Countess W. Gates’ Journal

I dreamed of fishes last night. I know lots of folks don’t 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 always—calling all those who hadn’t had them-selves fixed already, that is.

“Now Mama, you know I got my tubes tied three years ago,” Rachel said. “Don’t even start with me!”

“Yeah? Well Pauline’s 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 didn’t laugh me off the phone, begged me not to bring it nigh them. I started not to even bother Johnnie Mae—her acting like she’s 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, I’d say.

That daughter of mine...she’s a strong one all right. I came right out and told her one day, “If any of my children do decide to adopt, I wouldn’t treat that child any different than my own flesh and blood.” After all, aren’t we all descendants of Adam and Eve anyway? If we traced our roots all the way back to the beginning, wouldn’t we all arrive at the same place?

Adam or Eve...neither one had a belly button. Were they not created by God? We’re 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 bone—with respect though, mind you. I still don’t allow back talk, don’t care how grown they think they are.

“Mama, why would I adopt when I’m 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. I’ve 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 hers—Lord-have-mercy-help-them-Jesus—a couple of them need their butts whipped. Hear me?! One good time, that’s all it would take! Like that old mischievous baby boy of hers. I told her she’d better get a handle on him before he ends up getting a handle on her. Young parents today trying out all this new parenting junk—listening to Oprah. I’m sure even Oprah’s been introduced to the scripture about not sparing the rod—probably why she turned out so well.

Shoot, she’d 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. I’ll beat your butt and then send you on back with ‘em when they get here!” I’m 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 folks—especially “Coloreds” and poor whites—with 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, it’s too little too late.

I think my husband’s deepest sorrow these days, is Johnnie Mae. She can’t seem to find many words to exchange with him. I admit, I’m in the dark when it comes to what happened—though I’m positive it wasn’t of a sexual nature (they’ve both confirmed that, and I saw it was the truth they spoke as I looked in their eyes when they said it wasn’t). 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 can’t be Daddy’s 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 darkly—then face to face...about scales falling from the eyes...about in a moment in a twinkling of an eye we shall all be changed—I declare if I don’t believe that man has no idea what he means sometimes!

Well, at least Johnnie Mae seems to have calmed down about her name.

“How come I couldn’t have had a pretty name? Like Rachel’s...or Marie’s? Why did y’all have to name me after a boy?” Johnnie Mae said when she was about thirteen. “Even Christian’s name is better than mine.”

“Child,” I said, “your name could have been Suzy Q, Charlie Mae—”

“What’s the difference?! Johnnie, Charlie...they’re still boy names.”

“Oh Johnnie Mae’s not a boy’s name; it’s your name. And you’re not a boy. Are you? Besides, it’s not the name that defines the person, it’s 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 her jaws.

“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 you’re strong enough and can go deep know the true you, it shouldn’t matter what your name is. Then and only then, will people know and respect you. That’s if you do something respectable with what you’re 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 Mae—still my baby! And had we named her what she wants to be called—she would be having a fit about that instead I suppose.

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 sockets—just 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. I’ve 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 don’t know who’s worse—you or the psychic network people,” Johnnie Mae said. “And you probably need to ask God to forgive you—”

“Forgive me? For what? I can’t 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 God’s work—”

“Mama, I really don’t think your fish are God’s work—”

“Oh no? Well if you’ll read that bible for more than just ways to condemn folks, you’ll find plenty of fish doing God’s work. There were the two fishes that fed the five thousand... then the fish that had money in its mouth—enough to pay taxes mind you, and even Jesus said he’d make us fishermen of men. There’s something to these fishes, I’m telling you, you’d better hear me.”

“Okay Mama. Okay.”

“Okay my foot! And don’t be trying to patronize me either. Somebody’s about to become a mother in this family. I’ve not dreamed a fish yet that hasn’t produced.”

Johnnie Mae laughed. One of her It just won’t be me kind of laughs. That’s just fine with me too. I know how to bide my time. Somebody’s gonna come up wobbling...sooner, rather than later. I’m marking it down on my calendar right now...I spoke it on the nineteenth day of February, 1998. They’ll see. I’ve got nothing but time.


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