فصل 07

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Chapter seven

Return to Stamps

We were on the train going back to Stamps, and this time I had to comfort Bailey. He cried for hours as he walked down the coach, and pressed his little-boy body against the window looking for a last quick view of his Mother Dear.

I have never known if Momma sent for us, or if the St. Louis family had just had enough of my unpleasant presence. I cared less about the trip than about the fact that Bailey was unhappy, and had no more thought of our destination than if I had been only heading for the toilet.

The quietness of Stamps was exactly what I wanted, without knowing it. After St. Louis, with its noise and activity, its trucks and buses, and loud family gatherings, I welcomed the quiet streets and lonely little houses in dirt yards.

The calmness of its residents encouraged me to relax. They showed me contentment based on the belief that nothing more was coming to them, although a great deal more was due. Their decision to be satisfied with life’s unfairness was a lesson for me. Entering Stamps, I had the feeling that I was stepping over the border lines of the map and would fall, without fear, right off the end of the world. Nothing more could happen because in Stamps nothing happened.

I crept into this shelter.

For a long time, nothing was demanded of me or of Bailey. We were, after all, Mrs. Henderson’s California grandchildren, and had been away on an exciting trip way up North to the fabulous St. Louis. Our father had come the year before, driving a big, shiny car and speaking with a big city accent, so all we had to do was stay quiet for months and enjoy the benefits of our adventures.

People, including all the children, made regular trips to the Store, “just to see the travelers.”

They stood around and asked, “Well, how is it up North?” “See any of those big buildings?”

“Were you scared?”

“Whitefolks any different, like they say?”

Bailey answered every question, and from a corner of his lively imagination told a story that I was sure was as unreal to him as it was to me.

Momma, knowing Bailey, warned, “Now, Junior, be careful you don’t tell a not true.” (Nice people didn’t say “lie.”)

“Everybody wears new clothes and has an inside toilet. Some people have refrigerators. The snow is so deep you can get buried right outside your door and people won’t find you for a year. We made ice cream out of the snow.” That was the only fact that I could have supported. During the winter, we had collected a bowl of snow and poured canned milk over it, put sugar on top, and called it ice cream.

Momma grinned and Uncle Willie was proud when Bailey entertained the customers with our experiences. We brought people into the Store, and everyone loved us. Our journey to magical places was a colorful addition to the town, and our return made us even more the most enviable of people.

I never knew if Uncle Willie had been told about the incident in St. Louis, but sometimes I caught him watching me with a far-off look in his big eyes. Then he would quickly send me on some errand that would take me out of his presence. When that happened I was happy and ashamed. I certainly didn’t want a cripple’s sympathy, nor did I want Uncle Willie, whom I loved, to think of me as being sinful or dirty. If he thought so, at least I didn’t want to know it.

People, except Momma and Uncle Willie, accepted my unwillingness to talk as a natural result of an unwilling return to the South. And an indication that I missed the good times we had had in the big city. Also, I was well known for being “tenderhearted.” Southern Negroes used that term to mean sensitive, and considered a person with that problem to be a little sick or in delicate health. So I was understood, if not forgiven.

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