Flowers Out of Bone

Photo of Ethel Morgan Smith

by Ethel Morgan Smith

Chapter 1

I wish Big Mama could be there; it’d help me to feel part of the family again. Beauty is needy and whiny; she wants to be parented, rather than be a parent. She can’t handle anything emotional after losing Ivy, her seven year old and first-born. “Hit ain’t right for folks to even thank of countin on me. Auh had de worst loss any human bein can have.”

            I wonder why coming home is always about sadness. Had it ever been joyful? From the time I’d learned to read, I dreamed of traveling to places where there was no fear of white folks. Sometimes I feel like I had been run out of Bone for committing a crime that I never understood. After books, Bone was boring. Reading about places so different from my world was exciting and gave me hope that my world was meant to be bigger than Bone. It was a dream I assumed that everybody had until Ruby told me how silly I was. “Why would folks wanna leave their homes? That’s crazy talk Gracie Mae.”

            Before Emma and I left Atlanta, I packed five disposal cameras to take photos of Bone. Emma never takes pictures. Maybe if I could see the space through the safe lens of a camera, my view would be something other than the horror of Emmett’s mutilated body, lying in the park like dead tree limbs. This place had stifled my voice and stole my soul.

            I also threw some of my favorite gardening tools in the car. Before Big Mama died we worked in the yard—planting, weeding, and talking about flowers. I can hear her reminding me to, “Always be ready to work in beauty; hit saves us from so much of de evil in de world.” I’ll never know that joy of having somebody to works side by side in beauty and in blood again. As close as Emma and I are, we don’t share a passion for flowers.

            Big Mama moved in with us after Grandpa Alex died. I was four and Ruby was two. I only saw Grandpa Alex once or twice. He was tall and lanky. I remember him kissing Ruby and me on cheek with a scratchy face that smelled like cigars. While Beauty cleaned the white woman’s house, Big Mama supervised the assembly line of domestic relations in our house. An ideal set-up, since Beauty showed no interest in nothing except the white woman’s house. Sometimes during the summer Ruby and I would visit Beauty at the big white house with the screened back porch that looked like it was a good mile long. What I remember most was the yard full of flowers bursting with every shade of yellows, reds, whites, pinks, even blues, and in every size. The yard looked like it had been carpeted with a quilt of blossoms.