"AIN'T NEVER BEEN no white trash in this family, and there won't never be if I can help it!" His mother's deep chocolate eyes blazed. She stamped her foot and placed her aristocratic hands on her ample hips defying anyone to dispute her. Her nearly hysterical voice took on the deep southern drawl she detested. She called the dialect uneducated slang, and she had fought for thirty years to lose it, but it always came back when she got upset.
Sam and his father were used to her ranting about the purity of their race. Both had heard it numerous times.
Sam turned to face his father. "I'm sorry, Dad, but this time I can't let her say these things about Laura. I love Laura, and I intend to marry her -- with or without Mama's approval. I can't change the fact that Laura's white any more than I can change the way I feel about her. And the truth is, I wouldn't change anything about her if I could. I searched for a long time for someone I could feel this way about. I can't give her up just because she's not black."
The deep ebony of Sam's father's skin accentuated his tall, still muscular body as the two men stood almost inch for inch. The father was just a little heavier and displayed a touch of silver around his temples -- the only indication most people had that he was older. Sam's Mama had always been proud that he had inherited his father's strong cheekbones and aristocratic nose, which symbolized their heritage, but Sam knew that right now, she wasn't proud of anything about him.
A frown creased his father's high forehead, and his sensitive eyes held Sam's. "Son, I--"
Mama pointed her finger at her husband. "You stay out of this, Old Man, it ain't none of your concern. I know you gonna side with the boy here. You always take up for him against me. Ever since he was born."
His father's eyes left Sam's, and he turned to face his wife. "Now, Honey, you know that ain't true. Only if I think he's right. You know I- -"
"Only when he's right? See? There you are sidin' against me again. He's wrong. Dead wrong. And I won't put up with your defendin' him. You hear me?" She shook her finger intimidatingly in his face.
Used to his wife's flailing digits when she was angry, he ignored the gesture and said gently, "I'm not defending him. He's a grown man. He can make his own choices."
"Then you just hush, and let me make mine." She balled her hands into fists and set them firmly on her hips. Then she twirled with surprising grace, for her stature, to face her son.
Sam searched her glaring, dark eyes for some hint of forgiveness and found none. He lowered his eyes and studied the polished, hardwood floor. He could almost see his face in it, and he wished he could really be inside of it, away from the wrath of his mother. His palms were damp, and his voice trembled as he spoke against her wishes for the first time in his life. "Mama, please try to understand."
Her rich, mahogany face flushed, and her lips set into a firm line. "I'll never understand how you could betray your ancestors like this. Your grandmother is probably squirmin' in her grave right now. You are Black, Sam. You have the blood of African Kings runnin' through your veins. Mandingo blood. Why would you want to pollute it with that trash's white blood? I waited 'till I was thirty years old to marry your father because I wouldn't settle for anything less than the purest man I could find.
"Why can't you understand, Mama? Dad had a mixed blood grandmother. That didn't stop you from marrying him."
"That's as good as I could find. What with all that race mixin' and unholy marriages that was goin' on, I was lucky to find a man as pure as he is. At least he ain't got more than a drop or two of white blood defilin' up his veins." The drawl returned even thicker than before.
"How can you be so sure, Mama? How can you know for sure that you don't have some Anglo blood floating around in those royal veins of yours?"
"I'm positive. I know I'm pure! If you ever dare to sass me like that again, I'll smack your mouth so hard, you'll bite that evil tongue of yours off!" Her angry fist left her hip as she raised it into the air, and it descended within inches of his nose.
He flinched away from her fist's orbit around his face. Embarrassed and angry, he turned to his father. "Dad, I'm sorry. I've gotta go. Laura's waiting for me." Glancing at his mother's angry face once more, he knew that if he didn't leave that second, he would say something he couldn't retrieve. As he marched out of that always-immaculate house, the stern portraits of famous African Americans stared accusingly at him as he rushed past the rich, Asian silks and elegant sculptures created by Black artists that adorned his Mama's house. Always Mama's house, he thought. Never my home. Never Dad's. Always Mama's.
He stormed down the front steps on trembling legs and cursed aloud as he slammed the door behind him.
His mother followed him onto the steps and yelled at his back, "Don't you never be slammin' my door, young man, and don't you bring that bitch here. And, don't you come back neither. I have no son!"
Those were the last words he heard from his mother's lips.
Two years later, Sam's father came alone to the hospital to witness the birth of his first grandson.
"We named him Joshua." Sam handed the tiny bundle to the proud grandfather. Tears of joy swam in the old man's eyes as he gently unwrapped the baby.
His startled gasp when he saw the child inside the blanket stung Sam's heart.
"Yeah, Dad. It's a pigmentation phenomenon. The doctor thinks it's a DNA anomaly. Mama would say the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children, but he's ours, Dad, mine and Laura's, and we love him. No matter what. He can be yours too, if you let him."
The new grandfather stood immobile and stared at the baby in his arms for a long time. Touching him gently with a thick, work-hardened finger, he traced around the tiny face, across the child's broad, yellow-gold forehead to the prominent little nose, then across the exquisitely shaped neck and right shoulder. When he reached the baby's shoulder, his hand hesitated for an instant, then gently circled the dime-sized, ebony star shape on the child's skin. Slowly his fingers traveled down the length of the baby's arm, across the tiny stomach, and down his chubby right leg until his huge hand folded gently over the perfectly shaped foot.
"His eyes are gold," he whispered, then bent his head to gently kiss his grandson's forehead with all the love of any grandfather.
Six months later, Sam sat down beside his father on the sofa. Joshua was perched on his grandfather's lap. The baby looked up at his grandfather, grinned and gurgled. Grandpa made cooing sounds and tickled the soft, glowing skin of Joshua's plump tummy. Over the months, Joshua's skin tone had turned from a soft yellow to an almost luminescent, golden hue.
Sam watched the two silently for a while, then asked, "Dad, why do you sneak over here all the time? Why don't you just tell Mama you're coming? Maybe she would give in and come see him herself."
The old man smoothed Joshua's silky hair back off the boy's forehead and sighed. "No Son. It ain't gonna happen. She won't even use his name. If she speaks of him at all, he's Sam's son, not Joshua. Hell, I call him that myself half the time. Kinda' fits though, you know?
Sam's son -- Samson. Lord knows he needs all the strength he can muster to get through this life."
"Why do you say that, Dad? He's not retarded, or deformed, or crippled. It's just his coloring, that's all. In fact, he's just the opposite. Dr. Rainey says he's months ahead of other babies his age. He wants to have his IQ tested as soon as he's two years old. Doc says we may have a child genius here. What's wrong with that?"
"Nothin', Son. Nothin'. Listen, Sam, I'm not just here for a visit this time. I have some bad news."
Bad news?" A feeling of dread shuddered across Sam's stomach causing it to lurch sickeningly.
"It's your Mama, Son. She's sick. Real sick. Cancer."
"Cancer? But can't they do something?"
"No. The doctor says it's in her pancreas. She doesn't have long, Son." He sat Joshua down onto the floor and buried his face in his large, callused hands. Sobs shook his broad shoulders, and Sam reached to comfort him, but stopped his hand in mid-air as Joshua crawled over and bobbed up at his grandfather's knee.
"Papa hurt?" He patted his grandfather's leg with a chubby hand and repeated, "Papa hurt?"
The grandfather froze, dropped his hands into his own lap like they were heavy stones and stared down at the baby. "He -- he talked. He's only six months old. He shouldn't be able to talk like that."
"And he knows something's wrong," Sam stammered.
Both men stared at the plump baby standing between them. Neither spoke.
Joshua rested his chin on his grandfather's knee and looked back at the two men with his clear, golden eyes. Then he crawled onto his grandfather's lap, wrapped his short arms around his muscular neck and hugged him. "Joshua help," he said clearly. The boy kissed the palm of his tiny hand and began to stroke his grandfather's cheek. "Take love to her," the baby whispered. "If she accepts love, she live." He sat back stiffly, closed his eyes and said, "Joshua tired." Slumping, he collapsed into his grandfather's lap.
"My God, he's passed out." Sam clutched his son, pulled him up and cradled him in his arms. Joshua's small chest expanded and relaxed with the deep, gentle breaths that only a sleeping innocent can attain. Sam's heart pounded into his throat. His guts churned, then an overwhelming sense of peace fell over him as he stood there holding his baby. "No. He's just sleeping."
Sam's father sighed with relief, and slumped back onto the sofa. "What did we just witness?"
"I don't know, Dad."
"A gift from God," he said with a reverence Sam had never heard in his father's voice. "That baby made me feel good. Even though I was surprise and a little bit scared, when he touched me with his hand, I felt better. Sam, I know it's impossible, but he took the pain away!"
The shock of the moment blunted the importance of what his father said.
Sam gazed down at his sleeping baby and asked tentatively, "What was that he said about Mama?"
"He said to take love to her and she would live."
"But, how could...."
"I don't know, son, but you said he was special. Maybe we don't know just how special. Has he talked like this before?"
"No. Not like that. Oh, he says Mama and Dada, but nothing like what we just heard."
"Son, you know that I'm not an overly religious man, but I think this is a message. I'm gonna go tell your Mama about Joshua. Maybe it's God's way of making her see things right." He kissed the sleeping boy Sam still held in his arms, gripped Sam's shoulder with affection, then left without saying another word.
Sam was still sitting on the sofa, holding his sleeping son, when Laura came home. He hadn't realized the afternoon had faded into evening until she turned on the light. Joshua stirred, opened his eyes and gurgled happily when he saw his mother.
Just like any baby, Sam thought as he watched his child reach his chubby arms toward his mother.
She kissed Sam's lips gently, took the baby from him, balanced the laughing boy on her hip and asked, "How did your visit with your father go, Honey? I'm sorry I missed him, but I had to be at that meeting. It looks like I might be offered a full partnership in the firm. Isn't that great? Sam, what's wrong? Why are you just sitting there so quietly. Did something happen?" She settled Joshua onto the floor with his toys and sat down next to Sam. "What is it, Honey?"
"What is it?" he parroted. Jumbled thoughts rushed through his head. Flashes of what his son had done and said burned into his brain. "I'm -- I'm not sure," he answered.
She took his hand in hers, held it to her soft lips and kissed it tenderly.
Sam clung to her delicate hand as if it was a lifeboat.
"Darling," she said, "What's wrong? Is your father okay? He's not sick or anything, is he?"
He told her. He heard his own voice, droning non-stop, almost hysterically, in his ears as if someone else was speaking. He told her about his mother's cancer -- his dad's crying -- Joshua's reaction -- everything.
When he finished, she stared at him for a moment, then at Joshua who was busily playing with a red ball almost as big as he was, and she laughed. Immediately, she sobered, "Oh, Honey. I'm sorry. I wasn't laughing about your mother. That must be terrible for you. I was just surprised by what you said about Joshua. Honey, he's just a little ahead of his age. That's all. I'm sure that in the pain of the moment, his hugging his grandfather and talking baby jabbers just sounded like words because both you and your father needed comfort right then." She put her arms around Sam and hugged him.
"It didn't just sound like words, Laura. Joshua said, 'Take love to her. If she accepts love, she live.' I heard it. I did not imagine it."
Her blue eyes sought her husband's. A frown fixed itself on her ivory forehead, and she raised her eyebrows in disbelief. "Sam, he's six months old. He couldn't possibly have said that."
"Dr. Rainey says he's very advanced."
She stood up, and her knuckles turned white as she balled her fists at her side. She hissed through tight lips, "Advanced doesn't mean psychic. It doesn't mean my baby is some kind of freak. Okay, his skin is different. He's smart. It doesn't mean more than that. I'm going to make dinner, and I refuse to listen to any more of this nonsense."
As she retreated to the kitchen, she scooped Joshua into her arms and hugged him protectively to her bosom. Then depositing him into his high chair, she handed him a cookie, kissed his cheek, turned and began slamming pans onto the counter.
Sam watched his wife and son in the kitchen and reviewed in his mind all that had happened this afternoon. He felt like he was on a mental roller coaster. Like his emotions were speeding toward a sharp curve and he didn't know if he would make the turn or fly off into the void. I'm not imagining it. He told himself. It happened. A fluttering sensation deep in his guts told him that his life was about to change drastically, but he had no clue as to which direction or what course he would be compelled to follow. Somehow, the feeling was not unpleasant. In fact, he was filled with an almost tranquil calm beneath his confusion.
The next morning, the family dog, Zinger, ran into the street and was hit by a passing car. One of his back legs hung at an odd angle as Sam carried him into the house. He laid him, whining and licking at his injured leg, on the kitchen floor and called to Laura to watch him while he called the vet. When he returned to the kitchen to retrieve the dog, he froze in the doorway. His stomach launched into his throat.
Laura was backed against the wall. Wide-eyed shock shrouded her pale face as she stared at the floor where Joshua sat. Zinger romped around the boy, licking his laughing face. The baby cooed and giggled as he caressed the dog's leg.
Laura turned to face Sam, her back still hugging the wall. She whispered in a choked voice, "He... he said, 'Doggie hurt.' And...and then he touched the dog's leg, and the leg bent back the way it should be. I watched it bend like a licorice stick, waving around until it set itself back. I saw it." Her voice rose to a hysterical shriek. "I saw it!" She collapsed in slow motion. Her body slid down against the wall, like she had suddenly lost all of her bones, until she was sitting on the blue tile floor. She started to cry softly, still staring at the child and the dog playing in the middle of the kitchen floor.
Joshua turned from Zinger and crawled toward his mother. Laura pulled her body into a ball against the wall, wrapped her arms around her knees and held them tight against her chest. She cringed as he reached for her knee. "Don't," she croaked.
"Mama?" He reached for her with both chubby arms stretching -- his face screwing up for baby tears. "Mama? Joshua tired."
Her frightened eyes looked up at Sam, still a statue in the doorway, then back at her son's face. Slowly she opened her arms. He crawled onto her lap and fell asleep almost instantly. She gazed down at him, looked back at her husband and said, "Sam, I just watched my baby heal a dog's broken leg. Am I going crazy?"
Copyright © 2002 by S. Joan Popek