The whole world was slower then. And in the South the summer pace was lazy, winding back on itself like the eel-colored river that ran out back of some people’s houses. Spanish moss hung like smoky shawls from the arms of trees. Children made sack swings out of the moss with burlap bags and didn’t care if the moss had chinch bugs in it. A swing was a swing. And almost nobody locked house doors. Not in the daytime. And not even much at night. There weren’t any children’s pictures on milk cartons. Not then. And nearly everybody was kissin’ kin or at least close enough to call out, “Hey, Bubba!” And, “Well, Sissy Sue, I declare; you look pretty as a picture.” It was 1955 and on the surface, the living was easy.It was a time of amazing luck. For some. By nothing more remarkable than birth, some had class luck. Color luck. Time luck. Even marriage luck. And it was a time of a post World War II mentality that returned women from factories and Victory Gardens to pampered white moms, with black maids. White women who wore their 1955 belted, crinolined, poplin dresses, like they wore their womanhood: Easily, showily, often without thought about the past and little thought of the future; but brightly -- in the moment. And it symbolized the significance of the women's seemingly trivial days. On the surface, they looked like happy butterflies; but underneath, there was a company of women that only women understood.It was also a time for play. At least for the children. –For all those middle class families with fathers who went off to work in the morning. Most of these families had maids who doubled as moms as soon at the real moms stepped out of the house to play bridge for the day, or to play golf in the morning. The maids ran the children’s lives like drill sergeants, alternately giving out orders and pimento cheese sandwiches, but letting the children run a little wilder, because it was summer. It was too hot to keep hollerin’ out for them to, “Stop actin’ the fool!” So, for children, summertime in North Florida was the best time. For the maids, who were not as lucky, it just meant more children underfoot. It meant taking children to the whites-only pool in town and sitting in the sun, watching their charges splashing and diving and horsing around for hours. It meant fixing lunch for the children of the house, and often for their charges’ little friends. It also meant endless sleepovers and having to come in to work early enough to make big breakfasts of buttered grits and biscuits or buckwheat and pancakes smothered in strawberries for hungry little mouths. It meant trying to discipline unruly children set free from the confines of teachers who did, actually, send children to The Office if a child failed to say, “Yes, Sir,” or “No Ma’am” as prescribed by Southern courtesy. It meant leaving their own small children in the company of women like Big Sister, Auntie, or Maw-Maw from early morning until long after the sun went down. It meant taking on the role of mom, confidante, teacher, disciplinarian, minor medic, and chief comforter as the children clamored around them supplicating, “Can I go…?” “Can I do…?” “Can I?” “Can I?” “Can I?” And always, the maids were the arbiters of arguments and situations resulting from youngsters’ questionable judgment. In many cases, the maids were as much a part of the family as…the children, but of course, with just slightly less responsibility than the moms and a wheelbarrow full more than anyone else when the moms were absent. While the moms were the unstoppable, rhythmic river flowing through the entire white culture of the time, the maids were bound by a sisterhood just beneath the current. The moms never looked down, and the maids never broke the surface. They flowed along together – secretly separate -- carrying stories and history downstream along with their remarkably similar hopes and dreams and the frequent daily disappointments washed away by tiny triumphs. Then.So, what did moms do in those days, when they left the house with their make-up on, their hair curled and set, their 2” high heels clicking, their keys jingling? Moms shopped. They drove 57 miles to Tallahassee to look for the latest styles; or they drove a quick 30 miles to Valdosta to buy cocktail mixings to bring back to their dry county, whereupon they would announce they were having a “Tea,” which everyone knew was code for Cocktail Party. They visited with one another. In between bridge parties and golf, they got their hair done. And in their absence, the conscientious moms left the maids directions to anchor each day to something solid and safe. The moms were like loom masters, and they never once thought that they were not weaving small masterpieces out of their lives --and their children’s lives.The children: Summer’s children didn’t know what adults were talking about when they heard complaints about heat and humidity. They just knew they could ride their bikes until way after what would have been suppertime in the winter. They knew they could panhandle for quarters to go uptown to the Saturday picture show and meet all their friends. They knew they laughed at the way the June bugs would bumble up against screens and the little tree toads would set up a racket at the old oak where the sack swing was. And there’d be lightning bugs and chasing fireflies. And there’d be swimming.Saturdays were the best swimming days. All over town the dads who belonged to the town’s only real social club, the Madison Country Club, were pulling brightly colored shirts over their heads and trying to round up wives and children to herd them into the car in time to make it to their tee times. Some dads had pale yellow polo-style shirts with soft, cotton collars, but these never kept the backs of their necks from turning the exact color of the cool center of a thick, charcoal-grilled steak.The dads were background. They owned most of the town and ran most of the town. They examined teeth, eyes, and pelvises. They patched up broken arms, took out tonsils, and gave their wives allowances. They were background and they were often absent, even on Wednesday afternoons when all the doctors closed their offices to play golf, but they re-claimed center stage on Saturday afternoons when they took the family to the Country Club.Once at the Club, the dads would drop the moms and kids off at the pool. The pool was rectangular, and there was a table with a green and white striped umbrella that had been dragged to the area by the steps that lead to the shallow end. There were lots of chairs, but by the late afternoon most of the moms would be huddled close to the little shade thrown by the umbrella’s shadow. By then, their expensive Charles of the Ritz tans would be fresh and deep. The skin disappearing into their one-piece bathing suits would be the color of caramels above its startling white border of unsunned skin. Children were like the dads. They never thought of sunburns. They never compared tan lines.The diving board was at the other end of the pool away from the table. The moms’ table was always loaded with spare dry towels, soft drinks, Johnson and Johnson baby oil, Noxema (for sunburned noses) ashtrays, Springs and Marlboros, a few paperback books, rubber flip-flops, discarded sun glasses, and an occasional big-brimmed hat. The moms’ table was like a hive with worker bees flying to and from it every few minutes.All day children would line up for a chance at the board, screaming, “Mom! Look at me!” whenever they did their predictable dives and jumps and cannonballs and belly flops. The moms must have had some kind of primitive instinctive recognition of their own children’s voices, because the right mom usually looked up at the right time. And the exuberant young diver could usually count on a nod or a smile, or, if the feat were daring enough, even a burst of mock applause. It was always approval unless some rowdy boy uncleverly decided to bomb the area where the moms were. The offending youth would elicit whoops and yells of, “My hair!” or some other mild reproof before making a beeline for the deep end of the pool, knowing no mom would follow. And the moms would resume their woman’s conversation that seemed so mysterious to their children, then.Sometimes the women would just stop dead in mid-sentence when a child approached, deal with whatever request, complaint, or general pronouncement that child would make, and wait until the child had crossed that invisible line defining what can be clearly discerned by the human ear from what becomes a meaningless hum. Moms were a combination of radar, computers, and God. And their conversations flowed on and on, broken only by their offsprings’ voices supplicating, imploring, demanding, “Mom! Look at me!” And they would.So what did the moms talk about in the days when they referred to one another as “the girls?” Those eternal days when their children had to be dragged out of the pool long enough to let some of the wrinkles pop back out of their shriveled little fingertips? They talked about the same thing that middle class southern women had always talked about. About whose husband was straying, and whose was drinking too much again. They talked about who had to go in for a hysterectomy, in hushed voices; in one of those mid-sentence-freeze-paragraphs when a child came near. And of which one thought hysterectomies were a sure fortune because it meant no more babies. And of what they’d wear to the dance that night. And what costume to make for the year’s Halloween party. (“A harem costume? Ramona, you wouldn’t!”) And about who was moving up in that small community’s social world and who was stuck. Small envies were filed away while the bonds that drew them together tightened imperceptibly -- sometimes to comfort, sometimes to strangle. And while their stories about their husbands were crafted like unimportant jokes, some of the words were sprinkled out like drops of bitters -- a touch of resentment; a dash of scoffing -- revealing little, stored-up injuries, masquerading small moments of meanness that live within us all -- tying the company of women tighter together, with or without consent, punctuated again and again by, “Mom! Watch me!” And they did.Once in awhile, in the midst of that woman’s song floating softly from the table, halting the splashing and the laughing and the boys and girls’ fledgling taunting of one another; once in awhile, a child would crack a tooth (A front tooth! Right off in the middle!) or a young child (“Mom! Look at me!”) would miscalculate and jump off the board backward, catching a tiny chin on the board and splitting a lip wide open. And then all the moms catapulted into action, but none faster than the one whose child was suddenly at risk. Those thirty-two year old, oiled and tanned faces got down to business. The child rushed off with whatever dentist friend they could drag from the golf course to provide a temporary crown. Or the child patched up and held until the sobbing subsided. The history of lives being recounted and embroidered having come to a necessary stop for a moment. It always turned out all right. Then. In those days.Finally, the sun would droop low, brushing the trees. The sky would take on a flamingo glow. And the first of the dads would be on the 18th green. The children knew not to yell, “Hey, Mom!” since the men tacitly claimed the women as their private audience. And the moms provided it for them. After the final hole, there’d be beer and the dads would let the kids get frozen Milky Ways from the freezer in the Pro Shop, leaving a nickel on the counter for each one taken, if no one was minding the shop. And the dads and the children chipped away at the hardened chocolate until it was gone. The moms never ate any. But they didn’t scold the children for ruining their appetites for supper, either, so the children and the dads felt as if they were getting away with something. And they felt lucky.Then it would be time for the whole sun-soaked brood to troop to the car. Time for the children to return home to light suppers of pineapple and mayonnaise sandwiches and to baby-sitting maids who often threatened to, “Knock the tar out of ‘em,” if they weren’t good, but who never did. It was time for moms and dads to get ready to join friends for the adults-only part of the weekend at the Club. Those middle class citizens with house maids and club memberships. Who knew they were lucky.But the children thought they were the luckiest. They ate and flipped spoonsful of lime jello at one another when the maids weren’t looking. And they plotted how to sneak out after dark to the big oak where the sack swing was, so they could catch tree toads no bigger than the size of a man’s thumbnail. And they swore each other to secrecy about which one of them threw the tree toads at the tree, squishing the life out of the tiny, harmless things. They laughed, but guiltily, and they could not have told anyone why. They knew they’d catch it, if a parent ever found out, but none ever did.And the dads thought they were lucky, too. They had put in their day of doing. --Of being out of offices and out from under fluorescent lights. They had scorecards to study over cocktails while their women were busy with cosmetics. They could replay their best shots. And their worst, safe in the fact that they alone knew which ones were pure luck and which ones merited boasting. They had talked of handicaps, and they had taken each other’s measure at every tee, on every putt. And every hole had been a new story. They had either played to beat their own scores, or to break even, or to better someone else. They had yelled, “Hot damn!” on a surprise birdie and had commiserated with each lost ball. And occasionally one man quietly coveted another man’s pretty wife.But it was the women who knew by Saturday night: Knew which other woman had betrayed her husband that day with the routine condemnations that careless or uncensored words can imply. Knew which one had a lump in her breast and was afraid to tell her doctor. Knew which of them had a son who needed a tutor. Who had paid too much for a house and who had sold too soon. Which were lucky at love and which were lucky at marriage. Knew the few who were lucky at both. They knew, also, which ones would be beautiful in the moonlight, and who among them were good mothers. After all, they had spent the day in the company of women, so they saw. They knew.And the next Saturday in their small southern town? Would begin the same. That, too, was part of what the women knew. That there was a safety in the sameness, in knowing that the coming tides would wash over other places first, would seep into their southern soil, and inch up on them, imitating summer’s untroubled pace. They were like their imperturbable backyard rivers, flowing calmly and surely down time’s inevitable stream, keeping secret things submerged. They knew they would meet the times and the changes with the same unruffled rhythm that they met every child petitioning, “Hey Mom! Look at me!” They would. They would, because it was what women had always done and what women would always do. Then.