Flowers Out of Bone
by Ethel Morgan Smith
Old Man Forest from our church worked in the yard. He told us how the white woman ordered expensive flowers from all kinds of foreign places he’d never heard of. I’d never seen anything like the beauty of the blooming yard. Even the hibiscus was opening up to its new home with petals orange as the skin of peaches.
Old Man Forest worked hard to get the foreign flowers to take to the red clay of Alabama. He wore overalls and the biggest sun hat I’d ever seen, always taking it off and wiping his wrinkled face with a limp rag. I dreamed of squeezing my hands in the black rich dirt and planting flowers. I wouldn’t even mind pulling weeds. My favorite was the white tea roses, so small and delicate, light and lovely. To have such a house would’ve been like living in the bosom of heaven.
The white woman served Ruby and me lemonade and teacakes from paper plates and cups. We sat in the screened back porch where a white ceiling fan gave us bursts of cool air. She sat directly under the big ceiling fan. Her light-colored hair pulled back with a white headband. Her lips were the same color of pink as her shorts and sleeveless blouse. She fanned herself with another hand fan with Chinese women painted on it and complained about the heat. The only fans I’d ever seen were the cardboard ones we used at church that came from Sharpe’s Funeral Home. Sometimes the rolling store would give us a handful of free fans. The white woman always asked us questions about school. We were told to sit up straight, smile, and say yes ma’am and thank you. Beauty never ate with us; she kept working. Afterwards Ruby and I would skip the mile-long walk home with Beauty, while the white woman napped before supper. I dreamed of fields of color.
When we got home Ruby and I would soak Beauty’s feet in a bucket of hot water and Epsom salt, while she slept sitting up. Sometimes we combed her hair. After about an hour she would get up and eat supper. We would have already completed our schoolwork and cleaned the kitchen. Big Mama never allowed us in the kitchen other than to eat or clean up. With Big Mama in charge at our house, delicious scents always waved through the air. I loved leaping off of the school bus and running into our warm and cozy house. And our yard bloomed too, just not like the white woman’s. Our flowers were more like splashes of yellows and whites, here and there. But we kept our dirt yard swept with a homemade straw broom. I thought our lives would go like that forever and Big Mama would never die.
To be continued