Sunday, June 26, 2011
The Fly in the Buttermilk
“Reach in my purse and get some lotion, baby. Your knees are ashy,” said Letty’s mama as she steered the car through the quiet, tree-lined streets of Cindy’s neighborhood.
“These white folks sure have some beautiful homes. That’s why your daddy and I are sending you to that fancy school. If you study hard, one day you can have a house like this too.”
“Make sure you play nice with the other girls. And don’t run around and sweat ‘til your hair turns back like you did at your cousin’s birthday party last month."
"You can’t go around looking like a savage in front of these people. It’s a wonder Cindy’s mama even let her invite a colored child to her party so mind your manners.”
As soon as Mama stopped the car, Letty opened the door and hopped out. For weeks Cindy had been telling her every detail of the party plans and she couldn’t wait to see the fairy cakes they would be serving. People in her neighborhood made their own birthday cakes instead of buying them from the bakery. Letty ran up the front steps with the box that held Cindy’s present and Cindy opened the door before she could ring the bell.
“I’m so glad you could come, Letty. It wouldn’t have been any fun without you.”
After cake and ice cream and pin the tail on the donkey, the girls went out to play in Cindy’s large backyard. Her daddy had put up a new jungle gym for her and all the girls were eager to try it out.
Lorraine ran to grab the swings before anyone else could claim them. She saved one for Mandy who always followed her around.
Margie, the tomboy was the first one up the ladder and down the slide, but soon
and Letty joined in the game.
Angie and Valerie had stayed behind to help clear the table so they came last.
“Hurry up fatso!” called Lorraine. “You shouldn’t have eaten so much.”
Then she and Mandy started making the oink, oink noises they made every time they passed Valerie in the lunchroom.
“Some people only got invited because Cindy had to invite all the girls in our class,” Lorraine said to Mandy as they raced to see who could swing the highest.
Letty started up the ladder to take another turn on the slide but then turned upside down and hung by her knees.
“What are you, a little monkey?” Lorraine sneered, but Letty just said “Yes!” She was practicing to be in the circus one day.
Lorraine climbed up to the top of the jungle gym and gave a loud roar.
“GRRRR! I’m the lion. I’m the king of the jungle -- the jungle gym, get it? GRRRR!”
Lorraine always wanted to boss the other girls, but Letty righted herself and started chanting
“You big overgrown pussycat,
Don’t you roar,
Or I’ll hop up there
And -- whip you like the elephant did.”
“What on earth are you talking about?” said Lorraine.
“The lion heard that the elephant was badmouthing his family but instead of asking the elephant about the rumors, he charged up and picked a fight with him. The elephant whipped the lion for the rest of the day and they still don’t know how the lion got away – everyone knows that story.”
“Well then I’m a tiger,” said Lorraine “GRRRR!” The other girls shrieked in mock fear but Letty said
“Well here, you can wear my shoes on your ears so you’ll be the grandest tiger in the jungle. And then you can chase the other tigers ‘round and ‘round the tree until you melt into a pool of butter.”
The other girls laughed and Lorraine started to turn very red.
“Well which animal would you nominate as king, smarty pants?” said Mandy.
“Babar the elephant, of course. Valerie has the most majestic size so she should play Babar.”
Letty gave Valerie a boost up the ladder.
Then Valerie took a seat on the “throne” at the top of the jungle gym and reined as king for the rest of the afternoon.
“Lord you look like Aunt Hagar’s child!” said Letty’s mother when she came to pick her up after the party. “How am I going to get that hoorah’s nest straightened out before church tomorrow? I hope you at least remembered to mind your P’s and Q’s around those white folks.”
“I’m the signifyin’ monkey, Mama” said Letty “and if they fool with me I’ll sic the elephant on them again.”
Here isOscar Brown, Jr.'s rendition of "The Signifyin' Monkey:"