Lord have mercy. My grandpa is dead. Dead and gone. Braxton Jones was his name. Today we had his funeral at Chapel Hill Baptist Church, right here in Rich Square. It was a long, sad funeral. Folks did some hollering and crying and I thought his best friend, Mr. Charlie, was going to have a nervous breakdown right there in the church. He was just hurt. His wife, Miss Doleebuck, never made a sound as she held Mr. Charlie's hand tight. So tight that his hand turned red. Red as a beet.
My grandma, Babe Jones, did some crying. But not out loud. She cried inside with her proud self. Now my ma, Mer Sheals, just cried all she wanted to. Out loud! She was loud like the thunder and lightning outside the church window. It rained so hard the day they buried my grandpa. The ground was wet like my big sister BarJean's face. I believe she did the most crying. Her and my big brother Coy, who drove down from Harlem together in his new light blue Cadillac. Blue just like the one that my uncle Buddy Bush used to drive when he moved back down here from Harlem five years ago in 1942. Back down to Rehobeth Road where Grandma said he belonged. I bet she ain't saying that mess now. Don't nobody with good sense be saying it now. Everybody in Rich Square knows that Uncle Buddy should have stayed North. North of Baltimore, where colored men belong, so they can be men.
Grandma ain't saying nothing now because, you see, my uncle Buddy was not at the funeral. He ain't been around for a month. That is why Grandpa is dead. This ain't got nothing to do with the tumor on Grandpa's brain that the new colored doctor told us would kill him before the cotton bloom. See, the white folks killed Grandpa. No, they did not shoot him. They did not stab him. They did not try to hang him like they tried to hang my uncle Buddy. Grandpa died from a broken heart about my uncle Buddy and what the white folks did to him. Yep, the white folks worried Grandpa right to his grave because they ran Uncle Buddy off. Well, they didn't run him away. Uncle Buddy ran away on his own to stay alive. Had he stayed in these parts, he would be dead too. Dead as Grandpa. It's a shame and a disgrace how white folks treated my uncle. He ain't never done nothing to nobody but had a little white liquor every now and then. Ain't no law against that. But you know what? The white folks got him anyway.
All Uncle Buddy did was take me to the picture show one night in June after we were done eating catfish at Grandma's house just like we do every Friday night. We had such a nice drive into town. We ate ice cream while we waited for his date Miss Nora to get off work at the sewing factory right across the street from Myers Theater. What happened to Uncle Buddy that night was a shame 'fore God. What happened to our lives next was worse.
See, this white woman that passed Uncle Buddy on the sidewalk that night said he tried to rape her. I said she was a lie then and I say she is a lie now. Look-a-here, I saw the whole dag-gon thing and Uncle Buddy ain't tried to rape her nowhere. What really happened was Uncle Buddy did not do what Grandpa been telling him to do ever since he moved back to Rehobeth Road. Grandpa told him when you see white folks coming, just move over and let them pass. Uncle Buddy said, "To hell with them white folks." He said he would not move if they paid him.
He should have moved that night. He stood up so the white lady would walk past him, but he didn't move off of the sidewalk for her. So she went to the sheriff and told him her big lie and they arrested my uncle for nothing. Off they went to the jailhouse with Uncle Buddy. Me, they grabbed up like a rag doll and took me home to my folks on Jones Property.
A few weeks later, while Uncle Buddy was awaiting his trial, the Klan broke him out of jail and tried to hang him. Uncle Buddy is so much smarter than them white folks, because he jumped out of the boot of their car and hid in the swamp where the colored Masons found him and took him North. I tell you the other thing he did, he made it all the way north to Harlem. Well, that's where we think he is.
That was sure good for Uncle Buddy, but all the stress on my poor grandpa was just too much and that is why he's dead and I am sitting on the floor putting Grandpa's obituary in a wooden chest -- the chest that Grandpa carved thirty years ago out of an old oak tree that fell after a tornado came through Rich Square in the middle of the night.
I ain't never gone in this chest before. Grandma said can't nobody on Jones Property go in this chest until you are twelve years old.
On Rehobeth Road, everything happens when you twelve. You get baptized, you get your hair pressed for the very first time, and some girls even get their period. But if you are a Jones, you get to go in the old oak chest and put the obituary away after a Jones funeral.
So last year when my cousin June Bug drowned, Grandma would not let me put his obituary in the chest because I was only eleven back then. But Ma put it in right here. His cousin Willie's, on his daddy's side, obituary is here too. They both drowned on the same day and we had their funerals on the same day too.
Now here are both their dead folks' papers. Right on top. That's a sad sight. Under them two are so many obituaries that it would take me all day to count them. This is something else. I don't believe a person has died on Rehobeth Road, or all of Rich Square for that matter, that Grandma didn't save their obituary.
I can't believe that Grandma has saved all of those papers. It must be two hundred or more. Yep, I bet it's two hundred in here. Grandma even got the obituary from the twins, Big One and Little One's funeral. They was twelve when they got killed in a car accident coming from a stickball game. Grandma got Mary Lou's dead folks' paper too. That woman died because she was too fat. Four hundred pounds too fat.
I know I better close the chest up and get back out in the sitting room with all the folks who came to the funeral to say good-bye to Grandpa. I know my best friend, Chick-A-Boo, want me to come back in there with her. She been with me all evening. But she can't come in this room. This room and this chest are for folks with Jones blood only. So she is stuck in there with the gossiping folks from Rehobeth Road. Just listen at them. They just sitting around talking and eating up all the good cakes and pies that folks cooked for us. There ain't going to be a thing left when Toe Worm leave. Poor thing. We call him Toe Worm because his toes are so curled up that he don't hardly wear shoes. His real name is Pen Paul. Heck, I think I would rather be called Toe Worm. Whatever we call him, it don't stop Toe Worm from eating folks out of house and home. He done eat two helpings of food. Now he's working on Grandma's church friend Miss Thelma's lemon pie. Toe Worm is Miss Thelma's nephew on his ma side of the family.
I put the obituaries back in the chest and close it tight, just like it was when Grandma sent me in here.
Look at these folks just sitting around talking about Grandpa and how nice the funeral was. "Who in the world wrote the obituary? It was some kind of nice," Miss Ethel Mae say in between eating her third piece of chicken. She don't need to eat another piece because she is as big as a house already.
Ma rolls her eyes at Miss Ethel Mae before she open her mouth. "Ethel Mae, you know good and well I wrote that. You ask the same question after every funeral, like you don't know that when coloreds in Rich Square die, they folks come and get me to write they obituary."
Miss Ethel Mae just rolls her eyes back at Ma and bites her chicken again. Ma better leave that big woman alone. All she got to do is sit on Ma, just like she sat on top of Miss Cathy when Miss Cathy was running her mouth at Miss Ethel Mae in the cotton field last year. If she does, I can't help Ma, because Miss Ethel Mae might sit on me, too. Ma said that only crazy folks fight all the time. I say that folks with good sense better keep they mouth closed. Tight!
You know, I really don't have time for all this grown folks' mess. I want them to take their tails home so that I can go back in that room and count some of them obituaries. Maybe I will take one from Grandpa's funeral and give it to Uncle Buddy when I see him. Lord knows when that will be.
While Ma and Miss Ethel Mae still rolling they eyes at each other I go on into the kitchen where Grandma is and wouldn't you know she is sitting in Grandpa's chair, next to the woodstove. I left Chick-A-Boo again, because she and her Ma should have enough sense to go home. I love her, but I am tired and I want to just be with people that got Jones blood.
"Grandma Babe, are you all right?"
"Child, Grandma is going to be fine. I just miss Braxton some kind of bad. I have lived with that man most of my life. I gave him five children and we buried two. And Buddy, he out there somewhere on the run for something he did not do. With all of that, Grandma is still all right."
Miss Doleebuck sitting in the kitchen too and she looking at me like I better go on about my twelve-year-old business. That's fine too, because I want her to leave Jones Property and go home. She been here all evening and I am tired. Most of all I want to get back in that chest before I go to sleep.
Finally, one by one, the folks leave Jones Property and head home. Mr. Charlie, Miss Doleebuck, and their children are the last to leave. Mr. Charlie and Miss Doleebuck got another boy up North somewhere, but he don't never come South of Baltimore. I know he's there, because I overheard Grandpa say so one night when I was testing a new mason jar up against the bedroom wall.
The other thing I know is that boy of theirs, Park Lee, ain't got good sense because he talk to himself all the time and he don't ever stop playing with that green yo-yo of his. Now, that would be fine if he wasn't thirty years old.
Anyway, they all gone now and I am glad. Chick-A-Boo is sad because she has to leave me. But I am happy to see her go. Miss Nora is leaving too. She is so upset about Grandpa dying and Uncle Buddy running off, but she said she will check on us from time to time. She still calls herself Uncle Buddy's girlfriend. If I was Miss Nora, I would get me a new boyfriend, just in case Uncle Buddy can't come back to these parts.
I take a peep in the kitchen again.
Grandma and Ma in there cleaning up.
The women folks that were here earlier did some cleaning up for us after the funeral, but that ain't good enough for these women folks. Not the Jones women. They want the floors to be like dishes, clean enough to eat off of. While they scrubbing the walls, this is a good time for me to go back and look in the chest and to take a copy of Grandpa's obituary for Uncle Buddy. A good time for me to read about all them dead folks. Dead folks who use to live on Rehobeth Road and in Rich Square.
Copyright © 2006 by Shelia P. Moses
Chapter Two: The Milkman
Ma and Grandma still in the kitchen wiping every corner.
Lord, they just wiping.
Ma is crying.
She need to clean the mirrors, too. Grandma covered every mirror in the house last week when Grandpa died. They were covered all week until we got home from the funeral. Grandma took all the covers off except the one in my back bedroom where my cousin, Collie, been sleeping. I guess she will uncover that mirror tonight. Covering the mirrors is a part of dying on Rehobeth Road. That's what the colored folks do around here. They believe it's bad luck to look at yourself when somebody dies. Uncle Buddy said that ain't so. But Uncle Buddy also said that he don't have to move off the sidewalk for the white folks and look where that got him with his hardheaded self.
Let me tell you how hardheaded Uncle Buddy really is. Ma said after his folks died and Grandma and Grandpa took him in he would sit in the kitchen every day and watch Grandma cook. One day when he was about my age, he said the stove did not look hot enough to cook the biscuits. Grandma told him to go about his business and the stove was fine. Guess what he did. He said, "No, it ain't hot," and touched the stove with his bare hand. Grandma and Grandpa tore his behind up. Ma said Uncle Buddy had a sore hand and a sore behind for a week. He's just hardheaded.
I love myself some Uncle Buddy, but I do have to talk to him about not believing in some of the stuff that the old folks on Rehobeth Road believe in. First Uncle Buddy said, "The young are strong, but the old know the way." Then he do not listen when he should. I ain't going to turn on Uncle Buddy for Grandma, but I just know Grandma can tell you some good stuff when she ain't fussing her little gray head off, and Grandpa ain't never told us nothing wrong. Never! You just got to listen and don't get mad. So mad that you get in trouble for not listening. Because Uncle Buddy did not listen, we here without our men folks. And Coy can't stay down here because Uncle Buddy got a hard head. Besides, Coy is going to marry that girl name Mary this November. She up in Harlem planning the wedding while Coy down here getting fussed at by the controlling women. Right now he and BarJean gone down Rehobeth Road, to the house where me and Ma live, to spend the night. The old slave house. Uncle Buddy use to live in the slave house too.
Ma sisters, Aunt Louise and Aunt Rosie, so broke down from their trip down from Harlem and the funeral that they fast asleep in the room where Ma sleep when we stay here. Until they leave, me and Ma staying in the little bedroom off of the kitchen, because Collie sleeping in my room. Ma say they city folks and they need their own room so they can do as they please. Ma say they lazy and we got work to do. We do not have time to tiptoe around in the bedroom while they sleep late. She said we'll be fine in the other room until they leave. I do not care where they sleep; right now, I'm looking in the chest again. The dead folks' chest.
I stick my hand down in the chest to the very bottom. I'm almost scared to look at what I pull out. But I'm looking. This obituary is sixty years old. It is for a lady named Nicey Lewis. That would be Grandma's stepmomma. My grandma told me that her blood momma, Mae Fannie, died when she was born. Her daddy, George Lewis, had to raise her by himself for a little while. Grandma said that she did not even have her ma's breast milk to drink, just milk from the cow.
Grandma said she was about two when her papa (my great-granddaddy), George Lewis, married this kind lady named Nicey Tann. That was her maiden name. Grandma said she was about ten before she realized that Grandma Nicey was not her real momma. It ain't nothing her kinfolks told her. They from Rich Square and everything is a secret around here until you grown. Even when you grown, I think you get a piece of news here and a piece of news there. That is why the mason jar is so important in my life. I ain't asking nothing. I will ease drop with my mason jar up against the walls until I get the truth.
Now, this is the truth. I ease dropped and learned about my grandma one day when she was talking to Miss Doleebuck. Grandma did not have much schooling because she had to stay home and work in the fields. But on the days when it was too cold to work, Grandma would walk to the schoolhouse up in town for a few hours. She said one day she was teasing a girl at school named Betty Sue about her half-pressed hair when Betty Sue just upped and got real mad and told Grandma all about herself.
"You think you is something special, don't you, Babe Lewis. Let me tell you how special you ain't. You don't even have a real momma. My momma said that your momma is dead and that lady you live with ain't your momma. Now how you like that, with your bow legs?"
Betty Sue laughed at Grandma and poor Grandma said she ran all the way home crying loud and acting crazy.
Great-Granddaddy Lewis was not home when she got there, but she told her Grandma Nicey what Betty Sue said. Grandma Nicey started to cry too and held her girl until her daddy got home from the cotton field around suppertime. That's when they told her about her real momma, Mae Fannie.
Mae Fannie got sick while she was giving birth to Grandma. So sick that she took her last breath when Grandma took her first. Grandma don't know much else. She did say that Mae Fannie has a twin sister who is still living up in Baltimore and her name is Fannie Mae. She's about one hundred years old now and she is blind. She don't ever come to Rehobeth Road. But Grandma don't visit her either. Grandma said, "What does being blind have to do with sitting your behind on a train and coming down South? If she don't ever come to Rehobeth Road again, I will not go to Baltimore. Never."
Anyway, Grandma told Miss Doleebuck that after Betty Sue told her about her real mama, Grandma never talked to Betty Sue again. But it made her love Grandma Nicey even more for taking her and raising her like she was her own and all. That's probably the reason Grandma was so happy to raise Uncle Buddy, being that somebody that was not her momma raised her.
Grandma Nicey must have been some kind of woman. And I'm looking at her dead folks' paper right now. It is old and yellow, but I can read it. Folded in her paper is George Lewis's dead folks' paper. It don't say much. Just stuff like he went to Chapel Hill Baptist Church and he was married twice. Grandma was his only child and all that. But no mention of a momma and daddy.
According to Uncle Buddy, Great-Granddaddy Lewis did not know his folks. They were slaves and sold away from each other when Great-Granddaddy Lewis was a baby. He was raised right here in Rich Square all his days. I don't know how he got to Rehobeth Road, or to Rich Square for that matter. I do know that when I am old enough I am going to go up to the county courthouse in Jackson and see what I can find out. My biology teacher, Miss Frances Clark, said that there is all kind of stuff about land and mommas and daddies up there. Maybe while I'm there I will look up something about my no-good daddy Silas Sheals's folks. He left Ma for another woman. On second thought, I don't care nothing about him or his folks. I'm a Jones to my bones and that's all to that. Mama said the man who loves you is your daddy. So Grandpa and Uncle Buddy are my daddies and that's that. End of story.
But it would be something nice to find out more about Great-Granddaddy Lewis's folks. Well, maybe I don't want to know too much.
See, Uncle Buddy said that a lot of folks around here got half-white great-grandparents. "Look at these people," he said one day when I ask him why Miss Doleebuck is so light skinned. "Some of these folks are just as yellow as a cake of butter."
He is right about that and I ain't that dark myself. Not like my best friend Chick-A-Boo. Surely she can't have no white blood. That is one black pretty child. Ain't no white folks able to be related to nobody that dark.
I believe if I look in this chest long enough I will find out who all my folks was. I believe I can even find out who Uncle Buddy's folks was. Don't nobody talk about Uncle Buddy's folks no more. Grandma and Grandpa raised him up after they died over in Rocky Mount in a tobacco barn accident. But if I find out something good, I am going to tell Uncle Buddy. If I find their obituaries, I am going to give them to him, because he did tell me that he didn't have much memory of them. Maybe there is something in the dead folks' paper that will help him to remember. Lord, I can't wait to get to Harlem to find him. Fixing on that Uncle Buddy is there, like folks is saying in the fields. They might be right. Might not!
After the funeral Ma said that I would be going back to Harlem with BarJean for a while. I am going to start packing come morning and I ain't telling nobody what I am putting in my suitcase.
I'm taking short pants, two dresses, and the makeup that Miss Nora gave me last week. And I am going to take some of these obituaries and read them on the train while BarJean is sleeping.
I know she is going to fall asleep before we leave Rocky Mount. Rocky Mount is where the train is leaving from. The train don't come through this little one-horse town.
Don't nothing come through here but the cotton man to buy all the cotton that we pick and the tobacco man come and buy all the tobacco we pick. Of course the big old milk truck come every day to pick up the milk from Mr. Bay's dairy that's across the road from Jones Property. I want to go over there so bad and see how Mr. Bay get the milk out of them big cans into that even bigger can on the back of the milkman's truck. But I can't go over there because Mr. Bay ain't that crazy about colored folks. Now he was nice to us when Uncle Buddy had to run away and he came to Grandpa's funeral. But he still don't want us on his land. When the white milkman comes, I run to the end of the path and put my thumb up and pull my arm down. That mean "hello" around here, and then he pulls this string in the roof of his truck and makes the horn blow real loud. Lord, that is so much fun to me. I think it's just knowing that the milkman ain't from around here that keeps my blood cooking on high. The license tag on the milkman's truck reads Virginia. I ain't never been to Virginia before and I just love knowing that I see someone from another state every day of my twelve-year-old life. I can hear him coming as soon as he turns off of Bryantown Road onto Rehobeth Road and that's when I start running to the end of the path. Me and my dog Hobo. If I am here on Jones Property, Grandpa's cat Hudson runs right behind us.
Last year I was here on Jones Property eating supper when the milkman came and the strangest thing happened.
"Grandma, please let me go thumb the milkman." I would not dare get up from eating supper without asking the woman of the house. That's the rule when I am here on Jones Property. I ask Grandma, not Ma, for permission to do whatever I think I am going to do. The reason I say "I think" is because you don't get to do a thing without a grown folks yes.
Grandma said yes because I asked in such a nice way. If I had just jumped up, she would had taken her cane and dragged me back to the table the way she did when I jumped up to meet Uncle Buddy when he was coming home from work one day. You have to see her punish us with her cane to believe it. She sticks it out with the hoop pointed toward you. Then she catch your leg, right at the knee with that hoop. Down you go! One day that woman is going to break somebody leg with that old cane.
That day, after she said, "Go on and thumb the milkman," I ran to the end of the road and waited. When the milkman got close, I threw my arm high in the air with my thumb up. I couldn't believe it. He didn't blow. I threw my thumb up again. He still didn't blow. That man saw me and did nothing. When he turned onto Bay's Property, I noticed that it was not the driver that comes every day. But they all know about the thumb. What was wrong with him? Mr. Bay's grandchildren were standing outside with their thumbs up too. When the milkman got in the driveway, he pulled his string twice for them. So he don't like colored folks either. That thing hurt me so bad I did not know what to do. I thought about that time Chick-A-Boo really hurt my feelings when she laughed at my run-down shoes. When I told Uncle Buddy about her laughing at me, he said, "Gal, you get your love at home."
So I ran back to Jones Property after the white milkman broke my heart because he didn't blow at me. I didn't go home to tell Grandpa. I went home to be loved. I didn't tell Grandma, because she probably would have walked right off of Jones Property onto Bay's Property and showed that driver how she can use her cane.
When I got in the kitchen, my folks were smiling at me. Grandpa said, "So the milkman pulled his string twice today."
"Yes, sir, he did."
We ate our supper. I ain't thinking about that milkman.
I get my love right here on Jones Property.
Copyright © 2006 by Shelia P. Moses
Excerpted from The Return of Buddy Bush by Shelia P. Moses
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.