The last two stanzas in Barbara Kingsolver’s poem “How to Cure Sweet Potatoes” struck a chord with me. In childhood, the sermon was my least favorite segment of church service until the pastor got to whooping near the end. By then, the ladies of the church had long since swooned when embodied with the holy ghost and had recovered their faculties. The deacons helped to add a bit of spice to the sermon with their “Well,” “Amen,” “Alright,” and “That’s what he said.” There’s nothing like a lively amen corner. Yet, I was made to endure every Sunday morning when in the clutches of my church nanny, Sister Chambers also known as the Peppermint Lady.
Outside of church the adult conversations were rarely insufferable. The adults in my life were rather vibrant and exchanged gossip about other adults. I heard it all and then some. Yet, I was expected to be a sweet listener when I wanted to be a starchy commentator. I’m certain that these experiences sharpened my tongue and are what gave rise to my alter egos Dr. Pouquie and to Uncle Pouquie.
While I was born and raised in Long Beach, my mother’s home was tinged with notes of Black, southern traditions. In both of my grandmothers’s homes it was like being transported to the Louisiana Bayou or the backwoods of Tennessee. It was ma’am, yes ma’am, no ma’am, sir, yes sir, and no sir at Mary Louise’s house. “What” would earn you a stern stare if you were across the room or backhand to the mouth if you were within range. At Sadie Lee’s home, sir and ma’am were not necessary, but giving the utmost respect was a given. Sadie Lee was zesty and hearty during my childhood, so we knew it was best to not test her.
Children were to be seen and not heard.
Don’t get in grown folks’s business.
These are a few of the admonishments I routinely encountered. The reality is that so many adult conversations were had around my young ears that I often thought that I, too, was an adult. Did I have opinions? Yep, but they were often greeted with the two admonishments I mentioned earlier. Sometimes the tone was dismissive and other times gentle, yet firm. On those occasions when I was beating an adult upside the head with their own truth and foolishness, the tone was rougher and often accompanied with the threat of a spanking.
I wonder if it would have been worth it to deny convention. If I, as a child, had chosen to confirm and affirm each day that I was truly seen and heard. This normalizing of abnormal and dysfunctional behaviors that colored my childhood, adolescence, and teen years. I often knew too much and not enough at the same time. I always had pieces of the story—for example, that so-and-so was stepping out on their spouse with yet another piece—but it would be years later that I knew the full story and could be considered dangerous. There was always the potential to betray family secrets. To betray those you love most and to whom you are in closest proximity. There’s something sad about telling the truth being a betrayal. My adult experiences have given me the freedom to be starchy, sweet, and spicy at will. Dr. Pouquie and Uncle Pouquie will be unleashed on the world soon. I hope that the world is ready for these two because they both have a few things to help cure the world.