Oregon State UniversitySpecial Collections & Archives Research Center
Ninety Days Inside The Empire: A Novel by William Appleman Williams

Down That Lonesome Road

Page 121

The NAACP gave a party for the Taylors, Blakes and Wyes. A welcome to the Blakes as settled neighbors, and a farewell to the others. Thomas the organist cancelled a gig at Five Corners to be there, and he welcomed people with his own variations on Bach, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Mozart, Bennie Moten, and even a bit of Brahms. He established a relaxed mood of happy bittersweet friendship and teasing that prevented the sadness from becoming gloom.

Wendell Rogers and Abbey Mae set the tone of the humor when they introduced Barry Clay as a man who had gone into politics to get a bus ride to Nigger Town. He in turn presented Maggie and Mr. Hank with tiny, beautifully carved keys to the Congressional District. Then The Reverend and Lette gave Caroline and Mitch a marvelous photographic montage. Together with Nancy, they were in the center. Around them were somewhat fuzzy prints of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and William Edward Burghardt DuBois. All of them together were surrounded by a crinkled picture of the members of The Colored Farmers' Alliance gathered in front of the church.

It was striking and moving piece of work, and the talk about who had done it temporarily disrupted the program. Run-Run provided the answer in the course of calling Cat to the well. Cat had been paying attention to the proceedings, but he was also thinking about not flying any more and not knowing when ever again he would be with all these people who had so informed his life. Susan nudged him sharply in the shin with the toe of her shoe, and Abbey Mae planted a stiff finger in his thigh.

He kissed them both on the cheek and went forward. Run-Run was by then holding a large color photograph high enough for all to see. In perfect focus it revealed Cat flying upside down in a Yellow Peril and thumbing his nose at gravity. Below the picture in elegant italic printing were the words: "Just fly the airplane, Sonny."

Yellow Peril bi-plane
Yellow Peril bi-plane

The laughter was easy and lovely; floating up and around and back down to the pews. And meant for the photographer as well as the subject. Thomas finally resettled the party with a chorus taken but not copied from Bix Beiderbecke's solo on "I'm Coming Virginia."

Wendell Rogers came back to the well, this time with Elizabeth Lee. They called for Susan. Cat returned her kick on the shin with two pats on the baby. She was not embarrassed when they gave her a silver folding frame containing the front page of the first issue and the special edition of The Freedom News. She simply cried.

They gathered around her and then began to break up into smaller groups to enjoy each other and the wine when Marsh began to bang a box on the floor. They turned back to the well.

"We have here a box for a gentleman named Nathan Reis. Will he please come forward."

Run-Run was embarrassed. Finally Maggie gave him a push and Lette took his arm and steered him far enough along that he could not go any place else.

Then it was boxes within boxes. Finally it was a jack-in-the-box triggered by a door bell. Up popped a voluptuous blonde in an untied bathrobe. This time the laughter was raucous, but it gave Run-Run a moment to recover.

"Judge, what was that address?"

The word raced around the crowd. Marsh had gone to Albert Case to make the box, then to David Cohen to order the doll, and finally to Caroline to sew the robe. More than a few people made a note to go thank Mr. Cohen.

Finally, hours later, Thomas eased them out the doors with "Blue Moon." Run-Run allowed Cat to drive them home to the cottage and, slightly drunk, he went to sleep on the couch.

There were other parties; but finally they, too, were over. The bottles in the trash, the dishes washed, and the tears dried. Caroline and Nancy and Susan were safely home gathering love and strength from their families. Run-Run had departed to report to his first carrier-training officer.