me like a magic curtain. I wil never forget the smel of her hugs.

“That motherfucker,” she said. “I love him, but I might have to kil him one day.”

The next morning, my mother told me to put on the green and yel ow dress that I’d worn for my school picture six weeks earlier, before the teeth were lost. She styled my long hair with slippery ribbons and strapped my feet into stiff shiny shoes. Then we climbed into my godmother’s old Buick, on loan for the day.

“Where are we going?”

Mother turned off Gordon Road. “I am taking you to see something.”

I waited for more information, poking my tongue into the slick space where my nice teeth had once been. She didn’t say anything else about our destination, but she asked me to recite my -at words.

“H-a-t is hat; b-a-t is bat. ” I didn’t stop until I got to “M-a-t is mat. ” By then, we’d pul ed up in front of a smal pink school building trimmed with green. Down the road was John A. White Park. We sat in the car a long time while I performed for her. I was glad to do it. I recited my numbers from one to one hundred and then I sang “Frere Jacques.”

When a group of children spil ed out into the yard of the smal school, my mother held up a finger to stop my singing. “Rol down your window and look out,” she said. “You see that chubby little girl in the blue jeans and red shirt? That’s Chaurisse.”

I found the girl my mother described standing in line with a group of other little kids. Chaurisse was utterly ordinary back then. Her hair was divided into two short puffs in the front and the shorter hair in the back was held down in a series of tight braids. “Look at her,” my mother said. “She hardly has any hair. She is going to be fat when she grows up, just like her mammy. She doesn’t know her - at words, and she can’t sing a song in French.”

I said, “She has her teeth.”

“For now. She’s your same age, so they are probably loose. But here’s something you can’t see. She was born too early so she has problems.

The doctor had to stick plastic tubes down her ears to keep them from getting infected.”

“But James loves her. She’s not a secret.”

“James has an obligation to her mammy and that’s my problem, not yours. Okay? James loves you equal to Chaurisse. If he had any sense, he’d love you best. You’re smarter, more mannerable, and you’ve got better hair. But what you have is equal love, and that is good enough.”

I nodded as relief spread al over my body. I felt al my muscles relax. Even my feet let go and settled themselves limp in my pretty shoes.

“Am I a secret?” I asked my mother.

“No,” she said. “You are an unknown. That little girl there doesn’t even know she has a sister. You know everything.”

“God knows everything,” I said. “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

“That’s true,” my mother said. “And so do we.”



IT WAS NOT LOVE at first sight, at least not on my mother’s part. She didn’t meet my father and feel a shift in her personal chemistry or a change in the rhythm that connected her heart to the rest of her body. It was love, mind you, but not the lightning-bolt kind. She had that sort of love in her first marriage, which had lasted only nineteen months. What she had with my father was a sort of creeping love, the kind that sinks in before you know it and makes a family of you. She says that love like what she has with my father occurs on the God level, not of the world and not bound by the laws of the state of Georgia.

You can’t help but respect something like that.

GIFT-WRAP GIRL WASN’T the job she dreamed of, as she never real y dreamed of jobs. My mother had dreamed only about marriage, and her brief acquaintance with it had left her disappointed. Coming up with another dream was more than a notion, and she had no idea where to start.

For most of her early life, she wasted her wishes on her mother. Flora, my grandmother, ran off when my mother was just three months old. For six days Flora wrapped her breasts in cabbage leaves to dry up the milk and then just up and left one Sunday before church with nothing but the clothes on her back and the money she got when her numbers hit. “No note, no nothing. Just gone.” The tone of her voice when she told this story made me wish my mother had named me after my grandmother, the wild woman. Instead, she cal ed me Dana Lynn, a sly wink at her own name.


By the time James walked into Davison’s, my mother wasn’t just motherless but fatherless as wel . My grandfather had disowned her for leaving her husband, Clarence Yarboro. It wasn’t just because her father worked for his and could certainly lose his job but because this proved that my mother was just like Flora. She tel s me that when she looks back on it, the reasons she left Clarence were not good enough reasons to leave a marriage, but she doesn’t think that she ever had a good enough reason to marry him in the first place. Mother says she married him because he was good-looking and rich — the youngest in a family of pretty undertakers — and because he had asked her to the eighth-grade dance. Five years later, she was his wife. Seven years later, she was divorced, living in a rooming house, and fal ing in love with a married man. Eight years later, I was born.

WHEN MY PARENTS MET, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was only one month dead, and there was a sort of grayness over everything. Mother had gone to see Dr. King lying in state over at Spelman Col ege, but the line had been so long, and she didn’t know what was to be gained from standing there, so she left. Back at the gift-wrap counter, Mother felt cheated somehow, that he was assassinated before she could settle her life down enough to participate in the miracle that the man had been. But whom could she blame but herself? She felt a little guilty, enjoying this good job up in gift wrap, the very first colored woman to hold that post. And even the year before, when she was working in ladies’ hats, did she not place a lovely pil box directly on the head of a colored woman? So yes, she knew how much things had changed, and she was grateful for it, Lord knew that she was thankful for these

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