Martha Regan was raised to be a sweet, well-mannered Canadian girl so [Who did she think she was?] destroying it all by taking up with an espresso skinned sailor? It was worth every minute.
One night at the Regan apartment in Verdun, an area in Montreal, her mother Dot had a bunch of people in to celebrate Martha’s birthday. Guests were mainly barflies from the tavern, some lesser known cousin’s and Auntie Ethel. She couldn’t remember if her father had been home so it was more than likely he was on a bender, passed out due to excessive drinking.
Martha’s best friend Teresa was there too. She was a beautiful Jamaican girl who lived around the corner and knew all Martha’s secrets.
When it was time to open presents, Dot with a curious smile handed her one. Teresa sat next to Martha, gleefully tipsy. She was eager to get Martha out to Rockhead’s Paradise an R&B club, where they would meet up with Curtis.
Martha carefully opened the blue autumn leafed paper, revealing a lovely wristwatch. She recognized the watch as the same one Curtis gave her a day earlier. The same one she had shown Teresa that very afternoon.
Oh no Teresa don’t tell!
Martha’s first thought was to warn Teresa from riling her mother up about the duplicate gift and Curtis’ existence but it was already too late!
Without a chance to think Teresa shrieked, “Oh my God Martha it’s lovely! What good taste Mrs. Regan. Martha’s fiancé gave her the exact same watch for her birthday! He’s a negro too!” Teresa said, referring more to her own Jamaican heritage but that wasn’t how Dot heard it.
“Mmmh, what was that dear?” her inebriated facial expression told everyone in the room the question was rhetorical. Dot rose from the table without regard for the ten or so intoxicated guests and all hell broke loose! She was all of 98 pounds but larger than life.
“Why you little tart! How could you do this to me? I thought you said he was gone. You’re lucky your Pa ain’t home!” Dot bellowed like a lunatic. Conversations ceased as all ears turned to the excitement and the real reason they came.
Dot chased Martha around the living room aiming to smack her, “What will people think? I’m gonna drive the devil out of you girl!” she scoffed.
“Dottie we spoke about this!” Aunt Ethel said, frowning.
“Geez Martha, your mother. I forgot she didn’t know about Curtis. I’m sorry. Come over later okay?” Teresa jumped up and headed for the exit. “Thank you Mrs. Regan,” she said, as she high-tailed it out of the apartment.
“That will be the Christ-ing end of you. I’m going to be on you like white on rice. Escort you to work and pick you up too. You’ll see!” Dot was blitzed but she was also at the peak of alcoholic pleasure. In recent years her temperament and alcoholism had joined forces and become inseparable.
“You won’t have to escort me Mother! I’ve been working, paying the rent on this dump far too long. I’m getting the hell out of here and away from you!” Martha seethed.
“Okeee Dokeee Martha! I’ll pack those bags for you. How could you think of doing such a thing to me? It’s not okay,” Dot feigned defeat. She would likely get an avalanche of sympathy from her drunken friends afterward.
It would be the last time Martha fantasized about planning to leave, instead of frigging acting on it. She fled to her bedroom. She didn’t deserve such uncivilized treatment anymore now that she had Curtis to cling to.
She cleared off her bedside table, which was a travel case covered with a silky table cloth. Her hands shook with anxiety. From the armoire she gathered her smartest outfit combinations and lay them out on a flat bed sheet. She filled two pillowcases with other things she might need.
Anywhere but here.
Curtis would have to make their plan work sooner was all. He was still waiting for US Navy orders that would allow him to leave Montreal. It’s okay Martha don’t panic! He’s sure to get word this week.
She opted for an overnight bag to Teresa’s instead. She’d have to figure out how to get her things another day.
She headed out through the living room while Dot’s barflies carried on, celebrating her birthday all but ignoring her. They didn’t need a reason to celebrate anyway.
Martha stopped at the front closet to grab her favorite umbrella then went out the door and closed that chapter of her life. You’re gonna get it old woman!
At Teresa’s place she called Curtis, “That’s cool baby, maybe it’s time to make our move,” his voice was empathetic, “but listen Martha, I need you to hang in there a few more weeks okay? Maybe we can get your things…” he said.
“Curtis I can’t go back there again. When Daddy gets back, I’m finished. He’ll kill me,” Martha said.
“Martha, Martha you can stay here…” Teresa whispered, while looking her in the eye.
“Okay Curtis, I’ll stay here with Teresa,” Martha said.
Days later it was time for Martha to go back home to pick up her case and things to keep at Teresa’s until she went to New York.
“Listen. Me and a few boys will be down to help you with your belongings tomorrow at noon,” Curtis said, the sound of his relaxed southern drawl hypnotized her. She was grateful he would come in case her father was home.
She figured they would need official back up. Half expecting she’d get the run-around at Verdun Police Station she was lucky with an understanding officer, “No trouble at all ma’am. We will send officers to meet you there,” he said.
“Thank you so much,” Martha said, second guessing the an instigation police involvement could be.
An hour later a cruiser showed up at the Regan apartment with two large black cops! Oh God! This will send her into a frenzy! Martha’s stomach was in knots. It was not at all what she’d envisioned.
“Now don’t you fret. There won’t be a problem or else she will be arrested,” the officer said, assuring Martha as if her escape was completely routine.
“Martha your mother will implode!” Teresa said, watching from a safe distance on the sidewalk.
That’s when Curtis and a couple of Navy buddies pulled up in a Cutlass Supreme. She thought she might drop dead at the scare her mother was about to receive. Too much?
“Here we go!” the officer said.
Dot opened the door.
The policemen explained politely why they were there and what they were taking. As Martha passed through the front vestibule Dot took a swing aimed at her jaw. The officer gently blocked Dot’s arm, “Mrs. Regan there’ll be none of that. Martha might not press charges but we will arrest you for disturbing the peace!” he said.
Dot’s eyes narrowed as she glared at Martha.
Martha and her fellas proceeded on through the apartment to fetch the last of her belongings.
Many years later, after Eunice was born Martha sent Dot the hospital picture, Meet your granddaughter Eunice Elena Johnston. She’s blood whether you like it or not!
There was no immediate reply.
“A long time later your grandmother wrote back saying how truly sorry she was. That her reactions were extreme due to medications and panic because her friend had married a black man and she had seen them discriminated against. They were shunned away and had to sit far away from Canada Day festivities on account of their union. Dot was afraid they’d be stoned to death and didn’t want Martha to live a life of misery. She wanted me to bring you up to visit her in Montreal,” Martha said.
“I don’t remember that. How did you respond?” Eunice asked.
“I wrote, no, not happening. You may not see her until you’ve first accepted her father. I told her we couldn’t travel due to low income and taking care of you, which was true. And that she’d need to meet Curtis over the phone. I guess I was a little harsh. Your grandmother ended up sending baskets by Elizabeth Arden and baby stuff by post every other month for about a year. We did end up visiting one time but it was at the end of her life. I don’t like telling that story so much,” Martha said.
Eunice listened quietly. She had no recollection of meeting that grandmother or travelling to Canada.
“Our intention was to go up and stay a few weeks before moving south but we got so wrapped up in your dad’s work and movement stuff. Then we moved and you came along soon after! It was a whirlwind,” Martha said.
“It’s interesting how Grandma’s views aren’t that different than today’s views in Alabama. Does that mean it’s always been this way and it’ll never change?” Eunice asked, feeling sadder than she let on.
Eunice was fascinated to the stories before she was born and wished she’d been born and raised in Harlem instead of Montgomery. Las Vegas had showgirls and gambling; New Orleans Euro flare and creole cuisine and Los Angeles glitzy movie stars; everybody knew Harlem represented what it meant to be black in America.