I can tell you this much white people lived for Race Week. They had one picnic, promenade, and fancy going-on after another. Mrs. King's party was always on Tuesday. The Jockey Club dinner on Wednesday. The big fuss came Saturday with the St. Cecilia ball when they strutted out in their best dresses. Aunt-Sister said Charleston had a case of the grandeurs. Up till I was eight or so, I thought the grandeurs was a shitting sickness.
Missus was a short, thick-waist woman with what looked like little balls of dough under her eyes. She refused to hire out mauma to the other ladies. They begged her, and mauma begged her too, cause she would've kept a portion of those wages for herself but missus said, I can't have you make anything for them better than you make for us. In the evenings, mauma tore strips for her quilts, while I held the tallow candle with one hand and stacked the strips in piles with the other, always by color, neat as a pin. She liked her colors bright, putting shades together nobody would think purple and orange, pink and red. The shape she loved was a triangle. Always black. Mauma put black trian- gles on about every quilt she sewed.
We had a wooden patch box for keeping our scraps, a pouch for our needles and threads, and a true brass thimble. Mauma said the thimble would be mine one day. When she wasn't using it, I wore it on my fingertip like a jewel. We filled our quilts up with raw cotton and wool thrums. The best filling was feathers, still is, and mauma and I never passed one on the ground without picking it up. Some days, mauma would come in with a pocketful of goose feathers she'd plucked from mattress holes in the house. When we got desperate to fill a quilt, we'd strip the long moss from the oak in the work yard and sew it between the lining and the quilt top, chiggers and all.
That was the thing mauma and I loved, our time with the quilts.
No matter what Aunt-Sister had me doing in the yard, I always watched the upstairs window where mauma did her stitching. We had a signal. When I turned the pail upside down by the kitchen house, that meant everything was clear. Mauma would open the window and throw down a taffy she stole from missus' room. Sometimes here came a bundle of cloth scraps real nice calicos, gingham, muslin, some import linen. One time, that true brass thimble. Her favorite thing to take was scarlet-red thread. She would wind it up in her pocket and walk right out the house with it.
The yard was over busy that day, so I didn't have hope for a taffy falling from the clear blue. Mariah, the laundry slave, had burned her hand on charcoal from the iron and was laid up. Aunt-Sister was on a tear about the backed-up wash. Tomfry had the men fixing to butcher a hog that was run- ning and screeching at the top of its lungs. Everyone was out there, from old Snow the carriage driver all the way down to the stable mucker, Prince. Tomfry wanted to get the killing over quick cause missus hated yard noise.
Noise was on her list of slave sins, which we knew by heart. Number one: stealing. Number two: disobedience. Number three: laziness. Number four: noise. A slave was supposed to be like the Holy Ghost don't see it, don't hear it, but it's always hovering round on ready.
Missus called out to Tomfry, said keep it down, a lady shouldn't know where her bacon comes from. When we heard that, I told Aunt-Sister, missus didn't know what end her bacon went in and what end it came out. Aunt-Sister slapped me into yesterday.
I took the long pole we called a battling stick and fished up the bedcovers from the wash pot and flopped them dripping on the rail where Aunt-Sister dried her cooking herbs. The rail in the stable was forbidden cause the horses had eyes too precious for lye. Slave eyes were another thing. Working the stick, I beat those sheets and blankets to an inch of their lives. We called it fetching the dirt.
Excerpted from The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Copyright © 2014 by Sue Monk Kidd. Excerpted by permission of Viking. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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