Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: TOUGH BEGINNING
The day her mother dropped her at school, never to be seen again--she asked, "How come you had to have me on April Fool's Day? My friends all laugh at me and say I a fool."
"A woman ain't got nuttin t'do wit when de baby comin into this worl, girl." She was too young to understand but in a few short years the diminutive young black girl would learn that her mother was telling her the truth--as she understood it.
A week after her grandmother came to take ten-year-old Pearl to live with her in the sprawling squalor of the Miami ghetto she asked, "How come mama didn't give me no middle name? Juss E?"
The tiny, wrinkled, black, forty-seven-year-old woman said, "Probably that no-good Snoe White gittin back at he own mama for naming him like dat."
"Was he really white like mama said?"
"Bout as white dese ol' suncooked Nassau arms girl," she held out her strong-coffee-colored arms for the tiny girl to inspect. She patiently watched as Pearl quietly inspected them. "Whachoo tink girl?"
"He probably black as mama," she smiled as her grandmother hugged her and laughed hard.
"He was dat girl," she said in the Bahamian singsong voice that she'd brought with her in the tiny fishing boat she arrived in from Nassau, over thirty years earlier--a voice she still used. "Dat was de onliest White boy on New Providence Island what blacker 'n dem downtown Bay Street boys." Tears ran down the old-before-her-time face as she laughed with the little girl who she was rapidly learning to love.
"How come you talk so funny gramma."
"Me! Me?" She leaned down and said with the artificial scowl that Pearl had already learned wasthe old woman's way to have a little fun with her, "Ise thinkin all dis time, was you what talkin kinda funny." She walked to the old oak cabinet with paint peeling on all sides and removed an album; even more tattered than the simple dress she wore. "C'mere," she said as she patted the long ago collapsed cushions on the dilapidated couch she and her husband bought, during their first year in America.
"Who dat?" Pearl asked as she pointed to a tall, black man wearing a straw hat and bathing suit, as he held a huge sea turtle up on the rear end of it's shell in the sand of the beach for the picture.
"Artnell Brothius Sawyer," she looked hard at the faded photo a moment before continuing, "he my husband when we come cross dat water from Nassau."
"Million miles an a tousan years from here girl." Her mind was rolling back across the years and she didn't hear the little girl until she tugged on her frayed shawl. "Huh?"
"Who dis pretty lady besides him?"
The wrinkles widened as she looked down into Pearl's tiny face, "You takes a closer look an I bet you knows who dat be witout I tell you."
Her tiny nose almost touched the cracked and crinkled photo as she studied it. "Nope," she finally said, "ain somebody what I knows."
The old woman placed the album on Pearl's knees and stood, "You keep lookin at dat pitcher an I be bock directly." She turned and disappeared into the other room, which served as bedroom and bathroom, even though it had no tub or shower--just a broken down old box spring and mattress plus a commode and little sink--kept as spotless as the rest of the tiny house.
When she returned, she had removed the tattered dress and shawl. She was now wearing a large beach towel, which she considered one of her most treasured items of comfort because it was what she always took to the Virginia Key Beach, where she occasionally went to swim. On her head was a straw hat that she had rescued from a trash pile in Coconut Grove. She worked there as a cleaning woman from Monday through Saturday from seven in the morning until seven at night before boarding the bus for the return trip to her tiny refuge. With her native talents and nimble fingers she repaired it so that it now looked new. It was sitting at the same rakish angle on her head as the lady in the photo.
Pearl looked from the photo to her grandmother and back again, then finally blurted out, "It's you Gramma." She put her nose so close that it was touching as she looked at the young woman in the picture. "You was beautiful Gramma," she said over and over as she returned many times to the photo.
When her grandmother returned from putting her dress and shawl back on, the tears that had started rolling down the wrinkles in her face were dried and she was wearing a smile. She sat beside the little girl and began telling her all about the people in the photos as she strolled back through the pleasant valleys of her memory.
"An dis ole fella in de boat my doddy."
Pearl held the album on her knees, leaning down to look at the black man standing in the small Nassau Dingy. "He de blackest man I ever see," she said as she continued inspecting the aged, cracked photo.
"I spect he dat sure nuff," the old woman laughed, "cause if he keep he eyes shut, an he mout close, you gone walk right into him in de night time."
"Ha, ha, ha," the little girl giggled, "he sure nuff be real good to playin hide 'n seek wit huh?"
The old woman turned to the final page and pointed to a very tiny, very black old woman standing next to a huge pile of conch shells, "Dat my mama."
After a thorough inspection of the picture Pearl said, "What dem ting she workin on?"
"Dem conch shells, chile. She knockin de meat out dem shell my doddy juss bring in."
"What dey do wit dem shells?"
"Doddy gotta carry dem ting out to Conch Island an trow em up on it."
"Why he do dat Gramma?"
"Cause de law say he gotta. Dey doan want dem stinky ting layin roun on de lan."
"Why dey stinky?"
"Cause mama can't get all de meat out dem ting."
The curious little girl leaned closer to the photo trying to see what the old woman in it was holding. "Is that a hatchet she has in her hand?"
"Yep, dat were her doddy own hatchet."
"Is that what she knocks em outa the shell with?"
The old woman grinned, "No chile, dat what she knock a hole in de end wit, so she can poke her knife in an git dat sweet meat out."
"Yech, you mean they eat it?"
"Oh yes girl," she closed her eyes and hummed softly, "mmmmmm, I can taste dem sweet ting right now in my mouth memories."
The little girl stuck her tongue out and repeated, "Yech, I don't think they're sweet like bananas or mangos."