I was maybe seven or eight, standing patiently in O’Neils, one of Akron’s two major department stores, while my mother sorted through a table of rubbers and boots. For those not past retirement age, we wore rubbers to school on rainy days, over our shoes to keep them dry. I’ll bet more rubbers were left at school than any other accessory, proving to parents that leather shoes could survive to walk another day without being the encased in rubbers.
Mother was attempting to match up lefts and rights in the same size for some member of the family when she turned the rubber over and read the country of origin. Japan. She was outraged. “This is the rubber capital of the world,” she said to no one in particular, “and these rubbers are made in Japan.” She took her complaint to the department manager and we left without new rubbers for some child.
Listening to our parents we learned that with few exceptions foreign goods were inferior and even shoddy, and certainly didn’t keep people in this country employed. Even the doll I got for my fourth birthday was made right down the road, in Barberton, which I knew then and now.
Sun Rubber Company
A few weeks after I was four years old I lay on the couch in the living room, drifting in an out of consciousness. Neighbor women came and touched my forehead. I looked up and the doctor was looking at me. Then I was in the hospital and men and women in white uniforms were picking up needles longer than me to stick in my arm. “This won’t hurt,” they said. I knew they were lying and screamed.
The next time I woke up I was in bed with the little black doll, Maggie, I had received for my birthday. I was glad to see her. I was also starving. Starving! A large, white uniformed woman asked me if I was hungry. Was I ever! She would be right back with something to eat. She returned with a tray with a selection of jello’s. I could pick one. I cannot eat jello to this day.
But, I had my doll baby. Maggie and the bed and I were rolled to another part of the ward where I was under a window. I could look across the street and see children playing at a playground. I could also look down and see some work going on. There was a large hole in the ground, and a black man at the bottom of the hole. The other workers at the top were throwing bricks down to him and he caught them with his bare hands. Pretty soon his hands were bleeding and the bricks kept coming. I jumped up and down and screamed and screamed. When people came I couldn’t make them realize what was happening to the man in the hole.
Then they took Maggie away and my parents were there to take me home. I asked for Maggie and Mom and Dad said I’d get her back in a few minutes; she had been taken away to be sterilized, so she wouldn’t have measles germs on her. Someone came in with Maggie, and she was white. The person with Maggie explained all the brown came off in the sterilizer. I wouldn’t take her; it wasn’t my doll! My parents may have brought her home, but I don’t recall ever seeing her again.
There was little sentimentality in our house. Things happened, get over it, get on with it. I was no longer interested in dolls and never had another one. Even at four I could understand it would have been smarter to wash that baby with soap and water than throw her in a pot of boiling water. That was just dumb. I keep the story of the rubbers handy, but it’s become part of the story of the values of community that my parents understood. As for the man catching bricks—I was another fourteen years understanding that one. It could not have happened in the black and white neighborhood I grew up in and didn’t come back to me until I left my insular childhood world.