This EXCERPT is from the short story MAW-REESE and is a story that takes place in the Fifties. It is about how the issue of race raised its ugly head and got into the way of a friendship.
We had played together every Monday for the previous two years… every Monday when the sun was shining…regardless of temperature, since we had turned four. A lot of my memories have become muddled with the passage of time or the fact I was just four or five, but there are bits and pieces that I grab on to and, if I hold on tightly enough, they will turn into memories. My recollections of Maw are quite clear. Mondays were Nannie’s wash days and she still held on enough to the old ways that she did her wash outside even though a wringer washing machine had replaced her washboard and tin wash tub. There wasn’t enough room inside the house for the washer, especially after an indoor bathroom had been added to what was once a back porch. Water was boiled on the old gas range and carried outside to the washer. After the clothes were washed or sometimes “blued” in the old, claw foot style bathtub, they were hand cranked through two rolls called a wringer, an act that scared me to death. I was always fearful a body part might get caught up in it. The clothes were then hung out to air-dry or freeze if the temperature was too low. On days it was not in use, the washer became my personal spacecraft or tank and, despite my fear, they possessed a hand-cranked machine gun or pulsar cannon.
Miss Maggie Cureton was Nannie’s wash woman and friend even though during those days saying your friend was a “colored” wash woman was not something a white woman could admit. After Paw Paw died and Nannie moved in next door with us and our new-fangled washing machine and dryer, Miss Maggie became obsolete but was not replaced. Miss Maggie just became Nannie’s fishing buddy. I’m not sure a woman would like to be described as “thin and wiry” but it is the description I must use. Miss Maggie looked to be as tough as harness leather with strong muscles roping her thin arms. She was also as black as the end of a burned stick and always wore a kerchief around her head, unless she donned a huge straw hat given to her by my grandmother. While small, she could pull her weight and then some when lugging around baskets of water-soaked sheets or stringers loaded with fish. My fondest remembrance of her was the way she addressed me as “Honey Chile.” Her endearment was a little more loving than being referred to as one of the “you chaps” which was as close to an affectionate utterance every received from my grandmother.
One Monday morning Miss Maggie did not come alone but brought Maw and his two-year-old sister Bessy along with her. Maw’s mother, Maggie’s daughter, had found work at a church in Lancaster and would later marry a minister. Maw and Bessy were Miss Maggie’s grandchildren. While Maggie was ebony, Maw and Bessy were not. They were more the shade of the rich Luzianne coffee and cream that my grandmother drank. Their skin was shiny and seemed to glow in the morning light which accented their reddish hue. I heard them later referred to as “redbone” and was too young to understand the dynamics of someone who was bi-racial. The shine of their skin was due to the perspiration caused by their already hot and humid walk across the wide, sometimes cotton and sometimes hay field that separated their home from ours. Maw was my age, a few months older, and stood with his right foot planted firmly on the ground with his left nervously tucked, toes curled, under his instep. Both he and his sister were barefooted and dressed in hand-me-downs as was I, but I had not had to navigate the stubble and briars left behind from the last hay cutting. While only slightly older, Maw was already a half-head taller and several pounds heavier. Not intending to be stereotypical, Maw was the athlete I wished I could have been.
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