TITLE: Hart & Soul, Part VI: Out of Colorado
By RENEE GREENE
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The answer, as usual, was an adamant, "No." This time emphasized with a "Hell," in front of it.
From the beginning, I had been taught the meaning of respect. We did not talk back, get fresh-mouthed, or curse in the presence of adults. A curse word had never made its way to my thought processes, let alone came tumbling off my lips; but, somehow, I knew it wouldn't be long in coming. Certain words seemed to have attention-getting shock value like none other and I had been hearing them long enough to know which ones applied to what situation. They even tried spelling some of those special words, but we had razor-sharp ears, could spell very well, and had our phonics down cold. Tresa and I would look at each other, "Oooh! They said a bad word," we'd whisper to each other, but those were words we would never have repeated in a million years.
When "F*^k you, b$%*@h" started crowding into my head, I knew I was going straight to hell for thinking it. It was marinating in my soul, but didn't quite come falling out of my mouth. This was my mother for God's sake. In Sunday school, at home, in school, we had always been told to honor our mothers and fathers, so our days on earth would be long and prosperous. I crumpled the paper and stuck it in my book bag as I dropped my head in sadness and turned to walk out the door. I knew better than to think for two seconds that the tears in my eyes were going to be enough to stir her up. She was just a clammy surgical room filled with cold steel instruments and no thought as to first giving a patient anesthesia before slicing them open.
I arrived at school with my bag and my crumpled permission blank, and was about to tell Carolyn I couldn't go to the sleepover; but Mr. Sanders, our homeroom teacher, had us put our things away quickly to get started for the day. The teachers always seemed eager to hurry about getting Friday overwith. Towards the end of the day, she mentioned it and I remembered the cumple in my bag. I turned to her, "Yes, Mama said I can go." That's when my own imagination scared me. I was going to have to think of a way to get her to change her mind, or I was going without her permission.
The front door slamming behind me when I arrived at the house after school made me jump. Bad nerves. I was venturing into scary territory with no plan as to exactly how to pull it off. Getting her to change her mind was out of the question; I was going to have to get someone else to sign it, or do it myself. I could copy her signature from one of my old report cards, I convinced myself. Going to the pajama party was important to me, I had read about them in books in the libraries and the children seemed to have so much fun. They got to stay up all night, watch TV, eat junk food--no veggie-pushing for the night...tell ghost stories, put play makeup on, talk about boys...well, that much I could do without...but the rest sounded like fun. The more I thought of it, the more I wanted to go. I figured the only way for me to have any fairness in my life was to be fair to myself.
I unballed the paper, took the old report card out of the chest of drawers, retrieved a black pen; at first, I thought I could trace it onto the opaque paper. It wouldn't show through, even when I held it up to the light. I was going to have to freehand it. I asked Tresa to help me, but she told me there was no way she was committing forgery. Mama had said I wasn't going, so that was it. "Hmph!," I muttered alone. "We'll see." I was off on some finer points, but for the most part, the stolen signature was close enough. All I could pray for is that some forged signature detective didn't pay attention to it. I called Carolyn's house, moving the telephone out to the hallway to muffle my voice. I asked her what time the bus was coming in the morning, then told her I would be ready.
What little items I had got stuffed into a bag and shoved behind the bedroom door like a sack of dirty laundry waiting to be washed. Some clean underwear, some of my 45s...I had " I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save," "Cherokee Nation," "Julie, Do Ya Love Me?," "One Less Bell to Answer," "Girl," "One Monkey don't stop no show," "Stick Up," "Want Ads," "Bill, when are you coming back?," "One Bad Apple," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," "Midnight Train to Georgia," "Proud Mary," and "Age of Aquarius." The latest, the greatest. I knew I was going to get laughed at by my friends for having some of that "white folks music," in my collection; but where I came from, music was only notes, choruses, crescendos and choruses. It was colorless, faceless, and carried no distinctions for me except I liked it or I didn't.
As I packed, it occurred to me that I had no pajamas for this pajama party. We had always slept in old clothes, or whatever we happened to be wearing when we fell asleep. There were no nightly ceremonies for bedroom, just as there were no evening rituals for dinner, packed lunches waiting on the counter on the way to school, or "get up or you'll miss the bus," with a mother waiting by the kitchen stove with a hot breakfast. We wolfed down cornflakes or a leftover cold biscuit if there was one left from last Sunday, and our biggest meals were school lunches and whatever was prepared when we got home. When Mama was there to cook, it was a redeeming quality in her routine that we never forgot. Her food spoiled me, and gave me a taste for better eating. Tresa could eat generic foods--she didn't care and couldn't tell the difference. I knew when something wasn't made with a name brand item. It had to taste "a certain way," or I knew something was wrong.
I didn't care much for rutabagas, but Mama did something to them that bordered on sweet and salty, with bacon, or fatback, and cornbread. I watched her cook collards once she taught us how to peel off the leaves and wash them. Black eyed peas, fried or baked chicken and dressing, spaghetti goulash, smoked neckbones and oxtails in the pressure cooker, with homemade gravy--there was nothing Mama couldn't cook. Hamburgers with home fries, fried mullet fish and sliced boiled potatoes... She couldn't get us to eat everything she cooked, we weren't into liver, hog maw, gizzards, or hogshead cheese, but we weren't the kind of kids who looked forward to hot dog day with potato chips when she was tired, either. It was fun, but Tresa and I liked to eat real food. Mama admitted to one culinary default--she wasn't about the confections or the morning routine. Cakes and pies--cookies, cobblers, blackberry, blueberry, peach, apple--breakfasts with streak'o'lean, grits with real butter, and homemade buttered biscuits, were more Mommy's thing than hers; and that usually only happened on Saturdays for Sunday eating. Vacuum cleaners, brooms, mops, washing machines, and irons did not get used in Mommy and Poppy's house on Sundays. The closest we came to housework on the Lord's Day was heating dinner after church and washing dishes afterward.
I stuffed my toothbrush in the bag, figuring someone would let me use their toothpaste; piled in my shorts and t-shirt that I slept in every night, and a pair of old holey socks and I was done. The people in that house all liked to take a nap after dinner to prepare for the long sleep they would take on Saturday morning when no one got up before 10 am. I could only hope the bus would show up while they were sleeping. I knew I wasn't going to get away with it, but I was going to try my best.
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