“Is there anything else you want to ask me?” Mama said.
I peeked into the community area where Grandma and her circle of friends sat by the door. Grandma’s lips moved in a blur and she threw her arms about her wildly as she spoke. Thomas was leaning so far back in the rocking chair, he was nearly on the floor cackling up a storm. Even Frank had a hint of a smile on his thin lips. Grandma must be on her next husband. Judging from her and Thomas’ animated body language, it was a story I couldn’t miss.
I turned my attention back Mama’s question. She’d settle my unease about Pawpaw—he was my granddaddy, blood relation or not—but I still had concerns about my biological grandfather, Lindell. I knew nothing about him apart from the fact that he was white and was murdered by bigots. Who was the real Lindell? He was Grandma’s soulmate, but did he have any other family, and if so, where were they now? I was only a fourth of him, but I wanted more. I wanted a connection with him. I wasn’t sure if or how Mama could provide any of that for me, but it didn’t hurt to try.
“How did you feel when Grandma told you about your real father?”
Mama breathed heavily into the receiver. “Honestly . . . I didn’t believe her. I’d just listened to her say all these horrible things about white men. They’re the devil. They killed Reynolds. Then all of a sudden she was married to one—I was half of what she hated. I threw it back in her face.”
It made sense, for Grandma to be completely enamored with a man, yet hate everything about him at the same time—his privilege. The world around them accepted him, but they hated her, and they detested the two of them together. When it came to making a choice, they would always choose Lindell over her, no matter the situation, even in murder. His death would be quick, utterly painless, but hers, hers would be brutal. Such was the agitated relationship between the races during that time—in some cases, it still is. Grandma knew all of this, and she married Lindell anyway. I couldn’t ask to be braver.
“We didn’t talk about him again until I was in college,” Mama said, “actually, when I was pregnant with you—after your father had hightailed it out of there and transferred to another school.”
My father. Scarce memories of him still lingered in my mind, but I could barely even picture his face now. He’d been gone for so long. In reality, he was never around. He showed up when it was convenient for him, usually with a thoughtless present of a wrinkled dollar bill, ill-fitting clothing, or beaten up toys he’d bought from a garage sale.
I never had a relationship with my father. Pawpaw and Uncle Richard were enough, and if Lindell were alive, I knew he would love me just as unconditionally as he loved Grandma. But my real father? Mama said he’d wanted her to get an abortion when he found out she was pregnant. I couldn’t love a man who only saw me as a fetus that needed to be expelled. That kind of man wasn’t a father; he was a sperm donor.
“Knowing that yours wouldn’t be around, it reinvigorated the desire to want to know more about Lindell. That’s when Ma introduced me to his sister, and Meg, if there was any doubt in my mind that Lindell was my father, that all stopped the moment I met Aunt Jenny. It was like looking into a mirror.”
I was standing so close to the ficus tree, that when I sucked in all the air around me, one of the leaves went straight into my mouth, and the tip scratched at the back of my throat. I coughed it out and screeched, “Did you say aunt Jenny?”
Mama didn’t hear the utter shock in my voice. She continued on plainly, “Yea. Sweet lady. She died a few years ago. Her husband’s actually at Cedar with Ma.”
“Yea, that’s his name. You’ve met him?”
“He’s been following me around like a lost puppy all afternoon, calling me Jenny!”
Mama laughed her high-pitched hyena-like series of “hee-hees” then said, “He’s a frisky one. He was feeling up on me when I first met him too, and Jenny was still alive then!”
“Let me call you back, Mama.” I marched back to the community area to confront Grandma and Drake. All this time I thought he was calling me Jenny because he was a lonely old man, when in fact, I was actually her distant niece. No wonder he claimed I looked just like her. Grandma did say all the women in our family looked like their aunts.
“Oh, ok, hon. I’ll probably be sleep when you call, so just text me or leave a message.”
We exchanged our “I love yous” and I hung up the phone.
Grandma was still talking about her next husband. She clawed at the air in front of her, as if digging into the ground. “He kept hearing someone knocking. Knocking under the floorboards. But we lived on the first floor. There was nothing there but dirt.”
“He dug his own damn grave,” Thomas snorted.
“He dug himself straight to hell,” Jerry added.
She jumped when she heard her name and looked up at me. “Oh, Meg. I didn’t even see you there. I was just telling everyone about Skeet. Would you like to—”
I shook my head and put both hands on my hips. “So, when were you gonna tell me that Drake’s wife, Jenny, was Lindell’s sister?”
“Damn!” Jerry said.
Grandma’s jaw dropped, and I could scarcely hear her whisper, “Oh,” before she quickly closed her mouth.
Be sure to check out other “S” posts from the A to Z Challenge.