. “We have lots of kids in my class that are different colors, Grandma. Is that what you mean?”
“That’s exactly what I mean.”
She stared at the statue once more. Daddy always told her they witnessed history. Funny how clear things became once you hit a certain age. Never in a million years would she have imagined having a Black man in the White House and a statue of Doctor King in the same city. Guess some dreams come true.
Copyright © 2017 Toni Shiloh