April 2, 1921
Miss Sadie Latimer
1255 Crestburg Street
Dear Miss Latimer,
Greenwood Academy is pleased to offer you the position of Healing Attendant. We believe that your skills and experience will be ideal for the upcoming student body and current staff. As discussed, your starting date will be June 1, 1921. In preparation for the school year we will be overviewing all regulations, safety protocols, also allowing time for setup and staff interaction. We offer room and board free of charge and 2 weeks of paid holiday vacation in the month of December. If you choose to accept this offer please send correspondence at your earliest convenience. Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions.
Ms. Mayella Bigsby
Secretary of Greenwood Academy
Sadie let out a deep sigh of happiness. She had read this letter so many times in the past week that the paper had grown weak. The tattered edges and wrinkles however, only added to its character. With amazing speed she had scrawled a letter of acceptance, attached it to her very affronted barn owl, Petey, and sent him on his way. It was in recognizing how far off in the distance Petey was that crashed Sadie back down to reality.
As the only child of Reginald and Ophelia Latimer, it was assumed that she would take on the family business. Latimer Mortuary was very successful. Colored folk, both magical and no-maj from all around came to Reginald in order to carry out the final wishes of their loved ones. He was known for making people look “right.” Ophelia, with her extremely kind demeanor, handled the bereaved families, the bookkeeping, had a keen eye for decoration, and was so beloved by the townspeople that she was able to get a great deal out of just about everyone.
Her parents had sent her away to stay with Mother Dear, her grandmother, back in Louisiana as a child, in order to attend the local school because she had a head for “book learnin’” as Papa often bragged. In the past eight years, she learned of her natural ability to heal others and was promptly enrolled in Vien Ile, a school for young conjurers and Papa’s alma mater.
Under Mother Dear’s watchful eye, she was introduced to the magical community. Suddenly, by being engrossed in this world of magical opportunities, Sadie began to grow her powers. Excelling in healing spells, potions, and balm-making, Sadie often thought of ways to use her powers to benefit her community.
“Sadie!” Mama called from downstairs, interrupting her thoughts.
“Sadie, come help me with dinner. Your Papa will be home soon.”
Glancing quickly at her vanity mirror, she smoothed her dark brown curls back and headed toward the kitchen.
The table was covered in a delicious spread. Collard greens with big hunks of smoked turkey swimming in the juice, baked mac n’ cheese, cornbread, and fried chicken, extra crispy, just the way Sadie liked it. All her favorite foods. In the two weeks that she had been back home, her parents treated every night as a celebration.
The guilt began to well up inside of her as she reached numbly for the glass of sweet tea that had been freshly poured and lovingly placed in front of her by Mama. Leaving home again felt like a betrayal but, the expectation of a life in Alabama felt constricting. Across the table, her parents were playfully discussing the “very sweet” but, very nosey, Mother Walker.
“Do you know that woman has come to the office everyday this week?” Papa’s voice boomed. “She said that she wants to make sure that Mother Grady is really gone!”
“Oh no!” Mama said spitting her tea and bursting into a fit of giggles.
“Careful now, Mr. Latimer,” he said mimicking her, “the devil himself might just open up the pit right here in this office to get THAT one back!”
The absurdity of the line increased the laughter. Mama and Papa were soon gasping for air with tears streaming down their faces, unaware of the battle that raged in their daughter’s mind.
Sadie couldn’t concentrate, it was as if her parent’s voices were far away. Their voices boomed nonsensically in her head. She played with her fork, continually stabbing at her mac n’ cheese while never raising it to her mouth. Her heartbeat had become loud, pounding in her chest and ears.
Before she knew it, she blurted, “I got offered a healing position in Tulsa and I said ‘Yes’!”
Silence fell and she slowly lifted her head, greeted by the stunned faces of her parents.
“You did what now?” her father said choking.
“I applied for a job as a healing attendant and…I got it,” she said with a weak shrug.
A loud screech rang out as her dad pushed back from the table. He stood with a look mixed with anger and shock.
“Reggie,” her mom said with a strained smile.
“How could you do this? Without even talking to us!” he began, “I mean, you just got back! You-you’re supposed to run the business,” his voice cracked.
“I know.” Sadie whispered, with her vision growing blurry she continued, “You and Mama are still young! I won’t be running the business for a while so I just thought. I thought that I could do this. See what it’s like to use some of the skills that I learned in New Orleans—”
“It’s not safe!” he interrupted, banging the table, “Why do you think that we don’t use magic? No good has come of it!”
“Well, it’s not like I’m any safer pretending to be Pégik!” Sadie said angrily. ”And don’t act like you don’t use Mother Dear’s salves everyday!”
Before he was able to protest, their angry glares were disrupted by loud and deep sobs that reverberated off the walls of their tiny kitchen. Through big gulps, Mama cried, “I- I knew that this would happen.” Shakily, she dabbed the corner of her eyes with a napkin, “You were gone for so long…”
Ophelia rose from the table and walked out of the kitchen, down the hall and into the darkened bedroom. Sadie and her father stared after her. There wasn’t much to say. The jovial air of the room had been sucked out with Mama’s departure.
With an accusatory glance, her dad turned and stormed angrily out of the back door, leaving Sadie at the kitchen table in tears.
Ophelia showed no signs of returning to the kitchen so Sadie busied herself with cleaning the dishes and putting away the leftovers. After pacing outside her parents’ bedroom door for almost an hour, she resigned herself to her bedroom. The night’s argument kept running through her mind. Sadie equally felt bad and spent a good chunk of time coming up with better arguments that she would’ve liked to hurl at Papa. After several hours of tossing there was a creaking noise throughout the house, announcing Papa’s return. Quickly turning on her side, she pretended to sleep. She listened intently, waiting for him to come apologize like he had so many times before, but there was only silence. After a few more turns, there was a soft tap on the door that she chose not to acknowledge.
The door handle rattled and soft footsteps entered the room ending with a bounce as someone sat at the foot of her bed.
“I understand why you need to do this,” Mama said softly. “That doesn’t mean that I want you to do it.”
Turning to her side, Sadie looked up at Mama. Her eyes were still a bit puffy and her hair was already decorated with what seemed to be thirty curlers. Sighing, Mama grabbed a piece of cloth that was lying beside her and stretched the bonnet delicately over her hair.
“You know, I don’t have much in the way of family,” she continued, looking out the window.
Sadie sat up eagerly. In all of her nineteen years, she had never heard talk about her mother’s family.
“When I was around 7 years old, there was an attack. I lived in a nice little town, about two states over. A community of colored folks. Free people. There were some people, like my family, that had a long line of conjurers and some regular folk too… Earlier that day, a man, a white man named uh…Jameson—” she scrunched her face as if trying to bring a memory into focus. ”We used to sell him some of our crops. He was always offering to take the land off our hands. He claimed that there was something wrong with the soil and that he didn’t think that we’d be able to get it the way it needed to be. He always congratulated us on our crop and would ask how we managed to get things to grow so large.” Ophelia talked slow, never stopping to look in Sadie’s direction.
Sadie held her breath, hoping to not break her concentration.
“One day, the Jones boy and Bubba, my big brother, they were playing in the woods nearby and Jonesy decided he wanted to show Bubba a trick… He had figured out that he could hover, right there, out in the open. When he found himself back on the ground, they noticed Mr. Jameson off in the distance, high tailing it back to town… The boys ran back to the house and told Grandaddy and he called a meeting to let everyone know to keep watch that evening. Grandaddy and Pa stayed out all night on that porch, guns on their laps. After hours of waiting, they came back inside to get a bit of rest. Next thing I know, the house was on fire.” she said, with a haunting stare. “Pa and Grandaddy shoved Ma, Bubba, me, and little Joey out the back. We could hear everyone screaming and horses in the distance. Mama told me to stay close…but I was scared, got lost.” She had tears in her eyes now.
Sadie choked back a sob.
“When they found me, I was shivering in the woods, asleep next to a tree. Ma, Joey, and Bubba, nowhere to be found. Pa and Grandaddy had been shot trying to protect the town. We never found Mama or Bubba. And—” she said through sobs, “little Joey’s blanket was found torn up by the creek. I was taken in by the Jefferies’ family. It took several days for Pa to come out on the other side of a fever. Grandaddy however…” she trailed off, “This is all I have left of them.” She turned sideways and picked up a worn postcard from the edge of the bed.
Sadie noticed at once that the card had burned around the edges. Gently, she took it from Mama and gazed upon the beautiful family. At her touch, the photo moved. A strong looking, dark skinned man beamed at his wife, he wrapped his arm around her shoulders, bringing her in close. She looked down adoringly at a chubby, bald and wiggly baby. To the left of her grandfather Sadie noticed a strapping young boy with fiery eyes laughing at a long forgotten joke by the elderly man that stood next to him wearing a mischievous grin. And in front, the littlest one. With pigtails, capped by perfect bows, her 7 year old mother stepped forward slightly and curtsied.
“We took it when the fair was in town,” she grinned slightly.”I haven’t seen the world grow much kinder to us but, a mother’s job is to know when to let go.” Rising slowly she crossed the room and exited softly closing the door behind her.
In the days following the familial blow up, Sadie and Mama had returned to a somewhat normal dynamic. Papa however, seemed to be focused on doing everything possible to make Sadie feel unwelcome in his presence. He communicated mostly through Mama and was prone to leaving the room when Sadie appeared. By the next week, there was still no change in the forecast of their relationship. Sadie decided to tell her parents that she needed to be in Tulsa sooner than she had originally planned.
Mama was helpful, she assisted in making sure that everything that Sadie needed done was checked off her list. Laundry was washed, dried, mended, and folded. She even surprised her with a new trunk and stationary. In a short time, it was travelling day. Petey was soon brought in from the barn and thrust into a warm bath much to his dismay. The next day, he nipped angrily at Sadie’s fingers as she sent him ahead to Greenwood ahead of her.
At the train station Papa carried her things to the platform and said little to nothing as she climbed aboard to her new life. She could’ve sworn she heard him mumble, “Be careful,” as her mother carried on with smothering hugs and requests for daily letters. As the train carried her off, she watched her parents fade into the distance. Papa waited at the end of the platform and gave a solemn wave.