Updated: Jan 11
From Chapter Eighteen: Taking the Rap
Doc (Una’s mother) thought Una was satisfied now that the Zipley family and friends were all working hard on the duplex and trying to make a difference in the community, but she began tormenting Doc almost every day about the issue of slavery. She’d read Alex Haley’s Roots and she wanted to know if her family or her dad’s had ever owned other human beings. She looked stricken, as deeply troubled as Doc had ever seen her, and she even accused her mother of being complicit in a cover up due to her refusal to talk about it.
“That’s harsh,” Doc told her.
“Then why don’t you ever want to discuss it, Mom?” Una asked.
Doc told her it wasn’t a subject that she had any desire to dwell on.
“But you have to!” Una insisted, looking almost panicked. “Because if you don’t, the truth of who I am can’t come out!”
“That’s not who you are!” Doc screamed. “I know I shouldn’t have screamed. I try never to raise my voice to you, but slavery has nothing to do with who you are; you’re a sweet, caring young girl who had nothing to do with what happened over 134 years ago!”
Doc asked why Una was so angry. Bitsy was having her Lucky Charms breakfast and must have sensed the tension in the air because she began to cry as if someone were sticking sharpened pencils in her arm.
“It’s okay,” Una said, rubbing Bitsy’s little back gently with the palms of her hands
while still addressing Doc. “It’s an unfair question, Mom, if you don’t already know,” she said.
“I guess the answer will be unfair to someone, so might as well be me,” Doc replied.
Then Doc said that they really needed to move on from bad recollections of those times.
“But you never answered my question!”
“Okay, my great-great grandfather did own slaves and so did your dad’s
ancestors, but again, that was a long time ago,” Doc said.
“Not that long ago, when some cultures are ancient. The U. S. is still a baby nation compared to other countries and cultures.”
“I am sure that if you’d lived then, Una, you wouldn’t have owned slaves!”
"How can you be so sure?” Una asked. “I might not have known how to free
myself from the cultural norms of those times, so it would have been nearly impossible
to have broken away from a societal disease as terrible as slavery. But I might have
tried to teach slaves how to read.”
Doc reminded Una that the KKK became active just after the Civil War. If she had lived then and tried to be a social reformer, she could have been hung or shot right along with former slaves who were accused of getting uppity.
“Couldn’t I die trying to be an activist for racial justice today, Mom?” Una asked. “Aren’t white supremacist groups still around? What about the Freedom Riders in Mississippi who got killed by the clan in 1964? And there have been so many murders of unarmed black people by hate mongering whites.”
“You’re right, Una. I agree.”
“And what about King and Malcolm X, and all the others who’ve died senselessly?”
“I know; the list is too long to recount.”
“Yeah, Mom. The list stretches out like a cross country highway. It all started with people thinking they could own each other, but where does the injustice ever end?”
“Una, I’m sorry. I wish I could talk about this with you now, but my head is pounding. I didn’t sleep well.”
Doc walked into the downstairs bathroom to splash cold water on her face. Dark circles formed splotchy ink wells under her eyes that resembled punch bruises.
“But this oppression is part of who I am and you can’t remove it from me like you’d take out a tumor!” Una yelled. “My family was on the wrong side of history!”
Doc told her that was enough and the conversation was over.
“You can’t take a scalpel and cut out the horror that my ancestors caused. It’s in my blood!” Doc didn’t respond but at that moment she I wished Una could just have been a normal teenager, obsessed with boys and incessantly talking on her phone like most kids her age.
“What are you thinking, Mom?” Una pressed.
“I admit, sometimes I just wish you were a normal teenage girl.”
“You mean a normal white teenage girl.”
“Well, I see your point. I don’t mean to be crass, but life goes on,” Doc said. “I’m very sorry about the terrible tragedy of slavery and the cruelty of racial injustice, but life goes on.”
Una said nothing more, but walked away with a look both of disgust and contempt. Doc couldn’t sleep again that night. But in spite of the unwanted drama, Una had planted a seed in her heart and mind. Doc knew that she had to change her way of thinking about some things, even if it felt like she had just swallowed a hot pepper whole. She had to come to grips, somehow, with Una’s pain. Her own father had once told her that pain was a holy thing because God honored it as a way of dealing with the tragedies that mankind often brings upon itself; the pain that people bring on themselves.
Doc picked up the phone and called Dr. Anna. Sylvia happened to be there too eating a cup of Dr. Anna’s Melktert/milk custard tart, so the ladies engaged in a three-way conversation about racism, trauma and rearing teens.
“Sweeping trauma under the rug is the opposite of healing,” Dr. Anna said. “You can start by allowing for honesty, no matter how difficult that may be for you.”
“And remember that you’re Una’s world, Doc,” Sylvia said. “She loves you a lot.”
“She’s not asking you to change the past either,” Dr. Anna said. “Just to acknowledge it properly.”
“To share in the mourning process.”
“And stop asking her to be normal. Embrace who she is.”
“Remember that few normal people ever changed the world.”
Chapter Nineteen: Searching for Ancestral Wisdom
Polithia had heard about Doc’s discussion with Una concerning slavery and it worried her. She saw it coming. She told Una she couldn’t comment on it because her mom was both a good friend and her boss.
“But you’re one of my best friends too,” Una said. “It’s like having been closely related to a Nazi supporter in Germany during the Holocaust. You have to reach back and touch the monster that’s in your blood before the wound can heal.”
“Chile, you’re asking too much.”
“I know,” Una said, “but please help me understand.”
That night Polithia had weird, wild dreams of boo-daddies, hexes and haints, roots, powders, and mysterious potions. Black magic. Voodoo. Witches so strange that she couldn’t tell if they were demonic sinners or supernatural saints. She had not had such visions in over fifteen years. She flew back to the Lowcountry in her dreams where she saw dimly lit Palmetto trees and Spanish moss. She heard the cicadas and the katydids clicking and buzzing. Gray waves surged onto the beaches. Cotton and indigo grew in the fields.
South Carolina was where Polithia was born; where her parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and other ancestors were born...
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