I still remember the smell of pecans and walnuts in the wooden drawer of the inlay vanity in my Great Granny’s room. Yes, the smell of it with faint perfume of a bygone era, mixed with bobby pins cloaked me in a wave of bittersweet familiarity. In the bottom of all of this, old Jet magazines were tucked away waiting to be read by eight-year-old eyes. I sifted through the untouched shells. Tossing aside a nut cracker I grabbed my paper treasure.
I loved rummaging through my Granny’s things. I loved her vanity, with its two-toned Sear & Robuck wood and round mirror. I’d gaze at my reflection pensively contemplating my fuzzy pigtails.
I grabbed one of the ancient Jets, a small, bite size magazine, just the perfect size for my dainty hands to thumb through. I peered through the one with the pretty girl in black and white on the front cover. A touch of green coated the background. The price was positioned on the left hand corner; 15 cents. Below the title, Sept. 15, 1955. That was way before my time.
The headlines: “How Many Negroes in College?” “Strange Facts Behind the Moore-Marciano Fight”. I climbed on the sky high four poster bed that was my Granny’s. Her randomly beautiful patchwork quilt spoke to me in hand-me-down squares, rectangles and such. It was a language of colorful staccato exclusively uttered by my family; a clan whose only inhabitants were me, Ma and Auntie. But I didn't realize how precariously my family’s leaves hung from my puny family tree branch. All I knew was that I had my Granny’s Jet magazine, as I lay on my Granny’s bed with the smell of her still keeping my senses warm. I missed her so.
I opened the pages. I remembered this one. This was the old Jet that Granny and Auntie was always talking about in busy anxious tones. It was the Jet that made my mother moan and tear up. It was the one that I was forbidden to read. And now I had it, and no one cared.
I perused the pages and read the red headline on page six, "Nation Horrified by Murder of Chicago Youth". I saw the photo of a cute bright skinned boy with his Mama. I saw a white man holding a tire, I saw black faces looking sullen. The small type was kind of hard to read.. I turned the page and was startled by a hideously lumpy baked bread-like face in front of me. It was bloated, ashy and distorted with a tuft of hair on top. Was that really a face? I gazed at the mother standing mournfully in front of the swollen monster as a man held her up. I read the caption, “Mrs Bradley got first look at her brutally battered son…” Was that the cute little boy on the previous page? Another caption, “ Close up of lynch victim….”
I put the Jet down. I couldn't believe it. Some white people were accused of killing him for whistling at a white lady. His face was untouched for the world to see.
I was shocked. How could someone do this to that pretty boy? In coming days, on my next visit, I made a note to read the Jets in Granny’s room. I’d disappear in there, the smell of walnuts and pecans and faint perfume engulfed my nose as I grabbed another Jet from Granny’s stash. It was now my stash too. She was giving me an education.
I obsessed over the four girls murdered in the Birmingham church bombing, The three dudes, two white and one black, who were shot to death during the freedom marches. I also learned that Murray's Hair Gro Dressing attracted the ladies, and how chic I would look in a modern knit dress. I met female trumpet star Tiny Davis and her all girls band, and saw an old white man contestant kiss a 12-year-old black girl on the lips on the $64,000 TV quiz show. The girl had won $16,000!
Learning many things on those lazy days reading Jet magazines under my Granny’s shadow, gave me a love for myself, my family and my people. A memory I will never forget.