Hopefully Beautiful - "I more than survived... I thrived."

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Chapter 13


Momma loved to sing. She was good at it; her voice was strong and made me feel good on the inside when she sang. When Momma played her country music on her eight track player, she would blast it.

As soon as Sand and I heard Loretta Lynn or Dolly Parton start to blast from the living room, we dropped everything and went running; it was singing time, which meant Momma was happy.

Momma would be dancing around in the living room with her glass of Johnny Walker Red in one hand; and a cigarette or joint in the other. She would be singing with the music “Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene… I’m begging of you please don’t take my man”, Sand and I would fall in with harmony on the next set of ‘Jolene’s’. By that time Kooky was in the room.

We loved when we heard ‘He’s So Fine’ by the Chiffons! Momma would be singing the lead and we jumped in with the background vocals “Do Lang Do Lang Do Lang… Do Lang Do Lang Do Lang…” as Sand and I stood next to each other rocking back and forth swinging our arms. It was great!

We didn’t fake sing either, Momma didn’t play that! We had to learn harmonies and get them right. Kooky was too cute as he sang and danced too. He caught on fast and could sing and hold his notes; just like me and Sand. And Momma loved to show us off to her company.

One of her birthdays, she had all three of us sing happy birthday to her at her birthday party that was held at the house. “Ya’ll make your Momma proud at my birthday party” she told us. So we practiced for days; in our room, while we cleaned the kitchen together and even outside during play time.

The night of the party came and I was excited and scared at the same time. Momma came and got us from the room; we were not allowed to be at the party. “Ain’t none of yall’s business what grown folks do” Momma had said.

She checked our clothes and smiled at us; “Come on” she said. She walked proudly back to the den and stopped. She looked at Corn. Corn clanked his glass and turned off the music. Momma’s best friend Miss Sandra lit the candles on her birthday cake that sat on the dining room table.

“We have a special treat for Pat from Joye, Sand and Kooky” Corn said, as we went and stood in the middle of the living room floor. We sang our hearts out for Momma! She was beaming, she was so proud of us! She was happy! I loved singing and it loved me back!

I entered the Talent Show my 6th grade year at Gaskins Middle School! I planned to sing ‘I Don’t Know If Its Right’ by ‘Evelyn Champaign King’. I was excited, I knew singing was something I could do; and it was one of the rare times Momma looked at me like she was proud of me. I also wanted my new boyfriend Michael Reid to hear me sing.

Michael was the first boy I chose to let touch me; no rapes or molestations. Michael was a singer too. He would sing ‘Reasons’ by Earth, Wind and Fire to me over the phone. He was a nice boy, who seemed to be going through problems with his mama, so we connected.

Sand, Denise and Stacy agreed to sing backing vocals and dance with me. I was comfortable with Denise and Stacy coming over to rehearse, they already knew how crazy Momma was; their mom Ms. Sandra was Momma’s best friend at that time, so they were used to her.

We practiced the ‘Popcorn Slide,’ the’ Popeye’ and ‘Shuffle’ for the dance routines that the girls would do; and where I would join in. We were actually learning the vocal parts and harmonies to the song; not thinking about the fact that no one would hear our actual voices, since we were lip-syncing.

The night of the talent show came and I was about to jump out of my skin; but Momma was a nervous wreck! You would have thought she was about to sing in the talent show. She had wanted to be a famous country singer when she was younger.

I had on a dress just like Donna Summers’ with the points on the hem; the girls had on jeans with vests and apple jack hats like the Jackson 5. We were ready! My heart is about to jump out of my chest, as I stand behind the curtains with the girls…

“Welcome Joye McIntyre” I heard the MC say as the music started. The girls ran out to their spots and started their foot shuffle and hand clap as I came walking out singing the intro to the song.

The people in the audience clapped with us as we sang the song; Momma was standing up, clapping and smiling, she was so proud! I had never felt so free and happy!

When we got home, Momma pulled out her Johnny Walker Red and her baggie of rolled joints; made from the weed Sand and I had purchased for her earlier in the day from Mr. Rat.

We were in heaven; we knew the rest of the night was going to be great! She would be happy and laughing and dancing! We knew nobody would get hit tonight!

Momma, Sand and I danced in the middle of the living room floor to “Freak Out” by Chic.

When you danced the ‘Le Freak’ dance, you seductively moved your body back and forth while rubbing your hands up and down your body; especially your lady parts. That’s what they did on ‘Soul Train.’ But Momma was not having that!

“This is how a lady does it” Momma said; as she gingerly touched herself to the music. With her finger tips she touched her shoulders, skipping over all her lady parts and ended touching her knees as she hunched over.

“Always be a lady” she said. I was rolling on the inside! We danced along; she was happy, we were happy!

I was 13 years old when Sand and I joined the Peoples Baptist Church youth choir. After the first time I lead a song, the pastor said I had a voice bigger than my body and called me ‘the little lawn mower’; he said they’d never seen me coming.

Sand and I formed a gospel group with Miss Sandra’s daughters Denise and Stacy after the talent show, called The Berry Sisters; we wanted to be like the Clark Sisters.

We practiced really hard. Stacy and I were the lead singers and took turns leading songs. It was blessed and we were asked to perform at a couple of local churches and things were picking up; when everything went wrong.

Momma found out that Corn was cheating on her with her best friend Ms. Sandra! Now Momma didn’t do anything about Corn messing with me or Sand, but when she found out about him sleeping with Ms. Sandra it was on and popping! Momma stomped into the room, put her hand on her hip and confronted him about it!

Corn’s hands were moving all around as he jumped up from the chair! “What are you talking about Pat” he whined? “I wouldn’t do that and especially not with your best friend Sandra”.

Momma cocked her head toward the ceiling like she was listening or thinking; she looked at him and gave him this look, turned and walked away. Momma didn’t say anything else about it that night.

The next morning Sand and I are up early to watch cartoons before Momma got up and put us to work spring cleaning since it was a Saturday morning.

We hear Momma moving in her room and get mad and throw ourselves around on the floor, way too big to be having a tantrum. She is up and now she was going to put us to work.

Momma came out of her room into the den and walked past us not speaking. Sand and I look at each other. We continue to sit there expecting Momma to call us anytime to start cleaning up, but we hear pots and water. I get up and go peek into the kitchen and Momma is about to cook.

I turn to walk away. “Wait”? She pulled the big chitterlings pot from under the cabinet; which is the huge metal pot that Momma uses for cooking chitterlings and large amounts of greens or cabbage. “What is she cooking in that” I thought? I didn’t see any chitterlings thawing or greens soaking in the sink.

She filled the pot half way with water and poured our giant box of Morton’s salt and two whole boxes of grits into the pot. By this time Sand is standing next to me watching Momma too; Kooky never got out of his pull-out bed.

She stood there with her weight shifted to her left hip, her hand resting on it. She patted her right foot as she stirred the grits and hummed that country lady Lynn Anderson’s song, “I beg your pardon; I never promised you a rose garden”.

Once the grits were ready Momma took a whole bottle of thick black molasses and poured it into the pot of grits and stirred and mixed it together. She lifted her spoon and let the thick mixture fall back into the pot. It was steaming hot!

Sand and I are looking back and forth at each other and Momma. “What is Momma doing now” I think? She was just a humming away, so we knew SOMEBODY was in trouble, she would be humming and have a far-away look when she was about to get somebody.

She continued stirring the pot and humming “Along with the sunshine, there’s gonna be a little rain sometimes” and then placed the spoon in the sink.

She calmly picked up the pot from the stove and Sand and I immediately backed up at the same time into hallway door; we were getting ready to run if she threw the grits in our direction!

But she made a left and went through the kitchen door that lead to the dining room, walking towards the front of the house; then made another left into her and Corn’s room.

Sand and I turned around and ran back through the hallway and into the den where Kooky was laying on his pull-out bed.

We stood in their den bedroom doorway, and watched as Momma stood over Corn while he slept naked on the bed. She watched him for a while, lifted the pot that had just finished boiling on the stove and dumped the whole pot of grits on his back!

You could see the steam heat coming off of his back, as some of his skin peeled back and slid off to the side with the grits onto the bed. Most of the grits stuck to his back though, as he howled and jumped out of the bed.

He was running around the room in circles naked. He fell down on the floor trying to reach his back to get the grits off.

By this time Kooky is standing in the door way watching too. I had my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming or laughing, I’m not sure which.

I look at Momma and she is just standing there staring at him; watching as he squirmed on the floor. She turned and left the room and came back with clean sheets, gauze, creams, wash cloths and a large pot of water.

Corn lay on the floor crying as Momma changed the sheets on the bed. She helped him up and put him back in the bed on his stomach.

Corn continued to cry as Momma cleaned him up and put medicine on his back; she placed the gauze over the wounds and then ripped up sheet strips over top of them and tied them off.

She did it with such love and tender care.

That was the end of the Berry Sisters gospel group; we were no longer allowed to associate with Denise and Stacy.

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