“Racial strife existed before the Mayflower and continues after Ellis Island; they brought their fears, traditions, hatreds and conflicts.
What happened to my love? The first time I realized that love could die was when the singer Minnie Riperton passed away. I couldn’t understand how someone so beautiful should have to leave this world so soon. When she sang, it was as if she was singing only to you. It wasn’t soon after that that my Grandma Pocahontas on my mother’s side of the family died. We called her Poky for short, because we thought that it sounded more Black. Especially in the time of the “Black Power Movement”, when you had to “say it loud that you were Black and that you were proud.”
It was extremely important that we kept our Native American roots on the down low. It was hard enough trying to survive being Black in America, but it was doubly hard living in the world as a Native American. On one hand we were Black and hated for it, and on the other hand we were Native American and not counted. When my mother and my stepfather told me of Grandma Poky’s passing, I tried my best to stop crying, but the more I tried, the more I cried.
Grandma Poky helped to raise me, and all I could think about at that very moment were the red roses that adorned her cooking apron. I remembered how she would sit with me on the red love seat in the TV room, while we both attempted to follow the bouncing ball, and sing along with Lawrence Welk on the Lawrence Welk Show each week.
Grandma Poky and Little Lynel. Tiny bubbles…(tiny bubbles)…In the wine…(in the wine)
She sat next to me and my older brother, sipping on corn whiskey until the wee hours of the night. And when she was really sad, she would start talking about being on the reservation in North Carolina; and how her mom would take her to see Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Shows as a little girl. I always wondered why she wore that apron all day long. I mean, she did a lot of cooking and cleaning around the house, but she wasn’t doing it all day. Maybe my Great Aunt constantly saying things to her like, “You smell like piss…you’re a dirty old Indian… and you old drunk bitch” all day long, combined with her cooking, cleaning and having to take care of my older brother and I, made her too tired to lift that old apron over her head at the end of each day.
That apron must have been as heavy as a suit of armor by day’s end. And her constant drinking made her unaware of the fact that her stockings had fallen to her ankles. I used to look into the eyes of my family members as a young boy, and notice that they all seemed to be afraid of something. But whatever it was, no one ever talked about it, or that thing that brought them fear, would never show its face. All I knew was that in order to cope with whatever impending danger that was about to come their way, it would seem that it needed to be dealt with either with drugs or alcohol. I figured that once I got old enough, I too would have to drink or do drugs in order to face “The Boogy Man.” But why didn’t grandma pull up her stockings? Why would she just let them remain, making her look so undignified?
Maybe she was just too beaten up to reach down and pull them up. Maybe it no longer mattered to her how she looked, but how she felt. If someone calls you a dirty old Indian enough times you tend to believe it. As the saying goes “You only look as good as you feel.” The verbal abuse had worn her down so much that she no longer would pick her feet up as she walked. She would just drag them across the wooden floor throughout the house, day in and day out; like a zombie, a member of the living dead. She dragged her feet as though she was walking along the “Trail of Tears” with Chief Joseph. And right after Chief Joseph said “I will fight no more forever”, my great grandmother Pocahontas, came into the living room, and sat down in her rocking chair, defeated, and captured, by her own despair.
I looked in her eyes, and it looked as though her eyes were dead. This must have been what Nick Tosches was talking about, when he described the eyes of Sonny Liston in his book “The Devil and Sonny Liston.” It was as if she just “dog up and died”, right there in front of me. But somehow she still had enough strength to keep rocking in that rocking chair; somehow she was still able to keep on breathing. Will this also be my fate? Will I be the next, in a long line after my Grandma Pocahontas, who will have to inherit this old rocking chair? When my life has worn me down, and I can no longer “fight no more forever”, will I end my days sipping on corn whiskey, rocking in this chair waiting to die.
At the early age of ten I had already begun to rock back and forth from the pain of abandonment, loneliness and physical abuse. I believed that if I did not find help soon, I would run out of time, and begin to see not life, but deadness in my eyes. “Nine hundred and ninety nine”… I sit here counting the times Grandma Poky has rocked in her chair, as the sun is slowly setting over the neighborhood…”one thousand”…that has got to be a record. She would rock in that chair so much, that I think the nails were beginning to come loose. And after years and years of rocking, that little old rocking chair had begun to make a creaking sound. I knew that eventually, if my grandma kept rocking in that chair, that old chair would one day come crashing down. And that would be the end of grandma. I used to sit by her side each night and comfort her.
Little Lynel. I love you Grandma.
Grandma Poky. No you don’t, no one loves me.
She was right, what did I know about love? I was much too young to understand that love could be lost, stolen or unrequited. I was too young to understand that love did not last forever. I still believed that “If you wish upon a star, Dreams will take you very far.” That was the day I decide to stop believing in love, because I did not want anyone to ever have the power to take love away from me like they had taken it away from Grandma Poky. Like cancer had taken Minnie Riperton.
Grandma Poky would never admit it, but I think I was the only friend that she had in the whole wide world. And then it came to me, why she wore the apron. She wore that apron because she could always look down at the roses whenever she was feeling sad. It was as if she could make those roses dance. They were always in full bloom, because the rays of the sun were always shinning down on them. So when I look back at my time with Grandma Poky, I don’t think about the sad times. I think about the roses. And how they danced.
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