With some stories, even before I am done hearing them for the first time, even as my senior buds are just beginning to read out loud the first few sentences, I know that I would remember them vividly, forever, I know that their significance is so great that I can never completely wrap my mind around them, I know that their significance is only going to get greater over time. This story by Frances is one of them. “The signs have been removed from the doors but they have yet to be removed from the mind.”
In 1965, I was living in Phila, PA, and went to visit my father who lived in a small town in South Carolina. I accompanied my father for his annual checkup to his doctor’s office. Two waiting rooms were still in use; one had been used excessively for white patients – the other for colored people. The outlines for the signs were still visible over the doors.
The large room was paneled with checkered red and mint green. Baskets of flowers and plants aligned the tables and the cabinets. A beautiful fern plant cascaded over the receptionist’s desk. The latest editions of Life, Family, Ladies’ Home Journal and Parents’ Magazines were neatly lined on a table. Bright lights illuminated the room. There were plenty of comfortable seats. This room was formally available to white patients only.
The other waiting room was small and windowless, dimly lit, and painted a drab gray. Ten dog-eared copies of Life and Ebony magazines sprawled out on the table. Draught-backed chairs lined the wall. This room had been the waiting room for the colored patients.
I entered the cheerful room, my father hesitated, and then reluctantly followed. I was not too surprised to see that most of the colored patients gravitated to the room that they had been required to use before desegregation.
My father said, “This room is nice.”
“Dad, you have never been to this room before?”
“No, Baby, I just always used our waiting room.” He thought for a while and then spoke again. “You know I never thought about using this room.”
I reached out for his hand and patted it gently. I spoke to no one in particular. “The signs have been removed from the doors but they have yet to be removed from the mind.” We picked up a magazine to read and waited to see his doctor.