Sweet Home Alabama
Copyright© 2013 by Robert McKay
The Thursday after the singing was the meeting, and Cecelia and I were there – not as participants, but as spies. Even if I'd wanted to be part of it I couldn't have – the people down from Montgomery wouldn't know me, but anyone from around Leanna would, and there would go my cover. They wouldn't be likely to believe that someone who was happily married to a black woman was virulently opposed to whites marrying blacks.
This was going to be a more difficult thing than creeping Howell's place while he slept. There would be multiple people there, how many we didn't know, and they'd be awake and moving around some, if only to grab a drink or visit the little room. Likely they'd be focused on the meeting, and it would be at night inside a lighted house, making it unlikely they'd see us outside in the dark, but the chance was there. Accordingly, Cecelia and I went over our contingency plans several times during the preceding days, and once again that night before setting out. Unlike TV, where the commander of an outfit doesn't tell anyone the plan until just before they go in, that I guess being supposed to be more dramatic, in real life planning begins long before anything happens and by the time it does happen, everyone already knows the plan so well he could recite it in his sleep.
Parking the Blazer a mile away and walking in wasn't an option this time – someone might see it, and wonder what it was doing there. So Darlia borrowed Daddy's truck, dropped us off a mile away, and then drove back home. She's too young to even have a learner's permit, but in rural areas kids routinely drive farm vehicles and law enforcement knows it, and anyway they knew us and wouldn't hassle Darlia unless she did something stupid like run a stop sign or crash into someone's front porch or challenge a patrol car to a drag race.
It was dark, and the meeting would be getting underway in about 15 minutes, as we crept through the belt of trees again. As we'd done the other time, we'd set our cell phones to vibrate before setting out – the last thing we needed was an audible ring while crouched under Howell's window.
When we got to the edge of the trees, crouching behind the brush again, we could see half a dozen vehicles parked in front of the house. Without an outside light – either he didn't have a porch light at all, or hadn't turned it on – it was hard to be sure, but I thought I saw Hamp Carter's Cadillac, and perhaps one or two others I recognized.
We waited for half an hour by my watch, a Timex with one of those dials that light up when you push in on the stem, and it appeared that we'd come at just about the right time. Only two cars arrived while we waited, and those were early on.
Finally I tapped Cecelia on the shoulder, and we moved to the right, toward the back of Howell's property. We would come in from the rear, using the garage for cover, making it harder for the gathered bigots to spot us. I didn't expect a lookout – no one knew about the meeting except racists ... and one fake racist, and his wife, but that was something the real racists didn't know.
The garage was dark, and when I looked in the window on the back door I couldn't see anything. I peeked around the corner, looking at the house, and saw that the back porch was dark too, though there was a light in the house – probably the kitchen, that being usually the closest room to a back porch, at least in rural southern houses.
I moved to my left, Cecelia stepping back from the garage wall to let me pass, and went around the side of the garage. I knew Cecelia would follow me – this was all part of the plan. When I got to the front corner, I could see lit windows on the side of the house. Not knowing the layout I couldn't be sure, but I expected that at least one of them was a living room window, and perhaps a bedroom light was on too.
Now came the scary part. I edged along the front of the garage, keeping in the shadow and getting to an angle where it would be harder to spot me from the house. The only window that looked out at me when I stopped moving was the kitchen window, and looking from a lighted room through a screen into the dark would be difficult. Keeping in a crouch, and being very careful of what I stepped on, feeling with my feet and listening with my ears so as not to break a branch or kick a rock or anything else which might make a noise, I snuck up to the house.
I stayed there for two or three minutes listening, but couldn't hear anything. I wouldn't expect the meeting to be in the kitchen, and the lack of sound indicated that I was right. I flapped my hand behind me, and waited. After a while Cecelia touched me on the shoulder to let me know she was there – I'd heard her, but only in the last couple of yards, and then only a very faint whisper of her moccasins in the grass. I'd taught her well, and she was very good. I expected that if she and I ever got into a sneaking game, I'd have to work at it to beat her.
I reached back and tapped her twice – on the shin, it felt like – to indicate that she was to wait there. I crept even more carefully along the wall of the house, going around the corner to my left and staying in my crouch to be lower than the windows. My main fear at that point was that someone would go out on the back porch for something – to smoke, to spit, to get a breath of air – and spot Cecelia squatting there. If that did happen, she was to run for the trees, without calling out – a warning for me would also warn the bigots that someone else was there, and while they might suspect it, I didn't want them to know it, if someone did spot her, which I hoped didn't happen.
Listening at the first window I came to, I still heard nothing. At the second, I could hear voices, but couldn't make out any words. At the third – the last one – I could tell what people were saying, and after I'd listened a bit I could discern different voices. I could tell Hamp Carter's voice, and one or two others I thought I knew.
I knew Cecelia would be watching me, so I again flipped my hand behind me, and again after a bit she touched me – this time a steady hand on my shoulder. And we squatted there, listening to some of the vilest filth I'd ever heard.
No meeting gets anywhere in a hurry. For speed you want individual action – meetings take a while. This one especially took a while, for these weren't highly educated, intelligent people discussing how they could earn more for the stockholders, but a set of dimwits who spent at least as much time cussing out blacks as they did talking about what they'd actually done and what they planned to actually do. Hamp Carter was probably the only one with a college education, and he sounded almost as dim as the rest. If I hadn't had long practice in patience, beginning when I was a kid hunting meat for the table, I'd never have been able to stand it. How Cecelia, without all that training, stood it was beyond me, but she did, without a single complaint and moving no more than necessary to keep from going numb.