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Flowers Out of Bone (3)

Flowers Out of Bone

Photo of Ethel Morgan Smith

by Ethel Morgan Smith

Chapter 1

 

            “All I want for graduation is you to go home and see Gram. She’s an old woman, you know,” Emma said after she received her acceptance letter from Princeton.

            “Of course, but we have to celebrate now. You’ve worked so hard for this marvelous opportunity,” I reminded my daughter.

            “You’ve worked hard too.”

            “We’ve worked hard.” I looked into my daughter’s honey-colored eyes. Not sad like mine, but eager and intelligent like her daddy’s had been. She glows with confidence and opinions.

            “Mom, don’t you get it? Getting into Princeton doesn’t means as much to me as my mother going back home to see her family.” She placed her acceptance letter in the center of the kitchen table.

            I planned the trip, thinking I could deal with surviving it later. Truth be told, I needed it too. Maybe it would help me to move toward dreaming of love again. I am young enough to love again and old enough to know what I want.

            After I graduated from college in the mid-1970s, Emma and I moved to Atlanta, a city on the rise, ‘too busy to hate.’ Times had changed; Southern Black folks didn’t have to go as far as New York, Detroit, or Chicago anymore for better paying jobs and other opportunities. With the new highway, Atlanta is only a five-hour drive from Bone and other nearby small towns, most folks could come home on the weekends if they wanted to; but the longer they lived in the city, the less they wanted to come home. I had stayed away a lifetime, nearly twenty years.

            Sunlight floods through the car window. I pull the visor down on Emma’s side. She has fallen asleep with her headset in her ears. I smile. What will her life be like at Princeton? She’s grounded and not afraid. Only mother love is strong enough to steer me in the direction of Bone. Raising Emma on my own had been difficult in the beginning, being a single parent with limited resources and no family around for support, but somewhere along the way, the struggle had blossomed into joy. I don’t mind the smallness of our family. My life is easy and manageable, at least on paper.

            Other than family, I’ve never been in contact with anybody from Bone since I left. I’ve played the routine role by remembering birthdays and holidays, and calling if somebody was ailing or was in some kind of trouble. I had long ago given up on searching for thoughtful gifts, when my sister Ruby told me, “They’d rather have the money.” After I stopped feeling hurt, I appreciated how easy it made my life.

To Be Continued

Flowers Out of Bone (2)

Flowers Out of Bone

Photo of Ethel Morgan Smith

by Ethel Morgan Smith

Chapter 1

            But that doesn’t mean I’ll be getting involved in my Alabama family’s life out of some kind of ‘empty nest syndrome.’ I can’t rely on them for nothing, other than their mostly self-inflicted drama, always a mess; I need peace. Yes, they love me, but they’ve never figured out how to be in my life. At least they are in Emma’s life.

            Bone scares me, like no other place in the world. How could it be that such a bad thing could’ve happened to such a nice girl? It’s not that I want to forget my past; nobody can. I go long stretches at a time without thinking about Bone or Emmett. And even when he crosses my mind it isn’t like thinking of a real person anymore. His image is blurred like a calendar from twenty years ago.

            For a long time, I remembered every detail of the last time I had seen him. We got a real chance of bein’ a family. Could be ready for it now. The baby deserves that. Let’s try. I held on to those words, but the sound of his voice had long ago faded like the color of cotton stockings. Did pictures always fade a little after the person is no longer present? Somewhere along the journey I had lost his voice too. I have nothing of his anymore. How could this be? Sometimes I see a little bit of him in Emma, a hand gesture or the way she holds her head when she’s thinking about serious matters.

            Then it was his smell that I tried to cling to, that clean-shaven, Old Spice-smelling face. No one wears Old Spice anymore, and if they do, it doesn’t smell like it had on that spring evening in 1970. I can still see the bigness of his gapped front teeth, and the way the depth of his dimples lit up his deep-set black-eyed Susie’s eyes. Those big and clear eyes are veined on my heart.

            But this time I’m driving home on a different journey. My new foreign car affords me the ease of freedom as I nose the rattlesnake roads of rural Alabama. Soaring pine trees shooting up toward the blue sky from the red clay guides us like a plotted plan. I’ve convinced myself that I’m doing my motherly duty by coming home with Emma before she goes to college. That the only graduation gift she had asked for: “Mom, you need to go home.”

            I wish I could tell my daughter stories about how I had spent my early life, the part of my life that cries out to be remembered, a time before Emmett, a time of church socials, school dances, hanging out with the Goodlow girls. I dream of talking to my daughter without sadness, shame or pain. My life had been simple: church, school, and family. I’ve mostly been silent to my daughter about her daddy, always afraid that my pain would overshadow any pleasant memory I own of him. Afraid I would fall apart trying to explain to her about her dead daddy. What could I say to her? Parents shouldn’t have to speak to their children about such matters. Was it possible to make new memories in Bone? In spite of that, I believe my Princeton-bound daughter still needs her history; it will give her strength for the journey she is about to travel.

To Be Continued

Flowers Out of Bone (1)

Flowers Out of Bone

Photo of Ethel Morgan Smith

by Ethel Morgan Smith

Chapter 1

 

            The highway stretches before me like an open grave. My approach is as quiet as my exit had been nearly twenty years ago, when I was eighteen. I always knew I’d leave, but I couldn’t imagine how hard it would be to come back. After all, why would I want to come back to a place I had spent most of my life dreaming of escaping? But here I am, driving south toward Bone.

            There hadn’t been a plan. One day I simply couldn’t come home anymore; and I didn’t. Not feeling close to my family, it didn’t seem to matter whether I came home or not. I could talk to them on the telephone anytime. And, of course, they could visit Emma and me in Atlanta, which they never did.

            The first year I didn’t go home was by accident. My floral business, Classy Stems, had exploded into success; I needed to be around to hire new staff and oversee deliveries. The second year I didn’t go home because I was worried about my shipment of tulips arriving late from Holland. Emma asked if she could visit on her own by taking the bus from Atlanta to Bone. She wanted to see her grandmothers—Beauty, my mama, and Miss Sweet, her daddy’s mama. I was nervous about my ten-year old daughter making the seven-hour bus ride alone. But I couldn’t deny her all the family she had. And the bus driver promised he’d look out for her.

            By the third year, I began looking forward to having a month during the summer with no home responsibility. July is so hot in the South and slow month for the flower business, maybe a few weddings or funerals. I could stay out late, spend a day at the spa, or just lounge around at home. Sometimes I had affairs.

            The grace of the spirited sun guides us on the graveled highway. Maybe it is a sign that I can survive the trip. Draping Crepe Myrtles, towering pine trees, and the red clay feel familiar, but not missed. I’ll never know the love of land; it doesn’t bother me. I suspect it’s just one more of those American myths, like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and living happily ever after. What about the hate of land? Now that’s a concept worth studying.

            I never dreamed that I would be Emma’s only parent. But I had never been able to see her daddy as the head of our household either. All of those years ago, he and I were just kids bursting with dreams. We got married and had Emma; and for a short time, we were three. After him, we were two. And now, when Emma goes to college, it will be one, me.

To Be Continued

 
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