Intro: Yesterday’s Child
I am in the schoolyard, and I am flying. My legs pump hard, faster, harder, faster, and I see I am higher almost parallel with the limb of the tree. Again, I pump harder, harder. I feel the earth move as the pole holding the swing lifts up and out of the ground whenever my legs curl, and returns into earth as I straighten them. The pole lifts up and down, up and down, keeping the same momentum as my legs, in and out of the earth as if the pole too had legs.
The girls, my friends in the schoolyard watch and whisper in each other’s ear. The pole continues to lift up, and out. With my legs extended, I see my black patent leather shoes, scuffed. When my legs stretch my head bends forward and my chin touches the flowered pin I attached to my blouse, the pin I stole out of mother’s jewelry box earlier that morning, for my school picture. She will never know I stole it from her dresser, not until Spring, when she would purchase the picture. My legs stretch out so I am even with the weeping willow and it feels like I am flying over the steeple off in the distance.
My friends are still staring and probably want their turn. I will let them, stop fast, scrape my heels across loose dirt beneath the swing, raise dust and cover them with sand. It will teach them to stare.
The children never ask me to play; I have to ask them. Most days I walk home alone avoiding cracks in the sidewalk; mother warned me if I step on one I will brake her back. I try to avoid dirt where ants have pushed dirt up and out between slabs of cement making perfect circles, passing weeds, wild flowers, dandelions leaning over a sidewalk as if searching for space. I’ll walk home alone wearing my patent leather shoes passing the grocery man who sits in his rocking chair beneath a plate glass window, near a sign with a giant picture of a fudge pop, and watch as the grocery man chews the stub of his cigar. He stares like the children in the playground. A few more steps before I reach our corner lot where I live on the first floor of a two family flat. Grandmother lives upstairs. I glance toward our front porch, the closer I get I begin to smell the roses, seven sisters, draped across the railing. I walk along the side of the house where tulips, bleeding hearts, and giant orange flowers cover the foundation.
In the back yard lines of dirt grow sticks with papers attached identifying plum tomatoes, string beans, and cucumbers. At the end of the rows of dirt, along the fence are Grandmother’s grapes, the kind with seeds and thick skin. I will suck on a grape spit both seeds and skin to the ground. Grandmother catches rain in a rain barrel near rows of dirt. I play with the spikit on the barrel when Grandmother isn’t peering from the window on the second floor which overlooks the backyard.
I use my plastic plates and cups, given to me by a girl down the street, at one of my birthday parties: I recall wearing a white and red dress that matched the trim of those cups and saucers. I used those dishes to serve my dolls by pouring water from my Grandmother’s water barrel. It was mother who complained about our backyard, Grandmother’s garden, vines, fruit, Seven Sisters, and most of all the clothes line. She told father it took up too much space, but I knew she wanted one of those fancy knew ones that you could turn. I would hand mother a clothes pin whenever I was outside and she was hanging wet clothes on a line attached to our house and stretched across the lawn to our detached garage near the alley way.
A couple of years ago Father chopped down our cherry tree and the apple tree, but we still have the pear tree and peach tree. Grandmother grows grapes on her vine surrounding our property, and she catches me there, knowing I picked her grapes, suck the juice, and left the skin on the ground. I always have to be careful beneath the Peachtree, not to step on peaches that fell from the tree, soft, filled with holes left by insects. Grandmother told me those peaches were fine as she collected them in her apron. The pear tree kept its’ fruit longer, it would be fall when ladders leaned up against the tree and my father and his friends would be tossing pairs to one another.
The sidewalk on the side of our house is longer since we own a corner lot. Someone planted bushes way back in the 1920s and when grandmother and grandfather bought this house in 1928 they had to start cutting them, so they would not look ragged, one thing that upset my Grandmother. I could tell no one really wanted to cut those branches but Grandmother would be looking from her kitchen window, watching, or waiting for my father or my uncle to walk down the side steps holding those clippers. I bet she was clapping upstairs when she finally had the work completed, work she would have done years before.
If it wasn’t for those bushes my dolls would not have had mud pies, each branch supplied red beans. I had to learn how to remove all those tiny green leaves near thorns to collect the beans, but once you learned, it was as easy as picking up those rotten pears.
Mother is on the front porch leaning over the railing snipping a few roses – called Seven Sisters for the kitchen table. She told everybody she did not like roses and blamed them for her allergies. When mother is upset she talked about the Seven Sisters. I often wondered if she was thinking about her own sisters, she had five along with ten brothers.
When mother’s eyes met mine, we never had to say a word because our eyes spoke to one another. I think everyone stares in my neighborhood including my mother, her friends, and especially our grocery man.
Mothers resting, sitting on the metal milk box where I kept my paper dolls, a hiding place so other girls wouldn’t take them, but I had to wait for the bottles of milk to be removed and brought inside the house. Right next to mother was her open bottle of Schlitz and a glass; they had been bottles then, and her pack of Chesterfields. When mother sucks smoke from a cigarette, she holds it in for a long time then she blows it out of her mouth, nose, she creates circles that float above our heads, finally reaching the Seven Sisters.
Here comes Mrs. Hunter: Mother tells me not to get too close. I overheard so many stories I don’t know which one is true, but Mrs. Hunter is nice to me, even if neighbors stare and talk about her – I smile, and she smiles back.