For a beautiful Lady I knew many years ago
Lord, I got to talk to you today. But first, I got to get outta these shoes. My land, seems they worked me to the bone today, cleanin’ that house with all them chirlen. And my feet hurt like the devil. You know I don’t hold much with complainin’, Lord, but I been doin’ this work since I was 12-year-old, and I do wonder at how some folk don’t seem to know how to do for themselves. It’s just mighty peculiar, Lord. And, I’m tellin’ you, there’s people who still cain’t see the diff’rence between neat and messy, ‘cept when it’s me doin’ it. But them kids, they never ate so good as when its me cookin’, I can tell you that. I ain’t braggin’, Lord, but I know that’s true. Mm hmm, they askin’ me all day what I’m whippin’ up next and it sets me to smilin’. Still - it ain’t like cookin’ for your own – never was, never will be. These 50-odd years past, that ain’t changed…….ain’t nothin’ changed……leastways here. Forgive me, Lord, I’m grateful I got a job and grateful I can still work it.
But you know, I’m gettin’ old, Lord. My legs give out on me at times, my arms don’t want to lift another thing, and a pound o’ cake batter? It feels like a hundert when I’m stirrin’ it. Them sharp pains shoot through my hips, first one, then the other, then back again, and the third time climbin’ them stairs, I can hardly make it halfway. I don’t know how long you intend me for this world, but I’m gettin’ old and I’m gettin’ tired. And right now, I still gotta keep workin’ so my boys have a house when they come home. It’s all I got to give them. It’s all I got. ‘But there’s bills that got to be paid, else they comin’ to take it. You know I done the best I could with what I received on this earth. I got this house – it’s only 2 rooms and a kitchen and a little piece o’ land next to the swamp where the snakes ain’t too bothersome. But it’s mine. I tend my garden and you know how I love that – my flowers that grow so pretty and make the world seem good and my fresh vegetable patch keepin’ me and my boys healthy. And I could always find some kinda work to keep me and my boys livin’. I do thank you, Jesus. Amen.
But this ain’t about me, Lord. The biggest part of my life’s done come and gone, and I’m still makin’ it. I cain’t ask for more than that. No, Lord, it’s about my two boys. They both in jail. I guess you know that without me tellin’ you. You got to help them find the way, the way back to livin’ a decent life. It ain’t they fault, Lord, almost all these boys go to jail at sometime or other, and these jails down here ain’t never done nobody no good. They was good boys when they was little and they both good men, way down deep where it counts. I tried to raise ‚em right. I know I didn’t always do right by them though, if you’ll forgive me, Lord. When I beat’em so hard I felt the pain myself, I knew it wasn’t right, but I was afraid, afraid that if I didn’t beat the right manners into them, some white man was gonna come along and hurt’em worse. I seen it happen all my life, too many times.
I remember when they was little, Benjamin was smart as a whip, learnin’ his letters as fast as the teacher could throw ‚em out. He would talk about what he was gonna be when he growed up, what house he was gonna have and where he was gonna travel. I would laugh and say, you do just that, baby! Then he’d say, I’m takin’ you with me Mama, you know that. And I’d say, but I ain’t got no clothes to go gallivantin’ all over creation. I get you some, Mama, he’d say, and then we’d laugh like the dickens. My sweet boy. And Nat, he was a real scallywag, that boy. He love to fly out o’ the closet just to see me jump. And my baby could draw. I couldn’t buy him no paints and such, so he just grabbed a pencil and made pictures of anything and everything. I found Nat’s drawin’s all over the house and I still got’em, hangin’ up on the walls or pasted in a book. „ Do your schoolwork!” I told ‘em. „You gotta know somethin’ in this world today.” I only went to the 4th grade, and ain’t much doin’ with that.
I could feel when I was losin’ ‘em, and I couldn’t do nothin’ to set it right again – workin’ so much, 6 and 7 days a week sometime, and them doin’ nothin’, findin’ nothin’ to do, but hang around with them other boys. That ain’t no good for young’uns, too much nothin’ time. Yesterday, when I went to see him, Benjamin said, „Mama, I tried to work hard like you said, but no matter how hard I tried or how much I learned, I always felt like somebody was holdin’ tight to my suspenders, keepin’ me in the same place, no matter how hard my legs worked to go forward, just like in those dreams where you can’t move to save your soul.“ Benjamin says jail is worse than bein’ dead. And Nathaniel is so far gone down that bad road, there ain’t no bringin’ him back. Tell me that ain’t true, Lord, tell me it ain’t true.
Seems nobody round here got any hope for anything better than what is. Where’s that used-to-be-pretty little girl down the road gonna go with no teeth in her head and all them chirlen? Half the boys are sniffin’ that stuff up they nose and some o’ the girls too, but it don’t matter cause there ain’t no work ‘cept season farm work in them cotton fields and fruit orchards; or domestic work like I got; and sellin’ your body has been bringin’ in the money as far back as the Bible. But that ain’t nothin’ to look forward to, nothin’ to aim for. We was glad we was eatin’, but that just ain’t enough.
Lord, you made me strong, but not strong enough to save ma boys. And now, ma grandson, he’s gone and joined what he call “the Revolution”. He come late last night, sayin’ he had to be quiet about it. He gave me fright when I saw him through the window – black clothes, dark glasses and a black french hat. I almost called the police before I realized it was him. „What you doin’ lookin’ like that, like you was gonna burgle some house?” „Grandma, I’m leaving. I can’t live like this no more. I got to help change things, Grandma, WE got to change things. Ain’t nobody gonna do it for us. Ain’t nobody gonna give us nothin’. We have to look out for ourselves. Besides, we don’t need nobody to do for us. We just need to get the white man off our backs so we can live.” „ We need the Lord, Baby.” „Grandma, the Lord ain’t done nothin’ in a hundred years. We can’t wait no more.”
When he left, Lord, I hugged him tight enough to crush my own ribs. I know he’s wrong about you, but sometimes it does look like you forgot us. People can’t live without nothin’ forever, just wishin’ and waitin’. My great-grandma was a slave and my grandma and Mama wasn’t much better off. I got my house and my boys, but they ain’t settlin’ for no more of this. I don’t want them to hurt nobody, nor get hurt neither. So, take care o’ them, and help me hold on long as I need to, long as they need me. You seen me through a lot, Lord. See my boys. See my boys and let them see you. Amen.