The year is 1923. It is the middle of June. You are a kid in a seersucker suit, on your way to a picnic. The weather is hot. Sweltering, actually. Texas can be like a steam bath sometimes.
Today is a holiday. At least that’s what everyone is saying. But it’s a day you’ve never heard of.
“What’s Juneteeth, Daddy?” you ask.
“Ssshhh,” says your father, the quiet Scottish minister, who is always telling you to shush. If you’ve been shushed once, you’ve been shushed a million times. He usually follows this up with, “Ssshhh, just listen, David.”
Just listen? You’ve been just-listening for your whole life, and it never seems to get people to quit shushing you.
This morning, before your family left the house, your mother dressed you up and fixed your blonde hair to your head with industrial pump lubricant. These trousers cost your parents money they didn’t have. Your father has lost three church jobs in one year because he keeps getting fired.
When you arrive at the park, it’s crowded with an all-black gathering of folks
who eat lunch on blankets. And you discover that your family is the only white family at the celebration.
The place is alive with energy. There is laughter, games, drink, and music everywhere. Real music. The kind of modern music they’re playing in cities. They call it jazz. You’ve heard jazz a few times on your friend’s mom’s Victrola. You can’t get enough of the stuff.
“Hi, Reverend Amons,” a young black woman says to your father. “Happy Juneteenth.”
Your father takes her hand. “Delia, happy Juneteenth, sweetheart.”
“Happy Juneteenth,” your mother says, embracing the girl.
“What the heck is Juneteenth?” you announce.
“Ssshh,” your father says, straightening your jacket collar. “Just listen, David, and you might learn something.”
There he goes again.
Here come your friends running toward you. John, Jeremiah, and Terrence. They ask if you want…