Recap: The KKK burned down the Zion Church. Yonah finds a threatening note on his bicycle.
Henry ran over to me. “Hey, Yonah. Want to go shoot some baskets?”
I pointed at the note on my bike.
Henry tore it off. “Whoa, you’re in trouble.”
“Who do you think put that on my bike?”
“You better lie low. There’s some nasty people here who don’t take kindly to Northerners or civil rights sympathizers.”
“I’m scared, Henry. I don’t know what to do.”
“Just don’t associate with anyone who might be involved with civil rights. Steer clear. Come on, let’s go play basketball.”
I wasn’t really in the mood to play, but I thought it would take my mind off my worries.
While we aimed at the basket, Henry asked me, “So I really want to know more about Shabbos. Tell me what you did at the rabbi’s house.”
I told him about the meal and the divrei Torah and singing.
“I want to come with you some time. It sounds really nice.”
It was good we had played together. I forgot about the horrible note for a while.
When I returned home, my fears returned. I was really frightened for Mickey Schwerner and for me. I wanted to go to the police, but I knew the police were part of the problem. I wished Mickey wasn’t coming back tonight. If only there was some way to warn him to stay away from Neshoba. I had a horrible feeling that something bad was going to happen. It felt like a huge storm was gathering and moving towards me and there was no way to stop it.
When I got home, Mrs. Hartstein was standing by the door. “Mrs. Herring invited us for dinner tonight,” she said.
The thought of eating with them made me nauseous, and besides, their food wasn’t kosher. “I can’t go,” I said.
“It isn’t a choice. She is expecting ya too. Her nephew Wayne is comin’ for dinner.”
Why should I care if the Herrings’ nephew was coming to dinner?
She interrupted my thoughts. “We’ll be going around six.”
I hated that my relatives were so cowed by these awful people. Still, I was a guest in the Hartsteins’ home. My grandparents had trained me to always be polite. “Thank you, Ma’am,” I said. “I’ll wash up and get ready.”
I took a shower and changed into long pants and a button-down shirt, and I stuck on the cap. I thought about the dinners I used to have with my grandparents and how different it had been then. There was love and understanding and two people who cared about me. Now, there were two frightened strangers I lived with and their mean neighbors who harbored hatred towards people because of prejudice and ignorance.
When we entered the Herring home, I could hear voices in the kitchen. The smell of fried chicken filled the air.
Mrs. Herring came out to greet us. She wiped her hands on her apron. Her nephew was standing behind her. She turned towards me. “This is Billie Wayne Posey, my nephew,” she said. The burly man with large forearms and thin lips stared at me and extended his hand. I shook his hand.
“We met before. Ya’ll from up North,” he said.
“How you findin’ it here?”
“Fine,” I lied.
Mrs. Herring ushered us into the dining room. She’d put out a lace cloth and crystal wine glasses.
“Billie Wayne is my sister’s son,” she said with pride. “He works for the county sheriff, Sheriff Rainey. He’s one of the best.”
Billie Wayne shuffled his feet and smiled. “Aw, thanks Aunt Minnie.”
My relatives smiled at the Herrings and sat down at the table silently. I hated their cowardice.
Mr. Herring strode into the room. “That George Cotton’s in the jail again,” he said, shaking his head.
Mrs. Herring shook her head. “That Negro don’t know how to stay away from alcohol.”
We sat down at the table. I was seated next to the nephew. He smelled of sweat. He had an arrogant way of holding his head and smirking. Mrs. Herring passed him the serving plate of fried chicken. He heaped five chicken legs onto his plate. He scooped a huge mountain of mashed potatoes on his plate, too.
Between bites, with food showing in his mouth as he spoke, he asked me, “What are your plans after high school? I went into the law ’cause that’s a decent career for a man. Pays well. Keeps law and order.” He touched the holster with his two guns.
“Not sure yet,” I said. I wasn’t going to discuss my plans to go to yeshivah with this guy. He burped loudly after digesting a few of the chicken legs and mounds of potatoes.
I pushed the treif food around on my plate and asked Hashem to help me leave here as quickly as possible. Thankfully, they didn’t notice that I wasn’t eating their food.
The Herrings were busy showing off for their nephew. Mrs. Herring said, “We had a large group arrested. We had to accommodate a large number of people in the jailhouse. Meant I had more cooking to do for all them guests. Those people don’t belong in our town in the first place. Serves ’em right ending up in jail.”
Mr. Posey nodded. “Rabble rousers, those Northerners.”
As they droned on, I realized that they were talking about a group of protestors in front of Woolworths. I wished myself anywhere but here with these hateful people.
Mrs. Herring brought out a large peach pie and sweet tea.
Her nephew devoured two large pieces. He said, “This is delicious. Thanks so much for the great meal. I gotta run. I have some business with Sheriff Price I have to attend to.”
The Herrings saw their nephew out. I excused myself and mumbled thanks. I headed towards the door, relieved my time with them was done.
The next morning, Ben Chaney told me that Mickey and James were planning to head over to the burned Zion Church to take a look at it. They said I could come if I wanted to.
“Sure. When are they going?” I asked.
Ben said, “James said he’ll pick you up here in front of the dry cleaners around 12:30. Just be here if you want to go with them.”
That was lunch break. I’d miss my last class. I didn’t like to miss class, but I had to warn Mickey about the extremely credible threats to his life.
Ben was working hard on a batch of shirts. He looked distracted. I was busy with putting plastic on some men’s suits. I glanced at Ben. “Everything okay?” I whispered.
He sighed. “I’m worried. My Ma is worried about James. Things are getting pretty heated up.”
Just then, Joseph appeared. “I need this work done yesterday, boy.”
“Yessir,” Ben said.
We worked on in silence. When it was time for me to go, Ben whispered in my ear: “Tell my brother to be careful, please. Tell him not to do nothin’ dangerous, please.”
I squeezed Ben’s hand and nodded.
If only I could have kept that promise.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams (a novel, Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time – historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes for the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and she writes the Queens page for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.