Just going through my luggage, clearing out some things to make way for enlightenment
Thursday, December 01, 2005Great Aunts - Inspiration
It took Professor GQ to really break me down and make me realize the value of what I've been doing here. Although I've been misty and shed a few tears since posting the latest in the Great Aunt Series, I thought it was sadness at what I'd lost in the person of my Aunt Frankie.
When I started Great Aunts it was because J had made me realize how funny old Black ladies could be with her post, She Prophesize Too Much. I knew my aunties, affectionately referred to as The Golden Brown Girls were just as hilarious. The first two posts were fun, but that last one has really taken me through. The professor, in just a few words, helped me realized that I'm not crying from sadness and loss, I am simply grateful for all I've gained. That's where my tears are coming from.
Inspiration is one of the greatest things I've gained from the great aunts. As a writer, their voices have spilled from my head onto the pages of countless short stories. Below is an excerpt from HomeGoing.
"You're not from here?" she said without waiting for a reply, "No, I can tell. I'm Elma Lawson. Been in this town my whole life… mm hmm. I knew that whole family up there before they was a family," she motioned to the first four pews. "I remember Dottie when she was nothing but a child. Have you viewed the body? She really looks good…umph! Better than she ever did living. She was truly an ugly girl, had a house full of ugly children too. Nobody could figure out why Victor married her but I knew. They tried to say that first baby was premature. Shoot! He weighed nearly ten pounds! If that child was born at six months, he'd have been walking, talking and eatin' hog maws after three mo’... mm hmm."
It took me a few seconds to realize that she was bashing my grandmother and even after becoming fully aware, all I could do was gape at her. My only hope was escape, but that died when another woman sat on the open aisle.
She wore a nurse's uniform, carried a plastic tote and smelled of lavender. She was round-faced with high cheek bones and large bright eyes; a grandmother type. I immediately wanted to tell her what the mean lady was saying.
"Pauline is that you?" Elma yelled a whisper.
"You know I can't half see without my glasses. I don't know what I did with them. I had 'em on when I viewed the body. Mm hmm."
"She looks good, don’t she?" Pauline asked.
"Who is this fine, young man?” she asked, looking at me. "I know he ain’t one of your grandchildren.”
Elma finally realized she had no idea who I she’d been talking with. A furrowed brow signaled that she was reconsidering some of what she said.
"John. . . Smith," I lied, extending my hand.
"Smith? Lord have mercy you must be Lonnie Smith's boy," Elma exclaimed, "Pauline, you know Abbie's boy, Lonnie?" Elma asked.
I smiled to affirm her belief without offering confirmation and that was enough for her to start rattling off about having seen Lonnie Smith driving a brand new Cadillac. "He must be doing real good," Elma said.
It amazed me that even at the close of the century, this woman still equated success with a Cadillac. I was about to say so when a homeless man walked up to view Granny. He was sobbing inconsolably.
"Elma," Pauline whispered, "your brother just came in."
"Lord Jesus, let me get that fool outta here before he start actin' up. I'll be back." Elma adjusted her wig and walked off. I breathed a sigh of relief. Peace, at last. Or so I thought.
"Poor Luther," Pauline shook her head, "drunker than a boiled owl."
"He seems upset." I said and he did. He was crying like they'd just pronounced his mama dead in the emergency room.
"He sure is, baby. He drinks, you know, and now that Dot is dead, he can't depend on nobody for pity. She'd slip him a couple dollars every now and then for doing odd jobs. I heard they was messing around."
"Really," I asked, through a clench jaw. "Do you believe that?"
"Baby, you never know, but I don't pay no ‘tention to Elma. She never liked Dot."
She was gearing up for a story. I could feel it and she didn't prove me wrong.
"Dot wasn't ever what you'd call a pretty girl but she was attractive. She had a head full of good hair, a nice shape and pretty feet. Elma was always old-lookin'. Just a fast little heifer. She was a change baby, born when Miz Clothilde was near fifty. Po’ woman died in child-birth. One of them contractions ran up against a hot flash and took that good sister right outta here. Elma was pretty much raised by her brothers. They loved and spoiled her, but they ain’t teach her nuthin bout bein a girl. When her menses started, she walked around smellin’ like month old mullet ‘til Dottie pulled her aside and showed her how to care for her old rancid ass… Oooh ‘scuse me, baby,” she said embarrassed, “I got what they call a cussin’ spirit. Elma was just one of the boys.”
"What about Mr. Lawson?” I asked, genuinely curious, “She looked good enough to get him.”
"Baby,” she looked upon me compassionately as if I was handicapped, “a woman don't have to be pretty to get a man. As you get older, you'll see. A man will seek out a ugly gal ‘cause she ain't no trouble. She be so happy to have a man, she let him get away with anything. Besides, Elma’s husband was a sportin’ man. They was tryin to out do each other in adultery.”
I looked over to see Elma dragging old Luther up the aisle aided by another man.
"Who's that with Mrs. Lawson and her brother?" I asked.
"That's her son, Stanley. I believe Victor was his daddy, Dottie's husband."
"What!" I reacted, loud enough for my mother to look back at me with disapproval. Had I been sitting next to her she would have pinched me.
"Yes Baby, Elma got a house full of children and every last one of them got a different daddy. And every daddy is somebody else's husband. Mine is among the number. Her last baby looked so much like the milkman, every cat in the neighborhood used to follow him home from school. It don't make no kind of sense. And she can sit around and talk about Dot. I got a good mind to whip that ass again.”