Blew My Mind

Odds are that you have seen the photo already so I will come right to the point:

Why, pray tell, did the ladies of the Monticello Women’s Club find it necessary to inform readers that one of the recipes in the Monticello Hostess was submitted by a “colored” woman?

This just totally blew my mind… like, WTH?

A quick glance through the entire book found no other recipes submitted by “colored” women. I did not go page by page, but the lack of others sparked my curiosity.  Who was Erma Barnes? How did she manage to get her cake recipe in a book compiled by, what must have been in 1951 apartheid Mississippi, an uppity white women’s club?

Perhaps they weren’t so uppity… I think of my grandmother and her sister Ethel, sliding memories of visiting Mississippi during the Jim Crow era interlaced with scenes from The Help, set in Jackson, 1963.  Some ladies may have had airs, but odds are that most were just ordinary everyday southern white women. I also noticed that most contributors submitted recipes under their husband’s names… Mrs. His Name instead of her own; suppose some were married to a Mr. Big Shot, but the whole thing slightly suggests that contributor’s names were printed in ways to include social status… married, unmarried, colored.

So why would the wording in an old cookbook, when it clearly just reflects the era in which it was written, totally blow my mind?

Oh honey, it’s not just a cookbook… we jest between sisters that our mama raised us on the Monticello Hostess. As a most referenced book, it ranked second only to the Holy Bible. She plum wore it out, so she replaced her tattered book with her mother’s copy after grandma died.

That’s the thing… people don’t generally give those books up… they get passed down. I know because I searched eBay repeatedly and placed ads on Craigslist to no avail. Then about a year ago, my sister Jai found an article about the book being reprinted, so we each ordered our own copy. It is the exact duplicate of the original second edition, with the old ads and all. (If you want a copy, follow that link to order your own.) To most folks, it is just an old cookbook. The sentimental attachment to it has more to do with family than it does to the wonderful assortment of old recipes.

Should I tell you about my mother?

Everything is so entwined. Mama was born in Monticello, Mississippi, in July of 1941, just two years before the first edition was published. That was the same year Pearl Harbor was bombed. I don’t know exactly when her parents divorced… all I know is her daddy lived in Louisiana and he went off to war and her mother was not able to care for her properly. She tried, but she was just a teenager struggling to make ends meet, so she was doing things like leaving mama in a playpen beside the road while she worked in the fields. Strangers would stop to tend the baby, give mama a bottle or move her playpen back into the shade. There was a court hearing about it and custody was awarded to grandma’s older sister Ethel, who was married and had a “colored” nanny to take care of mama.

Oh yeah, watching “The Help” was like whoa… was mama’s family like some of those white women?

I remember mama’s nanny, she diapered all of us on visits to the south in the early 1960’s.  When I was little, I thought she was Aunt Ethel’s best friend who lived in her own little cabin on the farm. She was somehow related to us, although she was the only one who ever told us… or rather, she showed us by pointing out who was who and how everyone was related to each other in her old photographs.

Mama’s nanny had taken me and my sister Jai to her cabin to look at photo books after Jai had caused quite a ruckus in the house. We were supposed to be sitting still and being very quiet out in the entrance hall because our great-grandmother was in the front room on her death-bed, softly moaning and groaning while she was about to breathe her last, when Jai asked who the man was in the portrait of a confederate soldier. The house was so quiet that the ancient old lady, with the snow-white hair and wrinkly pale skin, heard Jai’s whisper and shocked everyone. She broke the hushed reverence of her own death watch by loudly declaring, “That man’s name is not to be mentioned in this house.”

I wish I could remember how we were related, but I wasn’t even in school yet when she took us to her cabin. Not knowing raises hard questions… was she a descendent of slaves? Did one of my great-greats rape one of her great-greats? My memories are sketchy, I don’t even remember her name; or, if I even knew her name. Nanny and Aunt Ethel acted more like family, like old friends talking and laughing at the kitchen table. I cannot recall anything that would suggest some kind of employee/employer relationship.

Nanny died of old age in 1968 or 69… so she was old enough, she could have been the nanny for grandma and Aunt Ethel, too. My only memory of her passing is overhearing someone saying that she had lived long enough to diaper all five of mama’s babies, as if that was something to be proud of, a life achievement of some kind… now it hits me as being an odd tribute.

There are so many questions that will never have answers. The only one left to ask is my mother, but even she might not know because the women in her family tend to have selective amnesia about anything they don’t want to talk about. They took secrets to the grave. Even if mama knew some of the answers, she might not say.

To roll back to mama and make a long story short… when mama was 3 years old, her mother met and married a soldier from Ohio, so she “kidnapped” mama from Aunt Ethel’s house and headed north. Eventually, grandma was awarded custody so mama was actually raised in Ohio, yet somehow managed to hold onto her southern roots. The second edition of the Monticello Hostess was printed when mama was 10 years old, so odds are that she was gifted a copy for her hope chest when grandma and aunt Ethel purchased theirs. She married my father at age of 16 and Lord willing, they will celebrate their 60th Wedding Anniversary in 2018.

Racism is taught. It is passed down like cookbooks.

My mother was taught to be politely racist… she is kind and respectful to all people, would even deny being racist, but her separatist beliefs boiled to the surface when life simmered to the fire.  And it’s not just black and white. She had issues when my sister dated an Irish Catholic, told me that I could quit seeing an Italian boy or forget I had a family, and whispered “we have enough in our family, don’t be bringing any more in” just a couple of years ago, when she found out that I was seeing the vet.

I don’t know which amuses me most… that she tells me such things in my 50’s or that her “enough in our family” includes my grandchildren. I laugh because it is bizarre. I laugh because I am done fighting with my mother. She will come around eventually… if not, oh well.

That’s the problem with her girls… we all do as we please, regardless of what she has to say. Oh, we never argue with her, never raise a voice to mama or anything. Even if we have to take a stand against her, we do so politely and respectfully. That’s daddy’s influence. While mama was raising us to be prim and proper little ladies, daddy was encouraging us to become strong independent women, to stand up for what is right.

I hate to say it, but some of mama’s ideas are just flat-out wrong.  Like when she told me that I should have nothing more to do with my only child and “not accept” biracial children as my grandchildren. We were in a cold war for years over that… it was like she sawed off my branch of the family tree and I was holding on like an irritating bit of bark, so sure her heart would soften once we laid a babe in her arms. But, it wasn’t to be… she refused to meet my granddaughter.

So, I let go… when I let go, I let go of the tree and relocated to Youngstown just to be near my branch.

I had to let go… otherwise, it would have turned me into a bitter woman, seeing her dote on my youngest sister’s grandchildren in family photos shared on Facebook: the loving great-grandma running to hospitals to greet new babies, smiling at birthday parties, attending school functions, and what-not.  She was invited to my grandchildren’s events, alerted of births, etc., but there was always an excuse, some reason why she couldn’t come. She didn’t even meet my youngest grandson until he was 3 years old.

OH WELL, HER LOSS… kids can’t mourn what they don’t know.  She’s softened a bit in the last year or so… my grandchildren now know who she is (grandma’s mother), but they do not know her… there is no relationship, no emotional attachments.

 

Racism is taught. It is passed down like cookbooks.

Thankfully, we had daddy to counter that, too. He taught us in words and showed us, by setting good examples, to stand up to injustices. Still, I can’t help but wonder… how much of that polite racism did mama pass on to me? I literally grew up with this book… seeing my own last name in print should have caught my eye years ago. Why didn’t I notice “Erma Barnes (Colored)” before?  Was I blinded by inherited racism?

I think it is good to question yourself once in a while… to clean house, so to speak, if necessary. We all have preconceived notions and bits of stereotypes hidden like dust in the corners of our minds. That’s not just a white thing or even a race thing… we all have dust bunnies hiding under something up there. The important thing is to keep an open mind, to shake off assumptions and preconceived ideas, to be willing to dispel any myths if or when they surface.

Thanks for reading.

 

Night Breezes

The unspoken questions dangled by imaginary cords tied to the crescent moon suspended over the courthouse, as if waiting on flags to flutter without hesitation before a stray wind stirs enough of a night breeze to whip it into a frenzy.

Have you tired of me yet? Are we near done?

Instead, she asked, “Are you bored?”

Her companion on the bench took the question to mean bored, as in the moment. They had been sitting there, side by side in silence, for quite some time. He said, “Yeah, just a little.”

The night stretched on. Days turned into weeks. Months passed.

She wonders if she can afford him.

This relationship has cost her dearly, and I don’t just mean by her mother’s rejection. That was a given. Her mama was a Separatist born two decades before the Civil Rights Movement, excused from being flat out racist because her narrow minded “to each their own” excluded variations of white people, too.

It wasn’t the first time she ignored her mother’s softly spoken advice on how to live her own life.

As the Matriarch of the family, mama ruled by suggestion and the power of the 12th Commandment: thou shalt not disappoint thy mother. The 11th is don’t argue with her… she took a stand against her mother now and then without arguing, as there were times when mama was so flat out wrong that she could not, in good conscious, go along with her request. Besides, she had disappointed mama so many times over the years that once more only added an inch to the miles already between them.  She wishes mama could understand her, that mama would accept her, if she could just love her without so many strings attached.

She loves her mother… alas, people come “as is” even if they are a bit broken.

 

“I miss my friend,” she said, as he stood by the window.

He continues to look down at the courtyard below, hesitates before putting his thoughts into words.

“No,” she said. “I never told him… he didn’t know any details about you, so race wasn’t the issue. He sent those texts, remember, said I was emotionally cheating…”

He cuts her off by saying, “Yes, I remember. He’s not a friend, never was your friend” and gives her a hard look before ending the conversation with, “a friend would not do you like that.”

She cannot dismiss 20 years so easily, but she drops the subject with silence and sips her coffee as she knows her companion does not like to discuss anything that could be regarded as unpleasant. Their time together is to be enjoyed with the cares of the day behind them.

She still struggles to keep work at work, to walk away from her projects or the computer as if she were punching a time clock at some menial job, to not discuss what she is working on at the dinner table. He thinks she needs to learn how to relax and have fun. She thinks her work is fun.

They are polar opposites, still learning each other.

There are times when he frustrates the hell out of her and times when he simply amazes her. The love they share is a blessing, an unexpected gift so rare that she refuses to take anything for granted, even as their life slips into a daily routine.  She knows how easily life can spin on a dime.

In the still of the night, she waits for a breeze.

He slips a muscular arm around her, pulling her closer, hugging her like a living, breathing, human teddy bear. She snuggles into his sleeping form, drifts into her own dreams feeling all safe and loved and comfy warm.

 

 

 

Ye Done

I think I am done with therapy.  The big debate question now is:  should I go to my next appointment and tell this psychologist that I’m not coming back OR simply call to cancel the appointment?

The real question is:  do I care what this intellectual type, with whom I have had serious communication problems, writes on my permanent electronic file? 

If I call to cancel, he will assume that I quit my recovery, that I am too defiant to accept help, there’s no hope for me, and all sorts of nonsense. Good psychologist, bad client.  Fact being as they are, therapy right now is a waste of time and money. 

I signed up for five sessions of cognitive behavior therapy last fall, first appointment on Halloween.  He told me on day one to look it up so I would know what to expect.  I think HE needs to look it up, as this is “talk therapy” without any clear purpose or direction. 

Okay, so my last visit was on the same day that my daughter opened a keg of worms.  I walked in baffled and confused, so I wasted my visit talking about it.  Walked out just as baffled and confused.  Then I spent a couple weeks mulling it over in my head and on virtual paper, writing endlessly only to delete. 

There was a lot of other stuff going on, July was a busy month.  I had art on display in three places, events to attend, things that had to get done, a shoulder that bailed out for a couple weeks requiring doc visits and X-rays to see if an injury had caused losing ye 70% use of that arm (it is fine now, so it was either an unknown muscle sprain or wacko nerve games, who knows? Ten days of pain and loss of use, wha la all better?  I keep telling these docs that there has got to be something else going on, the jab points and odd things that come and go.  Oh, it could be arthritis?  It is above the bad discs in my spine, which gets blamed for everything south.)  Anyway… July was a busy month for me.  By other people’s standards, maybe not… but my life goes in slo-mo because of the spinal crap.  July ended with going out of town for a wedding, doing the old auntie thing by baking a zillion cookies, then coming home to leftover cookie ingredients and nearby convienience store, a momentary lapse on the “not an option” as that is the problem, so when I went back to the doc for follow-up on the arm thing, my weight was up.  Down 75 on the day I went to the shrink, up 9 at docs on Monday, and today down 11 by my scales.  So, yeah, I screwed up but its okay.  Life goes on.

The only way to kick this binge eating disorder is to  convince myself, and maintain that conviction, that bingeing is simply NOT an option.  But it is… it always is, and that is the problem.  Like any drug or addiction, it is there.  It is my choice to make it an option.  It is me who has to say to myself: not an option, don’t do it.

Therapy did NOT help me… yes, I talked to him about what went down with my child.  I talked to everyone else, too.  Sisters, friends, my dad… so baffled and confussed to discover that my adult child was embarrassed of me.  Yes, the wild child who loved drama so much that she had huge comedy and tragedy masks tattooed on her arm has morphed into my mother, an all prim and proper lady caring about how things look as she nears the age of 30.  She was embarrassed of me.

I’m not going to get into the details of my “behaving badly in public” as that would only serve to embarrass her more. 

What baffles me is how easily she was embarrassed over something that did NOT embarrass me at all and then how mad she was, expressed later via text and phone calls over several days, and her coldness towards me on my birthday.  Oh, she sent a “happy bday” text wee early in the morning and she did say “happy birthday” when I called her late that night asking where’s my cake, I don’t get a card or nothing?  Oh yes, she was and maybe still is, really mad at me.

Maybe I should move, go live someplace else. 

Odds are that I will, repeatedly and unintentionally,  accidentally embarrass her again just by being my own damn self.  

OH WELL…  I am her mother and parents come “as is” so she best accept me “as is” and go on.   I am NOT going to play pretend by slipping on a public persona every time I step out the door, taking precious care to guard everything I do or say or simply BE or AM in a misguided attempt to avoid embarrassing my adult child.

I ain’t got it in me to do it again. 

Again?  Oh yeah…  that’s in my keg of worms, the why I can’t do it, not even for my own child. 

I’m not ready to write about it yet, partly because I became intensely aware that not all people who read things on the internet are, in a word, SANE.  Stir in anything about religion and the nutcases go off in an uproar. 

Besides, I have rambled on long enough today.