by Tameko L. Barnette

Hurt Park Housing Projects in the Southwest district of Roanoke, Virginia. I don't know where to begin on this one. There are so many memories, so many people, and so many stories that could be spoken of. My fondest, dearest memories of living in the Southwest projects are the Summers I spent with my nephews and all of our friends in the old neighborhood.

Summer days. Sweet on my mind like the caramel apples, lil Debbie cakes, and Mary Jane candies I consumed throughout my childhood. Summer nights. Lingers on my mind like the feel of the special boy "friends" I let touch me all over my body, so curious, so determined to explore the unlimited power, unlimited horizons of my sexuality. Too young to realize I wasn't ready for sex and too inquisitive to realize I was setting myself up for many falls that would meet me on the path towards adulthood. Promiscuity. Heavy breathing. Panting. Touching. Quickies in the park. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen years of age. Maybe it was the Summer heat. The high temperatures manipulating my hormones.

Or maybe I was just a very horny teenager, who should've been thinking about my hair, clothes, and school instead of what a guy could to do to make my body shake and my eyes roll into the back of my head. Either way...I had a good time during those nights in Southwest and it helped me feel more comfortable with my sexuality as an adult.

The touch football games. For those who don't know, touch football was a game we played in the old neighborhood that didn't involve extreme contact like "real" football. We made our opponent stop, not by tackling them, but by simply touching them with both hands. This was our way of avoiding serious injuries. Our parents were grateful for our resourceful attitudes back in the day. It kept a lot of us away from the emergency room. I was the only female playing touch football with the fellas. I'm a tomboy from way back. I still have a little of that tomboy in me now. I don't think any woman actually grows out of it. We still have the ability to transform ourselves into an ass-kicking, take-no-prisoners type of person when the situation warrants it. Being a tomboy saved my life in so many ways. I knew how to take care of myself by watching how the fellas handled themselves in times of adversity. I knew how to fight. Both physically and verbally.

Indirectly, they taught me how to do these things. They taught me how to walk with confidence. They taught me how to talk with power. Hold my head up high. Be proud of who I am. Even now, when I find myself lacking the confidence and pride I need to survive on a daily basis, I think back to those Summer days with the fellas and my spirit comes alive again. These days when I hear women talking about how men don't like a woman to be their equal, I have to admit I laugh at that absurd bullshit. If memory serves me correctly, I remember the respect I was given by the fellas because they saw I could do anything they could do....sometimes even better than them.

Double dutch. For those who don't know, double dutch is jump rope activity involving two ropes being turned at one time on two different rhythms instead of one rope being turned. Every once in awhile, we would break out a chant or song to sing that was perfectly adjacent to the rhythm of the turning rope and the jumper's style. Back in the day, the McDonald's commercial chant was the one we enjoyed singing the most. It still makes me laugh to this day. We could jam on almost anything as long it had a rhythm we could feel. I guess, in some ways, we're still that way. Case in point....the culture of Hip-Hop. By the way, it's a culture I'm very proud of.

But I was saying before, double dutch was the bomb. You couldn't pay me enough money to jump rope like that wouldn't be a pretty sight. But the enjoyment me and all the young ladies in the old neighborhood experienced was especially memorable. The creativity that went into the activity was a special gift that all of us p ossessed, but only few of us kept near and dear to our hearts.

I keep using the word "rhythm" to describe the feel of double dutch jumping. There is a reason for it. Because when I think of my creative outlet...writing, it's similar to the jumping and turning of double dutch. The rhythms, movements, and chanting. It's an artform. It's unique. And it is responsible for encouraging and nurturing my creative writing talent throughout the years of my life. It deepened my interest in other artforms, ever ything from music to literature to dancing to paintings and sculptures. It shaped me into the writer I am today. No matter what happened during those Summer days and nights in Southwest, sex, touch football, and double dutch, they influenced my life in a big way. And it's all good.

SouthWest by Tameko L. Barnette

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