Sunday, June 26, 2011

Aunt Wilma

I woke up this morning still feeling really stupid about being in an accident and wanting to get as much work done as possible.  I had a laundry list of stops to make and people to reach out to before heading to the airport. 

I took flowers to M.W.  Her car was parked out front, but no one answered the door.  I left the flowers on her doorstep.  When I drove by about an hour later they'd been picked up.

I stopped by my aunt Wilma’s house unannounced.  That's her in the middle.  She retired last year after a lifetime of hard work.  I’ve spoken with her a few times over the last several months.  Every time I called her it was to solicit her help in tracking someone down. I always asked her how she felt since she’d had a cancer related surgery sometime late last year and I wanted her to know I was thinking of her.

When we screened the ’66 film my aunt Wilma was there.  When I talked to her that night I promised that, once the film crew left, I would come over for dinner and that we’d get some extra special time together.  Wednesday, after the crew rolled out, I wanted to go to the Voter’s League to find M.W.  I didn’t know where the meeting was.  I called my aunt Wilma for help and learned that she lives down the street from where they meet.  She gave me directions and then sat on her porch to point the way for me.

When I arrived at my aunt Wilma's today I suddenly wished I'd brought her something, like the flowers I'd just left for M.W.  She was still delighted to see me, of course.  We sat and talked, I could tell that she was tired.  She changed out of her night clothes and we went across the street to visit my aunt Edna.

Edna had lots of questions about the film.  I shared with her how well the filming had gone and mentioned some of the people we’d interviewed like Alix Sanders and Silas McGhee.  Wilma mentioned that her late brother had often gone with Silas to try to integrate the movie theaters. 

Somehow, from out of nowhere, my aunt Edna said that a friend of hers was there when Booker was shot.  I knew the name from my childhood.  I asked her if she knew how I could reach him.  She grabbed her phone, pressed two buttons and had him on the line.  Let's call him G.L. 

She asked G.L. if he’d talk to me about what happened the night Booker died and (big surprise) he said “no.”  Why doesn’t anyone want to talk about it?  (I’ll save this for another post.)

G.L. agreed to speak with me over the phone.  Before I could even ask a question, he told me that he didn’t want to talk about it.  I expressed my eagerness to learn about my grandfather and how I wanted to understand his life and his death.  After a little persuading, G.L. acknowledged that he was there and agreed to sit down with me at a later date to share with me all that he remembered from that night. 

Aunt Wilma and I left.  She took me to my Cousin Cassandra’s house, we call her “San.”  San was also there on Thursday night for the screening.  She's been very supportive of my work.  She actually drove out to Silas' house several weeks ago in an effort to track down his number for me.  We chatted and her youngest daughter and I played a silly game.  Then we left.  I took aunt Wilma back to her house.  I hugged her, thanked her for her help, and promised to spend more time with her when I come back with the crew in several weeks.    

Then I made several more stops and inquiries regarding my Booker Wright research.  I went to a Catholic church where I met a woman named Ms. Bessie who has volunteered in the Greenwood community since 1952.  She helped publish a paper called ‘The Center Light” that, among other things, chronicled the happenings in the black part of town during the decades when Booker Wright owned his cafĂ©.  She told me to call her with specific dates and promised to pull archived issues for me.

She also remembered my grandfather.  She pointed out a few other women who knew him as well.  One of them is a woman named Betty Smith.  Apparently, she not only knew Booker, she frequented Booker’s Place and was good friends with JB Yates and Lloyd Cork.  She told me that Yates died last year in Greenwood Leflore Hospital after having his foot amputated because of diabetes.  She was a patient there at the time that he died. 

I went to the post office and mailed my real letter to Lloyd Cork.  I don’t expect to ever hear anything from him.  But reaching into space and offering a connection still left me feeling slightly exposed.  He’s a murderer.  He has my name and, even though I used a PO Box, it lists a Phoenix address. 

I left the post office and went to the Alluvian to treat myself to a delicious lunch only to find that their restaurant was closed.  I decided to eat in Jackson.  I typed “Jackson International” into my iPhone map and started out of town.  Then I remembered that I still needed to visit Rena, my cousin who is also Wilma’s daughter. 

Rena is such a nurturer.  She’d picked a bunch of Mississippi wild blueberries for me because she knows how much I love them.  She fed me and made me a fresh pot of coffee for my drive.  She also told me that Wilma has Stage 4 cancer that's spread to her lungs and her liver.  The prognosis does not look good.  Rena, who is always so strong and so stable, shared all of this with me with great simplicity.  She did not editorialize.  Instead of mimicking her bravery, I sat in her dining room and cried. 

1 comment:

  1. Your Grandfather would be so proud of you!
    I watched Dateline tonight and my heart was full. Holding back the tears, I too was amazed at your Grandfather's bravery and passion.