Where You Go
Copyright© 2011 by Robert McKay
It was afternoon by the time Cecelia and Darlia came home. They both kissed me in passing, and took their bags into their rooms. The bedroom Cecelia went into was mine too, and by rights I could have followed – but I didn't. Just as I keep my presents secret from her, so she keeps hers secret from me, and I wouldn't think of interfering.
Darlia came out before Cecelia did. She was wearing one of her winter dresses, a flannel knee length affair in a plaid that probably wasn't a tartan, though it looked like one. She'd taken her shoes off, and she ran and slid in her socks across the polished wood dining room floor. "Daddy, it's almost Kissmass!"
"'Christmas, ' 'Lia," I said.
She tried, and repeated it correctly. Most of her younger mispronunciations have disappeared, but occasionally when she's excited they'll pop up again.
"There you go, 'Lia. You're gonna be grownup in just a couple of days."
"No, Daddy! I be grown up in..." She stopped to count on her fingers "I be grownup in nine years!"
"You're figuring 18, eh? Oh well, if that's old enough to get a Purple Heart, I guess it's grownup."
"Daddy, what's a Purpur Heart?"
"'Purple, ' 'Lia. The Purple Heart is a medal you get if you get wounded in combat."
"Does Uncle Memphis have a Pur-ple Heart?"
"I don't know, 'Lia, but I don't think so. I don't think he was ever in combat."
I heard Cecelia's voice behind me. "I don't believe any other brother would be so unaware of his sibling's activities, particularly the more important ones."
I turned from Darlia to face my wife, only to find her moving behind the sofa to stand beside the dining room table. I followed her with a turn of my head, and let her lean her hip against the table before I replied. "Yeah, well, Memphis and I didn't grow up together."
"I know. You went to live with Tony and Anna in Lanfair Valley, and he went with another aunt and uncle to the reservation in Washington – what were their names, by the way? You saw each other at most once a year, as I recall."
"Yeah, that's about right. And the people he went with were George and Sally Tall Deer. They were actually in-laws of our dad, but among the Lahtkwa that counts as much as aunt and uncle by blood."
Cecelia regarded me for a moment. She was in a pair of black slacks and a white blouse with a ruffle down the front and blue bands at the wrists. The diamond in her nose was obvious in the light from the bay window, not refracting just now, but sending the light on in its white fullness. "I grew up with my parents, with my brother and sister, with cousins and aunts and uncles. We were poor – beastly poor – but we never lacked for family. I cannot conceive of your upbringing, with just your aunt and uncle and their children there, and everyone else scattered literally all over the country."
"I think I've got an advantage on you there. Yeah, my parents were from Washington and Virginia, and died when I was young, and I didn't have anyone growing up except Tony and Anna. But since I met you I've got lots of family."
"Although," Cecelia said with the ship-launching smile, "your newer relatives have a better tan."
"Shoot, tain't my fault they spent all that time in Africa. Give me that same thing and I'll be that dark too."
"I am afraid, Darvin, that your Nordic ancestry is proof against a little sun. You do tan well, I give you that – your father's genes contribute that to your appearance if nothing else – but you still appear to be as pure a white man as you're likely to find in this thoroughly amalgamated nation."
"I might appear thataway, but I ain't, as you very well know." I smiled my own smile at her. "And I have pretty serious doubts that your ancestry is all from Africa; you're not any purer than I am, I don't think."
"Of course not," she said equably. "It has long amazed me that we were subhuman, property – like a wagon or a chair – yet those who forced such views upon us had no compunction whatsoever about giving us children. They wouldn't want us to marry their sisters – though most of us found that prospect uninteresting – but they were quite willing to sire their children on our sisters, and mothers, and daughters." Her voice wasn't bitter, just musing, but my own mind supplied enough bitterness for both of us. What she said was exactly the truth, and it was a pretty scabby, nasty truth too.
"Of course, I've decided that you're as likely to be part Indian as part white. You come, after all, from a part of the country where some Indians had slaves and some slaves ran away to the Indians, and there was a fair amount of intermarriage that way."
She shrugged her thin shoulders. "It could be. In any event I don't concern myself with it. Whatever the admixture in my ancestry, white or Indian or both, or something else, I am who and what I am today, and I cannot alter the past. I can learn from it, certainly – I have no intention of proving Santayana correct, not with the whole world busily engaged in doing just that – but I see no point or profit in becoming irate or melancholy over it."
"Think you could convince Calypso Louie of that?" I referred to Louis Farrakhan, a virulently racist Black Muslim.
"Darvin, if he were starving on my front lawn, I would carry a plate of food out to him – and require him to cross the street to eat it. And then I would send him away, by force if necessary. I am not going to gloss over what whites have done, but treating whites like slime will not correct the errors of the past; all it will do is create even more hurt and anger than exists already."
Darlia had been listening through all this, and now she tugged at Cecelia's pants leg. "Mommy, you mad?"
Cecelia looked down, and her expression – hard and arrogant in her distaste for the subject, the arrogance natural, though I hated to admit it, to her narrow face with its high cheekbones – softened. "I suppose I am mad, honey, though certainly not at you. You're young, Darlia, and you have not endured what I have – which in turn is not what my father and grandfather endured. And they did not endure what my great-grandfather suffered. And I am glad that your life has been free of that sorrow. No one will ever think you're a white girl, and that suits me very well. What pleases me even more, however, is that no one has ever treated you poorly because you do not look like a white girl."