Mommy stood at the kitchen stove making hot chocolate as we sat in the living room on the floor, wrapped in blankets, watching television. It was the dead of winter and we were snowed in. An unusual knock came at the door. We all looked at one another and then back to the door hearing once again a mid-range knock almost in code – tap-ti-ti-tap-tap-TAP-TAP. My mother yelled asking for the name of the person on the other side. I heard a man’s voice respond with John and my mother said Stacie, open that door. I went over to the door, removed the chain and unlocked both the dead bolt and the door knob. As I opened the door I saw a face that was vaguely familiar to me. This man John stood on the opposite side of the heavy steal screen door in a hat, gloves and red and black plaid coat.
The snow was piled high everywhere and although the man wore a smile on his face I was excited by the view behind him. I could barely see our porch. I unlocked the screen door and let him in. By this time my mother was walking towards the door. One at a time John knocked his boots against the ground loosening the snow from his boots and then he stepped completely into the house. He asked me how I was doing and I replied with the word okay. He smiled again and asked me if I knew who he was and I shrugged my shoulders saying no. By now my oldest brother had grown curious and was up standing not far from me. John announced that he was our father’s brother, our uncle. He tapped me on the head asking if he could get a hug. At first I stared at him, searching for my father and then I found Edward living inside of John. There was something in his eyes that reminded me of my dad and again I noticed that he was a little taller, broader and most certainly had more hair than my daddy did but it was good enough for me so I leaned in to give him a hug. I was so short compared to him. I think he thought the same thing so he reached down and picked me up, giving me another, tighter hug while swaying gently from left to right. I could feel John’s chest rise and fall rapidly as he chuckled. When he put me down he hugged my oldest brother Man and when he smiled, I almost immediately remembered John was the man from my day on the porch. After hugging me and my brother John followed my mother into the kitchen. They sat at the table smoking cigarettes and talking for what seemed to be eons.
Man and I went back to the living room floor to watch the television as Renee and Brian lay on the sofa sleep. Before long my eyes grew heavy and it wasn’t long before the television was watching me. I woke to the sound of John’s deep voice saying goodnight to my mother. The tv was off and the only light was that from the lamp posts outside the house. John hugged my mother telling her he would see her soon and to call if she needed anything. Just then John looked up and his eyes met mine. Just like that day on the steps, he told me to be a good girl and smiled as he walked out the door.
After that night, John’s visits came more frequently. I remember one time he came during the week of Valentine’s Day. When his knock came at the door Man and I competed in opening it. We figured whoever opened the door first would get to choose the best prize first, as John’s visits were times of excitement because he always came baring gifts for me and my siblings – shiny silver dollars or fifty cent pieces. It’s like the man was made of coins. He always had pockets full of change and we enjoyed his tricks of pulling coins from behind our ears. Sometimes he came with fudge which we grew to love. This particular visit John had chocolate valentines candies which naturally my siblings and I were excited to see because we thought they belonged to us but this was not so. These candies went to our mom. Rightfully and deservingly so but that did not stop us from being disappointed.
I guess John saw the disappointment in my face so he leaned down to pick me up and told me that when he put me on his shoulders that I could grab a piece of candy from the top of the china cabinet. My mother must have known what he was up to because she shook her head side to side and said they are about to eat. Please don’t fill them with candy. John just smiled with a boyish grin and an expression as if he were confused about what she was saying. Moms’ voice didn’t stop me from grabbing candy...one piece for me and one for each of my siblings. Out of all the days John visited, this day was the most memorable. It retained the sweetness to a new found relationship and we were all clueless that something so sweet even possessed the slightest possibility of bitterness.
After John’s many visits, including overnight and extended week-long stays, mom and John sat us down to both inform us that they were getting married and to ask us how we felt about it. I must admit, even at seven years of age, it was awkward to consider my father’s brother marrying my mother but Man and I agreed, putting our on happy faces. Something in it didn’t seem right but then again we saw that mom was happy, we were being taking care of and well, it was cool having John around...it was almost like having daddy – not quite, but almost. Man and I sat in his room silently and then finally Man cut the thickness in the air by saying that he heard John say to mommy that our father Edward and him and made a pact when they were younger that if anything ever happened to either of them they would take care of one another’s families. Man told me that John said it was biblical custom for the brother who was next in line to step in and take care of the family of his deceased brother.
John must have been standing outside of the door because he came in and asked if we had any questions about the marriage. We were startled, as we did not hear him come up the steps. Shaking our heads, we said no. John called us over to him, sat us on either side of his lap and shared a story that my siblings and I have never forgotten. He said that family was extremely important to him. He assured me and Man that he knew how it felt to be without our father because he had grown up away from both of his parents as well as his brother, our father Edward and his baby sister Karen.
Only John and his sister Joanne were allowed to stay together when our paternal grandmother died because they both had the same last name Jones. Ironically, John and Joanne ended up with foster parents possessing the same last name as them, the Jones’. My father Edward Whitaker was placed in the care of his foster parents, the Johnson’s. The youngest sister Karen Hodge shifted between several families including two that were blood related. John said that being separated not only from his parents but from his siblings after his mother died was traumatizing for all of his siblings and that is why he and our father vowed to never allow our family to be split up again. He went on letting us know that as difficult as it was for him to step in to fill his big brothers shoes; he was determined to keep us together and for us to grow up as a strong, tight-knit family that was inseparable. For a moment I thought I saw tears in John’s eyes but he just drew me and Man closer to him hugging us. It seemed we were more his comfort at the time than he was ours.
After hearing this story Man and I had a different perspective and maybe even a little fear. We were glad John stepped in so we could not be taken away from our mom for her lack of being able to properly care for us. Equally, we were always on guard, waiting for someone to come, disqualifying our mother of her God given right to raise us, even if it were from love only and not tangible resources. We were never hungry and mommy always kept us clothed. For us that was enough.
It was not long before our house began to fill with family and friends as mom and John planned the wedding. Seemed everything went by so quickly. My Aunt Pat from North Carolina designed and made all of the wedding dresses. She was not just a seamstress but she was a fashion designer with out-the-box creative thinking. I was excited because I was the flower girl. Man got to hold mommy’s train and Brian was the ring bearer. Renee was in the audience, crying as usual. She did not like huge crowds of people.
My mother looked absolutely stunning in her gown. With her deep chocolate skin, naturally dark berry colored lips, high cheek bones, with the prettiest most perfect smile in all the world. She was radiant! I remember watching her with all her maids of honor surrounding her doting over her, giggling and laughing. It was an honor to watch my mother at this moment. In my eyes she was a beauty pageant winner without opposition.
John and his groomsmen were handsome but not nearly as wonderful to watch as Aunt Icey, Aunt Cat, Ms. Cathy our cousin Robin with other beautiful ladies nearby my mom. For me watching them was seeing God’s gorgeous rainbow of women stand like true Goddesses. I will admit, I was searching my mother trying to see myself but could not see me. I only saw that I was shorter, lighter, thinner, not possessing any of my mother’s features. That sort of made me envious and I determined in my mind at that time that I would have a dark chocolate husband so I could make babies that looked like my mother. She was the epitome of beauty in my eyes and as she walked down the aisles, she did so with such grace and poise. Although I had been modeling for my Aunt Pat since I was about age two, I still had not developed that sort of self-confidence, yet I was unwavering that I would be like my mommy. She was my role model.
After the wedding we all went outside to take pictures and it was the first time I felt distant from my mom. She was captivated with having just spoken the sacred vows of I do and I stood by her side tugging at her dress wanting to simply kiss her and tell her I was happy for her also but I could not be heard. I felt invisible but I tried not to let it show on my face. I smiled big for the camera as my cousin Joseph snapped picture after picture. Later we went to my great-grandmothers’ house for the reception to continue celebrating this new union. I tried hanging with my mom but every time I turned around here came another adult whisking me away to “a place for the children”. That was crazy! At my house there was no such designated place. We were always with my mommy but again, I didn’t want to take away from my mom’s happiness with my teary eyes or pouting so I followed along, doing what was instructed of me by these other grown-ups.
Eventually the crowd thinned out and everyone went in separate directions. I went searching for my new Uncle Dad and my mommy but somehow with all the coming and going of guest they had snuck off, without even a good bye. My great-grandma must have sensed what and who I was looking for because she came over to me and said you can go sit in my room for a while and then she gave me a gentle hug with that huge smile on her face. I couldn’t resist her smile. It always made me feel better and going into “the sacred room” – wow, I was super excited. I was going to look at all her magazines, books, jewelry, dolls…EVERYTHING because grandma had given me permission. So, off I went, forgetting that I was missing my mom and new Uncle Dad.
POEM / LETTER
Dear Woman of Substance,
I, here and now,
Having been of sound mind,
Do release you from being ensnared within my indecisions
And, I do bequeath wholeness return to you
Return to you in less time than it took for that lustful self to finesse the wholeness from the guarded heart inside of you
I do heart fully apologize for feeding that insatiable appetite
The appetite of this Womanizing Monster that lay beneath my skin
Because its hunger for your physical-sexuality
Turned into an intoxicating greed that devoured the sweet emotions you tried hiding deep within
I realize that my attempts at reparations could not begin to change what other wretched beasts exercising their maleness have done to you and your Beautiful kind before
However the Beast has been slain where it stood
And where it stood now stands a strong, patient, and unselfish MAN,
A Man that’s gently standing here, with arms wide open, to escort YOU, if you’d have him, Through Happiness’ Door!
We are not all created equal, and we are all not slaves to our drives as for some males
There are a few that are more than merely the Sum of our parts
We are Men, men who yearn for the opportunity to be the caretakers of all which is sacred and fragile inside your hearts
Live for a chance to Love
Love that chance as you live
It is only a real man that can handle a woman’s heart
When its Love that she chooses to give!
One Abstract One