DISCLAIMER: This is an original piece of fiction that came to me one day while I was in the middle of writing another piece of fan fiction (which I'm still working on). It is only autobiographical in that I did have a southern black grandmother who could really cook, and sometimes said surprising things and loved me. This piece contains a loving relationship between two women.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Conversation with Mama
I knew we were getting close because we were finally able to get a decent station on the radio. I don't even know what's playing but at least I know it's not country or some bible thumper. I am glad I was driving especially now that we are almost there. Sitting in the passenger seat would give me too much time to think. Having to keep my eyes on the road is helping me to not stare at each passing tree, bush and house wondering how I ever got talked into this.
"What you thinking about?" my companion asked me cautiously.
"Nuthin'," is my reply. I really don't want to get into what I am thinking because if I really start, I'm bound to hurt her feelings. How can you tell someone that you are scared to see your own grandmother, the woman who helped raise you for god's sake. And the reason you're so damn scared is because of you. Well that's not the real reason I'm scared but it's a good enough one right now.
"See that firehouse and church on the corner? We are almost there. Six more blocks. Wanna stop and get something to drink?" trying to avoid the inevitable.
"You know your grandmother will have something to drink at her house," she scolds me.
"I'm not talking about that kind of drink something stronger, much stronger."
"What's the matter? It's your grandmother, your favorite person in the world according to you. Why you stalling?"
"You don't know how hard this is for me. I haven't been back here in five years and to come back to tell her this. I need a double shot of whisky for strength."
"I thought you said she knew." Her eyes showed shock and disappointment.
I feebly shake my head in the negative. 'Great if her disappointment feels this bad, I don't know if I can bear my Mama's disappointment.' "No she doesn't know or at least I haven't told her."
"What do you mean she doesn't know? What has she been thinking all this time?" I feel like I just got scolded for cutting into the lemon cake before Sunday dinner.
"Well I was hoping it wouldn't come up. I was hoping I could maybe tell her in a letter." I reply sheepishly. I know before the words leave my mouth that this response is going to start an argument right in front of my childhood church. 'Oh Lord I need you now!' I pull the car over because I knew this was not going to be quick.
"Tell her in a letter! Oh, I see how it is. It's not that important to you. Never mind, I can just wait in the car while you go in and lie to your grandmother. She was only the woman who raised you, fed you and clothed you. I don't want to be any part of your perpetration of this lie."
"Can I say some " She is going at full strength now.
"You can just be happy in your shame induced lie. I don't want anything to do with it. You should be ashamed of your "
"Can I please say something?" I yell over her verbal tirade. I finally get her attention 'Man, that woman can talk when she gets going.'
"Oh now you want to talk. Go ahead say something. What do you have to say?"
"I will if you shut up for a second. You act like she's your grandmother." I tense up waiting for another verbal barrage after my last statement but decided to keep going while she was thinking of more to say. "You weren't raised in the south by a Southern Baptist black grandmother. She would have prayed over me each time I called her or worst yet, try to fix me up with some nice Christian boy from her church." I had her attention and was feeling jazzed because I was on a roll. "I am not ashamed of anything, me, you, us or who I am. Like you said, she is the most important person in my life, next to you of course." I figured I better throw that in to try to keep the peace. "I couldn't bear to know that she was ashamed of me. I will tell her when we get to her house, if we get there. Do you have anything else you want to say to me before we get there?" I let out a deep sigh and prepare for round two. To my shock and pleasure, it never comes. She just leans over and gives me a kiss on the cheek.
"No baby, I don't have anything else to say," she said with a satisfied grin.
"So how about that drink?"
As we pull up in front of Mama's house, memories come flooding back like it was yesterday. The house looks the same except for a fresh coat of paint. She must have some of the kids in the neighborhood taking care of her yard. She was always someone who wanted to invest in the lives of young people. Walking up the steps to the porch, I noticed the old rocker sitting off to the left with her crochet afghan draped over the back. She would sit in that rocker and hold court over the entire neighborhood. I used to pity the kids that would act up on their way home from school. They would get a tongue lashing from her and before they would walk in their front door you could hear them get it again from their mother just as she was hanging up the phone with my grandmother.
She sees me smiling as I look in the direction of the rocker. "What is it?"
"Oh nothing, just memories. You ready to do this?" She squeezes my arm before I turn the door handle and enter the house. The smells assault me and take me on another trip to my past. The smell of roasting chicken, collard greens, cornbread and fresh baked sweet potato pie take me back to Sunday dinners after church.
"Mama! Mama you here?"
Out pops my grandmother from the kitchen wearing that same old apron. No matter how many I have given her over the years, she still wears the one she got free when the department store was giving them away with the purchase of the Betty Crocker Cookbooks. She must be excited to see me because she is wearing her purple Sunday dress with her black three quarter inch shoes that she would only be able to wear for about two hours before she would have me go get her house shoes. She also got her hair done. Her salt and pepper hair still had the pins in it so she could keep the curls for church tomorrow.
"Child what took you so long? I was expecting you an hour ago." She stated as you took me into a big bear hug and gave me a sloppy wet kiss on my cheek.
"I'm happy to see you too Mama. This is Jill, the woman I told you I was bringing with me." I pull Jill forward as I introduce her to my grandmother. I really should have warned her that she was going to get the same greeting but I thought it was fair payback for her tirade in the car.
"It's so nice to meet a friend of my baby. You two come on in. I know you haven't lost your home training living out there in California, get this girl something to drink. I just made a fresh pitcher of sweet tea in the refrigerator."
A giant lump forms in my stomach when I realized that my grandmother wasn't following me into the kitchen but sitting down next to Jill on her plastic covered sofa. I lock eyes with Jill and silently give her the message that she better not say anything while I'm out of the room.
I rush in the kitchen to get the tea. I contemplate where my grandmother keeps the brandy, purely for medicinal purposes of course. But think better of it because I don't want to run the chance of Jill smelling it on my breath and I know that my grandmother will.
As I enter the living room, my grandmother was talking Jill's ear off. She was firing questions faster than she had an opportunity to answer. When I handed her the tea, I saw her mouth the words 'Thank God'. I gave her a little smile.
"Mama why don't you let her answer a question before you ask another. Jill are you sure she's not your grandmother?" I tease them both.
"Well you haven't come home to see me in forever; I was just trying to find out what's been going on with you. You didn't even come home for Christmas last year." My grandmother states succeeding in laying on as much guilt as she possibly can. "Well my prayers have been answered, you're home now. How long you going to stay? You know you have to go to church with me tomorrow because the pastor and his wife will be so happy to see you."
I slump down on the sofa next to Jill as the old familiar crinkle of the plastic becomes louder then I had intended. I don't want to make any commitments until after I have 'The Talk' with her. With my head leaned back on the sofa I weakly say, "We'll see."
My grandmother could always sense when I had something on my mind and from years of experience she knew when to let things lie for when I was ready to talk about it. "Well I best get dinner on the table before you two starve."
"Can I help you?" Jill offers.
"Honey, that's so sweet of you. Sure come on," Mama stated.
I knew I should have gotten up right away to help but that lump returned to my stomach and I was really wishing I had found that brandy. I knew I had better get in the kitchen soon before my grandmother started telling Jill stories about my childhood. Or worst yet, Jill comes back in the living room to tell me off. I wasn't sure who I dreaded more. I figured it was safer for me to set the dining room table that way I could still keep tabs on the direction of conversation between the two women and stay out of the mix.
Before I asked, I sent up a silent prayer, "Mama, is it just the three of us or did you invite someone else to dinner?" 'Say just us. Please say just us'
"Just us." I pump my fist in victory until she said, "There may be some folks that might stop by for desert after dinner." The lump grows larger. What I didn't see is the wink my grandmother gave Jill as she whispered, "She hates entertaining folks."
Jill catches herself before saying out loud, 'I know.'
Dinner was wonderful. I always forget how much better the food is in the South. Jill is always wondering why I look so hard for soul food restaurants in California. Now you hopefully will understand. I guess growing up in Washington all your life you don't get exposed to real southern cooking. She would say her mom would cook southern dishes but she was raised in Washington too. Jill kept complimenting my grandmother on all the food and each time my grandmother's smile got broader. I was happy that the two most important women in my life were getting along, I just hoped that would still be the case afterwards.
After dinner, we cleaned off the table and I promised her that I would put the food away after my food had a chance to digest. Even though we were all full, it didn't stop us from having a slice of Mama's famous sweet potato pie with a glass of her sweet tea in the living room. After we finished with our desserts, Jill gathers the empty plates to take them to the kitchen. When she got to the doorway, she gestured and mouthed, "Talk to her!"
I knew Jill would wash every plate and pot in that kitchen so that I could talk to my grandmother. "Mama I have something I need to talk to you about. I want you to just listen and then you can ask me whatever you want."
"Go on Honey. I knew there was something worrying on your mind when you called to say you were coming to visit." My grandmother expression became intense with a bit of worry on her brow.
"Mama, you remember when I told you I was moving to California because of better job opportunities. Well that wasn't the only reason. Man this is so hard." I jumped up off the sofa and start pacing around the living room.
"It's ok you can tell me anything. You remember when you were little and you would come from school " I turned and stared at my grandmother. "Ok I won't say another word. You go on honey."
"You remember Dolores right, my friend from High school and junior college. Well she went to California right before I did."
"I never did like that Dolores much."
"Sorry, go on."
"I followed her out to California." I looked up and saw Jill peeping around the corner. You gave me the sweetest smile with all of her love to continue on.
"Why would you follow her to California? The girl didn't have the sense the good Lord gave a mule." I smiled at my grandmother partly because she was right about Dolores but Damn that girl was hot and not to bad in bed either.
"I fell in love with her and wanted to be with her." I said in a low voice.
My grandmother didn't say anything for a long while. She just looked at various points in the room until her gaze fixed on my high school graduation picture sitting on the side table by the Lazyboy chair. The lump has now become a boulder.
"You went to California because you fell in love with Dolores?" she finally states with a heavy sign.
I stood there with my head hung down trying to keep the tears from falling. I truly don't want to disappoint this woman. I looked to where Jill was standing and could see her wipe away the tears that flowed from her eyes.
"Girl! Didn't I raise you better than that? I don't know what kind of foolishness you have in that thick head of yours. Dolores!"
"Mama, do you understand what I'm trying to tell you?" I didn't understand why she was so fixated on Dolores. Maybe it was just the shock.
"How long before she ran after another piece of ass?"
"Mama!" Now I could have lied to her but I know she can always tell when I'm lying. "Three months," I sheepishly replied.
"Now I could have understood if it was that sweet girl in the other room but Dolores has always been fast and dumb." My grandmother appeared indignant about my choice but I was still unsure if she knew what I was trying to tell her.
"Mama you do understand that I'm Gay, right?"
"Child I knew that. I just never knew why you went to California so abruptly."
I sat with a loud thud on the couch and looked at my grandmother, disbelief permeating across my whole being. We both turned toward the doorway when we heard Jill suck in a loud breath.
"Why didn't you ever say anything? How long have you known? Why did you let me go through all of this if you knew?" I couldn't get the questions out fast enough.
My grandmother stood up and walked over to give me a hug. I melted into her embrace and chastised myself for ever doubting this woman's love for me.
"Honey, I've known for quite awhile. I figured when you were ready to tell me you would. I may be from the south but I do watch Oprah. I may not be what I would have chosen for you but you are my only grandbaby and I believe in you." She kissed my cheek and tightened the hug. "So how many girls did you have to go through before you found a girl with some sense? We need to talk about your choice of Dolores."
I couldn't help but let out a loud laugh mixed with my tears of joy. Jill came out to join in the family hug.
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