- Bloodline in InkVol. 51, No. 2/3, Winter/Spring 1989
I left Louisiana for California in August, 1948, not with a chip on my shoulder but with a block of oak wood in a sack on my back. I didn't know what it was, its meaning. I only knew it was there, and it was heavy.
I still remember: it was hot that day in August, 1948. The exact date I don't remember, but I remember that it was hot. I packed my few pieces of clothes and the food that my aunt had cooked and others had given me. Fried chicken and bread and tea cakes, and pralines. There could have been fruits—oranges—but I'm not too sure about the oranges.
Then it was time to go.
My aunt sat on the floor in the door where I had to pass. My aunt who never walked a day in her life, who had to crawl over the floor as a six-month-old child would do, still did all the things needed for me and my brothers and one sister. Cooked: we brought the things to the wood stove, where she mixed and stirred the food. She washed our clothes: we brought the tub, the water, the bar soap, and the washboard. She sat on her bench by the stove, braced herself on the rim of the tub as she washed. She patched our clothes. She ironed our clothes: we brought the clothes and the board. The board lay flat on the floor in front of her. When the iron was cold, we reheated it on the stove and brought it back to her. She also disciplined us: we had to cut our own switch from a tree, bring it to her, and get down on our knees to take our punishment. In the afternoon, after she had fed us lunch, she would take a nap for an hour or so until it was cool. Then, she would crawl over the porch, down the steps, and into the vegetable garden, where she would take up the little short-handled hoe and dig into the ground. She needed to feel the ground. Root into the ground with the hoe as well as with her hands. Cripple or no, she needed the feel of the earth as all people do.
The day that I left Louisiana in August, 1948, she sat on the floor in the door. She never sat in a chair. Always on the floor in or near the door. There were old people there that day just as there were old people there visiting her all the time. By old people, I mean people from fifty to ninety—because then I was only fifteen, and anyone over forty was old to me. In summer, they sat out on the porch; in winter, they sat beside and 'round the fireplace inside the house. My aunt sitting on the floor, and the old people in chairs near the fire. We children got what heat we could that escaped between [End Page 243] and under the chairs back into the room. Because my aunt was crippled and could not visit the other people, they visited her—they were always there. Maybe one, maybe two, maybe half a dozen. I can't recall when someone was not at the house keeping her company.
That day, in August, 1948, the old people were there again. Maybe they gave me oranges; maybe they gave me pralines or tea cakes or a nickel or a dime—I'm not sure. It's been almost forty years now. But I wouldn't be surprised if they did. For I had been their writer of letters and reader of letters in the past. On the plantation where I lived, hardly any of the people old enough to be grandparents of mine had had any education. So as a child I had read for them and written for them, and ordered out of the catalogues—Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward—for them. So maybe they did bring me oranges and tea cakes and pralines to take with me when I...