Sunday, June 08, 2008

Birthplace of the Blues (fiction-alternate history)

note: I just need to make sure that people who read this understand that it's completely made up. I recommend David Garrow for those who want a balanced take on this.

He didn’t know she was married or that she was anyone’s mother, much less my mother. I don’t know for sure that he would have cared, but it’s important to me that he didn’t know. He was in the city to support the garbage worker’s strike. As it happened, my father had a desk job with the sanitation department. It doesn’t really figure in except Daddy hadn’t been home before nine in three weeks. He was the only person in management trying to talk the city into a compromise. The people at his work called him the worst names behind his back.

Mamma collected autographs. Daddy didn’t like her doing it. In front of me, he’d say “You’re too old for that sort of thing. You’re not some bobby soxer. It ain’t dignified.”

She kept them in a red book like a diary with a tassel to mark the newest page. Her favorite story was about Union Avenue in front of Sun Records. She not only got Johnny Cash’s autograph, but Jerry Lee Lewis’s too on the same day. Elvis had a page all to himself. She met him when she worked at the car dealer’s. Elvis offered to buy her a cheeseburger. She had to tell him that she was married. Elvis felt guilty and didn’t buy the gold Cadillac De Ville. The boss fired her the next day. “It was just a cheeseburger girl. The king’s married himself.”

Mamma had red hair and green eyes. People used to tell her back then that she couldn’t possibly be anyone’s mother. Her face would light up and she’d shake her head so that her hair moved around and say, “Aren’t you so sweet, but I wouldn’t trade my boy for anything in the whole world.”

She was walking up Beale Street and and a friend told her to get his autograph. Mamma asked “Does he sing or play an instrument?”

Her friend just laughed “Girl, are movie stars and musicians the only thing you know about?”

“I read the front page of the newspaper sometimes, “ then she looked again and went “Oh…”

The entourage was just about to walk past, so the friend says “Here’s your chance.”

Mama stepped to their side of the sidwalk, held out the book and the pen and smiled. He’s nice about it, but he has other things to do that afternoon. Two of the men wear white clerical collars. He smiled at my mother and looks her straight in the eye. It took her by surprise. Black men still didn’t usually do that, but she was the one asking for the autograph and that didn’t happen much either still. One of the men with a collar started to move towards them.

He took the pen and signs, gave her back the book, but accidentally held on to the pink pen, then walked back up Beale Street. Mama closed it up quick and didn’t even look at the autograph. She got me from school twenty minutes late, made our dinner, and left her book on the kitchen table. We took the dog for a long walk, but forgot to leave a note.

Daddy must have come home in between. All I know is that he opened it up to the spot marked by the blue ribbon and it said “Room 205 Lorraine Motel”. Mama didn’t even know that’s what was written in her book until it was too late, at least that’s what she told me.

I never saw my father again. You didn’t have to read the papers to hear the news. Even though it was April 5 already, Mama decided to build a big fire in the living room fireplace. When the flames got real high, she tossed in her red book of autographs.

“But Mama, you love that book.”

“Not any more," she whispered.

She sat on the sofa and pressed me against her then began to cry. The next morning, she read the front page of the Memphis Record over and over. Every day for the rest of her life, she read the paper.

“Where’s Daddy?” I asked her.

She shook her head. “I don’t know…..We’re just having a misunderstanding. He’ll come home, we’ll get it straightened out.”

We watched the funeral on television. They showed the widow Coretta with their children and Mama made me turn it off.

Two months later, they caught a man named James Earl Ray whose lawyer talked him into confessing without a trial. My Daddy’s body was found in the Mississippi River six months after that. They don’t even mention it in the paper.

I was twenty two when the cancer took her. I married young. My wife is black, we met at Southern Illinois. I was surprised that mama never seemed bothered about it given that the South never left her in most other ways. She just told us, “You two stay faithful to one another. Promise?”

We were living in St. Louis by then and after we left Memphis we never went back. Mama gained weight. She used to love to gossip, but gave it up after the move.

Before she died , my mama told me what was in her autograph book, “It’s the dream not the man that matters sometimes. Swear that you’ll never tell anyone.”



At 6/09/2008 10:03:00 AM, Blogger Elizabeth McQuern said...

I like this! And your other recent fiction efforts!

At 6/09/2008 10:15:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

thanks....had no idea you were reading this stuff at all.
I'm very nervous about this one because it can be taken the wrong way so easily.


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