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The summer of 1959 I was eight years old when my family was uprooted from Angola, the migrant camp we called home located approximately 10 miles southwest of Corcoran, California. Named after the cotton gin nearby, but now due to mechanization there was no need for human cotton pickers any longer. The owners decided to tear down the camp and clear the land displacing at least twenty families.
My parents and relatives moved to Corcoran. In those days blacks lived in designated parts of town; 5 ½ Avenue, North Avenue, across the tracks—Pickerill Ave, and Bootville later known as Sunny acres. These communities were on the outskirts of town.
Our new home was located in Bootville. I was excited because we were moving to a real house with an indoor toilet. Going to a new school was scary for me, as I had become accustomed to my little country school that felt more like a family than a school.
Everything went smoothly and before long we were settled in our little white house on Nice Avenue. The house was on the corner and we had no next-door neighbors, but our landlord, an elderly couple, lived directly across the street.
Somewhat of a reclusive little girl, I was in no hurry to meet the neighborhood kids and was quite content to wait until school started. I was a bookworm and busied myself with reading books, watching TV, and helping my mother with chores around the house.
That summer we began a tradition of visiting my father’s mother every other Sunday. Grandma Annie lived in a desolate place called Allensworth, a small forlorn community about 25 miles southwest of Corcoran. I hated visiting her because she had no TV, and there was nothing to do out there among the coyotes and tumbleweeds.
Later as an adult I learned that Allensworth had a rich African-American history, founded by Colonel Allen Allensworth, a black man, in 1908. Promoted to a Colonel in the US Army, a hell of an achievement in and of itself, he and a band of progressive-thinking black professionals, including Buffalo Soldiers, helped him realize his dream.
Allensworth had been a thriving black community both self-sustained and prosperous, becoming a shipping point along the Southern Pacific Railroad with stops eight times a day until their water supply became contaminated from arsenic.
The story goes that jealous white farmers poisoned their water supply so that all their farm animals and crops died. The final blow happened when a motorcycle intentionally ran down Colonel Allensworth after he stepped down from a streetcar while on a business trip in Monrovia, California. The cyclist then turned around and ran over the Colonel a second time. Colonel Allensworth died, and soon after so did the town of Allensworth; at the time of his death in 1914 he was healthy as a horse.
In 1976 Allensworth experienced a rebirth, and was made a State Park and is a nationally recognized historic site with Juneteenth and Gospel Festivities each summer. Convoys of school and charter buses make their way down lonely Central Valley Highway to Colonel Allensworth’s utopia.
That summer I remember exiting Central Valley Highway, crossing the railroad track and the winding road that led to Grandma Annie’s, it felt like I was entering a time warp. The boarded up store and bakery where, back in the day, many a traveler must have bought food and baked goods, now stood deserted along with chicken coops and rundown shacks. I sighed and felt a strange sadness.
It was on one of these bi-weekly trips that something unusual happened. The sun was setting when we headed home and were driving past Sunrise City, a place that can only be described as a Valley watering hole where the locals, be they farm workers or not, hung out on the weekends drinking, gambling, and God knows what else.
Sunrise City, a square whitewashed building with a golden sign on the roof depicting a sunrise, stood on a manmade mountain, so that it sat higher than the highway and could be seen from half a mile away. There were always a lot of cars and trucks parked around it.
As was the norm after visiting Grandma Annie that my parents were having an animated argument in the front seat of the car, and were oblivious to their surroundings. I was fascinated with Sunrise City and had my eyes glued to the window when it came into view. I liked to count the cars around the place.
I began the count as we approached and noticed my window began fogging up, I tried to wipe the fog away with my hand. When the glass cleared I jumped back, there was a see-through man running alongside the car, pointing his finger at me.
Quickly turning to my two brothers, who I saw were busy babbling on about something or other and tussling with each other, I called out.
“Mama!” She ignored me, too involved in the Grandma Annie argument.
“Mama!” Somehow she became deaf and would never answer me on the drives home so I gave up.
About ten miles down the road the see-through man disappeared. It wasn’t that I was scared as I’d always seen things, even as a small child and was never afraid of the dark, but I thought Mama needed to know about the see-through man.
Later that night as I got ready for bed, I told Mama about the see-through man at Sunrise City. She listened absently as she helped me into my pajamas. I waited patiently for her to grasp the importance of my sighting.
“Umhum, I’m going to stop letting you stay up and watch The Twilight Zone, it’s making you imagine things.”
I loved The Twilight Zone; and resolved to never mention the see-through man again. I quietly snuggled down into my bed, but wondered what the see-through man was trying to tell me. He looked slightly familiar, but I didn’t think I knew him.
The next trip to Grandma Annie’s I took my usual place in the back seat next to the window while my two brothers fought over the opposite window. I concentrated on the clean smell of the green alfalfa fields, and forced myself not to look at Sunrise City, which was the halfway point, and on the opposite side of the highway.
Mercifully the visit went fast as I was preoccupied with the see-through man. On the drive home, like the last time, my window fogged up and when I wiped it there he was again, running alongside the car. This time he was a little less see-through, because I could see the sad expression in his bright green eyes. He pointed to me again and again then started to fade, I looked back and saw him waving sadly in the middle of the road.
When we got to our house cars were parked in front, all the relatives and Grandma Lucy, who was crying. Never had I seen her cry. My rambunctious cousins were quiet and whispered back and forth amongst themselves.
Mama took Grandma Lucy by the arm, and the grown folks went inside the house and closed the doors.
“Somebody died,” Cousin Linda blurted out.
“Who?” I wanted to know.
“Uncle Louis, somebody ran him over with a car, killed him dead.”
That night my mama was sad and tearfully showed me a picture of her brother.
“He had the prettiest green eyes you’ve ever seen.”