Mom Was a Mail Order Bride
"Sombitch niggers overwaterin' their lawn agin."
Dad never had much use for folks that weren't white. He made no secret of it. Fighting in Vietnam helped him feel a personal entitlement to America's Constitutional guarantees, exercising his tongue was a personal favorite.
In fact Dad's tongue was more active than the rest of his body and brain combined. His Bud bicep pulled an easy second, the impact of which was exposed to the world in shining, fish-belly white bouncing above open-buttoned Levi's.
I know all children are partial to their parents. I've read Oedipus, a bit of Freud, and a few feminist sisters' warnings about the power of the patriarchy. I take great pains to be objective about my parents. Without hesitation I can tell you that my dad is one fine man, a man for whom I have a great deal of respect.
I was fourteen that summer when we moved to Winnifred. It was the first and only time that my family relocated. It was Dad's first time to leave his hometown, except for going to Vietnam to fight.
Winnifred was a big place with a small feel. It was called a "growth center" and Dad's company must've believed that because they expanded into Winnifred with one more mongo service and repair, feed, shower, and bed-truckers haven. It sat right on the interstate, one of a chain, and Dad was the chief mechanic.
That was the summer we founded MOO. Tony, Zar, and me. I guess Remy would want to be counted, too, but she wasn't around as much.
MOO stood for Mail Order Offspring - I came up with that - which is what we all were. It's pretty remarkable really that we all met. Maybe our good fortune was seeded by the pixie dust that was busy transforming rural Winnifred into the next Los Angeles. I think it was the magic of being fourteen, old enough to know you're somebody, too young to know what you shouldn't be.
Where are all the children of mail order brides? Has it ever occurred to you - these people don't stand up to be counted? I once calculated there must be over five million mail order offspring in the United States. Five million people without T-shirts, letterheads or associations. No MOO Pride Day. Five million invisible people.
Where are they? They're passing. Passing for white, for ethnic. Those who feel compelled to be honest will say they are the issue of an interracial marriage. But nobody will tell you that their mom was a mail order bride. It's nothing to be proud of.
But we didn't know that that summer in Winnifred. We each were just certain we were somebody, no idea who. After we met, we knew we were MOO.
"Tin foil in that drawer," Mrs. Jefferson pointed with a smile. She was demure and commanding at the same time.
I knew better than to question the protocol established by a mother in her home. I found in the drawer a stack of hand-pressed foil paper - the coverings of take-out pizza orders with the cheese carefully scraped off, recycled fried chicken and sandwich wrappings. I didn't need to be told. Carefully I extricated the foil liner from the cardboard cookie box. I dusted off the remaining crumbs and pressed the liner flat with my hands against the counter, taking care not to tear the foil bag.
From the corner of my eye I could see Tony caught between blushing and relief. We had only met that day and I was aware that my performance was fast winning his heart.
I closed the drawer with satisfaction and picked up the cookie box. "And cardboard boxes, Mrs. Jefferson, where may I put this?" Polite and full of a child's sweetness.
"In the panty below the shelf, Tony, go," she said.
Female. 19-23 years of age. Clean and honest. Hardworking, tidy. Eager to do housework, cooking, bear and raise children.
My mother was no fool. She knew a good thing when she saw it and she tore that bill right off the crumbly plaster and went to sign up.
She was laughing, my mother. In fact, she always was very much able to see the humor in life. She laughed everyday to the broad expanse of ocean and sky that carried her steadily to America.
What silly women they have in America! Silly, foolish women, she thought. Unwilling to clean a house or to raise children, so their men are forced to import their wives from strange lands. Their foolishness is my good fortune. She threw back her head and laughed.
My father spoke in a monotonous, beer-soaked voice while concentrating on the television screen. Like a doctor's assistant, Mom replaced his empty can with a cold one.
"Go! Go, go, go, he's in, he's in, he's in!" Dad was up and screaming, chasing the receiver down the field.
It was Sunday afternoon. Like every Sunday afternoon I could remember, we were sitting watching the football game. My dad drank and belched and hollered. My mom washed and ironed, cooked, and jumped when called.
Unlike every Sunday before, this was a Sunday in the summer of my fourteenth year after I had met Tony and Zar and founded MOO, knowing I was somebody and who.
I was lying across the sofa half-buried in newspapers rooting for all I was worth for the other team. Dad jumped out of his easy chair hollering, pumping his fists at the air, white fish belly bouncing. I couldn't help it. I jumped up, too, screaming at my team for a tackle but also excited to see the beauty of that down field run.
"Damn nigger can ruun!" Dad cried and cuffed my ear. Settling back into his easy chair he sucked on his beer then rolled to cock one eyebrow over a languid lid, "Who you think's gonna win now, boy?"
I didn't hear him right, thought, because my mind was racing far far past the end zone. Dad doesn't know that we're not white, I realized. Placing a hand on my hip I faced him with the expression of a prosecuting attorney about to unmask the defendant.
"What do you think I am?" I demanded.
"You're a sonuvabitch. Move, you're blocking the set."