1955: For Samuel

Fynlee Schober, guest writer

11 June 1955. Le Mans, France
The shrill ring of the telephone combined with Katherine’s piercing scream snapped me out of my restful daydream. I was naive to expect even an instant of rest with a baby of two years and an employer whose favorite hobby seemed to be micromanagement. Christian Dior was his name, and he was Europe’s newest muse. My assignment at that time was designing part of Mr. Dior’s latest collection: “The New Look.” This new look that Christian wished to market was extremely unconventional and my greatest concern was the lack of profit to be made in this launch.
As I tried to organize my scattered thoughts, a pang of worry gnawed at my stomach. I remember glancing at the clock. 11:02 am. My husband should have returned an hour previously. He had attended the infamous Le Man’s Automobile Race, famous for lasting a full twenty-four hours. I kept telling myself that nothing could possibly be wrong. After all, Samuel was not even racing. He was only a bystander.
Ten minutes passed.
Then twenty.
Then forty.
Another shrill ring of the telephone awoke every anxiety-prone nerve in my body.
“Bonjour, Çava?”
“Oui, çava Madamoiselle. May I speak to Mary Beckett?” His solemn tone indirectly confirmed my greatest fear.
“This is she.” my heart pounded in my chest as the shaky words fell from my lips.
“There has been a disaster at the Le Mans Automobile Race. Debris flew into the crowd and more than eighty bystanders were killed. I regret to inform you that your husband, Samuel Beckett is deceased.”
The telephone shattered as it hit the floor. And then my world stopped.
11 September 1955 Montgomery, Alabama
The days pass ever so slowly. Three months ago today, I lost the love of my life. The exact feeling is inexplicable, but I have fathomed it into one simple phrase: my world used to have color, and now I see in black and white. It seems as if all of my senses have been obfuscated. A foggy eclipse towers over me, and I feel as if I am just watching as the world continues to turn. Everything is black and white. Ironically, I am living in the United States in the midst of segregation. Citizens here also seem to see in black and white.
I had to leave Le Mans and create a fresh start–what better place to start fresh than the United States of America? I uprooted my entire life in search of something I am still unsure of. Peace, maybe? Comfort? I want to do something inspiring with my life. Something Samuel would have been proud of.
I have recently acquired a quaint space in Montgomery that will serve very nicely as a small, elite sewing shop. This shop will absolutely not be segregated. In fact, I recently hired a young African American seamstress, Rosa Parks. I think she will be a fine addition to the currently growing business. There is something unique about Rosa. She is confident in herself, which is quite an odd characteristic of a black woman in Montgomery. Without a doubt, she is talented, maybe too talented for her own good. Talent breeds stubbornness and ignorance, sometimes I fear that she may stumble into some trouble.
11 October 1955 Montgomery, Alabama
Four Months. The days pass briskly now, although my world still lacks color. The only glimpse of color I see is my beautiful baby girl, Katherine. When she smiles, I catch a glimpse of Samuel in the twinkle of her eyes. Looking into her eyes, I feel as if a part of him is still here with me. Every day, I do everything I can just to see that beautiful smile. Last month, the USA’s first amusement park, Disney Land, opened in California. Katherine and I visited on opening day, and she absolutely adored the place. I never understood the cycle of grief until this horrible tragedy was sprung on me. Every day is different. I never know what stage of the cycle I will wake up in. Denial, anger, sadness, acceptance–in all of these is reminiscing. But that day was truly a wonderful day. Today I am faced with even more memories than usual; I see him in everything. Samuel detested inequality, so much that it would drive him to extreme anger. Montgomery is filled with bounteous amounts of inequality; and I witness racial injustices daily.
Today, I sit next to my sewing machine impatiently awaiting Miss Rosa Parks. The clock reads 8:24 am. It shocks me because Rosa has not been tardy even once throughout her entire experience as an employee in my little sew shop.
“Chaos, Chaos!” I hear frantic yelling from the alleyway.
“Chaos! This is Chaos!” Again.
A riot has broken out.
All of the sudden, I hear a repetitive chant begin to form.
“No Negros on Main Street.”
“No Negros on Main …”
“No Negros on …”
“No Negros …”
The sickening chant begins to fade into the vulgar shouts of benighted bigots.
My blood boils as I step outside into the street. I see terrified white women in coachman dresses scampering through the streets. The riot is huge today, including copious amounts of both white and African American citizens. Sadly, this is not the first riot I have witnessed in Montgomery. Main Street is a popular place for white businesses, and black employees are not popular with a majority of the business owners.
The sight I see is a fearful one to say the least. White supremacists line the streets with signs proclaiming vulgarities. Several black women and men have fallen to the ground in shame, anger, or both. Others shouting, crying, and attempting to fight back. I notice a familiar face among the shouters. Rosa.
“Rosa!” I shout.
“Miss Rosa Parks!” Again. I grab her rather harshly by the arm and drag her back into the sew shop.
“Rosa, how many times am I going to have to remind you that you must be cautious here? You can not seek out harrowing situations or I promise they will undoubtedly reach you, darling!”
“Rosa, it is okay. I am not upset, just concerned for your well being. You’re stubborn, you know that?”
Again, she remains silent.
“Miss Rosa, correct me if I am wrong but I do not believe that we have entered an alternate universe in which it is acceptable to ignore one who is speaking.”
She looks at me and for the first time, I see one glistening tear on her cheek. Soon enough there is a cascade of tears falling down her face. It breaks my heart to see such a strong, talented young woman sustain so much misery.
1 December 1955
Six months. Half of a year. The days are nothing but days, a constant routine, a circle. Katherine has grown inches before my eyes. With her, time flies entirely too fast. I see Samuel in her every day, and that is the light that keeps me motivated. Today, Rosa and I plan to take the bus into town to tour a new fabric shop that supposedly carries the work of my previous employer, Christian Dior.
Together, Rosa and I board the small bus. Reluctantly, I raise my eyes to check for the dreaded sign. To my great disappointment, it read:
“Segregated Bus. Blacks in the back, Whites in the front.”
Unfortunately, the Montgomery City Code required that all public transportation be segregated and that bus drivers had the “powers of a police officer of the city while in actual charge of any bus for the purposes of carrying out the provisions”(brawn) of the code. This code had just been passed because of a few negro teenagers who refused to give their seats to white citizens earlier in the year.
Embarrassed and honestly ashamed of my Caucasian decent, I look at Rosa.. There is a strange look in her eye and on her face, one I had not seen before. It is almost a smirk, a mischievous grin of sorts.
Oh no, I thought, what could she possibly be thinking?
To my surprise and delight, Rosa looks at me with the hugest grin. “She takes a seat in the first of several rows designated for “colored” passengers” (brawn). As she sits, she hums along to the new Elvis Presley song playing on the radio.
I try to keep my composure, but a tiny chuckle escapes my lips.
There she sits, grinning ear to ear. A stubborn, confident, young black woman, taking the seat of a white man. If Sam were here, he would cackle. The tiny chuckle escaping my lips became a full, bellowing laugh.
“M’am, you need to move.” A stern voice silences my laughter.
“Oh! No, thank you.” Replied Rosa with the same grin.
“You need to move now m’am. I mean it. You need to make room for the white passengers.” His voice begins to grow more harsh.
“Rosa..” my anxiety prone nerves start to awaken.
“Oh, sir, did you not hear me the first time? Just because I am black does not mean that I don’t mean what I say. I’ve had a long day at work and I would like to sit down. So no, thank you. I will stay here.”
“Negro, you will move!” He is angry now.
“I will not.” She keeps her composure astoundingly well.

She remains still.
As the the bus driver towers towards her, my heart skips a beat. But the look on her face remains cool and collected. For a second our eyes meet and I can see in her eyes that she is aware that she has changed something. She has done something incredibly meaningful. In this small moment I can see that something in her has changed. I can see that Rosa’s world has stopped–not in the same way that mine did, six months ago. Rosa’s world of hardships and daily inequalities had stopped in that moment. In that moment she realized that she is stronger than the strong racial prejudice and that she absolutely can make a difference.

Works Cited
Boycott, M. (2018). Montgomery Bus Boycott – Black History – HISTORY.com.
HISTORY.com. http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/montgomery-bus-boycott. Web. 18 January 2018.
Brawn, Shay, et al. The 20th Century. Aunt Lute Books, 2008. “Rosa Parks.” Biography.com,
A&E Networks Television, Web. 18 January 2018.
“Christian Dior: Fashion, History.” Christian Dior: Fashion, History | The Red
List, theredlist.com/ n.d. Web. 18 January 2018.
Jalopnik.com. (2018). at: https://jalopnik.com/just-how-horrifying-was-the-worst-crash- in-motorsports-1589382023 Web. 19 January 2018.
The People History — Steve Pearson. “What Happened in 1955 Important News and Events, Key Technology and Popular Culture.” The People History, www.thepeoplehistory.com/ 1955.html. Web. 18 January 2018.