Notes from a Native Daughter

"One Moment In Time" by Princess Rachella

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

One Moment In Time

It has taken me nearly 50 years to acknowledge that I got my smile from my mother. I mean, how can you argue with proof like this???

I've actually had this photograph for years now, and only recently noticed the date on the side...July, 1968. I believe this was taken at my Head Start Teacher's house. I'll never forget her, because her first name was Cabrini, which sounded insanely cool to my 6 year old brain. Clearly, I had no appreciation for the Catholic connection; it just sounded like something out of Dr. Seuss to me. Anyway, I developed my obsession with instant mashed potatoes in Head Start, and with Miss Cabrini. She was tall and blonde and lovely, and extremely nice to me. This was at a time when it was kinda hard to find people who would be nice to a poor black girl with 8 infamously smart older brothers and sisters who was also raised as a Jehovah's Witness.

I think Mama made us all get dressed up to pay a visit to Miss Cabrini's apartment, though I can't remember if we were invited or if Mama made the first move. This was back in the day when people paid social visits, and could even dare to show up with a passel of kids. And even though it was the summer of 1968, when the entire nation was gripped in racial hysteria, a few months after Dr. King had been assassinated and just about a month after Bobby Kennedy fell, Eloise Jones saw no problem with stopping by the home of one of her daughter's favorite teachers. Who just happened to be white.

Come to think of it, enough with the poetic license, already!! My memory may be totally faulty, and this could could all be just a bunch of revisionist history twaddle. In a million years, I couldn't explain why I think we were visiting Miss Cabrini in this picture. The only thing I can confirm are the smiles. We were poor and black and hopeful back then, and when somebody said "Say Cheese!" we cheesed like our lives depended on it.

Oh, there were a few reasons to smile, I suppose. My eldest brothers David and John had gone off to college by then, so I guess I was starting to believe that one day I could do the same. Julie, the pretty "big girl" seated second from the left was 17 in this picture, and in a few years would meet Ron, the man she'd spend the rest of her life with. When we were growing up, she was never more than half a mile away, and both she and Ron loved us and helped take care of us.

The girl seated to Julie's right, Sarah, would become an immigration attorney in San Francisco. Rebecca, the littlest one being held by Mama, would run Sarah's office. The girl sitting next to me, Marilyn, would devote her life to "The Truth," the only one of 10 siblings who remained a Jehovah's Witness.

I guess I'm assuming you know which one is me in this picture. I'm 4th from the left. And you know every twitch and tremble about me by now. And Mama? Well, one day I'll write a book about Mama. When I'm sure I can do her justice.

What strikes me most about this picture is how happy we all seemed, despite whatever challenges we faced. And when I look really closely at my sweet little face, I realize I was a lot cuter than I ever knew, and that I have exactly the same smile now as I had back then. I just never used it very often, because I've had to fight and claw my way to a place where I even began to believe it was a pretty smile.

I've never really seen a lot of pictures of myself from childhood, but this is the only one I need. I'm surrounded by the first women who ever inspired and nurtured me, and I'm happy. It's like a Mark Twain quote I just saw, actually:

"I've experienced many terrible things in my life, a few of which actually happened." When it gets right down to it, there were probably more times when we smiled back then than we do now.

Posted by Princess Rachella at 4:44 PM