Looking After Little Almita Randell

“Almita!!!!!”

Clarice Randell marched back then forth down the vacant road and its barren surrounding landscape.  She turned a frightened eye to her oldest child.

“John, where she at?! You was supposed to be lookin’ after her!”

“Mama, I don’t know she was sittin’ right here just a minute ago.”

Before she could leap to attack her son, her husband grasped her wrist.

“Clarice juss calm down, she couldn’ta went too far.”

“Almita!!!!! I don’t trust it … these roads.  You know what they doin’ to colored folk down this way  Henry?!”

Silence, fear, and resentment hung heavy.  Father and son did the work of preparing the car to be road worthy.

“ALMITA!!!!!!!!!!”

Her mind drifted to a day a few months before.

“Baby don’t come in here!  Mama’s not feelin’ well and lord knows I don’t need you gettin’ what I got. Gone back in there with John.”

“It’s okay Mama. I’m a doctor.”

You a doctor?”

“Yes ma’am. I’m gonna take care of ya.”

“Is that right? Alright Ms. Doctor. Take care of me.”

Almita jumped right in staring intently into her mothers eyes, then ears, then throat. She flexed and bent her arms and legs. Finally, she put her head against her mother’s chest to listen to her heart.

It was here that the memory froze, and Clarice’s heart broke. Her legs folded and before she knew it she was on the ground. She sobbed heavily and cried out one last time.

“ALMITA!!!!!”

There was brief silence, then the roaring of an engine. She lifted her head and was greeted by a large billow of dust. The jalopy pulled abruptly next to her nearly running her over. In an instant she heard …

“Mama!”

Almita jumped out and ran over to her mother.

“What’s the matter Mama?”

Anger and relief washed over Clarice. She swatted Almita has hard as she could across her back side, then immediately kissed her and wept.

A small statured white man got out of the car.

“She yours?”

“Yessir.”

“You might wanna keep an eye on her.”

The twang in his voice and the implication that she would neglect her child, stirred hatred within her but the relief of having her child back kept it at bay. She rose, thanked him for his kindness and began to walk back toward her family. He followed.

Smiles and laughter as the family reunited fell to awkward silence.

“May I help you sir?”

“I fancy myself a photographer. You’re a right smart lookin’ group of coloreds. I wanna take your picture.”
Clarice looked to Henry.

“Yessir, but we do need to be gettin’ back on the road.”

“Won’t take me but a minute.”

The gentleman fumbled with his clunky equipment as Henry, John, and Clarice ready themselves to leave immediately after the photo was taken.  Almita, ever the curious rebel, ran toward the gentleman, past her father, down beside her brother, while resisting her mother’s last minute adjustments to her hair.

“Okay Mister! I’m Ready!”

Rosie.

photo courtesy of  the Waheed Photo Archive

A Lesson in Watermelon Consumption.

Yesterday Afternoon:

I’m at a patient’s house.  She is polite and southern. I am…well I’m a Jersey girl.  Anyway, I walk into her home and I am welcomed…I mean REALLY welcomed. Greetings are had and I sit down for the business for which I came.  I’m digging her so far. Sweet woman, a lil on the saccharine side, but she means well. Then she begins her story:

“If you smile, the whole world will smile with you.”

I humbly agreed. It’s true. Optimism is awesome.  I smiled, trying to stay on track as I am already way behind and the heat is beginning to make my head swim a little.

“I was at a restaurant one day, and a small lil’ white man behind me said ‘You have got the most beautiful smile!'”

Red flag! I have “a shit ton” of experience in conversations like the one that was getting ready to go down. That experience has taught me that 9.5 times out of 10 when people begin to identify skin colors during anecdotes it’s a segue  into “inadvertent” racist land. We were going there, and we would have having lunch with the mayor.

“A tall black man in front of me in the line paid for my lunch.”

She grinned.

I wanted so badly for her to stop.

“When I got all my stuff I walked right up to him and said. ‘Well, since you bought my lunch, I’ll sit here and eat with you if you don’t mind.'”

The remainder of her story is a bit of a blur. Something about him working on a golf course as a caddy and he’s in his 60s. There were sepia toned pictures of lunch counter sit-ins dancing through my mind. The slide show ended just in time for me to hear her say:

“They gave him two huge slices of watermelon, and he says to me ‘I’d like you to share this with me.'”

I died a little. It wasn’t over.

“Yes, that was a great experience for me. My neighborhood is multi-cul…what do you prefer to be called?”

“Black?”

I whimper.

Why is this happening?

“I’m part Cherokee Indian.”

If I could kill her legally, I would.

“You should bring your kids over here.”

Kids?! She’s assuming I have kidS plural! And that I would dare bring said children to her home!  I’m done. I block out anything and everything she says and shot gun through paperwork as she goes on about giving the neighborhood coloreds rides to the store and the lil nigglets calling her Grandma.  Well, I don’t know if she actually said “coloreds” or “nigglets” but it’s what I heard.

Okay, so she’s probably slightly crazy, and her case is a little extreme, but sadly I’ve had conversations like these with perfectly sane white folk. Why does it happen? I’m not sure. My best guess? It’s that unspoken residual racial awkwardness that we as a society continue to refuse to deal with.  The preconceived notions that we all carry about race and racial identity. If you feel the need to prove that you’re not prejudiced, then you might want to take a look at the fact that you might be.

This does not instantly make you a monster, it just makes you a product of the society you were born into. We are all given information by our parents, by society, whomever, that we use to get us through life.  There comes a time that we have to reassess, look honestly at that information, and determine whether or not that information is still useful to us.  Process that shit, work it out, let it go, and stop assuming I got a house full’a pickaninney’s I’m just dying to bring to your house!

Ok. Alright. I know she’ll never read this. So I’m digressing.

Rosie.