won’t believe this. I think she loves me.
This sounds crazy as Granny.
Sunday mornings woke us with eggs
and bacon sizzle-smells, and even though
we didn’t go to church often, Daddy
taught us lessons that must come from the
Bible: Work hard; tell the truth; family is
important. Most days I loved after dinner-time the best. We all sat together. Mama
asked Marjorie about her lessons, and
Gladys giggled about a crush she had on a
boy she kept secret. I listened, and I
couldn’t wait ’til I had a story to tell.
“When can I go to school?” I promise I
saw Mama knit one, purl two twice as
Marjorie put her arm around my shoulders. “You’re a smart girl.”
While my sisters were at school, I wandered over to my colored neighbor
Lucinda’s house. I waited for spring when
Daddy’d start planting tobacco. When the
tiny plants came in, I grabbed my bonnet
and headed to the field.
“Don’t you go near that field,” Mama
yelled. “Sweep the yard.”
Maybe she saw my lip shaking.
“Honey,” she said, a little softer. “We’ve
got company coming.”
The ladies wore hats. Tipped down in
the front. Bright red and the other was
orange. I stayed out in the yard sweeping
the dirt down to the roots with a stick of
pink flowers shaped like crosses. Trying to
make clean a yard of dust. Brushing away
sticks and rocks that might trip someone in
fancy dress up shoes. I don’t wear shoes if I
can help it.
Daddy sat down, his coveralls coated in
red dust. Always to me he looked like a
tired old horse carved from a dried pear.
I swept and swept. OK. I pretended. I
wanted to hear what they were saying, and
when I brushed the branch across the dirt,
it covered their whispers. I edged closer to
“She’s got to go to school,” Red Hat
said. It had a peacock feather, too.
I wanted to walk right up and say, “I am
going to go to school.” There’d never been
no doubt. I’ll tell you something else.
Lucinda’s Mama has already taught me the
alphabet. I kept sweeping. Pretending to
brush the ground clean.
About that time, the hens started to
cackling like they do when they’re so
proud to have laid another egg. Seemed so
KARI VAN TINE/IMAGES. COM
backwards to me. That hen’s just doing
what she was meant to do, but she thinks
she’s got to tell the world. If she’d have
kept quiet, maybe she’d be able to sit on
her egg longer and raise her chick.
I missed what Orange Hat said. But I
knew it had talked because Daddy looked
mad at it. It had a flounce of yellow fluff
“But we don’t want to send her to an
orphanage.” Daddy spoke slowly. Mama’s
head was bent, her hands still as death.
I felt the air thick. Then Orange Hat
and Red Hat left. I hated that Orange Hat.
That’s when I started to make my plan. I’d
go to school and follow the rules and do
everything just as the teacher told and not
fight and not cuss and listen and learn and
show them just how smart I was. Maybe
then they’d keep me.
When the leaves began to rust, I knew
it was finally my turn to go to school.
Mama still stood back from me, but she
sewed me three new dresses. My favorite
was yellow. Daddy took me by the hand
and let me pick a brand new pair of shoes
downtown. I chose the ones with flowers.
If I had to wear shoes, I figured I ought to
at least choose some that were pretty.