The Weather in North Carolina has finally cooled off, but mid-July was a scorcher. When I walked outside last Sunday afternoon, it felt like I might be baked alive on the sidewalk. The thermometer said it was 100 degrees, much hotter than I count on it being here. It felt more like July in Texas and reminded me of the summer weeks I spent in Grandview with my beloved grandmother, MamaMay, where it was literally hot enough to cook things in the sun.
When I’d visit her, I liked to watch big flat pans of peaches bake in the sun on the back patio. My mother never cooked anything outside in Oklahoma, although it was hot enough there to fry and egg on the pavement there. It was really hot in Texas, though I don’t remember minding it much, and while I’m not sure there was a pool in Grandview, I do recall lots of afternoons spent playing outside in the sprinklers with my cousins.
My youngest cousin, Anne, recently sent me a picture of me with our grandmother, our Aunt Mary Anne, and cousin Lee. I’m about two in the photo and have the middle fingers of my left hand in my mouth. I was smart to pick my left hand, since I kept those fingers in my mouth until I was seven, and I needed my right had to do other things. I’m grateful to Janice Dokes who found this picture among her old photos and shared it.
Janice’s grandmother, Inez Hardy, worked for my grandmother when I was little and was like a angel to me. She’d bake extra little strips of pastry for me and put butter and sugar on them for a treat. But I had best not wax too poetic about those days, which were roasted in Southern heat and flavored with a racist system that found ever more ingenious ways to wrest power, rights, voice, money, land, and life from African Americans.
Amid the summer heat of this year, 2017, and the antics of an administration that seems hell-bent on depriving immigrants, people of color, the poor, the disabled, children, and the elderly of voice, rights, access to assistance, and life itself, I want to remember the labor and the kindness of African American people long ago who built this country, took care of people like my grandmother, my mother, and me, and were never properly compensated for what we stole from them. We need serious conversations about reparations. If my grandfather had stollen money or land from yours, wouldn’t you think I owed you something?
My sweet summer memories are still sweet and the knowledge of the system of repression that undergirded them is sour indeed.