Martha told Angela they planned to move, “How hard an adjustment can it be. I’m from provincial smaller towns in Canada,” Martha said.
“You can’t truly understand the nation unless you at least make a pilgrimage to the Deep South. As long as there has been oppression, people have resisted it. Living in the South has turned my attention to the countless women and men whose acts of defiance, broke down barriers and built new bridges,” Angela said.
Martha thought she understood race relations from all those years living in New York but it had merely been the tip of the iceberg. When they got to Georgia, she realized the North had been a dress rehearsal.
In his Navy days, Curtis learned about the world and had broken away from his lot in life, of farmer but Martha’s education was just about to begin, by moving south. Her experience would unfurl like a rich quilt tapestry, women of little means sew together from tattered fabric.
In the North, his having a white wife was of constant concern. In the South, her safety, her being a target of attack, her naively upsetting people would be of concern in different ways.
There were black men who found him crazy to get involved with her and some envied his gall. Black women were often disgusted he stepped outside his race. White men might be jealous, wanting to trade places, while white women found him handsome and could imagine how Martha have fallen for him. It wasn’t easy finding a good man!
A story Martha always told Eunice growing up was about the first time she met Daddy’s folks in Georgia. Martha told it so many times, she sounded like a late night radio host doing a soft spoken monologue.
I sat in the front room while your father and his folks discussed things on the porch. I could hear every word through the screen. I heard your grandma Cora say. “That wife of yours thinks her shit don’t stink!”
“Mama you hush now! She’s just nervous. She’s never been South. We’ll be fixin’ to leave in a week or two so never you mind,” your father said.
I could tell he was distraught, which made me feel guilty for sticking out like a sore thumb. Southerners white or black, seemed to be angered by my being in their community. It took its toll on me after a while. I’m still convinced the blistering heat can make folks unreasonable.
Grandma Cora said, “But don’t you understand? Black and whites together just ain’t right, not down here. She’s a white woman for chrissakes! They’ll kill you. Where’s your head at Curtis?” she burst out sobbing.
“Hush woman, the boy is figurin’ out his co-ordinates. ’Sides, I need help ’nussing this squirrel back to life. I nearabout ran over it on the road,” your grandfather Ben said.
“I don’t need the whole town chattering about this white woman you got mixed with, you is just asking for klan trouble boy!” Cora said, throwing her hands up in the air.
“Atlanta might be best for you Son. They don’t mind folks doing whatever lifestyle they want nowadays,” Ben said, sternly agreeing there would be trouble if we stayed.
“Alright Momma, enough of that rough talk,” Curtis said.
Then your grandmother softened. “I reckon I can call on Sofia Hood over in Montgomery. That might be just the place for you given your choice to uh, marry one. It won’t do here Curtis. I reckon you’ll do what you want in the end,” Cora said.
I wish I could have seen her face. I had come a long way though. I learned prejudice came in many forms; sometimes heart piercingly so.
Perhaps your father was distracted being under their influence. He seemed oblivious to what I went through. I felt completely ignored and alone. I was the only one who was different? I had never been south of New York state before. I was the only white person around and it was the first time I’d felt neglected by him. Didn’t any of them understand?
Then I realized it was similar to what he must have gone through in Montreal and so I felt even closer to him. Grandma’s health was on the decline and I chose to believe she had nothing personal against me. She just hated damned Yanks, never mind a damn Yankee cracker!
Martha could have done the international symbol for ‘end scene’ as she returned to her usual speaking voice.
Eunice had always wanted to understand her mother’s battle with depression and its cause. Could it have been years of societal harassment at her audacity to marry a black man or something physiological in her brain.
She asked her to elaborate on those days. “Mother what was it really like being white with Daddy’s family when you came south?” Eunice asked.