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She burrowed deeper into her pillow, hoping to silence the persistent ringing in her ear. Finally, she gave up trying to sleep and reached for the phone.
"It's six-thirty in the morning. Would whoever you are please go back to sleep?"
"Gal, I want you to come over here right away. There's something I ought to tell you." Naomi sighed and sat up in bed. The Reverend Judd Logan's commands did not perturb Naomi. She had dealt with her paternal grandfather's whims and orders since she was seven years old, when he became her guardian and she went to live with him. She tumbled out of bed, her eyes still heavy with sleep, and groped for the bathroom. She hadn't asked him whether it was urgent: of course it was. To him, everything was urgent. And you never knew what to expect when you received his summons, but you could be certain that you were supposed to treat it as if it came from a court of law. She smiled despite herself.
She was twenty-nine years old, but she was still a child as far as he was concerned. However, because she loved him, she didn't have trouble with that. After all, there was nearly a seventy-year difference in their ages. Thoughts of his age gave her a moment of anxiety; his call really could be urgent. She dressed hurriedly, remembering to take a light jacket. Early mornings in October were sometimes chilly.
The drive from her condominium in Bethesda, Maryland, across Washington to Alexandria, Virginia, were her grandfather lived, took half an hour even at that time of morning. She parked her gray Taurus in front of her grandfather's imposing Tudor-style home and rang the doorbell before letting herself in. Judd Logan didn't like surprises. If you handed him one, he lectured you for an hour.
She entered the foyer dragging her feet, wondering at her sudden feeling of apprehension. The spacious vestibule had been her favorite childhood haunt, because her grandfather had put a console piano there for her and always placed little gifts and surprises on it. She would look up from her practice and notice him listening raptly, though he never told her that he enjoyed her playing. The piano remained, but it held no attraction; her childhood had ended abruptly when she was sixteen.
She found him in his study, writing his memoirs, and walked over to hug him, but he dusted her off with a gruff "Not now, gal, wait until I finish this sentence." How typical of him to shun affection, she thought; not once in the nearly twenty-two years since she had gone to live with him had he ever made a gesture toward her that she could confuse with true emotional warmth. She knew that he locked his feelings inside, but she wished he would learn a little something about affection before he left this earth. At times, she'd give anything for a hug from himor from just about anybody. For some odd reason, this was one of those times.
With a sigh, she sat down, perusing the snow-white curly hair that framed his dark, barely lined face and the piercing hazel-brown eyes that seemed to reflect a knowledge of all the ages gone by.
"What's this about, Grandpa? You seemed a little agitated."
He turned his writing pad upside down, drew a deep breath, and plunged in without preliminaries. "I've had two letters from them and yesterday I finally got a phone call. It's about the baby."
She jerked forward. "The baby? What baby? Who called you?"
The old man looked at her, and a sense of dread invaded her as she saw his pity and realized it was for her. "Yours, gal. I tried back then to spare you this. I thought that since the adoption papers were sealed by law, no one would ever know. But they found me, and that means they can find you, too. The adoptive mother says that the child wants to find its birth mother." She saw him wince and knew that the lifelessness that she felt was mirrored in her face.
"Grandpa, I've lived as a single woman with no children, and I've worked to help young girls avoid experiencing what I went through. I'm a role model. How can I explain this?" She pushed back the temptation to scream. "I knew I shouldn't have given in to their pressure, their browbeating. The counselor at the clinic made me feel that if I didn't give the baby up for adoption, it wouldn't have a chance at a normal, happy life. They said a child born to a teenager starts life with two strikes against it. I was made to feel selfish and incompetent when I held out against them. But they finally convinced me, and I gave in. It didn't help that I was depressed, and Chuck didn't answer my letters. Grandpa, I've been sorry every day since I signed that paper. They didn't even let me see the baby, said it was best to avoid any bonding. I wish you hadn't let me do it."
He stood and braced his back with both hands. "No point in going over that now, gal; we've got to deal with this last letter. Take my advice and let well enough alone. Don't turn your life upside down; you'll regret it."
Naomi looked off into space, reliving those days when all that she loved had disintegrated around her. She spoke softly, forcing words from her mouth. "I've spent the last thirteen years trying to pretend that it never happened, but you know, Grandpa, it has still influenced every move and colored every decision that I've made."
"I know, Naomi gal. But where would you be now if you had kept that child and been disgraced?" She looked around them indulgently at the replicas of bygone eras. Judd's 1925 degree from the Yale University School of Divinity, framed in gold leaf, hung on the wall. Doilies that her grandmother had crocheted more than sixty years earlier rested on the backs of overstuffed velvet chairs. And on the floor lay the Persian carpet that the old man's congregation had given him on his fortieth birthday. She smiled in sympathetic understanding.
"Grandpa, out-of-wedlock motherhood is not the burden for a woman that it was in your day. I tried to tell you that."
He shook his snow-white head. "They wanted to reach the child's biological father, too, but, well "
"Yes." She interrupted him gently. "I remember believing that Chuck had deserted me, and he'd drowned surfing off Honolulu. I didn't know. I'll never understand that, either, you know; he was a champion swimmer. I've wondered if he was as unhappy as I was and if it made him careless."
"I'd feel better about this whole thing, gal, if you'd just find yourself a nice young man and get married. You ought to be married; I won't live forever."
She stared at him, nearly laughing. Wasn't it typical of him to bring that up? He could weave it into a technical discussion of the pyramids of Egypt. She broke off her incredulous glare; he didn't accept reprimands, either spoken or silent. "Get married? I've stayed away from men. Who would accept my having a baby, giving it up for adoption, and never bothering to tell its father? What man do you think is going to accept all that? Anyway, I'm happy just as I am, and I have no intention of offering myself to anybody for approval."
The old man straightened up and ran a hand across his still remarkably handsome face, now nearly black from age. "A man who loves you will understand and accept it, Naomi. One who loves you, gal," he said softly. The sentiment seemed too much for him, and he reverted to type. "You have to watch yourself. You're moving up in that school board and working with that foundation for girls. You're out to change the world, and you don't need this on your neck." She opened her mouth to speak and thought better of it. Judd had managed things for her since she was a child; she was a woman now.
"You let me handle this thing, gal, it's best you not get involved." She didn't care if he mistook her silence for compliance. She had learned long ago not to argue, but she would do whatever she wanted to.
It seemed to her that the drive back to her studio on upper Connecticut Avenue in Washington took hours longer than usual; a jackknifed truck, a two-car accident, rubber necking, and the weather slowed her progress. The day was becoming one big conspiracy against her peace of mind. "Am I getting paranoid?" she asked herself, attempting to inject humor into something that wasn't funny. Having to assume the role of mother nearly fourteen years after the fact was downright hilariousif you were listening to a stand-up comic. She would not fall apart; she was doggoned if she would, and to prove it, she hummed every aria from La Traviata that she could remember.
She didn't get much done that day, because she spent part of it listless and unable to concentrate and the rest optimistically shuffling harebrained schemes to locate her child. She had to adjust to a different world, one that wasn't real, and the effort was taking a toll. She couldn't summon her usual enthusiasm during her tutoring session that evening and could hardly wait to get home. But tomorrow would be different, she vowed. "I'm not going to keel over because of this."
At home that evening, she curled up in her favorite chair, intent on relaxing with a cup of tea and soothing music, determined to get a handle on things. "I'm going to find something to laugh about at least once an hour," she swore. As she searched the dial on her radio, a deep, beautifully sonorous male voice caught her attention, sending shock waves through her and raising goose bumps on her forearms. Well, he might have a bedroom voice, she quickly decided, but his ideas were a different matter. "Educated career women, including our African American women, put jobs before children and family, and that is a primary factor in family breakups and youthful delinquency," he stated with complete confidence.
How could anyone with enough prestige to be a panelist on that program make such a claim? He was crediting women with too much responsibility for some of the world's worst problems.
She rarely allowed herself to become furious about anything; anger crippled a person. But she had to tell him off. After trying repeatedly to telephone the radio station and getting a busy signal, she noted the station's call letters and flipped off the radio. Meade, they'd called him. She would write him and urge him into the twentieth century.
Her immense relief at being able to concentrate on something impersonal, to feel her natural inclination to mischief surface, restored her sense of well-being. She embraced the blessed diversion and wholeheartedly went about giving Mr. Meade his comeuppance. But as she walked briskly, almost skipping to her desk, she admitted to herself that the basis for her outrage was more than intellectual. His comments had come bruisingly close to an implied indictment of her, even if she didn't deserve it. She shrugged it off and began the letter.
"Mr. Meade," she wrote, "I don't know by what right you're an authority on the familyand I doubt from your comments tonight in the program Capitol Life that you arebut you most certainly are not an authority on women. If a great many American women, and especially African American women, didn't work outside the home, their families would starve. Would that bother you? And if you tried being a tiny bit more masculine, maybe the women with whom you associate might be 'less aggressive,' as you put it, softer and more feminine. Don't you think we women have a big enough load without you dumping all that on us? Be a pal and give us a break, please. And don't forget, Mr. Meade, even squash have fathers. Please be a good sport and don't answer this note. Most sincerely, Naomi Logan." She addressed it to him in care of the program and the station.
That should take care of him, she decided, already dismissing the incident. But within a week, she had his blunt reply: "Dear Ms. Logan, if you had listened to everything I said and had understood it, you might not have accused me so unfairly. From the content of your letter, it would appear that you've got some guilt you need to work through. Or are you apologizing for being a career woman? If the shoe fits, wear it. The lack of a reply would be much appreciated. Yours, Rufus Meade."
Naomi hadn't planned to pursue her argument with Rufus Meade; it was enough that she'd told him what she thought of his ideas and that her letter had annoyed him. A glance at her watch told her that the weekly radio program Capitol Life was about to begin. Curious as to whether he was a regular panelist, she tuned in. He wasn't a regular, she learned, but had been invited back because of the clamor that his statement the previous week had caused.
The moderator introduced Rufus, who lost no time in defending his position. "Eighty percent of those who wrote or called protesting my remarks were women; most of the men thought I didn't go far enough. Has any of you asked the children in these street gangs where their mothers are when they get home from schoolprovided they're in schoolwhat they do after school, when they last had a home-cooked meal, whether their parents know where they are? I have. Their mothers aren't home, so they don't know where their children are or what they're doing. With nobody to control them, the children hang out in the street, and that is how we lose them. Children need parental guidance. When it was the norm in this society for mothers to remain at home, we had fewer social problemsless delinquency and fewer divorces. One protestor wrote me that even squash have fathers. Yes, they do. And they also have mothers who stick with them until they're old enough to fend for themselves. In fact, the mothers die nurturing their little ones' development."