Sometimes, though, Pappy grew impatient waiting for the love of learning to take root in me. I dont understand, hed say in moments of frustration, how you can keep walking past all these books and never stop to pick up a single one of them. My people told me not to readdont you know what I would have done to have all this? Dont you ever get curious, son? These were simple, honest questions that sometimes he put to me with a shake of the head and wry smile. Sometimes, though, he didnt smile at all. In these latter moments, the look on his face was nothing like anger and something like paina sort of deep, serious pain I have only seen replicated in pictures of black faces of a certain age and demographic. It was a pain that I knew I couldnt have caused but somehow must have mistakenly activated. I would stand there looking at him, frozen, like a deer suspended in halogen beams, and stammer some weak response.
That particular afternoon after my visit to the barbershop, Pappy let drop the subject of my rectangular head of hair and handed me my work for the day. There was no long talk and no sadness in his face that afternoon. Memory exercises and then vocabulary, both synonyms and antonyms, he said. Write them all out on flashcards and then come see me.
OK, Babe, I said, and went to my room carrying a pale green tachistoscope, a stack of SAT and GRE word lists, and a thick Merriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary, glad to have dodged a confrontation. After a morning spent at the barbershop, submerged in Black Entertainment Television, speaking and thinking in my florid second tongueEbonicsit was time now to return to the staid and familiar language of my father.
Excerpted from Losing My Cool by Thomas Chatterton Williams. Copyright © 2010 by Thomas Chatterton Williams. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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