Tuesday, July 13, 2010

character sketch - Momma

Everything was covered in white. The fields that provided food for us to eat and vegetables for us to trade, the trees that provided shade for us to rest under and lumber for us to sell, and even my Poppa's hunched shoulders as he trudged his way to the barn to milk the cows were blanketed in snow. 1948 would be a year of surprises for us in Clarendon County, South Carolina and for all of the people in all of the places in the United States of America where the Jim Crow laws were enforced by law or by practice, the Jim Crow laws that gave us black folks our place and them white folks their place and no place for us all to be together. Yes, it would be a year of surprises, the first of which was the coldest stretch of days and the heaviest and deepest of snows that the midlands had seen in a hundred years. Momma had her arm around me as we snuggled close together and watched Poppa disappear in the blinding whiteness of the pouring snow.
- My, my...look at all that snow, Carter...look at all that snow.
- It's turnin' ever'thin' white. It's beautiful.
- Yes, sweetheart, it is beautiful.
- It makes ever'thin' look so bright and clean and new.
- Yes, it does...it does. But, you know what? I like to think about what's underneath the snow.
- But there's nothin' but frozen ground and bare limbs underneath the snow.
- And don't forget there's a Poppa under it, too!
- Hee hee hee. So why do you like to think 'bout things like that, things that're frozen and bare?
- Well, it's 'cause of som'thin' that happened to me when I was a little girl about your age. Ev'ry Sat'dy afternoon, my Daddy and Momma would take me and your Aunts and Uncles into town. We didn't own our own farm like your Daddy and I do now, so we lived in what was called a 'sharecroppers shack' on Mr. Wilson's farm. That shack was a dark, bare place that was too small for a family of nine. We all worked so hard on that farm, but on Sat'dy afternoons Mr. Wilson let us outta work to go to town. In town, ev'rythin' looked like it does now under this blanket of snow - white, clean, and new.
The som'thin' that happened that I wanna tell you 'bout is this. We were walkin' down the sidewalk, Daddy in front, Momma behind him, and the seven of us chil'ren all in a row from the tallest to the shortest. My goodness, we did look like ducks in a row, we chil'ren did. A young man and a young woman, a white young man and woman, came a'walkin' toward us arm in arm. As was the custom, we stepped off the sidewalk to let the white folks pass. I looked down at the ground, as I was supposed to do when a white man passed me, and it was then that I saw a sup'risin' thing.
The cement sidewalk had a small crack in it, and out of that broken place grew a flower, a tiny flower. Even though I was a'wearin' my Sat'dy dress, I knelt down on the ground close to the flower so I could cup my hands around it and really see it. It was the most beautiful flower I had ever seen in my life and it is still the most beautiful flower I ever saw. Its petals were red and yella, its stem was green, and the center a'holdin' it's seeds was black. The yella was the color of the sun in the early mornin', the red was the color of the sun in the late ev'nin', the green was the color of the april fields at dawn and dusk, and the black was 'zactly the color of black folks like us's skin. And there was that flower, a'growin' through the hard, white concrete that covered the earth!
That's why I like to think 'bout things that are covered up, Carter, 'bout things that're underneath. Oft'times, you cain't see them but they're there and they're beautiful and they're a'waitin' for a crack so they can grow and be seen and make the world a better place.
Now, I like to spend time with my Momma and if I have to choose the best times I spend with her then I'd choose times like this, times when she holds me close and tells me stories. Just now I felt her protective arms around me, felt my future brother or sister move and move in her belly to the rhythm of her words, breathed in the smells of buttermilk and flour from this mornings biscuits, and saw her story as if I were there with her in her mind and in her heart. Everything' was covered in white. The ground around me was frozen. But everything inside of me was full of color and warm.

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