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27 June 2010


When I was in 2nd grade I went to school with a boy named Buddy.   I lived in a small railroad town, after railroad towns were no longer a way of life, in the Steel City, around the time that Steel was becoming an import. The seventies, middle class existed and the eighties, cash was king.  Madonna was going to be the material girl, and I was too.  Everyone was on their way up to the things money could buy.

My neighborhood was small, on the low end of middle class.  Only two or three families went to private school.  Everyone had a car and a television, and most of the people on my street had a VCR in the early eighties, except us.  Around the time families were purchasing second cars, we got one that had air and working doors.  Our Scout in the seventies had side benches in the back for seats and a web of bungee cords keeping the doors closed.

This wasn't actually our Scout, but it looked something like this w/more rust.  
Image: Barry's Project

Manor Bank.  Located at the bottom of the hill, across from Buster's Candy Store, and across the tracks from the Volunteer Fire Department and the big playground.

My family moved into a HUD house on a quiet cul de sac with lots of kids our age.  I was a baby then.  Our stability and income fluctuated, but only slightly and on the higher end of poor.  My father was a steel hauler, and the unions and picket lines were part of my upbringing.  My dad had to make tough decisions about being a scab, crossing the picket line to feed his family, or joining the union, fighting for steel hauler's rights.  I doubt my dad realized times would change with or without his help, but he always chose trying to find a way to feed his family.  He was involved in mafia related trucking and at one point in my childhood his truck was stolen and blown up.  The church brought groceries from the food pantry and the WIC program gave us processed cheese.  The late seventies, my little sister was born.

Only a few people in my community had less than us, and they really were on the wrong side of the tracks.  I actually remember pitying them.  Usually these poorer people came with other circumstances, broken homes, drinking, drugs, handicaps, mom's with boyfriends.  They lived at the bottom of the hill, across the tracks, near the Legion, the Volunteer Fire Hall, and Elsie's bar.  My mother would whisper their sin when we talked about their sad circumstances on the way to buy her cigarettes with rolled change at Buster's  newspaper/candy store in route to Wednesday night church.

In this picture, to the left is the right side of the tracks.  I lived at the top of Mt. Manor.

Buddy obviously came from the bottom of the hill.  He lived above the big playground in a house that sat on a dirt road that wasn't really a road.  Buddy was really smart, so was I.  He raised his hand a lot; so did I.  When Mrs. Parks called on him, I seethed with jealousy.  He was always in my advanced reading group, but Buddy had obstacles, his mother had boyfriends, he was poor.  Buddy was my mirror, and I didn't like what I saw.  If only one of us would get out of our circumstances through intellect it needed to be me.  His hands were dirty.  His face was dirty.  He was tan, with blonde hair, his clothes, his skin, just dirty.  I remember thinking when I grow up to be a teacher I'm never going to call on Buddy.

This weekend, eleven year old Tanner, from Ninety-Six, revelled in the beauty of kayaking with the dolphins in the marsh, strolled around downtown under a full moon, heard ghost stories about the city jail, climbed a tree, played marco polo in the pool, and ate fried fish under the building at Bowen's Island.  He visited with his step mother Bobby Jo from Ninety-Six, and her two children by his father.

Tanner has every reason to be angry with the world.  His real father is in Afghanistan and the kids at school make fun of him for it.  His mother married his father's brother, so the kids at school also tease him about his uncle/daddy.  He said he wished his parents were physical; they just lay around and drink and sleep all the time. He doesn't have a bike, but he would like one.  Instead of being hostile, violent or aggressive, he was grateful, hopeful, kind.  His manners weren't polished, but he was agreeable.  He knew about things like women's periods and made inappropriate comments about them.  His grandma made comments about buying darkies.   He said he didn't go to church, but he would like to.  He asked for grapes at the grocery store.  He didn't want to wear his life jacket in the river, but I insisted.  He doesn't wear a helmet on his dirt bike; I have no say, but John insisted he should.  He strangely at one point said Jake was racist.  Tanner reminded me to call on Buddy when he raises his hand.

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