TITLE: Hart & Soul, Part V: The Rites of Passage Monologues
By RENEE GREENE
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For some people, a rite of passage is marked by a ceremony of some kind. From bowing and bending at the knee in formal affairs to cliterodectomy in some ancient cultures in Africa. Whatever the form of passage from one stage of life to another, a girl is considered to have gone from childhood to womanhood once she gets past this society "gatekeeper."
At St John, it was called the Debs & Masters Ball, and it was a formal gala affair for AME girls who had reached the age of reckoning--considered to be age 12. The girls dressed in white tea-length gowns and wore elbow-length gloves, coifed-to-perfection Royal Crown pressed hair, white patent leather pumps and silk stockings, usually their very first pair ever in life. The guys dressed in black formals, some rented tuxes, bow ties, black shoes spit-shined to a high brass polish, carrying walking sticks, and and they were formally introduced to "society" by an announcement of their birth christian names, who their parents were, and where they attended school, as well as some insight into their future hopes and aspirations. I had my speech all prepared in 1971. I jotted down notes about what I was going to say, who was going to "present" me...never once did it occur to me that I didn't have the social pedigree of a high society black female of the early 1970s. I had no lineage, no inheritance, and definitely no breeding for black society's high expectations. The invitation for me to participate never came.
What did come was a shock to my system that I wasn't expecting, nor prepared for. Womanhood, or the first inklings of it. At first, I thought I was dying of some exotic disease and wasn't going to make it home from school that day. Then, my first introduction to the way a girl's body prepares for motherhood. I was thoroughly traumatized, and when I showed my mother what was happening to me, her reaction was empty and vacant. I stood in a daze, thoroughly convinced that she could care less if I lived or died when my older sister appeared with a blue box and a white belt. My lecture on the birds and the bees consisted of telling me I couldn't "kiss" boys, or I'd get pregnant. How the heck was that possible, I asked myself, when storks and cabbages brought those things around? Besides, the last thing in the world I wanted was to be kissing any nasty snotty smelly boys--bleeeech! Those little creatures, in my estimation, deserved to have their nappy little heads bitten off, but absolutely not kissed. The longer I lived, the more I was beginning to hate being alive. Mama's near-daily threats to flush us down the toilet were beginning to sound like one of her better ideas.
The year before, the Girl Scouts and Brownies had come to our school to help start a troop for the little colored girls. It cost $20 a year at the time, and about $40 for a uniform. Mama wouldn't let me join--said it cost too much money. Not to worry, my friend Carolyn said. She and her sister, Denise, were members of the Salvation Army Sunbeams and Girl Guards, I could join that for free.
By the time they asked me if I could join, I had gotten so used to my mother saying no to everything I ever asked for that I just didn't care much about asking her anything again. I already knew the answer. When I finally got up the nerve enough to ask after being prodded by Carolyn for a week, the answer was just as I expected. About a month later, she asked if I could go to a sleepover at the Salvation Army church on Second Avenue. When I told her my mother would say no, she insisted on letting her mother ask. I knew that would definitely get my butt whipped--she would consider that "being sneaky" or trying to manipulate her. She would smile at them, but as soon as they left; all hell would break loose on me.
Carolyn handed me the permission blank anyway, "Just in case I changed my mind about asking." I stuffed it in my school bag and carried it around for a full week before I decided to ask, the Friday morning before the Saturday event. Mama seemed to be in a better mood than usual, so I seized the moment and blurted it out: "May I please go to the pajama party at the Salvation Army tomorrow?," and handed her the folded slip of paper.
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