Disclaimer: The following post is excerpted from a book written by Yecheilyah Ysrayl and is property of Yecheilyah Ysrayl. No part of this publication may be reproduced, or stolen. Permission is only given to re-blog, social media sharing for promotional purposes and the case of brief quotations embodied in the critical articles and reviews and pages where permission is specifically granted by Yecheilyah Ysrayl. (For permission write to: firstname.lastname@example.org) Copyright © 2015, All Rights Reserved.
5 Years Later
Daddy run off to who knows where on account of his life. Some racist whites had seen him and Mama together and threatened to lynch him if found. So he run off to nobody knows where. The community gossip is that his brothers know, but they won’t say. We weren’t alone though, Mama and me. Seems like Mama filled the hole where Papa should have been with our whole family. The house always stayed filled with guests: my people, and peoples of my people. My granddaddy was a colored man, and so owned this land. My name sake, his mama Stella, was a slave and was given this house by her owner. As the story goes, after Grandma died, I was born. Since Mama was the closest, she named me after her. We got stories going all the way back to her girlhood, and stories of Grandpa Solomon too. I heard the stories mostly on Sundays, since all the family come down. My aunts would gather around the table with my mom and they laugh and cry most of the night about they girlhood. I don’t have any uncles except from my daddy side, but they don’t come around much cause of my aunties. Uncle Roy say Mama acts different around her sisters and that they too uppity, especially Aunt Sara. She’s the youngest of my aunties and the most spoiled. She’s the one who convinced Mama to send me to a private school to escape all the worry, and boy were my uncles hot! They said we were breaking the law – that a Negro had no business in a white school. But Aunt Sara said I had all the right in the world since I was technically half white after all.
“But does the school know she colored?” one of my uncles would ask.
“That’s none of the school’s business now is it?” Aunt Sara would say and they’d just go back and forth until Mama break it up.
That’s the story of my life: Was I white? Was I Negro? Race wars always concerned these two groups of people, and there ain’t seemed to be much place for a mulatto. Speaking of race, not all talks were good talks. Not all round table discussions were filled with laughter and jolly drinking. I used to sit up until my eyes were red with fatigue to hear Mama and my uncles talk about all the killings that were taking place around the country, and especially in the south.
“That’s what I say,” said the voice of Uncle Keith. “Up there in Minnesota.”
“That close?” Mama gasped. I could just picture her now with her hand over her chest. Mama had a thing for the dramatics.
“Yea that close. What, woman you living under a rock? They just had one on over in DeKalb last month,” said Uncle Roy.
“It’s a crying out loud shame,” continued Keith. “Say they dragged the boys from the cell and a whole mob of ‘em lynched ‘em. Say it was bout least a thousand of ‘em.”
“My my,” said Aunt Rebecca.
“Well you know what I say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” said Sara.
“Where did you come from?” said Deborah, annoyed.
“From betwee–,“ began Sara.
“Please, spare us,” said Mama.
“I didn’t ask the question,” said Aunt Sara, smacking her lips.
But there were times, of course, I witnessed for myself evidence of the events rocking the country. One day, Mama and I went to visit Cousin Mary in Texas, and drove the truck up to a general store. We walked in, and being only about five at the time, I picked up a post card hanging on one of the shelves. It was of a man hanging on a tree that supported an iron chain that lifted him above fire. The man didn’t seem to have much of a body left. His fingers were cut off, his ears and his body burned to a crisp. On the back of the postcard read:
“This is the barbeque we had last night. My picture is to the left with a cross over it. Your son, Joe.”
I learned later the picture was of a 17-year old mentally ill boy named Johnny, who had agreed to having raped a white woman. And everybody at home still talked of the Cairo circus of 1909, the public lynching that took place here in Illinois. I asked Mama once if we could go to a circus like that, and she told me to never ask her of such things again. I couldn’t understand what had Mama so upset till I found out what kind of circus it was. It was events such as this that caused my aunts not to want much to do with the land or the house. They say it’s too close to slavery. So when Granddaddy died, Mama took on the burden of keeping it, and keeping it full too. I got kinfolk I see every weekend, and some I never met before. And some I don’t think are kinfolk at all; they just come for a hot meal and a bed. But that was alright with Mama. She didn’t care none about being taken advantage of. She just wanted to be around people she could feed and clothe. Her heart was just full of love like that. Sometimes they spend the night, but other times they just come and go. Sundays were the biggest days. Mama cook a feast of a dinner: fried chicken, yams, macaroni and cheese, fried brim and crappy, greens, pies, cakes. You name it, it was on our table. Everything except pork. Mama say Granddaddy was always talking about his Hebrew Heritage and teaching them about it too. Said he didn’t like being called Negro and African, and they weren’t allowed to call him that either, or themselves for that matter. Granddaddy say with his face all proud, “There are two things in the world I would never be: Christian and a Hog Head.”
Then he’ll light his pipe and go on rocking in his favorite chair, like the conversation was supposed to be over, even though folk mouths hung open. That’s another reason my uncles say we uppity:
“Everybody due for a lil fat back every now and again. Everybody Negro that is,” Uncle Roy would say, cutting his eyes over at Mama.
“Good thing we ain’t Negro then huh?” Deborah would shoot back.
Deborah, named after my great great great grandmother, fit right into her biblical name and was the most like Daddy, taking her Israelite Heritage seriously and practicing the laws of the Old and New Testament. Most of the family thought she was crazy. That didn’t stop her from speaking her mind though. But good eating and conversation was just the half of it. There was music, dancing, drinking, smoking, and gambling too. Cousin Walter would bring over some of his hooch and the grown-ups forget all about the children, which was just the way we liked it. I had a lot of cousins and friends, but no one was as close to me as Thomas. Tommy’s mom died off when he was just a baby, and his dad come across the road looking for direction one day when me and Mama come walking along. Come to find out they didn’t really need direction so much as a bed to sleep in. Mama let them stay with us for a while until Luther, Tommy’s dad, got off his feet. But that didn’t stop them from coming around. Luther and Mama became good friends and Tommy was over every weekend. My aunties used to think there was something going on between Mama and Luther till she shut up the gossip with news of Luther’s lady friend, who also became friends with Mama. So naturally Tommy and I were good friends, but we were also enemies and partners in crime. Tommy was dark as charcoal with big lips, nappy hair, and a wide nose. And I envied him for being so obviously Negro. It’s the same reason I liked him too.
“How you get so dark?”
“I don’t know,” said Tommy. “Just lucky I guess.”
“Lucky? What you got to be so proud for? Ain’t no girls liking no skin that dark.”
“Shut up white girl,” said Tommy.
“Shut up big head,” I say.
That’s usually when he punches me in the arm and I’d have to hunt the rest of him throughout the house.
We weren’t much of a church going family; party going is more like it. Except when Mama wanted to show off a new dress or hat, when somebody died or needed saving, and on Holidays and such. Folk would come from all over southern Illinois to hang out with “Cousin Judy”, as Mama was often called. Sunday’s sure were fun, my second favorite day of the week.
Saturdays was my favorite day of the week. It was the day for shopping and that only meant one thing: Chicago. First, Mama would wake me to the smell of biscuits or pancakes. This was to keep me full enough throughout the day so she didn’t have to worry none about food buying. Then, I was commanded to bathe down real good, paint my arms and legs with oil, untie my curls from the night previous, and we’d both put on our Sunday’s best and be two of the most beautiful women you’d ever seen. I was a young lady now and shopping was the best thing to a young lady next to boys (but you couldn’t like them in public). You could like shopping though. I loved going from store to store in search of the finest. Skipping along while Mama scanned the insides of magazines for stuff she only saw on TV. We would squeeze our way through crowds of people, just bumping into each other. They weren’t dressed as professional today. Instead, they wore their weekend wear, bought ice cream for their children and went inside movie theatres, and so did Mama and I. We could buy candy or jewelry, or perhaps a new hat or two with the money Mama made from the laundry. We drank from water fountains without label, and spent money without prejudice. Everything was so easy on Saturdays, life itself was better. We had us a good time on Saturdays because on Saturday, no one knew we were colored.
– Stella M.
What did you think about the second part? I hope it held your interest and you’re ready for chapter three. I am leaving you with a surprise part from Book 1 below. For the prologue to Book #1, see last week’s post. If you like this story so far, would you do me the favor of sharing this post with your friends who might enjoy reading it also? Re-blog or share on your social networks. Thanks a lot! And I’ll see you next week for Part 3.