A Play in One Act
Lucy, a middle-aged, black woman, elegant, with a southern accent; noticeable scar on face
Sally, an older, matronly, black woman
Lucy, at nine or ten years old
Emma, young, white girl; pampered and elegant-looking
Mr. Puckett , gruff-sounding man, heard only from offstage
Begins on darkened stage. Spotlight follows Lucy as she remembers her early childhood.
Lucy: I never knew I was poor. For that matter, I never knew I was ugly or dumb, either. Those kinds of labels don’t just pop up naturally. They require some type of outside influence—a kind I didn’t have as a child.
It was just Momma and me, as far back as I can recall. Momma said that I used to have a daddy—and a big sister, too—but they ran off too long ago to matter anymore. I guess I was happy, or at least mostly so.
We spent most of the daylight hours sewing. Momma would lay out the patterns and help me get started. Then she would settle in beside me and we would work like that for hours, at a table that really wasn’t a table at all, but an old door up on sawhorses.
Once a week or so, if she wasn’t too short of breath, she would walk off down the road. Later that day, she’d be back. She would have some flour, a little sugar, maybe a piece or two of candy, and more patterns. She never talked much about where she went; maybe she figured I wasn’t really interested. I don’t know. I only know that she never took me with her, and that—one day—she didn’t come back.
At first, when it started getting dark, when the hoot owls started coming to life and the lightening bugs danced across the field, I wasn’t too concerned. Momma was, after all, a big woman who had to sit down a lot to ‘take a load off.’ I figured that’s what she was doing, and I imagined that pretty soon I’d hear her old sandals shuffling up the front step. So, I’ll admit, I took advantage of that little bit of freedom and ran out back in the dark (something Momma would simply never have allowed). I wore my shoes on the porch because it was so easy to get splinters from the rough, wooden planks there; but I took them off as soon as I got to the grass.
I ran straight to the foot of an old oak tree where night-blooming jasmines were coming to life, their white blossoms peeled back to shoot a gloriously sweet cloud into the purple night sky. I remember feeling wickedly rebellious; with her bad eyes, Momma couldn’t see that far in the dark, so she forbade me to come out (though more than once, I did sneak out after I heard her start to snore!). Anyway, the moon was full that night, and the cloudless sky held a billion lights, so I could see around the front of the house to where the foot path twisted out of sight. Smelling jasmines and chasing fireflies was fun, but before long, I started missing Momma.
I started getting hungry, too. The days when she went away were always the days with the best meals. I had been looking forward to some of Momma’s split-pea soup and corn pone. Not only that, I was more than a little bit lonely. Momma was the only one around to talk to. Plus, she made me laugh. She would make these funny whistling noises when she was sewing, keeping time to some unknown tune in her head: too da l oo da loo da loo…Usually she didn’t even notice, but I did. Sometimes, I’d jump up and dance around, humming along with her. As long as we weren’t behind schedule, Momma would look up and smile—without a tooth in her mouth. Oh yes, I was ready for her to come home. But she didn’t. Not that night. Or the next. Or the next.
I spent most of that time sitting on the front step. I didn’t know what else to do. I had never been away from the house—at least not that I could remember. Momma would never let me start a cooking fire (and I still wasn’t that rebellious!), so I ate leftover cold stew and vegetables straight from our little garden. At night, I talked to her and told her what I had done that day, how I had done all my chores, and how much I missed her. I’d fall asleep begging her to come home. But she never did.
On the fifth day after she had walked down that footpath, I made the decision to walk down it myself. A brown thrasher cried out from a nearby thicket and a pair of rubythroated hummingbirds darted across the meandering footpath as I left. It was a beautiful day; the sunlight cascading through the canopy of branches and leaves, and I would jump from one puddle of light to the next. Pretty soon, though, the trees grew thicker, the path narrowed, and I lost sight of home.
I got scared. I began to hear noises I hadn’t noticed before—little rumbles and creakings in the bushes. Low hanging branches slapped my face and pulled my hair. One particularly nasty switch whipped hard against my shoulder, tearing my dress and raising a stinging welt on my skin. I began walking more quickly—running, really. Suddenly, I became aware of a voice nearby. It was my own. Momma. Momma. Momma.
With my fear nearly driving me to my knees, I finally saw an opening ahead. I hurried on and oh! What a relief to see that the woods ended and a peaceful, sun-dappled field stretched out before me. My pace (and my breathing) slowed back to normal. The path ended at yet another, much wider path going left and right. Which way to go?
As I stood there, perplexed, a terribly loud noise burst through my thoughts. Before I could even try to identify the noise, a big, black box flew past! I didn’t know what it was; I had never seen a car or even ever heard of such a thing. However, while I didn’t recognize the vehicle, I knew that I saw a woman inside. It wasn’t Momma (this woman had hair the color of wheat and the whitest skin!), but seeing her settled my decision. I would follow the woman in the big, black box.
Gradually, backdrop is lighted: SHELL service station, circa 1930. Open bay beside front door.
After just a little way, the road gently curved to the left and then I began to see signs of life. An ugly, old building with a big board that read: SHELL was the first thing I came to. As I got close, my senses were overwhelmed: smells of oil and sweat and burnt rubber; whining air-powered wrenches and barking dogs; and a dirty, greasy man in denim coveralls and a soiled baseball cap, Apart from the barking dog (Momma had once brought home a stray—or, rather, she couldn’t get it to stop following her), all of these things were utterly foreign and new to me. Even the man.
I remember hearing Momma talking to a man from the city once, but she made me be quiet and get behind the kitchen door. I don’t even know what they were talking about, but after he left, Momma just held me and rocked me like she used to when I was a baby.
I guess I got lost in my thoughts for awhile, because suddenly I was aware of the man standing right in front of me.
Mr. Puckett: (offstage) “I said, what the sam hill you want?”
I told him that I was looking for my Momma.
Mr. Puckett:(offstage) “D’ya see anyone else here?”
I shook my head again. He narrowed his eyes and stared at me for a moment.
Mr. Puckett: (offstage) “You sure ain’t the prettiest thing I ever seen.”
I didn’t know what he meant and I had no idea whatsoever how to respond.
Mr. Puckett: (offstage) “I guess I could do my civic duty and all and see about helpin’ you find your Ma.”
Could it be? This scruffy-looking creature was going to help me? I nodded eagerly.
Mr. Puckett: (offstage) “Come on back to the back.”
He turned and walked away. I hurried after him through a door to an office with a cluttered metal desk and a small couch. Suddenly, he spun around and grabbed me!
His hands squeezed my bottom—hard—as he pulled me up against him. His tongue pushed at my mouth, his breath was just like the smell from the chicken coop. I wanted to slap him, to push him away, but my hands and arms were pinned to my side. I wanted to scream, but I dared not open my mouth.
(Bell sounds: Ding ding.)
At first, the bell didn’t register. Even when it did, I didn’t understand what it meant. But he did.
Mr. Puckett: (offstage) “Dang it all … stay here!”
He left the room, closing the door behind him. I went up to the door and tried the knob. It was open. I pulled it and ran out—right into a startled, older man and a girl not much older than me. The greasy man glared at me and told me to wait inside. Tears sprung up and poured down my face. I fell to the dirty concrete apron and started crying out. Momma. Momma . . .
(Fade to black. Lucy continues to speak)
I don’t remember much after that. I awoke to find myself in a bed much softer than mine, in a room much prettier and nicer than mine. At first, I was confused.
“Momma?” Then again, a little more loudly, “Momma?!”
The door opened and a lady dressed all in white walked in.
Girl’s bedroom, all decorated in white, with soft, frilly bedcovers. Young Lucy is lying in bed. Sally enters through door.
Sally: When I opened the door and that poor little thing called me ‘Momma’, it darn near broke my heart. She was so young! So frightened, so confused.
Mr. Baldwin had instructed me to care for her—but wouldn’t I have done that without being told? He said that she fell smack down on the nasty pavement outside Puckett’s service station. How she ended up there—or where she had come from—no one seemed to know. But she sure didn’t want to stay with Mr. Puckett! And I can’t say that I blamed her. He’s the worst of his kind. Why, I’ve heard stories about him that would make a sailor blush. Rumor has it his wife took his kids and up and left him years ago. Good riddance, I’d say.
To think that he had put such a scare in this little girl. I didn’t know what had happened, but I had a few ideas. All I knew was that I had to figure out some way to let her know that she was safe. Mr. Baldwin doesn’t take truck with anybody taking advantage of old folks or babies. Now, you can do a deal that runs a businessman out of house and home, and Mr. Baldwin will applaud your audacity. Just don’t do the slightest thing to one of God’s special charges—because they are Mr. Baldwin’s charges, too. God may make you pay in the hereafter; Mr. Baldwin would hold you to account in the here and now.
(Sally makes her way across the room to the bed. She wipes Young Lucy ’s face with a washcloth and pulls a brush through her thick, tangled hair as they talk)
Sally : “What’s your name, baby; where you from?”
Young Lucy: “ I’mLucy and I’m looking for my Momma! I don’t know what happened to her! I need to find her! She didn’t come home and I’m scared! I . . .”
(Young Lucy begins to cry. Sally draws her to her chest and holds her)
Sally: “Shhh … Hush now, child. I’m not gonna let anything happen to you. I’m Mrs. Smith, but my man Alfie passed some time ago, so you can just call me Sally—everyone does. You’re safe now. And you can trust Mr. Baldwin will help you, too. You can count on that.”
Young Lucy: “Mr. Who?”
Sally: “Why, Mr. Baldwin. He’s the one who brought you here and away from that mean ol’ Mr. Puckett.”
Young Lucy: “Was that the smelly man who looked at me funny?”
Sally: “Don’t you go worrying yourself about him any longer. You’re safe now, you hear? You don’t have to fear him or anyone else. Now, let’s get you some clean clothes, and something warm in your tummy. How’s that sound?”
(Sally gives her a smile and another hug, and walks away from the scene, toward audience. She resumes narration)
The look on her face was cautious, but hopeful. I determined then and there that I would make this little girl my number one priority. Mr. Baldwin would just have to get used to the idea that I had something other than him and his dirty laundry with which to concern myself.
I found a clean dress in Emma’s closet. The bright, sunny red and white pattern would look nice against Lucy’s dark complexion. I filled the tub with warm water and a dash of bath oil, and left her to soak for a while as I went to talk to Emma.
Bathroom with clawed-foot tub, dressing screen, and vanity table. Lucy stands to the left of the scene, ignored by other characters. Young Lucy is in tub.
Lucy: The water felt so good. It smelled like lilacs. I had never even seen a tub this huge! I could stretch all the way out, and it had these big claws on the legs. At home, we just used an old number 5 washtub, which had always seemed to be big enough, if you kinda squashed your knees up. Of course, Momma didn’t have a chance of fitting in it (I’m not so sure that she could fit in this one, either!). She used to close the door so I couldn’t see, but I peeked through the keyhole once and saw her standing there over the tub with a washcloth. She was a big woman, but I remember thinking that she looked so pretty in the fading light as she rinsed off the day and prepared for bed.
At times like those, I used to wonder about my Daddy. What did he think about Momma? Did he ever even love her? Did he miss her? When he left, was he planning on coming back someday? What did he think about me? What about my sister—did she miss me? Whenever I asked Momma, she just shushed me and started talking about the corn coming up heavy this year or the tricky stitching she had been wanting to show me. But I saw that look in her eyes. It was the same look she got whenever she would rock me and sing her little songs. Momma had a secret place that I never got to see. I guess we all do, though.
Sitting in the tub, the water starting to cool, I couldn’t help but worry. I was so thankful for Sally. She seemed so nice and kind. But she wasn’t Momma. And I figured I’d be full of worry until I found her.
(Emma enters through the door.)
Emma: “Why are you in my tub?”
Lucy: I turned in shock at the voice, and saw the girl who had been at the station. She was looking at me oddly, and not a little bit angrily.
Young Lucy: “I – I’m sorry, but Sally, uh, Mrs. Smith, brought me here. I can get out. . .”
Lucy: I started to rise, and then realized that, of course, I was naked. I slunk back into the water, hoping that she would leave or at least turn around. But she simply stared.
Emma:“What happened to your face?”
Young Lucy: “What do you mean?”
Emma: “It just looks, well, funny.”
Lucy: Just as with Mr. Puckett’s comments, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t even know what she meant. Momma never said anything like that. Neither had Sally, for that matter.
Emma: “Oh, well. Get out of my tub, please.”
Lucy: And with that, she walked out of the bathroom.
(Emma exits through door.)
Lucy: I hurried out and quickly dried off. I was nervous about putting on the dress—it obviously belonged to the girl who didn’t seem to want me here. But Sally had taken my clothes, so I had no choice. The dress fit pretty well, and I went to a mirror in the corner. I didn’t really look at the dress, however. I looked at my face.
I saw what I always saw. I guess I was just used to my face. I tried to imagine what the problem might be. Obviously, I didn’t have skin the color of porcelain as the girl did. I was much closer to Sally’s color, though a bit darker still. The skin on one cheek was lighter and mottled a bit, but I didn’t think it looked ‘funny’. My hair was freshly brushed and pulled into a tight pony tail. The closer I examined my reflection, maybe my face was a little, well, off balance. My eyes didn’t quite line up evenly, and my nose had the tiniest tilt to the left. And it was rather large for my face. One ear seemed to droop a bit below the other, giving the overall effect that I was leaning when I wasn’t. Maybe there was something “funny” about my face.
(Sally enters the room.)
Sally: “Why, don’t you look nice!”
Lucy: Sally had entered the room. I could see her in the mirror’s reflection as she stood behind me. Her smile lit up her face and wiped away my moment of doubt. She began busying herself with the buttons along the back of the dress.
Sally: “I couldn’t find Emma. I wanted you two to meet.”
Young Lucy: “Is Emma the girl about my age?”
Sally: “Yes, she is. You saw her at Puckett’s Shell, right?”
Young Lucy: “Yes, but I saw her here, too. She just came in while I was taking my bath. She wasn’t too happy that I was here.”
Sally: “Oh, dear. I’m sorry. Ms. Emma can be a bit temperamental. She’s the little princess hereabouts, and she’s not used to surprises. But she’s a good girl at heart, and sometimes surprises are good for a body, you know what I mean?”
Young Lucy: “Does my face look funny?”
Lucy: In the brief pause that followed, I searched Sally’s face for a sign. All I saw was a smile that reached all the way to her eyes. Oh, she reminded me of Momma!
Sally: “Baby, you are beautiful. God don’t make mistakes, you hear? All He makes is masterpieces, and that’s what you are. Don’t you ever doubt that, okay?”
Lucy: We spent the next few minutes talking about my home and Momma. We talked about the kinds of food we used to eat and why we both loved fireflies.
Young Lucy: “ Sally, do you think we can find my Momma?”
Sally : “We’re sure enough gonna try, sweetie. We’re sure enough gonna try.”
Lucy: This time, I did see a sign in her eyes. A look of doubt, maybe, or fear. I didn’t want to ask anything more. I didn’t want to hear what she might say. I just climbed up in her lap and wrapped my arms around her. I felt her calloused hand caress my neck and I heard her whisper in my ear.
Sally: “It’s okay to cry, darlin’, don’t worry. You go right ahead. I’m here for you. Sally’s not gonna let anything happen to you.”
Lucy: I wasn’t sure what else to do, so I just took her advice.
Simple, wooden, table in kitchen. Ironing board to the side. Sally enters stage, wanders around a bit, finally settles heavily into a chair.
Sally : As I sat there holding that precious little girl, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was doing. I felt in my soul that I was supposed to take care of Lucy—that I was sent by God for that very purpose (if that’s not being too presumptuous). You see, Lucy was special. Oh, I don’t mean that she was just a special child—she was that, to be sure. But she was more.
When Mr. Baldwin brought Lucy home, she was barely conscious. Doe Perkins said that she was overcome with fear and stress; she kept babblin’ about her Momma and about being lost and about some dirty ol’ man. Well, that last part was true, for sure! Mr. Puckett was all of that and more. And I don’t doubt for a minute that he had done something simply horrible (or tried to, at any rate). That was just his way. If he hadn’t been Sheriff Wilson’s cousin, he probably wouldn’t get away with what all he did. But he was, and he did. No, I don’t doubt that part of her story one bit.
The part that had me, Mr. Baldwin, and even Doe Perkins concerned was the part about her momma. Simply put, we knew her momma. Everyone in town did. Had for years. She had become the town joke, to put it plain enough. Rambling into town most every Friday, selling her dresses and aprons to whoever would buy them. She usually managed to get rid of them all—she wasn’t too bad at sewing, after all. In fact, it wasn’t who she was that got everybody to talking; it’s who she used to be.
Six or eight years ago, Clara (that was her name) was a pretty regular fixture around these parts. She was married to Tom Bennett. Had a beautiful daughter named Amy and a little baby ( Lucy, of course). But this was still the Deep South, and she was still black. Our lot in life has eased up a tiny bit in the last thirty years or so, but back then, my Lord! Was it hard.
Tom worked for Mr. Baldwin, too, just like me. He’d pretty much managed the house—a lot of responsibility for a black man. But Mr. Baldwin was always a fair man: hard, but fair. He wasn’t as concerned about the color of your skin as be was about the content of your character (to paraphrase another Georgia boy), In fact, you could say that Ike Baldwin was way ahead of his time. And Clara went along for the ride.
While Tom was overseeing gardeners and cooks and other household staff, Clara was getting drunk. At first, she would help out around the house, but before long, she kinda got pushed out of the picture. Even then, she was a great seamstress. But she wasn’t very motivated. She didn’t like being in her husband’s shadow, so she took the only avenue of escape she could find, I guess.
Tom, to his credit, was very supportive—at least in the beginning. He would try to get her to sober up and spend time with the rest of us in the staff kitchen. We used to sit around just talking and visiting in the evenings if Mr. Baldwin wasn’t hosting some big to-do. But Clara would just sit there, Amy running all over the place like a wild little hellion. I know for my own self that I tried, I really did. I would try to start a conversation with Clara, but she was more interested in the moonshine that we kept under the cupboard. Oh, we would all have a nip now and then, especially on a Saturday night. But Clara would sit there all evening—every evening—and keep her glass full. Before long, she would come downstairs just long enough to fill her glass and then go back up to their room. Sometimes she would even leave Amy downstairs with us, and Tom would hold her on his lap. He was a good daddy. He was a good man, too. Everybody thought so.
Then one year, Mr. Baldwin’s cotton crop was destroyed by boll weevils. It wasn’t his only source of income, thank the Lord, but it was one of the biggest. Many of the other bigwigs in town, who lost their own crops, said that they had had enough and just packed up and moved north. Thought they’d try their luck in the big cities. Mr. Baldwin chose to reorganize, and starting planning on planting peanuts and soybeans instead of cotton. Well, to do all of that, he needed to buy some new equipment for the farms and hire some folks who, well, who knew something about peanuts and soybeans.
Mr. Baldwin asked Tom to travel with him to Macon. There was a big factory there where he hoped to find what he needed. He even said that Tom could take Amy if he wanted to. Tom loved little Amy and thought this would be a nice father and daughter time. They set out one morning and by lunch, Clara was sitting at the table in the kitchen with a drink in her hand. If Mr. Baldwin had been here, he would have had a thing or two to say about that! So would Tom, I’d reckon. But they were gone and the rest of us had realized long before that we had no sway with Clara. I went about my work, gathering up the family’s laundry and doing the washing and the ironing. I set my ironing board in the kitchen where I could talk to Missy, the cook.
I remember the day quite well. It was unusually warm, and that’s saying something for Georgia! The humidity was overwhelming, and Missy and I were drinking iced tea. We tried to offer some to Clara, but she was content with what she had. Well, Missy was going on about something or another, and it was funny. We were laughing and having a good time when, out of nowhere, Clara jumped up! She started screaming, “I don’t care! I just don’t care!”
At first, I wondered if she was saying that she didn’t care about what we were talking about, but then I realized that she wasn’t even really talking to us. Her eyes were somewhere else, and I figured that her mind was, too. She kept screaming and pounding on the table. Missy looked at me with fear in her eyes—I didn’t know what to do, either. Little Lucy was in a crib by the table, and she was staring at her momma and crying. Pretty soon, she started to wail even louder than her momma; the poor thing was so scared and confused.
Clara suddenly focused on her daughter, and it was as if everything that had her riled up was lying in that crib. She looked at her with venom in her eyes, and then started yelling at Lucy to shut up. She turned to me—the first time she had talked to me that day—and told me to make Lucy be quiet. I wasn’t sure what to do. It was that moment of indecision when I was panicking that has haunted me ever since. If I had responded more quickly, who knows? Maybe it wouldn’t have happened. But it did.
Clara grabbed for the iron and yanked it out of my hand. I tried to hold onto it, but I just couldn’t. She lost her balance in the struggle and started to faIl. I reached out to her, so did Missy. But she was flailing around and the iron came loose and flew into the crib! I was scared to death that the weight of the thing could have crushed poor Lucy. It didn’t do that, but what it did was bad enough. It landed right next to the baby and rolled over onto her face. The screams then were enough to raise the dead.
We all—Clara, Missy, and me—tried to get to Lucy. Missy got there first and grabbed the iron. Clara snatched up the baby and started babbling about a doctor. I ran to the phone and told the operator to ring Doe Perkins. When he came on the line, he said that he would be right over. We put cold, wet dishtowels on Lucy’s face, but we could see that the whole left side was burned pretty badly. Clara was holding Lucy and rocking back and forth, crying over and over again, “I’m so sorry, baby. Momma’s so sorry.”
My, that was a long day. Doc managed to get everybody calmed down. It was ironic, though; he suggested we all have a little drink. Missy and I readily agreed, but Clara, of all people, declined. In fact, I never saw her take another sip. But I only saw her for a few more days back then.
Doc left us with a balmfor Lucy’s face. He said that it wasn’t as severe as we had thought, that we were able to get it cooled off in time to prevent serious burning of the deeper layers of skin. Still, it would scar and be discolored. In a baby with her complexion, it would be a noticeable mark, to be sure.
Clara didn’t talk much after that. She would just hold Lucy and murmur to her under her breath. Things about the way that she would make up for hurting her, and that she would never let anything happen to her again. We thought that these were good signs; signs that maybe there was hope for Clara to be a better person now. And we thought she’d find it good news that Tom was going to be home soon. One would think that in such a time of crisis, she would want her husband close by. But she got even more unnerved. Her eyes darted back and forth and she actually seemed terrified. If she was thinking that she had cause to fear Tom, it was surely an irrational fear. Tom would be upset; what father wouldn’t? But Tom really was a good man. If Clara could have had anybody by her side at such a time, it would have been Tom. But she wasn’t thinking rationally.
Later that same day—not more than an hour later, in fact—I went to see if Clara wanted anything to eat. Missy had prepared a feast for the men when they returned. The air was thick with the smell of fried chicken and fresh Georgia peaches baked into a juicy cobbler. Clara wasn’t in her room. I checked out in the backyard where there was an old swing set. I didn’t see her there or anywhere. I started to get concerned. I ran back into the main part of the house and asked the rest of the staff if they had seen her. No one had. We looked and we looked, but Clara—and Lucy—were gone.
While we were running around frantically, the men came home. Little Amy was the first into the house and she ran up to me and hugged me, her face alight with a happy smile. Tom came up the walk behind her, after dropping Mr. Baldwin around front. He could tell, I guess, by the look on my face that something was terribly wrong. When we told him that we couldn’t find his wife and baby, he ran through the house to find Mr. Baldwin. A body could say a lot about Mr. Baldwin that wouldn’t be too complimentary. He was gruff and short-tempered and had the sense of humor of a pitchfork. But he was a strong defender of what’s right. And he was loyal to those who were loyal to him.
In no time at all, a search party was put together, and men were heading through the fields and into town. They searched and searched. The only clue they ever found was a witness in town who said he saw a woman who looked like Clara’s description getting into an old truck out by the feed store on Grange’s Creek. No one in the store had seen her, though. And no one knew who had been driving the truck. And no one knew what to do next, but wait. And we did wait. For days. Then weeks.
It was hard accepting that she was gone. Tom had a really difficult time thinking that half of his family had simply vanished into thin air. We told him, of course, about the iron and Lucy’s face. He worried himself sick wondering why Clara would be so afraid of him. He asked all of us if he seemed the kind of man who would hurt a woman. We tried to reassure him—as we had tried to reassure Clara—that we knew his character. But he wouldn’t accept our words any more than Clara had. They were both too stubborn in their own way.
Tom never was the same. He tried to bury himself in the work, but he didn’t have the drive anymore. We could all see it. So could Mr. Baldwin. He tried to talk to Tom and get him to realize that he did still have Amy with him, and she needed her daddy more than ever, with her momma gone now. He seemed to understand, but then one day he said that he wanted to take Amy to his Aunt Betty in Birmingham. We were all shocked to hear that, but what could we do? On an early April morning, Tom and Amy drove away. I got a letter a month or so later, and a Christmas card that year. But I never saw or heard from them again. I tried to let him know the first time we saw Clara in town. I wrote to him twice at the address his old letter had come from, but my letter was returned undeliverable.
We talked about what we should do, but the sheriff said that Clara was free to come and go as she pleased. She wasn’t obligated by law to be a good person. And we had all seen how the iron accident was just that—an accident. I knew from the way she reacted afterwards that she regretted it horribly. Maybe if we had seen her that first year or the year after or the year after that. But by the time she showed up, it had been more than six years! She didn’t even act like she knew us. One of us from the household staff would see her in town and try to start a conversation. Clara would be polite but quick to leave. We weren’t stupid; we could all see that Clara wanted nothing to do with that part of her life.
Of course, we worried about Lucy. We asked her about the baby. She looked at us like we were crazy and said that she most certainly knew how to take care of her own child, thank you very much. Maybe we shouldn’t have, but we believed her. She was always sober when we saw her. She was obviously working, judging by the dresses and such, and she was buying good, wholesome staples that led us to believe she really was taking care of Lucy.
Sheriff Wilson even followed her one day to a ramshackle home in the woods. He came back and told us all that he caught a glimpse of a girl he took to be Lucy hiding behind a door, but he didn’t get to talk to her. Clara was polite but firm: unless the sheriff had official business there, he wasn’t welcome. Looking back, it seems that there should have been something we could have done. Lucy should have been in school, at the least! That should have been cause for ‘official business.’ But none of us had ever dealt with anything like this before.
On top of everything else, this was the 1930’s. The whole country was going through just a horrible mess. Seemed like every few days, some poor soul would come walking up to the house looking for work. Strong-looking men with hollow eyes, talking about wives and children left behind in Florida or Alabama or Tennessee. Mr. Baldwin was getting by with the peanut crop (the soybeans never did take off), but he still wasn’t seeing the kind of money come in that would allow him to help all those he wanted to help.
Times were different then, plain and simple. So, even though I truly wish I could say we stayed keen about the whole situation, in truth we thought about Clara and Lucy only every now and then, when we had the luxury of a moment to just sit back and think. Life demanded too much of us, and that’s a pitiful excuse, but it’s the only one we have. Nevertheless, Lucy was back, eight years older now, and sitting on my lap. It’s a strange world, indeed.
When I had first seen her, I knew it was her. I would’ve known it even if Mr. Baldwin hadn’t said that he thought so, too. It was just an experience that all of us in the house would never really forget. The problem was: what should we do now? Do we tell Lucy who she is, and risk destroying whatever fond memories she may have of her momma? Or do we keep quiet, and risk her finding out on her own? I was for letting bygones be bygones. Clara seemed to be gone again (this time without Lucy), and I thought we should keep it that way. Mr. Baldwin and Doc Perkins were of the opinion that the truth was too important to shield her from. I knew deep down that they were probably right. Besides, what if Clara walked through the door looking for Lucy? What then? So, we had to tell her. But how? And when? This much I knew: not now. Not when Lucy was so hurt and feeling so alone. First of all, this little girl needs to know love again. That’s my job, and I’m darned good at it.
Begins on darkened stage. Spotlight follows Lucy as she delivers her soliloquy.
Lucy: It seems so long ago that Sally changed my life. She did, too. I was so naïve, so lost in the world. Momma had loved me; I believe that in my soul. But, after I’d heard all that had happened early in my life, I’m not sure what else to believe. I still think about her, but to be honest, the years have blurred the edges of my memories. What I do remember, though, what it so vivid and clear, is the way Sally treated me as if I was so special! The other children I met at school (when Sally finally insisted that I go) laughed at my scar and at my innocence. I would always run home crying, and Sally would always make the tears go away. Sometimes with peach cobbler, sometimes with a silly game, but always with love.
The first few years were the hardest; after that, I guess you could say I became normal; but what is that, really? People still call me ugly sometimes, when they think I can’t hear. Is that normal? I suppose it is. ‘ Normal’ doesn’t mean ‘good’ or ‘right’, does it? We all can find fault in others so easily; having fault found in us is just as natural. It doesn’t bother me anymore, though.
No one, however, calls me dumb. Mr. Baldwin was everything Sally had said he was. The most irascible and frustrating man a body could meet, and the most dependable, too. And, deep down, a kind-hearted and generous person who cared so much more than he let on. When Mr. Baldwin’s sister died, his nephew moved in. Frankie was a darling little boy, and I took to him almost as quickly as he took to me. I was in college then; Mr. Baldwin had said that if I graduated high school in the top ten percent of my class, he would pay for my college. I was the valedictorian.
No one calls me poor anymore, either. That means an awful lot to me. You know, I’ve heard the arguments both ways all my life: the ‘haves’ owe something to the ‘have nots’ and, on the other side, the poor need to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. Well, I can testify that there’s a little truth in both. I don’t know what I would have done without Mr. Baldwin’s help, but I know what I did with it. I took his help, but I never took it for granted. I worked hard to learn, to grow, to prove to myself that it’s not where you start that determines where you finish, but how you run the race.
Mr. Baldwin surprised us all when he passed. He left his home to Sally. We had all figured that there were some other relatives or friends or business partners who would get it, but, no, it went to his most loyal employee and friend. He left his business, and custody of Frankie, to me.
What a grand gesture that was! What a testimony to the man. I do believe I was genuinely the most qualified to run his business. After all, I had run it with him for quite some time by then. Nevertheless, for a southern, white man to leave such a commodity to a black woman with a disreputable background was a thing simply not done. As stunning as that was, however, for him to entrust me with his only living relative was an unbelievable display of trust that I remain determined never to betray.
I fear every day that I have failed in some way to live up to the expectations of Mr. Baldwin, Sally, and even of my momma. Yet what occupies my mind the most is:
how will Frankie remember me? I’m his momma now; the adoption was controversial, but legal. I felt it was necessary to make sure that he always has the connection that I longed for. Sally and Mr. Baldwin were my family, of course; they were the ones who were there to share my life. Still, I have always wondered about my other family—my daddy and my big sister. I tried so many times and in so many ways to find them. “Betty from Birmingham,” however, just isn’t much to go on. I still live in the same house, though, so maybe —just maybe—one day they will come looking for me.
As for Frankie, I hope someday he will look back on the early years of his life and realize how much he was loved and cared for. I want him never to doubt that—not even for a moment.
(Gradually, backdrop is lighted: gravesite with tombstone and peaceful landscaping.)
He’s in Vietnam now, and I worry about him all the time. But he’s a survivor. He’d have to be, to be my son! I wish he were here now. I know bow much he loved his great-aunt Sally. I’m sure he’d want to be here to say goodbye. But maybe it’s just as well that I have a little time alone with her. We have so much to talk about; we always will, I suppose.
These sweetgum and poplar trees offer such a peaceful, shady spot. And the rhododendron Sally always loved add a bright splash of pinks and purples to the soft grass springing up from the dark, red clay. I may be looking at a granite stone, but I’m seeing a smile that stretches across a beautiful face, creased by years of laughs and tears. I see my dear, sweet Sally.
“From that very first day, when I saw such compassion in your eyes, you have been such an important part of my life! Everything I have, and everything I have ever accomplished, I owe to you. I’m surely going to miss you, Sally, but I do know that you are in a better place; you taught me that. And yet, I know that you will always live on here, too, in my heart.
“You were the mother I needed when my momma wasn’t. You were the friend I needed, when no one else even cared to know my name. You were always a wonderful example of all that really matters. I hope that my path in life resembles yours, and I hope that I have done you proud. I wish I had told you more often, but… I love you, Sally.”
( Lucy places a single rose atop the fresh mound and rises to leave, walking away from the audience as the scene darkens.)
Sally: (offstage) “I love you, too, child; I love you, too.”
FADE to black