|My Surrogate Grandmother
by Jackie Joice
She was born in Manuel County, Georgia, and then she and her family had to suddenly move to Boley, Oklahoma, a state
where Blacks established over 20 towns with ownership of businesses and land; more than any other state in 19th century
America. She lived the rest of her life in the city of the Angels.
In Los Angeles our houses were side by side. Our houses had large front yards with long driveways. I played hopscotch
and jumped rope in her driveway during family gatherings. My brothers and I called her Aunt Madie. Because of her fair skin,
Aunt Madie was one of those black women who got away with wearing red rouge, pink lipstick, and cinnamon or toffee colored
pantyhose. She rolled her hair with pins when she wore her blonde wigs. Blonde wigs that my mother warned her about during
the 1960’s riots. “You better take that blonde wig off “ my mother who wore and Angela Davis afro advised. “I’ll run’em over with
my car” answered Aunt Madie.
Nothing could scare her not even when Black people held up their fists at rallies and on street corners.
Aunt Madie babysat me for $35 a week while my mom worked 40 hours and caught the bus all the way to the San Fernando
Valley. When I was eighteen Aunt Madie called me on sunny mornings to drive her 1976 Impala to Woolworth's or Newberry's.
I backed the large cream-colored vehicle out of the garage biting my lip as I navigated down the long driveway. I drove down two
streets( not counting ours) to reach our destination. This linear direction made it easier for me since I had recently received my
driver’s license. At Woolworth’s Aunt Madie purchased McCall's patterns, sewing supplies, or garlic tablets for her blood. At
home she also sent me to the corner store. The corner store that battled with monthly graffiti. “Get me a pound of chicken
fryers, pressed ham, or hog head cheese” she ordered as she handed me wrinkled dollars bills and coins.
Her father was half Irish. Anytime aunt Madie demonstrated some form of aggression or verbal directness, her relatives blamed
her Irish heritage. She cooked on almost every holiday, collard greens, corn, okra, most of which she grew in her backyard.
She educated me on the names of flowers, snapdragons, birds of paradise, and roses; I can still identify if I stumbled upon a
Aunt Madie’s bedroom was a boudoir that looked like it belonged to Scarlett O’Hara. Standing inside her bedroom felt like
being in a mansion somewhere on a plantation in Georgia. There was a popcorn factory on the corner of our street so
occasionally the scent of roasted popcorn blew through the lace and chiffon curtains that decorated her bedroom windows. The
wallpaper was decorated with pink rose patterns and she had a sewing machine that rested in the corner. Aunt madie taught
me how to use the sewing machine. She peeked over glasses as I chose fabric to experiment on. She had a cream colored
vanity dresser with expensive bottles of perfume and a silver comb and brush. I thought her furniture was more distinguished
from the other older neighbors on our street. Her living room was filled with Victorian style lampshades, tables, and chairs.
Porcelain figurines with milk white faces sat on spotless shelves.
Her couch was covered with thick plastic. On afternoons of summer vacation bible school and crafts she taught me how to knit
and crochet. I used to sit on the couch and crochet or knit doll clothes. On lazy and hot afternoons, I spent hours sitting on the
steps of her porch. I bit into crisp peaches from her peach tree. Drank lemonade made from lemons off her lemon tree.
Together we watched our neighbors argue, fight, and celebrate. We watched the mailman, the stray dogs, the ice cream trucks
with muffled sounds, hustlers, and the sirens on police cars. She instructed me carefully making sure she prepared me
domestically. At the time I was too young and naive to realize that I was in a well-constructed domestic training course. As I
got older I was jealous of girlfriends who had real grandmothers to bake cookies, sip tea and watch reruns of sitcoms with.
Unfortunately, my maternal grandmother passed away when I was around four or five and my paternal grandmother suffered
from a mental illness. Now I’m married and aunt Madie’s gone. Now I find myself trying to recall certains things she told or
showed me. One day as I sat at home I had a moment of truth. I reviewed and rewinded my life and realized that I did have a
grandmother. A grandmother I called aunt Madie.
My Aunt Connie’s Kitchen
by Jackie Joice
According to one of the many dictionaries lying around my apartment the definition of debutante is- a girl making her first
appearance at the fashionable parties of high society. Did I attend one ? No. However, debutantes were very popular among
Black American females when I was growing up. My best friend attended one. All I can remember is my best friend’s
preparation and nervousness along with trying to make a decision on what type of dress she wanted to wear. I guess it was
sort of a rites of passage for African American females.
There are several rituals for “rites of passages” among young girls of African cultures. What defines a “rites of passage”
especially for African American girls ? One evening my mother and I went to visit my Aunt Connie in Gardena, CA. Two of my
older cousins, Liz and Debbie from Central California were staying with my Aunt Connie at the time, and my Aunt Connie’s
daughter, Suzette were present. I was the youngest among my cousins that night. My mother didn’t specifically bring me over
Aunt Connie’s for the procedure that took place that night. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
My Aunt Connie’s kitchen was decorated like a kitchen in a Redbook magazine. I was around the age of ten or eleven when
Liz dragged me into the kitchen and placed a chair right in front of the stove. My mother and my Aunt Connie were most likely
in the living room watching one of those night time soap operas. Liz asked me to sit down and shouted to my cousins to bring
her a sewing needle, a face towel, a small piece of cardboard, petroleum jelly, a hand mirror and rubbing alcohol. My cousins,
Suzette and Debbie buzzed around like medical interns as they randomly opened hallway drawers and medicine cabinets
searching for the requested instrument and items. Once Liz requests were fulfilled Suzette and Debbie stood in the entrance of
the kitchen and watched on as Liz prepped for my procedure. All the items were neatly placed on the tile counter top. Liz
thoroughly washed her hands like a surgeon in an operating room. Liz placed an ice cube in a face towel and instructed me to
hold it on my right ear until my ear lobe was numb. As I sat in the chair with one arm to my ear for nearly a half an hour I
listened to the muffled laughs and conversations that took place around me. Finally the ice cube melted and my ear lobe was
ready. Liz dabbed my ear lobe with some alcohol and then placed the tip of the sewing needle over flames. She used the small
piece of card board and placed it behind my ear. Liz slowly pushed the hot metal tip of the sewing needle through my fleshy
detached ear lobe. I felt no pain only pressure. She yelled to one of my cousin’s to bring her the broom. My cousin rushed into
the kitchen pantry and got the broom as Liz held the needle in my ear. Liz plucked one of the straws from the broom and broke
it to about an inch. Liz burnt both ends of the straw, applied a glob of petroleum jelly on my ear and then lodged the straw rod
into my right ear. She repeated the procedure for my left ear; numbing, dab of alcohol, piercing, glob of petroleum jelly, straw
rod. The ritual was complete. There I was with two newly pierced ears standing in the pages of a Redbook magazine, my Aunt
Connie’s kitchen. Liz held a mirror in front of me. I had already begun to envision the type of earrings that I desired to wear.
Why with my allowance I could at least afford some colorful, quirky, and inexpensive ones from a drugstore. Before my mom
and I left for home, my cousin Liz gave me detailed instructions on the care of my newly pierced ears.
Jackie Joice is at: