Flowers Out of Bone (10)

Flowers Out of Bone

Photo of Ethel Morgan Smith

by Ethel Morgan Smith

Chapter 1

            Surely there must’ve been some joy in my childhood. It’s hard to imagine that anybody could grow up without something other than mutilated memories. But in spite of, maybe because of, growing up in the segregated South, I had succeeded by earning a scholarship to college and later a fellowship to graduate school. After working in marketing for a Fortune 500 company for eight years, I now own a thriving floral business. My generation of the 1970s is the first in sizable numbers to directly benefit from the hard work of the Civil Rights Movement. Ten years earlier, if I’d worked anywhere, it would’ve been as a teacher with a college degree; otherwise, I would have sewed in shirt factories like Ruby, or cleaned white folks’ houses like Beauty had. My world had indeed changed and will keep changing, too, through Emma and maybe Anton.

            We continue wandering through the meadow, me proudly pointing to and naming trees and Emma paying attention. I’ve always been determined to learn about the world of nature. In spite of growing up in the country, I had few encounters with the forest. Nor had I had any contact with beaches, lakes, or rivers—even the sunshine is to be feared because it too is for white folks; it only makes Black folks blacker.

            I think of nature as gifts from the universe, not belonging to anybody. The sun belongs to the ocean. And there can be no sky without the ocean. When I was a child, I dreamed of seeing stars mirrored in the lakes. I longed to embrace the silence of the wilderness, and to smell the sea and taste its salt, like I read about in books. But there hadn’t been room for such a dream for little Black girls in Bone. Instead fear was the law of the land.

            “I see a phone booth.” Emma points. “Do you have change?”

            “Here’s the auto club card too.” I slip her the coins and card, and continue to examine the scenery as Emma runs toward the telephone booth. Pleasantly surprised, I am almost in the park and feel no panic or shortness of breath. And if I feel no panic in this park, then I know I’ll be okay anywhere. No swelling of the skin. No rushed poundings of the heart. Can those days be behind me? Is it possible? Maybe Emma is right.

            I’ve fought hard to exorcize my inherited demons, the ones that come with being born Black, southern, poor, and female—my plantation baggage. His body was found near the park. But I know it’s not the park, but the people. Always the people, that’s what I’d learned from ten years of therapy. I was pleased when I finally found a therapist I felt comfortable enough to trust. I hated the males the most, always telling me how strong I was. I am not strong, that’s why I need your services, I wanted to scream to the goddess of sanity. Sometimes all I could do was cry through the entire session.

Flowers Out of Bone is to be continued

Flowers Out of Bone (9)

Flowers Out of Bone

Photo of Ethel Morgan Smith

by Ethel Morgan Smith

Chapter 1

Emma sighs and stretches her arms forward and sits up. She doesn’t look as much like me as I do Beauty. But she doesn’t look anything like her daddy either, other than a feature here and there. I am pleased that I don’t see my dead husband when I look into my daughter’s face. A few years ago I’d have thought that would be a mean thing to think. It’s not, just honest. Emma’s long curly hair is braided in a thick ponytail.

            “This is a new car. What can be wrong?” Emma asks.

            “Do I look like a mechanic?” I hiss. This is the first sign of bad luck. How can we be having trouble in this new BMW?

            “I hate it when this happens.” Emma yawns.

            “Everybody hates it when this happens,” I snap. “I think it’s the tire.”

            “It’s not that big of a deal.” She stretches and yawns again.

            “I just don’t like feeling trapped.” I try rubbing away my headache. I have to get ahold of myself if there’s any hope of me getting through the trip in one piece. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe I am not ready to be here. Why haven’t I demanded that Ruby and Beauty come to Atlanta? I could’ve even had a driver pick them up.

            Emma unbuckles her seatbelt, gets out of the car and reaches her arms to the sky. Her honey eyes are wide with curiosity, like Beauty’s but with the almond shape of Big Mama’s. “No reason to panic; we’re in a park. Fresh air.” She opens her hands like a fan. “Remember what that is? Freedom! Let’s make this an adventure.” She beckons me to join her. “It would be nice to have a picnic here.”

            “The state park is just a stone’s throw away,” I concede and step out of the car.

           “We can call AAA from here. And I’m not going to panic.” I pop the car locks.

            “We could use a break about now.” Emma reaches her hands above her head until they meet in a triangle. “A picnic would be nice.”

            “We?” I turn to my daughter and smile. “I think I’m the person doing the work.” I point to myself.

            We walk in a silent peaceful rhythm about a fourth of a mile. When I am not watching her, I see the broken necks of dandelions and patches of burst buttercups near the side of the road. The bittersweet smell of wildflowers is cut by the sharp scent of the pine trees stinging my eyes. I wish I could crush my past away as easily as flowers underfoot. Even the flowers are responsible. As nice as the park is, even it is a reminder of my fearful childhood that stole my voice. Never walk in the park. Always go around the long way. No, you can’t go to the lake for a picnic. No, you can’t try on the clothes in the stores. It’s the law. Stop asking so many questions.

            I struggle through the thought. Take a breath and count to ten. “The moment you dance, your heart dances with you,” was on a postcard I received from Mr. Anton Haas before we left Atlanta. Take another deep breath and count to ten, but try to remember only the good. And there is some, it’s just buried by what happened to Emmett. I massage my temples again and step over a patch of purple crocus. Why had I worn these stupid clothes?

Flowers Out of Bone is 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