Fading To White


My husband wonders aloud as we study the landscape how Anita was able to send her daughters here. She packed them off on a long journey bound for this snooty Cape Cod camp every summer, an arduous trip requiring, by my grandmother’s account, both trains and boats. An all-day journey to send two black children to a white camp that was not far from Boston, from Anita’s origins. A short distance from Anita’s old black neighborhood. A shorter distance from Martha’s Vineyard, where Anita’s mother, Dora, was still alive and working at her boardinghouse while Ellen and her sister were in the bracing waters of Pleasant Bay, pale arms and legs dutifully working to keep their bodies afloat. Anita must have sent her girls there so that she could visit her mother. Summer must have been the only time Anita ever saw her family.

The wind blows over the new houses, over the sad little field that was once part of a summer camp for well-to-do white girls. I imagine that same wind, softer with summer, blowing across Ellen and lifting the laundry on the line behind her grandmother’s boardinghouse, the wind that is the single most tangible bond between a family separated by the color of their skin.