Candied Yams Amid Controversy
By: Shavon C. Evelyn
We stared at each other for an interminable moment as the candied yams congealed between us. Widened eyes met lids lowered in shame. Aunt Glenda glared from face to face around the table trying to determine who knew it first. Who held the secret and for how long? How many members of the family that she held so dear had come to her home for Sunday dinners knowing her life was built on a lie. Eight sets of eyes stared back in silence. Uncle Joe appeared stricken, not shocked. Like he’d known all along and just hadn’t wanted it to come out this way.
I always thought it was odd that Cousin Roni was the only one on this side of the family who wore glasses. Everyone else had perfect 20/20 until print started to blur signaling the time had come to acquiesce to reading glasses. Roni was the only one who’d had four eyes since second grade.
Why is Aunt Linda so damn petty and cruel? Always starved for the spotlight. She should have been a ringmaster. In typical fashion, she dropped a bomb on our first Sunday dinner since quarantine then escaped to the porch to smoke. She left us to grapple with picking up the pieces. Not this time though. She’s not going to get away with it. I won’t let her just slither away from her wreckage. I slid back from the table and stormed out to the porch. She turned to face me as the screen door slammed shut behind me. She seemed shocked that I would approach her, but this was no time for niceties.
“Aunt Linda, why would you do that?”
“What, tell the truth? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?” She tapped her cigarette on the railing to flick a clump of ashes to the ground.
“At Sunday dinner? In front of everybody? Why would you embarrass them like that?” I demanded.
“Who are you to question me and my decisions Mona? Isn’t there a video game waiting for you somewhere?” She turned her body to dismiss me.
“I’m not a kid anymore Aunt Linda and it’s not fair for you to hurt the family that way.”
“They’re my family too Mona,” she turned back to face me. “And it wasn’t fair for my older sister to screw around with my boyfriend, get pregnant, marry Joe and live happily ever after.”
“So, this is all about jealousy? About a boyfriend from almost 30 years ago?” There must be more to it. She can’t be childish enough to still be holding onto this grudge.
“More than a boyfriend, child. I was planning a future with him.”
“But Aunt Linda, he clearly wasn’t a good guy.”
“Oh, he wasn’t a good guy, but you want to stand here and tell me my sister is a saint?” She rolled her eyes and tapped her cigarette again.
“No, but she’s family.”
I left her with that before walking back into the house. Uncle Joe and Uncle Barry had retreated to the den. I knew the conversation would shift if they saw me, so I leaned against the wall to listen in.
“Did you know?” Uncle Barry asked his younger brother.
“Yeah, I knew. Glenda took a pregnancy test about a month into us dating. Told me her ex was a jerk and it didn’t end well.” Joe replied.
“But he left her with a parting gift,” Uncle Barry continued.
“Yeah,” Uncle Joe stared down at the patterned rug, “but I knew she was the one for me, so it didn’t really matter.”
“So that’s why you guys got married so fast.” Uncle Barry nodded as though puzzle pieces were coming together in his mind.
“Yeah, I convinced her it was okay and that we could have more kids. I never looked at Roni as anything but my own daughter.”
“That’s honorable man. I don’t know if I could have done that. So, what’s Linda’s beef?”
“I don’t know. She must have liked the dude or something. Glenda said they went out once or twice, but it wasn’t anything serious.”
“Guess it was to Linda.”
“You know she’s always been bitter.”
Uncle Barry nodded in response. “Where’s Roni now?”
“In the kitchen with Glenda.”
I tiptoed toward the kitchen, torn between being supportive of the woman who helped raise me and the need to indulge my own curiosity.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I could hear Roni’s pain as she interrogated her mother. My heart ached for her, but I wanted to hear Aunt Glenda’s response before stepping into the room.
“Roni, I wanted to tell you. I agonized over it, but the time never seemed, never felt right.” Her voice trailed off at the end.
“So instead, you let me live a lie?”
“What lie?” I could hear Aunt Glenda’s defenses firing up. “You have two parents who love you more than you can imagine. Isn’t that what matters most?” Roni was silent for a moment. “Roni, baby look at me,” Aunt Glenda softened. It’s amazing that she’s only two years older than Aunt Linda. They are decades apart in terms of maturity. “You know your father and I love you more than life itself,” she continued.
“My father…” Roni’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“Yes, your father. The man who was the first to shed a tear as he held you in the delivery room. Who read you bedtime stories, taught you to drive and cheered for you in every single moment of the past 25 years.”
“You’re right,” Roni’s response was muffled. I figured that meant they were hugging and took the moment of calm as my opportunity to enter. I pushed the swinging door a bit and popped my head inside. Aunt Glenda caught my eye and waved me in. She was standing next to the stool where Roni sat.
Roni leaned against her bosom sniffling. Her shoulders shaking as she cried. Aunt Glenda rubbed her back gently. I walked around to the other side of the island to stand across from them. I wanted to be close without intruding.
“Are you two okay?” I asked softly.
“I think so,” Aunt Glenda replied. Roni nodded her head yes.
We’d grown up more as sisters than cousins. I went to Aunt Glenda’s after school for most of my life while mom either worked two jobs or worked days and went to school in the evenings. She did her best to help me keep up with the private school crowd even when I told her she didn’t have to. Don’t know if we’ll ever be as close as Roni and Aunt Glenda though.
Roni sat up after a couple of minutes. I handed her a napkin to dry her tears. She thanked me, then looked at Aunt Glenda. “Does he know about me?”
“Reggie?” Aunt Glenda asked as though it were the first time she’d even pondered it.
“I guess. Is that his name? My fa -- biological?”
“Well…honestly, I did tell him that I was pregnant. But also told him that I was getting married in the same breath. He may or may not have assumed the baby, you, were Joe’s.” She looked down at her hands, then up to make eye contact with Roni. “I haven’t spoken to him since.”
Roni inhaled deeply as though she were on the verge of a weighty statement. Then just exhaled slowly and remained quiet. The kitchen door swung open again and Uncle Joe stood in the doorway. “Can I come in?” He asked as though he weren’t in his own home.
“Of course, dad,” Roni responded reaching for him. Tears welled up in her eyes again as they embraced.
“I’m sorry baby,” he whispered into her hair. “We should have told you.”
I felt a little out of place until Aunt Glenda reached across the island to place her hand on mine.
“Where’s Linda?” Aunt Glenda asked me.
“She was on the front porch a little while ago.” Without another word, she stormed through the kitchen door back toward the front of the house. I couldn’t even pretend not to follow her. I could referee in case things got out of hand. Joe Jr. and René headed toward the kitchen when they saw their mom exit, touching her hand in a silent show of support as they passed her.
By the time we got outside Aunt Linda was in her ten-year-old sedan starting to back out of the driveway, windows down and a fresh cigarette in her hand.
“Wait!” Aunt Glenda commanded. The car stopped moving. My mother rushed out of the front door. She must have seen Aunt Glenda moving with intention. She stopped next to me and watched her two older sisters. Aunt Glenda opened the passenger side door and slid into the front seat without waiting for permission.
“Turn it off,” I heard her say.
“You can’t tell me – “Aunt Linda began a retort.
“Turn it off!” Aunt Linda turned the key and the rumbling of the engine ceased.
“What do you want?” Aunt Glenda asked.
“You’re in my car – “Aunt Linda began to protest.
“Cut the shit. What is it you want? Why do you hate me so much?”
“I don’t hate you,” Aunt Linda’s voice softened a bit.
“Then why? Why do you show up only to wreak havoc? I don’t get it. What did I ever do to you?”
“It’s all about you.”
“What, what’s all about me? You just tried to destroy my damn family!”
“You took him from me! Every time I see Veronica it’s a reminder that you stole the love of my life then threw him away like yesterday’s trash!” Aunt Linda wailed, pounding on the steering wheel.
“The love of your life? Reggie was the love of your life?” You went to the movies and a damn soccer game with him.” Aunt Glenda shook her head incredulous.
“It was more than that.”
“What else? That’s all I know about.”
“That’s all you wanted to know Glen.”
Aunt Glenda lifted her hands to her forehead. “What else Lin?”
“I…I lost my virginity to him…He told me he loved me.” Tears rolled down her face, dripping down to deepen the burgundy of her blouse.
“Lin,” Aunt Glenda turned to face her younger sister, “I never knew that. Why didn’t you tell me?” My mother left my side and climbed into the back seat.
“You were busy with school and filling in for Daddy at the agency while he was sick. Next thing I knew Reggie had stopped calling me and was following you around.” Then it was Aunt Glenda’s turn to shed a tear. “Oh my God Lin, I didn’t know. I swear I didn’t. I’m so sorry.”
“And you held onto that for all these years?” My mother interjected. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“What was there to say? Everyone had just forgotten about me.” Aunt Linda hung her head.
“Lin, you could have come to me. I was definitely out of sorts with everything going on, but I would have surely dropped him if I knew he meant something to you.”
Aunt Linda only nodded in response while wiping her tears.
“Let’s not forget he was a total asshole though,” my mom chimed in from the backseat.
“This is what I keep saying! He knew he was pitting the two of us against each other,” Aunt Glenda agreed.
“I guess he was the only one who really knew,” Aunt Linda finally admitted.
“I can’t believe we’ve wasted all this time,” Aunt Glenda replied shaking her head.
“Group hug?” My mom proposed, leaning forward. A smile began to break through Aunt Linda’s tears.
“Not without me!” I jumped in the back seat to join in.
“Now can we please get back to the roasted chicken and candied yams?” my mom proposed, ever the little sister. “My stomach is doing back flips over here!”
Aunt Glenda laughed, “Yes we can,” she said and reached for Aunt Linda’s hand.
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Love how you captured the complications of a loving family with life altering secrets
Great job capturing family dynamics.
Family dynamics complicated by long held secrets. Each generation needs to work things out when one person spills the beans. Great exposition.