Author: Gary Moore
Gary E. Moore identifies as a Poet, an Author and a Dad. Following up on his debut poetry collection from creativeonion press, Songs For The Cleveland Avenue Warriors, he released Songs For The Cleveland Avenue Warriors: reality and fame, as well as a short story collection, The Wayward Home For Retired Superheroes And More Astonishing Tales From The Hood. As the creator of Poetry With A Purpose, a workshop for junior high and high school students, Moore remains close to his beginnings as a career educator.
Grandma Pearl had a baby.
Nobody could figure it out.
Everyone knew that she had herself a beau, Dennis Earl, who used to come around to sit with her on the back porch, but he said it wasn't none of his.
Swore up and down that all they ever did was sit and look out across the Bottoms, where the trees still grew thick.
Uncle Remy wanted her to sell, exactly because of those trees.
The Meaher Paper Co. would probably be coming for them real soon. The County's biggest property owners, they'd already cleared out all the others.
Grandma Pearl said that if they did, though, she wasn't going nowhere.
Uncle Remy told her to stop foolin around.
“That's enough now, Mama. And now you pregnant? You need to cut this nonsense out.”
She just laughed at him and said that it was gonna come out, one way or another.
“What will the Pastor think?”Aunt Theresa said, scolding her mother.
“You too old for this. It's just a disgrace.”
The truth, though, was that nobody knew how old Grandma Pearl really was. She would never tell anyone.
“I'm old enough to know to keep that to myself,” she said, and refused to celebrate her birthdays.
The Church ladies remembered her from their heyday. They speculated that she had to be in her upper 80's.
“Pearl is old as me,” Sister Jelks, the President of the Mother's Board, said during one of their monthly meetings.
“She always been a wild, fast little thang.”
Grandma Pearl never cared what others would think. She just went about her business as her belly kept right on growing.
Thing is, as she got along further and further, Grandma Pearl started to look younger and younger.
“Mama, I done told you to cut this nonsense out. Now you runnin round lookin like some young kid? Well, I'm not having it!”
Grandma Pearl just laughed and said to him, “No, you're not, son. I am.”
That made Uncle Remy mad and he stormed out of the house and said he no longer wanted to talk about it.
Everybody knew, when he left, though, that it wasn't true. Not really.
Uncle Remy was expected back for Sunday dinner.
Aunt Theresa said that she felt ashamed and wished her mother would stop de-aging.
“Mama, it's like you're going backwards. Just think of what the neighbors will say.”
“Girl, I ain't think of it before. Why start now and ruin a good thing?”
Grandma Pearl's hair turned lustrous and black, all the grey had gone away, and her brown cheeks grew taut and glowed with a Cherubic light and youthful energy.
About midway through the pregnancy, Rev. Donald Donne stopped by her house to pray.
Grandma Pearl gave him a cup of coffee and explained, before she sent him on his way, why she wouldn't be needing his services after that day.
“You know, Reverend, I think I've got this figured out, so, you go 'head on. I'll let you know if we need you. But don't come by here no more. If I need you, I'll come see you.”
Rev. Donne got up to leave in a huff.
Grandma Pearl just laughed as she gave him his hat and coat.
“And don't expect me down to the church on Sundays no more. I'll do all my prayin while I'm sittin on the back porch.”
And that's just what she did. She sat on the back porch, staring off into that thicket of trees, humming and smiling and drinking her herbal tea.
And when we all would gather round, she would tell us wondrous tales of a place called Africa Town.
And the last slave ship, called the Clotilda, and how it was secretly burned down.
“Mama,” Uncle Remy said, perplexed. “What you doin? Where you get all this African mess? I'm confused--”
“No. You were just never listening,” Grandma Pearl said, as she sat knitting a blanket for the baby.
“The last Africans disappeared off into those trees. We came here on the last slave ship, but once we stepped off, we were always free,” she explained.
“Mama, them's the Meaher's Woods. Everybody know that. And you just watch, they gon come kick you out of your house if you keep talkin 'bout it.”
Grandma Pearl didn't care. She said she wasn't worried. Not one bit.
Meanwhile, the rounder her belly grew, the younger she got.
“I just don't think it's right, Mama,” Theresa pleaded.
“Pretty soon, you'll be as young as me.”
Grandma Pearl just smiled and said, “Don't you worry baby. It'll be alright. You'll see.”
And when it was time, Grandma Pearl refused to go to the hospital, choosing to wait on the midwife, and then, looking like a young woman of about 35, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl in the family den.
The baby's cries, announcing her arrival to the world, echoed throughout the house and down through the Bottoms.
And deep down there, back up in those dark woods, something stirred, awakened once again. This time for good.
Grandma Pearl and the baby were both doing well. The baby, though, didn't have a name.
“When it's time,” Grandma Pearl said. “We'll name her together.”
Everyone thought that they'd get to weigh in, then, on what the miracle baby should be called.
Grandma Pearl just smiled and winked at me.
I knew that's not what she meant.
Meanwhile, strangest thing, they all soon became so used to things, Grandma Pearl and the new baby, they soon forgot that she was no longer an old lady.
The news crews had come, at first. Soon after she had given birth. And there was even a pretty big deal made on the morning shows and on the front pages around the Nation.
But it didn't last as long as one would assume and Grandma Pearl soon enough, this young old lady who'd just had a baby, became old news.
She was just fine with that. Had simply smiled and laughed through most of it.
Still, she refused to disclose who the baby's father was.
“You don't ask me about none of my business and I won't tell nobody about yours,” she said, and went right back and sat on the back porch, rocking the baby to sleep, staring off into the woods, humming softly.
And when I sat with her, Grandma Pearl shushed the baby and said, “Listen.”
And the wind blew through the trees and rustled the leaves and underneath it all the drums thrummed and called. It was hypnotic.
Aunt Theresa thought it wasn't very Christian and was so deeply ashamed.
Still, she stopped going to church when Sister Jelks, the Mother's Board President, was overheard making a comment.
“Pearl been blasphemin for as long as I can remember with that African mess. She gon' have herself a little demon baby, I'm willing to bet!”
If Theresa hadn't known any better, she'd of thought that Sister Jelks had wanted her to hear what she said.
Poor thing. She didn't really do confrontation.
She chose instead to stay home, God bless her soul, and pray furiously while clutching the bible for long stretches throughout the day.
Grandma Pearl just smiled and said, “Theresa, you keep that mess away from me.”
Aunt Theresa was so distressed, she took to staying in her room, left me to cook and clean.
Grandma Pearl called me her 'Little Blessing'.
I ain't never met my Daddy, Grandma Pearl's youngest son. He got himself killed over at the paper mill before I was born, and my Mama wouldn't never no good, according to Uncle Remy.
Grandma Pearl and Aunt Theresa raised me and, now, just as I was bout ready to go 'head on and leave, Grandma Pearl don' up and had a baby.
Not even mentioning, of course, that she had also, somehow, turned back the clock on her aging.
Far as I could figure, then, I thought it best to stick around. If for no other reason than to keep an eye on Uncle Remy and to see how all this would play out.
Uncle Remy had made things worse during a Sunday dinner when he laid down the offer sheet from Rupert, Stern and Draper, the law firm representing the Meaher family since way back when they first owned slaves.
“Look here. We got to think like businessmen. These white folk offerin us good money to leave. And what's a piece o' property anyway?
“We can always buy some more land someplace else.”
Aunt Theresa just rocked back and forth and wrung her hands.
Grandma Pearl, with her young looking, old self, rocked the baby, nursed her close to her breast, and said to Uncle Remy, “We ain't goin nowhere, son. Cain't you see? We got an obligation. We the last ones.”
Uncle Remy just snorted and, storming out of the house, said, “That don't make no sense! All that money them white folks tryin to give me and you want to throw it away cause of some legacy?”
“When it's all said and done, though, baby,” Grandma Pearl said, never getting up from her rocking chair.
“That's all we got left, and we got to keep it here, in our hearts, hold it dear, and make sure that our history lives.”
Grandma Pearl wasn't talking to Uncle Remy. She was looking at me.
I felt the weight of all that family history. As if she were transferring something really heavy to my shoulders.
It was hard to explain the next morning when Grandma Pearl and the baby were gone, but I wasn't surprised.
I could hear the drums, too. Steady. Rhythmic. They beckoned with their message.
Grandma Pearl once told me when I was just a little girl that there were ghosts living out there, amongst the trees.
“Don't be afraid of em, though. They are your Ancestors. They still live out there. In Africa Town. They'll protect us. Watch over us. If we just believe.”
And I do. I believe.
I come out now and sit and look out across the Bottoms just like Grandma Pearl once did and I listen for the drums.
Of course, Uncle Remy tried to sell the property as soon as he could, but he was just as perplexed as he was angry to discover that all of the deeds had been signed over to me.
But I knew it. It was me and Grandma Pearl's last secret.