This is everything I remember about that day.
I must have been five years old at that time, if that, so that would make my little sister three. And that seems
about right. Maybe I was six.
At any rate, in those days the stretch between Gary, Indiana and wherever it was we had been was not just
rural but very rural. By that I mean: there was NOTHING out there. I remember it as a kind of dry, flat, swamp
land as far as the eye could see on either side of the two lane, steeply crowned, blacktop. Maybe it was farm
land, but I don’t think so. It had more of a feel of uselessness about it, even to the casual observing eye of a
distracted five year old trapped in the back seat of a 1949 Oldsmobile between his older brother and younger
I’d like to say something about that car. It wasn’t two-tone green, It was one simple, single shade of pea-green
both above and below the chrome. I think my father would have really loved to have a two-tone green car, but
ours wasn’t. I seem to recall that we did have a two-tone sorta thing going on with the seats. We were doing
the best we could.
As said, we were on our way home—from wherever it was we had been—and we had just passed a place on
the side of the road called “This Must Be The Place!”, so I knew we still had a long way to go. This Must Be
The Place! was the only thing out there for miles and miles in any direction, on either side of that small road
until someone built a similar establishment, just a bit closer in to town, called “THIS IS IT!” Both of those fine
establishments took the shape of a long line of large galvanized sheds strung side by side along the side of
the road, with dusty, gravelly parking in front. They both had huge signs that ran along the length of the roof
declaring their name in massive red block letters. THIS MUST BE THE PLACE! and THIS IS IT! Both were
always swamped with business—whenever we happened to fly by—with plenty of parked cars and cars, pulling
in and out. And, even to the culturally uneducated five year old observer it was clear that they were both
patronized perhaps entirely by black people.
I have absolutely no idea what those places sold.
But, whatever it was, people drove for miles and miles to get it.
So, we were somewhere between THIS MUST BE THE PLACE! and home and I was looking out the window,
just kind of gawking stupidly at the passing emptiness outside, without a thought in my head, when my little
sister whined, “Mom! He’s looking at me!”
I responded immediately, “I was not!” In fact, I hadn’t been. Let’s clear that up once and for all. I was NOT
looking at my little sister, I was looking out the window. BUT, because she was between me and what I was
looking at she thought I was looking at her.
My mother said, “Darryl, stop looking at your little sister! We’re almost home.”
My father said, “I don’t want to hear another word out of that backseat, d’you hear me?”
I said, “I wasn’t looking at her,”
She said, “Yes you were.”
So, my little sister stuck out her tongue and wrinkled her nose in a completely uncalled-for gesture of
belligerence. So, I stuck out my tongue in response, and decided that, from that point on, until I either drove
my little sister crazy or my father pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the car, yanked us both out of
that backseat and reddened our asses, I would stare at her.
So, it began.
At first she just stared back, as though it had no effect on her. But soon she began to crumble and she
whispered, “Stop looking at me.” And I whispered, “I’m not looking at you.” And she whispered, “You better
stop looking at me,” And, as I continued to stare at her, I said, “I’m NOT looking at you.” And she whispered,
“Stop looking at me or I’ll tell Mom.” And I whispered back, “Go ahead, tell mom”, and she took that advice.
“MOM,” she whined, “he’s looking at me again!”
My father blurted out, “For Christ’s sake…” mostly to himself. And my mother turned in her seat and she
looked me straight in the eye, and she said. “Darryl, this is the last time I’m gonna tell you, STOP looking at
your little sister.” I whined, “I’m not looking at her,” And my sister said, “He is too. He keeps looking at me!”
And my mother started to say something but my father exploded, “For CHRIST’S SAKE!”
And that pretty much put an end to things for a while.
So, that had killed a little time, but we still weren’t anywhere at all near home.
So, I decided to torment my little sister for a little while more, by not touching her.
I extended my finger in such a way that it pointed at her arm but did not, in any way, actually make contact with
her arm. And that proved very effective. She immediately let out a whine, “MOM, Darryl’s touching me!” My
mother turned quickly in her seat, and looked at us and hissed, “I don’t want to hear another peep out of
either one of you. Darryl, stop touching your little sister…” And I interjected, “I’m not touching her…look, see,
this…” And my little sister let out a squeal and my father said, “Elizabeth, you better get control over those
children. If I have to stop this car…” So, my mother wagged a threatening finger at us and raised her eyebrows
pretty seriously, and, while she watched, I folded my arms across my chest and put my head down and began
to pout and my little sister began to blubber quietly.
So, I don’t know how long it was before we made eye contact again and she stuck her tongue out at me and I
took one of her shoes from her foot and threw it out the window.
All I know is that it didn’t go over very well when my mother turned around to see what all the silence was bout
and discovered that one of my little sister’s feet had no shoe, only a sock. The inquiry, testimony, denial,
prosecution and condemnation all followed pretty closely upon one another. And I don’t think my father was his
most saint-like as he turned the car around and drove nearly all the way back to This Must Be The Place!,
before turning again and creeping slowly toward home with two tires on the gravelly shoulder of that road.
Or, actually, now that I think about it, I guess he was.
I don't know if we ever found that shoe.