TI KENDRICK HALL
MOUTH FULL OF TEETH
That’s how it was. Children didn’t ask questions. It was taught that it wasn’t polite to ask but, really, it was that so many times, the person you were asking didn’t know. This is the 20s and 30s we’re talking about. The Institution of Slavery had the long-term side-effect of poverty. And poverty caused families to move, and shift, be disrupted, and joined to each other in different ways. Children were no less inquisitive than they are now. And no less precocious. They were being educated; they could read and calculate. Their older relatives may not have known their true age, where they were born, or even who their parents were. Those old-timers weren’t about to let their children in on their embarrassments.
“Mama, how old are you?”
“Well, Mama how old are we?”
“Old enough to eat bread.” She’d give any fool answer like that to confound the children, give’em their breakfast and send them off to school scratching their heads. Those girls’ll learn not to ask so many questions.
Something like eight or nine is what he was thinking, might be nine... eleven, most; but it was hard to tell anymore how old these young gals were. Every day, Bob would pass that Millie on his way to work and tip his hat. She and her big sister wave. Maybe thirteen. You just can’t know these things for sure. Might even be fifteen. On the day he saw Millie walking alone, he tipped his hat ‘hello.’ And when she waved, he stopped and asked “Pretty girl, how old you be?” Mille stopped walking, slung her satchel to one side, put her hand on her hip, looked him up and down and answered.
And when she said it
when she answered without even so much as a “Mista” on the front end
“Ol’ enough to eat bread.”
OUR FAMILIES DIDN'T TELL US EVERYTHING.
I grew up in the 40s and, back then, children were seen and not heard. Most of us Blacks were going to school when we were of age to do so. Our mothers, fathers, aunts, grandmas wanted us to have an education. We didn’t just go to school, we had to work. We had to help out the family. We had to keep ourselves busy and out of the way. We didn’t ask questions of our kin. 2 We did what we were told or suffered the consequences. When I was going to secondary school there was a girl that I was sweet on. I thought I was a lil’ ladies man and there was always some girl that I was trying to get next to. I lived in a house full of women. I knew how to talk to ‘em, I thought. So this one day, I got the girl to carry my books home for me and I was talking her up and gettin’ after her for a date. And oh boy, when I got home, my grandmother was furious. She said Don’t you know who that is? And I said Naw, who? And she said That’s your sister! My sister? I didn’t even know I had a sister. They say my father made kids all over town before he passed. When her family got wind of who I was (and, more importantly, who my mother was), they made her stop talking to me, too. I mean not even Hello. I don’t know what ever happened to that girl. Don’t even remember her name.
Ti Kendrick Hall holds a BA in Divinity from Andersonville Theological Seminary and, BFA and MFA from Goddard College. She is the author of two chapbooks, and former poetry slam host for the National Black Book Festival. Ti spends her days working to repeal the death penalty in Delaware. She is currently seeking publication for a volume of poetry created from interviews with African-Americans about the culture of secrets and silence in the Black community.
Ti blogs occasionally at www.namethisrose.blogspot.com
Here are links to some of her work:
Toe Good: http://toegoodpoetry.com/2012/05/ti-kendrick-randall/
Guideword: http://www.guideword.org/daddy.htmlThe Pitkin Review: http://blogs.goddard.edu/pitkin/fall-2013/i-think-the-white-people-did-something-to-him/