(1943) When I got off the bus at the Linwood Normal School for Colored Girls, I felt a wave of fear, but also excitement. It looked like places I had seen in the magazines. Summer had given way to milder weather, the sky a clear blue and a few of the trees were showing the colors of fall. This school had been founded nearly sixty years before by Quakers and the local AME church. Behind the iron gate that pronounced the name of the school on a green and gold metal sign was a long white building surrounded by the drooping moss of black trees that grew in abundance.
I saw lots of girls…most in groups of two or three but also a few walking alone going in and out of the white building carrying registration papers for the upcoming semester. This was not Tuskegee, Howard nor Spellman but the girls who went to Linwood came from families that wanted more for their daughters than marrying a farmer or a factory worker. Now that there was war in Europe, most of the college-age boys had either enlisted or been drafted, those who remained were critical to the home front or just slackers. In fact, a lot of women and girls were taking factory jobs as more and more men were needed in uniform.
Most of the girls didn’t look much different than me. There were all kinds of hair-dos from bobs to long hair; good hair to nappy. They wore medium length long skirts or dresses, sturdy shoes with white socks and almost every girl wore a small hat. This was the dress of the day for colored girls from good homes.
I walked tentatively to the registration building clutching my handbag and my registration fee. Daddy had been so proud to give me the check and the little black book that showed the balance in my first bank account. It was agreed, these funds were to be spent only for school.
The man at the registration desk smiled at me as he gave me the registration form and pen. “Fill this out over there young lady,”
He pointed to a long row of chairs on the other side of the room facing a row of four black boards where courses, class times and teacher names had been neatly printed in yellow chalk.
“You’re a freshman so you should pick one class from each board,” he directed. “When you’ve completed your form please bring it back to me.”
“Where do I pay my money?” I asked shyly. He smiled again.
“There’s another line for tuition payments, after I’ve reviewed your form. Next.” He dismissed me to wait on the girl behind me.
The entire process took almost four hours and there was a lot of waiting in lines. Some of girls had brought light lunches of sandwiches and fruit, others had books to read while they waited. I had a lot to learn.
Aunt Shirl knew one of the administrators at Linwood and he had arranged for me to get a job in the school cafeteria. I worked lunch time on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday dishing out food from the hot serving trays onto the plates of the waiting diners. My shift began at 11 a.m. first helping to set up the serving area by bringing out the fruit and bread platters, arranging pitchers of milk and lemonade onto the chilled ice in a large aluminum tub, filling up the condiments containers then arranging them on the counter and loading clean flatware into the utensil trays. At the end of the lunch service, I helped load food platters onto metal shelves to be rolled back into the kitchen then gathered, washed and stored condiments and poured the ice from the tubs outside onto a metal grate. I was off duty no later than 2 p.m. and for the three hours of work, I received $.90 and a free lunch. My total income for the week was almost three dollars, from that I saved fifty cents, tithed fifty cents and used the rest for my toiletries, stamps, the drug store pay phone and an occasional magazine.
I had finally received a letter from Boone after a whole month of not hearing from him. He wrote that his father had taken sick when he got an infection from a cut on his leg. So Boone took over all the farm work and right at harvest time. He said he liked being in charge of the farm. He also wrote that he missed me and had meant to write sooner, but was dog tired after working all day. ‘I even have to work a half day on Sunday and mama fusses the other half of the day about it,’ his letter said. ‘Besides, I thought you were probably busy with your new college friends.’ I knew he really meant college boys.
Before I left home, Boone and I agreed we were still boyfriend and girlfriend unless one of us decided to break it off. Boone’s letter made it sound as if he was too busy to see other girls, but I knew his nature. I also knew his friend Bobbie Briscoe’s younger sister had her eye on Boone. She always had. As for me, the only interesting young men in Florence seemed to have girlfriends. One of the busboys at the cafeteria had asked me out and the son of one of Aunt Shirl’s church friends had made it known to me that he was interested, but the busboy was an ignorant country fellow and the church boy already thought himself a ladies’ man. He would probably be an upstanding member of the church deacons board one day–and a philanderer.
I still missed Boone. But his first letter, and the ones I received after only affirmed what I had known for a long time, that mama, daddy and my sisters and Boone lived in a world that I wanted to escape. The four women in Navy uniforms in Look magazine that I read in the dim light of my attic room reminded me of the places in my dreams. Where people walked like there was some important place they had to be, and where life was not measured by the hours of daylight one had to work.
Long Way Home: A World War II Novel is available as an ebook at Amazon.com