In 2011, I had a draft of Sundown Town Duty Station done, but I wanted to go back to Meridian to get a refreshed feel for the place. I drove past the house we lived in, visited both the white and colored
Catholic churches. I spent a day on the Naval Air Station, part of it reviewing issues of the base paper. The last day in town I spent in the library. I read microfilm copies of the Meridian Star from 1968, recording headlines into my notebook: Eighth Negro church this year damaged by fire in Lauderdale County; Window of Negro Civil Rights Activist Dentist's home blown out by shotgun blast; Window of White Civil Rights Activist blown out by shotgun blast; a couple of majorly ugly ones after Dr. King was shot. By noon, my eyelids had grown sandpaper lining and my brain was fried. I fired up the pickup, imagined that my four cylinder went "hud'n hud'n" and was ready to back out of the parking spot when I saw two young black teens, twelve, thirteen maybe. They were tall, skinny, sporting thin white wires to earbuds, and moving to the tunes as they sauntered past me. Pants hung low, underpants pulled up high enough to make me worry about their comfort. I thought, "Toto, we ain't in 1968 no more."
Low slung pants: a giant step for mankind. Whoda thunk that?
When my family and I moved to Meridian in 1968, I didn't think I'd be a stranger. I thought I'd be like I'd been before, a sailor coming to town for some short term military business. I'd do it, not even brush up against the town much, then I'd leave for the next place. Didn't take long to figure out that I was a stranger there.
In 2011, I drove into town still feeling like a stranger coming to town. I expected to be one, but then I saw those teens. Maybe I made too much of it. Maybe it wouldn't have been such a big deal if I hadn't been immersed in 1968 all morning, but those young men made me feel like I was in a regular American town, and me being a regular American, I fit in there just fine.
When I got home, I pirouetted for my One and Only Squeeze, showing her the new way I was wearing my jeans. She grabbed the waist band of my skivvies and gave me a wedgie that precluded me singing bass along with the Oakridge Boys for a week. Woman's just got no appreciation for social progress fashion statements.
John Zerr is the author of four novels, The Ensign Locker, Sundown Town Duty Station, Noble Deeds, and The Happy Life of Preston Katt.
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