There’s a Ghost in New York City
That reminds her of her past
And the postcard sent from Brooklyn
That she wished she didn’t have.
~Ghost in New York City, by A LION NAMED ROAR.
In the hot summer breeze, I sat in the backseat of the car, watching the many miles of grain pass before my eyes. Mrs. Jefferson had said that we were passing through Plain City, Ohio. She's got that right, I thought. While Mom’s sailed to cool Maine for three weeks, I was going to be stuck here, in Ohio with my unknown relatives.
“They’re your Uncle Jasper and Aunt Luna. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them,” said Mom’s old roommate, Eleanor Jefferson. “I remember your mother and her sister and I always having sleep overs and playing dolls together, even though Luna’s two years older.”
“Oh great,” I murmured, not knowing what to say.
“Anyway, I hope you have a great time In Ohio,” Mrs. Jefferson said.
I finally fixed my eyes on the road behind me, on the life I used to know.
“Yeah, me too.” Was all I could say.
On the way to my aunt and uncle’s home, Mrs. Jefferson stopped at the new restaurant called McDonalds. Even though they only came out a year ago, tiny restaurants were popping all over the United States back in 1944. It was faster than most restaurants she’d been too.
“I guess that’s why they call it ‘fast food’!” Mrs. Jefferson smiled as I picked at my French fries. “So, do they have a McDonalds In the big City?”
I shrugged. “Yeah, pretty much. But I guess I’ll have to get used to eating pork ribs and butter milk now that I’m out in the country, you know?”
“Uh, I don’t know, really?” Mrs. Jefferson gave me a wry smile. I knew I’d said something wrong, but I didn’t care. I never cared.
After they ate, they drove ten minutes into the farmlands when Mrs. Jefferson’s car drove up a driveway that led into a farm. One look at it and I knew this was going to be the worst weeks of my life was when she saw the house only had two stories and that there were no horses, cows or even a dog. Plus, it had this horrible gray tint to it that gave the farmhouse a prison look. Guess Alcopone and I have much In common, then, I decided.
In front of the yard was small peculiar boy, sucking his thumb and patting a silver cat that sat near him. When the car parked itself in front of the house, the boy ran to the house, yelling for his parents to come. Oh boy. Out came a middle aged man with his tan wife. The man had a slight slouch, black hair streaked with gray and wrinkled clothes at I almost winced to look at.
The woman on the other had been more graceful as she walked. She shook Mrs. Jefferson’s hand when they met in front of the car and chatted with her as usual ladies did. She wore a red apron with a yellow cotton dress. She too had dark hair that hung low like a curtain behind her back.
Uh oh, I wonder what she’ll think of my hair, I thought. She smoothed her blue skirt and hung onto her knapsack with determination. Then, I stepped out of the Ford and gave the most pleasant smile she could come up with.
“Hello,” I said, trying to hide my ‘city’ accent.
“Well howdy!” said the man. He held out a calloused hand that looked like it belonged to King Kong and he chewed on a gnawed toothpick. “I’m your Uncle Jasper and welcome to our home!” He brought the women close to him and said, “This here’s your Aunt Luna. What kind of name is it, I don’t know.” He gave an annoying laugh then slapped his knee like one of the comedians in New York had said it. After he’d calm himself down, he became serious again.
“But I didn’t marry her for her name but her loving heart. Shake your niece’s hand, Lu!” Jasper gave a toothy grinned.
Aunt Luna bent lower to shake my hand. “It’s very nice to meet my niece after so long,” she said with a smile. “What is your name again?”
“Flora,” I answered. “It means ‘flower’. Mom gave it to me at the last minute when I was born. The nurse had delivered some flowers on the other patient’s bed and then ‘poof’! There was the name, I.”
“How interesting,” Aunt Luna said solemnly. The thumb-sucker ran up to Luna and clutched unto her skirt for dear life. He eyed I with hostility and a hint of curiousness.
“Whose she, Momma?” he demanded, pointing at I.
“That’s your big cousin, sweetie, I,” said Aunt Luna, patting his head. “Say ‘hi’.”
Thumb-sucker looked up and frowned at his mother, who returned the glare
before he timidly said, “Hi.”
I returned the hostility with a “Hello.” Bratty McThumbsucker. I’d added.
Uncle Jasper spoke saying, “This here’s your four-year-old cousin, Tommy, up there with the slingshot is Sammy,” he pointed to a medium sized kid with a slingshot in the back of his jeans, barefoot and sitting in a tree. His mischievous grin sent shivers down my spine. “The one pulling the red wagon is Connie and in the wagon is her twin, Donny.” Uncle Jasper pointed to the white-washed house. “The rest are in the house; here I’ll take your bags.”
I nodded but held on to her backpack sternly, even when Aunt Luna offered to carry it, I still shook her head. When the three of them (plus the cautious Tommy) entered the house, a young girl stood near the sink, washing dishes. She glanced at I and then continued with her washing. A baby was distantly crying, sending Luna running into the living room.
“You have a lot of kids,” I said.
Uncle Jasper grinned and gazed at the farm through the kitchen window. “I guess so. Man, can’t believe how fast the years have passed.” He ran his calloused fingers through his graying hair and sat down on one of the wooden chairs around the kitchen table. He called to the girl without turning around,
“Maddie, take I around the house and then you can give her off to Sammy so he can show her the farm.”
“Yes Father,” Maddie said. As she passed me to walk up the nearby stairs, I caught a glance from Maddie. It was cold, distant and defiantly uninterested to I. Ditto to that, sister, I thought. She led me up the narrow steps up to the second floor. It had four rooms, which surprised me since they were such a huge family.
“I share that room with my three sisters,” Maddie said in disgust.
“Three, I thought you had only two?” I asked.
“Three, Dumbo,” she spat, “Connie, Bonnie and the twin babies, Daisy and Rainy.” Alright the last one is just stupid, I thought.
I was so overwhelmed by the growth of the family that I’d almost forgotten that she’d called me ‘Dumbo’. That’s right; this new cousin I’d met had just called me Dumbo, as in the elephant from the cartoon which had released last fall. I wasn’t going to let that pass, but I was going to show her grace. Just. This. Once.
“Anyway, who sleeps in the other rooms,” I asked. Maddie groaned in frustration. She pointed to each one as she spoke.
“The on the right is my brothers: Sammy, Donny and Tommy.” The one on the far left is my parents and the big one at the end of the hall is the guest room.” She added with bitterness. “Your room.”
“Oh.” Was all I could say.
“Yeah, whatever,” Maddie said and hurried back downstairs.
After showing me the kitchen, the dining room and the back porch, Maddie dropped me off outside where Sammy was waiting for me. He gave me a dark smile stood up to walk down the steps, sticking his wooden slingshot in the back pockets of his jeans.
“C’mon Brooklyn, we got a lot to show you today,” he called. I slowly followed him, not sure whether to trust him or not. Now that I think about it, I ran back into the house, never to return. But, instead I followed.
I've always regretted letting Sammy lead me through the farm. I got scratched by chicken wire, a scrape on my arm from one of the branches in the apple orchard and saw my shoe get eaten by thick mud. And throughout it all, Sammy was silently laughing to himself, in his own tortuous way. And to find out later that he was only eleven. An eleven year old dragged a thirteen year old girl from Brooklyn through the worst day of her life. Great essay on what I did that summer.
When we were finally finished with our ‘tour’, Sammy dropped me off in the living room. He said he had to ‘plan some ideas’, which I knew dealt with me and headed back outside. I was left, standing in the middle of the living room with nothing but my sweaty, dirty clothes and ripped sock. I decided to look around and saw something that caught my eyes. It was a small and pretty old picture of two girls, arms around each other. They were both smiling in matching dresses, even though one was obviously younger than the other. I picked up the round picture frame and stared at it, grazing my finger along the edges.
I stared at the younger girl, her dark hair placed in a bun, her smile still beautiful, even with her missing teeth. She wore a cotton white dress, ebony-black shoes and a violet in her hair. I could see her brown eyes peeking from strands of messed hair and could detect a dimple right under her cheek. I smiled and could feel that same dimple on my own face. My dimple. My mom’s dimple.
“We were so cute back then.”
I spun around and saw Aunt Luna, holding a baby in her arms. It was nearly bald, which surprised me, because Mom had told me that I was covered in hair when I was born. I’d glanced at the photograph again and smiled.
“Yeah, Mom was pretty back then.”
“Oh, and what about you’re Aunt Luna?” she smiled.
I grinned. “And you are pretty too.”
“Such flattery. I don’t get that much these days,” Aunt Luna winked at me and continued to pat the baby. “You know, I miss her as much you do.” She sighed
and sat on the couch across from me. “I haven’t seen her in fifteen years.”
“Really?” I asked. “You mean you’ve never seen me until today?”
“Oh no! Your mother sent a picture of you when you were three.” Aunt Luna laughed. “You were the sink taking a bath, waving a spoon in the air.” Aunt Luna eyed my head. “Your hair hasn’t grown that much either.”
I glanced nervously up at my locks of dark brown curls that came down to the end of my ears. “Well, I didn’t get my hair from my mom’s side of the family,” I joked, trying to divert the attention from my hair.
“Hmm, where did they come from?” Aunt Luna asked. The baby started crying, so she started rocking back and forth on the couch.
“From my dad.” I said quickly.
“Was he colored?” Aunt Luna asked, raising an eyebrow.
I blew out air and felt my mouth twitched. Living in Brooklyn, you meet a lot of kids: kids in school, kids in the park, kids beating up other kids in the alleys. But every dark-skinned one I’ve met has told me the same thing:
“It’s negro, Aunt Luna, not colored. And no, he wasn’t. I also get his sea-green eyes from him too.”
“Oh, pardon me,” Aunt Luna said, glancing around like there were negroes right in the living room. “I guess I’ve gotten used to the term, being out in the country and all.”'
That’s no consolation, I thought but just shrugged.
Now, the baby was crying like a banshee so Aunt Luna excused herself to feed her, so that left me again, left alone.
I realized that Uncle Jasper and Aunt Luna were religious but I didn’t think I’d have to participate in any of it. But, again I was wrong and before dinner, Uncle Jasper told us to hold hands for ‘grace’. I looked at who I sat next to and saw it was Tommy and Maddie. Great. Tommy was just picking his nose while Maddie was sticking her own nose up in the air. I was sure if it had started raining right then, she’d drown from how high it was.
“I have to wash my hands,” I blurted.
“It’s alright, Flora,” Uncle Jasper said. “You can wash ‘em after we say grace.”
“But Uncle Jasp—”
Uncle Jasper held his hand up before I could finish. “Flora, I know you’re not a Christian or used to prayer or stuff like that. But we are a God honoring family and if you don’t want to pray, then you’ll have to skip dinner.”
“What?” I exclaimed.
“Flora,” Aunt Luna said firmly, patting the other baby—the stupid one named Rainy—while Bonnie held Daisy.
I muttered some words I’d picked up in Brooklyn, then slumped in my seat and held Maddie and—ewe!—Tommy’s hand. After Uncle Jasper rambled on and on with a prayer I’m sure was directed at me and we started eating, I heard Tommy whisper to Sammy next to him, “The girl from the Big City hates Jesus.”
That does it, I’d decided. Any chance I got, I was getting out of this mad house. Even though Aunt Luna was nice at first, the whole family had turned against me. So when dinner was ready, I stuffed all my clothes back into the suitcase, ready when the time came. I didn’t know how or when, but whenever the chance came, I was getting out of Ohio.