“Linda”, my grandmother said, “I handed them to you when you got up to go to the kitchen at John Roberts house.”
“Ain’t no way”, Linda responded, “why would I ever touch some nasty teeth! You know I don’t mess around.”
My grandmother yelled back, “If I’m lying, I’m flying and we both standing flat on da flo’. “You always acting up,” to which Linda responded with an eye roll.
“Ann, Homier already told you he gotem,” said the other stranger with the air tank on wheels. Although strong and direct in his opinion, you couldn’t really hear what he said. He wore a white band around his neck that connected to a small white box. Every time he spoke, he would put a piece of tissue over the box. Breathy, raspy sentences would follow along with a mucus filled cough. They called him scientist, sy for short. I’m not sure what forced me awake more violently, the turning on of every light, screaming matches, snot coughs, or their body odor – (a witch’s brew of musty armpits, mildewed shoes, and bad breath.
“Honey, are you ready?”
“Do you remember what we talked about?”
“We gotta check you in school, after we get your bags in the house. Remember I told you, you don’t tell them people nothing about your grandmother’s house. All they need to know is you live with me. We just moved over here, near the new school.”
“Yes momma. I remember like last time. I always remember because I’m smart.”
“Yes, you are.”
Momma gave me the biggest smile. We walked up to a locked gate and 3 barking dogs ran to the gate jumping over each other. I was so scared; I almost ran in the streets. My mom grabbed my arm and told me, these were the dogs we talked about. I imagined small cute puppies. Two of the dogs were bigger than me!
Sonny came out and told the dogs to “chill out” and they did. I thought well if it’s that easy, I’ll be ok. Sonny invited us in and although there was no front door, or windows. As soon as I walked in, it felt like a home. We walked into what was supposed to be the living-room. Off to the right was an empty kitchen. We didn’t have standard kitchen stuff like, a sink, stove, or fridge, but Sonny set up a nigga-rigged stovetop on the back porch. The bottom was a metal trash can he filled with wood and coals, topped off with a metal piece from a grocery store basket. He used this as a stove top. Two pots were boiling, one with water. The other had what would become one of my favorite meals: SpaghettiOs, Denti-Moore beef stew and rice all mixed together. After dinner, Sonny did the best he could to make me feel comfortable. My mother and step-father tried to give me as normal of a life as possible despite of the great lack we were living through. There was care and love put into a routine that kept me from the harsh relates that our many hours spent in the local library was for access to a bathroom with running water, lights, and warmth. My mother occupied my child-like fantasies and desires with books. I fell in love with reading and devoured books by the dozens. She would spend hours reading to me and allowing me to read to her. Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit, Where The Wild things Are, and The five Chinese Brothers were a few of my favorites. The library became my safe space, my home away from home. After staying until the last hour, we would head home, read books by candle light until it was time for bed.
The flickering candle lights danced, and I created shadow puppet characters until I fell asleep. The soft glow seemed to lessen the reality that we didn’t have electricity, gas or running water.
Baths were taken in extra-large paint buckets. On the better days when it wasn’t cold outside, the stove topped boiled water stayed hot longer. On the worst days, there was no coal for hot water. Cold water with a little rubbing alcohol for added cleanliness had to do. The second bucket, pushed to the furthest part of the bathroom, was for number 1 and number two. I was happy to be at school and walking distance to KFC during the day for normal bathroom breaks. No matter what, home was home. And for the first time, in a long time, it felt like family. Sweetie got on my nerves, much like a younger sibling. We’d fight all the time. She would always steal my stuff. Chewed up all my shoes, including the new pair of hand-knitted house shoes I got from a neighbor. Chino, was like a protective big brother. He’d walk me to school every day, but Mondays were the most adventurous. We’d have to run through the alley to get away from the dog catchers. Over the next few years, Sonny would provide the best example of a father. Our squatters space, would be the fondest memory of a home.