Once upon a time there was a man who was alive.

Location: Hattiesburg, Mississippi, United States
St. Cuthbert and Disciples in a Boat


Remember the Alamo

A Short Story

We drove through Chicago Plantation (it didn’t look much like Chicago) parting the rain curtain drawing around the cotton fields and shotgun houses all turned to one big muddy sea. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, late in July, hot, and I was yawning and asking how much further Greenville was which was where we were going to see a movie. Twenty miles my father promised with that sort of promise I had heard many times before and learned to interpret. I looked out the window at the rows and rows and rows of cotton drowning floating moodily in the rain and found my eyes closing down slowly, opening slowly: more rows of cotton swimming in the sea, flat as a tabletop with brand new linoleum on it. I fell asleep finally subdued by the rhythm of the relentless Delta. I woke up in Greenville. It was four o’clock and the rain had stopped but the streets were still streams just starting to sizzle off into steam, as the sun shoved off the clouds and starting filling the world again with its heat. It was July after all.

We were on our way back to the Coast, driving home after visiting our kinfolk in Memphis which was a town I did not like, maybe most of all because to reach it we drove for hours upon monotone monochrome hours through the Delta. I think my father felt as if it would be a good thing to make it up to me a little bit for having to crawl through the Delta to Memphis and back, so he had promised to stop in Greenville on the way back, at the movie theatre where we would watch John Wayne’s new picture, The Alamo, which was about him as Davy Crockett going to Texas (a place I had never been but figured it had lots of cattle, cowboys, and big mountains, and not much else) where he killed a lot of Mexicans before they broke in and killed all the white people and killed John Wayne-Davy Crockett last. I knew all that because my father told me while we were driving out of Memphis. He said it was a ‘historical picture’ which was important, as important as going to the picture-shows can be (he had studied history a good bit at the university and still liked to talk about it). The big battle was in an old church, the Alamo, and the Mexicans (after lots of them being killed) ended up killing all the Texans- who were white mostly. ‘Even John Wayne?’ (I already knew about John Wayne pretty well.) ‘Even John Wayne. Everybody. But the Texans kept fighting and they whipped old Santa Anna, place called San Jacinto, killed a bunch more Mexicans and Santa Anna tried to run off but they caught him and he gave up then and there; Texas was free.’

That was what my father said though I wasn’t sure exactly who Santa Anna was or where San Jacinto was. That last place wasn’t in the movie at any rate. ‘After the Alamo the Texans, whenever they were in a battle, would always yell “Remember the Alamo! Remember the Alamo!” They were yelling it at San Jacinto when they caught old Santa Anna and then Texas had its independence.’ I had said that phrase to myself as we were scooting across the table-top land; I imagined the brooding white horizontality-defying churches to be the Alamo and the little fringe of trees ringing the churches were Texans fighting the Mexicans- which were the sprawling cotton plants out in the fields around. ‘Remember the Alamo.’ I decided I would. It was important. However I wondered if maybe there wasn’t something sort of wrong about fighting in a church. I knew if I did it I would get into trouble. But maybe when you’re being attacked by lots of Mexicans it’s alright. I wasn’t sure.

We pulled up to the theatre and I stepped deliberately down into the mud puddle under my door and grinned happy to be out of the car to be almost out of the Delta almost inside the movie theatre. The puddle wasn’t very deep and I splashed once and jumped up onto the sidewalk and yelled ‘Remember the Alamo!’ A Negro man was standing near the door across from me and I guess I startled him because he turned around and scowled at me. I just grinned some more. He turned back around. Next to him was little boy, maybe his son or nephew or something. He also turned around and walked towards me. I said hello and maybe we can have a battle: I’ll be John Wayne and you can be a Mexican. But he didn’t seem to like the deal even though I figured it was fair: I killed him then he killed me. But he went back to stand beside the man who had scowled at me. They were buying tickets and soon moved inside. My father and I went up to the other ticket window, bought our tickets from the bored looking skinny boy inside, and went in, out of the emerging big brightness into a musty (still rainy smelling) dark with a few yellow lights. The boy and the man went in too, through the door marked Colored Only.

We sat down. I loved going to the movies: the oozing darkness of the big square room that was so deliciously cool. And then the movie: Motion, Sound, Excitement! I had never been to Texas but sometimes I thought I had and it was anyway better than Texas would turn out to be I would decide later (much later). The movie was a suspension of distance and time, but it wasn’t the same as being there, which was comfortable. You don’t move during the moving picture show; the picture moves for you. I liked that back then. It was easier. Sometimes I still prefer it.
I huddled up against my father and whispered, ‘Why can’t we go sit up there?’ and pointed up behind us to the balcony where the boy and man had gone, under the door marked Colored Only and up the stairs. But he only shook his head, scowled, and didn’t say anything. I didn’t exactly understand except that Negroes colored nigger people (I was never exactly sure which to use when) had to sit up there and we sat down here which was alright because we all watched the same movie I decided. Still I wanted to sit up there sometime. But they wouldn’t let me (I didn’t know who exactly they were or why they wouldn’t but didn’t want to ask either).

The movie started and sure enough John Wayne-Davy Crockett was tough and grim under that coonskin hat (I thought it looked sort of silly but didn’t say anything: it was John Wayne after all). He went to Texas to help a bunch of other grim tough men fight the Mexicans. And soon they ended up in the old church, the Alamo, which I discovered was different from the little tree-guarded churches in the cotton fields. For one thing this place had walls and cannon. And it wasn’t all church: there were other buildings too, which I decided made things better for it was less a violation of the- back then I didn’t have a word for it exactly- sanctuary of the church.

It wasn’t long before my favorite part, the fighting, started. Then something strange happened. I yelled ‘Remember the Alamo!’ when the shooting started but someone in the upstairs (Colored Only I remembered) booed. Then another person booed and it was just as John Wayne-Davy Crockett shot a Mexican. I didn’t know what to think. Why were they booing? The movie kept on. There was more booing while the Texans were winning. Soon the Texans were caught in the Alamo and they decided to stay and fight to the death. I wasn’t sure if that was such a good idea. Of course I knew it really wasn’t because soon they would all be dead, and I sort of wondered if that outcome- all of them getting killed- really helped things. The Mexicans came and yes lots died but more came and now they had ladders they lifted and while the Texan flag was shot up more and more the Mexicans came. More and more Texans started dying and they fell over with the Mexicans who were still falling. Now the upstairs people were cheering, as the Mexicans swarmed down off the walls into the middle ground, more Texans falling, dead. And then it was over. They- the blacks niggers negroes coloured people- were cheering loudly now. I didn’t know why. I suspected there was a reason: maybe they were really Mexicans? But they weren’t. Were Mexicans colored? I decided they must be if in a different way.

I liked the movie alright, even with the booing and cheering that didn’t match unless the Mexicans were colored (though maybe that wasn’t all there was to it). We came outside into the now lessened big brightness of late afternoon. The people had come down from the downstairs and some were standing about outside laughing and grinning. I grinned at them and said ‘Remember the Alamo!’ but they just laughed and grinned. We were starting to get into our car when a white man came out of the theatre. I think he was drunk from the way he was walking and talking. He came up to the tallest Negro man in the group and just punched him in the stomach and starting cussing and yelling, about the movie and their cheering and booing. The crowd moved back a little and we watched from our car (neither of us saying: just watching): the tall Negro man looked around once or twice then stepped up to the drunken white cussing man and punched him back. The white man fell to the sidewalk, just like that. He got up and another man pushed him back, just barely like I was pushing my little brother back or something, hardly trying. The man fell back down, crawled back a bit and pulled himself up. Nobody touched him again but they didn’t need to because he walked off not saying anything holding his nose which was bleeding. He didn’t try to give any more trouble.

The crowd left, still grinning and laughing a little. I didn’t really feel sorry for the white man. I didn’t approve of the booing and all but figured there was something behind it that would explain things. But the white man should have known better. He was pretty drunk and besides there was only one of him and a lot of them. He should have known better.


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