Daddy Saysby Ntozake Shange
Annie Sharon and Lucie-Marie, daughters of two African-American rodeo stars, have been raised by their loving but remote father, Tie-Down, since their mother, Twanda, was killed by an out-of-control horse. The girls feel their mother's absence terribly, especially now that they are beginning to get older, but Tie-Down misses her too much to talk about her. Now Tie-Down has started dating Cassie, and the girls resent her intrusion into their lives. But after a close call at the rodeo, it is Cassie who finally brings this family together.
Susan Schott Karr
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Lucie-Marie held the rope loosely in her hands, trying to make her lasso feel like an extension of her body. She aimed for the bedpost, imagining the post as a frisky young calf. She missed. Lucie-Marie dragged the rope back along the floor to try again.
Late-afternoon sunlight streamed through a window, bright orange and lavender, as the twelve-year-old did her best to snare the bedpost. Long shadows and humming cicadas held the small East Texas ranch house hostage as the summer day neared its end. The rope disappeared into the reflected colors of the sunset, missed the post, and fell to the floor.
Lucie-Marie pulled the rope back and fastened her determined fingers around it again. This time, for sure, she would settle the noose around the bedpost and prove to her older sister, Annie Sharon, she was ready for some serious calf-roping. But before she could get her fingers set just right, Annie Sharon snatched the rope away. With one swift movement, she lassoed the elusive bedpost.
"What'd ya do that for?" Lucie-Marie shouted. "I was gonna get that one. You never give me a chance to do anythin'!"
"How do you expect me to stand by and do nothin' when I taught you everythin' you sposed to know, and still you can't get the hang of it? Now, come over here, and I'll show you one more time." Annie Sharon shoved Lucie-Marie to a different spot in their bedroom, a different angle from the bedpost. She situated her sister's fingers on the rope so it would glide through its loop without a hitch.
This time when Lucie-Marie twirled her rope, no funny-looking shapes sailed through the air. With one throw of Lucie-Marie's arm, she snared the bedpost as she hoped to snare calves at future rodeos she competed in.
"There now," Annie Sharon said. She tossed her head to one side, her ponytail swinging back and forth. She jammed her hands into the pockets of her jeans, and stood waiting for Lucie-Marie to thank her.
"Well, I'm gonna do it again and again till I make Mama proud of me. You know, this is the anniversary of the day she died. I gotta do somethin' to make her proud. She never got a chance to see me rope anythin'. When Mama died, I was only old enough to sit on the back of a sheep, makin' believe it was a real horse."
"Don't you talk about Mama no more, you hear? I don't wanna hear any more about her."
"But, Annie Sharon, she was a champion roper, a tie-down roper, and a bronc buster. Plus, she could race barrels better than anybody. Why can't I talk about her? Twanda Rochelle Johnson-Brown was my mama, and I'm proud of it. Why, by the time she was your age, she could win anythin'. Now, why can't we talk about that?"
"I say let the past be the past."
"Well, that's not sayin' much, considerin' that ever since you could crawl, walk, or talk, it was Mama who had you on the back of a horse. You ignore Mama's guidin' you and make yourself into some kinda newborn heifer. Maybe I should rope you, since you came into this world knowin' everythin' there is to know."
Annie Sharon's jaws tightened, and her hands closed into fists. "Look, I told you, leave Mama out of this talk about the rodeo. I don't want to talk about her at all. Ever!"
"Why not? She's the only mama we got." Lucie-Marie pushed her braids back onto her shoulders.
"The only mama we had, dummy."
"Don't call me 'dummy.' I'm just two years younger than you, is all. 'Sides, you ain't but fourteen." Lucie-Marie's voice dropped almost to a whisper. "I'd give anythin' to know what all Mama taught you."
"Well, you're too late for that. No more of this 'Mama' talk, and I mean it."
"I'm gonna tell Daddy what you did to me, takin' my rope away, and I'm just learnin' how to use it."
Lucie-Marie stomped out to the living room and eased herself down to the braided rug on the floor. Her eyes roved across the many championship belts and trophies won by her mother during Twanda's short life. A story lurked behind every one of her championships. Sometimes Tie-Down, the girls' father, talked about the wild horses Mama broke in. And sometimes he just wouldn't. Lucie-Marie felt cheated because of the way her daddy and her sister kept secret all of their memories of her mother. They treated her like she wasn't entitled to know her mama's challenges and triumphs. Twanda worked the rodeo circuit from Muskogee, Oklahoma, to Midnight, Mississippi. All Lucie-Marie knew was that her mama placed first in more events than any other female on the rodeo circuit, and especially in the events usually reserved for men only. Why did they shut her out?
Lucie-Marie decided not to pay any attention to her sister. She got up and walked over to the shelf above the fireplace. She took down one of her mother's championship belts and fastened it about her waist, ready to go back to her practice of roping the bedpost. The truth of the matter was that her father, Tie-Down, never let her near a real herd of cattle or their calves. Too dangerous for such a little cowgirl, he said. But she took joy in the knowledge that one of these days she'd be old enough to help out like her sister. She knew, of course, that Annie Sharon did not take as much joy in the life they lived as she did. It seemed to Lucie-Marie that Annie Sharon thought of every wild and out-of-control creature as the horse that killed their mother.
"Aw, c'mon, Annie Sharon. Let's put Mama's belts on and go out to the stables. We'll get us some horses and show the world, especially Daddy, that we're the unmistakable daughters of a championship mother. That we can do anythin' she could, 'cause she rides with us. What d'you say? I think it's a grand idea myself. We'll show the world we're made of the same stuff as our mother."
"Lucie, you forget. I got my own medals and trophies. I don't need to live through the success of a ghost. Besides, I've tol' you a dozen times I don't wanna talk about Mama, ever."
Copyright © 2003 by Ntozake Shange
Meet the Author
Ntozake Shange is a renowned playwright, poet (Nappy Edges and The Love Space Demands), and novelist (Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo, Betsey Brown, and Liliane). She lives in Philadelphia.
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