That day will never die, although I have spent most of my life trying to forget it. It was a bright and beautiful fall day, and I was playing in the front yard of my maternal grandmother’s house. Inside, my aunt Diane was watching television and babysitting my youngest aunt, Marquice. I don’t know why I was outside alone; but I’m pretty sure it had something to do with the fact Marquice and I did not get along. It’s amazing the details of childhood a person remembers even after forty-six years; and playing outside alone—that particular day—is vividly in my mind.
Marquice and I were born just four months apart. My mom and dad had been married for almost four years, and my maternal grandmother was not married at the time of her pregnancy. Mothers and daughters in dual pregnancies were typical in poor families back in the day—aunts and uncles raised together with nieces and nephews. Such was our norm. What bothered me most about Marquice was she never liked me. She did everything possible to make my life a living hell, and she was encouraged by her mother and my aunt, Diane. Being a child with perpetual forgiveness to dole out selflessly, I did my best to treat Marquice kindly. Don’t get me wrong. There were times when she pushed me too far and I retaliated. Whenever I did retaliate, my grandmother chastised me and that began my realization of unequal justice.
This particular day, my aunt Diane sent me to play outside alone. I don’t recall what type of clothing I wore that day, but I must have looked like some Southern, cotton-picking, slave baby because when my paternal grandmother drove up to the house, she grimaced. I knew that disapproving look, and it made me very sad. I was about three or four years old and playing in the dry dirt was my favorite activity. I loved making wetting the dirt to make mud pies, climbing trees, and playing jacks. Being outdoors was my escape from the torment of Marquice. However, my paternal grandmother interrupted this play day, and she was not happy with my appearance.
My Grandma Sammie Lee called my name, and I rushed over to the driver’s side of her car. My uncle John sat in the front passenger seat, and my aunt Cynthia sat in the backseat behind my grandmother. Grandma smiled and told me to get in the car because she was taking me shopping. I was so happy. I felt lonely and going shopping with Grandma was going to be so much fun! Although I looked like someone had rolled me in flour and stuck my finger in an electrical socket, I was going shopping!
With his famous, bright, white smile, Uncle John got out, picked me up, and helped me into the backseat. I climbed in and sat next to Cynthia, who was also only a few years older. Even as I write this story, tears well up in my eyes because of the happiness and joy I felt when my Grandma Sammie Lee picked me up to take me shopping. Who knew that special day would end with one of the most horrible childhood experiences I had, leaving its indelible mark on my psyche.
I don’t recall my Grandma Sammie Lee talking to my aunt Diane and telling her where we were going. I was oblivious. All I cared about was going to downtown to Macy’s to shop with my Grandma, uncle, and aunt. When we entered Macy’s, everything seemed so big and tall—the people, mannequins, signs, etc. It was almost overwhelming, especially for a small child. Nonetheless, I was overjoyed to be surrounded by so many beautiful things. Taking me by the hand, Grandma Sammie Lee walked me to the ladies room. Once inside, she took her handkerchief, placed it under the running facet, wet it, and cleaned my face, hands, and legs. She reached in her purse, retrieved a brush, and brushed my hair into a ponytail. When she was satisfied with my look, she led me back out into the department store.
Grandma Sammie Lee led us over to the little girls’ dresses. She told me my daddy had sent her money and wanted her to buy me a beautiful dress, matching socks, and black patent-leather shoes. There were so many dresses and they were so beautiful! I tried on yellow-laced, pink-ruffled, white-pleated, and pastel-green, cotton dresses. Grandma, Uncle John, and Cynthia laughed as I pranced and modeled for them. I was grinning from ear-to-ear. I felt so pretty—even prettier because my daddy wanted me to look pretty. I liked the white dress most; but Grandma decided on the pink dress. She told me the ruffles made my bowed-legs look prettier.
We headed over to the shoe department in search of the black, patent-leather shoes. There were so many, but I quickly noticed a pair with a bow on top. They were so beautiful—with a rounded toe and shiny, silver buckles. To finish my new wardrobe, Grandma picked out laced, pink socks. She took me back into the restroom, and changed me into my new clothes and shoes. She added a pink ribbon to my ponytail; and we left Macy’s. For the first time in my childhood, I felt pretty. I was the happiest little girl in the world.
Before returning me to my maternal grandmother’s house, Grandma Sammie Lee treated me to a burger and fries. Of course, I could not have catsup or mustard; but the food was still delicious. As we drove back to the house, I leaned my face out the backseat window taking in the sunshine, cool breezes, and blue skies. I had not expected such a wonderful day. I was so happy. I felt loved.
Grandma Sammie Lee pulled up to the familiar curb. Uncle John got out, leaned his seat forward, and reached for my little hand. He picked me up, grabbed the shopping bags containing my old, soiled clothing, and carried me to the door. My aunt Diane answered, and didn’t seem happy to see me. That was okay because I felt pretty. I stood inside the screen door and my uncle walked back to Grandma’s car. He waved as he got in. Grandma and Cynthia waved, too. I smiled, waving back. Then, they were gone.
(Continue reading in the book When Family Does You Wrong).
Submitted by Clarissa (Queen of the Pen) Burton