'Growing Up King,' By Dexter King

As you enter, on your right side facing in is the dining room; on your left is the living room, filled with memorabilia, family pictures, a sofa. The kitchen is beyond the dining room. There my mother or the ladies who helped her, Mrs. Dorothy Lockhart or Mrs. Newman or sometimes Mrs. Rachel Ward, caused a racket of pots and pans. Mrs. Ward and Mrs. Patricia Cook Latimore sometimes looked after us when Mom and Dad had to do important business. The family room is beyond the kitchen. The four of us made a hubbub of children and toys in there. The hallway splits the house in half, running perpendicular from the front door straight from front to back, connecting four bedrooms and a study, my parents' bedroom at the end of the hallway to the left, the study to the right. The first room to the left was the boys' room, the second to the left was the girls' room, and in later years, vice versa; to the right was the guest room. Connecting our rooms was a play room; a door was between us. It was the doorway to fun, conflict, happiness. We bolted and flitted around these dimensions at incredible speeds, as children do. From here we plotted childhood.

There was sibling rivalry among us. We jockeyed for the attention of our mother and father, the way sisters and brothers sometimes do. There was a little jealousy on the part of the others whenever the next one was born.

Bernice, whom we called Bunny, was the baby, four going on fifty-two in '67, precocious, but quietly so. She never experienced jealousy pangs, but she had her own cross to bear. It wasn't so much that she was tomboyish … that was fine by Marty and me. We'd throw her in there if we needed to round out a side, or boost her up into trees, and she'd try her best to keep up. Occasionally she might bark a shin, earn a bruise some other way. Marty was the world's foremost tattletale, the one who'd say, "I'm gon' tell Mama," if a boy happened not to be quick enough to break his baby sister's fall. After spankings delivered by Mother, or, worse, Granddaddy's leather belt or ham hands, we still had a backyard in which to retire and ruminate.

Martin seemed to always know the trouble would blow over. He and Yolanda were such amiable children. Bernice was more pragmatic, or so it seemed at the time. She'd look at me and in her quiet baby talk take up for Martin. So even when we had falling outs, soon we all were as thick as thieves again, welcoming the neighborhood children into our domain.

Our home at 234 Sunset was kind of home central, the neighborhood headquarters. All the kids came by to play. My mom treated them like hers, which wasn't always reassuring for them. Coretta Scott King was a disciplinarian, took no guff from hers or any others. Froze you with a look. "Time out" was a call we made in football, not what fell from her lips in our direction. Under her eye or not, we'd play "hide-and-go-seek," as we called it, football, softball, kickball, tag, marbles in the red clay; we'd spin tops, ride homemade skateboards, "pull" friends along by pedaling bikes standing up as the friend rode on the passenger seat. We had a swing set, seesaw, and slide. I loved the slide. I loved playing on the gym set. I loved it all, really. We had a hoop too. Ours was, in these regards, a typical family home … or so I thought back then.

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