Just going through my luggage, clearing out some things to make way for enlightenment
Friday, September 23, 2005Who is yo' peoples?
For a variety of reasons many Black folks have murky family relationships. Some of them go as far back as the plantation where slavery dictated that potent black males produce as many children as possible. Sometimes one male was paired with one female. Other times, one male would be expected to impregnate any and every woman who was in child-bearing season. What resulted was a whole heap of half-siblings that were usually auctioned off for cash and to avoid in-breeding, which might result in inferior product. It sounds barbaric and it was. The entire dehumanizing institution of slavery, endorsed by this great country was so brutal and savage that folk are still affected three generations later. I know I'm bitter, but that's another story.
Black families are further muddled with unofficial adoptions. Apparently this was common practice in the small southern community that produced my grandparents. My grandmother tells a story about a woman named Miz' Ella, who raised about 40 children. She only gave birth to six, but of those, four were strapping young lads with a penchant for the ladies and no clue about birth control. Not long after her first son reached puberty, a young gal came by with a baby and a sad story about how Miz' Ella's son had got her "in trouble" and that she couldn't take care of a baby by herself. Miz' Ella, of course, offered to keep the child for as long as it took the mother to get herself together. She chose to get herself together in Detroit, which left Miz' Ella with another mouth to feed. It was by no means the end as that same son had about three to four more gals come along with the same story. Each time Miz' Ella accepted the child like the ironing she did for white folks. It would get picked up eventually.
As her other boys aged, the process was repeated. Some gal would come by with a baby and rather than hear the sad story, Miz' Ella soon started saying, "Just put him/her out there in the yard with the rest of 'em." She never questioned paternity, which some of those young gals began to realize, enabling them to drop off children to which Miz' Ella had no blood connection. She accepted them anyhow because, "'Dem chirrun ain't ask to come heah." Ok. Now I'm telling a story. DAMN!
Back on task. Black families are further muddled with "play relatives." A tongue-in-cheek explanation is taken from the 1999 Lifetime movie, Jackie's Back.
"We had our real mamas and we had our play mamas," Jackie explains.
I had only to look closely at my own family to see similar arrangements. My great aunt, Letha, raised my cousin, Rachel, whose mama [Aunt Nut Pie] was in Georgia. When my Aunt Sarah left Georgia to seek her fortune, she left her nine-month old baby boy, Emmett, with my grandmother. It wasn't abandonment at all. Sarah took care of her son, but there was a little confusion among the children of that generation too. My Aunt Jane referred to Emmett as her brother until she was old enough to know better. I always wondered why my mother and her cousins were such a tight-knit group. They grew up just like brothers and sisters. To this day folks who aren't in the know will ask me to clarify how everyone is related. I do the best I can, but sometimes, even I get confused.
In my town a lot of relationships and marriages have joined the most unlikely of families. I got a hum-dinger of a tidbit about two sisters. Each of whom was dating the same man. That man had another chick on the side. At one point all three were pregnant. That's when the mother of the two sisters stepped in. The younger daughter quietly got relieved of her affliction and the older daughter married the young man. But there was still the matter of the chick on the side. Not being from a family of means, she was forced to give birth to the child, who was raised by her aunt, but still acknowledged by the father and his wife. There are also a few instances of teenaged daughters having children who were disguised as children of the mother's parents. My own mother joined two rather large families when she married my late step-father. The two families were already tight as my step-father had four drop-dead beautiful sisters with whom my older cousins came of age. Through that marriage I gained a whole new set of aunties and cousins whom I love dearly. Out there on the periphery I have a whole "nother" family that I don't really know. My own father, with whom I enjoyed limited contact, has a huge family, which connects me to the rest of the people in town.
All this murky muddledness has its advantages. I can pretty much go anywhere in the country and find someone to whom I'm "related." When I was in Boston, my play cousin, Lisa, looked out for me. Lisa is Pauline's youngest daughter, which is the second and third generations carrying on a relationship started in Georgia. My great grandfather and Lisa's grandmother were both widowed and they had a little fling of their own back in da day, which accounts for why their children are so close, although there was a little tension that still exists. Again, that is another story. I don't want to put living people's business out in the street. Someone might come for my ass and I'm not trying to get cut over the truth.