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In the Family.

Old man Ferguson was snoring with his stupid ass self. And his feet was stinking. I know they was. I wished I could knock him off the pew but I couldn't from where I was sitting. He felt the hate I was sending him, though, 'cause he woke up alla sudden and rubbed on his neck. Then he had the nerve to turn and wink at Granma. I swear to God Almighty she turned around and grinned at him.

They been friends for 50 something years, but she'd married Granpa and Old Ferguson ought to remember that. This was Granpa's funeral, anyways. Ain't nobody have no business grinning and winking.

"Connie, take your feet off the back of that pew." My Mama always trying to correct me from doing something I want to do comfortable. I took my feet off the pew and hitched my dress up off my shoulders. My clothes always coming off.

"Mama," I whispered, "Old Ferguson over there winking at Granma." I couldn't stand Mr. Ferguson. He always coming to our house, talking to my Mama, trying to help my Daddy or just laying around. He my Mama cousin some kinda way, and he ain't got that much people, but why he got to come 'round us? Plus everybody know he a drunk and his feet stink. He always coming over our house, and I remember one time Mr. Ferguson come over our house and took off his shoes and we had to open all the windows just so we could breathe.

"You let them two old folks alone, Connie," my Mama say. "Nobody care what they do."

"Why ain't Granma crying then? It her husband funeral."

"Maybe your Grandfather beat all the tears out her while he was alive," Mama said. "Maybe she ain't got no tears in her head no more."

I hated my Mama when she talk like that. She just mean to Granpa 'cause he ain't her Daddy, he my Daddy Daddy, and she ain't never could understand him.

Granpa was mean, though. He hit Granma and he hit my Daddy, and I guess he would a hit me, too, if I ain't move out the way. My Daddy say his Daddy won't never want to hurt nobody; he just thought beating was what you did when you love people. My Mama say my Daddy and his Daddy crazy. When my big sister Selma went away to college and come back and start talking 'bout people being nice to each other and how it's all bad or something if a man beat on his wife, Granpa did listen to her.

"Well, how you get her to mind, then?" he asked.

"Maybe it's not about minding all the time, Grandpa," Selma say. "Maybe it's about letting people make up they own minds."

"Your Granma couldn't make up her own mind unless somebody give it to her as part of a pie recipe. The only thing that woman can make up is a good batch of greens and some quilts."

"Well, why you marry her then?"

"I likes greens and quilts."

Granpa used to beat the hell out Granma. She'd come running to us, crying about how he had hit her. My Mama always got disgusted, but my Daddy would always hug her and tell her not to worry. One time, he went over to Granpa and tried to talk to him, and Granpa give him a black eye. It was kind a funny 'cause my Daddy, he already so black, his black eye barely showed up.

My Daddy never hit my Mama. He tried woofing at her one time and Uncle Ray and Uncle Moses come over and beat the doodoo outta him, so he never tried that again.

My Mama say Granpa and Daddy and all 'em be hitting people because it come from slavery time. She say back then you hit yo' people as a way of loving, to keep 'em in line and from doing wrong 'round white folks. White folks killed people right off in them days, and folks would rather they child or somebody get a beating than a hanging or a lynching. "But it don't excuse your Grandfather," she always say.

Me, I don't believe in none of that. I just was thinking Granpa was mean.

Granma loved him, though. She wouldn't go nowheres too far to get away from him. One time, while we was shucking corn on they porch, she say, "Connie, your Granpa is the most lovingest man I ever did see in my life."

"Why he hit you all the time then, Granma?" Granma tore off a piece of husk and threw it in the basket she had. She was gonna take that basket and dump it in her garden.

"Oh, don't pay no 'tention to that. Them just little love taps. Your Granddaddy really take good care of this family, and that's what's important."

"Then why y'all live in a shack?" I asked.

"It don't matter where we live. Where you live?"

I thought about our house. It was big and yellow, with a pretty porch and 'lumnin siding and a big yard with a cherry tree in it and a two-car garage. "We live in a nice house," I say.

"And what about your cousin Racine? Where she live?"

I thought about Racine house. She live in a big house just like us. "She live in a nice house too, 'cept hers is blue."

"And all your other cousins, what about them?"

"They live in nice big houses, Granma."

"Okay well, don't mind it if me and yo' Granpa live in a shack."

Sometimes Granma tell me stuff 'bout Granpa and them. She tell me 'bout my Daddy, how he mess up his sister's mud pies or how they be putting out the cows and get cow mess all on them. I got ten aunts and six uncles on my Daddy side. My Daddy the oldest. On my Mama side, I got four aunts and three uncles. I got one hundred and twenty-eight cousins. I don't count second cousins 'cause they too many.

Granma was the one keep track of everybody. "Have you seen yo' cousin Culbert lately?" she say. "You seen Chief? You seen Hambone?" Somebody had to been seein' somebody or Granma would get mad. We start to having family reunions just so she could see everybody all at once.

"Did you know your cousins was dating each other and ain't even know it?" Granma asked me one day.

"No, Granma. Stop lying."

"I ain't lying. Alfred's son and Jenine's daughter's daughter was going out to the movies and everything, and nobody knew until I seen them down at that mall and they both called me Granma."

"Granma, get out of town!"

"I ain't going nowheres, 'cause I ain't gots my boots on. They sure enough was."

"So what you do, Granma?"

"I come home and told yo' Mama and that stupid Jenine and that dumb Alfred and told them they better start having family reunions so we wouldn't have no incest up in here."

"Incest, Granma?"

"Incest, child. You know, where the sisters be fornicating with the brothers and the cousins be fornicating ..."

"Mama say you ain't supposed to say fornicate 'cause it's a dirty word."

"I can say any word that's in the Bible."

"You can say hell, Granma?" This is how I could cuss.

"I can say hell."

"You can say damn, Granma?"

"I can say damn, but you better not say damn no mo. And don't say hell, neither."

"What about fornication?"

"Well, fornication is different, 'cause there's lots o' words a whole lot worse than fornication signifying the same act. Fornication is just the way God give us to bring children from the holy place of Heaven to this earth."

"That's what fornication for, Granma?"

"Well, yes, Sugar." She always smile when she say that. And then my Granma would talk to me about some fornication. She tell me don't do it 'til you married, and then she proceed to tell me all about her and Granpa. My Mama heard us talking one time and she told Granma, "Don't you ever talk to that ten-year-old child about that stuff again!"

Granma ain't listen, though. We sneak around back or out on the porch or go sit in her big blue chairs in her living room, and then she tell me stories about fornication. My favorite is "Old Irish Potato."

"Yo' Granpa a loving man," Granma say. "Whenever he want to fornicate with me, he start sanging, 'Old Irish Potato.' That be my clue to go upstairs to the attic so we could do it."

"You and Granpa used to do it, Granma?"

"Alla the time. We still do it," she say, and wink at me. This is when Granpa was still alive.

"No y'all don't."

"Yes we do, too."

"I ain't never heard him sang no 'Old Irish Potato.'"

"He don't have to. We ain't got a house full o' children no more. Now when he wants to do it, we just do it. But then I had to disattach myself from sewing or cooking or gardening and get away from the children."

"What would you do, Granma?"

"When he start to sanging, 'Old Irish Potato, Old Irish Potato,' then I'd get a little nervous and goosy like. Some them bigger children look at me, and I shake my head a little bit and tell them go on with whatever they was doing. It wouldn't be so bad if yo' Granddaddy woulda just sang 'Old Irish Potato' real quiet, like one time, like a signal, you know, and then hie it up the stairs, but he would keep on sangin' and sangin', louder and louder, 'Old Irish Potato, Old Irish Potato,' like he 'bout to bring the roof. I swear I'm glad I'm too black to blush, because I would be blushing sure enough if I had been able."

"Granma, what you just said ain't make no sense."

"Well, you know what I'm talking about."

"What would you do after you went upstairs?" This was the good part.

"Well, Samuel would always ask me how I was doing. You know he talk that gentlemanly talk. I would say, 'Fine.' Then he'd ask me if I was tired. If I was tired, we'd lay down a little bit, you know. If I wasn't tired, he'd say, 'So my Irish Potato is ready to get dug up?' And I'd say, I believe so. And he would ..."

"Wait a minute, Granma! What you mean when you say, 'Dug up?"'

"Your Mama ain't gone cuss me out, child. You ask her."

"You know she won't never tell me."

"Then you gotta wait 'til you grown. You want to hear this story or not?"

"Yeah. You about to get dug up."

"Yeah. He say, 'Is my Old Irish Potato ready to get dug up?' And I would say, 'Yes I am,' and he would do it."

"Do what, Granma?" This was the good part, but she would never tell me the really, really good part.

"Do it, child. But I couldn't never enjoy it."

"Why not, Granma?"

This the funny part.

"Because your aunts and uncles be creeping up the stairs tryin' to watch. You know your Granpa built our house, ourshack, as you say, and you could see through the floorboards. Your aunts and uncles, the oldest ones, they be climbing up the stairs, real quiet like, and try and watch us."

"Why they do that, Granma?"

"'Cause they nasty! And yo'

Granpa be yelling at them, 'Go downstairs!' and he be doing it, and I be so embarrassed, if I wasn't so black, I would blush like a China rose."

"Granma, you ain't never blushed in yo' life."

"Well, I would if I wasn't so black."

One day I asked Granma something. We was sitting in the kitchen, drinking some mint tea with sugar. I was drinking it slow because I wanted all the sugar to go to the bottom so I could suck it up. "Granma, why you marry Granpa anyways?"

She hitch back in her old chair and look at the ceiling. It was splotches up there from the rain that come through. Granma a big bosomed woman, so when she hitch back, her bosoms hitch up a little bit. She always smell like old flowers 'cause we buy her lavender for her birthday. She black like my Daddy, but her eyes ain't like his. She gots eyes like a cat, and sorta like them Chinese peoples you see in the Nationaly Geographic, and my Daddy gots wide open eyes like me. Granma always seem to be smiling 'bout something, even when Granpa done hit her and she come talk to my Daddy 'bout it.

Finally she answered me. "Well, Connie, I'm gone tell you this, but this something we got to keep between the two of us." Meaning I ain't supposed to tell my Mama. This going to be goooooooood!

"I almost didn't marry yo' Granpa, to tell you the truth."

"You didn't! Who you almost marry?"

"Mr. Ferguson."

I swear to the Good God Who Ain't Dead, Lord Have Mercy, Lord Almighty Have Mercy, I almost fell out my chair when she said that. I almost fell out my chair, and I almost choke, and I almost went pee on myself and I almost had a heart attack. And I drop my glass 'til it went crack on the floor and stuck open my mouth like I was Stupid Earl or something. Mr. Stinking Drinking Ferguson! Get the heck out of town!

"Now, before you get any ideas- Connie! Close your mouth and go get a rag and wipe up that floor!"

"Granma! You got to tell me the story!"

"I am! But you got to mop up yo' tea!" I reach real fast for my glass. It was broke. The sugar was still at the bottom but there wasn't no more tea in it. Granma don't have no messes in her house, so I ran to the kitchen and get a rag and wipe up the mess. "Keep talking, Granma!"

"Before you get any ideas, you gotta remember that Mr. Ferguson wasn't always a drunk. Oh, he drank a little bit every Satiddy night, but so did yo' Granpa and all the mens around here. Mr. Ferguson was a fine young man, and he had that good hair and a really good job and everything."

"Granma, Selma say they ain't no such thing as good hair, that everybody got good hair, even people with nappy hair."

"Oh, she say that 'cause she got nappy hair. Anyways, Mr. Ferguson was a good man and he was courtin' me right alongside yo' Granpa."

"So why ain't you go with him?" I like to throw up thinking 'bout Mr. Ferguson as my Granpa.

"Oh, they was reasons. But mostly they worked that out between them."

"Whatchu mean, Granma? Did they draw a duel or something, or did they have a fight and cut each other up, and did Granpa beat up Mr. Ferguson and tell him to never come near you no more ever again?" I could see my Granpa beating the hell out Mr. Ferguson.

"No, Sweetie. Yo' Granpa ain't beat much on nobody in those days. He was a sweet, calm, quiet man. No, he and Mr. Ferguson found another way of working out they differences."

"Differences? What differences? Granma, you talking about yo' hand in marriage!"

"Well, that's what I mean."

"Granma, did they pull the dice for you?"

"Connie! Don't talk like a stupid fool!"

"Well, what they doooooo, Granmaaaaaa?"

"Since you so forward, I ain't gone tell you."

"Granma, I'm sorry. I swear to Googaly Moogaly, I'm a stop being forward."

"Now I know I ain't gone tell you, praying to foreign gods and allat. You got to ask your Granpa."

"Granmaaaaaaa, Granpa won't never tell me!"

"Yes, he will. I'll show you how to make him tell you."

So next Sunday, after dinner, after Granpa had his one beer, and while I was still wearin' my pretty dress, Granma give me a slice of pie and I take it in to Granpa. I only swiped a little bit of meringue.

Granpa was laying down in they big ol' dusty bed with the rag quilt on it Granma had made. He sit up when I come in.

"Make sure you talk first," Granma had said.

"Granpa!" My knees was shaking, I was so scared and excited. "Granma tole me to bring you this pie."

"Alright. Well, give it to me so that I can eat it in peace."

"No, she tole me to wait 'til you finish so I can take back the plate so she can wash it." Granma tole me to say that. And then she tole me say, "I'm gone sit here real quiet and just look at yo' picture books, Granpa, okay?"

He ain't answer me 'cause he was eating pie. Granpa eat real slow and Granma had give him a big piece. And he was patting his feet. I don't know why, but my Granpa, when he used to eat something he like, he would pat his feet. "Just like a hound," my Mama say.

After a little while, Granma tole me say, "Granpa, Granma say you don't know nothing 'bout playing cards."

"Nope. I don't play no cards." Granma tole me to put down the picture book, so I put down the picture book.

"She say you don't know nothing 'bout drinking, neither."

"I ain't a drinking man." Granma tole me to stand up, so I stood up.

"Granma say you go to church real good every Sunday."

"I'm God fearing. All good men are God fearing." Granma tole me to sit on Granpa's lap, so I sat on Granpa's lap, and I liked sitting on his lap.

"Then why you beat Granma so bad alla time?" Once I gots to sitting on Granpa's lap, the other question I was supposed to ask him went completely out my head, and I ask the question was really on my mind. When I said this part, I open my eyes up real big and 'tend like I was going to cry.

Granpa look at me like he was going to cry his daggone self. That big, mean old man! He looked down at his feet, and then he looked at his hands and then he looked at me.

"Give me a quick hug, Calabasa." That Granpa nickname for me. It mean girl pumpkin in Spanish. I was supposed to 'tend like I ain't want Granpa to hug me, but I like my Granpa to hug me too much, so I hug him real tight.

"I don't really beats on your Grandma, Sugar. I just give her little love taps."

"Then why she cry and carry on?"

Granpa took a deep breath.

"Calabasa, when you get grown, don't never let no man hit on you."

"That's what Granma say."

"But when I was coming up, we was told that's one of the ways a man show he's a man."

"By beating up on ladies?"

"Yup. And the ladies thought so, too."

"That's stupid, Granpa."

"I ain't say it weren't stupid. I'm saying that's what folks thought."

"So you beat on Granma 'cause the white folks tole you to do it?"

"What? How we get to be talking about white folks?"

Ooops. I had forgot and went shot ahead of what I was supposed to say. Grandma had tole me to ask 'bout white folks when Granpa got to a certain part, but I had skipped and got the questions all messed up and everythang. "I mean, the white folks, was they always putting things in y'all's minds about how bad black people was, and everything, and how you wasn't a man if you ain't beat yo' woman?"

Granpa looked at me kinda strange. "I don't know about all that," he said. "All I know is I somehow thought a man oughta have something that set him apart, and make him a man. We ain't have nothing like the Indians do and go through them ritual exercises make you a man, so we had to find out on our own.

"I ain't play baseball or nothing like that, and I can't sang. I was good in school but didn't have a chance to go to college after the war even though they said we would." Granpa stopped talking and looked like he was about to get real mad. Or sad, or something. I shifted a little on his lap, and he looked at me and smiled. "I wasn't too good at money making, but I wasn't too bad, neither. Me and my friends couldn't do nothing spectacular, so we was wanting to pick something we could be good at that would make us look manly."

"Who was yo' friends, Granpa?"

"You know, Old Man Ferguson, Mr. Watkins, and Mr. Jeffers."

"I know Mr. Old Stinky Ferguson and Mr. Pretty Watkins, but I don't know no Mr. Jeffers."

"Yes you do." Granpa huffed up with me still on his lap and got out one of his magazine books and showed me a picture of a man all dressed up and sitting in front a lot of books.

"Oh, that Mr. Jeffers. He yo' friend?"

"He was. Until yo' Grandma convinced him otherwise."

"How Granma make him stop being yo' friend?"

"You see how big and pretty yo' Grandma is now? Well, she was bigger and prettier back then. She had her hair all slicked, and she used to wear them shoes with the bows on 'em, and when she walk, one shoulder come down just at the same time her hip rise up. That tear us up, seeing her walk all pretty like that.

"All of us was in love with her back then, and all of us was trying to figure out how to win her hand in marriage. But none us felt like we had a chance unless we could distinguish ourselves from amongst the other men folks. So we was sitting around drinking one day..."

"Was y'all drunk, Granpa?'

"Well, yes, we was a little drunk. That's why I don't take much liquor from that point forward, and Mr. Ferguson, all he do is drink."

"Okay, Granpa, go 'head." This was getting good.

"Anyways, we all was jawing about what make people distinguished. What makes people-mens- different, noticeable to womens.

"Well, we gots to drinking and talking, talking and drinking, and what we came up with was that the thang that made mens noticeable to women was that they was noticeable to other mens."

"What you mean, Granpa?"

"We looked at all the big mens in town, and we figured they got the good women because the other mens looked up to them. So we tried to figure out what we could do to make other mens look up to us. Now I already told you I can't sang or nothing. Neither could my buddies. We had to come up with some other ideas."

"What?"

"We come up with four categories."

"Four? Why four?"

"'Cause it was four of us."

"Oh."

"The first category was drinking. Mens always bragging about being able to 'drank somebody under the table.'"

"Mr. Ferguson took that one."

"Correct. And we all vowed that none of us would infringe on the other's territory."

"That's why you don't drink."

"Correct again. The other category was hellraising."

"Hellraising?"

"Yes, hellraising, but of a particular kind. We was just talking about regular hellraising, but Mr. Jeffers say he want hellraising of a particular kind. He decide he want to be the kind of hellraiser that get all up in the face of white folks."

"What kind of hellraiser is that?"

"Well, they call 'em civil rights hellraisers now, but back then, we called it just hellraising for black folks."

"What y'all do?"

"I ain't do nothing. Jeffers was the hellraiser. If they tole him not to drink out of it, he drank out it. If they tole him not to sit there, he sat. If they tole him he had to pay, he'd jump the fence and get in free."

"That's hellraising, alright"

"Sure was. Got him verrry noticed."

"So Granma liked him."

"Well, it's hard to say, because he was always going around with black and blue marks on his face from white folks beating on him, and was always getting thrown in jail. But she sure did pity him, and pity could be a right-on introduction to love."

"So what happened with Mr. Jeffers?"

"Your Grandma convinced him he was gone get hisself killed, and so she told him to go be a big shot lawyer and fight for black folks in court, and so he did and got all high falutin' and thank he bettern' anybody else and married a high yaller gal and moved up to Atlanta."

"Okay, okay, what was the other ones?"

"Watkins picked courting women."

"Courting women? You mean like being nice to 'em and allat?"

"Yup. Buying 'em presents, and saying, 'Yo' hair sure look nice today,' and walking 'em home from church and carrying they bags and everythang."

"Why come Granma ain't marry him?"

"'Cause the other side of courting, which Watkins liked too much, was having lots of women. Watkins had women all the way over in Roanoke County hanging, or trying to hang, on his arm. Your Grandma ain't like that. Too much competition. And after awhile, Watkins ain't ever want to settle down with one woman."

"He got married to Mrs. Martha."

"I said, settle down with one woman. I ain't said nothing about marrying. Them women fought over that man until one of them catch him sure enough. But that ain't to say he give the other ones up."

"What was the one you choose, Granpa?"

"Well, it wasn't hardly none left. Allus knew we ain't know how to make no big money, and like I said, I ain't know nothing about cards. So I picked one I thought was easy."

"What one that, Granpa. Uh, can I have a piece of yo' pie?"

"Sure--eat the rest of it. And next time brang me some milk."

I grabbed Granpa's pie and started eating it with my hands. "Use that fork!" he say. I ain't want to eat off his fork, but I did anyway. "What was the easy one you picked, Granpa?"

"Well, I picked one I thought was easy, and that I could do without no investments. But it was the hardest thang of them all, and it cost, believe me, it cost." There was a window over by the bureau and he looked out it. "I chose to be the one to dominate women."

I didn't mean to, but I laughed out loud. Even with his beating and carrying on, Granpa ain't never been over Granma. She run everything.

"You laughing at me like you know the story."

"Granpa, I'm--" I was laughing so hard, I got some pie stuck in my throat and Granpa had to slap me on the back to get it out.

After that, he told me go in the kitchen and get me some water, and him some milk. Granma was snapping peas and asked me how it was going. I tole her real good. I got me a real piece of pie and went back in the room.

"Granpa, I'm sorry I laughed. That so funny."

"Your Grandma thought so too. The first time I tried to dominate her, she laughed in my face and told me to make sure I peed in the pot because I was acting like my finger was bigger than my pecker."

"Oooooh! Granma say that?"

"Girl, we talk to you too much."

"No, Granpa, no! Why she say that? I mean, what else she say?"

"Can I tell the story or not?"

"Yes, Granpa." I shut up.

"Old folks used to say if a man beat a woman it's 'cause to make up for his little pecker." Granpa thought about that a minute and I almost choke on my pie again, but Granpa looked at me and I didn't. "So she was questioning my manhood! I ain't like that one bit.

"But it was funny. When word got out I was dominating women, I wound up with almost as many women as Mr. Watkins. Some women wanted to be dominated, but other women thought I was the scum of the earth."

"What Granma think?"

"She ain't want to have nothing to do with me."

"So what happened, Granpa?"

"Well, finally, I got tired of dominating them women. I ain't never really like it, but I ain't have nothing else I could do for my reputation. I picked up some bad habits, though, 'cause some them women want you to dominate them in a pretty bad way."

"Granpa, you saying ladies wanted you to beat them up?"

"Heck, some them, if you ain't beat them up, they beat you up!"

"You lying, Granpa."

"If I'm lying, I'm flying."

"So what you dooooooooo?" Granpa take forever to get through a story.

"I went to yo' Grandma and told her flat out I ain't have no claim to fame but I loved her and wanted to give her my name. When I told her that, she flat out went nuts like I had gived her the Hope diamond or something.

"'Samuel!' she say. 'You write poetry!'

"I ain't hardly know what she was talking about, then I 'membered them words I said rhymed a little bit. So I said, 'Yeah, I writes poetry! Roses is red, violets is blue, if you'll marry me, Mary, then I'll marry you!' And that's what we did."

"Granma ain't marry you that quick, Granpa."

"We'd known each other all our lives! I courted her some, and talk to her Daddy when he was alive, and bought her Mama some eggs from my chickens and greens growed from my farm--hell, I had to build your Great-Grandma a whole new porch before I married my Mary."

"Granpa, you said hell, and you not supposed to say hell."

"I can say any word that's in the Bible. And my Mary and me went to walking and holding hands out in the field, and..."

"Did y'all fornicate out there?"

"Girl, I'm gone get a switch to yo' behind!"

"Fornicate is in the Bible, Granpa." I smiled at him.

"You too smart for your own good."

"So why come you start beating on her, Granpa?"

"I tole you already, I picked up some bad habits! I was used to women minding me, and when yo Granma ain't mind me, I started to beating on her to make her mind. Plus Watkins told me that poetry was coming in on his way of doing thangs."

"So why ain't you tell 'em you quit after you got Granma?"

"Girl, you ask mo' questions than Mr. Moe, and he the tax man, so you gots to go! Get on out my room!"

I picked up them plates, sniff my nose up at my Granpa and left the room. Some a what he said made sense, but some of it was stupid. There ain't no ladies like to be dominate by no man, is they?

When I got home, I took off my pretty dress and put on my dungarees and my Daddy old shirt. I ain't want to talk to nobody, so I closed the door to me and my sister's room and crawled on the top bunk. When I wants to think, I take inventory of my sores. I had one on my knee from when I fell on my bicycle. I had one on my hand from trying to cut ice cream with a knife while it was still hard instead of waiting for it to melt a lil bit. I had two on my feet from sticker briars when I was walking barefoot. I like my feet. They really little but I can still run fast.

While I was looking at my sores, I was thinking. I hate it that Granpa beats Granma. She act like she don't mind, but I know she do. Plus, Carl Thompson daddy beat his mama, everybody think, and they, they just act different from Granma and Granpa.

I plupped up my pillows and laid down on my bed. Then my sister Selma come in the room.

I like Selma, but she not a proper sister to me. We ain't never share or nothing 'cause she so much bigger than me. She was in junior high school when I was born, and now she just finished college and home working. She nice to me but I always wanted a sister to share with. She treat me like her little child.

"Hey, what you doing up here sleeping in the middle of the day? I thought you were over at Grandma's."

"I was, but I come home to change my clothes."

"Yeah, I see your dress hanging on the chair. Why don't you hang it up, Sweetie?"

My sister always bossing me, but she do it nice, so I ain't mind. Plus, while I was hanging up my dress, I could ask her questions. "Selma, why Granpa beat Granma?"

Selma sighed a little bit and sit down on the low bunk. It was my bunk 'til she went away to college, and then I stole hers. "Why you want to know about that, for? The important thing is not that he beats her, but that he stop. And he stopped doing that years ago."

I was hanging up my dress real slow, but when she said that, I threw it in the closet and looked at her like she was crazy. "He ain't stop beating her! Granma was over here last week, crying and everything."

"Oh, that's just for show. Granpa ain't hit Granma since that time she went upside his head with her cast iron pot."

"You lying!"

"If I'm lying, I'm frying, and that's what Granma did. She fried his head with that pot."

"When that happen?"

"Oh, that happened before you was born."

"Why come don't nobody tell me nothing? I want to know 'bout this stuff!"

"Why?" Selma asked.

That stopped me dead in my tracks. Honestly, I ain't know why. Then I remembered. One time we was at school and I had got all A's again. Miss Amherst, my teacher, had me up at the board and was showing everybody my A's. I knew I was going to have to fight somebody after school. I was hoping I could find rocks or something 'cause Selma had told me a lady never fight with her hands. I stayed in the classroom as long as I could, erasing the board, buffing the erasers. Finally Miss Amherst said it was time to go.

Sure enough, when I got outside, it was three of them. I was mad at myself for not asking one of my cousins to walk me home. And it Wasn't no rocks.

The first one was old Stupid Earl. He was big and ain't never get no A's. "Look, Sheila. There go Connie. She think she cute."

Sheila his cousin, and she not stupid, but she never get as many A's as I do. She probably the one told them to gang up on me. "Yeah, she not cute and she not smart," Sheila say. "She just get A's' cause the teacher her cousin."

Selma had told me to ignore when people get mad 'bout my A's, but Sheila was lying and she know it. "She not my cousin, you old stinky Sheila! Miss Amherst not my cousin!"

"Oh, everybody your cousin except us." Frank was Stupid Earl's best friend. I think they was third cousins, too.

"You just jealous 'cause you don't have a lot of cousins like me," I shouted. This was safe 'cause least we wasn't talking bout my A's. I was steady trying to talk and edge to the fence. If I got through the fence, I knew I could run to my Aunt Cora's house 'cause she live right across the street from the school.

"Where yo' cousins now, stupid?" Stupid Earl ask me. "Huh? Huh? Where they at now?"

We was almost at the fence. "There go my cousin right there! Hey Moses Jr.! These people trying to beat up on me!"

They all turned 'cause Moses my meanest cousin. All them turned 'cept Sheila, 'cause like I say, she almost as smart as me, but just don't get as many A's. I run to the fence, and almost slip through it, but she grab my dress. I scratch at her hand, and she let go, and I run to my aunt's house. Before I could get there, Sheila say, "The only reason you gots so many cousins is 'cause yo' Granpa beat yo' Granma and make her have his babies!"

I swear I ain't lying, but my feet acted like Road Runner feet in them cartoons. My head and body kept running but my feet just stopped. I turned round real slow, 'cause I was so mad, I couldn't even breathe. Then I started screaming and screaming, and I couldn't believe it but my feet was running to them! One thing I remember screaming over and over was, "My Granpa sang 'Old Irish Potato.' He sang 'Old Irish Potato,' you stinky stupid!" I grabbed Sheila's dress, and that was it. They beat me up so bad I couldn't go to school for two days, but I got in some good licks. I tore Sheila's dress, and I know her Mama beat her for that. Plus, I took my book bag and smashed Stupid Earl in the mouth. I didn't get in no trouble 'cause it was three against one, but they expelled all of them. I made sure I ain't never get no A's after that, neither.

My sister couldn't tell me nothing else about Granma and Granpa. I knew then I was going to have to go to the top person in the family--Mama.

I waited 'til Friday, 'cause my Mama always in a good mood on Friday. She come swinging in the house with her pocketbook all heavy 'cause she just got paid. My Mama good-looking, even though she got a little bit of a temper, like me. I never seen her hit nobody, but everybody kind of stay out her way 'cause of her mouth. She light brown, and wear her hair in a pageboy. She fuss a lot, but I hear her and my Daddy laughing together when they downstairs and we in our bed. Sometime my Daddy come up behind her, and she say, "Oh go away, Marcus," and slap his hand, but she don't mean it. Especially on Friday.

Mama put her pocketbook down on the kitchen table, turn on the oven, and open up the refrigerator to take out the roast. "Hi, Mama," I say.

"Hi, little darling," she say back. Oh, that's a good sign, little darling. Mama wash her hands and take the roast out the package. She sprinkle some parsley and seasoning on it, put it in a pan, and slide it in the oven. "Connie, hand me some carrots out the refrigerator, wash them first, and hand me some peas out the freezer. Wash some potatoes, too, and cut them up. I'm going upstairs to change clothes."

"Mama, guess what?" She sigh a little and turn around like I was going to say something bad. She was mad 'bout my last report card. "I already wash the potatoes and they already sitting on the stove. Plus, I done cut the carrots, got the peas out, and they waiting in the refrigerator." I smiled at her.

"Why, my little darling! How you know to do allat?"

"We always have peas, potatoes, and carrots for Friday, Mama."

"You complaining?" Uh oh. Her temper coming up.

"Nope, I likes them."

"Well, I'm going upstairs to change."

"Can I come?"

"Sure."

I follow my Mama upstairs. She humming a little song and her hips switch when she walk. She don't walk as fancy as Granma usedta, but she gots a nice walk. She smell like real perfume, 'cause that's what my Daddy give her at Christmas.

Mama run her hand on the banister real smooth, and I try to run my hand like she do. I get a splinter and suck on it. When we get upstairs, she say, "I gotta go to the bathroom, and you cannot come in." Mama used to complain how we children follow her all around the house to the point she can't even pee in peace. Selma say she didn't follow Mama around but that I did. Mama say, "Yes you did used to do it, too, Selina."

I went in Mama room and sat on her bed. It was Mama and Daddy room, but it seem more like her room. My Mama and Daddy bought this house together, but Mama decorate it. I wonder how my Daddy feel, sleeping in a ruffle bed with pink sheets.

Mama come out the bathroom, and I start in right away 'cause I know we don't have much time before Daddy come home. And I ain't want him to hear me asking about his daddy. "Mama, why Granpa beat Granma?"

"Why you always asking everybody questions?"

Selma had told me what to say whenever anybody ask me that.

"'Cause I wants to know, Mama."

Mama sighed. I had just canceled out the carrots and potatoes. "I don't know why he beats your Grandmother. I think he's just a mean old man."

"He don't seem mean."

"Well, he is. When we wanted to buy this house, your Grandfather did not want to help us out at all."

"Why come Granpa ain't want to help us buy our house?" I was getting mad my own self.

"He said something about having his money tied up in your cousin's house and told us to wait for two years 'til he could get his money back, but I know he had some money somewhere that we could borrow. We was only borrowing it!" She sat down on her bed and took off her stockings, and I could see she had a run in them. "Two years! Selma was coming, and I was not going to raise my child in no apartment." I thought about that. I like apartments. My second cousin Jessica and them live in one and they never have to do no yard work on Saturdays. I was going to ask my Mama why she ain't like apartments, but it popped in my head to ask her something else instead.

"Where'd you and Daddy get the money from to buy our house?"

"We saved a lot, but didn't have quite enough for the down payment. Plus, the bank was acting funny, because when we bought this house, this was mainly a white neighborhood." My Mama went in the closet and got out her pink dress that my Daddy like. I wondered if I was going to have to go to my Granma's tonight. "I was serious about moving 'cause, like I said, I was pregnant with Selma and didn't want her to be born in an apartment."

"What y'all do?"

"We borrowed the money from Mr. Ferguson."

Ah no. Here come that name again! I couldn't believe it! Stinky Old Mr. Ferguson? "Where he get the money?"

"Mr. Ferguson is a drunk, make no mistake, but he has money. He works everyday and doesn't have a wife or any children, so he saves his money and we borrowed it from him. Paid him back, too, even though he didn't want to take it." She frowned a little. "Of course, you know, Mr. Ferguson is a very distant cousin."

I knew allat. I still ain't like him, and this was throwing me way off track. "But why Granpa beat Granma?"

"You a one-song record. I told you, he's mean." Then she got quiet. "But I think there's another reason." I got real quiet, like a mouse.

"My Mama used to know your Grandfather. Heck, everybody know everybody around here, anyway, but they went to school together. My Mama say your Grandfather used to be real quiet, but had a lot of good ideas."

"What you mean by good ideas?'

"You see that old rusty traffic light that's on the corner of Mapletree and Hogshale?" I nodded. "Well, there wasn't used to be no light there and a lot of accidents happened at that corner. Your Grandfather and this other man..."

"Mr. Jeffers?"

"Yes, Mr. Jeffers. They petitioned and everything until that light was put up there."

"Why they ain't name it after him?"

My Mama looked at me. "You seen anything named after black folks around here?"

"No, ma'am."

"Alrighty then. Your Grandfather used to be doing a lot of things around. He worked, was a deacon, married your Grandmother and they had three children before he had to go to the war. Everybody thought that was strange, because usually they don't make men with children and a wife go off like that. But we just figured it was prejudice. It was even worse 'cause Mr. Ferguson ain't have to go, and he didn't have a wife nor children."

"Maybe they ain't want him 'cause he was a drunk."

My Mama say Mr. Ferguson wasn't a drunk back then.

"Maybe they ain't prejudice 'gainst him 'cause he lightskinned." Soon as I said that, I remembered something. One time, I was playing in the woods down by the creek like I like to do, inventoring my sores and all, when I saw Mr. Ferguson walking up. He was whistling, and had a lil hat on his head to keep the sun out his face. Mr. Ferguson always wear hats. I guess he was going somewheres important, 'cause he had on a nice white shirt. Alla sudden, a bird plopped a mess of doodoo, plooop, right on the front of his shirt. Mr. Ferguson hollered and screamed and cussed at that bird, about it ruining his shirt and all. It was so funny I could hardly keep from laughing out loud. I swear if he'd had a shotgun, Mr. Ferguson would a shot that bird dead. Then he looked around real good, took off his shirt and rinsed the spot in the creek. And I swear to Good Googaly Moogaly-Mr. Ferguson back as black as the tarmack.

"Mama--how Mr. Ferguson gots a yaller face and a black behind?"

My Mama looked at me like her eyes was going to pop out. "How you come to be seeing Mr. Ferguson's behind?" I told her the story 'bout in the woods.

Mama sighed. "Oh, everybody knows Mr. Ferguson use bleaching cream on his face, neck, and hands."

Everybody! I ain't know!

"And before you ask me why," Mama say, "don't tell me you don't know white folks treat high yaller black people bettern' dark ones. Mr. Ferguson got a high yaller job even before Luther King. So leave Mr. Ferguson alone." That's true. Mr. Ferguson work at the bank. Even though he started as the clean up man, Granma say, he work his way up to teller. Now he a bank officer.

"Your Grandfather, though, he had a hard time getting a job after he got back. He wanted to go to school, but the government wouldn't honor his claims. He got...different. My Mama say he didn't try to do so much in the community as he used to. And he couldn't get his old job back in the factory because all the women was working in them, lots of white women, too, and the bosses liked them better."

"Is that how Granpa became the garbage man?" That was something they use to tease Selma 'bout at school, but by the time I was in school, Granpa had retired from collecting garbage and worked at the hotel downtown. Plus he sold encyclopedias on the side.

"Yes, that's how your Grandfather became the garbage man. I think he hated taking up other people's garbage, but that's all the work he could get. He was a good student, unlike somebody else I could name." I looked real hard at my fingernails. Yup, they was dirty. "Your Grandfather got kind of bitter, I think. And I think he started taking it out on your Grandmother."

"Why come..."

"Look, this is the last why come I'm gone answer. I gots dinner to cook."

"Why come he stop?"

"Stop what? You about to make me swear, Connie."

"Why come he stop beating on her?"

"I don't know nothing about that. For all I know, he ain't stop."

But she do know about it. The next Monday, right after I'd talked to Granpa and Grandma and Selma and Mama about why Granpa hit Granma, Granma had come to our house. I was in the pantry, counting my sores, so ain't nobody know I was there. My Mama was putting away the dinner dishes. Granma knock on the door, and when my Mama say come in, she open the latch and stood in the kitchen.

"Hello, Mary," my Mama say, a little tight.

"Hi, Cathy, how you this evening?"

"Fine."

"I brought you some black walnuts from our tree if you want some," Granma say.

"Sure. The kids'll eat 'em or I'll put some in the pancakes tomorrow. You can leave them on the table." Whew. I thought she was going to tell Granma to put them in the pantry.

"Connie was around our house last week asking why her Grandfather beats me."

My Mama stopped a lil bit. "Oh, was she now?"

"You ain't even notice he don't hit me no more."

My Mama stop again. Then she got busy. "He hit you enough times it don't matter."

"Why you so full of hate?"

"Why you so full of stupid?"

Grandma laugh, but it ain't sound like a laugh. "Why you call me stupid? Because I know you so spiteful you can't even let out your own joy?"

"If he don't hit you, why you come over here crying all the time to my husband?" That's what I wanted to know.

"Ain't life hard enough that I could have something to cry about without my husband hitting on me? Can't I come to my own son to share my troubles? Who do you go to when you want to cry?"

"I takes my sorrows to Jesus."

"Jesus is fine. Jesus is okay. But it would help if you had a breathing soul to put they arms around you and talk to you about your troubles."

"Maybe I would if my own husband wasn't always having to use his arms to console his own Mama! Why don't you go to your own husband and tell him your problems?"

Oooh oooh. I couldn't see Grandma's face, but I know her nose was getting fluffed up. When she get mad, her nose get fluffed up, and I could feel her getting mad at my Mama. But her voice, when it come out, ain't sound mad.

"Maybe they too deep to discuss. Maybe part of my problem is Samuel, beating or not." Then she left. I sat in the pantry and started to cry. I ain't even know why.

When my Mama went down in the kitchen to cook, I went to the top bunk to think. I had some real thinking to do, so I took off all my clothes, down to my underwears. I could really count my scars then. Selma was out on a date somewheres, and I had the whole room to myself.

I checked on my lawnmower scar. I had burned my leg on the gas thing on a lawnmower one time, and that scar was rising up. It used to be on my ankle, and now it was moving up to my knee. I noticed that about some scars. They tend to gravitate. The one from cutting the ice cream used to be right on the little part of my hand between my thumb and pointer finger, but now it was right below my pointer.

Inventoring my scars was serious work, but the whole time I was counting them I kept thinking 'bout my Granpa. I missed dinner that night 'cause I fell asleep, looking at my gravitating scars and thinking 'bout Granpa.

When I woke up, they tole me my Granpa had died in the night. That's what my Granma and my Daddy had been talking about so much. And my Mama knew it.

At the funeral, I was miserable. My Mama had said we wasn't supposed to cry 'cause it was a "home-going celebration." She say if I cry, Granma gone cry, and people don't cry at funerals anymore. At first I was crying anyway, 'cause I miss my Granpa. Then when I saw all that winking and carrying on, I got mad.

It made me decide, though. A month after the funeral, I was still thinking about my Granpa and Granma. I felt like my Granpa was still 'round us but I just couldn't see him. I had a dream he was sitting in his chair 'bout to say something to me but the words come out like butterflies.

The next morning, I make up my mind. I knew who I was gone talk to. There was only one person who was there through everything. Only one person could tell me the story. I couldn't go talk to my Mama mother, Granny, 'cause she pass four years ago. My Daddy wasn't interested in none of that stuff. Plus I think if he talk about it, it would hurt his feelings. I ain't think my Granma was gone talk to me 'bout it no more neither. Selma ain't know and my Mama wouldn't tell me the truth.

I got up and washed up and put on my funkiest clothes. I didn't want to embarrass him by looking all good, 'cause I know he never dress up on the weekends. I sneaked downstairs, drank some water, and grabbed a apple. The whole house was quiet. Selma gone out, and Mama and Daddy was in they room 'sleep. I creeped out the back door.

I ain't have far to go. Even though he live in a nice house, he still live in our part of town. I walked over there and I wasn't even out of breath. I knocked on his door, and my knees was knocking too. When he opened it, at first he ain't see me 'cause he so tall. Then he looked down, and there I was. And I looked up, and there he was.

Mr. Ferguson smiled and his eyes crinkled up. "Who is this? This Connie, Cathy and Marcus' child?"

"Yes." I had come early 'cause I wanted to catch him before he started drinking.

"Well, what you want? Everybody okay?"

Then I remembered you never supposed to go to nobody's house without taking them something. There goes breakfast.

"I brung you a apple."

"An apple? Why, thank you. Please come on in.

I thought his house was going to be dirty, but it wasn't. In fact, it didn't look like a drunk house at all. He had a nice couch and some nice chairs with pillows. A big old mirror was over the mantlepiece, and it didn't even look dusty. He had a lot of little glass things all over, and when I looked real close, I could see they was little children, all doing different things like playing baseball or sitting on a stoop feeding chickens.

"You had any breakfast?"

I shook my head, no, and he nodded for me to follow him into the kitchen. It had a little kitchen table and chairs and some nice cabinets. Everything was spanking clean. Look like ain't nobody never eat in there. "I was just having coffee, but I have lots of cereal. What kind you want?"

Cereal! I never got to eat cereal. We couldn't afford it. "I looove, I mean, I like Wheat Chex. You got some?"

"Yup, I think I do."

Mr. Ferguson sat at the table drinking his coffee while I ate my cereal. I never was that good at eating and talking at the same time, so I tried to eat real fast. Plus it was good.

"Slow down, slow down. There is plenty in the box," Mr. Ferguson say. "So to what do I owe this great honor?"

"What?"

"Your visit! You have never visited me before. What brings you here?"

I couldn't believe how proper he was talking. His feet ain't smell all that bad, neither. But they sure was tiny. He had the tiniest feet for a man I ever did see.

At first, I thought maybe I wouldn't ask him. Then I figured I came all the way there, I may as well. Plus, I really wanted to know. "Why come my Granpa beat my Granma?"

He slammed his coffee cup on the table, and it spilled hot coffee all over him. Some drops splashed on my leg. "Jeeeeeeesus Fucking Christ!" Now that was the Mr. Ferguson I remember. "Are, are you alright?" I told him yes. I could see the coffee soaking through his shirt. "Excuse me, I got to go change my shirt."

"I already know you black, Mr. Ferguson." I smiled at him.

"Jesus Christ. Would you just hold on?"

While he was upstairs, I looked at his kitchen some more. It was too neat, like he had somebody come in here and clean for him. And more of them lil glass children was all on the shelves.

Mr. Ferguson come back downstairs like he was in a rush, buttoning the top button on his shirt real tight. "Child, what brings you here at," he looked at the clock, "eight o'clock on a Saturday morning asking somebody something like that?"

Course I was ready for this question. "Because I wants to know."

He looked at me. "Why are you asking me? Isn't there someone else you could ask this?"

"I asked Granma and she tole me to ask Granpa: I ask Granpa and he give me a story about him and you and Mr. Jeffers and Mr. Watkins and y'all trying to figure out what to do so my Granma would like y'all, but it ain't make no sense. So I ask my sister, and she say Granpa don't beat Granma no mo' and then I ask my Mama, and she say he do." I looked down. "At least, he do-did before he pass on," I say, real sad like.

Mr. Ferguson close his eyes. He pick up his coffee cup and a rag and wiped off the counter. Then he took the rag and the cup over to the sink. His back was to me. "What your Granpa say about the beating?"

"He say they just love taps."

Mr. Ferguson ain't say nothing for a long time. Then I look up, and his shoulders was shaking, like he was laughing to have a fit. I thought he was going to turn around and go, "Aha, ha, ha," but he didn't. I creep over there to him. His tears was dropping in the sink.

I hate Mr. Ferguson. I really don't know why. He and my Granpa was friends, but my Granpa ain't like him neither. My Granma tolerate him, but he not really welcome at they house. He come to our house, sometimes, and that's how I know his feet stink 'cause when he take off his shoes to rest on the couch one time, my nose like ta died. And he a drunk. His feet don't stink now, and I don't care how nice his house is, but he still a drunk.

Plus, what the heck is wrong with people they can't answer a question without crying or lying or making a joke?

I talk to Mr. Ferguson like my Mama talk to me when I cry. "Alright now, Mr. Ferguson, you a big--uh boy, man, and you can't go around crying Like that. What people think, they see you crying like that with yo' big old self?"

I think it was the right thing to say, 'cause Mr. Ferguson stop crying like the faucet dry up. He turn his head sideways at me and then he start laughing. I started laughing, too.

"Girl, you are something else! You got me laughing and crying and spilling my coffee and shaking in my boots, and you ain't even been here thirty minutes! Whew!" Mr. Ferguson sit down like he gots to catch his breath. He stop for a minute, and then he look all serious. He took a napkin off the table and blew his nose. "Where you want to start first?"

"Why my Granpa beat my Granma."

"First of all, your Grandfather didn't really beat up on your Grandmother. That's an old story that just won't die, partially because your Grandmother was so loud about it. The one time he hit her, she just about went on the 'leven o'clock news with it."

"The one time! Granpa ain't hit Granma but one time?"

"If you ask me, that was one time too many."

"Wait a minute. You telling me Granpa only hit Granma one time?"

"Yep. It was right after the war. Your Grandfather had gone through hell, trying to fight for his country. The white soldiers spread rumors that the black soldiers had tails, you know. Your Grandfather went over there to fight and wound up washing dishes. Then when he come back here, wouldn't nobody even hire him to do that. I guess he felt like he wanted to fight somebody."

"So he picked on my Granma?"

"No, let's not make it as easy as all that. Your Grandfather got a job working on a garbage truck."

"He was the garbage man."

"That's right--not a bad job, but not a good one, either, for somebody who wanted to be a lawyer."

"My Granpa wanted to be a Lawyer?"

"Yep. Was always involved in civic affairs--hoped to go into politics."

"My Granpa?"

"Yep. It was a difficult time, though. Folks was nervous about them young boys coming back from the war and trying to take over. Plus he had, um, the three children to support..."

"And he had to work alla time to pay the bills."

"Umm, yeah."

"I don't want to tell this story. You supposed to be telling it."

"Um, okay. Well, one night your Grandfather tried to do a little something extra. He invited some of the town's civic leaders, we called them in those days, to the house in order to try to do a little socializing and get into politics. He didn't let the fact that he was a garbage man stop him. Said it gave him more visibility, stuff like that.

"Well, he had invited those people, and had told your Grandmother they was coming. Now usually, Mary is real good about keeping house. But that day she either forgot, or the kids was making too many messes, or something just wasn't right. When your Grandfather got to the house, everything was a mess. He couldn't find the liquor he'd bought just to impress the white civic folks. The living room looked like a hurricane had gone through it, and there was no dinner. Worse, the back door was wide open, and your Grandmother was nowhere in sight!

"At first he was mad and embarrassed, and he tried to clean up and apologize and offer the big white folks something, some Kool Aid or something. They drank a little bit of Kool Aid, but then when there wasn't no dinner forthcoming, they tipped they hats and left. Then your Grandfather got really mad, and then he got scared all the way down to his toes. He thought about how messed up the house had been. The back door wide open. No dinner cooked. What if it had been a robbery or a kidnapping? He flew upstairs, but your Grandmother wasn't up there. He went all around the neighborhood, calling her name, scaring everybody, screaming she had been kidnapped.

"Finally, around eight o'clock, she come strolling in the door, her hair all done, her nails done, a pretty new dress on her arm. She kissed your Grandfather, waltzed up the stairs and, humming, hung her dress up.

"Your Grandfather was furious. First, because of the thing with the civic leaders, which, believe me, ruined his chances for politics in this town forever. Then, because he really had been worried sick.

"Your Grandmother went around, picking up a little bit here, straightening up there, until the house was decent. She pulled something out of the oven, which was his dinner, all ready and warmed up, and got ready to serve his plate. This was too much for your Grandfather. 'Where the hell you been at, woman?' he say, kinda low.

"'Why, I've been getting myself all pretty for your special meeting tomorrow. I told the boys to go over to Desiree house so I can do some real work on the house tomorrow. I even bought a new dress.'

"Your Grandfather almost turned blue. 'Tomorrow? What you mean, tomorrow? What about the meeting--what about the one I had today?!!' Your grandpa raising his voice a little bit now, you know.

"'Ain't no meeting today, Sweetie. Yo' meeting is tomorrow. You must be mistaken, dear heart,' says your Grandmother. It was then that he hauled off and slapped her.

"Oh, my Lord, your Grandmother made a big holler. The whole neighborhood was already alarmed because they thought she had been kidnapped, and when she started screaming and hollering about somebody had hit her, they thought it was the kidnappers! A big group of men, myself included, plus Mr. Watkins and Mr. Jeffers, had gathered together, and we was ready to beat on somebody.

"When we found out it was your Grandfather had hit her, we couldn't believe it. All of us was sweet on her, and he was the one had married her, and I am ashamed to say we beat your Grandfather until he was black and blue. We felt really bad about it, afterwards, but everybody was just too wound up.

"Later, your Grandfather apologized, but he was still very mad, at everybody. He felt bad for hitting your Grandmother, but he felt kinda vindicated, too, 'cause she had messed up his meeting, which was bad, but it was bad the way he felt because you can't accept no excuse for hitting a woman. There's just no ending it once it starts.

"So we had to keep an eye on your Grandfather, and I was the one elected to do the most watching."

"Why was you the one chose?"

Mr. Ferguson looked at me real hard. Then, I knew he was going to do that--and he did it, no matter how much I begged and pleaded and made water come out my eyes. He told me I had to ask my Granma that question.

One last thing I ask him before I go. "Mr. Ferguson--you a drunk?"

"No," he say. "Not anymore."

After the funeral, my Mama let me go stay with Granma every once in a lil while so she won't be so lonely. So I left Mr. Ferguson house and went to Granma house, but she was 'sleep. I went in Granpa's room, and could smell him all in the covers. I looked at his picture books, his encyclopedia. I saw the picture of Mr. Jeffers with his robe on. There was a picture of Granma and Granpa when they was young, holding hands. There was a little baby in the picture. I could hear Granma ease up behind me. I turn around.

"Who is this, Granma?"

"That's John, your uncle."

"Where my Daddy, and my other two aunts that was born before him? Why come they not in the picture?"

"Why do you ask so many questions?" Before I could say anything, she say, "Never mind, I know, because you wants to know. Well, Connie, you a big girl now, and I am going to tell you everything you wants to know. It's been on my mind, and Samuel has been coming to me in dreams. I'm ready to tell you, child. You done got your wish."

"Wait! Before you tell me that, tell me why come Mr. Ferguson was set to watch you and Granpa after y'all had that fight."

"Who told you about that?"

"Mr. Ferguson."

"Mr. Ferguson! When in the name of Sam Hill did you ever get to talk to him? Never mind. What else he tell you?"

"That was all. He told me Granpa hit you one time, and you hollered and they beat him up and then they set him to watch y'all and then he said I had to ask you the rest and then I couldn't because--because..." I felt like I was going to cry. I told her how Mr. Ferguson had cried too.

My Granma hug me and rub my back. "We all need to cry. You cry if you want to, baby, get it all out, and I'm going to tell you the whole story. I don't think Granpa would mind." We sit down on Granpa bed and I sit on her lap, but my legs was hanging to the floor. Pretty soon Selma's clothes is going to fit me.

"Your Granpa was mad at me for a whole year after that incident. And I was mad at him. Then, one day he was throwing out some old papers, and he looked at a calendar he'd writ on. There it was, in black and white, written down Friday as the day the civic affairs mens was coming to our house. He thought he had told me Thursday, but they had said Friday at first, changed it, and he forgot to tell me.

"Anyways, after that, he felt so bad, he kept trying to make up for it. 'I guess you married a old wife beater, huh?' he would say. And I would stick my nose in the air and suck my teeth and say, 'Guess I did.' It was just a joke, but the children got hold of it, and I had made such a fuss when he hit me, it just got all out in the neighborhood.

"Your Granpa didn't mind, per se. He thought it was just punishment, and I didn't mind, per se, because your Granpa was the finest man in town and it kept the other ladies away. I guess that was selfish. We never thought what his reputation was doing to the children or, God Almighty, the grandchildren until we heard about those kids beating you up and you started coming around asking 'bout me being beat. I tried to put you off, and then get Granpa to tell you, but he made up such a crazy story it messed your head up even worse.

"But your Grandfather was a very good man, Connie. He took care of me and my kids, treated them jus' like his own..."

"You and your kids? What you talking 'bout, Granma! They y'all kids, ain't they? Ain't they y'all's, you and Grandpa's?"

"Not all of them. That's why that picture is just of me, your Granpa, and your Uncle John. That's why your Mama so mad at me an' your Granpa, because after she and your Daddy fell in love, she find out the truth and discovered she got kissing close to marrying her kin. That's why Mr. Ferguson cried today, and why he was set to look after your Granpa and me back then. Everybody realized the strain of everything was getting too great for your Granpa, and Mr. Ferguson stopped drinking and started living up to his responsibilities.

"Mr. Ferguson was a drinking fool, my first husband, and I had to leave him. Folks didn't do that in those days, so everybody hush it up. I married your Granpa after he got back from the war. He my second husband, not my first, and the father of all the rest of my children."

"Granma, Granma, don't... Never mind." I ain't want her to say it. I just ain't want her to say it.

My Granma looked at me, straight in my eyes. She turn me around so I'm looking right at her. "Never mind? Never mind? All these time you askin' everybody everything, and now you say never mind. Hump."

Granma look over at Granpa picture. Her eyes got soft like, and dreamy, too. "Look at yo' Daddy eyes and look close enough in the mirror," she say. "You'll see it, Connie. It's right in yo' face. That's why he paid for your house. That's why he come visit. And that's why your mama so mad. Because Ferguson is her third cousin, and in some places, marrying cousins, even fourth cousins, like she and your Daddy are, is a mortal sin.

"And out of everybody in the family, you look more like him than anybody. Go ahead, look in the mirror and think. More than Selma or any of your uncles or even your Daddy, you look like just him. You the main one got Ferguson writ all over you, all the way from your eyes to your tiny little feet."

Alla sudden, I ain't want to know nothing else. But before I could open my mouth, she said it. She had said it. She had said it, and I couldn't get her to take it back. "Go ahead. Look at yourself in the mirror, Connie." Granma took me over to the big mirror in the hallway, and I looked. I saw my eyes and my nose and my tiny little feet. And I saw something else, too. Him, like he was plastered on the mirror right behind me. Grinning. "Mr. Ferguson--he is your for real granpa."

Paulette Rabia Rayford lives in Washington, D.C. Among the places her work has appeared are Essence and The Afro-American Newspaper, and she is the author of Yes! We're Colorful!, a poetry collection.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Rayford, Paulette Rabia
Publication:African American Review
Article Type:Short Story
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2001
Words:12418
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