Running From Little Johnny Snodgrass

Little Johnny Snodgrass and I had once been friends

"Are you listening to me girl?" Mama Josie, my maternal grandmother, jerked my head around by the French braid that she was braiding down my neck. “What are you going to do if Little Johnny Snodgrass comes out of his house?”

"I am going to run, Mama Josie. I am going to run like the devil is after me.” I replied with enough conviction, I hoped, to convince her that if Little Johnny Snodgrass did come out of his house when my sister, Lanell, and I passed by on our way to our school, I would run like the devil was trying to catch me to take me to hell.

Little Johnny Snodgrass was a White boy who lived in a huge white brick antebellum mansion that sat on the main highway going through town. The mansion had two big picture windows that looked out onto a vividly green manicured lawn and a wide circular driveway. Most days

Little Johnny sat in the east picture window watching people and cars go by.

Little Johnny Snodgrass and I had once been friends. Well, not exactly friends, but every now and then, when I had passed his house on my way to the grocery store in town, Little Johnny would come out of his house and we would talk.

What a little White boy of seven and a little Colored girl of seven (We were Colored back then, before we became Negros and before Black became beautiful) found to talk about I can’t recall. I’m sure that we talked the same nonsense that my young Black friends and I did.

Like how somebody's mother was going to have a baby and because she had had so many babies, the new baby was going to be a goat, or a cow, or a lamb, or whatever animal we could think of at the time. Such nonsense from the uniformed. And at that age, un-informable.

This could have been the scenario taking place on the day that my pseudo friendship with Little Johnny Snodgrass dissolved.

We were standing in front of Little Johnny's house talking when all of a sudden he spat in my face. Can you picture that scene? Little Johnny Snodgrass standing there grinning at me as that wet, slimy, stinky glob of spit slid down my face.

For a second I stood there, perplexed by his action, then, without giving a thought to the consequences, with all the strength that I could summon in my scrawny little body, I hauled my right arm back and came forward with a loud SMACK right on his grinning face. It was his turn to be stunned. His face became contorted. He started to cry Then without saying a word to me, ran screaming into that monstrosity of a house of his.

"Run, you woodpecker.” I yelled after his sobbing body "Run you soda cracker.” Woodpecker and soda cracker were the worse words of insult that Black people called White people in that town. Those words were tantamount to a White person calling a Black person by the "N" word. I knew that I was not supposed to use those words, but I was so mad that I completely forgot one of the commands of survival that Mama Josie had drilled into me--never hate, never wish for something that someone else has, and never call someone Black or White out of their name.

After releasing my venomous tirade on Little Johnny, I merrily went on my way to the grocery store, got my groceries and returned home by way of Little Johnny's house without incident.

When I got home, thinking about what had occurred at Little Johnny's house, I became nervous. I was fidgety; Mama Josie noticed and kept asking me "Girl, what's wrong with you?”

“Nothing, Mama Josie." I murmured in a low guilty like voice.

She gave me a puzzled look but said nothing.

Late that evening, I heard the sound of heavy boots walking up the wooden steps to Mama Josie's front door. The Sheriff. Now the cause of my nervousness would be revealed. "Just a minute." Mama Josie's musical voice sang out from the kitchen, "Just a minute, I'll be right there."

When she opened the door and saw the Sheriff standing there I could see her face almost fall to the ground.

"Miss Josie,” the Sheriff seemed a little reluctant to tell his story to Mama Josie. "Miss Josie, it seems your granddaughter, the oldest one, I think, caused a little trouble in town today.

He told Mama Josie what had transpired between Little Johnny Snodgrass and me that morning. The way he told it is that I threw Little Johnny to the ground, stomped him in his stomach and bloodied his face, without provocation, nothing he said nothing about Little Johnny spitting in my face.

“Now, Miss Josie." the Sheriff glared over Mama Josie's shoulder at me standing behind her back.” I have to tell you if your granddaughter continues this misbehavior, I'm going to have to arrest you and place her in Juvenile detention.”

Mama Josie, the essence of gentility, having been brought up in the Louisiana tradition of fine French etiquette, listened to the Sheriff somberly. After he had finished his tale of my bad behavior toward Little Johnny Snodgrass, Mama Josie assured him in her musically toned, sweet voice that she would take care to see that I never caused him or Little Johnny Snodgrass any more trouble.

Fortunately, for the Sheriff, he could not see that Mama Josie, while appearing sweet and calm on the outside, was seething inside. Seething inside and calling upon long ago ancestors across foreign seas to merit out to the Sheriff, and Little Johnny Snodgrass their just desserts.

After the Sheriff, left I tried to tell Mama Josie my side of the story. She said, "never mind, get me a switch from the elderberry tree in the front yard, make it the thinnest one that you can find."

When I brought the tree switch to her, she stripped off the leaves, and commenced whipping my legs and buttocks. "What did I tell you that you are supposed to do when a White kid spits on you?”, she demanded. In that town white kids were always spitting on Black kids. It was like their parents had told them that spitting on a Black person was an easy, fast way to show contempt for a Black person. Stories were told around town about White kids who spat on maids and housekeepers just because they could do it and get away with it.

"I'm sorry." Mama Josie did not seem to hear me. She whipped me until her strength and breath gave out. When she finally stopped whipping me, instead of looking after my wounds she left the house headed for her first cousin's house in the backwoods.

The next day, I was in pain and unable to walk. Mama Josie sent a note to the school saying that I was sick and would be out of school for two weeks.

After the two weeks passed the day came for me to go back to school. Mama Josie plaited my hair in the style that I liked, a single French braid down my neck, and let me wear my pink organdy ruffle dress. She treated me really special that day and I hoped that if I did see Little Johnny Snodgrass, I could keep my promise to her and not confront him.

"Come on,” Lanell yelled at me when we got to Little Johnny's house; “Just run across." “Is he sitting in the window?" I yelled. "No, he's not there.” Lanell yelled back. Nervously, I gathered my courage and ran across the length of Little Johnny’s front yard. Halfway across I discovered that Lanell had lied, Little Johnny was sitting in the window but gave no indication that he saw me. Lanell and I repeated this scenario every school day until the end of the school year.

The following school year, a new school was built for Black kids in the Black part of town. After I started attending classes at the new school I forgot about the incident with Little Johnny Snodgrass.

In the middle of that school year, a friend of Mama Josie's told her that Little Johnny Snodgrass had died from the effects of polio. He died at home propped up in the east window of that huge house. staring out at the world swirling around outside.

Most memories of my childhood have receded into the catacombs of my mind, while some reside up front, constant reminders of my youthful experiences, good and bad.

Foremost in my recollection of my childhood memories is the feel of my grandmother’s hands in my hair plaiting, it into the French braid that I loved so much, the ruffled organdy dress that she let me wear on special occasions, and the feel of Johnny Snodgrass’ slimy spit on my face.