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 (12)

Flowers Out of Bone

Photo of Ethel Morgan Smith

by Ethel Morgan Smith

Chapter 1

Flowers Out of Bone (12)

            “Yes. Lurleen B. Wallace, only forty-one when she died from cancer. Her husband couldn’t run for governor anymore; he had exceeded the law. So they ran her. She died after a year in office in 1968, a little bit more than a year after she took office.”

            “The same year Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.”

            “That’s right. What a note in history. George C. was known more for barring the door at the University of Alabama to keep four scared Black students from enrolling. ‘Segregation now and segregation forever’ was his motto.”

            “Wonder why Gram didn’t tell me that?”

            “Folks around here weren’t concerned about him keeping Black students out of the University of Alabama. They knew his family; he wasn’t an outsider. The devil they knew. And he gave us new textbooks.”

            “What do you mean?” Emma asks.

            “Before that, Big Mama and other women in the community used to fish discarded books from the trash bins at the white school.”

            “Really?” Emma put her hands over her mouth.

            “Yes. Often, the white students wrote, GOOD LUCK NIGGERS all over the books.”

            “Mom, I’ve never heard this before.”

            “Our parents cleaned them up with erasers the best they could. We didn’t write with ink pens like today. They also wrapped them in newspaper and brown paper. Our home economics teacher showed us how to press flowers on the outside of the books, with stencils, after they were wrapped.”

            “When did you get new textbooks?” Emma asks.

            “Eleventh grade.”

            “That’s so awful Mom.”

            “We didn’t think it was so awful. Our parents would shake their heads and say, “‘Lord have mercy on Alabama.’”

            “You see, when they said, ‘Lord have mercy,’ they meant it for the white folks. We had the high ground and prayed for others. Even though the others seemingly had so much more than we did,” I continue.

            “This is amazing.”

            “You know, one of those scared little girls who George C. Wallace was trying to keep out of the University of Alabama was Vivian Malone Jones.”

            “I’ve never heard you mention her.”

            “I don’t tell you everybody I know. We used to sit on some of the same nonprofit boards together. I think Vivian was the bravest person. I could’ve never done what she did.” I look toward the sky. Our walk slows into more conversation. I am pleased. Birds are tweeting and the sky seems wider. We aren’t talking about college, boys, money, or all of the other serious issues in our lives.

            “Did she graduate?” Emma asks.

            “Of course, the first African American to graduate from the University of Alabama, and with honors.” I smile.

To be continued

Flowers Out of Bone (11)

Flowers Out of Bone

Photo of Ethel Morgan Smith

by Ethel Morgan Smith

Chapter 1

            Crying had helped to free me. Big Mama didn’t allow crying. “Only de weak do dat.” She had even made fun of folks who cried. “Ain’t dey ugly ‘nuff ‘out tyin up dey ugly faces.” I hadn’t cried when Emma was sick; I just stopped talking. And, of course, I hadn’t cried at Big Mama’s funeral. But for three months I paid $100 an hour to cry. Before I left for Bone, I made an appointment with my therapist for the week I get back to Atlanta. There will be plenty to talk about. I am long past just crying. Or maybe there would be a lot to think about.

            I don’t know how to think of my life without being overwhelmed by what had happened in the park. The warmth from the spring sun isn’t enough to keep sharp pains from piercing my stomach. I try to change the direction of my pain by shifting my thoughts toward my aging mother, and the role I’ll have to assume as the oldest daughter. Ruby is more prepared to take frontline duty since she lives in Bone, and would always be there. I feel like a stranger not just thinking about my estranged family, but about the red clay where Emmett’s blood is drenched. How much black blood is soaked in the earth of Alabama?

            “Twenty minutes for the AAA to get here,” Emma beams, hanging up the telephone.

            “Lady of Adventure, let’s get something to drink.” I smile and reach for my daughter’s hand.

            “Your hands are so cold.”

            “They’re always cold,” I squeeze her hand. Emma has Beauty’s small and delicate looking hands; both are the color molasses.

            “I like them cold.” Emma looks around the peaceful park. “This is really nice.” Crickets hiss; it’s too early for picnickers. We stroll through oaks, magnolias, and dogwoods. The scent of spring grass, night flowers and weeds linger in the early air. Dew from the grass beads on our shoes. I wish I had worn sneakers like Emma. Instead I am wearing 3-inch heels, trying to impress my mother–something I should’ve given up on by now.

            “Look, Emma, there’s a basswood. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen one.”

            “How can you tell?”

            “See the star leaves?” We stop and I pick up a few of the leaves that have fallen on the ground. “And there’s the little thistles fallen around its trunk. In the fall the leaves turn red, yellow and purple. When Big Mama first showed me one, I called it the chewing gum tree.” I brush my hands. We continue to walking.

            “Are we close to Gram’s?”

            “About two hours.” Why am I so nervous? It’s just my family whom I haven’t seen in nearly twenty years.

            “Did you come here when you were a kid?” Emma asks.

            “No.” I step over a patch of muddy grass.

            “Was it a park then?”

            “Yeah, but coming here never occurred to me or anybody from our community. But I remember a big celebration with loud music and cars with signs, when this park was named for the one and only George C. Wallace.” I toss a fallen branch out of our path. “There was a big parade and politicians making promises. The smell of barbecue blanketed the entire town. The only Blacks were here to cook, clean, and serve. It was like the town wasn’t ours.”

            “The old governor Gram despised because he made his sick wife run for governor?”

            “That would be him, the infamous governor of Alabama many times over.”

            “Did she win?”

Flowers Out of Bone is to be continued