ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
That year, 1990, both Edler and his sister Pat died near the same time and the Wyche family decided
to have a double funeral. Both were buried side by side in Jerusalem cemetery. Their sister Ruth,
I believe, was responsible for the funeral preparations. I was not invited to participate in
the mourning line. In the funeral notice, they proclaimed Edler died without issue.
Letters of an Abiding Faith
Legacy of a Slave’s GrandDaughter to her Son
written by Ella Lewis to her Son (Rudolph Lewis)
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September 30, 1983
Just a line to give answer to your letter. I was Very glade to hear from you and Know you was doing OK So Far. It getting cold down here. But it Been So hot. It feel good to me.
Well Von Carter has gone back to work.* He So happy. I glade For him. I went to Richmond to the Fair Monday. It was a nice trip. But my Feet got So tired walking. A cup of soda was $1.00, a scoop ice cream 75 cents. I did not play no games. I love the poems you wrote in your letter. I will always keep it.
No I wont Ever leave you. Even in case I go first I still wont leave you For my love will always Be in your heart. But darling lets not talk about it. Just take it one day at a time. I pray For you and my self So the Lord will do the rest. I all ways Be here For you. I just pray that the Lord will keep you and Bless you until you reach your goal.
I trust you can Find a place where is cheaper. Because that a lot of money. So rite and let me Know how you made out. I do hope you can come for Xmas. Did you ever get in touch with Davie. I saw Peter last week. He OK he going to School.
Here is Some more death. Susie May Parham Buried her last Monday.** People is really going away. Talking about Millard Stith he Been Sick a long time. He wouldn’t tell it But any Body know him Could tell it. Have you heard From Lucinda yet. I rite more when I hear From you. Love all ways Mother. I love you.
Doc I diden under stand that you ask me of your life When you was a Baby. Well I try to Explain. Lucinda went to Richmond to work. She stayed with your Uncle Richard and his girl Friend at that time. She got dissatisfied at staying there so I sent her to Baltimore.
She diden tell me she was pregnant. So I found out she was. I and your daddy ask her to give us the baby. She say that Etler Wyche was your father. I don’t know. But I do Know Clarence is not your daddy.*** I do know.
As it was she couldn’t work and pay a Baby Sitter. Altho I dont think she want to give you up. After all she wasn’t getting much money. I know Etler told me he would have married her if she had told him She was pregnant. But she Say she diden want him to know it. So that why I Come in it. I dont regret I did my Best.****
As you Know she diden stay with William Lee 12 months.***** She left him Tine was 9 months old. She was pregnant with Debbie. I had to pay her hospital Bill my self When Debbie was born in Richmond hospital. But now you is a grown man. She know you wish to under stand. I guess she hate to tell you so that about all I know.
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*Clarence Von Carter is Susies middle son.
**Susie May Parham was a neighbor and very elderly when she died. Men in Jarratt die early, so the town was becoming a town of widows. With the state prison moving to Jarratt, this pattern has been curtailed. Many young people have moved up from Carolina for jobs at the prison. A modern apartment building was constructed in Jarratt to accommodate this new influx of residents. This is a great change from the sixties for most people were not then hooked to a water or sewage line. There are also a great number of Hispanics moving into the region which will be the source of future misunderstandings and conflicts. For if people dont know your parents they dont know you. I suspect that in twenty years land values will begin to skyrocket. The swamp land that was once reserved for Negroes will be attractive to a greater number of whites and Hispanics.
*** Clarence C.L. Carter was the husband of Susie Lewis, one of Mamas daughters. In 1956, he died from bullet wounds as a result of a gunfight with local cops in a nearby town, Emporia. He killed one cop, wounded the other. He was my childhood hero. Spiritually, I felt I had more in common with him than I had with Edler. With his dreamy eyes and curvaceous lips, I thought Clarence was beautiful and noble, willing to die in defense of honor and integrity. That was the sort of man I wanted to be related to. At times, I even felt that I loved him more than his own sons. The oldest of his sons, Norman, was eight at his death and so was I.
****Though in my thirties, at the writing of this letter, I was still having doubts about who was my biological father. Edler (“Etler”) Wyche was said to be my father. We got to know each other in the late sixties and early seventies. No one thought I looked like him and his family did not really accept me as a Wyche.
Edler spent most of his adult life in Baltimore working at Sparrows Point. As a result of a skin infection from the asbestos, he was forced into retirement. With his pension, he moved back to Jarratt and lived with his mother Cary Wyche. They found him dead in his truck which was sitting astride the railroad tracks. I visited him several times while he lived with his mother and I went to his funeral, though I felt a bit apprehensive about doing that, for none of the Wyches had contacted me. I had heard about the death through my mother Lucinda. I suppose Ruth, Edlers sister had called Lucinda. Or maybe Mama called me and told me about his death.
Even with such apprehensions, I left Baltimore for Jarratt. That year, 1990, both Edler and his sister Pat died near the same time and the Wyche family decided to have a double funeral. Both were buried side by side in Jerusalem cemetery. Their sister Ruth, I believe, was responsible for the funeral preparations. I was not invited to participate in the mourning line. In the funeral notice, they proclaimed Edler died without issue. That silence, however, may have been done for legal reasons so as to curtail claims on his property.
When my mother Lucinda questioned Ruth, Edlers oldest sister, about the absence of my name in the funeral notice, she told Lucinda that she had forgotten about me. How that was possible I do not have the faintest, for I stayed at her house during the late 1960s and I was at her mothers wake only a few years before. But that is a matter the Wyches have to live with to their shame. Edler, called “Whitey” by his friends, was a good man, as men go who have no spiritual life. I was very fond of him and when I lived with him I found him amusing. But he was too tied to the material and he cared too much what others thought of him. He retired as a country gentleman, drinking and hunting deer.
*****William Lee Carter was Clarences brother and Lucindas first husband. That is, Susie and Lucinda, two of Mama’s five daughters, married two brothers. William Lee was in the car and present at the gunfight in Emporia in which his brother Clarence was killed.. William Lee is the father of Celestine and Deborah, the older two of Lucindas daughters. Both of them were raised in Baltimore, mostly in Cherry Hill but also in Edmondson Village. They both went to and graduated from Edmondson High. Lucindas other two daughters have a different father. Thus Celestine and Deborah are cousins to Norman, Von, and Mack through bother their mother and their father. Their sister Theresa became familiar with her father only after she had married twice and had her own son, Maurice. Her father is a member of the Stith family of Jarratt. Theresa cared little whether the Stiths accepted her or not. In such situations, acceptance of estranged members of families in rural areas are always difficult; for it is more than blood, it is the sharing of a history of sentiments, of a tradition.
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A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys muscles jabbered like chickens. Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake. She conveys something fundamental about Eschs fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 31 December 2011