Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Sukie Interprets the Song"

if you will get a boyfrind nam bill he will be good to hold your hand all the way home from skool. he might have mussols to squeez.  its mantic when boys and girls has feelings I like you do you like me? you r the best person to me.  when the lits turns off I will like to kiss you ok

songs on the raydeeo r good
if a girl over ther comes to bill she has to get her own 
boyfrind not mine thers enuf boys she can pick anuther  

bill dos not like her like he likes me                     

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Like A Two-Toned Singing Group"

“I have to use the bathroom, Mrs. Tompkins.”  Sharalynn chewed her lower lip.  The scratch on her cheek was now a pink welt.
“They had some trouble on their way home from school, but they’re alright.”  said Mrs. Metrey.
“Let’s go inside.  Mrs. Metrey, will you come in, too?  Thanks for bringing my girls home.”
The five of them went up the steps and into the house where Leslie was directed to show Sharalynn to the bathroom and Melvina introduced Mrs. Metrey to Edna and Aunt Mip.
“I’m so pleased to meet you.”  Aunt Mip brightened when she saw Mrs. Metrey who she guessed was closer to her age than the two younger women, and it was with dawning recognition that Aunt Mip realized that since her first two weeks in Detroit, she hadn’t had much contact with any seasoned adults since Ella and Rufus had returned to Selma.  For nearly a month, it had only been young folks and young folks, plus, young folks and younger folks, which was fine because, well, young folks made Aunt Mip feel alive.  
“Aunt Mip is here from Selma, Alabama,” Melvina was saying.  “And this is Edna, my sister-in-law.  She lives here, in Detroit.”
Mrs. Metrey smiled from one woman to the other, nodding her head.  “I have kinfolks in Alabama.” she said.
“Here we go!” Edna laughed, suspecting rightly that soon the women would be sharing Alabama stories and behaving as if Alabama was a small village instead of a state full of cities and towns and all sorts of people.
“You know I would love to stay and visit but I told the little white girl I would walk her home.”  Mrs. Metrey mouthed the word “white.”  It was one of those things some black people of a certain age did:  when they wanted to talk about white people they whispered the word and when they talked about black people they drew a line on the browner side of their hand.    
Sukie was absorbing the way her mother and Aunt Edna laughed and gave each other some skin after Aunt Edna said “here we go!” and thought she might want to “go”, too.  
“I want to help you take Sharalynn home.” she offered to Mrs. Metrey, which made Auntie Mip gasp.  “Little girls don’t belong in grown women’s conversations.”  she said, giving a warning look that made Sukie’s feelings want to say “ouch”.  Thinking of the time, Melvina said “Maybe we should call Sharalynn’s mother on the telephone.”
Shara-lynn---that’s right.  I should have called her by her right name.”  Mrs. Metrey apologized as Melvina turned her daughter’s palms upward.  “How’d your hands get so dirty? Go wash your hands, girl!”  Sukie ran off.  “And stop running! Send Leslie and Sharalynn down here.”
Leslie and Sharalynn were in the back bedroom looking at themselves dancing in front of an old french-styled dressing table with triple-plated mirrors that belonged to Leslie’s grandmother.  If they positioned themselves just so, they looked like a two-toned singing group consisting of between five and six pint-sized performers. 
“Let’s do the temptation walk.”
“Okay!”  They pressed their toes down twice on the right and twice on the left while pumping their elbows in the sideways swinging motion made popular by Melvin Franklin, Otis Williams, Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, and David Ruffin.  In the mirror Leslie and Sharalynn grinned at each other, admiring how good they looked wearing similar hair styles and having just about the same 1/8th of an inch’s worth of white front teeth breaking through their gums.
Sharalynn’s blond bangs lay smooth against her forehead, gently parting like a neat curtain, while Leslie’s dark brown bangs curled under at the tips and glowed with a sheen of bergamot hair grease.  They each wore the equivalent of two pigtails with Leslie’s having puffed-up like two cinnamon buns risen in the oven, and Sharalynn’s straighter tresses lying on her shoulders like dripping paint.
“Let’s sing Don’t Mess With Bill.”

Monday, December 26, 2011

"They Might Need Some Hugs"

Melvina, Edna, and Aunt Myrtle---aka Aunt Mip---had been in Melvina’s kitchen drinking hot tea with hunks of the german chocolate cake that Aunt Mip baked from scratch the day before.  Melvina collected their empty cake plates and stacked them in the sink.  
     Aunt Mip had been staying at Edna’s, but in the last month had divided much of her time between the Smalls’s and Tompkins’ households:  cooking, looking after young folks, and being in everybody’s business as much as they would allow.  
“Now, I know its none of my business but I’m surprised you let Sukie go and get Leslie all by herself.”  Aunt Mip’s upper body softly rolled in a 360 degree circle,  centering on her haunches as she said this.

“Oh, she’ll be okay.  I walk her up to Oakland and watch her cross the street.  Besides, there’s safety guards on the corners between here and the school.  It makes her feel like a big girl.”
Aunt Mip made a face.  “It doesn’t make you nervous having your little girls crossing big streets with all these cars and things?”  

By things Aunt Mip was referring to slick-talking people walking down the street wearing loud clothes, listening to transistor radios, drinking wine, signifying, and tipping ashes off their cigarettes.
Edna and Melvina gave each other the briefest of glances before Melvina replied, “There’s lot’s of children out after school, Aunt Mip.”
Melvina looked at the clock only to realize that it was a bit later than when her daughters usually bounded up the porch steps and clattered through the front doors bringing in all kinds of sweet and sour smells, gusts of cold air, conversation, dirt and leaves; as well as the treasures of awesome wonder which so excited them:  pieces of a robin’s egg shell; a dead butterfly; an empty cola bottle; a well-worn leather glove; and maybe a few coins.  
“In fact, they should be getting here any minute, now.”

All three women gravitated toward the front of the house with Melvina going straight to the door and Myrtle seating herself in a chair at one end of the oblong coffee table.  Edna lingered to gaze at a photo of Melvina’s mother dressed to the nines and posing in front of a parked car with her new husband---her super-red lipstick looked so real that Edna touched her finger to it with the unconscious hope that it would leave a stain. 
“Melvina, how’s your mother doing?” she asked but Melvina had opened the screen door and was stepping out onto the porch. 

Nearing the house was a woman she knew by face from around the neighborhood---they always waved---with Sukie, Leslie, and Sharalynn in tow.  47 degree winds had ruddied their faces and watered their eyes.  They were holding hands and looked as if they might need some hugs. 
“Hey, there.” Melvina welcomed them with a voice to test the waters as she came down the steps.  “Everything okay?” 
Sukie nodded yes and Leslie said “No!” while Sharalynn thought about her need to use the bathroom.  Mrs. Metrey gave Melvina a tiny smile.  “Hi.  I’m Gladys Metrey.  I live over on Cameron Street.”  She threw her hand in the direction of her house.
“Oh---Mrs. Metrey!---all this time I never knew your name....I’m Melvina---” as she offered her hand with an awkward shrug, Sukie lunged forth and wrapped her arms around Melvina’s legs.  “Hi Mommy! We didn’t do anything bad.”  She hugged her mother reassuringly.  Frowning, Melvina crooked a forefinger at Leslie.  “Why is your lip poked-out? Come here.  And Sharalynn, what’s wrong with you? Are you sick?”  Leslie tried to hang back a little.    

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

"Hey White Girl!"

Hey white girl! Stop walking on my street!
Yeah! You smell like pee-pee!
Sharalynn waited over-long in her hiding place by the thick hedges of a house near the corners of Marston and Oakland.  Having run there, her breathing was just now becoming regular.  She was on her knees, the handle of her book-bag still hooked inside her elbow while her heart pounded loudly in the aftermath of the boisterous part of the afternoon.  Peeking between two limbs of scratchy green she could see the muted colors of Sukie and Leslie’s coats still stalled in front of Mrs. Metrey’s house.  Sharalynn wondered why Leslie did not join her in their shared secret spot.  She rubbed a finger soothingly to her front gums while inhaling the smell of fallen leaves just beginning to rot.  A fat water bug strove to climb the mountains of mud clots that Sharalynn thought about puncturing with her thumb but changed her mind.  She felt dastardly:  2nd grade was turning out to be not-so-friendly for her and her friend, Leslie.
“Hey white girl---what you doing in those bushes?”
“I’m not white, I’m peach!” Sharalynn shouted in the direction of the teenage-boy-voice who had spotted her.  It seemed like the bushes were talking and that made the boy laugh but he was on his way somewhere important and didn’t have time to stop.  “See you later, Peaches!” he tossed the reply over his shoulder at Sharalynn who caught it with a gulp of surprise.
At school she knew some kids had nicknames like Junior, Candy, Neicy, Junebug, CeeCee and Peewee.  Teachers were not members of the club who could invent, call, or respond to nicknames.  Teachers always pronounced proper names aloud from their roll books, a red ink pen at-the-ready for marking someone absent, tardy, good, or bad:  Stanley Bronwell, Jr..  Candace Cummings.  Denise Espers.  Henry Flynn.  Cynthia Robinson.  Karo Abernathy.  
In the house where she lived with her three generations of family, Sharalynn Richmond was always called Sharalynn---her mother saying it breathily as though it was the most beautiful, ethereal name in the world.  But, then again, if her mother was in a bad mood she pronounced the Sh real hard like a curse word, then spit out the remaining syllables without a hint of music.
“Peaches.”  Sharalynn whispered to herself.
Then she heard Mrs. Metrey say “Come on, you two,” to Leslie and Sukie.  As Sharalynn stepped out onto the sidewalk a short limb from the hedges grazed her cheek.
Sukie was the first to see Sharalynn and it made her feel as proud as if she had actually rescued her from the taunts of Teddy, Wynn, and Sonya and the pebbles they had thrown; and how the one boy---dashing fast like a gazelle---had managed to stick his hands up under the coats of both Leslie and Sharalynn and yanked-up the hems of their skirts to reveal their underwear to the neighborhood.  Drying tears streaked Sukie’s face and a little ribbon of snot waved from her nostril.  “Look!” she gave Sharalynn a short-toothed smile and ran ahead to pat her her sister’s friend on the shoulder “Are you okay?”
Leslie’s grouchy scowl gave way to a tattered sigh.
“Oh, Lord,”  said Mrs. Metrey “I guess I’m going to have to walk you home, too.”  Sharalynn nodded her head.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"What's Your Friend's Name, Again?"

“Get away from here! You stupid dumb bells!” Leslie screamed and threw down her book bag as Sukie grabbed her around the waist with both arms.  A gust of October wind mashed against their faces; some crisp muddy-brown leaves spun softly, close by.  Whimpering, Sharalynn ran to hide behind some shrubs.  The cold smell of green bushes was calming.  

The tinny gargle of afternoon school bells had sounded 20 minutes earlier, and now children straggled home from school, kicking rocks, darting around corners, singing, and signifying.  Sukie, Leslie, and Sharalynn had been accosted by three rusty-butt kids while walking west on Cameron Street, and Mrs. Metrey had witnessed all of the commotion from her porch.  She rushed into her house and returned hurrying down the porch steps and onto the sidewalk brandishing a belt yanked from the loops of her husband’s slacks.  Her thick sweater was buttoned wrong.
“Gone! Get on down the street before I take my strap to you!” she threatened from a wide mouth with a reddish mole at the corner.
Retreating, the scrappy gang-of-three tried to jump bad:  they weren’t afraid of her.  
“You can’t hit me with no strap!” shouted Teddy; he was the eldest of the group, which  included his brother, Wynn, and their “play” cousin, Sonya.  Teddy and Wynn wore tattered, ill-fitting navy jackets.  Sonya’s skinny birdlike legs stuck out from beneath a blood-red coat that was two sizes too big. 
“Yeah! You ain’t my mama!” she sassed and stuck out her tongue.  Sonya didn’t know who her mother was.
“You better be glad I’m not your mama, little girl.  I’d tear your butt up!” Holding the buckle end of the belt in her hand, Mrs. Metrey resembled a matadora in a coliseum as she slapped the belt on the sidewalk.  Children, birds, and squirrels, alike, all jumped at the sharp sound. 
The fury Leslie felt was something new:  her body pulsed with an anxious mix of alarm and violence, and a metallic smell filled her nostrils.  Eyes flashing wildly,  she threatened “You better leave us alone!” and bent to pick up a fist-sized piece of brick to hoist after the three bullies, who were now nearly half a block away.  Sukie---frightened by this emotion-filled moment---sealed herself tightly around her sister’s body like a piece of cellophane wrap.  When Leslie attempted to stretch herself out of the vise-like grip, Sukie refused to let go.  The two of them stumbled to catch their balance.
“Are you two girls alright?” Mrs. Metrey asked.  Sukie’s face pinched with tears as Leslie pulled away, answering “Yes ma’am.”---the way she had been taught to respond to adult women.
“Aw, now, don’t cry.  They ain’t coming back this way if they know what’s good for them.  They know I’m not playing when I get my belt out!”
Under the guise of wiping away tears, Sukie examined the skinny belt strap:  it looked like an extra long garter snake.  Down the street she could see Sharalynn and Leslie’s tormentors making obscene hand signs even as they began to fade into miniature.
“I’m not a'scared of them---they’re dumb! Right, Leslie?”
“Ow! You’re getting on my toe!” Leslie bent to rub at a scuff mark on her shoe.
“I’m sorry.” Sukie stepped back.  She didn’t understand her sister’s exasperation. 
Mrs. Metrey touched a finger to her lip.  “What happened to your friend---the little white girl---what’s her name, again?”
Shara-lynn.  That’s right.  I see you all walking home from school, together.  What street her people live on?”  Craning her neck slightly, the woman squinted her eyes and made a panoramic scan of the airy slices between houses, trees, and parked cars.
“They live on Chandler, ma’am.”
“You know its a lot of white people moving out of the city, now.  Is her family po’?”

Leslie sneaked a look at this woman who was bent over pulling at weeds with her free hand.  She  didn’t want to see Mrs. Metrey’s round booty pointing in the air and she didn’t want to answer any more questions about Sharalynn.
“I don’t know.”  Then to Sukie she said, “You go home.”
“Where you going? I want to go with you.”
Mrs. Metrey stood up straight as a yardstick.  “You bet’ not leave your sister.  Wait just  a minute; I’ll finish walking you all home.  I want to tell your mother what happened.”
“See what you did?” Leslie huffed at Sukie as they watched Mrs. Metrey march up her porch steps and pull open the door.  “Julius?” she hollered as she stepped inside. 
“I don’t want Mrs. Metrey to walk us home!” Leslie poked-out her lip.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Imminent Danger and Liberation"

Auntie Mip wanted to refresh herself.  She felt a little sweaty and her joints were stiff.  The Evanses had been to collect her before the sun rose, the sky then changing from blue to purple and they had seen the sun come up in Tennessee.  There was just the three of them, traveling from Selma to Detroit in the Evans’s blue Chevrolet Bel Air.  Auntie Mip sat in the back seat with provisions: ham sandwiches, deviled eggs, peaches, a brown paper sack full of peanuts roasted that morning even before the tweeting of birds or the howling of dogs.  She wore a floral head wrap over the tight curls in her hair that she planned to comb out as their destination grew closer, and she was wearing a new pant suit, the color of a cantaloupe.  Her skin tone was the color of brown mustard and her face was dashed with red freckles.
By contrast, Etta Evans---Auntie Mip's friend from church---was the color of deep maple.  Etta wore two thick braids pinned across the crown of her head and heavy gold earrings dangled from her earlobes.  The two of them would do most of the talking on this trip: comparing their recipes for making fruit pies, frying fish, or canning chow-chow; gossiping about their church ersher board, or piecing-together the whereabouts of members of their families who had left the south.  At times the tone of their conversation was determined by the time and colors of day in whatever state they were driving through. There were some hours when they didn’t converse at all. Being that it was late October, the land was lush with color, and beautiful to look at as they covered northern Alabama, then Tennessee, Kentucky, flat Ohio.  Some eleven hours later they would finally cruise by the interstate sign that welcomed them to the state of Michigan.  

Years later these stretches of highway would become more populated with rest stops and housing communities, but that was too far off into the future for anyone to know.  In 1968 there was a lot of peaceful-looking territory to cover, although, since the Freedom Rides in the summer of 1961, and Freedom Summer of 1964, the air felt (---at least to sensitive people like Auntie Mip) changed.   There seemed to be a blend of imminent danger and liberation hanging in the air.

“Hey, we’re making pretty good time.  What do you say, Rufus?”  Aunt Mip threw this lone bit of conversation to Rufus, who had done all of the driving.
“Yeah.  Making pretty good time.”  Rufus Evans replied. He was a clean-shaven, fine-hat-wearing, caramel-colored man.  “Etta, is there some more coffee left in that thermos?”
“Whatever’s left is probably cold by now.”  Etta reached for the thermos on the floor beside her feet, and shook it to gauge about how much liquid was inside.
“I don’t care.  Let me have those dregs.”
“Don’t you want to stop and get some fresh?”  Auntie Mip sounded hopeful.  She wanted to get out of the car to inhale deeply the scent of trees and earth, as well as to stretch her limbs.  
“Naw, that’s okay.”  Rufus said.  Auntie Mip gazed out of the window and pursed her lips.  Yeah, better not. thought her self-scolding voice.  They were all born and raised in the Jim Crow south and it wasn’t part of their cultural upbringing to move about in the world in uninhibited ways.  Only white people did what they wanted whenever and wherever they pleased.  Although it was often true that white people who aligned themselves with black people had their own hell to pay. 

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Dropping A Dime"

Meanwhile, Leo was driving the Plymouth faster than was legal in residential neighborhoods, making Leslie and Sukie bounce against the back seat of the car with giggles.  Juanita lost her grip on the 45 records that had been stacked around her thumb, and a few of them fell in the seat between her and her uncle.   As of yet, nothing was broken and no one had come to any bodily harm, so Leo didn’t see a need to apologize.  He had no doubt that Melvina was at home wondering what was taking them so long to return.  All of a sudden the day seemed long enough, and he wished he could drum up a good excuse not to go to the parents meeting at Breitmeyer Elementary School.  What time was it anyway?  According to his watch, it was near 6:30 p.m.
“Who is Mrs. Payne?”  Juanita asked while dusting a copy of Hugh Masekela’s “Grazing In The Grass” against the hem of her skirt.
“She’s my teacher at school and she got me in trouble!”
“Yeah, she weared a string on her finger to school because she talks good in class.”  Sukie added, as they were passing the giant replica of a stove on display at the Michigan State Fair Grounds.  Leo wore a bemused expression on his face but didn’t speak.
“You got in trouble because you talk good?---What?” Juanita didn’t understand.  She twisted around so she could see her little cousins. 
“I do talk good,”  Leslie acknowledged Sukie’s comment.  “But Mrs. Payne told Mommie I talk too much.”  
“Oh.”  Juanita frowned.
“She said it to my whole class, too.” 
“She did? Now, why she wanna do that to my Cuz?”
“She’s mean.  Mommie told me the strings on my finger could remind me not to talk so much and I pretended it was my ring but Mrs. Payne said  ‘NO! that’s not your ring, Leslie, that’s because you talk too much stop interrupting other kids’....and stuff like that.  She said it so my whole class could know....”

“What’s your“Cuz”?” Sukie wanted to know. 

By now Leo was making a left turn from Woodward onto Manchester.  The Clock Diner was on their right.
“You mean your teacher dropped a dime on you in front of your whole class? That’s cold.

“What’s your “Cuz”?” Sukie asked, again.  “Am I your “Cuz”, too?”

“....That hurted my feelings, so I don’t say many things in her class, anymore, even when I know the answers.  And you know what else? Mrs.Payne says I can’t help other kids do their work.”
“That Mrs. Payne sounds like a real pip!”   Juanita was looking out of the window, now.  “Wait until you get to high school, like me.  You’ll have seen all kinds of teachers by then.”

“My first grade teacher was nice.”  Leslie offered, feeling loyal toward Mrs. Bissessi, who---unlike Mrs. Payne---had sung her students’ praises all year long through the many fits and starts of reading sounds until they became words and then sentences.  Mrs. Bissessi had remained soothing and encouraging despite much crushing of pencil leads being pressed too hard against desks, and thick erasers rubbing holes in the soft green paper on which the children practiced writing alphabets.

Leo turned the radio dial to the left of the glove compartment until the Canadian radio station, CKLW, sputtered into audibility.  He liked to listen to WCHB, the black-owned soul station, most of the time, but CKLW was known to mix things up a bit, so he could keep up with the latest tunes from acts such as The Doors, The Beatles, Judy Collins, Tom Jones, Steppenwolf, The Mamas and the Papas, and Cream---along with songs by Dionne Warwick, Sly & the Family Stone, Aretha Franklin, the Intruders, The Fifth Dimension, and all of the Motown groups. 
“What does dropped a dime mean? Is it like a a tattle-taler?” Leslie pushed herself forward so she could rest her chin against the back of Juanita’s bucket seat.  “You smell good.”  she added, after getting a whiff of Jean Nate Body Splash.  Leo braked heavily at the next stop sign.  He turned to give Leslie a warning look to make her sit back in her seat.