For this conversation, Bobby and I find a semi-quiet, sorta empty spot in the basement. Of course, it's a family reunion so pop ups keep...popping up.
J* When you remember the house on Orange, what do you remember first?
B* I remember when Mildred finally moved out. I got the room by the door and I could sneak out of the house anytime I wanted to. When Daddy would say no I can’t go I would say, “Wait till you go to sleep.” Or mama would tell me, “Just wait.”
As you well know, I love to go. I was also sorta angry because Mildred and Harold were getting married and that meant I was gonna have to be the one to take care of everybody. That was gonna get in the way of my going. I worked that out by cooking wieners and beans and something quick. I liked the house until they built the apartments in the back because they cut down all the fruit trees. I didn’t like that until I got to move into one of them.
J* Where were you going when you were leaving?
B* I met this guy, William Woods. He was in the navy. I was still in high school but I was still going to clubs. They called him Woods ‘cause they called people by their last name in the service. I got pregnant but I didn’t know I was pregnant. We had broken up by then. I found out that I was pregnant in my seventh month. When I told him, he accepted that it was his. And it was his. He brought all his sailor friends up to the hospital and they had to put him out because they were so loud, drinking and all that. His ship was leaving for six months after that.
When Ronnie came out he was so light. I said, "He can’t be my baby." Then Woods said, "He looks just like my sister.”
When I was pregnant and would feel down or something, Don and John would comfort me. They said, “If you have a boy would you name him Ron so that we can have a Don, John and Ron?” I said I liked that. I like the name Kevin, so his name is Ronald Kevin Woods.
When Ronnie was born, he was the first grandchild that was really around Mama. Tony was really the first.
I let Mama take over. I was being my little wild self. She told me I had to go back to school or get a job. She thought I should get a job since I had Ronnie. I got a job at the telephone company. I was working split shifts and in between my time, instead of being with Ronnie I would go visit my friends or go to Big Tate’s or something. If I came home. When I got home, Ronnie would be sleep.
Genevieve* Aunt Bobbie, I just realized that man called.
G* Mr. Woods. He called and said he wants to come to the reunion.
J* He's here?
B* Yeah, they were from here. I called him and invited him to come. I was hopin' Ronnie and Jacqui would be here and Ronnie could have met him.
Anyway, I was out and Ronnie slept in the room with Mama and Daddy instead of sleeping with me.
When Woods came back from Hawaii, I was going with this guy that played the bass at the club. And he caught me blowing kisses to him coming down during intermission. Instead of coming with the ship, he flew in. I tried to explain that we were just friends but he didn’t buy it.
But believe it or not, Mama agreed to let Woods stay there in the house at 2060 Orange Ave. and we slept in the back.
J* What!? Nobody’s ever said that.
B* Yep. He was upset because Ronnie was sleeping with Mama and Daddy and he said I wasn’t being a mother to him. He asked me to marry him. I told Mama that he asked me to marry him and move back with him to Chicago. Mama said, “I don’t care if you marry him or not, but you aint takin’ that baby.” Then she said she didn’t think I should go to Chicago with him because she said, “You don’t know anybody in Chicago. He might get you down there and do anything to you.” That was all the reason I needed to say no. So we didn’t get married. Plus, I wasn't really, really in love.
J* How long did he stay?
B* Two or three weeks before he went back to Chicago. But when he left he said, “I’ll give you three months to make up your mind and come. If you don’t come, then it’s all over.”
At that time I had already met Nero.
J* The bass player?
B* No. He was another sailor. I asked Mama if I could get one of those apartments in the back. She said yes.
Nero and I ended up getting married. But Ronnie, of course still stayed down at Mama's house. Then Mama moved to Taper and sold the house on Orange. But I still lived in the apartments back there and I just rented from someone else.
Nero was a jealous person. I didn’t understand his jealousy. He was tall and big. He would have this look on his face and I would run out of the house screaming. I would go into the beauty shop where my girlfriend used to work. It was open all night so somebody was always gon be there. Seem like I would leave him like every other week. Mama used to drive by to see if Nero was messing with me.
He would accuse me…
(Bobby calling Woods’ brother)
Well if he’s on his way, good… where was I.?
B* I had stayed home from work one day and Nero was at work.
(Woods calling back)
B* Are you gonna be able to come over?
Woods* I’m pretty sure we will. Are you gonna be there all day?
B* Well, I was really disappointed, but Ronnie and Jaqui didn’t come. It was their anniversary so they didn’t come, but I really wanna meet you.
W* Well, when I get back home, I’m gonna tell you exactly what time we’re gonna meet you.
(She ends the call with Woods)
B* That was him! I never met any of his family. OK, where was I again?
Anyway, what pissed me of was one time his friend came to the house ‘cause he figured Nero was home by that time. I was still in a robe and a gown ‘cause I had been home all day. He wanted to fight the guy ‘cause he thought the guy came over to have sex with me. My girlfriend told him “Don’t nobody want ole ugly Bobby but you.”
I would leave him and I would leave mad. Then he would come and find me. Daddy told me when I leave him for good, it was gon be on a clear day and I would be sure. It wouldn't be after no fight or nothin' like that.
Sure enough one Saturday morning I got up and fixed breakfast. He was still in the bed while I was fixing breakfast. I said, “This is your last breakfast that I’m gonna fix for you. Nothing is wrong. I just wanna tell you that I’m leaving you this time and I don’t care if you find me, I’m not coming back this time. I’m through. I left him and I never been back.
I said, "I’m not mad. I’m not anything, I’m through."
At the time I was living with a friend of Mildred’s, Verna Lou. He found out where I was living. He breaks in and he just gon man handle me and wrestle me, not wrestle me but… He dragged me in the street. One of my shoes was in the street. Verna Lou went looking for Bubba.
When Bubba got to 'em he told him that Long Beach was not big enough for the both of us.Since I was here first, he had to go and he suggest very soon.
He left that night.
Bubba told him that if I was through with him then he better leave and not to mess with me. So then I was living on my own and I couldn’t afford it. I was getting in more trouble.
J* Are you ok with them? (The other people in the room)
B* Yeah, I’ts my life.
I had a lot different boyfriends and I couldn’t manipulate them all. I started getting mixed up in my manipulation. I met this guy. I called him my Daddy Greg. He was about twenty something years older than me. Everybody called him my Daddy Greg. There was another guy, George, he really liked me and really wanted to marry me and I said ok, but then I met Daddy Greg. He was another sailor. I was at the club with George and Greg asked George if he could dance with me.
While I was dancing with Greg he asked me what I did and I told him. He asked me where I lived but I didn’t tell him that.
J* That’s where yall met, at the club that night?
B* Yeah, that night at Cozy’s. I mean, not at Cozy’s, but at the club.
Greg had been looking for me since we met at the club. I had heard that this older guy had been asking around Long Beach about me. He was standing out by my job and told me he was looking for me. I said, "That's stupid." I told him I was engaged. He said, "You might as well tell that other guy that the engagement is over."
George started getting suspicious and so I told him, “I don’t want to be married to you." I took the ring off and it went in the gutter. That was the end of me and George.
J* I guess so.
He told me that his children were important to him and that he really wanted to be there and raise them. "So if at all possible that’s where I’m gonna be. So if you wanna be with somebody then go head ‘cause I can’t tie you down. The only thing is, don’t be with me after you’re with somebody else.” I liked him because he was older and always told me the truth.
Later on, he got back in touch with his wife and he moved to Philadelphia. Some time went by and he and his wife were separated and he sent for me. Things had changed. He had gotten in an accident, he had a plate in his head, a lot of things had happened. The last time I saw him he had just moved back here and he was gonna buy a home here. He and his wife were divorced.
J* Where is he now? Is he alive?
B* I think he died. He had moved to Long Beach. Had a house on the west side.
What made me leave Nero? Mama had moved to Taper. I went to pick Ronnie up one day from her. He was still a baby. Nero had slapped me in front of Ronnie. That spoiled it for Nero. After that, when Ronnie would see a man and a woman fighting he would always say, “Is that Nero? Is he gonna slap that lady?”
This guy told me that Nero is doing well now though. He was a physics and math teacher. His sister who is a nun told me that.
I remember I was sorta mad because Ronnie was mine and I felt like I couldn’t t have no say. I couldn’t take him down to Azzie’s with me. I wanted him to know my friends. Whatever I was doin', I wasn't doin' it in front of Ronnie. I wanted him to know my friends though, know me. They all know about him.
J* Who was Azzie?
B* My good friend. Mama wanted me to be friends with this other girl 'cause she only had one child, not four. I told Mama she was all caught up in how things looked. I told her that this other girl that she wanted me to be friends with, she only had one baby but she done had about three abortions so what's the difference? Mama found out I had Ronnie and that I took him over to Azzie’s and she didn't like it so she sent Mildred to come get him.
Back in high school, me and my friends, about ten of us, started this sorority at Poly.
J* What was it called?
B* Delia. We were the best dressers. I always hung with this crowd that thought they was the best. We would go to the clubs and leave by ourselves and the fat women would leave with the men. My friend Connie said, "How come we keep leaving by ourselves?"
We were known in Long Beach. When we walked into the club, we were noticed. Partly because we were dressed so nice, or one of us was dating the owner, or someone in the band, or something.
J* I remember once I was on the bus in junior high and we were going down Long Beach Blvd. The boys on the right side of the bus were all leaned over looking out of the window and I was like, “What are they looking at?” It was you. Walking down the street in something flow-y, lookin’ all good.
J* If you had a weekend with Kennedy, what would you tell her? I think you have so much to teach her.
B* I do. And I'm gon have to. She don't really know me. Ronnie don't really know me.
Kennedy loves excitement. She hates to be bored.
J* She reminds me so much of you.
B* She does. She is like, I aint gon be bored.
(I take a call from Bettye)
B* I know one thang, I gotta get outta this t-shirt.
(Call from Bettye ends. Brief conversation with my mother. Bobby and I continue. The pop ups.)
B* My friends used to tell me, "Where you find all these suit wearin' niggas?" I say, "I don't know." Mama had a lot to do with that. She would tell me, "You don't need no nigga aint workin'."
Mama used to tell me there is nothin' more important than friendship. Your girlfriends boyfriends will do anything they can to mess up friendship. And that has never happened. She also said, "Never, never go with a man that's prettier than you."
Now I don't know about no prettier than me. I think Mama was hurt by some light skinned guy thought he was pretty or something, and he didn't choose her.
But because Kennedy is so attracted to excitement I don't want her to be with some thug because that's so different from her. Yeah, I have a lot to teach her. I would tell her that fun is one thing, and I don’t want her to lose her desire to have fun, but I would tell her to discriminate.
Comin' up, we thought we were sophisticated. I remember my friend’s sister told me, “I don’t know what makes you think you’re so much. I get my dope from the same place you get yours.” I had to stop and say, that's true. I mean, maybe my dope was brought to me, or when I went to pick it up, people like her wasn't down there, but she was right. It came from the same place.
I would tell her to be aware of what’s going on around her. I would tell her don’t take everything from every body. Don’t take drinks from every body.
(More people start coming in the room so we take a break.)
Another thing I would tell her, is that I would always be there for her. I would always listen. I hope that she would come to me with anything. She’s my granddaughter and I always will be there for her. No trouble would ever come between me and her.