I remember Mother

January 22nd, 2010

Black Gold / Texas T / Big times in Big D. Soft talkin & big stick walkin. Hotter than blazes out but we were all keepin cool in the shade of pre-bust boom, mid 70s Dallas Texas. Cool beneath the “Gimme another one of them gold mirror type buildings” cluttering up the prairie sky. For those of us not old enough to know about the dust bowl beneath and why we had to gag down every bit of liver & onions on our plate every Wednesday, we were lappin it up.

Polly Hyatt, Fisherman's Wharf - Dec 09

Everyone but our own Mother Dear. 2 Darn Hot, she’d proclaim – hair high, fag danglin from her mouth! She’d pack us up every summer and we’d drive to our step family’s part of the world where it was drier – to a little Podunk town called Wheeler – you know, next to Shamrock & Pampa & … Amarillo? Mom got a break from the kids, & could smoke with the adults to a Conway Twitty soundtrack – mmmmm Dogies – whilst we ran wild with our cousins out there in the Panhandle

Plus Wheeler was windy and that made it cooler too. My cousin Penny – I believe she’s in corporate communications now – told me it was so windy there, that I wouldn’t even be able to wear a dress in March, because I’d get sandburn on my legs. In fact every March & April the sky’d turn yellow as the wheatfields, the barometric pressure would drop down to the devil and giant twisted sisters of random devastation would pop up to perform their whirling snakedance across the sky! They didn’t call it Tornado country for nothing out there. We’d run screamin through Cora’s backyard “Nana, Nana, it’s a twister!” – assuming the position, sliding down the cellar doors to the basement shelter just wishin we were there a coupla months earlier to see it all for ourselves. During one particularly turbulent bout of roleplay, my sisters & I stopped in our tracks as we heard a call to arms from Penny. The children of Nana’s maid had joined us that day and it seemed that the younger one left a little streak of something behind her on the cellar door.

“Oooh weeee, it’s nigger pee!”, Penny shrieked.

I’d like to say that I was moved by sympathy for my new little friend who stood there, head bowed, shamed by the slant – insult to injury for the real reason why she couldn’t control herself – In fact she would have been trying too hard to control herself since Wheeler hadn’t quite got the hang of “separate but equal” facilities by the mid 70s, much less the concept of integration.

Polly Hyatt on SF trolley car - Dec 09

No, the 1st thing on my mind – and my whipsmart sisters – was where the hell to hide. In a lightning flash all three of us Dallas girls fled from a real force of nature – my mother – who might, at any time, emerge from the place where you least expected her – twister mister mother sister – shoe or belt in hand – to beat you to dust in front of God & everybody. “How many times have I told you NOT use that word!” She had the eyes of a fan tailed hawk, could hypnotise like a snake, the keen nose & ears of a wolf and the strength of a bear – no backchat, no negotiation and no charge for delivery.

It only really made us more violent with each other though, and to avoid a mutiny from her growing girls, she’d changed tac, using situationist methodology.

“Yes, girls, you were right, I was wrong. It’s true, we are the niggers of the world.”, removing a pick from her purse to fluff up the freshly permed afro that sprung out of her ski-cap, “but you can call ME Superfly”

“Mom, NOOOOOOOOOO!”

Soon we found ourselves being bussed to the wrong side of town to a black school – we would not be using that word, there. But to ease our tension, and to give us some clues about what she was tryin to do, Mother Dear, initiated us into a little ritual confined to the carpool. Everyday, after school, Mom would knock back her fave drink – Dr Gin (Dr Pepper & Gin) – pile us into the car and switch on KKDA Dallas Disco Soul on the AM dial. We would listen and clap along to the last few songs at 5pm en route to ballet, gymnastics, choir practice, baton twirling, personality & charm … At the end of every broadcast day, KKDA-Dallas Disco Soul, would sign off with a little ol’ speech by the Rev Dr Jesse Jackson – and we were expected to chime in

I AM

SOMEBODY

I MAY BE UNEMPLOYED

BUT I AM

SOMEBODY

I MAY BE IN JAIL

BUT I AM

SOMEBODY

I AM

SOMEBODY

I AM

SOMEBODY

I AM

GOD’S CHILD

SOUL POWER

BLACK POWER

YEAHHHHH

The roaring congregation would fade to static on the carpool radio, but the simple eloquence & power of the message hypnotised me toward belonging to a better history.  I had no idea what magic my mother wove into our lives then.  I can only begin to grasp it now….  I really miss her.


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