By Roconia Price
1. Sam Price
She said his name was Sam. And in my imagination, he was the spitting image of Ossie Davis. And Gram was his Ruby Dee. I pictured him, all smiles and silver hair, with big, meaty hands that would comfort my grandma whenever she was upset. In my mind Gram and Sam were supposed to live happily ever after, on a breezy porch, while the sun set, like a Country Time lemonade commercial. One morning I looked at Gram’s bed, at the side by the window, the space in which I was welcome whenever thunder rolled or my parents argued. Seeing Gram alone there with no sunset, no lemonade, and no Sam got my seven-year-old mind to thinking.
“Grandma, where’s your husband?”
“Gone,” she said, fussing with her AM radio.
“Gone like dead?” My eyes grew wide with simultaneous wonder and horror, and Grandma took advantage of the opportunity to spook her curious grandbaby.
Throughout my years of asking the same question at Grandma’s knee, Sam Price had been stabbed, mugged and murdered, thrown through the windshield of a car on a rainy night, and had just plain vanished without any reason.
One day in second grade, I brought home a family tree project with the moniker “Sam Price” written across the space marked “my father’s father.” Daddy took one look at the project and brought it over to Gram. I followed behind him, my backpack smacking the backs of my thighs with every hurried step.
“Who is Sam Price, Mama?” Daddy said, trying to stifle his amusement behind a bold demand. I couldn’t see my father’s face, but I caught the twinkle in Gram’s eye. They’d shared a moment; one of those mother-baby son things that I, as a female middle child, would always recognize, but never understand. They both exploded with laughter.
The truth was that Sam Price never existed. If you ask the state of New York, Sam Price came up from Georgia on the bus with Gram and their three children in 1941. If you asked Gram, she’d tell you that she called her imaginary husband Sam “’cause ‘Survival’ ain’t sound right.”
The truth was that, in 1962, “Sam Price,” or the version of him that fathered my father, gave my Gram the “me or them” when her daughter disappeared, leaving Gram with six new sticky mouths to feed. Gram gave Sam the “them” and Sam peaced out, only to make a very brief reappearance 13 years later and then be gone again forever.
The truth was that Gram never needed any Sam. She pushed eight children into this world, nurtured ten more, and buried six of the eighteen before she died herself. The truth was that she didn’t need big, comforting hands, the sun would set wherever she was, with or without a man, and she didn’t care much for lemonade anyway.
2. “Nobody wants a nasty girl.”
“Get cho frock tail out the air!” Gram shouted this line at my sister and me whenever we performed acrobatics across the living room floor. The command would start as a low rumble in the Georgia region of her belly and by the time she got to “air” she’d gone full-on Brooklyn on us.
With bits of carpet in our hair, my sister and I would sit up and beg Gram to explain what a frock tail was. I deduced that it was obviously a vagina (because why else would Gram care what I was throwing in the air?).
At any rate, when our frock tails were no longer way up and feeling blessed, Gram would shake her head and utter a stern “Ladies don’t do that.”
“It’s not nice. It’s nasty,” she would say. “And nobody wants a nasty girl.”
Over the years I’ve discovered that plenty of people want a nasty girl. Over the years I’ve also discovered that Gram just wanted us to have to the option of being labeled nice.
As a black woman in 1930’s Georgia, Gram couldn’t afford the requirements necessary for being labeled nice. She said not nice words like fuck, shit, and piss. She dipped butterscotch snuff and had a designated spit can. She kept her cornrows straight back and her speech straight up.
Gram knew, however, that suburban girls in the 90’s could afford the finer things. Though being nice felt restrictive at the time, we were ultimately given more freedom. We fit into a world that Gram never would. We could afford not to carry knives in our bosoms and pistols in our stockings. We could afford to be ignorant of how to bury a body, how to threaten a stepfather, and how to earn a man’s fear and respect with a whiskey bottle and a fireplace. We could afford to be nice.
3. “Middle finger is fine.”
I was in seventh grade when Gram finally trusted me enough to trim her chin hair. It always seemed to be a Tuesday when she would request that I reach into her drawer, retrieve her heavy metal scissors, and cut the gray wiry coils that hung like little bats under her chin.
“Remember when you told me I could put my middle finger up?” I asked one Tuesday. I snipped a coil and let it fall into the napkin in her lap.
I was four years old. I must have seen the middle finger go up somewhere, but when I tried it on my brother, Gram’s beloved snitch, he told on me.
“Ro put her middle finger up!” he said triumphantly. He held me by the arm at the foot of Gram’s chair.
“So!?” Gram shouted in an animated voice. “I sticks my middle finger up. See?” She produced a long, bony middle finger. I smiled triumphantly.
“I can put my middle finger up?” I asked.
“Well, sure!” she said with a nod. “Middle finger is fine.”
And with that, I had all the power. Case dismissed, Sucka! I stuck my tongue out at my brother and scrambled back to the basement. The finger was now mine to use freely. The next day in preschool I was condemned to the blue timeout chair and later sent to Mr. Wilson’s office for my extravagant use of the middle finger.
“But, it’s not bad!” I protested, “Middle finger is fine!”
“This is a Christian academy,” said Mr. Wilson. “Middle finger is not fine.”
Grandma was the first woman to show me what the empowerment of womanhood was. The truth about Grandma’s fibs is that womanhood today is about options. And she knew that. I can keep my frock tail down. I can keep my middle finger up. I can grow old with a man, or invent a Sam. I can be single without a story. I can be nice and nasty. I can choose whiskey over wine. I can get my eyebrows shaped regularly, or I can grow a cave full of bats across my chin and trim them every third Tuesday. And whatever strands of life I choose to include, they will always braid together to fit my unique definition of womanhood.
Roconia \ruhCONNuh\ (n.) The creator, root, & Roco of eversoroco.com; A beautiful balance between blessed and broken. A unique situation. Roconia is a writer first, blogger second, living in the DC area. You’ll learn more about her from her blog, www.eversoroco.com or Twitter (@eversoroco) than you ever will from a short bio.