An excerpt from Miss Penny’s autobiography, Maintenance Drinker in the New Age.
Motherhood is the only state of the union, I never been in.
My own was an accidental parent.
A case of immaculate deception.
Mama never told me very much, so I never forgot it.
We never shared no sort of bond at all.
She farmed me out to sitters shortly after I danced out of her womb.
There is little recollection left of those early minders.
I was blessed to have been in the care of a woman who was my true mama in all but name.
Ms. Wheater was Black.
We called them Colored in those days.
I seen no difference between us.
She had four kids of her own, and a man who brought in just enough to feed three.
She hired out. I was left with her family.
For nine years.
I ate with them, played with them, went to school with them.
Did a lot of crying out my fears and frustrations on Ms. Wheater’s skirts.
Christmas was spent with her family.
On birthdays, she always made little unfrosted cakes.
Sometimes I get a handmedown from one of her daughters.
A pair of her son’s brown boots, once his toes had shot holes through them.
I realized later that her life was very hard.
You’d have never known it by looking at her though.
She always clean and smiling.
She sang all the time, we sung together.
The Great Depression was in full bloom causing mass migration.
Folks trekked elsewhere to find jobs, houses, even food they could afford.
Her oldest boy got work out West, in an oil field or some such.
They packed up and followed him there, hoping for a better life.
I cried to the depths of my soul when she told me.
She held me for a long time, while I sobbed; humming softly, soothingly.
At last, drained of tears, I looked up at her wonderful face, which I adored more than any on Earth.
I said, “How am I going to live now?”
Those large eyes shimmered, staring straight into my heart.
“Every time you sing, I’ll hear you. Think on that. I’ll always be listening for your song.”
We never saw each other again.
Losing Ms. Wheater was the death of my childhood.
Over the years, I real glad she not around to see what a mess I done to my life.
Thinking of her high opinion made me ashamed.
When I had my first Comeback, I tried to find her, to no avail.
Folks blew away with the dust back then.