the normal time between successive groups of contemporaries
My southern grandfather missed slavery by one
the time of day immediately following sunset
His father worked the land from dawn till
dusk for the promise of cotton and a little pay.
a mineral in crystals of various colors used as a gemstone
Our grandmother tells us this
as she sets a small hat with a
topaz pin on her head,
pulls white gloves
over her soft brown hands.
cause to be interested or curious
intrigues us, her wish for a man's head
on a platter—who could want this and live
to tell the story of that wanting?
time without end
Will the words end, I ask whenever I remember to.
Nope, my sister says, all of five years old now, and promising me
unrelenting and deadly
The South his
mortal enemy. The South, his Kryptonite.
a flexible implement used as an instrument of punishment
As she slips her closed hand over it, removing the leaves, my brother begins to cry because the branch is a
switch now no longer beautifully weeping at the bottom of the hill.
(of something seen or heard) clearly defined
Each switching is a warning to us our words are to remain
crisp and clear.
a courteous expression of esteem or regard
We are never to say huh? ain't or y'all git or gonna.
Never ma'am—just yes, with eyes meeting eyes enough to show
compliant and obedient to authority
Don't ever ma'am anyone!
The word too painful a memory for my mother of not-so-long-ago southern
receive by genetic transmission
But my grandfather just laughs,
makes us open our mouths
to show the strong Irby teeth we've
from his side of the family.
lacking in strength, firmness, or resilience
We can't go to downtown Greenville without seeing the teenagers walking into stores, sitting where brown people still aren't allowed to sit and getting carried out, their bodies
limp, their faces calm.
be emphatic or resolute and refuse to budge
You can't just put your fist up. You have to
insist on something
unhurried and with care and dignity
They learn how to change the South without violence, how to not be moved by the evil actions of others, how to walk slowly but with
more than adequate
So she keeps the marchers' glasses filled, adds more corn bread
and potato salad to their plates, stands in the kitchen ready to slice lemon pound cake into
change or alter in appearance or nature
Supper done and my grandmother has
transformed the kitchen into a beauty shop.
be driven or carried along, as by the air
And while my grandmother sets the hot comb on the flame, heats it just enough to pull my tight curls straighter, my sister's voice
wafts over the kitchen, past the smell of hair and oil and flame, settles like a hand on my shoulder and holds me there.
separated or isolated from others or a main group
Even the five-and-dime, which isn't
segregated now but where a woman is paid, my grandmother says, to follow colored people around in case they try to steal something.
having a taste that is a mixture of bitterness and sweetness
If I ask, she will hold it to my lips,
let me taste the
bittersweet of it.
take someone to their seats, as in theaters or auditoriums
We know one word from us will bring a hush upon the women, my grandmother's finger suddenly pointing toward the house, her soft-spoken I think it's time for you kids to go to bed now
ushering us into our room.
left unplowed and unseeded during a growing season
fallow, crops picked clean.
a strong belief in a divine power or powers
faith, my grandmother says pulling us to her in the darkness.
Let the Bible, my grandmother says, become your sword and your shield.
devout or heartfelt
my face clean and shining with oil, my words
earnest as anything:
Good morning, I'm Sister Jacqueline and I'm here to bring you some good news today.
save or relieve from an experience or action
We pray for my grandfather
ask God to
spare him even though
he's a nonbeliever.
a state of perpetual existence
What is promised to us in return is