Nana Jones believes that her days on Earth will end before her eightieth birthday. As she reflects on her life, she is proud when she thinks about all the neighborhood children she has nurtured away from the lure of the dangerous streets in Camden, New Jersey. But when she tries to pass her torch to her favorite "Nana Babe," Diamond Hunter, the young woman refuses to take it.
Times are different in Camden, and Nana and Diamond have different viewpoints of their city. As shops close and young residents move away, Diamond stands at a crossroads. It appears the temptation to leave her demons behind and start graduate school in North Carolina is stronger than her desire to stay in a city that seems to be dying by the day. As Diamond steps closer to fleeing and Nana's monumental birthday nears, both ladies embark on a day trip with the same goal-to persuade the other to change her mind. But neither has any idea that an unanticipated confrontation is about to force each of them to confront their deepest fears.
In this poignant novelplay, a matriarch and her young protégé must bravely face their uncertain destinies as they learn the most important lessons of life.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.54(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Wish I(s)A Novelplay
By L. "Lady Bird" Jackson
Abbott PressCopyright © 2012 L. Lady Bird Jackson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAnother Boarded-Up House
The elderly woman stood on the corner near Nana's Brew, her coffee shop, looking for her babes. Since the temperatures had hovered around the low thirties that week, she estimated about seven to ten of her babes would be running in her direction at any moment. Had it been just twenty degrees warmer, there would have been enough of them to knock her off her balance, which was supported by a quad cane. Her babes, a mixture of boys and girls aged five to ten, were not actually her babes at all. They were the offspring of her former babes, and not one of those babes had a drop of blood that connected them to her. Nonetheless, all were her babes—every single one of them—and many others in Camden, New Jersey, too. It had been that way for several decades. Her own two children had not yet produced any children. So any kid who walked into her coffee shop in need of food, clothing, or guidance became one of her babes. And in return, she became his or her neighborhood granny, or as everyone affectionately called her, Nana Jones.
Nana Jones was dressed super-sharp that brisk, wintry morning. At almost eighty years old, she was always mindful of watching the weather station first thing in the morning so she could dress appropriately. Sometimes what she thought was appropriate weighed her down.
The wind whistled and tackled her unwrinkled chocolate cheekbones, but it was defenseless against her brown, three-quarter-length faux-fur coat. Underneath her coat, she was padded down in layers of clothes. She had on a support bra; full-size cotton briefs; thick pantyhose; a one-piece full-body girdle that put a chokehold on her breasts, belly, and thighs; a full-length silk black slip; and a one-piece sweater dress that flowed down to the top of her calf-high, rubber-bottomed boots. The only thing missing was the small matching faux fur hat that she left in its box inside her bedroom closet. Instead, she chose to wear the extra-wide brown velour one with the exaggerated bow that hung over the right side. That one was more befitting. After all, it was Sunday, and she was going to church.
A forceful gust of wind blew into Nana Jones, forcing her to move several steps forward. She grabbed the handle of the quad cane tightly with her left hand and repositioned most of her weight onto her left side. Her right leg was slow to move, but she managed to push it out to create a wide stance in case another gust of wind came along. The leopard-print quad cane was one of several Nana Jones owned. It had been decorated by her babes as a way of cheering her up after she'd suffered a stroke. She was always proud to show off anything made by her babes. They'd also made the matching leopard-print sling that secured her weak right arm. The sling came with pockets, and one could never guess what she would pull from inside it. It was certain her cell phone was in there. And the babes could guarantee it was loaded with peppermints and lots of miniature Tootsie Rolls, which sometimes tasted like chocolate peppermints.
By Nana Jones's standards, she was old. According to her lineage, she was really old. With her eightieth birthday just several months away, she constantly reminded those around her not to make any plans for her. "I probably won't be here," she would tell them. No one in her family had lived to be her age. She thought for certain that the stroke she'd suffered two years ago was going to permanently take her away. But it hadn't, and in fact, she almost made a full recovery. She told the therapists at the rehabilitation center that, in terms of her recovery, she would not miss anything that didn't come back. One thing that came back with a vengeance was her sharp tongue, which she used occasionally to supplement any deficits that marred her physique. Every now and then, she used it to cut her enemies down to size.
Lately, she spent most of her time preparing her loved ones for her imminent departure from Earth. When one male customer asked why she felt she was going to die soon, she told him the same thing she had told all of the others. She wrote it down, practiced it, and the words flowed out from her mouth like a song. She said, "That stroke's gonna come back. My sister had a stroke early and died. My momma had a stroke early and died. Her momma did the same thing. I had a stroke too."
The customer looked on with sympathy and responded with the same sentence all the other customers used: "But you didn't die."
Those four words kicked Nana Jones out of her brief period of mourning every time. Before walking away, she would leave them with, "Well, I guess I still got some work to do. But that stroke's gonna come back. It's just something that's in me. But the next time he calls for Sarah Elizabeth Jones, I'm gonna be ready."
She was not quite ready, but she was getting there. Nana Jones had already promised her cherished dining room set to Sylvia, a thirty-year-old single mother of two. She had purchased the set in the 1960s from the J. B. Van Sciver Furniture Company. The large oak china cabinet, table, six chairs with velvety gold seat covers, and a buffet cabinet were all intact with barely a scratch on them. The buffet cabinet was so heavy it took four muscular men to carry it to Sylvia's truck. When Sylvia asked for the fine china that was housed in the cabinet all those years, Nana Jones declined. "Sorry, baby, they're for someone else," she said. She called out to Sylvia as the truck pulled away to take care of that furniture. "They don't make stuff like that anymore," she yelled.
Giving away her prized possessions was fun. "It's time," she said. But one thing that was not easy for her to let go of: her beloved coffee shop, Nana's Brew.
Nana's Brew sat forlorn on the corner of a busy downtown intersection. It used to be one of a single row of businesses that thrived in the sixties and seventies. Over the years, the other businesses closed one by one, and some of the buildings torn down. Her shop was now one of two businesses that used to be bookends on the block—Nana's Brew on one end and Russell's Hardware Store on the other. Now between the two shops was a large, empty lot that Nana Jones and her babes worked diligently to keep litter free. The lot backed up to a row of boarded-up houses.
Most of the customers who frequented Nana's Brew referred to it as the Brew. The Brew was a two-story brick building with the coffee shop on the first floor and Nana Jones's living quarters on the top floor. Between the two floors was a pole that extended toward the street. At the end of the pole was the Nana's Brew sign with a picture of a coffee cup filled with black coffee. The front door was black and white and was wheelchair accessible. A wheelchair ramp ran along the front of the building up to the front door. The two-year-old ramp stood out like a sore thumb against the hundred-year-old brick building. Nana Jones told the customers it had been put there for their use and not hers because she would never need to use it. The storefront window took up a large portion of the shop. It was decorated with New Year's hats and streamers. At the bottom, left-hand corner of the window hung a FOR SALE sign.
Nana Jones tried to remove the FOR SALE sign on several occasions only to have it replaced by Ramon "Doc" Elizondo. Doc was at least ten years younger than Nana Jones. If New Jersey honored common-law marriages, that would define the relationship they'd had for the last thirty five years.
It had been that long since Nana Jones had driven back to Camden by way of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Just a few feet past the toll bridge used to be a White Tower restaurant on the corner of Broadway. Her customers had told her about a Spanish man who fried the burgers and catered to the customers like no other. She had also heard that the shop might be closing down. Since the RCA Company was soon to close its doors, she figured that many of the customers would be looking for a place to go to. She had previously toyed with the idea of selling food in her coffee shop.
So she'd decided to pay Doc a visit, and if she liked what she saw, she'd planned to offer him a job.
Her cream-colored, two-door Coupe de Ville pulled in front of the White Tower. She tried to peek around the customers to get a glimpse of her potential employee. Her customers had reminded her about his loyalty to the shop's owner, so she dressed to impress. The skirt to her peach-colored, two-piece suit was just short enough to reveal her well-sculptured stems, which stood on two-inch black patent-leather pumps. She walked through the front door and slid onto an unoccupied stool at the far end of the counter. She watched a short Hispanic man in his sixties fry burgers and tend to his customers.
She stood up and leaned over the counter. "Hey, Doc, you need to work for me," she said in a firm voice.
"Are you Doc?" she asked.
"No. You want Doc?"
"Yeah, and tell him he needs to work for me."
The cook went through a door into the back of the shop. Nana Jones braced herself for a tough fight in convincing this strange man to work for her.
The man returned to the counter with a taller Hispanic man in tow. His dark black hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and his slender face had a well-groomed mustache and piercing hazel eyes that sent a chill down her spine.
"Are you Doc?" she whispered.
"Yes," he said. She sat back down and forgot what she was going to say.
Doc had smiled and said something incoherent in his thick, baritone Puerto Rican accent. Whatever he'd said didn't matter. She looked over his six feet tall, handsome, broad physique, threw him a flirtatious smile, and had declared victory.
For over thirty years, Doc had been behind the grill at Nana's Brew frying fish, frying chicken, frying steak, frying pork chops, and frying hamburgers that he toppled with fried pork bacon. All the dishes came with a side of deep fried French fries. The business thrived. After Nana Jones had the stroke, Doc baked all the food in the oven. His oven fried cheese steaks did not go over well at all. When the customers stopped coming around, he went back to giving them their favorite fried foods, with a side order of pamphlets that warned them about the risks of having a stroke.
Nana Jones continued to make her famous black coffee. Before Doc arrived on the scene, customers came to Nana's Brew on Monday mornings with hangovers and ordered her black coffee. Her coffee was so strong it took just one cup to set one hung-over customer straight for the entire day. Police officers frequented the shop, as well as politicians, school teachers, businessmen, and college students. They were always amazed how Nana Jones would call each of them by their first names. She never forgot them. When more businesses relocated from the city, many of her customers followed suit. The size of the police force diminished over the years, and so did the effects of her black coffee.
It started in the 1980s, when crack cocaine became the life of the weekend parties. The orders for Nana Jones's black coffee were at an all-time low, especially in the summertime. During the cold frigid winters, she would offer the hung-over customers a free cup of her coffee. They would accept it with their crooked, chapped smiles. The warmth of the coffee flowed through their numb extremities, offering temporary solace from the cold floors they lay upon in abandoned homes they'd commandeered. Those addicts who were more fortunate and lived in heated homes poured their coffee down the nearest street drain. No matter where they lived, all the addicts were in agreement about Nana Jones's black coffee: "That shit don't work on crack," they said.
Doc walked out of the Brew with a shawl in his hand. He had not changed much, except for the twenty pounds he had added to his frame, and his ponytail was salt and pepper. He placed the shawl around his girl. "The wind is brutal this morning. You should come back inside."
"It could be worse," she said. She looked back at the store front window.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Why do you keep putting that For Sale sign back in the window?"
"We need to sell the shop before we move to North Carolina."
"Why should I move to North Carolina?"
"So I can live happily ever after with my bride," he said while snuggling against her.
"I don't feel a ring on my finger," she said.
They both laughed. Her not having a ring became a running joke between them. Six months after they met, Doc asked for Nana Jones's hand in marriage. He was divorced, and his ex-wife and teenage daughter, Maria, lived in North Carolina. Several times throughout the year, he and Nana Jones would travel there to visit Maria. Nana Jones told him that her hands were full. Her son, Peter "Pee-Wee" Jones, had just started high school and her daughter Sharlene's hormones were just starting to kick in. She told Doc she needed time to think about his proposal. She had buried one husband, and that was enough. Doc had been waiting for her answer for three decades.
"I'm gonna miss this old place," he said.
"You can't miss something you still have," she said.
"I've got a feeling a buyer is gonna come along soon."
"No one is going to buy this shop. We're just getting over a recession, and the banks ain't giving anybody any money."
"You don't know that," he said with a bright smile.
It was that same smile that she had seen on his face in the emergency room when Doc came to see her during her post-stroke period when she could only respond by blinking her eyes to yes and no. It was an emotional time, Nana Jones recalled. He reminded her often of her promise to him that when she got better, she would retire and move with him to North Carolina if someone would buy the shop.
She always conveniently seemed to remember everything that happened, but that. "What are you up to?" she asked.
"I know one thing for sure," she said.
"They're not going to give anybody around here a loan, and that's for sure."
"Maybe they're not from around here."
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm saying we need to keep an open mind about anyone who wants to buy this shop."
"I'm not going to sell it to just anyone. There's not another coffee shop like this one in town."
"Yes, there is. There are food banks in this town," he said.
"Food banks?" Nana Jones distanced herself from him. She pulled the shawl from around her neck and shoved it into his hand. "This is not a food bank," she snarled.
Ms. Helen, in her mid-sixties and dressed in her Sunday best, approached Doc and Nana Jones from behind. She had served the customers in Nana's Brew for more than twenty years and was Nana Jones's most trusted friend. She was not always the one to get the gossip first, but she was surely the one to keep it going for weeks. She made every effort to hear the conversations going on inside the shop and on the outside too. That morning was no exception.
"Hey, love birds, what y'all talking about?" she asked. She took the shawl from Doc and placed it around Nana Jones's shoulders. "It's too cold for you to be standing on this corner, Nana. Go back inside. I'll look out for your babes."
Nana Jones didn't budge.
Ms. Helen told Doc to take Nana Jones back inside. "I'll take care of the kids so we won't be late for church. Pastor said a new family's joining this morning, and I heard they got a lot of money."
Nana Jones was sandwiched between them. Something caught her attention. "When did they board up Russell's shop?" she asked with great concern.
Ms. Helen told her the shop was boarded up two days ago. Russell's children had decided to close the shop when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. His children did not want to take over the shop. "They are afraid to come back to Camden," Ms. Helen told them.
"Afraid? They use to eat ice cream right at my table on Sundays," Nana Jones barked.
"I remember," Ms. Helen said.
"That was a long time ago. Things are different now," Doc interjected.
It was the truth, and Nana Jones knew it. It was a debate she was not going to win. "So they decided to board up his shop. How did I miss that?" she asked.
Ms. Helen told her she probably didn't see it because of her "weak" right eye.
She had been declared legally blind in that right eye years before the stroke. She was sensitive to the topic and went on the defensive. "Both of you need to go back into the shop because you're starting to get my pressure up," Nana Jones said.
Before Ms. Helen could lean in to apologize, Doc whisked her away by her elbow. He opened the door to Nana's Brew for her and whispered, "Hey, Helen, check out that new family for me. They're interested in buying the Brew."
"For real?" she asked.
"And they're coming here after church for dinner."
"What? Does Nana know?"
"I don't want her to get upset."
"Well, she was the one who said you shouldn't always tell your right hand what your left hand is doing."
"That's right. She always says that."
"Did you tell Diamond? She said she wants to move down there with you guys after her college graduation."
Excerpted from Wish I(s) by L. "Lady Bird" Jackson Copyright © 2012 by L. Lady Bird Jackson. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - Another Boarded-Up House....................1
Chapter 2 - Day-Mare....................11
Chapter 3 - Old Stompin' Ground....................17
Chapter 4 - Doves....................26
Chapter 5 - Pickled....................32
Chapter 6 - Remember Me....................44
Chapter 7 - Obituary....................56
Chapter 8 - Decisions....................63
Chapter 9 - Nightmare....................74
Chapter 10 - A Little Red....................78
Chapter 11 - Travels....................90
Chapter 12 - It Ain't Fair....................95
Chapter 13 - Beautiful....................99
Chapter 14 - Not Ready....................101
Chapter 15 - The Johnsons....................104
Chapter 16 - Bad News....................110
Chapter 17 - Fight....................120
Chapter 18 - Funeral....................130
Chapter 19 - Fear....................135
Chapter 20 - Robbing the Babes....................141
Chapter 21 - Pee-Wee....................153
Chapter 22 - Stolen Hope....................163
Chapter 23 - Black Coffee....................179
Chapter 24 - Sleep....................185
Chapter 25 - Queens....................188
Chapter 26 - Graduation....................198
Chapter 27 - No Baby, Not a One....................206
About the Author....................215
Most Helpful Customer Reviews