Thursday, September 06, 2007

SEP 07 EXCERPT: Forever Was A Day

Forever Was A Day:

by E. D. Arrington

Chapter IX

THEY ARRIVED BRIGHT AND EARLY – Daniel and his wife Crystal; their oldest son Daniel, III and his wife Harriett; their children – Kendall, Lacey, and Cynthia; their youngest son Elliott and his wife Marsha; their children – Peter, Brandon, Lizzie, and Cornelia. In that instant, I witnessed with my own eyes what Luisa said would happen. Robert turned into a different person. He went from being an in control, sure of himself businessman to Daniel’s little brother. Continuous contagious laughter followed wherever the two of them went inside the giant house. No one knew more jokes than Daniel; and no one laughed louder at his jokes than Robert. I steered clear of Robert and his snake-eyed brother. No sooner had Robert scooted the men and children, ranging from 7 to 15 years old, into the den, entertaining them with stories, games, and noise-making toys; and, Clara Suzette had herded the women into the living room for coffee, I disappeared in the kitchen with Luisa and the two workers she hired to help serve. The whole lot of them forgot I even existed until Clara Suzette came calling.

“Lori, sweetheart,” she said, poking her head inside the kitchen, happy and bubbly, her face glowing like a brightly lit candle, “the family is about to gather for breakfast. You’ve got just enough time to freshen up. Let’s get moving. We don’t want to keep the family waiting, now do we?”

The second I sat down at the table, there was another change in the wind – a cold, unfriendly, heart pumping, combative change. The laughter and joking abruptly ended. Daniel went from being Robert’s older brother who kept him in stitches with funny jokes to Captain Daniel Henry McArthur, Jr., head of the McArthur family – a take-no-prisoners military man. He took complete charge. Daniel told – no he ordered – everyone where to sit. I was seated next to Clara Suzette, directly across from him. After Daniel blessed the meal, he made sure, as Luisa’s two helpers brought out the food, that he was served first. Then he began to eat without the courtesy of waiting for the others, including his wife, to be served. And no one made any objection. The children ate without looking up from their plates or talking. The adults did engage in general conversation, but if either of them spoke at the same time as Daniel, that person immediately yielded to him – the self-appointed head of the McArthur house – Robert’s home. It helped me better understand what Clara Suzette meant about the psychological control Daniel held over Robert. A man who at times could appear larger than life, in his older brother’s presence, had become as invisible as I tried to make myself.

“So, Robert tells me you’re a college girl,” Daniel said, sarcastically, after stuffing himself full, his elbows propped on top of the table, sipping coffee from the fine china cup he clutched with both hands.

“Yes,” I responded, softly.

“Yes, sir,” he shot back.

“Lori is allowed to answer in that manner,” Clara Suzette said. “Robert and I believe being respectful is what’s key. And no one is more respectful than our Lori.”

“Respect and formal are what this girl needs to be taught early or you’ll live to regret it,” Daniel said. “That girl I helped out was never allowed to address me in any other manner. And furthermore…”

“Daniel is there anything else you would like?” Robert interrupted, “More coffee? Juice?”

“No,” Daniel said, pleased by the special attention he was receiving, reared back in his chair, and patted his bulging stomach. “I’ve got to save some room for Thanksgiving dinner. After all, isn’t that what this day is about? Turkey, stuffing, and sweet potato pie?”

“It’s about giving thanks,” I said, respectfully.

Daniel stared into my gaze. I stared back. Looking at him was so near like looking at Mr. Miller, the principal at Kramer High, it made my skin crawl. Daniel’s ice-cold blue eyes showed the same hair-raising delight in them as Mr. Miller’s mean eyes did the morning he expelled me from school. And the way Mr. Miller had leaned in close, stretching his long body across his desk, his snake-like eyes narrowing as if he was set to strike, and hissed with glee at making me feel smaller than an ant was the same as Daniel when he leaned forward, a mocking smirk on his pale face, his blue eyes glaring at me, and said: “Thanks to who, girl? The Apaches?”

I didn’t respond to him right away. I took a moment to catch my breath. A moment I needed to find polite words. “I believe they would appreciate being called Native Americans. And, I believe the Puritans who survived that cold winter at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts in 1620, would say, yes, they were very thankful. They wouldn’t have survived without the help of the Native Americans. Actually, they were the first Americans.”

A bigger smirk broke at Daniel’s lips. “Is that right?”

“Yes…sir. In the fall of 1621, the Native Americans and the Puritans held a Thanksgiving celebration for three whole days. I say the Puritans were very thankful to the Native Americans for keeping them alive.”

“You don’t say.” David picked up his cup of coffee and held it to his lips. He didn’t take one sip. He just sat there peering at me over the cup, his eyes growing a darker blue.

“Yes…sir. And during World War II, the Navajo Indians were important servicemen in the United States Marine Corp. The Navajo soldiers helped win World War II. The United States might have lost that war if it hadn’t been for the Native Americans. The Navajo soldiers used their native language to create a communication system to send messages in U.S. military codes that the Japanese couldn’t break.”

“R-e-a-l-l-y?” Daniel said in a mocking tone of voice. “So the Apaches is the reason the grand United States military won the war?”

“The sole reason? No…sir. But did they play an important role? Yes…sir. I just read about it. Of course, I’m sure you already knew this being that you’re a military man. But there are plenty of books about the different American cultures in the library at school.”

“So, different American cultures is the kind of stuff you’re learning in college?”

“Well…yes…yes, sir. I think we should learn about other cultures. Of course, if you want to learn about other cultures, you have to register for the course and pay. I’m taking African American Studies, and I’m meeting a lot of people from different countries who are also teaching me about their cultures. We exchange books, talk, share information. But we wouldn’t have to go to so much trouble searching if the textbooks in schools told the whole truth.”

“The whole truth? Are you saying the American history I was taught is a lie?” Daniel wasn’t getting a little upset. He wasn’t on the verge of being a tad angry. He was seething. And I didn’t care the least bit. Oh, I knew I could or maybe should have shut my mouth at that point, at least until he cooled down. But I didn’t. I couldn’t wait for him to hear what I had learned from those powerful words in the books I read about Dr. Carter G. Woodson. And once I got going, pages came pouring from my tongue like a broken faucet.

“No…sir. The American history that you were taught…that I was taught in grade school and high school for free…for the most part, I’m sure is true. As close to the truth as research can prove. The problem…the big problem is that what we were taught only tells the history of one people…people who look white.”

“Who look white? Who look white? What are you…?”

“I think that’s enough politics for one day,” Robert said, interrupting Daniel. “Why don’t we retire to the living room, have Luisa serve us coffee, and umm, try to relax. And, by the way, Daniel, you never finished telling me about Kendall’s school science project. So, he got an A.”

“We’ll get to that later. I want to hear what ‘Miss College Girl,’ has to say.” Daniel cut his eyes back at me. “Now, are you suggesting that I should totally dismiss the history that millions of good Americans have been taught because you say it’s not the true history?”

“If you put it in a textbook, title the book American History, teach it to children so that they can learn how this country came to be, but leave out the contributions of all other people, all other cultures, except those who look white, what is written might be true, but it is not the whole American history. Dr. Carter G. Woodson spent most of his life trying to make it so all people would know the true American history. The part the schools still don’t teach. He believed that if the whole history was told it would stop the spread of racial prejudice, and would make people who didn’t look white, such as blacks, proud of their African ancestors and their contributions to American history. That’s why he started Negro History Week. But we wouldn’t need Negro History Week if teachers taught from textbooks that told the whole truth.”

“And just what do you mean by this people who look white? You either are or you aren’t.”

“Not necessarily.”

“You look, here, girl…”

“Lori,” Clara Suzette said, interrupting Daniel. “Please, Daniel, call her, Lori.”

Daniel shifted his glare from me, to Clara Suzette, to Robert, back to me. I searched the eyes of the others sitting at the table. The younger ones, understandably, seemed scared or bored with all the talk. Kendall, the oldest grandson, did look up from his plate…once. But the minute Daniel glanced in his direction, Kendall started shoveling down scrambled eggs so fast I thought he was going to choke. Not even Daniel’s grown sons or their wives dared to look at me.

“Okay…Lori, is it?”

“Yes, sir,” I said, tired of the tug-of-war myself.

“I’m man enough to acknowledge what contribution…small contributions others have made to this great country of ours. Take the Jews. They control all the banks. Hell, they practically own everything. If they fall, the United States fall…we all fall.”

I sucked in a deep breath. I could have said nothing and just finished my meal. But, I couldn’t just say nothing. “That’s the same kind of false beliefs that caused the Holocaust. The Jewish people were blamed for the poor economy in Russia. Around 1905, an untrue document that was made to look as if it had been written by the Jewish tribes was published. The Germans used that false document to back up their hatred for the Jewish people, and, many believe it led to the Holocaust.”

Daniel looked at Robert. “What college did you say this girl attends?”

“Lori is in a very prestigious, well-respected university,” Clara Suzette responded without giving Daniel the answer he wanted.

“Uh huh,” Daniel grunted. “A prestigious, well-respected university is teaching her this?” A smirk crept across his lips. “Well, I guess next you’ll be telling me the Queen of England is a Negro.”

“Queen Charlotte Sophia was the wife of King George, III. She was a queen. She was a Negro.”

“There is absolutely no proof of that, girl.”

“Absolute proof? That depends on your references…books, articles, personal beliefs not necessarily based on facts but emotions. Some say Queen Charlotte Sophia was European…white. Others say she was of Asian and African blood. Many say she was only one-quarter African. I saw pictures of her. I say she was black.”

“Let me give you a good piece of advice, girl…

“If you all will excuse us,” Clara Suzette interrupted again, “Lori and I have to check on Luisa. See if she needs any help with dinner.”

“Can’t this smart college girl handle something as simple as that on her own? I mean, after everything Robert and you are doing for her, the least she can do is earn her way.”

“Daniel, Lori isn’t just some…”

“Honey, honey, I would like my coffee freshened a bit,” Robert said, interrupting Clara Suzette. “Lori, would you handle that for me, please.” He smiled an uncomfortable, don’t-aggravate-Daniel-any-further smile. I didn’t smile back. Daniel’s pot was close to boiling over. And I was in no mood to keep the lid on. But I didn’t want stir the already troubled waters any further, either. Not because I didn’t have a mind to. I felt for Robert, the same way I felt for the timid little white girl at Kramer High who had to choose whether to sit beside me, a Negro, on the school bus or stand. Left alone, I don’t believe she cared who she sat beside as long as she got to school. But the choice was left to Matthew Drake, the mean bus driver. And here, at his own table in his own home, Robert had to choose whether to treat me like family or a hired servant. Left alone, I wanted to believe that Robert didn’t care that my skin was too dark to pass for white. But the choice was left to Daniel, the hateful older brother. Neither the timid little white girl nor Robert was any freer with their own people than I was. They sure weren’t free to make up their own mind. And Robert, a grown, married, successful businessman who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for the freedom of all people, wasn’t even free in his own family. The minute Daniel walked in he took total control.

I remembered what Luisa told me, “Little One, when you hear the name Daniel, run like your pants on fire. … That man make big trouble in this place. …I don’t say nothing.” Now, here I sat wanting worse than anything to give Daniel a tongue-lashing that would turn his pale face firecracker red. But just like Luisa, I decided to say nothing. Instead, I answered Robert’s request to freshen his coffee. I welcomed any reason to get away from the likes of that hateful, misinformed, arrogant, poor excuse of a human being, and his mindless posse, including Robert and Clara Suzette, who sat like helpless robots convinced, at least by their leader, Captain Daniel Henry McArthur, Jr., that it was some kind of privilege to be a McArthur. Without uttering a sound, I ran through the kitchen, up the backstairs, down the hallway into the bedroom where I intended to make myself invisible until the McArthur family, the whole clan – all that belonged to Daniel – were long gone. But by the time I stepped foot in the room, Clara Suzette was already there, sitting on the side of the bed…waiting.

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