200 Year Old Chair Padded with Slave Hair

First It Was Slave Teeth for Dentures, Now Slave Hair for Furniture Stuffing

When I stumbled upon this recently posted video, it was not something I had ever heard of before. Posted on YouTube by Yisreael Ben Yehudah, the poster says he was restoring a 200-year-old chair for a client when he discovered it had been stuffed with slave hair. Slave hair?! Yep. See it for yourself.  On top of the human hair is a layer of cotton. Well, we know who grew and picked that cotton. Looks like they contributed a lot more than the toil and misery of their labors.

chair-stuffed-with-slave-hair

Photo: Screen capture of Yisreael Ben Yehudah’s YouTube video

Granted, in that time people used whatever was available to stuff mattresses and furniture and the like–horsehair, cattails, moss hanging from trees, corn shucks, whatever else was handy.  But I had never heard of slave hair! And the quantity of hair that is in this chair is mind-baffling. Painful. After watching his video, of course, my mind is running wild trying to imagine the circumstances of  what that collecting of hair must have been like for the slaves. I shudder at the thought; it makes me think of antebellum sheep shearing day. But now, of course, I am driven to find out.

Teeth, Hair; What Else Don’t You Know about Slave History?

It’s no secret that George Washington probably had dentures that included teeth from slaves–it is documented that he purchased “9 teeth from ‘Negroes’ for 122 shillings.”  (See number six on the list.)  Now we can add hair to the list of usable parts harvested from a slave.  And now I have a new topic added to my ever-expanding research list. Who knows–will this need to show up in my book? Thank you for sharing, Mr. Yehudah.

See Yisreael’s video here: 200-year-old chair padded with slave hair

Inspiration: “The Chief”

Uncle Wardie The ChiefMeet my Uncle Wardie (“The Chief”), who inspired some of the traits of the crazy but lovable fictional character Ole Albert in the book. Cornelius Warden Haskins, born on this day, 1917, is my grandmother’s youngest brother, and the one who stayed back in Virginia while his siblings journeyed to Harlem during the Great Migration, the decades-long migration of black citizens who fled the South for northern and western cities in search of a better life. Actually, he did follow his siblings to Harlem but quickly realized it wasn’t for him and headed back to Buckingham County pronto. Carsue, my grandma and Wardie’s oldest sister (born February 2, 1897), was the first to leave The Homestead, third grade education and all. (More on the schools for blacks in another post.) You can see pictures of my Grandma if you head over to the Photo Album page.

Wardie never married, never had kids. He kept The Homestead going, farming various crops and raising pigs for a living. And he scared the heck outta me every summer I went to Virginia as a young girl! Somehow, though, I adored him at the same time. I remember those childhood summers fondly. Uncle Wardie wheezed something terrible with his asthma and stunk to high heaven in his dirty coveralls that he wore every day and rarely washed. You could smell the whisky on his breath, too, and his beard was stained yellow from the chewing tobacco he spit out–the spittle that didn’t quite make it into the odious coffee can he kept near. He had a fingertip or two missing from a farm accident. “How’s my girl?” he used to wheeze and cackle as he would reach for me. Whenever he saw one of us kids headed for the outhouse behind the house (the same house that was built in 1850 for Virginia and Robert when they married), his face would crack  impishly. “Watch out for them snakes!” he’d call behind us.

Happy Birthday, Uncle Wardie. Miss you. xo

 

 

Teaching School in Buckingham County

I asked my uncle if he thought my grandma (his mom) or great-grandma would have been taught by any of these teachers…he mentioned visiting a one-room school in Appomattox, which he says would have been the closest school to our family homestead. The search continues….

Thanks to Joanne Yeck, at Slate River Ramblings, for her invaluable and immense knowledge of Buckingham County! Check out her blog and be ready for some fascinating history!

slate river ramblings . . . .

Slate River Rambling_Buckingham_School-Teachers_1894_Colored

Courtesy Library of Virginia

Above is the 1894-1895 “Census of Colored Teachers,” listing the African-American teachers in Buckingham County. Note that there were considerably fewer African-American teachers (24) than there were White teachers (62) working in the county.

Members of the Lomax family of Buckingham Court House were leaders in Buckingham County’s education of African Americans.  In 1894-1895, three of them were teaching at the county seat:  Mr. Edward S. Lomax, Mr. E.W. Lomax, and Mrs. Josephine Lomax.  Edward S. and Josephine Lomax were married.  E.W. Lomax was their son, Eugene.  By 1900, their son, Clarence, was also teaching school in Buckingham.

Mr. James  B. Riddle of New Canton also appears on the census.  He was the uncle of Dr. Carter G. Woodson and, in 1926, helped establish Liberty School. The two-room schoolhouse was located near Third Liberty Baptist Church in New Canton and was built at a cost of…

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Call for Submissions for 2016 Mixed Remixed Festival – Mixed Remixed Festival

Submit!

Mixed American Life

Share your story. We?re seeking filmmakers, writers, bloggers, performers and scholars of every stripe who have stories to share about the Mixed and multiracial/multicultural experience. We?re also seeking panel presentation ideas and workshops. The deadline is Jan. 18, 2016. There is no submission fee. Find out how to submit your work here.-Heidi Durrow, Festival Founder ?

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.mixedremixed.org

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How (Not) to Murder a Slave in Virginia, Part 2

the-louisiana-murders

3. (continued) (see here for the first part of this installment)

[Again, I am still awaiting copies of the original documents from the University of Virginia Library and will double-check the details — more later. The following  information has come courtesy of what turns out to be a distant cousin on the white side, Bev Golden, who does have her hands on the documents. (See her link at the bottom of this post.)]

Murder in Buckingham County!

According to court testimony, Christopher beat Will “hard about the head” with a 4-5 foot hickory hoe, continuing to beat him even after he fell to the ground. He then ordered other slaves to haul him to the tobacco barn and lock him inside (evidently a common punishment for slaves in Virginia — see videos below to learn more about Virginia tobacco barns and the tobacco-growing way of life) and wouldn’t let anyone help him. It’s not clear when Will was brought out of the tobacco shed, but he died on a Tuesday, three days after the beating. But the tragedy doesn’t end there. Johnson patriarch Richard then had Will’s body brought into a slave cabin and laid out on a bed of straw. The straw was then set on fire and the body burned, apparently an effort to cover up evidence of the crime. Another interesting twist: based on the locations of the farms of the neighbors who offered testimony, it seems likely that the murder occurred at the father Richard Johnson’s plantation, not Christopher’s, suggesting that Will was owned by Richard and also explaining why Richard was the one who took action to cover up the crime. It would appear that Christopher was the overseer for his father, in this case. (Not yet confirmed.) It might also explain why Jack was present.

Above is the remains of an old Virginia tobacco barn. The (longer) video below gives a much better idea of what they were actually like, taking you on a tour of a barn in much better shape still today.

Johnson Disappears

The charge of murder was based not just on the fact of the beating as the cause of death (which could have been legally excused as an accident resulting from “justified” discipline), but from its viciousness and the fact that medical aid was denied for the several days it took for Will to die. One witness testified that Will was held “prisoner” before his death.

Buckingham Courthouse-1914

The Buckingham County Courthouse, pictured here in 1914. The original Courthouse, designed by Thomas Jefferson and built between 1822 and 1824, was destroyed by fire in 1869.

Interestingly, Christopher didn’t attend the trial; he had managed to escape from jail and by the time of the trial was nowhere to be found. Some of the testimony at the trial touched upon his current whereabouts, and it appears that he stayed in hiding in the local area waiting for the verdict to be decided. He was reported by one witness as having been seen near the courthouse (some miles from his farm), perhaps in an effort to learn what charges if any were pending. Christopher had previously given Will a severe beating earlier that same year. Johnson’s neighbor Joel Flowers testified that he first denied what he had seen, then admitted it because he “had been present when Denny was whipped.” This was probably a reference to William Denny, another witness at the trial–apparently Christopher whipped his neighbor Denny, too, perhaps in an effort to prevent him from testifying.

Christopher Johnson was convicted but was never recaptured, and he never returned home. By 1825 he had completely disappeared; his estate was settled in 1832. I found it also interesting to note that Richard Johnson’s September 1823 will made no reference to Christopher’s crimes nor his disappearance, leaving him a sum of money about the same as the rest of his sons (except Philip — more on him in a future post). Following are some (disturbing) excerpts from the trial notes:

“Commonwealth vs. C. Johnson – ch’d with murder”

The records that survive are horrifying and  remarkable; testimony includes the following comments:

N. R. Powell (appears to be a doctor):  “Many marks of violence — bones of nose broke — one eye out — small fracture in temple — found before he got to place — most (wounds) not dangerous — concussion of the brain most probable result — death proceeded without medical aid — slight inflammation of brain near eye — Inflammation not as great as happens where death ensues concussion — possible from all appearances that he might have died from the injuries all together.”

William Freeland:  “saw Johnson at courthouse day of August, [posing?] about at various places, has reason to believe he would surrender himself.”

Reuben Johnson (another Johnson brother):  “Heard on Sunday that Will was dead, Monday morning afterwards was making [tobacco?] hills — Tuesday night afterwards he died, Wednesday morning he helped make coffin and three negroes carried off the coffin, he heard knocking on coffin as though nailing it on, negroes carried coffin toward the grave –”

tobacco plants

Image credit: US Department of Agriculture.

(See this National Park Service link for more on growing tobacco and an explanation of tobacco hills)

Jack Johnson (Virginia’s father, my 3X great-grandfather):  “was at his Father’s the night Will died, a negro came to his Father’s from the new ground and said Will was dying, his Father sent for Will, he died that night. Saturday he was making tobacco hills and was complaining as usual, straw did burn and his Father got up about the fire.”

Richard Johnson (the Johnson patriarch):  “same as to negroe’s being sick at new ground, put him in the house on straw, he was shrouded and straw and clothes burnt off of him, no marks of violence, negroe was healthy …”

William Denny (neighbor);  heard [Smith?] say that he whipped negroe about meat [March? Or stolen meat?] and then gave him another whipping about [August?] a severe whipping to his satisfaction.

William Wright (neighbor):  [blotted word], said he was inside of said Johnson’s plantation on the [mill?] hill, and Johnson on back part of his plantation, about half a mile off.

Joe Clark (neighbor):  “heard Flowers speaking of distance and pointing to distance [east?] [& etc?].”

Thomas Wright (neighbor):  “was at Johnson’s on Tuesday [that day stated?] Will died Johnson was from house and the headman beat him very much with a hoe he lay stick [& ea?] [stick down?].”

A Slave’s Murder in Buckingham County Makes the Front Page   Richmond Enquirer

After Christopher was convicted, a notice was published in the most prominent Virginian newspaper of the time, the Richmond Enquirer, on July 15, 1823, advertising for his recapture:

“By the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia – A Proclamation:
Whereas it has been represented to the executive by the jailer of Buckingham county that Christopher Johnson and James Smith, confined in the jail of the same county the first named, committed on a charge of murder and the last named for larceny, against whom a verdict was…
Christopher Johnson is about 50 years of age, six feet tall or upwards, stout made, rather corpulent, (stooped?) the shoulders, short black hair, (…) eyes, Roman nose, long chin, and a small puckered (mole?)…

For a longer version of the Virginia tobacco-growing life, take a peek at this video, courtesy of  Preservation Virginia:

This information came to me thanks to my dear cousin John Haskins, who shared a posting on the site FindAGrave.com written by Bev Golden, which I paraphrase here. I’m glad to have met Bev. Her original source is from a collection at the University of Virginia Library archives, copies of which I am anxiously awaiting now. Here is Bev’s post.

Christopher Johnson’s defense attorney Walter S. Fontaine’s notes of trial testimony and his defense strategy are in a collection of his papers at the African-American Sources: Manuscripts Division Special Collections Department at the University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA:

319. FONTAINE FAMILY PAPERS: Business, legal, and personal papers of Colonel Walter S. Fontaine of Buckingham County and of the Fontaine, Brown, Thompson and allied families. There are … and testimony from relatives and neighbors regarding an accusation that overseer Christopher Johnson beat a slave to death. Reference: (Acc. 4149)

 

 

 

 

How (Not) to Murder a Slave in Virginia

Virginian Luxuries

3.

Here, at long last, is the third installment on the story of my arrival at the subject for this book. I have been busy in the archives–wow! What things I’ve found! I think my head might burst open, it’s so full. So many posts now I need to share with you. My book project keeps growing. I hope after you read this post you will understand the reason for my tardiness in posting. I am still awaiting copies of the original documents from the University of Virginia Library and will double-check the details — more later. This information has come courtesy of what turns out to be a distant cousin on the white side, Bev Golden, who does have her hands on the documents. (See her link at the bottom of this post.) If you’re new to this blog, back up to the previous two posts to catch some background on who is who so I don’t confuse you. So, without further ado, let’s go. Put your seat belts on.

July, 1823: That’s the  Night  Month  the Lights Went Out at the Johnsons

1823 was an eventful year in Buckingham County, Virginia, at least for the Johnson family.  For one thing, Johnson patriarch Richard, father of my great-great-great grandfather Jack, penned his Last Will and Testament on September 8th (read more about it in my last post, “And So the Search Begins,” May 16, 2015). Also, although this wouldn’t have anything to do with the Johnson family until his wedding in 1850, Robert Haskins (my great-great grandmother Virginia’s future husband) was born, chattel property of the Haskins family who lived nearby. Another notable event during the summer of 1823: Jack’s brother Christopher became rather notorious in the neighborhood for a heinous act against a slave — even to the whites.

The Master Shall Be Free of All Punishment 

Virginia was a state in which it was almost impossible for a slaveowner to be charged with murder in the death of a slave; the colony of Virginia had established a tradition regarding the treatment of black slaves all the way back in 1705. In that year, the Virginia General Assembly made its position quite clear on the status and rights of black slaves, with a declaration that would help establish the brutality of slavery for many future generations:  “All Negro, mulatto and Indian slaves within this dominion…shall be held to be real estate. If any slave resist his master…correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction…the master shall be free of all punishment…as if such accident never happened.” (See this PBS link for more on Virginia’s slave codes.)  Despite these slaveowner protections against the torture or killing of a slave, during the summer of 1823 — months before patriarch Richard wrote his will — Christopher Johnson was indicted for murder in the beating death of a seventeen-year-old black man, chattel property of the Johnsons, a slave named Will. slave beating

Surprisingly,  Christopher was not just charged with the murder of young Will: he was ultimately convicted. Most interesting is the fact that his conviction was based on the testimony of his very own white neighbors: they were apparently scandalized and incensed at the level of Christopher’s brutality toward another human being, black or otherwise.  This might suggest that Johnson had already earned quite a reputation amongst his neighbors for some pretty savage behavior toward his enslaved brethren (and maybe his white ones as well–more on that later). The fact that Christopher refused to allow the local doctor to be sent for and also refused to allow other slaves to tend to Will after the beating helped convince the Court that the slaveowner had intent to harm or kill, a factor which worked against him despite the protections of the Slave Codes. At the trial, a neighbor, Mr. Pankey (possibly a doctor but I haven’t yet confirmed), testified that none of Will’s wounds should have been fatal, and that he believed Will could have been saved if a doctor had been allowed to provide medical care. Left to suffer in solitude, it took three long days for Will to die, locked up in a hot, stuffy tobacco barn.

Police-Looking for Christopher Johnson

Looking for Christopher Johnson

From the court records, it appears that 45-year-old Christopher became “enraged” at 17-year-old Will while the young man was working a new tobacco field.  A disturbing note for me is that my white great-great-great grandfather, Jack, appears to have testified in support of his brother during the hearing, with a statement that Will was “complaining as usual” that day. Did Jack witness the horrific beating? Did the notion of Will  “complaining” make it okay to beat the young man senseless (actually, beat him to death) in Jack’s mind? Jack, whose own children were mulatto and legally his slaves? (Who openly lived with their mother, also mulatto and slave?) This new information forces me to  re-think my  understanding of my ancestor Jack Johnson. Historically, Julys in Buckingham County are hot ones, averaging in the 90s. (weatherunderground)  I try to imagine what it must have been like for 17-year-old Will, enslaved, probably underfed and hungry (based on details from the testimony–see next post), and out in that hot field with an apparently already angry white man who was probably the son of his owner (Richard), overseeing his every move and (apparently) accusing him of stealing meat. But. One must ask: was Will that much of a rebel? Or does this speak to the general attitudes of the Johnsons about their slaves?  Perhaps it’s a little of both? (Much more on Jack in future posts.)

Stay tuned for the second half of this long post, coming Monday!

 

This information came to me thanks to my dear cousin John Haskins, who shared a posting on the site FindAGrave.com written by Bev Golden, which I paraphrase here. I’m glad to have met Bev. Her original source is from a collection at the University of Virginia Library archives, copies of which I am anxiously awaiting now. Here is Bev’s post.

Christopher Johnson’s defense attorney Walter S. Fontaine’s notes of trial testimony and his defense strategy are in a collection of his papers at the African-American Sources: Manuscripts Division Special Collections Department at the University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, VA:

319. FONTAINE FAMILY PAPERS: Business, legal, and personal papers of Colonel Walter S. Fontaine of Buckingham County and of the Fontaine, Brown, Thompson and allied families. There are … and testimony from relatives and neighbors regarding an accusation that overseer Christopher Johnson beat a slave to death. Reference: (Acc. 4149)

And So the Search Begins: What’s the Trouble? Part 2

wedding2.

I chose, as the title for this book, The Trouble with Virginia, because it fits so perfectly. Virginia is my great-great grandmother’s name.  She was born in Virginia. Of a white father and a black mother living openly as husband and wife in the South, in 1830. Plenty of trouble there–need I say more? Imagine navigating a world, a society, a culture such as what mixed-race Virginia (and others like her) must have encountered.

(Above:   My beautiful parents on their wedding day, 1958: another black-white marriage, 150 years later, when it was still illegal to “miscegenate” in 16 states)

Now.  America’s history of fascination with interracial sex (especially of the black-white variety) must be noted.  (“It’s … complicated.”)   I mean, talk about Loaded Mashed Potatoes. Whew.  (Sorry, Chili’s, your name, but we gotcha beat.) Thus, seeking to understand Virginia and what she might have made of the crazy, mixed-up world she was born into, imagining how she must have sought to understand who she was in that world, turns out to be a great way for mixed-race me to understand who I am, in every sense of the term. (In this still crazy, mixed-up world.)  So my book began as the story of a woman on a search to find herself, to understand who she is, where she came from. Who her family is. In the process, not only did I find a treasure-trove of colorful family stories and fascinating archival documents, more than I could ever have imagined I’d find, but I also found a piece of myself.  And a story of America.

The genealogy below is a page from a search that my uncle, my Mom’s brother, commissioned more than a few decades ago. Lucky for me, because it was done at a

It all started here-researching the Family Tree

time when some of the elders were still with us, my dear Grandma namely, who provided much detail, pieces of history which are now forever recorded for future generations. Some of the people who have inspired me in this project (in many ways) include my Grandma and her siblings. Below is a picture of my grandma Carsue  (center), the oldest of 13 siblings, born in 1897, with a passel of sisters:

Haskins sisters-croppedCarsue and her siblings were all born in the same house that was built for Virginia and her new husband Robert in 1850, a house that sits on the border of Buckingham and Appomattox Counties, when the couple were slaves, owned by Virginia’s father Jack. Speaking of Jack, my research has reaped some amazing material on the man, his contemporaries, and the times they lived in, historical documents that I am so thankful are still around.

One of my first big finds was Jack’s father’s will, written in 1823 and executed in 1830, then immediately contested by Jack’s older half-brother Philip.  Below are some thought-provoking parts of the will:

Jack's father's will

 

Stay tuned: Part 3 coming next….

What’s the Trouble with Virginia?

Whats the Trouble Dog-11.

Around this time in 1830, in Buckingham County, Virginia, Jack Johnson owned mulatto Allie and they had a daughter.

Said another way, my great-great-great grandfather owned his wife. My great-great-great grandmother. A slave. And in 1830 she gave birth to their fifth child, whom they conveniently named Virginia. My great-great grandmother. Also a slave.

Jack owned his wife, all of his children, and his children’s children. Until the Civil War came marching right on through their front yard.  But.  This isn’t the same-ol’ same-ol’ story about a white man in the antebellum South and what he did  with/to  his female slave. For starters, I have come to believe with conviction, three-plus years into my research, that Jack truly loved Allie. Even that they loved each other. And that during their marriage, yes, I say marriage, she was his only.

This book project has been in the making for a long, long time, the idea of it anyway, appearing to me over the years in many forms.   A persnickety abolitionist-leaning Northerner sitting up in her settee and stitching away at her story Reconciliation Quilt 1867quilt.  An apparition prodding me, actually, and every time she pokes her needle into the square depicting the slave who’s hefting two buckets, one on each side, each hanging from a long, straight stick balanced across his thick, round shoulders, shoulders almost as broad as his thick fire-red lips, I feel that needle, in either my arm or my butt, depending.

Reconciliation Quilt,” 1867
International Quilt Study Center, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2001.011.0001

And that abolitionist’s quiltmaking continues to create quite a kerfluffle from hundreds of slave quilts stitched before hers, all pieced together painstakingly, all packed with their own stories, quilts that awaken from their slumber in an endless summer of waves and rise up from their Underground Railroad and lay themselves upon me so heavily that I fear sometimes I might be smothered.

Other times it comes in the form of a brown-sugar-skinned red-headed boy, real cute if you ask me, who grows up to become a strappingly handsome young man, now a soul-food   star-chef who entices me with his Virginia version of Jamaican Jerk Wings and his Yum Yum Special BBQ Samiches. (My cousin!) And especially compelling is when it’s my grandma Carsue Motier Stevenson in Soul Food Magazineupbraiding 11-year-old me for feeding the chickens and then letting the pig out, because it promptly tramples those poor chickens while scrambling for the corn I threw and breaks the neck of one of them in the scuffle. Especially because then Grandma makes me watch as she finishes the job wringing the luckless chicken’s neck then plucking the feathers off the dead thing then frying it up in pig lard, in a castiron pan on the woodburning stove. And most especially sitting at the supper table and having to eat the thing that was running around clucking in the yard just this morning.                        Photo by Joshua Fitzwater

But it wasn’t until grown-up me stood and turned and peered toward Buckingham County from my tiny little house in California, squinting against the sun with my hand up on my brow, that I looked back far enough to realize, in the most visceral way, that the tiny little house I spent my Virginia summers in and the chicken coop where I fed the chickens all served as my slave ancestor’s home.   Built in 1850 and still today without running water or a bathroom and all that, meaning that this place I had occupied very briefly in its long life was a very historic homestead. If those walls could talk, right?

Now that I really get it, all these people, with their singular message, persist in pushing and poking at me in a clamorous cacophony: get up off your behind and get those arms and fingers moving. Write this story.

I chose to start this epic by writing the story not of Jack and Allie but of Virginia, my great-great grandmother. Part of the process, for me, was my own self-discovery: one mixed-race woman’s search; one’s search for oneself. Since, like Virginia, I am also the product of a white father and a black mother, I had the idea that by tracing and understanding Miss Virginia and what her unusual life circumstances might have felt like, coming of age in the antebellum South and then witnessing the War Between the States pass right through her front yard, I might really understand who I am.

I was not prepared for the fascinating story that began to take shape, brought to life by the research my uncle and cousin had done before me and the documents I found in the archives and embellished by colorful family lore. Jack’s father’s will, written in 1823, for example. (Jack’s oldest half-brother contested the will.) Slave receipts. (Bought, sold, rented.) Church records. (Public drunkenness.) Along the way, I realized this is much bigger than me. I realized that this story needs to be told because I owe it to Virginia. The story of mixed-race people who lived through this time in history, from their perspective, is sorely lacking in the American letters. Now, it’s Miss Virginia who is speaking to me regularly. Now she has the needle in my side: “Write. Write!”

Stay tuned: Part 2 coming next….

Just for Fun

Sometimes, life goes too fast and I feel like I can’t keep up. I have to stop and sit down. But my brain, well, my brain keeps running, down to the end of the block with a series of left turns, right every once in a while for balance. “Wait!” I say as I reach after it, but my brain doesn’t listen. It just runs. Sometimes, my time becomes not my own. Sometimes my brain, my ability to think and focus, feels like it’s in a blitzkrieg, me on the unfortunate end, and I look up to see where these rapidfire strikes are coming from: no matter how much I want to work on my own projects, I can’t because that pesky thing called Life has morphed into a towering monster with four maybe five sets of teeth all clacking at me hungrily, each with its demands on my time. I sip on my Diet Coke in a staredown with the monster, gnash my teeth in a threatening way to let it know I mean business. It grins and salivates, its tight little cheeks moving in a motion that says we both know who will win this duel. The monster is hungry, its stomach a big bowl of demands. “Don’t be so sure,” I say and then hold up my ceremonial sippy straw, which, to the monster, looks like a dangerous saber. But I know it’s really a secret cipher, something that I cannot sip through with my cancerstricken face, yet signifies my ability to control the situation while looking quite ladylike as I lift my bottled water to my mouth. So, here I am. I shift my eyes away and look longingly at my kitchen counter. That bottle of Lillet Blanc is looking cloyingly delicious. (Thanks, Heidi, because I never even heard of Lillet until my time on that magical mountain. Nunboxers, take me away!)

Where is the Jabberwock?

by Michele Beller 

For a night so fine
We’ll likely need some wine
As we nibble on our frimfram
We can sip from our tin cans.

But where, oh where, is the Jabberwock,
Said he? Why, of course my dear, by the Tumtum tree!
Blithely chortled she;
Can’t you see?

If you simply look by the frilly toves
Somewhere, somewhere, tucked away
Is a thund’rous celebration
Where the manzanita sway.

But most importantly
As anyone can see
Is a summit of the minds
Of the most sublime.

And that shall be a frabjous day!
The day we’ll sing, Callooh! Callay!

P.S. And all this time you’ve been wondering why the “random aunt” in my Blog’s url.

Calling Virginia

Sometimes, Virginia is balancing precariously on my right shoulder, jamming her bony heels into my clavicle and yanking the top part of my ear, leaning into it and telling me loudly what to write. She talks so fast I can barely keep up. I love those moments we have together. I must admit, though, they can get rather intense. There was a lot going on in her life. I think I have a lot to negotiate as a mixed chick? It’s nothing compared to what she went through as a mixed-race woman in antebellum Virginia!

Sometimes, though, I get busy with other demands. You know, like making sure I can pay the rent and other silly things. When I get too distracted, she kinda gets impatient with me, I think, and then she swooshes off to the other side of the room and stands there in a sulky grimace with her arms crossed. “Virginia,” I say collegially. She ignores me, maybe stirs up the pigs’ slop bucket. I mess with the knots in my frizzy hair and give her a day, two even, patiently waiting and proving that I really mean it. She turns away and walks outside to dump the chamber pot. At night, I walk around the bedroom hanging pictures of The Homestead and other meaningful Buckingham County landmarks. Nothing.

This is my life, for two weeks now. I go off to work and come home, maybe to find some scraps she left on the floor from when she fed the chickens this morning. Maybe some bits of her red hair on my pillow, like she’s been sleeping. I hate when she floats so far away from me like this.

So. What I’m going to do is conjure up some greats to help me get Virginia to forgive me, via Flavorwire. First, Miss Maya:

“What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be just the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’” — Maya Angelou

Next, Norman Mailer:

“Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.” — Norman Mailer

And finally, I love these words from Barbara Kingsolver:

“I learned to produce whether I wanted to or not. It would be easy to say oh, I have writer’s block, oh, I have to wait for my muse. I don’t. Chain that muse to your desk and get the job done.” — Barbara Kingsolver

 

Okay. Virginia, come talk to me! I love you!