Can you come home again?
I was born and raised in Iola, and my family roots go back over 100 years. I’m proud to call Iola my hometown and still come back to visit three to four times a year.
I was home over the holidays and took one of my daughters and my nephew and his family to the park to play. What a jewel that place is; the playground equipment and facilities match anything I’ve seen. We practically had the place to ourselves and were having a fun time when an older white Buick drove by, and the driver rolled down his window and yelled out the “N” word. We all looked at each other in shock. “Really? Did you just hear what I heard?”
The car circled around the park two more times, then drove away only to return and park. As we were leaving I took a picture of the license plate just in case the situation escalated. Sure enough, the driver pulled his car nose-to-nose to mine, cursed us, and drove off.
Fast-forward 20 minutes, I’m walking along the square when the same car sees me and the two occupants yell out more vulgarities.
Fortunately I’ve matured over the years; otherwise, my response would have been different. I simply walked over to the police station and filed a report with Officer Aronson, who assured me that he would have a most serious conversation with the two people in the car.
Iola. My hometown. My roots. My Dad, John Bass, his brother Wendell, along with many African Americans could only play sports in segregated leagues. I grew up hearing stories from my mother about when the community buildings were segregated, or when she and others had to protest to allow African Americans to use the swimming pool.
Yet, times have changed. I was there when my African American role models began college on their journey to become professionals. I was there when they hired the first African American lifeguard. I was there when the first black homecoming king, and, later, queen were crowned. I was there when Iola voted in the first black school board member. I was there when Iola’s first black postmaster was appointed. And, you were there when my dad taught you how to bowl, or umpired your ball game.
I love the small-town feel of Iola and the openness of strangers who’ll strike up a conversation with you anytime, anywhere, about anything. It’s wonderful to see people that I went to high school with staying involved in the community; operating businesses on the square; being successful workers, farmers, oilmen, law enforcement officers, chamber of commerce members, or leaders in the judicial system.
Yet, it saddens and confuses me to come back and see a pickup driving around flying the Confederate flag, or to be called derogatory names, in the park, with my family. Does the guy in the truck or the redheaded young man driving the white Buick know the history of Iola? Our history? Our shared experience?
Iola will always be my home. The family members, friends, coaches, and mentors of all colors helped to shape me to become the man that I am today. The actions of a few ignorant individuals will never overshadow the love I have for the people of this community. Yes, I will keep coming home.
Lemon Grove, Calif.