I met a woman on the beach at Huguenot Park in North Florida who taught me and my sons how to find sand dollars. She had an eye for that kind of thing. “Look for something round and yellow,” she advised me. I guess I could have figured that out for myself!
Hunched over, peering into the water, idiotically repeating, “round and yellow,” I soon came up with my first unbroken sand dollar. The incantation had worked. As I’d been searching the sandy bottom for the spiny sea animals, the woman struck up a conversation with me. When she found out I lived in Alabama, she offered, “I love Alabama. I’m not prejudiced, at all, but I love Alabama because there aren’t many Black people.”
My kids and I exchanged quick glances. Did she just say what we thought she said? I had stopped looking for sand dollars and began to focus on the woman. She looked young, with long auburn hair, a bikini, sun burned skin, and a pregnant belly. She seemed earnest. I didn’t see hate in her keen-for-sand-dollars eyes.
“Hmmm. How odd,” I said, “when we moved to Alabama, I chose schools for my kids because I wanted them to be in integrated settings.”
“Not me,” she shook her head in disavowal. She stopped looking for sand dollars, too. We stood in thigh deep water, mutually suspending our search for bottom feeders. “After 9-11,” she continued, “my husband and I wanted to have more kids. You know, to raise some good, patriotic Americans. I got pregnant with twins, and we named them Jet and Striker.”
“Hmmm,” was all I could muster.
“What do you do in Alabama?” she asked.
“I’m a professor.”
“Oh, one of THOSE,” she couldn’t hide her disgust. She pushed her legs against the waves and began making her way back to her truck, which was parked on the beach. Jet and Striker, I presumed, were sitting in the truck bed drinking Gatorade and eating sandwiches. A confederate flag attached to the truck made a hard clapping noise as the sea breeze took hold of it.