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African American Fiction People of Color

Dreaming in Blueberries

What is a dream? Maybe it is something wrapped up and tied around something you can recite like a piece of poetry or a song. Maybe it is writing a book that changes the world. Or maybe it is becoming a famous movie star and seeing your name at the top of the opening credits. Maybe it is having your pretty face shining with a smile and gazing down on everyone from a billboard. Maybe it is finally holding a soft baby in your arms. Maybe it walking across the stage to claim a degree. Maybe it doesn’t sound all that important to some people, but maybe to you it means everything.

What’s the biggest dream I can think of? Well, I guess becoming a Queen. The Queen gets to rule the nation with power and dignity. She can better the lives of others. She lives with grace and teaches others to do the same. Though, I wouldn’t want to be Queen of the nation. There’s too much responsibility in all that. Too much stress that leads to health issues, wrinkles and criticism. No Ma’am. No Sir. That isn’t the life I want. It would be nice to have the respect though. Well, any respect. It would be nice to be known as the Queen instead of being called the “n” word all the time.

I don’t think a week has gone by where I haven’t heard that awful word. Whether it is straight to my face or under someone’s breath. It doesn’t make a difference. It means the same thing. People don’t like me or think less of me because of my skin color. Sometimes I long just to be known as Queen. Instead, I am known as Maudie. I think today people might start thinking of me as something other than the “n” word. I surely hope so. Partly, I’m now beginning to think of myself differently too.

What propelled me to achieving my dream? You could say it started off badly. My comfort zone no longer became a place of comfort. Sit back with your favorite cup of coffee or steaming cup of tea and I’ll share my story with you.

I grew up in a tiny town about half an hour’s drive from the big city of Dallas. Of course, driving 30 minutes outside of downtown really changed everything. Instead of the skyscrapers and all the cars we had lots of grass, hay, and lots of cows. Well, the cows weren’t ours. My Mama and Papa worked on a farm. My Papa helped with the livestock and land. My Mama was a cook and housekeeper. That is when I got the first flicker of my dream. 

One hot June day, Mama told me to help her pick some blueberries. She was very careful to tell me these weren’t my blueberries to eat. The berries belonged to the Walker family and I couldn’t eat what didn’t belong to me. I sighed and helped Mama fill the pail. She said,

   “Now Maudie, don’t pick the green ones. Don’t pick the pink ones. Those aren’t ready yet. When they are a deep blue that’s when they are sweet and ready for picking.”

I listened and began picking the berries. Suddenly, I felt a smack on my shoulder. I thought I could sneak in just a bite without Mama noticing. She notices everything. Everything. Always.

After we finished, Mama and I walked to the kitchen to wash and dry the berries. Then she began mixing some butter, flour and salt. I watched her completely fascinated. It was amazing how powder could turn into delicious crust. In that moment when they were baking in the oven, there was nothing I wanted more than a slice of that blueberry pie. The smell wafted through the entire kitchen and it made me long for those blueberries.

Sometimes, I help Mama around the Walker’s big house. Mama doesn’t mind if I help her when she is in the kitchen, but she doesn’t like me getting under foot when she is cleaning. She says,

“Take your blanket and go sit out in the sunshine. Go play! Do something, Honey, for just a while so I can finish the chores.”

I take my tattered blanket outside. Sometimes I pretend the blanket is butterfly wings and I soar through the fields running and running until I can’t run anymore.

I found myself out of breath and tuckered out so I plopped down in the shade and looked up at the sky. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the ripe, delicious blueberries. Mama won’t know. She is inside cleaning. The Walkers are off working so they won’t find out. I couldn’t resist the urge. Those berries called to me. They were ready to eat. I plucked one off and quickly ate it. No, I needed to savor one. I quickly picked another. And then another. Pretty soon I felt like I had my share of blueberries. I felt a little guilty, but kind of excited that I didn’t get caught eating the delicious treat. I spread my worn blanket on the ground and took a deep breath of fresh air. Then I curled up, took a nap and dreamed.

There were tables filled with buckets of blueberries and all kinds of blueberry pies, cakes, cookies, muffins, jams, jellies. It was all so real I could smell it. I sliced into the desserts and served them up at the garden tea party. Everything was beautiful and delicious.

Next thing I know, I hear Mama saying,

“Girl! What are you doing? Get up! Come on! We are finished for today. Let’s go home.” As I woke up, I smiled at her happily. Waking up from good dreams is a wonderful feeling.

“I started dreaming in blueberries,” I replied.

Mama looked horrified.

“Child, you have berries all in your teeth! You didn’t just ‘dream in blueberries’. You ate them after I said not to! Lord have mercy! Have you been eating those blueberries all afternoon? Didn’t I tell you not to do that! They don’t belong to us. You can’t take what doesn’t belong to you, understand?” 

“Sorry Mama. I got so hungry and they looked delicious. Are you going to spank me?” Mama sighed with exhaustion.

“No, Honey child. Don’t do it again though,” she said shaking her head. 

We started walking home with my hand in Mama’s. 

That night, we had beans and ham for dinner.  Then Mama took the towel off her basket and said, “Mrs. Walker told me I could take home some of the hand pies I made because she thinks they are delicious, but she doesn’t want to get fat by eating them all. Mama reached into the basket and brought out the most beautiful little hand pies. 

My eyes gleamed and I said, “Mama, are there blueberries in here?”

“Yes, aren’t you tired of that?” she asked with a solemn face, but I could tell she was trying to hold back a grin.

“No Ma’am!” I quickly answered.

I was transported to a heavenly realm as I indulged. Mama made the best pies and biscuits. You know when something is so good you wake up thinking about it? You want it so bad you just can’t think of anything else? Later, I hear her telling my Papa she doesn’t know what she’s going to do with me. I guess they thought I was asleep, but she tells Papa about me “dreaming in blueberries”.  They laugh and laugh and I don’t really understand why it is so funny.

Mama passed down her baking and cooking skills to me. I wasn’t a great housekeeper because I got bored. I did the work because you do what you have to do to get a job, but I didn’t love it like I loved cooking. I got lost in the kitchen with my hands creating something delicious while my mind dreams. 

I’m preoccupied with my thoughts when I hear the four girls coming through the door.

“Good afternoon, young ladies. How was school today?” I asked, excited to see them all looking so lively.

“It was boring!” retorted Jo.

“It was great! I learned how to add!” replied Elaine.

“Sandy took my pencil so I took her eraser!” exclaimed Lynn indignantly.

“Blue and red make purple!” responded Myrna.  

“Well, that sounds like quite a day! Are you girls hungry?” I asked as I uncovered a freshly baked batch of hand pies. The girls yelled yes, and I said,

“Now, don’t you go telling your mama and daddy on me about giving you pies for snacks. Here’s some milk with them.”

The girls were ecstatic and said,

“Thank you, Maudie. You make the best pies EVER!” exclaimed Jo.

 “You should sell your pies!” suggested Elaine.

“When I get older and have money, I will buy pies from you all the time!” insisted Lynn.

“This is soooo good! I was starving!” said Myrna as she took another from the table.

The girls quickly scampered off to play and finish their homework. I love these girls. Their parents aren’t around much and sometimes when they are together in the same room the tension is so thick you can taste it. I’m not sure what started it between the girl’s parents, but things can’t keep on this way. I know what it is like to have fights with my husband, but we make up and things get better. Right now, things don’t look great. The parents are distracted and barely talk to the girls. I try every day to make sure the girls know they are loved.

One afternoon, Jo returned home in a mood. She was angry and I said,

“Baby, what is wrong?”

She looked at me and said,

“What? You can’t help me. Your nothing but a -” and then she uttered the word that hurts.

She immediately knew she’d said something hurtful. She looked at me with wide, terrified eyes.

“Are you going to spank me?”

“No, my Girl. Come sit with me on my lap in the rocking chair. Let me tell you a story.”

She was seven years old, but still small. I scooped her up and said,

“Now, where did you hear an ugly word like that?”

“From people at school. And sometimes Mama and Daddy say it.”

Hearing the latter part of the statement shocked my bones. I felt my veins run icy cold. When I get angry, my face gets hot and my blood pressure goes up. When I get scared, my veins run cold. I concentrated on breathing for a minute. I thought I was loved and respected by the family, but if Jo’s parents still used that language then they didn’t think differently of me. I took a few more deep breaths as I rocked Jo.

“Sweetheart, listen to Maudie. You are a kind girl, but you need to learn something. Words have the power to make someone feel good or bad. Words can heal or destroy. Words take on meaning, but it isn’t always just the word. It is the intention behind the word. Now you could have called me a potato but if you did it with anger then it wouldn’t be right. Words are meant to work through things, help others, build people up…ugly words have no place in that. Is this making sense?”

“Yes,” whispered Jo as tears filled her eyes.

“Now, I know you were just repeating language you heard, but please remember that when we say things, we communicate what’s in our hearts. I know your heart is kind, so please don’t ever use that word again. Okay, Baby?”

“Yes, Ma’am. I’m sorry.”

“I forgive you. I love you. You girls are going through a lot. Remember, no matter what happens, I love you. Now do you want to tell me what made you so upset?”

We talked for a while. Jo apologized again and I told her it was okay and to go run and play. I can forgive and forget a little girl making a mistake. I can forgive her parents, but I can’t continue to work for people who believe these things. All my life I’ve dealt with feelings of hatred. I hoped it was getting better. Yet, here we are.

That night, I talked with my husband James about the incident. He said, “Maudie, that’s going to happen everywhere. People aren’t going to really change. We just have to work through stuff and move on.”

“James, I cannot continue working in a place where I am not respected. When Jo called me that word, it made me realize that her Daddy and Mama aren’t different than others. They might be nice to my face, but their hearts are still not in the right place when it comes to me having a different color of skin. I know we need the money, but I just can’t live life being defined that way. I want to do something. I want to break out of the mold. I want to work towards my dream. Maybe this was the change I needed to follow my real dream.”

“What is that? What is your real dream, Maudie?” James asked expectantly.

“I’m going to find a way to get a loan at the bank and open a café. I don’t want to keep house anymore. I don’t want to cook for people who think of me that way. I want to be a business owner. I want to bake. I want people to enjoy my cooking because it is good cooking. I want to be respected in the community. That’s what I want to do.”

James sighed and said, “Alright. You know I’ll support you if you can find a way to make it happen. Don’t you think you should think about it for a while?”

“James, I’ve been dreaming about blueberry pies my whole life. They are my specialty. Maybe I can make a living doing what I love the most.”  

I happened to know the Walkers had sold their farm and Mr. Walker ended up working as the manager at our local bank. My husband and I took out a loan and I placed a deposit a tiny empty shop on the square. It wasn’t much, but it was mine. Over the next few weeks, I found tables and chairs and bits of décor.

Today is opening day. It is all so surreal. I don’t know how I did it. I’m amazed at myself. Step by step, little by little, slowly and surely, I’ve made my dream come true. All morning I’ve been baking pies and cakes. The fried chicken, collard greens, mashed potatoes and corn are ready to go. Everything is piping hot. The air smells like heaven. I’m about to open the doors for the first time. I look out and see my first customers – they are my church friends. I smile and unlock the door.

“Good afternoon, Ya’ll. Welcome to Maudie’s Café.”

I feel like a Queen ruling my world. People will come to my café to celebrate having a good time together. There will be laughter and lively conversation. We’ll have birthdays here. People will enjoy my cooking and come back for more. It will give them a sense of home away from home. I will be kind and smile to all who enter. I will be known as Maudie throughout our community.

Sometimes dreams don’t have to be big and crazy. Sometimes they are wrapped up into something like a good plate of hot food or a slice of blueberry pie. I smile and know tonight I’ll be dreaming in blueberries again.

November 05, 2020 23:13

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1 comment

Greg Gorman
02:05 Nov 12, 2020

She wants to be a queen. She can be one, but heavy is the head that wears the crown. No matter who you are or what you want to be, people are going to have opinions of you. You can't let people change opinions of yourself. You're the only one who can shut yourself down. You have to keep going. Having a good work ethic and a can-do attitude is key. Willpower also helps. It's hard to not eat the blueberries you're picking, especially the big, fat ones. Texas is nice. I've been there twice and I want to go back again. It's hard to get away wi...

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