Drawings by Julia Taylor
“In 1920, at the age of seventeen, my paternal grandmother left her small hometown of Lovelady Texas, for New York City.
She lived there as a single woman for ten years before marrying.
I will read from part of a fictionalized account of her life.”
Here is an excerpt from her piece, “Tin Heart Texas”:
Get out of Texas. After a summer working for hay haulers, hemmed in by history and Aunts, what should and shouldn’t, could and couldn’t be done, she had to break away. So much empty space, inside and out, but she was boxed in, cut off. After the fourth season, having cooked, cleaned, laundered, and suffered, she left. The train passed behind the back pasture of Uncle Collins’ place, and she jumped. One small suitcase, and twenty dollars to get from Texas to New York. She made it, and a few dollars along the way, playing cards. Dirty and desperate, she worked her way to Harlem and a fifth floor cold water walk-up. Now, she works daytime cleaning jobs, at night she hustles, often men, occasionally cards. Della orchestrates her life many scenes at a time, playing them together for maximum effect.
Returning to the apartment, Della’s unbuttoning before she reaches the door. The roof is the only place for a vista, for a breath, for a pause. Dumping crinolines she jumps in the bath, pours cold water from a bucket over her head, and shakes as she searches for a bit of linen to dry off. She can see the dirty dishes in the sink, but knows there is no food. As she pulls on small pants, saltine crackers catch her eye. She finds one last ale, and a blouse. She worries about what will happen next and bounds up the shallow stairs to the top. The rusty door scrapes and rattles as she pushes her way onto the roof. Crowded with crap; pipes and general garbage, she steps around to find a sunset seat. Sitting on the edge of a pipe she stares down at her ankles, her feet. She has kankles, but works them, if she places her hand on her hip and shoves out her breasts no one who matters notices. Her toes line up, but are a bit krunkled – too many high heels, too much standing. Dancing can do it too.