Sunday, June 23, 2013

Street Corner Aristocrats' Instructions on Life and Living

Never pick up a gun unless you plan to shoot it. Never shoot a
man unless you intend to kill him. 

I decided then and there, from the very first time I learned this lesson that I would never, ever pick up a gun. I never wanted to be the instrument of another's death.

Never disrespect homosexuals. That's how they are. It's not right to be cruel or tease.

My grandfather said that during the Depression when he had worked at the CCC camp that he had met some homosexual men. He thought it was a wrong thing when people made fun of them or treated them badly. "Gay" wasn't a word used then but he was certainly ahead of his time.

"Don't be going to parties and leaving your drinks out of your sight. No tellin' who might put something in your drink to hurt you," I was warned many times by my Grandfather and my Grandmother. My mother told me this and my father. And aunts and uncles. Many times I was told this. However I don't drink; I never liked the taste of alcohol. And frankly parties bore me.

"Don't never talk back to a policeman. Don't talk at all! Just call home and we'll come get you with a lawyer!" I was told even as a tiny person at a very young age. My brother heard this probably as a newborn. The odds are so high that as a black person one will experience police harrassment.

Once I got caught with a nickel bag of weed by the campus police at my friend's college in the South. Unfortunately I was just euphoric enough from indulgence that I forgot to keep my mouth shut. I dont remember what I said but I was able to keep us out of jail. They sent us away with a warning. I immediately called my Aunt Sharon to come pick me up from my friend's dorm. The girl was my best friend from high school - we had been inseparable. Alas this brush with the law heralded immediate separation. That same night she suggested that I find other lodgings despite the fact that I had come down to her school in Atlanta specifically to visit her on Springbreak.

Just the year and a half that we had been away from each other had turned us into entirely different people. I told her just before I caught the plane down to ATL that I had three serious goals for my holiday: to smoke copious amounts of weed, party with hot boys and to study for my history midterm in the course I was taking called The Sixties.  She was newly coming to terms with her sexuality as a lesbian though I hadn't known that beforehand. These mixed motives clearly indicated that we were travelling separate roads. After the police/weed debacle that night she never spoke to me again.

My Aunt Sharon and Uncle Greg were appalled that a person could have such bad manners as to be offended by marijuana. Though they pitied the fact that the cops had confiscated my stash they didn't pity me so much as to share their own. They were too terrified of my mother finding out. We concocted an elaborate plan to hide my indiscretion from my mother.

Mother discovered my indiscretion. I suffered terribly. But I aced my midterm. Out of a class of sixty people I earned one of the only two As on that exam. The professor of the course was so impressed by my performance that he took me on and became my advisor

"Stay in school!! Don't get pregnant!! You're a smart girl; you'll go far if you don't mess it all up by letting some boy get
you with a baby," Everyone said. I never meant an adult who didn't telll me to Stay In School. I never understood this. I was a child, what else was I going to do?  It seemed like every single one of my mother's friends had the same story:they had been living life, working hard in school when they got pregnant at  age 15....16....17....  How it disrupted their plans and future.

 "Don't get pregnant!!" Everyone warned until I was utterly paranoid about the prospect. "Stay away from them boys. They only want one thing!!"

"Don't get an abortion!! Lord no telling what might happen. You know so-and-so near about died trying to get that abortion!'' my mother warned. "If you get pregnant then we will just have to take care of the baby," she reassured me.

"But don't get pregnant!" she said utterly confusing me.

Her friends would say "I was good in school too! Ask yo Mama wasn't I good at school! But...I had that baby and had to go get a job," they said mournfully. School was infinitely easier than a job, I knew that much. I looked at these women who all seemed old to me and simply couldn't picture them as teenagers going to school. Surely they'd been old and too plump all their lives. I couldn't see how my life could be similar to theirs at all. I was young. These women were not. Of course I would stay in school.

I was in seventh grade when the first person I knew became pregnant. Her name was Farrah. Farrah was the one person in my class who was smaller than me and I was always one of the smallest. Her tummy bulged out to huge proportions. It frightened me. I couldn't understand who she was having sex with, how such a thing could happen. Of course I knew what sex was. But it was something grown-ups did.

I still played with my Barbie DreamHouse in my bedroom (I had the silver corvette as well. And all the  furnishings to go in the Dream House. I had two white Barbies and two black Barbies. My black Peaches and Cream Barbie was my favorite because she came with this amazing peach--colored chiffon ballgown that flowed in waves and puffed sleeves)    

When Farrah got pregnant I was secretly embarrassed that I still played with Barbies at 13 years old. So I went home and asked Mother to tell our handyman to take my Dream House out of my room and put it in the basement. I was too old for Barbie anymore, I told my mother. She was concerned I think because I remember how she looked at me. So she had James take the Dream House. But I kept my Barbies in my room. I just couldn't quite take the radical step of purging Barbie entirely. I loved that Peaches and Cream Barbie so much.

And I stayed in school and never got pregnant. Now that I'm staring down the fearful barrell of age 40 if you are cruel enough to  round up I regret not having had babies already. But I was in school all my life up to age 30. There was no time.

"Never try to throw out an addict's drugs or alcohol. It's dangerous. They might go crazy and hurt you for it,'' There were no drugs or alcohol in my house. Not even a bottle of wine. Mother only bought wine if she were having a dinner party. But there were many people I knew who were alcoholics or drug addicts. Grandpoppy himself was an alcoholic I knew though I'd never ever seen him drink.

 As I understand it he tended toward binge drinking. He relapsed twice in his 80s. He checked himself into rehab at age 84. The doctor told him "Claude if you drink again you will not live to return here.," He never touched liquor again and lived into his 90s. In fact he was at work on the last day of his life. That always amazes me because surely he didn't feel well the morning he woke up. But he went to work anyway. He never missed a day of work.

Once he went to Hawaii on vacation and startled his employees cruelly by returning several days early. He didn't want a vacation he said. He had to see about his money. All his employees had considered his vacation an opportunity to steal, to skim a little extra for themselves. There was hell to pay when he came home early and looked at the books.    

"If you have a husband who cheats on you, you don't break up the family for just some piece of pussy. You're the WIFE. There's better ways to fight back. First of all, you hit him  in the wallet. You spend as much money as you want as fast as you can. Don't let him take the family wealth out of the family for some tramp. He'll figure it out."

This came from my mother, co-signed by my grandmother and practically every woman I ever knew. I've seen women enact this principle and certainly there were plenty of intact marriages that I saw growing up.

Let's say the jury is still out on this piece of advice.


No comments:

Post a Comment