Sunday, August 22, 2004

NDAWNIS - singing gospel for maryjane

When I saw his face looking across the quiet garden that spring morning,
I knew that Leonard would go and ask why the choir was singing here.
I was not sure what the funeral director was going to say,
but it was clear he would be answered directly when Grandfathers Paul and Len stood up behind Leonard and his brothers.
Leonard invited the Bethany AME choir in when he knew they were here to sing for me. He had no idea before now that I have always loved their singing. And I just heard the Pastor tell Leonard that he had always thought of me as one of his daughters --he has six.
Pastor Brown used to take me around to visit in the community and explain that I worked for the welfare office and could help people get the things they needed.
When the county welfare office hired me they assigned me to the poorest neighboorhoods not knowing that I would be happy there-- they thought I would give up because of the people. Well, I spent my time showing people how to do all the things Leonard and Florence had taught me, and we got along just fine. I started there after I had graduated from college at 16, its been 5 years and no one expected the pnuemonia to take me. I used to tell Florence and Leonard about the people I worked with, all about their troubles and triumphs. And today everybody can see and hear how beautiful they are.
Today is a day I will always remember. It reminds me of the day Leonard let me dance with the flappers in the music hall downtown, near Grandpa's store, when I was 7.
I loved their music too-- it was swell !

Saturday, August 21, 2004

NDAWNIS - songs for isaiah

Someone was beckoning me into the garden, I could hear my name being called. I walked through the house and out onto the deck overlooking the garden and my fruit trees. At a loss as to who was beckoning me I walked down and sat by the apple trees. I could not identify the fear I felt, so I began to hum songs about the sun and the clouds and the tiny hummingbird who sat still and sang for me. I never do things like that, but I felt someone’s presence with me. I did not know who it was, but they were reaching from somewhere far away. I sat there for a long time, reassuring myself that we were safe in a beautiful universe. The fear eased and I went inside wondering why I was humming songs I didn't know.

At the end of the week we got a phone call from from Zephyr and Arthur left to see his father. His father Isaiah had been in the hospital all week. Isaiah was afraid of the machines in the hospital but Zephyr had given the doctors permission to do whatever was necessary. When they had used the paddles on him he had only barely responded. By the end of the week he was almost gone, he could no longer speak and the family was called together.
He was writing notes. His last note was a request to take care of his dog and then he pointed to Arthur and wrote, “always take care of my girl.” And he was gone. When Arthur returned, he was untroubled with his father’s death and he laughed about the note. He thought it was funny that I should be mentioned with Isaiah’s beloved dog.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

NDAWNIS -paula's day job

If I said that I met my new boss at the urinal -would you believe me?
I got a new job. Please note this is not a woman's job. But the phone company is recognizing that there is a fat law suit coming around the corner if they do not begin to integrate qualified women into all areas of the workplace. And this was the beginning of the digital era of computer and satellite networks.
Arriving at work just up the incline from the Banker's Heart on California Street, I enter the building, and take the elevator up, but cannot find an entrance to the work area. The main door has been welded shut, a side door is locked and the break room door leads just there. I hang around -there is one other door, but its for the men's room. Finally someone gets off the elevator and I ask directions. He points to the men's room door -its OK, just make a right as soon as you pass the threshold. I do. And just inside is a row of urinals -one is in use. Fellow turns, hand in motion, very unexpected look on face -quickly readjusting clothing, Can I help you ?
I mention the name of my new boss.
"That's me, you must be Paula."
"Yes, Uhm, I actually thought I might be in the wrong place."
"No, we can go through that door to your right —never expected any women to work on this floor, so the entrance is through here. Let me introduce you to the other techs. Its early, everybody's still having coffee, they should all be close by."

We walk through the equipment and come to a circle of desks.Someone chuckles over the loudspeaker, “come see what they brought us to fuck.” Within minutes two dozen men have stopped what they were doing to come closer and take a look.
Every wall had naked pin-ups. The telephones had rotary dials, and each finger hole had a cutout of some part of a woman's anatomy. . . a breast, a face, a labia. I would come to share a desk with a man who would sit every morning with the latest copy of his favorite girlie magazine. Licking his index finger he would point to an area of some girl's body, asking, if I didn't just dream to look like that.
I did filing for the longest time, it would be several months before they would begin to train me. All the training materials were set up for men's eyes only -they seemed somewhat embarrassed and would not let the women see any of it. The management had never thought about hiring women. Every company poster or equipment room numeric chart was covered with girly pictures. For the moment it was the way it was.

It was considered normal. It took six months to clean the pictures off all the equipment throughout the seventeen floors but the men still had their pin-ups hanging over their desks. They thought nothing of them.
A year later one of the new employees, a woman, a lesbian no less, would bring in the first Playgirl spread of Burt Reynolds. There was nothing to see, he had his hat across his lower torso, but when the young woman pinned up the poster over her desk just inside the entrance to the office the men went crazy.
Are you interested in men, too?
Their comment basically centered around ---you can't put that here.
She looked at them, “what's the matter, there are pictures of naked women all over the office?”
We thought you liked that.

She looked at them quizzically, but none of the pictures are of men,
-we need equality, we need to have some pictures of naked men.
The men couldn't stand it, and a complaint was made to the district manager.
One of the managers intervened the next morning, bringing coffee and doughnuts for the office. Standing in front of the new pin-up poster of Burt Reynolds, laughing, he advised the office that the time had come for the removal of all the pin-up pictures. Yes, all of them... it was like watching a mayoral candidate as he walked around the office shaking hands with all the male technicians.

It took one afternoon to rid the office of what was left.

NDAWNIS -annie

I loved Annie. Friends brought us together when I moved to Los Angeles –eventually to marry her nephew. But that is not the story I want to tell. AnnieBelle lived more than life, she lived between the earth and the sun. She danced across your heart. She cooked and shared meals of love and laughter. Generous, saucy, pudding-shaped Annie. Smooth like butter and acorns, she smelled like persimmons and marigolds, juicy-sweet and sultry. Her voice was deep ---quiet running, heavier than water. She could have been a torch singer. When she listened you could see ideas chasing across her pupils and when she spoke gregarious, giggling laughter filled those eyes as if all the world was there for rejoicing. She was a native American woman unlike any woman I have since met. She was the synthesis of America shining with gifts --generously spread with open arms.
We both had left our mother’s home to follow our own will. AnnieBelle was the eldest of ten children and left home at fifteen because there was little food --she wanted meat on the table. She had originally left southern California to go to Illinois around 1928 –just 4 years after native Americans were granted citizenship by the U.S. Congress. By the time she got to Chicago, she was hired as a chaufferette by a local judge and his family. They took her in despite the views of the community and treated her as one of their own children. When it was time to move on AnnieBelle bought a car to ride the south wind.
She had seen the black and silver coupe with a red stripe down the side, parked just in front of her favorite dress shop. She asked about the car. The man laughed and said she could not afford it, and probably didn’t know how to drive it. She asked him to name his price. He stopped, looked her over, and named a higher than expected price. Did he have the pink slip with him? She took him to the bank offices to close the deal. The man was flabbergasted when the banker smiled and asked them to sit down, calling AnnieBelle by name. When the negotiating was done, she went to the ladies room to count out the cash she carried in her money belt.
That evening, the judge told her how he had gotten a phone call during court recess, laughing with the banker over the look on the poor man’s face as AnnieBelle proceeded to sign the papers chatting happily.
AnnieBelle knew how to be happy and welcome you into her world. When you walked into her home there was laughter, like music all around you. Her spirit took secret sorrows away. I loved Annie’s small, beautiful home. Silk-covered down cushions on the sofas and chairs; paintings, crystal candle holders and thick carpets. It was not what you would expect from a native American --much more luxurious and it had the hospitality of my grandmother’s house.
AnnieBelle had been a caterer and knew many of the best names in Beverly Hills. Famous people she had cooked for would call to see how she was doing and she would tell me about their secrets after she hung up the phone –the ones who wouldn’t pay, the diseases they caught from whom, or how mean and stingy this one treated her family or how many unclaimed children that one had . . .
I loved living with her. AnnieBelle lived by her own choices, she knew why she made decisions. And she knew more secret things than could be imagined. After buying her car she had gone east and met Billie Holiday in Baltimore. AnnieBelle loved to have a good time. She loved jazz. But most of all she loved to dance. She became one of the opening numbers for Billie’s show.
Short, chubby, red-headed and freckle-faced she had became a fan dancer and a stripper –she wore a bright pink bathing suit under her long flamingo colored plumes. She showed me the scrapbooks of pictures from their travels and she often protested that she had never danced naked in public.
The years following the financial crash were dangerous lynching times for blacks and native Americans. The saying was that when cotton prices went down brown people flew up. Billie’s most famous closing song was Lewis Allen’s poem, “Strange Fruit.” The song reminded Billie of her own father’s death. AnnieBelle told me that their travels in the south were too traumatic and weighted them all down bringing destructive drug problems for Billie.
Soon Annie decided to settl down and married a numbers runner in Kansas City. It was hard for poor people to get an education. Her husband “had a head” for numbers but had to support his mother, brothers and sisters. He went from odd job to odd job and could not make enough until he became a numbers runner.
He didn’t think he could do it. A numbers runner took bets on dogs, ponies, ball games, anything that could a book maker could offer odds on. The runner had to keep the numbers in his head so there was nothing on paper for the authorities to use against him. He had to remember the clients’ bets and the odds that were offered. A runner often got beat up when people lost their bets and had to pay up. But if he kept everyone happy he could make more than enough to take care of his family and keep meat on the table.
I loved Annie. I eventually married her nephew not knowing I would be marrying the whole family –not just AnnieBelle but everyone –her jealous, competitive sister Zephyr with her tall, quiet eagle-nosed husband Isaiah and their nine children, plus Isaiah’s father and brother’s families.
Their welcome was wide and I appreciated every bit of it.

NDAWNIS -zephyr's recollections

Do you know Paula?

Who's Paula ?

Paula Field.

That’s her name, do you know where she lives ?

I don’t know.

Who are you calling here ?

I have called all the Fields in the book. Robert Field is one of your relatives

–he knows your son and said you were the one who might tell me where she is.

Who are you ?

I am her mother, my husband wants me to find her. He says this has gone on long enough and I have to make an effort to find her since she left because of me.

So that’s why you call me.

She used to be married to –your son.

Still is. What’s that to you-- what do you want ?

I want to see her and talk to her again.

Don’t you have any other children ?


You have one child, and you go twenty years never looking at her face.
You swore you would have her dead. You still want that


What about my son, you want him dead too ?
He’s a lawyer now thanks to the girl.
They just returned from the White House you know

No. I didn’t know. I am glad they have done well.

So why do you call me—its not to pass the time.
Why should I tell you anything ?
How do I know you tell the truth—you want to see her to kill her again

Why, you’re a mother,
you know mother’s don’t want to kill their children.

Yes, I am –but we are talking about you,
she’s been a good daughter to me
--makes my hats just right and her children are beautiful
--her daughter looks just like me.

I would like to see them.

So bad thing-- it be too late for you, she gave up. Too hateful you are.
No one live with that. You threw her away.

She came to us, my sister took her in.

I heard. I didn’t think she would go away for good.

I thought she would come and beg me to take her back
after seeing how you people live.

Humph –Still all about what you don’t know.

So what you want from me ?

I want to talk to Paula, you know where she is.
You could tell her to call me.

My husband Isaiah and I own my house forty years, we never move.
Everybody know us. Why you wait so long ?
We always good people, five boys and four girls.
Yellow girl sad for too long –we thought she might die by herself.
Why you do that to her ? Humph --What is wrong with you

Please give me her number so I can call her and apologize.
I didn’t know.
I want to see her and the children,
she could tell people she adopted them.

What about my son ? Why should I tell you ?

You are mean spirit.

I promise not to threaten her or hurt her.
My husband told me to make things better.
I am getting old maybe she can come and take care of us.

You tire me with your stale talk.
Good people all over wanting a child and yellow girl get you

. . .here's the number, get away.
Thank you.

Zephry hung up the phone. She remembered when she met yellow girl first time. Girl was eighteen and she was shy around us.
Never knew what to do. I put her to work in my kitchen.
Too many people looked at her too much.
Isaiah’s sons all went in the back room to ask Arthur about her.

What was wrong with her? —He was my best son, why she go out with him ? He don’t know, but he took her to grandfather Webster. Singsong Old man say she OK, not just a skirt. She OK, leave her be. She will get over. Isaiah says she’s OK too --her birthday same day as his can’t be bad.

We all afraid her father will come kill us in our sleep and there will be no one to tell our story. Sons say no, can’t be that way anymore. Besides her mother don’t want her —imagine throwing away yellow girl. Every time family gets together all the littlest childrens grab her legs and she can’t move. Arthur has to go in and get her.
Zephry finished getting ready for church. Tonight she will tell this news to the pastor. An Evening Light Saints member has a problem. Need to pray. Oh God help us. We lived long and good. Not now. Isaiah would have been outside polishing his Cadillac, he bought it because Cadillac is an Indian name. Hah, Zephry smiled, I picked it because it’s a big horse and I needs a wider buggy now. But now there is no one to drive it. Isaiah is gone up from me.

Zephry had seen so many wasted lives. She had lost little Sam in the fire –he had been holding onto her long skirt. She thought the toddler had gotten out of the house behind her. She was carrying two babies –but he had gotten caught behind the open door and suffocated. She and Isaiah had cried as they rebuild their house. She had always loved having babies. Being pregnant was a time when she could rest a little more and not work all those jobs. Little Mama, Isaiah called her. But Little Mama was her mother’s name first. She would come over and take care of the other babies a few weeks after the new baby came. Zephry had learned to forgive herself for Sam’s loss. Now this woman who belonged to yellow girl would have things to learn too.

Paula’s mother was a master of lies and manipulation. She could cast the character of a lie in any conceivable shape and would pay any personal price to follow it through. She had called Zephry hoping the silly old woman would tell her where to find Paula because she was curious to see if she was still alive. Years before she had told Paula’s father that she had disappeared and that she didn't know where she was. Paula had checked in now and then but did not know she was holding the knowledge hostage from him. They had not heard from her in a long time –maybe she was ready to leave those people by now. Humph-- imagine having brown Indian children.
She dialed the number, she was crying over what Paula had done to her. . .

As Arthur picked up the telephone he remembered the voice and automatically handed the phone to Paula –you will be surprised . . .

Zephry’s words still rang in her ears when Paula answered the phone.
She was still there with him --stupid girl.

But what she didn’t know was that upon hearing her voice Paula realized that both her mother and her husband were copies from the same mold. Both lived through lies and the manipulation of others. Maybe it was the town they grew up in, but Paula needed to be free. She had spent eighteen years with each one of them. She had tried to leave him, several times in fact. But this time, somehow Zephry had managed a masterful coup. Zephry had freed her son and connected Paula with a future. Singsong old man, grandfather Webster was dead, Paula had lost her most treasured ally but his spirit and Isaiah’s continued to walk with her. She had fallen in love with them and what they represented.

After that phone call Paula knew that she had to begin life over.
She also knew he would not accept it. Webster had warned her she must never let anyone bind her feet.

NDAWNIS -first baby

Zephry’s Recollects: yellow girl’s first baby

Oh that girl. We wanted our son to have a good brown wife, who worked hard and had babies to bring over. We were not expecting him to bring home a corn princess all yellow up against our brown who didn’t want to have any babies. But as soon as Arthur got to Law School she was pregnant. He had decided that she needed some company –something more to do. After the birth strange words greeted us.

I was a disappointment. They wanted their son to have a good brown wife who had lots of babies. While he went to school I worked a day job, and took in sewing and typing to make ends meet. And then I realized I was pregnant. Pregnant, totally alone, a husband who paid no heed except when he wanted money or attention, or angry because I was there when some other woman called. The women in the office tried to be supportive –there were five of us pregnant at the same time. One of the girls didn’t even know how the baby would come out, someone laughed --the same way it got in. We were a bunch.
My boss was furious when she found out I was pregnant and even more furious when I called after six weeks leave to come back to work. --Talk about the boss from hell, she would sit up drinking with her mother every night and come to work organizing files with colored pens and tabs. Her main job was looking for anything to harangue and she would sit and sulk if nothing went wrong, or scream at the phone if her mother called telling her to buy more scotch.
I bought a mynah bird to keep me company. It learned to laugh the way I did and make a mechanical sewing machine noise. I tried to teach it to say ‘hello’ but it didn’t take. When I returned from my three days at the hospital, the bird had been taught to say some new words. Zephry soon came to visit us --her first words through the door, even before Hello, “I came to see what color the baby is.” The mynah bird laughed and then said, “Fuck you” and laughed again. Arthur was shocked. I thought it was quite wonderful. I had always wanted to say that to her. Beloved husband had taught the bird to say FU while I was in the hospital –he wanted a son, not a daughter. It had not occurred to him that the bird could make it clear about how he felt in front of his mother –the mother who would have chosen for him to have married anyone but me. Isaiah came over quickly and hugged me and the baby, asking how we were doing.

Strangely the bird died a few days later.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

NDAWNIS -paula

I was taken in by Annie on the word of her nephew.

Zephyr, Annie's sister, didn't think it was a good idea. She feared that someone in the family would be killed, but since singsong old man said I was OK the family took me in. That's when I became a grateful daugher, n'dawnis, no one outside of my own grandmother had accepted me before.

This blog will include my solitary thoughts and the stories of the people I remember.

I have carried them around for a lifetime-- they are sometimes light and sometimes heavy and like a tree I bend and flex with them in the wind.

I have written all of the material and copyrighted it. ---Please feel free to pass along the site address, but do not distribute it without attributing it to me. (c) Paula Bartels