Yesteryear in a park with the Arts and Crafts Lady
It’s funny how seemingly not really life changing memories remain fresh in your thoughts for decades. It’s interesting how clear some childhood events remain forever etched in your brain. Like my days at the playground in Hopewell’s City Point neighborhood. A playground constructed during the World War I guncotton boom by the DuPont company as a haven for their executives and their families. Once the war was won and the need for ammunition waned, DuPont closed its doors and the playground became property of the city.
There was once a clubhouse on the property but it burned (twice) before I was born. The grounds housed a lovely pool, tremendously tall swing sets (of which I was deathly afraid after my cousin Manuel pushed me so hard I tumbled backwards, did a complete aerial somersault, and miraculously landed on my feet) and a very, very tall metal sliding board that got so hot in the summer, your bottom nearly burned.
During integration, shamefully, the once refreshing community watering hole was quietly filled in with dirt (during the darkness of night). I don’t recall ever swimming in it but I do recall the horror when I learned why they “covered it up.” I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that whites thought blacks would pollute the waters. Pee pollutes the water and it’s all yellow no matter who so rudely urinates in the pool. I must say, I never got over that ugly swimming pool incident and vowed one day I’d excavate it and restore it for everyone to enjoy.
I so looked forward to going to the playground as a young girl. My favorite activity was probably not surprisingly Arts and Crafts time but I loved the daily stories shared us by our playground leader Mrs. Hendricks. She lived a half-block from the park and was from faraway West Virginia. I just adored her and her rather interesting stories of her childhood. Once when we were complaining of how the sun-baked blacktop streets burned our barefoot feet, Mrs. Hendricks told us (in her sultry, gravelly voice) they were so poor where she was from, they’d dig the oozy tar from under the streets and chew it like gum. That answered my question (that I never thankfully actually asked aloud) about why her teeth were dark and scary looking and why her voice was so low. No matter, I still loved hearing her tales about growing up dirt poor in faraway West Virginia.
My very most favorite sight of the summer was the sparkly, massive, white Ford galaxy pulling up with the horn tooting her arrival, to replenish our wooden toy and activity box with craft supplies. At least once a week, Mrs. Ida Cook would visit us with a new craft project and supplies for former ones. We made keychains and necklaces out of plastic string, potholders, and I can’t remember what else. I loved intertwining the plastic and creating keychains, even though I had no need for one. My poor family was gifted many of these creations each summer.
I thought Mrs. Cook was the bee’s knees. Her chocolate skin was different in hue than anyone else at the playground, but that didn’t seem to faze her one bit. She was always dressed to the nines, even donning stockings and high heels in the sweltering heat of summer. Her commanding voice always got our immediate attention. She was patient while instructing us and complimented each child who chose to participate in Arts and Crafts time. She never stayed as long as we wished, for she had to move on to the next playground. I knew I wanted to be just like Ida Cook when I grew up – well dressed, artistic, loved, and completely in command of a big, stylish automobile.
I kept up with Mrs. Cook, who resided in Petersburg, through her niece Cecelia Johnson, a faithful patron of my many shops. She would tell me of Mrs. Cook’s many travels and describe her latest outfits and clothing shopping sprees. I learned she passed away last week at the ripe old age of 94. I’m sad for her family but happy she’s in heaven, once again teaching impressionable youngsters arts and crafts. I wonder if she really knew the profound impact she, as my Arts and Crafts Lady, made on my life? It’s the little things that matter. I wonder if I looked through the drawers at my parent’s house if one of those little key-chains just might be stored away in the darkness of a dresser drawer?