I am not sure of the year, but I believe it was 1969 or 1970. My mother, who was single and raising two squirrelly boys, decided to take her children to a park for some outside fun. I am also certain it was part of her attempt to maintain some semblance of sanity. After all, being a single mom, working a full-time and demanding nursing job, and dealing with her two children, was probably enough to send her over the edge. So the idea of going to a park, sitting down and relaxing while her boys climb, run and jump all over the place, was a terrific idea.
I wish I could remember the name of the park. It was somewhere in Bucks County, PA. I went online to try to identify it but could not. Even so, I vividly remember the park. It was off the side of a two-lane road through a forest-like area. The parking was in a gravel lot that was not very big. The parking was elevated above the park. So you had to walk down to get into the park area.
To a five-year-old the park seemed massive. It had trees, open green areas, gigantic rocks both in and out of water and a creek that ran through the entire park. The creek had large open still water areas as well as narrow stretches where the water trickled downstream peacefully.
The park was a wonderland to me.
Obviously, I remember the park quite well and I was only there once over 50 years ago. However, there is one other thing that I remember from that day, and it has been with me every day since.
Shortly after getting to the park and after I surveyed all the adventures I was going to have while there, I went over the banks of the creek and picked up some small stones and started tossing them into the water. Within seconds of my started this, another boy came over next to me and he also began tossing stones in the creek.
We looked at each other, smiled in acknowledgement, and kept on skipping stones.
One of his stones made a big splash and I looked at him and said, “Wow that was cool!” He smuggly smiled back.
He then asked me, “What’s your name?” I replied and returned the question. He told me his name was Mark.
We continued tossing stones, commenting on each other’s throws and splashes and were having a dandy time. After about five minutes, it dawned on me that Mark was Black.
I paused. I lived outside of Philadelphia on the Montgomery County and Bucks County Line Road, so it was not unusual to see Black people and lots of people of all different types.
However, I had never played with with a Black person.
I didn’t have any alarming feelings, but I knew this was something I had never done. So I darted over to where my mother was sitting and relaxing and asked her if it was ok if I played with Mark.
She looked over to where Mark was standing on the banks of the creek, smiled at me and said, “Of course, he seems like a nice boy. Go have fun.”
Without much thought that I can remember, I ran back over by Mark and said, “My mom said it’s ok for us to play together.” He looked up, nodded and then threw a huge stone in the creek that went “kerplunk” quite loudly.
We loved that sound and laughed our heads off. We tried to find more stones that big to replicate the sound until I saw a huge boulder that was on the edge of the creek about 50 yards from where were playing. I asked if he wanted to go climb it with me and he did and we did.
We had a heck of a time that day playing with Mark. We were best buddies. Unfortunately, we never saw each other again.
While I could not take that friendship with me into the rest of my life, I certainly took the simple words of my mother with me to this day, “Of course, he seems like a nice boy. Go have fun.”
There was no tension, no drama, no hatred, just a relaxed, “Go have fun.”
While she did not have to use her words to say, “Of course Scott you can play with Mark. Just because he skin is a different color, doesn’t mean you have to stay away from him.”
Her words let me know it was normal, safe, and not a big deal for a white boy and black boy to be friends.
And that is a lesson I learned so well that day and was reinforced throughout my formative years.
While this is not a grandiose, large scale example of Black History for the nation and world, it certainly was perhaps the biggest personal moment of Black History for me.