Excerpts Chapter Ten

I was born in Durham, North Carolina and anything I know about that time is completely reconstructed. For a long time all I could recall was a picture of me on a tricycle at about two and a half. Then, gradually, in the last few years more of the story of my early life became clear to me. My mother told me that the night the Rosenbergs were killed as spies I was in a little basket on the porch and she heard the news on the radio. My father was underground at that time, and she came running out, very, very frightened because at that time anybody who was a Communist, and certainly my father, a known Communist being pursued, was very threatened. She was not just terribly troubled, and very sorry about the Rosenbergs, and bitter, but very frightened. And it had been a nightmare of hers for the three years before.

There were stories about me playing with the girl across the street. Vicki was my age and I’d always thought, you know, nice Vicki, nice policeman, neighbor policeman. Then we moved from there when I was three.

Last summer, I decided I was tired of not knowing anything at all about what had happened there. So I hitched down to Chapel Hill with a friend, and we were traveling together and exploring. We met all sorts of people and went looking for Abernethy’s Intimate Bookshop which just wasn’t there anymore.
I decided to go and try to find the house that we lived in. I figured it must be something so far-out and different from anything anybody growing up in a big city must have been exposed to. So I called my parents and told them I was in North Carolina. And they were … well kind of upset and anxious. They had left there with not very good feelings about the town and the state. But I asked them what the number of the house was, and where it was, and set out for a look.


Barbara Scales at 16 years old, 1967 – Photo: Barbara Scales Collection

Sure enough, during the past fifteen years the numbers had changed, and I walked up and down Carr Street until I saw an old man sitting on a front porch. I walked over to him and asked if by any chance he knew where the house had been eighteen years ago. And he thought for a minute. And I said, “It was the home of Junius Scales.” He said, “Scales? Junius Scales … why sure, sure, it was right over there.” And he pointed across the street, and there was a little shack. And he told me, “Yeah, my name is Harry Gaddis, and we lived across the street from you.” Sure enough, he was the policeman.

The house was very plain, small, and not very well constructed. It had a tremendous kitchen. Carrboro is a very poor suburb. It’s mostly black, and then comes the white fringe; I guess it had been that way then, too. It was a strange community, one I didn’t know very well, and wasn’t really acquainted with. I looked and I was sad. And that was my odyssey. It was an anti-climax of sorts, but I was glad that I’d done that, you know, because it de-mystified that whole period a little. Just a little bit.

My parents never speak about that time. And, in fact, until these taping sessions I knew next to nothing about their lives before I can remember them. I think they always wanted to protect me a little bit, and let me grow up like a normal young American girl. And, at least, not burdened by what they considered, to a great extent, their follies and mistakes. They hadn’t wanted to discuss it with me before the Supreme Court decision, and then after that, it was just very ancient history. It just never really came out as it should have …

When I think back on the principles my parents taught me, I think of them as a special and different approach to life, a foundation of a different ethic and a different morality. I think of my parents and their friends, the people who came out of that period with them, out of the Party and the movement either as activists or sympathizers or intellectuals, as a revolutionary group of people. Coming from all different places, somehow, collectively, they were able to develop and maintain a way of coping and dealing with the world quite differently from the accepted ways, the traditional and standard ways of America. And I don’t always know if that’s true or not, but thinking it has always been important to me …

I came home from school one day and we had a sit-down family discussion. My mother did most of the talking. I guess that’s the woman’s role, right, to do the talking in difficult situations. And she said, “There’s something to talk about. Your Daddy’s going to have to go to jail.” I didn’t really know how to feel, because it didn’t mean anything to me particularly. Jail? Jail was bad … Yeah, television says jail was bad. Bad guys go to jail. But my father wasn’t bad. So it never clicked, you know.

The connection of jail = bad, Daddy going to jail, Daddy must be bad never had a chance to really sink in. Because, immediately, the story came, and the explanation. Again, very simple, something like: “You know your Daddy has always been a very good man. He has very strong beliefs and has always tried to do the best for everybody he knows … When he was much younger, he wanted to do the best for everybody he knew, so he joined the Communist Party because they were doing the best for people in the South, for Negroes and working people in the South. And the work they did was very important. Except that it’s illegal to be a Communist … So your Daddy is going to jail.”

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