A Tale of Four Families


You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear . . .
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
To hate all the people your relatives hate . . .
— “South Pacific” by Rodgers and Hammerstein appeared on Broadway in 1949. It was harshly criticized by some.

Wanda Frazier Smith passed away on August 23. I was six years old, and she was four when my family moved three doors away. Thus began a friendship that endured through all the years that we were together and apart. Retrospection shows me that Wanda and her family enriched and helped form the person that I became.
The last time I saw her was a couple of months ago when she and I went to Knightstown to attend the visitation for Judge Lynch after which she stopped at our house for dinner. Judge was the son-in-law of Gertrude Scovell who lived with her mother, Rosie, across the street from the house where I grew up. We spent many hours of our childhood, sitting on the glider with Rosie, and Wanda kept in close touch with the Lynches all of her life.
Bill and I attended her memorial service at the mortuary from which so many of my relatives were buried. Predictably, it was packed. Betty Lynch and her daughter, Karen, sat with Bill and me, along with my friend Darlene Keesling Petry. Wanda’s and my friend, Gigi, with whom we’d lost touch for many years was also there. These two events coming so close together set me to musing.
People spoke about how much Wanda loved Knightstown. Looking back to our childhood during the 1940’s and early 1950’s, Wanda and I said we were lucky to grow up in a small town where everyone knew each other. We were like the cartoon character, Mr. Magoo. We blindly wandered through our childhood without being concerned about our being of different races. Of course, prejudice and discrimination existed in Knightstown, but we weren’t touched by them. Children know what’s truly important. Left to themselves, they seek out friends, and Wanda and I were forever-friends.
We were together almost every day in every season, building snowmen, sledding, going to basketball games. . . donning our steel sidewalk skates in spring . . . playing kick-the-can and bicycle slips in summer, starting a Nancy Drew Mystery Club. When Wanda turned six I proudly escorted her to school. In autumn we built bonfires and roasted hot dogs.
We ate and slept at each other’s houses. We knew each other’s relatives. Wanda visited old Granny with me, and I met her mother’s parents. We thought that we broke her cousin’s arm when we knocked her out of the Fraziers’ plum tree. (Priscilla admitted before the memorial service that it was only sprained.) Mrs. Frazier drove two of my sisters to Henry Co. Hospital to have babies as all of their husbands were in service, and my parents had no car.
Our paths diverged: I went to college and became a teacher. Wanda married and had children before I did and rose to a very responsible job with U.S. Customs. My sister, Christine Jones, her husband and their eight children moved into my old house. Wanda’s sister, Barbara, and my niece, Dee, were best friends. The youngest Jones children, Ruth and James, played with Wanda’s older daughter Lisa.
Thus, did four families of neighbors come together and hold each other in deep and enduring affection. A great pleasure of my old age was that after losing track of each other, Wanda and I became reconnected and also later reconnected with Gigi.
And now? And now my forever-friend is gone, and I am left bereft for her and my lost childhood . . . wclarke@comcast.net