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Authors: Lucille Clifton

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BOOK: The Lucky Stone
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“Yes, and I can still hear them long fingernails slickin on the glass while she drank it all down her long throat.

“Then she made me come close to her and she reached in her bosom and handed me a warm stone, shiny black as nighttime ’cept for a scratch looked just like a letter A. And she said the stone was mine. I tell you, Sweet Tee, I was sayin my prayers I was so scared, but I didn’t let on.

“‘Thank you, ma’am, but that’s all right,’ I said to her. But she come right close with her face to the porch rail. ‘Take it. I got no other chick nor chile. It’s a lucky stone,’ she said. So I took it and kept it and got it still and one fine day I’m gonna give it to you, Sweet Tee.

“And the story of that stone is this.

“When Vashti’s Mama, Miss Mandy, was a little girl it was slavery time. One day when she was workin in the hot sun pickin cotton, a mean old snake come creepin up on her by her foot and she gave a holler and fell down and dumped the sack she was carryin. It split wide open and all the cotton was ruined, don’t you know, a whole load of cotton!

“Now she was just a girl but she was scared ’cause she was due for a beatin indeed, and she didn’t want to be whipped by that mean old bossman. She hadn’t never been whipped before, and she had promised herself she never would be. So she just started creepin easy and fast and low down in the field so nobody could see her.

“But the bossman saw her anyhow and started toward her on his horse with the whip in his hand. And she lit out so scared and ran off from the field and hid in a cave.

“Come dark she was too scared to go back and come day again she was too scared ’cause she had been gone all night. One day become two and two days become three and on the third day she heard dogs far off and knew she couldn’t go back or move from where she was. That little girl.

“Well, didn’t nobody know where she was, slave nor free, when one evening after near a week had gone by, an old driver from the plantation was ridin by that cave bringin the carriage when a stone shot out and spooked his horse. That horse reared up but the driver held him and got him stopped and steady and then he got down to see what it was had hit his horse. And he found on the ground a stone black as night.

“Well, that old man was disgusted that one little stone was makin him lose time like that. So he picked it up and threw it back into the cave.

“And Tee, do you know that while he was walkin back to the carriage that stone come sailin out of the cave again and hit him on the neck! That old driver grabbed it up where it fell and looked at it and knew it for the same stone, black as night. But this time it had the letter
A
scratched on one side. Now Miss Mandy’s right name was Amanda, you know, and her old Mizz had showed her the letters of it one time. So of course now everybody slave knew where the child was hid.

“After that every week regular some slave would walk or ride by the way of that cave and lose somethin there, sometime a chicken and sometime some fruit and sometime some potatoes and homemade bread. Every natural week until emancipation. Weeks and months, Tee Baby, more than a year.

“After emancipation the girl came out from that cave with wild hair and eyes and with them long fingernails on her fingers and long toenails on her toes. And she had that stone with her and she give it to her daughter, Vashti, when she got one. And like I have told you, Vashti give it to me.”

The sun was almost gone. Tee stretched and yawned and went to help her Great-grandmother up from the rocker and to hand her her stick.

“Grandma, why was the stone lucky?”

“Well, if she hadn’t heard that old horse and hit him and that old man with it so folks would know where she was, she would most likely have starved to death, Sweet Tee. That’s how it was lucky for her and it was lucky for Vashti too. And someday I might tell you about that.” She smiled.

And they both went in for lemonade.

TWO

Mrs. Elzie F. Pickens and her Great-granddaughter Tee were singing “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross” toward evening on the porch.

Her Great-grandmother smiled when the song was over.

“Your voice is so sweet, my Tee, it reminds me of my own mother singin.”

“Was she a real singer, Great-grand?” Tee asked.

“Oh, she used to be the lead singer in the Greater Glory Baptist Church Choir, Baby. They had meeting every Sunday, and they used to sing that song. She sang the lead from the time when she was a young girl.

“And now that puts me in the mind of something I said I would tell you one time.”

“What, Grandma?” Tee settled back against the porch railing.

And that was the beginning of that story.

“That puts me in mind of the time my Mama told me about,” said Mrs. Pickens.

“After emancipation, when the colored people were free to travel and move around more, they could learn how to read and write and most everybody was anxious to do it. They could have church all out in the open then, too, so they started a church. And a choir.

BOOK: The Lucky Stone
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