How aunt what’s-her-name was really the daughter of her “big sister.”
Or how everybody knows but ain’t talking about whose baby that really was left by the river.
So twenty years later, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone when I began announcing I was going to write a book inspired by my family – all the high jinks, lies and secrets that I had overheard when they didn’t know I was listening.
Even before my grandmother and great-grandmother passed, I always knew that it had to be a trilogy.
Instinctively, I was compelled to pen the life-inspired, fictionalized stories of my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. And the only logical place to start was where it all began – with my great-grandmother, Ezella Combs.
Granny was the matriarch of the family. I call her the Harriet Tubman of our clan, because everyone – damn near all of her nine brothers and sisters – followed her from Locust Grove, Georgia to Detroit, Michigan to live with her an pursue a better life.
So in 2002, I made up my mind to start writing. And this is what came:
If names are any indication of a parent’s love for her child, then Excellent’s mother must have hated her. What Colored woman takes a virgin look at her first-born after the doctor pulls a healthy baby girl from between her bloody legs and names the poor child Excellent?
Maybe it’s the kind of Colored woman who, in her haze and exhaustion, saw a perfect yella child – One who hadn’t turned yet. Or possibly, more truthfully, it was a sharecropping Colored woman with one foot still on Massa’s plantation who was rightfully too scared to death to correct the white man doctor when he wrote her Colored baby’s name down wrong on the birthing papers.
Whatever the reason, Excellent hated her name. It was a cross too heavy for any 13-year-old flat foot, pecan colored, country girl from Georgia to bear. A brilliant star too far to reach for. A fantastic goal to fall well short of. A sanctified set up for failure, her name was.
Every time M’Dear called out for her with disappointment dripping from her lips, whenever anyone uttered those weighty three syllables or whispered the curse that was her name, Excellent silently suffocated.
Excellent. She never felt it. Would never be it. And today was no different.
Pretty good, right? I thought so. but then I lammed face first into a mental brick wall.
What was the problem? I knew my granny. was raised by and spent saturdays and summers with her.
She was my anchor to faith. Church. Sunday and Vacation Bible school.
I knew her. Was learned about who Ezella, my great-grandmother was. But Ezella, the woman? I didn’t have a clue.
Then I was blessed with an eye-opening experience.
Charged with the honor of writing my great-grandmother’s obituary, I learned that she had attended Wayne College, now Wayne State University, my alma mater.
Granny had always been a stickler for education and even paid my and my sister’s catholic school tuition when my mother wasn’t able to. But she had never once shared with me that she had gone to and nearly finished college.
That’s when I realized that aside from the obvious, my granny was a stranger to me. And that’s why the words stopped.
Unbeknownst to me, I wouldn’t unlock the door that led to what was to become Address: House of Corrections until three years later…when my grandma Margaret hit me upside the head in my shower.