You're probably wondering about the title of this blog. Well, I'll tell you. Eventually. But first I'd like to talk about my celebration of 50 years on this planet. It turned out to be a pretty good day. First of all, I remained abstinent. That in itself is solid proof, as far as I'm concerned, to the miracle that is the Lord. Without God, I would have given in to the sadness and despair that tried to creep in and destroy whatever happiness I would have on my 50th birthday. Not only that, I was almost convinced that no one would know if I went to out for Mexican food, since it was MY birthday. But God was having none of it. God lifted me out of my self-centered daze, and I was given the gift of a wonderful day. Not exciting or thrilling, but wonderful just the same.

My daughter Clarissa came over first with my grandson, Xavier, followed by my daughter Chenelle. We had fun doting on Xavier, who is now crawling around everywhere and pulling himself up into a standing position. At seven months, he seems like he's in a real big hurry to walk. He's so precious! Chenelle and I took Xavier over to my parent's place, and he was treated to two more hours of unrelenting adoration. My mother was so sad when we had to leave because he was getting hungry and fussy. But she understood--the needs of our family's contribution to the future of humanity are paramount to our wishes. And Xavier definitely wanted his strained winter squash, which he consumed with incredible relish once we got back to my apartment.

Clarissa stayed at my place while we visited my parents because she needed to work on a paper for school. In addition to raising my grandson, she's working and taking classes at City College of San Francisco. Since she lives in Oakland, I asked her why she didn't attend classes at Laney College. "No, Mom, people go to Laney to network. If you want to organize some kind of political or social action, you do that at Laney. Hardly anyone goes to classes there." Oh. I had no idea.

The paper that Clarissa was working on involved examining some of the perceptions the outside community has of our family, based on a relative who was very influential in shaping that perception. Clarissa chose to write my maternal grandmother, Amy Smith Graham. She called my mom to get her to talk about her mother, but unfortunately, that effort didn't bear much fruit. As I predicted, my mother would only say that she couldn't remember hardly anything. That might be true, after all of the health issues she has. But I also know that part of her doesn't WANT to remember her mother.

My grandmother, Amy Smith Graham, was an alcoholic, and according to everyone I've ever talked to who knew her, she was a very mean one. She had a temper that would flare up for reasons known only to her, and maybe not even then. And she was infamous for picking up whatever object she could use to inflict bodily harm on whomever she felt caused her discomfort. The sad part was that her intended targets were often the people closest to her--her children and her husbands. Every last one of her four children, including my mother, ran away from her brutality before they reached 14. My uncle Melvin was eight when he left. According to my cousins and neighbors who knew her in Leesburg, Florida, even the Lake County sheriff was hesitant to deal with Amy. She was unbelievably powerful and accurate with both her fists and her aim. Her favorite warning to her husbands, my grandfather Buddy Graham, and her second spouse, Mr. Charlie, was that if they ever laid a hand on her, the hand they used would belong to her. She made good on that promise with Mr. Charlie. She nearly severed his right hand with a butcher knife.

No jail time for my grandmother, though. It's common knowledge that black on black crime in the Jim Crow South (Jim Crow was the name given for the segregation laws)meant that there had to be some extenuating circumstances before a black person would be charged with harming another black person. Usually it happened when a white person was angry enough to press charges against a black person for murdering someone who was a valued employee of the white person. Unless there was some kind of personal cost, most whites in the deep South just figured, hey, no big deal. Let them kill each other off.

That attitude hasn't changed much over the years. And I don't mean just in the deep South, either. This is the stuff that Barack Obama was referring to in his speech that I posted here yesterday. Just a little context for you to consider.

By the way, while my daughters and I were discussing all this, Xavier's father Galen had come over after work for my birthday. Galen, despite the up and down status of his relationship with Clarissa, is considered to be a family member, and has been even before my daughter became pregnant. It doesn't take much to be a member of the Shortt family; we've had hundreds of "adoptees" over the years. The requirements are simple: a willingness to laugh uproariously at our continuous stream of jokes and stories, put up with our irreverent commentaries during movies or television shows, and have a passionate love for good down home Southern cooking. (For a visual reference, watch the movie, "Soul Food". The way that family laid out their table is how the Shortts get down during meal time.) Galen never even showed an ounce of uneasiness. He won everyone's heart two years ago when he came in and immediately went outside to my patio to help out with the barbecue. (This should also let you know how vital food is to my family's way of celebrating any occasion, and why it is such a miracle that I have been abstinent for nearly two and a half months now.)

Did I mention that Galen is white, or more specifically, of Irish and Scottish descent? Well, it doesn't matter. He is still family, and treated as such. When we start talking about race relations and other social issues, he's never flinched or shown any sign of discomfort. He just joins in the conversation or listens intently, just like any other family member. Or disagrees, which is fine by everyone except Clarissa, our family's miniature volcano. Talk about shades of Amy Smith--my daughter has definitely inherited some of that infamous temper. Galen deals with it the same way Amy's husbands did--they remained as calm as possible and tried to reason with her. I guess the strategy worked. Both men outlived my grandmother by several decades.

Both men went to their graves professing to love no other woman but Amy, too. Even though I'm one of her descendants, I find that extremely difficult to understand. I could never love someone who hit me in the head with a two by four plank, or nearly cut off my hand. My ex tried to stab me with a hunting knife, and after twenty years I still don't think very kindly about him. I consider it a sign of progress that I don't wish a painful death for him anymore.

So, back to the title of this blog: it comes from one of the many stories told on my birthday. As Clarissa and Galen were preparing to leave with Xavier, my daughter told me about an old black man who likes to hang out at San Francisco's and Oakland's BART stations. He holds up a sign that says, "No Unlawful Sex!", and yells to anyone within earshot, "No Unlawful Sex!" "No freaky deaky!" "Freaky deaky will give ya' AIDS!" "Unlawful sex will give ya' bumps!"

Trust me, it was hilarious when Clarissa was telling the story.
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