COUNTESS W. GATES
Countess W. Gates Journal
I dreamed of fishes last night. I know lots of folks dont
believe in that, but every time I have one of my fish dreams...
somebody in the family comes up expecting a baby. So I made my
rounds as alwayscalling all those who hadnt had them-selves
fixed already, that is.
Now Mama, you know I got my tubes tied three years ago,
Rachel said. Dont even start with me!
Yeah? Well Paulines daughter down the street had hers
tied also. Seems those things, at times, do come loose. Yes...
had herself a fine little boy too, I said. Just as
cute as he wants to be.
The rest of my children who didnt laugh me off the phone,
begged me not to bring it nigh them. I started not to even bother
Johnnie Maeher acting like shes planning when hers
will come and all. When I have called in the past, she always
pretends to be thrilled when it turns out to be one of the others
instead of her. Her way of coping, Id say.
That daughter of mine...shes a strong one all right. I came
right out and told her one day, If any of my children do
decide to adopt, I wouldnt treat that child any different
than my own flesh and blood. After all, arent we all
descendants of Adam and Eve anyway? If we traced our roots all
the way back to the beginning, wouldnt we all arrive at
the same place?
Adam or Eve...neither one had a belly button. Were they not created
by God? Were all connected, whether we want to accept it
or not. Who is my mother, my father, sisters, and brothers? Do
children truly belong to any of us, or are we all merely caretakers
for the Almighty?
Anyhow, Johnnie Mae cut me quick and to the bonewith respect
though, mind you. I still dont allow back talk, dont
care how grown they think they are.
Mama, why would I adopt when Im not ready for any
children? Johnnie Mae said. If I were going to adopt,
I might as well go on and have my own.
Yes, that Johnnie Mae is a strong one. Keeps things to herself
too much though if you ask me. From what I can tell, she has a
few close friends. Ive met the one she calls Pearl (who
whispered to me it was all right to call her Sister), and that
kinda tall, big-boned one...with the short hair...calls herself
Honey. That Honey is a mess! She keeps me doubled
over whenever she stops by and I happen to be visiting.
But those kids of hersLord-have-mercy-help-them-Jesusa
couple of them need their butts whipped. Hear me?! One good time,
thats all it would take! Like that old mischievous baby
boy of hers. I told her shed better get a handle on him
before he ends up getting a handle on her. Young parents today
trying out all this new parenting junklistening to Oprah.
Im sure even Oprahs been introduced to the scripture
about not sparing the rodprobably why she turned out so
Shoot, shed likely pop some of these old bad butt children
herself if she had to be the one raising em. Children now
will threaten to dial 9-1-1 if you look at them too long. Well
I told that grandchild of mine, You can call 9-1-1 if you
want to. Ill beat your butt and then send you on back with
em when they get here! Im not having that mess!
I mean it! Not me!
Mr. Gates is suppose to be getting one final check from that Black
Lung settlement. The coal mines were good in providing folksespecially
Coloreds and poor whiteswith regular work, a
means to get food, clothing, and a home back then. Paid more than
most jobs blacks could get (though not nearly as much as they
should have). But those who did make it out from its death traps,
discovered their lungs were just full of coal dust. Many of them
are just now finally getting some real compensation, though for
most, its too little too late.
I think my husbands deepest sorrow these days, is Johnnie
Mae. She cant seem to find many words to exchange with him.
I admit, Im in the dark when it comes to what happenedthough
Im positive it wasnt of a sexual nature (theyve
both confirmed that, and I saw it was the truth they spoke as
I looked in their eyes when they said it wasnt). But whatever
it was, it rent the veil from the top...and that tear has continued
to split down to where it appears to be held now only by a thread.
Johnnie Mae attributes it to growing up.
Mama, I cant be Daddys little girl all my life,
she said. All goo-goo and ga-ga eyes.
And Mr. Gates keeps spouting off things from the bible. About
seeing through a glass darklythen face to face...about scales
falling from the eyes...about in a moment in a twinkling of an
eye we shall all be changedI declare if I dont believe
that man has no idea what he means sometimes!
Well, at least Johnnie Mae seems to have calmed down about her
How come I couldnt have had a pretty name? Like Rachels...or
Maries? Why did yall have to name me after a boy?
Johnnie Mae said when she was about thirteen. Even Christians
name is better than mine.
Child, I said, your name could have been Suzy
Q, Charlie Mae
Whats the difference?! Johnnie, Charlie...theyre
still boy names.
Oh Johnnie Maes not a boys name; its your
name. And youre not a boy. Are you? Besides, its not
the name that defines the person, its the person that defines
the name. And power belongs to the person who learns how to possess
his or her own identity. Have you ever heard of Sojourner Truth?
Yeah, I guess so, she said with wind poking out of
Well how many folks you know by that name? Probably none.
Not one. But Miss Truth picked that name for herself straight
from the bible...sojourn and truth, and she made something out
of it. If youre strong enough and can go deep enough...to
know the true you, it shouldnt matter what your name is.
Then and only then, will people know and respect you. Thats
if you do something respectable with what youre given.
It sounded good when I said it back then anyway. But somewhere
in her search she discovered someone else. Well, she might be
able to make the others call her that, but her name is Johnnie
Maestill my baby! And had we named her what she wants to
be calledshe would be having a fit about that instead I
Lest I forget, she is descendant of Great-Grandma Nam-o. Johnnie
Mae wears a pendant around her neck...jade, she calls it...surrounded
by 18 karat gold. It has Chinese symbols that translate to good
luck and longevity.
Great-Grandma Nam-o wore a silver dollar hung from an old green
cloth (green for life and growth she had said), and whenever she
was worried or wanted an answer to a thing; she would sit, hold
that silver dollar up to her squinting empty eye socketsjust
batting away...and would talk to it. Then after she found peace,
she would tuck it back in her bosom and go right on. You would
have thought it had some special powers or something. Ive
seen Johnnie Mae, many times, swing her green and gold pendant
close to the same way. Johnnie Mae and Nam-o...different worlds,
yet so much in common.
So when I did call Johnnie Mae and told her about the fish, she
sighed so hard I think I felt the breeze rush through my one ear
and come out the other.
Mama, I dont know whos worseyou or the
psychic network people, Johnnie Mae said. And you
probably need to ask God to forgive you
Forgive me? For what? I cant help it if I got the
gift to dream dreams. Did Joseph the Dreamer need to ask for forgiveness?
Was not his gift from the Lord? This is Gods work
Mama, I really dont think your fish are Gods
Oh no? Well if youll read that bible for more than
just ways to condemn folks, youll find plenty of fish doing
Gods work. There were the two fishes that fed the five thousand...
then the fish that had money in its mouthenough to pay taxes
mind you, and even Jesus said hed make us fishermen of men.
Theres something to these fishes, Im telling you,
youd better hear me.
Okay Mama. Okay.
Okay my foot! And dont be trying to patronize me either.
Somebodys about to become a mother in this family. Ive
not dreamed a fish yet that hasnt produced.
Johnnie Mae laughed. One of her It just wont be me
kind of laughs. Thats just fine with me too. I know how
to bide my time. Somebodys gonna come up wobbling...sooner,
rather than later. Im marking it down on my calendar right
now...I spoke it on the nineteenth day of February, 1998. Theyll
see. Ive got nothing but time.