pieces of my memoir

Black Thanksgiving 2017

I meant to publish this in late November 2017, and posted it to Facebook instead.

In the car, my dad’s partner has a ring.

“What’s this?” I ask, grinning.

“It’s just a ring. Amber. You cut out that grinning!” my dad is mock mad while driving, and trying to give me a stern look in the rearview mirror, but his eyes are crinkling.

“Okay, fine.” I shrug. “It’s just a ring. On a left ring finger. Just because. But if you need me to hang streamers from the backyard and call a florist…”

“Girl…”

They all laugh.

“I’m excited to go to this Thanksgiving. I want to be in a room where I can say, ‘I miss Barak’ and everyone agrees.” We all laugh again, and then sigh.

“Ain’t that the truth.” my dad says wistfully.

Cousin Antwon smiles. “Tequila?” he asks. I’ve never said no to tequila on a holiday. We cheers and sip. It’s barely past noon. No one judges us. Cousin Dougie is trying to work his iPad and taking video of everyone and I can see it’s shakey. I feel like I should have brought my camera, and remind myself next year. Uncle Warren calls me princess, everyone raises an eyebrow. Cousin Robyn gets choked up saying grace and getting thankful, and we all get choked up, too. Her wife gives her a big hug after amen, and a bunch of us follow suit before getting our plates. She has a house full of people, a house she admits is a little too large, and that they bought especially for hosting Thanksgiving, and now it’s full of people, and it’s beautiful, and looking around, I get choked up, too.

My dad is the first in line for food. We sit together, he looks at me expectantly as I eat the collard greens. “Yes, okay. Yours are better.” I’m pretty sure if I don’t say this, I’m walking home. It’s not untrue, though. “Mmmmhmm. That’s right.” he says low enough so only I can hear him.

I promise I’m going to pace myself, but don’t, and wind up eating way too much. Pies and cakes are brought out immediately, without the gap between dinner and dessert that my white family insists on. I start on my first piece of my dad’s pineapple upside down cake, and he talks about his mother, and his grandmother, and reminds me that I come from a long line of strong black women. I’m starting to feel more tired than strong, but power through a slice of sweet potato pie after that.

Uncle Brian falls out on the couch. Cousin Sarah and Cousin Antown pick on each other, and then love on each other. Cousin Sarah chides her ten year old daughter, and Auntie Gloria says, “Don’t pick on my grandbaby!” and my baby cousin gives the smug smile every kid gets when your granny stands up for you.

Uncle Warren and my dad unthaw decades old arguments and fire them up again. They are the exact same size (and I can’t tell them apart from the back) but they each pick on each others small pot bellies.

I find Auntie Gloria and help with her crocheting. She admits she’s leaving soon because she doesn’t want to be in the area at night. There’s a lot of KKK in the town. It’s not safe, she doesn’t know how they live here.

Another Auntie whispers us she has a gun in her purse, because it’s a white town. I start to laugh, but she’s serious. Okay then!

For the first time in my entire life, I feel safe telling a tale of “blackness scorned”: I’m sitting with white friends. One asks if anyone knows of a hairdresser, another quips, “Why? To help Amber out?” and I laugh and let it slide off my back but actually die inside because I had felt cute and liked my messy hair. which I had left out of it’s usual ponytail for the day.

I’m half white, and get scared they will roll their eyes at me for this story, thinking of all the things I get away with that they don’t because I can usually “pass“. Instead, they nod, and furrow their brows, and suck their teeth, and shake their heads. They get it. They understand laughing to keep from crying.

I’m family, and I belong there.

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