River, Cross My Heart
The novel actually grew out of a short story I was working on. The short story actually progressed from some oral history tapes that I had asked my mother to prepare for me. She was going along talking about Georgetown, as she had in the past, and she was retelling a lot of anecdotes that we'd heard and, you know, she was very optimistic. It was very sunny. I was thinking about that. I said, "Oh, well, this is awfully sunny," you know, and everything about it was really quite optimistic. I was thinking, well, maybe she's putting a real sunny gloss on some things, and that not everything was all that wonderful.
But then her voice changed when she started to talk about the swimming pool on Volta Place. When she was young, it was for whites only and they couldn't go in. They could look in at the pool and they saw it there and she loved to swim. She was obsessed with swimming, and she couldn't go into that pool. It struck me as remarkable that after all these years, you know, fifty or sixty years, she was still affected by the injustice of it. I could tell in her voice. Her voice on the tape just changed, you know, like night and day. I was struck by that, and I said, there's a story there. That's where the story is.
Then I got to thinking about how that incident, something that in the scheme of things was kind of small, because my mother, of course, has been through the Great Depression and World War II and a lot of other developments that an historian would say were large events. Yet this kind of small event, this injustice of segregation, had actually affected her. I think it affected the woman she turned out to be. Someone else's reaction would have been different. But her reaction was to overcome it somehow. To use it as a way of strengthening herself. That has determined the kind of person that she turned out to be, and as a result, has affected my sisters and myself.