Write On!

She Looks Pretty in Yellow

In Responses on January 19, 2012 at 7:25 pm

by: Jen Gregory

“Grandmama, why you got this picture in that book?”

“Oh baby, you see the glasses on the edge of the picture? That’s your grandmamma! What’s that man holding there, sugar?”

“A picture.”

“Who is it?”

“Grandaddy?”

“No baby, that’s Obama, Barak Obama. You’ll learn it in school better. He was our President.”

Geraldine patted her little grandbaby’s head. Jazz was a curious four-year old. Her wiry little pigtails stuck out on her head like arrows pointing to her dark chiseled face. Jazz was ebony, Geraldine was latte. Her tiny dark hand lay on her Geraldine’s, chocolate and caramel, the umber tones in Jazz’s hands giving the yellow gold of her own a glow, the way flames in a fire illuminate the things around it.

Jazz lifted her dark black eyes framed by perfect white globes and smiled up at her grandmamma.

“Why you have this here? Who taken your picture?” the tiny girl said with her lilting voice that sounded like laughter tumbling down a hill.

“I don’t guess I know who exactly took it but I keep it ‘cause it reminds grandmamma of places I’ve been to and don’t want to forget.”

“Oooh, like the beach? Jazz said, her tiny little teeth bright white against full lips rimmed with dark brown skin, fading to a pale pink perfection. “Mama said the beach is real loud and lots of pale people trying to get darker.” She put her hand up to her mouth snickering.

“Not the beach baby, grandmamma hasn’t ever been to the beach.”

“Granny you need the beach, you could get a whole lot darker. I hope I don’t get any darker. My friend at school told me I’m black and I told her I’m chocolate. She said I was dark chocolate! I don’t wanna turn black,” she said shaking her head, little pigtails flopping softly to and fro.

“Honey, you gonna get as dark as God intended because he thought it might be real pretty. God’s a real good artist and you don’t need to be friends with nobody that don’t like His work, baby doll.”

Geraldine lifted her knee enough to get Jazz to her feet so that she could shift in her seat and show her the rest of the book. They looked at the pages one by one, Jazz leaning her pointy little elbow against Geraldine’s thigh, poking through her flesh, causing no little bit of discomfort. They didn’t move though because Geraldine knew she had Jazz’s attention and that was her favorite part of being a grandma, grandchildren listen to you the way your children wouldn’t. They looked at pictures of Obama before he was President and after and during. Geraldine had followed him faithfully the whole way through.

“You see this one baby. You can’t see me but I’m way back in that crowd somewhere near there.”

“Why everybody is wearing hats?” Jazz asked her.

“Why is everybody wearing hats.” Geraldine corrected.

“Yeah, why is they, Grandmamma?”

Geraldine chuckled and patted Jazz’s bony little back.

“They is wearing hats because it was freezing cold.” She said putting her finger on top of Jazz’s nose and smiling. “That day when I got home I had to take two warm baths in the hottest water I could stand just to get the feeling back in my fingers!”

“Why you stand out there so long?”

“Because it was Obama’s Innaguration.”

“What’s a nagurachin?” she said her little eyebrows squished together.

“It’s when they make somebody the President of the United States and that day they made Barak Obama president. You know why that was special, baby?”

“He was nice?”

“Nah Jazz, because he was black.”

“Nuh-uh. He ain’t black granny!” she said, her finger on the top right page covering Obama’s left eye fully. “He, he barely caramel.”

Geraldine stifled her laughter, her rotund chest shaking up and down, her mouth fighting to stay prim and serious. “He was African-American, the first African-American to be President. He was the first man that wasn’t real pale to be President.”

“Are we ‘African-Merican’ grandmamma?”

“We are, sugar. You and me, we are African-American, but I like to say chocolate and caramel.” Geraldine said picking her up and putting her on her knee. Jazz weighed all of twenty-five pounds, her bones made of feathers, her grandmamma thought.

She leaned back in her chair, it’s puffy yellow leather sucking them both in. Geraldine looked out the window over her couch, out onto the residential street of perfectly coifed lawns. The storm had slowed down, she guessed it was safe to get Jazz in the tub so she could go to bed.

“Come on baby girl, let’s go get cleaned up.”

“I want the baby doll and the gator granny!”

“We’ll be getting them both Jazzy. How high you want your bubbles?”

“This high!” She said her hands over her head.

Geraldine ran the bath, stripped her granddaughter down to her birthday suit and plopped her in the large shiny cream tub. She watched Jazz grab the little doll and the gator. She had the gator’s mouth on the doll’s leg, turning them into mortal enemies. As the water gurgled into the tub the bubbles got ever higher until they were up to Jazz’s chin. Geraldine turned off the water leaving an echoing silence in the tiled room, every drip and splash highlighted by the effervescent calm of the still water.

She watched Jazmine’s bony little knees twist, making dark shadows under the pure white bubbles, the water giving her mahogany shoulders a silken luster. The bubbles clinging to the back of Jazz’s head and puffing up around her small chest.

“Grandmamma?”

“Yeah baby?””

These bubbles are white, right?”

“Uh-huh, yes they are white.”

“Look at me. I got a white beard like Grandaddy!” she giggled, covering her face in sloppy white bubbles.

“You sure do, pumpkin. You sure do!” Geraldine cackled at the thought of her Ed’s whiskered face all pearly white now.

“Granny, Lilly say she’s white and I’m black. I told her there was no such thing, just like you told me.”

“Well baby, that’s especially what your Grandmamma believes. Colors are different, they mix and make new colors but they always different, always using the color next to them to make themselves look better.”

Geraldine looked at Jazz’s tiny frame, her large black eyes fixed on her face.

“That’s why I teach you about flavors. Like I’m caramel and you are chocolate.”

“And Mama’s cinnamon!”

“Yeah baby, Mama’s cinnamon.” She smiled.

“Flavors are fine by themselves and they are real good together to. God sees all of us and thinks we are each real pretty. Just some folks don’t see it, baby, they don’t understand. Poor Lilly is too busy worrying about her color when she needs to be worrying about her flavor!” Jazz’s granmamma said with emphasis.

“She ain’t white granny. She pink and she real pale. Her hair real soft and pretty,” Jazz sighed, huffing bubbles from her chin.

Geraldine grabbed a thick yellow towel and held it out for her granddaughter to step into. She folded the terrycloth all around her, swaddling her up so that all that poked out was her nose and eyes.

“She probably is a real pretty girl but I doubt she looks this pretty in yellow. You, my baby girl, wear yellow like a queen. It makes your skin light up like there is fire underneath it. Lilly’s skin can’t do that baby.”

“Lilly says her favorite color is purple. I told her it would go good with her skin, she got little purple things under her skin. She so pale you can see her blood!”

“Is that so? I bet she looks real pretty in purple but not as pretty as you do in yellow, my little Nefertiti.”

“Grandmamma, why you call me a titti?”

“Oh dear,” Geraldine sighed. “I guess you haven’t brushed up on your Egyptian history yet,” she said lifting Jazz into her arms.

“Mama don’t let me brush hair, she say I’ll mess it up.”

“Well you do what Mama tells you… Nefertiti,” she said turning on the bedroom lamp with her free hand, “was a real pretty queen in Egypt.”

Geraldine sat her on the king sized bed and dug in the little suitcase next to them for some pajamas. She grabbed the soft yellow gown she had bought for Jazz just last week, rubbed the towel on her one time then pulled her arms loose and slid the gown over her head, dark black sprouts of hair popping out from the neck before her face appeared with a giant smile, her small pearly teeth and pink little tongue just shining from inside her mouth.

Jazz layed back as her grandmother finished dressing her, her eyes getting heavy. The large bed had a special little pink pillow just for Jazzmine and she climbed over to it ready for her song.

“Grandmamma?”

“Yes, sugar?”

“You think I’m as pretty as Lilly?”

“Sweetie, I know you are, you are the prettiest little girl I’ve ever laid my eyes on. God did real good making you.”

She lifted her tiny feet up to pull the covers back and tuck her little granddaughter in. Before she finished the end verse of Hush Little Baby, Jazz was softly breathing, a gentle little smile on her face, her little sprouts of hair all spread out over the pink pillow.

Geraldine sat up, grimacing as her back adjusted to a standing position and went to her chair were the book still lay over its arm. She looked at the photo, just the edges of her rimmed glasses poking out along the side. It was her, it was twenty years ago. She had dreamt of a night like tonight then, tucking a grandbaby into bed, not having to worry about the color of her skin. Obama had been hope, a brilliant plume of “look what’s possible” hovering over all of their heads, proof it could happen, one day. She had nearly frozen that day, her and Ed. They had celebrated every historic moment they could and sacrificed their own comfort to do so, their hearts tinder for a fire that had threatened to burn out.

She shut the book and picked up her Bible reading a verse here and there before she said her prayers. She lifted her chin, facing the sky, closed her eyes and prayed.

Lord, I love that baby girl. Thank you for her and for making yellows. I hope one day her fingers get numb because hope is coming to life right before her. I hope as numb as her nose or her toes get, her insides stay warm. Lord, guard her heart, her mind, clothe that little girl’s insides in the prettiest stuff you got. Don’t let anybody that doesn’t love her give her something to wear. They’d pick the wrong color. I hope her dreams are a pretty golden yellow. She looks real pretty in your yellows, God.

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  1. Love it! I nearly cried with the sentiment of it all, and you know I’m not a crier. 🙂 Beautiful descriptions. And you did a wonderful job weaving together the relationship between these generations.

  2. I love this one! So real-feeling.

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