Some of life’s lessons never leave us, even if buried, unseen for years, presumably gone the way of lost memories. The lessons remain engraved, assuming a dominant position at unforeseen times, buried in some undefined place in our psyches. Forgotten but not forgotten is a contradictory way of explaining that which is not contradictory, and not complex. My mother’s mother use repetitiveness and firm commands to make her point, “respect your elders.” It was never “yes”, unless followed by “ma’am”. “No, sir”, even for the mean white men down at the Cotton Gin, when I dare asked. Correcting, reminding, reaching over, grabbing – a hand-full of shirt – converting me into the boy puppet. “Yes, ma’am,” head moving up and down, arms now engaged in the submissive mode; eyes, mouth, body movements – everything – controlled by the puppet-master. If the hand inserted in the back didn’t work, a firm tap on the back of the head seemed to work just fine; reminding, re-engaging the circuitry, somewhat akin to striking the television set of my youth on the side, the top, in the back, in order to get a clearer picture; in the case of Chester Anna, to elicit a proper response.
I have never fooled myself to believe the training was not successful. Mind’s eye said she possessed the ability to sneak anywhere, day or night, and she did so when placing a stamp of approval, visible only to her, in a location I could not see, certifying I was sufficiently compliant and properly trained in the etiquette of the society. She retained these powers even after her death. No need for you to give me any mystical explanation of what I believe. I don’t care. It is what I believe. I don’t need an explanation.
“No, ma’am, I am not hungry. I don’t want anything to eat. Thank you anyway,” words said even when starving, sitting in place, not moving, while aromas moved from kitchen to the living area, invading every ounce of a child’s deprived body, wanting to say yes, wanting to admit hunger, knowing full well the consequences if you did.. A “no, ma’am” feebly emitted; forever hearing Chester Anna’s admonishments, seeing her hand near – none of those vivid rainbow sightings, no beautiful flowers, no smiling faces – no, no, no, her presence was always accompanied by a stare, more intense than the sun’s glow, never profane, forever pious. However ready to erupt, much like Mount Agung, on a moment notice, willing to test the circuitry at any moment. Tap! Tap!
“You eat at home!”
These were lessons ingrained. Never assume they have been lost over time. Not my history. Forever receiving reminders, similar to flood water, invading no matter what mystical powers you believe will protect you from Mother Nature. Somewhat akin to being reminded intelligence is never artificial, no matter what they tell us – whatever that means – but I digress.
The most recent reminder was this Thanksgiving. Appearing not in disguise; easily recognizable; so apparent I thought this is a trick question. Surely Chester Anna was lurking, waiting for me to respond improperly, ready to move across the room – tapping, tapping, tapping a cane pole against the floor. I was not going to be fooled. I will never be fooled. Never, ever again; I know my role.
After saying “no” twice to attending a family dinner to two different and equally important family members, I received a call from an elder, my 96 year old mother-in-law. “You are coming to the family dinner? Even though I have placed a question mark after the words, there was no question mark buried in the intent. There lies the trick. She knew the answer to the question and wanted me to repeat the answer to make sure I understood. She didn’t wait for an answer to the first statement. She followed immediately with, “If you don’t attend, I will never speak to you as long as I am alive.” The last statement/test/trick was followed by a chuckle. A Lena chuckle, forever laughing at her own jokes, affirming to me she had spoken to Chester Anna. I looked around to see if Chester Anna was in the room. I saw skeleton images, like the ones seen the Day of Dead celebrations in Mexico. I didn’t think for a moment to wait for them to reveal theirs were costumes. I answered immediately. Knowing you always answer immediately. Loud enough, so she could hear, so Chester Anna could hear. Loud enough to receive my collar back, to be permitted to move off my toes, to the floor again. “Yes, ma’am I will be there.” No mumbling allowed. Clear diction, said in a manner which said I meant every word. Said with a correct posture, so there would be no doubt, just in case either of them was staring at meet through the phone lines, from some unseen place to cast retribution.
No more deviance. No more saying what I will not do. Immediate compliance in order that the images would move away, “what time do you want me there?”, was the question. Laugh if you want. I was a ten year compliant little boy, retreating backward in time, paying respects to an elder, knowing my place. The same respect I paid to “even those mean white men down at the Cotton Gin.”
“Yes ma’am, see you there.”