An Instance Piece
“DO YOU SEE YOUR DUMB DAUGHTER UP HERE ON THE OPRAH SHOW, tellin’ all her damn business?” Willadeene growled into the receiver at Jessica her eldest child. Willadeene was smoker for many years. Her voice was deep, and words rattled deep in her throat before she let them loose.
“Janine, your cereal is on the table.” She pointed to the small white rectangular table that sat against the wall across the room behind her. She was still holding a small white pot in her hand and clutching the red receiver between her ear and her shoulder. “Careful, it’s hot, just got it off the stove. If you want some milk it’s in the ice box, I’ll get you a glass. Wash your hands first. Jessica, channel seven, it’s on channel seven.” Willadeene rolled her eyes and scrunched up her face while she silently mouthed to me across the kitchen that her daughter was stupid.
I rested my backpack behind the red patent leather chair I planned to sit in. I picked a chair that gave me a perfect view of the thirteen-inch television that sat on the cream and gold glittered countertop. It wasn’t odd that Willadeene was on the phone while the Oprah Show was on, she often discussed the show in great detail with her sisters. Oprah’s hair, her jewelry, her nail color and lipstick, what shade it was and wondering if she got it from Fashion Fair. The white and red decorated kitchen was usually bright in the morning, but today it was dim. For shame I suspect, Willadeene hadn’t even opened the shades above the sink or on the back door.
“It’s coming back on, I’ll call you back. Alright?” I don’t think Jessica replied before Willadeene slung the receiver back into its cradle hanging on the wall. Willadeene was a tall, fair skin woman with a square face and tiny brown moles underneath her eyes. Red and white were her favorite colors, and with wall to wall plush red carpeting and all white furniture, she proved it. She also only dressed in red and white and even though she only had seven fingers, they were always painted pale iridescent pink. Willadeene often bragged until teary-eyed about how pretty her hands used to be before they got chewed up by the machine over at the American Can Company during the war. She kept the nubs on that hand balled up with the two remaining fingers stretched out like she was shooting a gun. She was a round, bigger woman than my own grandmother, who I only saw once a year. Between Willadeene and her Aunt Irene, who my mother rented our house from I had all the Grandmothers I needed at home and just around the corner. It took a while before my mother realized that I was spending every morning before school and every afternoon after school with these ladies. After I started making statements like, ‘He’s black enough to squeeze blueberry juice from,’ and ‘Don’t you be dumb all your life,’ and singing songs like, ‘What a Friend we have in Jesus,’ she knew that I was being somehow influenced from an entirely different generation. But she didn’t stop me, so it became my routine.
“Can you believe this stupid little girl? Is she going to be dumb all her life?” Willadeene exclaimed.
I did not respond, I knew better. There was one simple rule every child in the eighties had to follow: Stay in a child’s place— that is, if you wanted to make it into the nineties. I could barely see the television from my planned location because Willadeene was standing partially in front of it with her two-fingered fist dug inside of her mountain of a hip.
“Janine, you say grace?”
I quickly dropped my spoon back into my sweet buttery grits and bowed my head to pray.
“Pray, ‘Chile! Pray for me! Ask the Lord why he gives me this dummy for a Grandchild.”
When I reopened my eyes, Willadeene had taken a seat at the table across from me and began peeling potatoes.
“You ain’t tell the Lord I said those nasty thangs, did you?” she looked at me from over her large gold-rimmed glasses.
“No, I just thanked him for my food.”
I could now see the television clearly, and there she was Daphne. She wore a black dress suit with shoulder pads to the heavens. With Vaseline soaking through her white stockings, sitting with her legs crossed in a grey chair, Daphne was talking to our beloved Oprah.
Oprah asked, “So when you found out he’d had the affair with his secretary what was your initial reaction?”
Willadeene usually felt that watching television was an interactive activity and this time was no different.
Willadeen shouted, “She should’ve been thinking about me, Oprah! I’m the one who told her not to marry that trifflin’ little boy.”
“I thought about all of the people who told me I shouldn’t marry him, primarily my Grandmother.”
Ms. Irene shimmied from behind me into the kitchen on her cane from the living room where she usual sat reading her bible or watching the 700 Club. She scuffled her feet in mini steps so not to trip. She was followed by her miniature white poodle Bandy, who wore red finger nail polish and red ribbons at the top of each of his ears.
“Willa, what are you hollarin’ about?”
“My Grandbaby. Daphne up here on the Oprah Show, making a fool out of herself.”
“What?” Ms. Irene cried out in disbelief.
“Look here for yourself. There she is, talking about that dirty scoundrel of husband she got. I told her not to marry him.”
“Good Morning Ms. Irene.” I said as Bandy came over begging me to play with him before I left for school. I hadn’t finished my grits yet but got up anyway so that Ms. Irene could take my seat with the good view. I sat my glass and bowl in the porcelain sink gently so not to crack the gold trimmed china.
“Looooord, have mercy,” Ms. Irene sang, “Look at her sittin’ up there!” She laughed.
“I told her as soon as I saw him that he wasn’t no good. I said Daphne, he short, and he got them eyes like my second husband. That boy gonna have a temper on him and he’s gonna cheat. Awe Granny, Awe Granny, you don’t know what you talkin’ bout.” She reenacted the conversation.
“That suit looks nice on her.”
“Shit.” Willadeene said grinding her dentures.
“Willadeene!” Ms. Irene scolded her sharply about using that language in front of me. “You cannot predict the weather no more than you can predict the woes of love.”
I stood at the sink so I could be closer to the television. They always warned me I’d go blind from sitting so close to the television set. Of course, I loved to test this theory time and time again. I loved how the static on the warm television screen popped when I touched it. When no one was looking I would pressing my face into the glass screen until all I could see of the picture were the red, blue, green and black lines.
“Janine,” Willadeene shouted gaining my attention quickly. “You ain’t as dumb as my granddaughter, so I’mma tell you right now, don’t ever marry a short man, or a Mexican, they full of heat and they full of babies. And I ain’t tellin’ you what I think, I’m tellin’ you what I know!”