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

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Chapter 5


Momma and Corn partied away from the house a lot; and just as before they left me in charge while they were gone, to watch Sand and Kooky and take care of the house; as they did tonight.

But that was better than riding around with them most of the time. When they were visiting one of their friends or trying to borrow money, they left us in the back of Corn’s vintage black car while they went inside.

They made us hide in the back compartment area of the vintage car’s back seat. We had to say down and out of sight until they came out; sometimes they seemed to be inside forever. So I liked watching them better at home; as I did tonight.

I was sitting on the toilet using the bathroom; my feet dangling because they did not reach the floor. When all of a sudden the bathroom door swung open!

At first I thought it was Momma, that’s how she busted into a room; but it was Sand. “Shut the door” I yelled! Sand slammed the door closed. ‘Baam!’ Sand kicked the door back open!

“Get out” I yelled at her! ‘Whammm!’ she slammed the door shut! ‘Baam!’ she kicked it back open again. I am reaching down holding my panties and trying to cover up. ‘Close the door Sand’ I yelled at her again. ‘Whammm!’… ‘Crack’!

The last time she slammed the door closed, Momma’s ceramic picture of the ‘African lady pouring water from her bowl’ hit the ground and shattered!

I felt my eyes widen as Sand whipped the door back open and looked at the broken picture; she looked at me “Whaaaaaa” she instantly started crying. “You gonna have to tell Momma what happened” I said. I walked around the rest of the evening a little nervous, but feeling safe; I hadn’t done anything wrong today.

As soon as Momma got home and went to the bathroom, she noticed her ceramic missing’ “What happened to my shit’ she yelled from the bathroom! All I heard in the distance was Sand’s voice say “I don’t know Momma.” My heart started pounding!

Momma went into rampage mode! “Somebody gonna tell me who did it, or I am whooping everybody” she spat! Line up! We had to watch each other get our beatings.

She started with Kooky; she gave him a couple of swats with the belt and Kooky faked like he was having an asthma attack and she let him go.

Momma beat me next. I was jumping around and starting to get bruises on my legs as I screamed “Sand tell Momma the truth, tell the truth Sand”! She just stood there shaking her head ‘no’.

Finally Momma stopped beating me. “Sandwan, get yo ass over here; I know it was you” Momma said as she started whooping Sand. “So why did you beat me then” I’m thinking as I stood there trying to catch my breath, sucking snot.

Momma quickly made friends with a very pretty lady named Ulanda. Miss Ulanda lived on Hamilton Street; which is the next street over from Carl.

She came over to the house a lot; and she and Momma would drink, smoke weed and listen to music while sitting and talking. I was surprised when I first saw her. I could not believe that Momma trusted Corn around her, she was so pretty.

Corn was just as bad as daddy Presley with the ladies. I don’t know how Momma missed seeing him flirting with her friends or other women.

Miss Ulanda had two younger sisters; Pearline and Linda who were in their late teens. Momma would send us around to Miss Ulanda’s house to take her something or borrow items from her.

The first time Sand and I were sent to her house, I remember standing in the hallway when I heard a door open. I looked to my left and Pearline was coming out of a bedroom that had an old man naked sitting on the bed; and she looked sad.

I later learned that it was their daddy, who was always drunk and naked on his bed when we came over.

Pearline was a beautiful girl; tall with long dark wavy hair that hung past her shoulders and a large forehead. Pearline was a church going girl; she wore long dresses to her ankles, flats, talked about God all the time and she carried a bible with her everywhere she went.

Momma wanted to go out with Miss Ulanda and her other girlfriend Miss Sandra to the Elks Lodge and needed a babysitter; Corn was not home. “Pearline babysits all the time; you should ask her to watch the kids” Miss Ulanda chimed in.

Momma liked that idea because Pearline was a church girl and said she would be a good influence for me and Sand. She called Pearline on the phone and was happy when Pearline agreed.

The first time she babysat, she did not say much as she watched TV with us and we ate snacks. Pearline was boring with a capital B! She did not want to let us go outside; we might get hurt.

We couldn’t play our records or listen to the popular radio station because that was the devil’s music. She also picked which television shows we could watch, because some of the other shows were the work of the devil too. I didn’t know that the devil was in so many places!

The second time she babysat us, we were in the den watching TV and Sand was asleep on the chair and Kooky had fallen asleep on the floor.

I was sitting on the couch with Pearline watching TV, “You are a pretty girl” she said. I turned and looked at her and smiled, ‘Thank you’.

She leaned in towards me, with her head cocked to the side; she placed her hand on the back of my head pulling me towards her and kissed me on my mouth!

I just stared at her. She stared back at me, smiled and got up from the couch and woke up Sand and Kooky to go to bed. I continued to stare at her, then got up and went to bed with Sand.

The third time she babysat us, after we had had our baths, Pearline took me to my room in the back; Sand and Kooky were told to stay in the den and watch TV while she talked to me about something. She stood me at the edge of my bed and pulled my gown up.

“Sit down and lay back”, she told me and then her head went below! My ears are pounding as I closed my eyes. After a while I felt her lift her head and look at me.

I closed my eyes! I hear screaming! Pearline jumped up from the edge of the bed! At first I thought it was me, but when I opened my eyes my mouth was closed and Pearline was running out the room!

It’s Kooky! Screaming loudly! I jumped up and pulled my gown down as I ran out the room towards the den. “Somebody was looking through the window” Kooky was yelling, and pointing at the window in the den!

I look at Sand; she starts to scream and so do I! We take off running to the front of the house and out the door! Screaming up the street!

I hear Pearline’s voice as we are running, she is standing in the middle of the street yelling “You live across the street from a church, God will protect us!”

One of our neighbors on Carl Street brought us back to the house; it turned out that what Kooky saw was his own reflection in the window.

Pearline did not bother me again that night; but for the next year, every time she babysat us, she touched me. And I later learned that her sister Linda had been touching Sand.

Life went on as usual, only Corn was daddy now, not daddy Presley. I was 8 years old and we started Paul L. Dunbar elementary school that fall; I was excited to start the third grade. On the first day of school, Sand and I stood cleaning Oil of Olay from the night before from our faces with Noxzema; our regular morning routine.

Momma took great care of her hair and skin. She went to the beauty shop every two weeks faithfully, to keep her hair right and she rolled it every night. Sand and I had to roll our hair nightly too, even if it was just our ponytails.

Momma took excellent care of her skin and she taught us how to do the same. We gave ourselves facials on Sundays; and we cleansed and moisturized our faces twice a day.

The best part was night time; if Momma was happy. Sand and I would stand on either side of her, all three of us facing the mirror of Momma’s bedroom vanity; while Momma sat on the little matching chair between us.

Momma would dip her fingers into the blue Noxzema jar and start rubbing the cream in half circles at the base of her neck and worked her way up her face. Sand and I copied everything she did.

Once our faces were completely covered we went to the bathroom and wet our wash cloths with warm water and washed our faces moving our cloths in circles.

We then rinsed our faces with cold water and patted our face dry. We then went back to Momma’s vanity and gently rub the thick light pink Oil of Olay cold cream on our faces the same way we had with the Noxzema; we then slept with the Oil of Olay on our face.

Momma was beautiful, but she was extra beautiful when we did what she called our “facial hygiene”. She looked like a queen as she sat at the vanity.

Momma walked us to school the first two days, which was a 10-15 minute walk from our house. At first it seemed scary, but Momma said by the end of the week it would be easy.

We walked straight up Carl Street until we got to Lagow Ave and made a right.

We walked another two blocks until we got to Metropolitan Ave, where the school sat on the left corner.

On the right corner was a store where Sand and I could buy sour pickles, Kool-Aid and peppermint sticks; we saw them when Momma stopped for cigarettes on our way to school.

The last building that we passed before crossing the street to the school was this brown brick, two- story building. The dark brown rusty looking staircase reminded me of the TV show ‘good times’ for some reason, even though I had never seen a staircase on the show. I stared at the building every morning as I approached and passed it.

I joined the drama club and planned to audition for the role of Mary for the Christmas play; and the school chorus when my home room teacher announced it to the class. I was extremely excited about singing! I liked the school and everything seemed to be off to a great start.

Sand came home from school one day and said her teacher Miss Williams was mean to her. “Whatchu mean, mean to you, what did she say” Momma asked as her nostrils started to flare. “That I didn’t have no home training” Sand said painfully.

Momma’s eyes got big as she pulled on her cigarette and she leaned forward and placed her forearms on her thighs; she started to pat her foot.

“I’mma talk to her in the morning” was all she said as she stood up and went to her room.

The next morning as Sand and I were about to leave for school, Momma came out of her room dressed “Ya’ll ready” she asked? “Yes” was all we said as my heart raced!

We walked to school quietly, the only time we talked is when Momma asked Sand again what the teacher had said and wanted to know how she had said it. Momma was working herself up, getting ready for the meeting with the teacher; the more she talked about it, the harder and faster we walked.

When we turned the corner and I saw the school, I felt faint. I just know this is going to be bad. We enter the school and head for Sand’s class. “Can I go to my class” I asked Momma, hoping to skip what was about to happen.

“No, you stay with me” “I need to know where you are just in case…” she did not finish the statement, her brow set into a frown. We were about to go into Sand’s classroom.

As we walked into the classroom the teacher looked up from her desk and I swear it looked like her eye sockets leaped out of her face.

By the time she recovered and stood up, Momma was already across the room and in her face. Momma stopped; shifted her weight and put her hand on her hip.

“Mrs. Lewis” was all that the teacher was able to say. Momma put her finger in the teacher’s face and grimaced her mouth!

In her best proper accent, “You got something you want to say to me” Momma asked? Miss Williams opened her mouth to speak, but Momma cut her off.

“No, you want to talk to people’s children any kinda way” Momma said in a way that I could tell she felt like she had ‘legal rights’! The teacher backed up, Momma followed her.

“I’ll show you what folks with no home training act like”. Momma said, as she pushed the teacher and she stumbled back to the chalk board!

“Now wait just a minute” Miss Williams said as she stumbled back! “You don’t know me and…” “And what?” Momma said as she stepped closer. “What you gonna do” Momma yelled!

The teacher is speed walking to the door to leave the room, Momma is behind her nudging the back of her head, “If Sand EVER comes home and tells me that you bothering her again, I am going to come up here and kick your ass from here to Timbuktu”! “You hear me” Momma said?

Me, Sand and all of the students in the classroom followed them into the hallway. Teachers are coming out of their classrooms because Momma is cussing Miss Williams out loudly.

The teacher started trying to talk slick to Momma because the other teachers were now in the hallway trying to stop the fight.

“Oh you wanna show yo ass” was all I heard Momma say as she grabbed a large portion of Miss Williams’ hair and started punching her in the head! A man grabbed Momma from behind and started pulling her away. By this time the principle Mr. Dickerson was on the scene; trying to get Momma to calm down.

“What is wrong Ma`am, can I help you” Mr. Dickerson asked? “Your teacher is disrespecting my daughter and talking to her any ole kind of way” Momma said, as she tried to catch her breath.

“Let’s go into my office and we can get to the bottom of this”, he said as he led Momma away. As Momma walked away with Mr. Dickerson, she gave Miss Williams a ‘we’re not finished yet’ look.

Sand and I followed Momma and Mr. Dickerson into his office. All was going well, he was actually getting Momma to calm down and then he messed up…

“Mrs. Lewis, this is not how we handle things here at Dunbar, we are a dignified…” was all he got out of his mouth.

“What you trying to say? I don’t have class!” Momma jumped up from her seat moving to the other side of the desk so fast, Mr. Dickerson did not have time to brace himself; he looked stunned. Momma shoved her finger into his face so fast and close, that part her long finger nail poked Mr. Dickerson in his nose! He howled and grabbed his nose.

Momma reached for and grabbed the telephone receiver and held it as she walked off, causing the cord to wrap around Mr. Dickerson from the back; which caused his chair to turn. I just kept looking at the door expecting the police or someone to come in and help him.

He just sat there holding his nose with a shocked look in his eyes as we left. “Ya’ll come on” Momma snapped in between her cursing, as we walked out of the office.

Teachers and students were standing around staring; “What ya’ll looking at” Momma yelled out! “I’ll give ya’ll something to look at”. I dropped my head, I wanted to run but couldn’t; Momma lifted up her long lounger, hiked it up over her pantiless behind and bent over! “Now, look at that!”

Teachers gasped and students laughed; Sand and I never looked up, we each held one of Momma’s hands as she dragged us out of the school.

The teachers never said anything to us again about our grades or work; and they never requested parent teacher conferences the rest of the time we attended Paul L. Dunbar Elementary School.

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