THE DRY BONES
My mother was content with being plain. With a little make-up, better hair, and clothes, she could've been a real looker. She already had the walk. She moved like the snapping of fingers and the tapping of sinners’ feet, but she looked like a nun.
She loved me, but it was the kind of love that faded each time I made a mistake. Her eyes often told me, “God gave you to me, so I’m going to provide for you. I’ll feed you, clothe you and try to show you the way. And I’ll love you, but only because God requires that of me.”
My daddy was the only man I ever respected. He was the only one who ever reciprocated my love in a genuine way. Growing up, he was hugs and kisses and always with a pomegranate in hand. Daddy provided me with more love than I could possibly hold. As momma’s love drained daily, his swelled. I was his baby.
I don’t know why they were so surprised how things turned out for me. When a father loves you too much and a mother, too little, life bears uneven light. Things happen. And I got pregnant.
Freda's father was six years older than me. I met him when I was fifteen. He was cousins with my best girlfriend, Lorraine Benton. I called her Lo-Lo, she called me El. We grew up together, on the same block. Our houses were identical – a pretty pink with white trim, except her house was decorated with style. My house was plain, like momma.
Lo-Lo’s house was everything mine wasn’t. Her mother, Nadine, like her mother and her mother’s mother, worked as maids for this wealthy white family that had some big business in Dallas. Mrs. Victoria, the lady she worked for, often gave Nadine old furniture, and clothes.
My momma was never impressed. “Nadine Benton is a fool,” she’d say, shaking her head in contempt. “She’s just a charity case and a sharecropper. Happy to take white folks’ crumbs. She ought to tell them folk to share some of that land her family worked all those years for free.”
Momma was never without an opinion. She was the talker in my house. Daddy was quiet. A thinker. He only spoke when absolutely necessary. But as quiet as he was, he had a loud laugh that often rocked our little house when I’d tell him stories, he’d read the funnies, or when he and momma were alone in their bedroom. He’d come to life then.
After begging for months, my folks agreed to let me spend a month in Mexia with Lo-Lo and her grandparents. It was the best summer of my life and my first time away from my parents.
We stole a bunch of Lo-Lo’s momma’s wigs and dresses before we left. At night, we’d put on hair, clothes, make-up, and shoes we didn’t have any business wearing outside the house. We’d step out into Mexia’s country darkness after her grandparents went to bed, and walk barefoot two miles – high heels in hand – to this falling a part shack called Leon’s Place. It was many things to many people: juke joint, pool hall, “a shack of sin” and home of the town’s best bar-b-que and catfish.
Pretending to be grown is something most girls do every now and then. Lo-Lo could barely keep her composure when men approached us, offering a drink and other things. But me, I became a grown woman.