After the wedding Mama and Daddy moved into Grandaddy Buddy’s house on Fox Street in Fifth Ward. The house was a neglected Victorian with a junkyard in the back. Buddy gave Mama and Daddy the entire top floor, which had three rooms. It seemed a generous gesture but Buddy wanted to relegate them to one part of the house.
Daddy in a chivalrous moment picked Mama up to carry her over the threshold. Once she entered the house Mama found it appallingly dirty. She’d never visited the house as Daddy always came to her and Cora Mae’s house. In this wasteland that she’d agreed to be her new home, dust blanketed every piece of furniture. The fabric on the sofa and chairs reeked of unidentified odors and stains. The hard wood floors looked as if they had never been mopped and the kitchen smelled of sour milk. Daddy and Buddy had lived there for many years and never really bothered to clean. The place looked fine to them. Mama, now three months pregnant, got to cleaning and scrubbing with her one good knee with the aid of crutches and with no help from Daddy or Buddy. In their eyes cleaning was women’s work. Mama, however, could not live in all of the filth. Cleanliness was next to Godliness. So she cleaned until the house was a home.
It was after they settled into Buddy’s house that Daddy fully understood that Mama would be impossible to control. One evening in a heated discussion about Daddy’s liquor, cards and cigars habit Daddy slapped Mama across her face and mouth. How dare she debate him point-by-point, word-by-word on how he should spend the money he slaved to earn? Down Mama’s torso dipped. Up came the scarlet red coloring that now covered her chocolate face. Up, up came her spirit from depths inside. Mama drunk from the lick swaggered and swayed but remained on her foot. Sheer will kept her from falling over. Only one crutch fell. Once Mama composed her small frame she looked Daddy in his one eye, and held the glare so powerfully that it immobilized Daddy’s entire body. He did not swing again. It is difficult now to tell if Daddy was frightened or simply hypnotized by Mama’s potent stare. The blood drained from Daddy’s brown sugar complexion and left his face pale, a dusty brown. While in this altered state Mama straightened her dress and apron then staggered off to the kitchen to prepare dinner.
That night Daddy wallowed in their bed in what I have imagined a victorious sleep when Mama appeared out of the shadows with a pot of hot grits. The pain must have left an indelible mark on Daddy’s chest as he leapt out of bed and landed on the floor screaming. Buddy heard his cries but stayed in his room. Buddy decided that all newlyweds somehow founded their common ground. The grits served notice to Daddy that he was never to hit Mama again. The use of Daddy’s hand was an ill-fated course of action in his desire to control Mama. So he gave that passion up only to develop a new one.
Daddy began what would be his life long strength, his tour de force even in later life during weakened states. This tool brought instant fear with directed callously to the recipient. Daddy inaugurated a use of sound with his roughly tuned vocal cords. Vocal cords that would one day send complete fear throughout my body, touching the marrow of my bones at a cellular level. A loud booming voice became Daddy’s tool. Daddy discovery that Mama had more tolerance for vociferated behavior freed him. And only in those moments where Daddy’s rants went too long or the volume peaked above her version of civility would Mama stop him from his lion’s roar. The use of Mama’s steel eyes would rekindle the memory of the grits for Daddy and he’d move on to another subject or simply leave the room. Yet, Mama’s tolerance of Daddy’s growl would be an act that she revisited with regret many times over her lifetime.