Berkeley 1953

Submitted into Contest #80 in response to: Write about a child witnessing a major historical event.... view prompt


Creative Nonfiction Friendship Sad

Berkeley, 1953 

In the end I lost out. Not that I was trying to win anything.


“Daddy, we have a new girl in our class. Her name is Gail. She is a fast runner, but nobody plays with her at recess.”

“I heard she was coming. I don’t think everyone is happy. But our family is different. I want you to make her feel welcome at Thousand Oaks. Tomorrow, then, you must be the one to play with her at recess.

“But, Daddy, I don’t like to run. I spend recess lined up for a turn on the swings.”

“Running will do you good. Play with Gail tomorrow.”

“I guess, if you say I have to!”


“And how was school today? Did you run with Gail?

“I tried. She ran away so fast and I could not keep up. Then she laughed at me. When I went back to the swings, the line was too long and I didn’t get to swing either.”

Did anyone else try to play with her? 

“No, everybody pretty much ignored her. And Mrs. Swanson never even called on her in math, even when she raised her hand. Then we got in pairs to review our times tables, nobody paired with her. I paired with Carol!”

“So what did Gail do?”

“How should I know? I was with Carol. 


Daddy, We talked about going to McCarthy’s for ice cream right after school tomorrow. You know, it is right there on the corner. If we’re quick we can go there, then get back to the crossing guards to cross Colusa. Can I have fifteen cents for an ice cream cone?”

“And Gail. Can you include her? Remember, you need to make her feel welcome.”

“But nobody else does. Can I have the fifteen cents for the ice cream cone? Afterwards, I want to go to Carol’s house to play dolls.”

“I will give you thirty cents. Then you can include Gail in your plans.”

“What if she doesn’t like ice cream, or if she doesn’t want to play with dolls? And it’s Carol’s house. What if Carol’s mother doesn’t want Gail to come over there?”

“Do your best! Just remember, you must make Gail feel welcome. It is hard being the new girl in your school!”


“I’m home.”

“So what happened? Did Gail like the ice cream?”

“I couldn’t invite her. Carol and Elaine and Norma all dashed off to McCarthy’s as soon as the bell rang. By the time I raced to catch up with them, Gail was gone. Besides, Carol said her mother did not want Gail to come to her house. Norma and Elaine said their mothers told them that, too. I did try to pair up with Gail for the multiplication fact game. She told me to go away. I don’t think she has ever learned her eight’s yet. And we gotta learn our times tables in the third grade!”

I am disappointed in you, Ann. I told you to include Gail in the ice cream.”

“But, I tried! And I did pair with her for the multiplication game.”

“Sure, you did. But, you chose to be with your friends after school. And at recess? Did you try to play with her, then?”

“Well, my friends all brought their dolls to school. We continued our play from yesterday.”

“Without Gail? Did you have a doll to share with her?”

“I don’t think Gail likes dolls. I asked her, and she just laughed at me!”


I tried to play with Gail at recess, but when I asked her if she wanted to run, she ignored me.

Ann. You must include Gail, make her feel welcome. She is feeling overwhelmed. She is still new.

“That’s what you said, yesterday, Daddy. I have been trying. She didn’t want help with her multiplication facts. She doesn’t like to swing. She runs too fast to keep up with her. She doesn’t even have a doll. And all my friends are laughing at me for trying to be Gail’s friend. They say their mothers tell them not to play with Gail. They say she’s different.

“Then you be different. Your job is to make Gail feel welcome. You know, Gail lives over on Menlo. that’s not too far out of your way when you walk to school. Monday, I want you to pick her up on your way to school. 

But, Daddy, I walk with Carol. She’s my best friend. She doesn’t seem to want to be Gail’s friend. And, if I don’t get to Carol’s house by 8:45, she goes on without me.

No. You will walk with Gail. You can bring Carol along if you want.

But, I don’t know Gail. And Carol has been my best friend since I was a baby. You know, her mother and Mommy were college friends.

College is a long time ago. But, today, if Carol’s mother does not want her daughter to include Gail as a friend, then all her family are not people we should be friends with. I don’t want you going to their house anymore.

But, Daddy…please! She is my best friend!


“I picked up Gail this morning to walk to school. We didn’t talk at all on the way there. I didn’t know what to say to her. And, she said nothing to me. Carol and Norma walked on the other side of the street. They didn’t speak to me when they saw me! Just giggled and ran on. Then at recess, they wouldn’t let me play with them because I didn’t bring my doll. And nobody told me they were going to play dolls at recess. They did tell me they were going to bring their dolls again tomorrow, and take them roller skating tomorrow after school. Can I go with them?”

I am glad you picked up Gail this morning. That is the way to make her feel welcome. As for tomorrow, would Gail like to skate? You know I told you not to go to their house, but roller skating is OK. 

I don’t know how to call Gail to ask her and, besides, Carol and Norma say their mothers don’t like Gail.

Do you think Gail would like to go up to Tilden Park instead? The two of you can hike all around Strawberry Pond. And, I think your mother would let the two of you go on the Merry-go-Round after that.

Can I invite Carol and Norma, too?  

Sure! Call them.


I called Carol. She said her mother said their plans were already set, for roller skating. And she said both mothers said I couldn’t be included. I don’t know why they’re mad at me!

It’s complicated. They don’t want Gail’s family to live here in Thousand Oaks. So they don’t want their daughters to make her feel welcome, either. And, you’re doing the right thing. You’re making her feel welcome.

But, it’s hard to make Gail feel welcome. We don’t like each other. Gail said she didn’t like Tilden, not even Merry-go-rounds. I had to play with my dolls all by myself at recess. 

And why do Carol and Norma’s mothers say not to be nice? Why don’t they like Gail’s family? Is it because they have that huge dog tied up in their yard? Big dogs are OK!

No. It isn’t the dog. They’re afraid because Gail and her family are Negroes. 

Gail and I never became friends, even after walking to school together every day for two months. We never met up to walk home. She avoided me when she could.

I lost then. I lost big!

February 10, 2021 20:31

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