Flowers Out of Bone (13)

Flowers Out of Bone

Photo of Ethel Morgan Smith

by Ethel Morgan Smith

Chapter 1

Flowers Out of Bone (13)

            “Just think, I mean, I’m going to Princeton and it doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal,” Emma says.

            “It is a big deal. But that’s what the battle for civil rights was all about. Princeton will be harder when you get there. Just remember who you are and that you deserve to be there.”

            “I don’t feel that I don’t deserve to be there,” Emma says.

            “It’ll be different when you get there. Just in case you need to know, your right to be there was long ago earned by the blood of your ancestors. And you must always remember to make life a little bit better for those coming after you.”

            “You mean Black folks?” Emma asks.

“Yes, especially Black women. Just remember where you come from.” I try to sound conversational. “In spite of movies and books, it’s still hard for me to imagine not being able to go to the library, try on clothes in stores, or all of the other denials. How could segregation last so long?” Emma asks.

            “It was just an accepted part of our lives, like diseases and bad weather, just more often.” I wonder if there is a better answer. A light breeze swirls leaves around our feet. “And remember, there is still plenty of segregation in this country.”

            “I know; but I also know my life is so different from yours. Segregation sounds more like human bondage, some story from the Bible,” Emma says.

            “Well, it isn’t some ancient story; it happens right here and all across this country, today.” I stop and stomp the ground. “I wouldn’t mention that Bible part to your Aunt Ruby.”

            “She does get a bit carried away.” We laugh, and fall into a sweet silence. Emma twirls a drooped daisy she picks up on the path.

            “You know, it’s okay to be a little hesitant about coming back here,” Emma says. I stop and put my hands on my hips. “I’m not exactly hesitant.”

            “Okay. Concerned then,” Emma brushes a ladybug from my shoulder. “I didn’t grow up here. And I never knew him. It’s very different for me. How he was killed is awful and painful, but none of it has any real meaning for me. It’s like a bad movie that makes me sad because it hurts you so.”

            “I’m sorry.” I stare at the shiny leaves on the huge magnolia tree above us.

            “Mom, no one holds it against you.”

            “Hold what against me?” I freeze in the middle of my step.

            “That you couldn’t come back before now.”

            “Is that what you talk about when you visit?”

            “You know, it comes up sometimes.”
I had been able to get beyond segregation, but Emmett was too much. Emma’s questions are reasonable. When I used to dream of the future, my heart was always too weighed down with grief and sadness. Would I always carry this heavy burden? It is too heavy for anybody. Emma’s interest left me feeling lonely, but I like the fact that my daughter asks questions, forms opinions, and most important, she’s not afraid. “I’ve tried not to interfere.” My voice shakes.

To be continued

Flowers Out of Bone (8)

Flowers Out of Bone

Photo of Ethel Morgan Smith

by Ethel Morgan Smith

Chapter 1

Flowers Out of Bone (8)

            Soon after Big Mama moved in with us, Beauty mustered up enough courage to kick Mr. Tex out of the house and out of our lives. He was her third husband, my sister’s daddy, and everybody’s disappointment. A tiny man with processed hair and copper-colored skin that shaded more red in the summer; he never had much to say except on the weekends when he had been drinking. After Friday’s payday, we often didn’t see him again until late Sunday night when he’d stumble home without money or food and the bickering would begin. Sometimes Beauty would go to the sawmill on payday to try and catch him before he got away with his paycheck. Finally, she put Mr. Tex’s clothes on our front porch in five brown paper bags from the Winn Dixie. She told Mr. Pig Walker to go by the sawmill to tell Mr. Tex that if he didn’t come and pick up the clothes by Saturday, she was going to give them away.

            When Miss Sweet had called ten years ago with the news of Big Mama’s death, I was packing to travel to Holland to secure a relationship with a flower distributor. I was nervous and so excited. This little flower shop was not just working but had grown into an international business. I owned an international company! Well, almost. My host was to be a Mr. Anton Haas, who had been kind and understanding when I telephoned him to reschedule our appointment. After cancelling my plans to travel to the international flower festival, I drove the rough and rugged roads of rural Alabama with a weighty heart and still in shock with Emma. Only for Big Mama’s funeral was I willing to set foot in Bone again, until Emma asked me to come. I never thought I’d need to come back for anything other than funerals. I never thought of Beauty with regard to funerals, maybe Aunt Honey’s, Miss Sweet’s, or Mrs. Wright’s.

            I continue driving, fussing to myself through the wide-open pastures of rural Alabama. Why did the citizens of this state put up with such bad roads? Potholes are dangerous. Highway 29 had been the only main road for as long as I can remember. Why should the road be any different from the town? Some things don’t change, and those I haven’t missed. I shake my head in disbelief when I hear a sudden rattling noise. Assuming it’s more bad roads, I keep driving, but the noise grows louder and the car jerks. I swerve onto the shoulder of the road and navigate the car to a safe stop.

            “Emma. Emma. Wake up. Something’s wrong with the car.” I wonder how she can sleep through all the noise. Dust and gravel settle.

Flowers Out of Bone is to be continued