Andrew Harmon


 

 
 

Grasshopper Speaks

by Katrina Register

Excerpt From Chapter Seven

 

I was five years old. The offspring of my mother’s thirteen brothers and sisters, along with my brother and I, had received implicit directives to form a line, assembled in size order, to receive a coin from my maternal grandmother. I, being the youngest and smallest in height, found myself at the end of the gift line. It was a long line. I stood, for what seemed like hours, watching as each of the cousins made their way to The Grandmother, observing how she happily reached into her old, battered change purse, withdrew a shiny token of affection, and embraced the receiver, as he or she lovingly returned her hugs and kisses – as grandparents and grandchildren do.

I was so excited that it was hard to contain myself. The Grandmother was actually going to hug and kiss me; this was big! This was Jackson Five, Soul Train, Wonder Woman, Barbie Doll House, Getting My Hair Pressed for Kindergarten Pictures, Having the Most Lines in the Easter, Christmas, and Vacation Bible School Plays (cause I could read before I could walk, which is what daddy said). Big! The coin, itself, was of no consequence to me. I could’ve cared less about the money side of the impending transaction; I just wanted the hug and kiss from The Grandmother who really never spoke to me, or was kind to me, or took any interest in having me sit on her lap and play fondly (as I had seen her do with the cousins).

Ours was a relationship of fear: I feared the way she looked down at me; I feared the day when she would make good on her promise to “tear my ass out the socket” if I didn’t “get somewhere and sit” my “half-breed, piss-colored ass down”; and I feared most that I really was the “bad-ass little bastard” that she said I was. So I tried really hard to be a good-girl – especially around The Grandmother. I stood, at-attention, solider-still, on that line – my little body erect, arms and hands straight as a board, as if someone had crazy-glued them to the yellow sundress I had been forced to wear for our journey to the South.

“Your grandmother loves yellow,” said Mom, as she had taken the polyester, sunshine bright, configuration of flowers, lace, and bows out of the shopping bag. Of course, I put the foolish thing on. Number One: it’s not like I had a choice in the matter; I’m sure my mother was speaking more to herself than to my resistance about wearing the awful thing. Or perhaps, she was contemplating out loud as to how she could make me more appealing to her mother. Number Two: I wanted to please The Grandmother.

I knew she didn’t like me. I believe it ironic that adults often think that kids don’t have a clue as to what is going on around them. Kids know far more than we give them credit for knowing. Even when the grown-ups, in all their infinite wisdom, decide to converse, using big words and/or spelling out the bad words, a child can sense and make sense of the happenings going on around her. In my case, I could sense that I was somehow different from my brother and the cousins; I just really didn’t know how or why. In any case, it made sense (to me) that to avoid “getting my ass torn out the socket” it would be best to give The Grandmother what she wanted. Dumb yellow dress it was.

My brother was in front of me on line. He and The Grandmother were okay. I mean, she wasn’t doing flips when she saw him coming, but she was far more congenial with him than she was with me. Their exchange was brief. With the cousins, I watched her make silly faces as she toyed with the contents of the change purse, before extracting what one would have believed was a solid gold nugget and placing it in the cousin’s hand. Then she kissed the hand and the face of the new owner of the coin, which was followed by laughter and tight grandma squeezes. With my brother, the exchange was more formal; like a business transaction between two semi-well acquainted associates. After my brother stepped up to greet her, she took out a quarter, handed it to him, hugged him quickly, as if he might be carrying some transmittable disease that she would surely catch from prolonged contact, and their exchange was complete.

 My turn! The Grandmother, momentarily, glanced me over. I hoped she would compliment my yellow dress; she did not. Instead, over exaggerating her movements, she closed the change purse, laid it on the brown-stained wooden lamp table and motioned for one of her sons to come and assist her out of the rocker she had occupied. I frantically looked around The Grandmother’s parlor, searching the faces to locate one that showed a trace of sympathy for this tragedy.

The cousins, the aunts, the uncles, and other nameless kinfolk, absorbed in their own playing and fighting and drinking and small talk and gossip, were purposely ignorant of my demise. I did not see Daddy, or Mom, or Brother; and left alone to fend for myself, I did what most five-year-olds would do in that situation: I cried. You know that scream-cry that children are apt to do after falling off a bike, or being lost in the mall, or being disappointed by the refusal of a parent to buy the action figure of their favorite cartoon character, or when realizing that the people who are supposed to protect, and love, and nurture you are full of crap – and it is beyond your control to make them stop acting so stupid? I balled my little fists, closed my eyes, and scream-cried long after Daddy heard me and hauled me out to the porch.

“See what I mean? Taking on some other whore’s throw-away ain’t nothin’ but trouble. Lil’ hussy got all kinds of emotional problems.”

This, The Grandmother announced (to anyone who was listening) as Daddy and I made our way through the raggedy screen door. At some point I fell asleep. Who knows how long I cried – maybe until I thought it was all out, but it was never all out.

During my second of two encounters with a therapist, I recalled this childhood event. At the end of the session, the therapist suggested that I draft a letter to The Grandmother, telling her how her treatment had made me feel and how it had affected me. Walking to my car, I questioned why the hell I was paying someone one hundred and seventy-five bucks an hour, to advise me to write a letter to someone who had been dead for over thirty years. But I figured she was the professional, so maybe she knew what she was talking about. I got home, poured myself a glass of wine, and sat staring at the blank, yellow page of the legal pad.

I had had no direct contact with The Grandmother after the “Coins for Hugs Affair”; Daddy made sure of that. The remainder of that visit, some three decades ago, was spent under his close supervision. Finally, when it was time to say our good-byes, Daddy instructed me to remain in the rental car.

“You want to teach the girl to be ill-mannered, Johnny?” I could hear my mother question as my parents and brother walked toward The Grandmother’s house. After reaching a significant distance from the car, Daddy and Mom stopped walking (sending my brother ahead) and Daddy was talking. I couldn’t hear what was said, but I could tell from the side view of his face that Daddy was pissed. I didn’t see Mom offer any rebuttal to Daddy’s words. After a few moments, they went inside the house.

I was glad that I didn’t have to say goodbye to The Grandmother. If I were older, I would have wondered what they were saying and whether Mom had to offer an excuse for my absence from the farewell ceremony. But again, I was five. I did what five-year-olds do: play with my Barbie, Ken, Baby Barbie, Baby Ken, and the fluffy, brown BarbieKenBabies’s dog and imagined that they were all hugging and kissing and loving each other like families do.

 Some time later, my imagination was cut short by the opening of the front car door, followed by its being slammed shut. It was Daddy. He mumbled something to himself – I think some words I wasn’t allowed to say. Then he scanned the backseat (via the front rearview mirror) until he located me staring into his reflection. Straining to smile, he asked, “How’s my baby girl doing?”

I replied that I was fine or something close to it, so that Daddy wouldn’t have to fight so hard to smile. But Daddy was no longer eying me; his focus had now transitioned toward the house. I scooted up to my knees to catch a peek at what held his attention. I saw Mom, Brother, and The Grandmother on the front porch. The Grandmother was patting my brother on the head; Mother was smiling.

“Patting him on his head like a damn dog … a damn dog … and this fool is smiling …” the words bitterly came from the driver’s seat. I thought to tell Daddy that Brother isn’t a dog – he’s a boy – but I didn’t get the feeling that that comment would be welcome. But if The Grandmother did believe that Brother was a dog, I guess that was okay, because people love dogs. Maybe she thought I was a cockroach; no one wants to pet, or hold, or play with a cockroach.

I didn’t see The Grandmother again until her funeral. I was seven then, a big-little girl. It was the first funeral that I had ever attended and I had lots of questions: 1) Why does everyone have on black? 2) Are people crying because they’re sad she’s dead or because they’re happy she’s not alive anymore? 3) Is the preacher paid to say nice things about a dead person, even if the person wasn’t nice? And 4) Does God let people who were mean to children come to Heaven?

I knew there was no chance of having these concerns rectified by any adult, so I kept them to myself until I asked my brother later. His response to all of my inquiries: I don’t know – I don’t know – Probably – Probably not. For apparent reasons, I was not satisfied with his answers, but in the absence of any other trusting soul to confide in, I dismissed my queries as my brother had.

Now, thirty-two years later, I held on to those questions and many others as I attempted to write a letter to a woman who had recklessly destroyed some part of my innocence and my heart a very long time ago.

I’m not sure whether it was the third glass of chardonnay that helped to ease the words from my spirit, but without warning, the dam was overflowing; there was no way to stop it now.

 

Dear Grandmother,

(Let’s be clear from the door, I am only addressing you as Grandmother for three reasons: because I’ve been taught to respect my elders; for lack of a better term of endearment; and because I figure that starting by saying “Dear Bitch” would sound just a little more hostile than I’d like to).

Anyway, there are few things that I would like to say to you. I’ve held these things in for quite some time, and I know that not having expressed them has somehow negatively affected me. The first thing I need to say is that you had no right to treat a child the way you treated me. Why would you do that? Why would anyone do that? What did I do to you that made you hate me?

It’s funny, I can’t remember some things from last week – but I clearly recall the day that I wore that yellow dress to impress you (because Mother said it was your favorite color), and I waited in line to hug and kiss you, but when you got to me, you closed your change purse and walked away.

I didn’t want your money, nor have I ever needed your money. Daddy has made damn sure I never needed a coin from you or anyone else. I just wanted to be your granddaughter – that’s all. But you wouldn’t let me. The absolute worst part of all of this is that you rubbed off on my mom. Instead of supporting your daughter through difficult situations, you made her feel like a piece of shit for not being able to have children.

And the light-skin/dark-skin country, ignorant bullshit that you put in her head caused me to have many sad days of hearing your venom in her voice as she called me “half-breed” and “piss-color.” My relationship with my mother has always been fucked up because you were fucked up – and you fucked her up.

I would like to slap the shit out of you just one good time. Or maybe “beat your ass out of the socket” the way you promised you would do to me for doing things like trying to read a book to you, or showing you my church awards or just sitting and minding my damn business and doing nothing.

 What pissed you off more? Was it the hue of my skin or the fact that your daughter didn’t take your advice to “adopt kids from some kin in the family”? I guess I’ll never know. I would say that we will talk when I get to Heaven – but I refuse to believe that they would open the Pearly Gates for someone like you. What I will say in closing is what that five-year-old couldn’t: Fuck you and your coins.

Katrina

 

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