In Common is the life story of Margaret Jefferson-Butler, an old southern belle born on her families' slave plantation in the deep south of Florida during the 1800's. It is not the typical story of run-away slaves being captured and whipped into obedience. Rather, it is a story of a White woman who befriends a Black woman (Miss. Sister) and the pain they suffer as a result of this friendship.
The journey unfolds as Margaret sits on the porch talking to Someday, the dog. While sipping on a cool glass of lemonade she shares the details of her life and its' deep rooted pain. The story continues with Margaret sharing how their relationship was the only thing that gave Miss. Sister and her strength to endure a life full of grief caused by the evilness of the white man's way of living.
In the end the reader gets to see Margaret up close and hear her pain as she realizes how much the white woman and black woman have IN COMMON; and in the midst of that she gets the revelation that the white man believes that he is their master.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.24(d)|
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By Sandra Cooper
Balboa PressCopyright © 2015 Sandra Cooper
All rights reserved.
THEY SHOULD HAVE NAMED ME DANGER
It was a hot, sunny day around the year 1820 in the deep south of Florida, on the forever-reaching acres of the Butler Plantation. There, far back from the road, surrounded by many trees, was the big house in all of its splendor — a white, prestigious mansion with a weeping willow on the left side and a lemon tree on the right. The mansion was so hidden behind an assortment of beautiful flowers and hedges that it appeared to be growing right out of the shrubbery. That was where I, Margaret Butler, an old southern belle, sat on the big wraparound porch, drinking a cool glass of lemonade with Someday, my dog.
You know, there was only one person who understood my pain, shared my relief, and safeguarded the secrets of my heart — only one whom I trusted more than my child, more than my mama and papa, and, if I had a brother, more than him, too. That person was Miss Sister. Why, Miss Sister was the name I gave her when I was just a little girl. I was an only child, and my cousins and best friends had sisters. I wanted one, too. So as Miss Sister called me Miss Margaret, I decided to call her Miss Sister, and that was that. My mama tried hard to change my mind, but even as a child I was stubborn, and I set out not to have it any other way.
Why, I remember one day, when I was about five years old, Papa had allowed Miss Sister to go into town with us, and while we were in the store, a man heard me calling her Miss Sister.
He asked, "Girl, why you calling that nigger gal 'miss'?"
I replied, "'Cause I want to."
Well, he turned redder that a red bird and almost choked on his chewing tobacco as he was rushing out that store. I guess it took him by surprise that a five-year-old thought like that. So eventually everybody came to know her as Miss Sister. Miss Sister was the only name I knew until much later, when I learned her given name was Violet — but still I preferred Miss Sister. Miss Sister fully understood me, and I, in turn, knew her just as well.
I rubbed Someday down his back and began to daydream about our childhood days.
As far back as I could remember, there was a Miss Sister. Her family was owned by my father, and her mama was my mother's lady's maid. Since I had no brothers or sisters, Mama would allow me to bring Miss Sister in the house to keep me company. She was three years older than me, and even as a child, she was taller than the children her own age. Her complexion was a pecan brown, and she had coarse hair that she always wore in two long braids down her back because that was her way of taking control of it. Hell, it was the only thing that she was allowed to control. She had no control over where to live, how to live, or just plain living. But those eyes of hers were so big they demanded everyone's attention. Those eyes shouted, "Don't you dare ignore me!" Those eyes could swallow you up in just one look. But even so, she was the most beautiful slave I had ever seen.
As a child, I was always getting into trouble for trying to figure out why and how something was done — and usually the something was really none of my business. My Uncle Charlie, for instance, was a snuff sniffer and never ceased to amaze me as I watched him putting that brown stuff up his nose, wondering why he did that. Well, my mind led me to believe that it must have been something real good, like sucking on candy. So one particular day, he laid his snuff box down and forgot to close it, and I politely took it and eased away to the porch. It was on a Sunday, and I was still dressed up from church in my beautiful, buttercup-yellow dress. I poured some of the dark powder in my hand and put my nose in it, but that didn't work. All I did was smear the stuff on my nose and top lip while the rest of it landed on my dress. Still determined to get it up my nose, I then decided to lie down on the porch, roll over, and put more in my hand to try to get it in my nose while I held my head back, but then it ended up in my eyes. Why, my mama said she had never heard such screaming and crying in all her life. After that, my uncle Charlie would always poke fun at me by inviting me to take some snuff with him. But my snuff-sniffing days were done.
Trust. I learned to trust Miss Sister way back when I was a child. Really, I owed her my life. When I was about fifteen years old, I remember one day, Rebecca, Jenney, my cousin Betty Jean, and I overheard Calvin and Josh planning to meet at the lake that evening to go skinny-dipping. So I talked the girls into slipping out the house to meet down there and surprise them by showing up at the lake as well. When we got there, it was dark, and the boys were already in the water.
"What y'all girls doin' here?" Calvin yelled.
Without a moment of hesitation, I answered, "I think we are here for the same reason y'all is — and besides, Calvin, who died and made you my papa?"
Calvin just gave me that dumb, blank look that only he could give. I was taking off my clothes when I realized that the other girls were just standing and staring.
"Well, now, don't tell me I got a bunch of scared-asses hangin' around me. I thought y'all came to get in the water." I enjoyed daring them in front of the boys. Finally they followed my lead.
The weather was so hot that night, but we were excited — the boys were there with us, and we were taking a chance on getting caught. Lord, I reckon Mama would have nearly died if she had known that her daughter was doing the forbidden things of life.
I lived for danger. Just hearing I could not do something gave me a reason to prove that I could — and I would, in spite of what anybody else thought. I was quite a daredevil. But on that night, after my final jump in the water, all I remember after that was Miss Sister bent over me, calling my name while the others cried. I had almost drowned, but Miss Sister came from out of nowhere like God's angel and saved me. The others had panicked, and this could have cost me my life. Not only did she save me from that, but she also saved me from the wrath of Mama and Papa.
I could still see her helping me to sneak back into the house and safely into bed and hear her saying, "Why, Miss Margaret, when I saw you headed that way, I could smell trouble on hand. Figured I'd best follow you. Lord knows that I am glad I did. Now, don't you go worryin' none, Miss Margaret. I won't tell a soul. You just rest easy now. This matter is safe with me. Why, Miss Margaret, I swear my lips will not part to tell anybody what you got yourself into this night."
That night she slept on the floor beside my bed, making sure I was all right. She risked her life for me. One day, I realized the truth of the matter was that if I had drowned, everyone would have blamed her. It did not matter that I placed my own self in harm's way. All they would consider is that a slave had failed at saving a white girl. I had many nightmares of that incident, but still that did not stop me from going back to the lake. Every time they dared me, I went.
Now there was another time when Miss Sister and I were picking blackberries down in the woods and I almost got bit by a snake, but Miss Sister was right there chopping his head off. That snake never saw it coming.
I was scared that time, but to help me save face, Miss Sister built a fire, cooked that snake right there in the woods, and told me, "Miss Margaret, eat a piece, and gain power over this here devil." Then Miss Sister started jumping round doing some kind of buck dance while I ate a piece of that snake. And just as she said, when I swallowed it down, I felt the power rise up in me. Like I said, any time I felt like somebody was daring me to do something, I did it. My mama and papa should have named me Danger.CHAPTER 2
BECOMING JUST ANOTHER HOUSE NIGGER
As I reached for my glass of lemonade, I noticed that Someday had gone to the top of the porch steps as if he'd seen something, but it turned out to be just a bird in the bushes.
"Oh, Someday, there you go chasing things again. Come back here and sit down. It's just a bird."
Sometimes I wonder if God, knowing how foolish I would be, decided to create Miss Sister just to watch out for me. I think that somehow she got pleasure from my misbehaving. I would do whatever and then we would have a high time laughing about it.
As far as I was concerned, I had more fun with Miss Sister than I could ever have had with a sister of my own.
That was the way it remained between us until the year that I got married. Papa had promised Simon, the stable boy, that he would allow Simon to jump the broom with Miss Sister. Lord, that girl was so happy — almost happier than I was when Gabriel and I first became engaged. She really loved Simon. Excited, we would sit and contemplate how it would be on our wedding night. We both were still virgins, and even though I never gave a second thought about misbehaving, I never wanted to have intercourse before getting married. This was one thing I was going to do the right way.
We were closer than two peas in a pod — but things changed rapidly for us when, for some reason, Papa changed his mind about Miss Sister and Simon jumping the broom and instead gave Miss Sister to Gabriel as a wedding gift. I could not understand why, and Papa refused to explain. Now she went from being closer than a sister to just being another house nigger. Something died in her, and something rose up in me. It was as if the life had left those big, beautiful eyes and sadness had taken up residence instead. Now she would be separated for life from her beloved Simon because Gabriel and I were moving to the plantation that his granddaddy had left him. I confronted Papa, asking why they could not marry and leave with us, but Papa said he could not part with Simon because he was one of his most valuable workers.
"Then why not give one of the other slaves to Gabriel and let Miss Sister stay here?" I asked, confused. But Papa, being so stubborn, held his ground, and with the raising of his voice, I knew that it was better for me to leave this matter alone.
It was no surprise that Gabriel and I got married — after all, we had grown up together. Me being such a tomboy and all, I would try to outrace him, beat him at horseshoes, and do anything else, even though he was older than me. I did not care — I tried anyway. One day, our families were attending a picnic, and all the town's people were there. We had so much fun. Why, I remember putting a baby frog in his shoe that day while he bathed his feet in the pond, and I thought that I would die from laughing at the way he looked when he realized what I had done. I laughed so hard that I found myself holding on tight to my stomach.
The fun continued throughout our childhood days until he was sent away to boarding school — High Point, to be specific, the most prestigious school in the South for boys. It was family tradition to send the boys away to receive the best education. This was the family's way of preparing them for life. But I did not care. All I felt was that this was their way of destroying my life. Why, I missed Gabriel so much that I was fighting anybody that looked my way, boys and girls alike.
Some days I could not eat. Miss Sister was the only one who could figure it all out, and when she did, she said, "Why, Miss Margaret, you cuttin' up big time over that boy, Gabriel. Been sourer than sour grapes since he left. You think beatin' everybody up is gonna help? Well, I tell you, it won't. You makin' enemies here, and I bet you he is off makin' friends. You gonna starve yourself to death, Miss Margaret? For what? You already skinner than a polecat. You best to think three times about this matter here. My mama always says if somethin' seems to be hard for me, then all I need to do is think on that thing three times, and then I would come to know just what I needed to know. So I am tellin' you, Miss Margaret, for your own good, you need to think three times on this so you can come to your senses."
Miss Sister kept on talking to me and making me laugh whenever she could until finally it did not hurt, nor did Gabriel cross my mind anymore. When we're children, small things can seem to be bigger than the world itself and much more important.
Years went by, and one day, while Papa and I were in the general store, Judge Paul Butler came in with this tall, handsome young man, and our fathers reintroduced us.
"Good afternoon, Judge Butler, and how are you doin' on this fine day?" Papa asked.
"Why, Andrew Jefferson, I am doin' just fine, thank you." Then he tilted his hat as he acknowledged me. "And you, Miss Margaret?"
"I am doin' well. Thank you for askin', sir," I replied.
"Y'all do remember my son Gabriel?" he asked.
We looked at each other and smiled. Why, I was so surprised and thought I was going to melt like butter when he complimented me as he reached for my hand.
Right there in the general store, he said, "Why, Miss Margaret, I would never have guessed it to be you. You were such a skinny little tomboy, but my, my, how you have grown to be such a beautiful young lady." Right then and there, he captured my heart, and I could only hope that I had done the same to him.
After leaving the store that day, it seemed as if it would take forever for Papa and me to reach home. I could hardly wait to tell Miss Sister about what had happened in the store. Finally, we got there, and I rushed in the house to find Miss Sister helping her mama in the kitchen by peeling potatoes.
Dancing around in excitement, I begged, "Cora, will you please excuse Miss Sister to come upstairs with me? Please, pretty, pretty please, Cora."
She looked at me, her hands on her hips, and proceeded to say, "Now, Miss Margaret, you know that Master Jefferson is goin' to be expectin' for his dinner to be served on time. Child, can't it wait?"
"Cora, it will only take just a moment. You don't want me to die from the anticipation of showin' her somethin' I purchased in the general store, now, do you?"
Cora looked at Miss Sister and, realizing that she was excited about finding out just what it was, said, "All right, but do it quickly and get right back here."
Before Cora could finish getting those words out her mouth, we had ran up the stairs and into my bedroom.
"Guess what happened today, Miss Sister," I said, with a big grin on my face.
"Child, I am not goin' to try to guess," she replied, "but you best to tell me, Miss Margaret, and tell me right now, 'cause I know from the look on your face that it is somethin' I need to hear. Tell me right now or I am goin' to tickle it out of you."
Then she started ticklin' me, and I began to laugh. Finally, when I could take it no more, I shouted, "Okay, okay! I'll tell you. I saw Gabriel Butler in the general store with Judge Butler. He is back! Gabriel is back, Miss Sister!"
"Gabriel Butler — that boy you almost starved to death over? Tell me, how did he look? What did he say? Tell me everything!" she said.
"Well, at first he didn't know who I was. But when he finally recognized me, he reached for my hand and said that I had grown to be such a beautiful young lady. I almost died of disbelief while standin' there lookin' at that tall, blond, blue-eyed angel standin' right before me."
At this time, I was fannin' my face with both my hands. "It was if I had died and gone to heaven, and if Papa had not been there, I would have believed just that."
Before I could say anything else, we were interrupted by Cora calling Miss Sister. "If she asks what I wanted," I said, "it was just to show you this dress I bought."
"Okay," Miss Sister said, "I best to be goin' now before Mama tans my hide. But we'll finish later." She left the room, both of us sure we would be looking forward to completing this conversation at bedtime.
Excerpted from In Common by Sandra Cooper. Copyright © 2015 Sandra Cooper. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 They Should Have Named Me Danger, 1,
Chapter 2 Becoming Just Another House Nigger, 7,
Chapter 3 Just Sweet Music, 13,
Chapter 4 Rumor/Truth, 19,
Chapter 5 Strawberries, 25,
Chapter 6 Wanting to Hate Miss Sister, 29,
Chapter 7 Lost Identity, 33,
Chapter 8 Shameful for a Woman to Discuss, 37,
Chapter 9 My Parents' Hearts Revealed, 43,
Chapter 10 Horrors of Life Spill Out, 53,
Chapter 11 Bitterness/Sweetness, 61,
Chapter 12 Making Things Right, 67,
Chapter 13 Two Mothers, 71,
Chapter 14 Little Andy Becomes Andrew, 83,
Chapter 15 Peace Finds Us, 93,
Chapter 16 Justly So, 99,