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