YESTERDAY IN THE EYES OF TODAY
They’ve redone the old railroad station in Bay St Louis. It looks quite nice. I saw it yesterday with Ruth. She was one of the members of the committee that was responsible for the restoration of the station, a nice person and about thirty five years old (her age is important to know for the purposes of this story).
Ruth was quite proud of the work that she and the committee had done in preserving the accuracy of the renovation. She even showed me the second floor via a rather slow but fairly accurate ancient elevator. They had to change it later to a more modern, but its still infernally slow, elevator. There were several rooms upstairs that are now being used for city work.
“They were with the same dimensions as the old offices, but now they have telephones and Wi Fi.”
There were two large rooms on the main floor. The first had been done to resemble the old waiting room and the second which appeared to be the same size as the first, had a fairly well equipped kitchen and many storage boxes left over from the reconstruction. I did a book signing several years later for a new book in the refurbished waiting room and Stella had cooked in the kitchen for the guests. I asked Ruth what the room was used for originally. She said she didn’t know so they had converted them into a storeroom and a kitchen.
Ruth’s purpose in showing me around didn’t fool me for a minute. At the time, I wrote a popular Sunday column for the town newspaper, as well as a short story on the radio for what was then, Mississippi Public Radio. She was hoping I would write or say something about the new renovated railroad station in one of those mediums, stressing the accuracy of the restoration.
When our tour was over and we were in the back or really the front of the station (the other side was for the trains). I looked the building over. It was an old station and with the extensive makeover, they had really made it look quite good. I knew that the decades that the original station was used, it had carried many people to New Orleans and back as a very active commuter line. There was two similar commuter stations in Waveland many years earlier, but the two were long gone.
The new renovated building looked good. The problem was I wasn’t going to write anything about it. As we stood there looking at it, listening to Ruth gush how nice the renovations had brought back it back to the spirit of what it was years ago, I felt didn’t know how to tell her I was not going to write anything and felt guilty about not telling her the reason why.
Finally, I pointed to the porcelain drinking fountain outside the doors to the waiting room.
“You only have one drinking fountain.”
Ruth looked at it and quickly explained, “We did have indications that there were two drinking fountains in some old plans for the station. One I guess was for adults and the other, I guess, was for children. We found that porcelain fountain in the second storage room and decided to use it in place of having two fountains instead of having two. We made it a little low, so kids can use it. It saved money and I guess it didn’t matter.”
I looked for a long time at the building and the one drinking fountain. Two fountains would have made the building authentic, one drinking fountain made it just a pretty building. And that second waiting room what did she think that was for?
Ruth watched me as I climbed in my car. She could tell I was disturbed. “How did you know there were two fountains? You lived in New Orleans then.”
I felt guilty and started the car. I kept it in idle for a few seconds. I saw she was watching me quizzically and wondered if she knew who Rosa Parks was. The truth was that when this station was in use, all the railroad stations here and in fact all of Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama had two drinking fountains and a second waiting room..
They second room and fountain wasn’t for children.
I remember above each fountain at that time long ago was a sign that read “colored” and another that read “white”
Ruth was a child then and she lived segregated in a white world.
As a child, she really didn’t know much about the two worlds that existed around her.
And, even if she did, she evidently didn’t remember.