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All In The Family

 

Summer Of Salvation by Maxine Thompson

 

Reseda, California

August 3, 2007

 

Dear Debra,

      I know I’m the last on your list when it comes to priorities, being as you’re this big Hollywood casting director and all, and being as you haven’t been home in over 4 years, but I’m speaking to you as your mother.

      Life is short, and I don’t know how much time I have left to live, but I know there is one thing that is true. You’re going to miss your dear mother when I’m dead and gone.

      So with this in mind, I’m inviting you and your new husband Juan to come visit me for the family reunion. It will be held on August 17, 2007.

      I know I sent you the invitation back in March, but I just want to remind you.

      Not being one to pick a bone, but I must say this. I’m sure Juan is a nice man, but I can’t understand how you’ve been married 4 years and have never brought him home, but I want to meet him. I don’t care if he is Mexican. I still haven’t gotten over how you eloped, but so much for that.

      Anyhow, I know you and I have had our differences in the past, but I want you to know I love all of you girls the same.

      I’m writing to remind you that I plan on having all your sisters come home for this family reunion on August 17, 2007. Your daddy and I look forward to meeting Juan and seeing you both together. I expect you to be there!

Love,

Mama

P.S. You know we are not getting any younger. Your daddy’s arthritis is still flaring up. I might have to take him to an acupuncturist.

      You better be there!

   “Eee-wwwwooo-ee!” Letting out a hiss of anger, which came deep from within her solar plexus, Debra Johnson-Soto flung the letter across the room as though it were a Frisbee while she continued speed-walking on her treadmill. A health buff, Debra refused to miss a beat as she did her daily five-mile trek on her personal gym. She had her iPod, attached to her ear, with Beyonce’s “Keep Giving Your Love to Me” bumping in her ears, but her mother’s letter upset her so, she couldn’t even concentrate on the music. A red wave circled the family room and made the walls swell.

   Even 2000 miles away, her mother had the ability to infuriate her.

   The letter read like a directive from your boss—no, a black mother-guilt missile. One meant to shoot her straight through the heart. How dare her pull that mother-rank card on her! She pushed the pause button, stepped off the treadmill, stalked over to the leather playpen sofa, and took her fist and punched one of the forest green tossed pillows. Without missing a beat, she climbed back on the treadmill, pushed the button, and re-started her steady pace.

   “Que paso, Mamacita?” Juan looked up from his Sunday Spanish newspaper. He retrieved the letter off the floor and put it on the credenza, which stood in the corner.

   It was Sunday afternoon and Debra and her husband Juan were lounging in the family room of their home in Reseda, which was their favorite Sunday pastime. Juan was chilling from his growing business as a landscaper at some of Beverly Hills’ most prestigious mansions, and she was having downtime from her job as a Hollywood Caster, as well as her new burgeoning side business as an independent film producer.

   “I can’t believe she came at me with the big guns.”

   “What do you mean?”

   Juan had just finished pressing 200 pounds on his workbench, then settled down with his newspaper. Debra, having completed her five-mile-trek, wrapped the towel around her neck and climbed off the treadmill.

   “Mother’s guilt. She knows she’s not going to die. She’s too ornery to die.” Debra hissed through her nostrils, then leaped off the treadmill. She thought of how healthy her mother was at fifty-nine. She still walked five miles to town to do her grocery shopping at the Piggly Wiggly Market.

   “Don’t say that about your mother. What’s really the matter, Mami? I see ain’t no sense in catching you in this mood. Are you PMSing again?”

   “Naw, I’m not PMSing. I’m just sick of her.”

   Debra cringed. If Juan thought the Tasmanian devil could come out of her at that time of the month, he really didn’t know about the fear lurking in her mind. She looked away nervously, twisting her wedding band on her left ring finger.

   Debra spoke with finality. “I ain’t going, so she can just do what she got to do.” Debra thought of the last family reunion fiasco, as she called it. She and Candace had gotten into a fight over the “heir property”—including a pearl necklace heirloom, which belonged to her grandmother—that her paternal grandparents, Moses and Beulah Johnson, had bequeathed. To Debra, her mother seemed to have taken Candace’s side, which reminded her of the old days, and she had stormed out and sworn she’d never return. How come they couldn’t be a normal family?

   “Now you know how you say you don’t make any major decisions before or during that time of the month?”

   Debra set her chin and, from habit, watched Juan retreat. After they made up following arguments, Juan often told her he knew that when her chin poked out, she was beyond being reasoned with. The same thing about this situation. Plain and simple, she did not want to go home for the family reunion. She remembered the last one, four years ago, which had turned into a disaster for her. She had flown out in a huff on the third day, and hadn’t been back to Mason Corners since. It was during that period she’d met Juan and they’d eloped on a motorcycle trip to Las Vegas after a six-week whirlwind courtship. It had been lust at first sight, and Juan’s muscular, toned body still had the ability to excite her and make her liver quiver.

   At the time when they’d met, she’d felt lonely, alienated from her family, and tired of being single. Talking about serendipity, Juan was a bronze Adonis, dripped in golden sunshine, muscles rippling like a river torrent as he worked in her garden. Although he was not the type of man she would normally date, she was mesmerized by his presence. Up until then, she would only date professional, educated men with careers equivalent to her own. But not only had Juan proven to be an exciting date, even better, Juan had turned out to be a wonderful husband and gave her everything that was missing in her life.

   “Calm down, Mami. Don’t let something like this mess up your day.” Juan began massaging her shoulders. That’s what she loved about Juan. So laid back. He was totally the opposite of her multi-tasking, Type A, driven personality.

   But why did her mother have the ability to reduce her to the bad child, the middle sister again? No matter that she’d received Oscar nominations for some of the African American and Latina actors she’d cast in different roles; no matter that she had come to one of the hardest towns in which to crack the code in and made it as an African American casting director; no matter that she had walked the red carpet of the Oscar Awards in 2002 when Halle Berry, Sidney Poitier, and Denzel had received their Oscars, her mother could still make her feel like she was nothing. A frisson of anger rippled up her back and wound its way up into her wrinkled brow.

   For a moment, contradictory emotions of hurt, rage, and hate—yes hate—for her mother flared like a crimson tide in her bosom. When she came out of the wave, she found her fists clenched and nail prints in the palms of her hands.

   “She always does this. I wonder if she wrote her precious Candace.”

   “Do I hear a little bit of sibling rivalry?”

   “No, I love my sister, but my mother always made a difference in Candace. That was her firstborn who could do no wrong.” Absently, Debra rubbed the scar on her forehead where the two had had fistfights as teenagers. Debra could swear her mother had taken Candace’s side even back then.

   “Oh, that was her firstborn—you know how it is.”

   Juan grinned. He was his mother’s firstborn and he always felt that they had a more special bond than his five younger siblings.

   Debra continued. “She was always so perfect. Each class I took after her, the teacher’s would try to compare me with her.

    “I swore when I grew up, I would move and get as far away as possible from Mason Corners as I could. I got sick of the Bible Belt.”

   “Didn’t you talk to your mother this morning?”

   “Yes, and she wanted to know if I was going to church.” Debra rolled her eyes upwards in her head.

   “You know you can get up early and go to mass with me.”

   Debra felt a twinge of guilt, but she flipped her wrist in dismissal. “You know I’m Baptist.”

   Juan laughed. That was a running joke between them now, since Debra hadn’t been to church since they got married four years ago. “All right, Mami.”

   “Why can’t my mother be more like your mother?”

   “What do you mean?”

   “You know—more private? If you want somebody in the family to know your business, just tell my mother. We call her the International Chronicler.”

   Absently, she glanced at the oil painting of her father, John known as Jack, her mother, Sara, her three sisters, Candace, Sharon, and Angela, which graced her fireplace. A Sears portrait of Candace, her husband Gregory, Senior, and their three children, Gregory, Jr., age 14, Sarafina, age 12, and Jacquelin, age 9, stood on an easel. She also had old-fashioned sepia-toned cameo pictures of her late grandparents, Moses and Beulah Johnson, who were the parents of seven children, five daughters and two sons, Jack being the youngest.

   Juan smiled. “Oh, you know Mom loves you.”

   A smile flashed across Debra’s face. She never forgot how warm Juan’s dumpling-centered, tortilla-rolling mother, Mother Axa, made her feel. Even with her broken English, she communicated love.

   “Yes, Mother Axa is good people.”

   That’s why her mother-in-law knew that she was pregnant and she hadn’t even told her mother yet. Actually, Mother Axa had looked at her and told her two weeks ago at her sister-in-law Esperanza’s baby shower. Debra had poo-pooed the idea. In fact, her period was due that following weekend.

   “I dreamed you had a baby girl,” she’d said in her heavy Spanish accent. “You’re pregnant. I can tell by the gleam in your eye.”

   True enough, her home pregnancy test had come back positive—to her dismay. Why now? Then, a week later the doctor had confirmed the test. “Mrs. Soto, you’re perfectly healthy. You’re just going to have a baby.”

   Debra cringed at the very thought. This was not the time to be having a baby. This was one time she hoped Mother Axa had been her usual discreet self and not told Juan. He was just so ‘macho,’ there was no way he’d ever understand. She had worked hard to make him accept how liberated she was.

   Debra stalked over to her computer, and slammed it on. She signed on to the Internet to look at a web site, which advertised for extras.

   Although she typed in a fury, her mind was on something else. Debra decided to evade the issue. She had plans. Big plans to start her own production company and direct her own film. Why did her birth control pills have to fail her now? Not that Juan knew, because she’d pretended to be off the pill anyhow. But he’d never understand how she would want to have an abortion.

   Debra paused. She sure hoped he hadn’t noticed that she had missed her period. He seemed to know her cycle better than her.

   How could she tell her husband, whom she loved dearly, that she was a snap of a finger away from contemplating—no, truth be told, actually planning—an abortion. Her mentor, Camille Dixon, had already found her a private clinic in Beverly Hills. How could she tell him that her career meant more right now than a baby? How could she tell Juan she had mixed feelings about starting a family at this point of her career? In fact, she had been trying to get into producing, had just found the right script, and was trying to do a low-budget film. This was worse than last year when she had to tell him she had re-financed her house—without his knowledge. Why couldn’t she be content with the simple things like Juan? How could she hide this from Juan? And, if her pregnancy came to his attention, could she fake a miscarriage?

   She hated to think about the abortion she’d already scheduled for that coming Friday.

ba

      That Sunday when Reverend Stokes made the altar call in church, Sara, feeling the pull of mother radar, went straight forward and fell to her knees.

   She prayed, “Lord, I want all my girls to come home. I know in my heart, they need me more than when they were little. Something is wrong; I feel it in my spirit. I worked hard to make them independent, but even though they are, I don’t think any of them are happy. I also dreamed about fish. I wonder who’s pregnant?”

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All In The Family

Contents

 

Summer Of Salvation     by Maxine Thompson

 

Where My Heart Is

by Melanie Schuster

 

Momma’s Baby, Daddy’s Maybe

by Janice Sims                   

 

 

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