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The day Uncle Goodwin "Buddy" Bush came from Harlem all the way back home to Rehobeth Road in Rich Square, North Carolina, is the day twelve-year-old Pattie Mae Sheals' life changes forever.
Pattie Mae adores and admires Uncle Buddy -- he's tall and handsome and he doesn't believe in the country stuff most people believe in, like ghosts and stepping off the sidewalk to let white folks pass. He unsettles the dust and brings fresh ideas to Rehobeth Road. But when Buddy's deliberate inattention to the protocol of 1947 North Carolina lands him in jail for a crime he didn't commit, Pattie Mae and her family are suddenly set to journeying on the long, hard road that leads from loss and rage to forgiveness and pride.
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Poet, author, playwright, and producer Shelia P. Moses was raised the ninth of ten children on Rehobeth Road in Rich Square, North Carolina. She is the coauthor of Dick Gregory’s memoir, Callus on My Soul, as well as the award-winning author of several books for young readers: The Legend of Buddy Bush; The Return of Buddy Bush; I, Dred Scott: A Fictional Slave Narrative Based on the Life and Legal Precedent of Dred Scott; and The Baptism. Shelia lives in Atlanta, Georgia.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Chapter 1: Thursday Letters
If you are reading this letter, you have found all my letters, all of my secrets. The secrets of Rehobeth Road and the secrets of Rich Square, North Carolina. Most of all, you know the truth about what happen to my uncle Goodwin "Buddy" Bush. Uncle Buddy wasn't really my uncle. He was what Grandpa called kinfolks on nobody's side. Just plain old kinfolks. Grandpa told me that Uncle Buddy had his own family a long time ago; a real ma and daddy. Blood kin! He was just staying with them while his folks Rosa Lee and Hersey worked in tobacco over in Rocky Mount. Rocky Mount ain't far, just north of the riverbank, about thirty-five miles from here. Grandpa said that Uncle Buddy's folks went to work one day and never made it back across that river. They were in some kind of accident in the tobacco barn and they both died on the same day. So my grandpa and grandma just kept Uncle Buddy and raised him like he was their own. He went North when he was sixteen. When he came back in 1942, he came home to us. I was seven years old. Blood kin or not there are few things about May 1, 1942, that I will ever forget. It was a Sunday when my uncle Buddy arrived. Ma let me stay home from church. My big sister and brother had to usher at church, so off they went. Me, I stayed home to lay eyes on him for the first time.
His car was blue.
A new Cadillac.
His suit was blue too.
Pinstripes like Grandpa's Sunday go to meeting suit.
I remember standing there holding my breath.
And my pee.
I couldn't leave that front porch.
The outhouse would just have to wait.
Lord, I wouldn't have missed that first sight at my uncle for nothing on Rehobeth Road.
A city man.
He pulled that Cadillac right up to Grandpa's front door.
I looked at his shiny shoes first. I could see my face in them.
My eyes went slowly up his legs.
They looked so long.
His jacket had
His shirt was white.
His tie was a pinstripe like his suit.
Then I saw the hat.
I will never forget that hat.
Yes, blue with a feather to the right.
Only a city man could own a hat like that.
Grandpa stood beside me.
He never moved.
I stepped to the right.
Grandpa waited for Uncle Buddy to walk up to him.
"Welcome home, son."
"It's good to be home, Daddy Braxton."
Grandpa looked over his shoulder at the Cadillac.
"Nice car, boy."
"Oh, it ain't much."
Ma runs onto the front porch.
"Ain't much! Bro, I ain't never seen a car this fancy, never."
"Hey, sister." He smiled a big smile at Ma as she ran around his car.
She rubbed it like it was a genie bottle. Then she ran over to Uncle Buddy and jumped in his arms like she was a rag doll.
That only left Grandma to welcome Uncle Buddy home.
"Come on in this house, boy. I been keeping your breakfast warm all mornin'."
We all followed Uncle Buddy inside.
I saw Grandma cry for the first time when she hugged her only boy. The one that ain't blood kin.
We had a time.
We were a family.
I wonder if Uncle Buddy was thinking about his real folks that day. I hope he wasn't sad. They must have loved him so, but Lord knows we love him too. I can't imagine anybody loving him more than Grandpa did. More than me! I am glad he is my uncle and I wish he would come back to us. But he can't because there still ain't no telling what white folks might try to do to him. I don't think Uncle Buddy will ever be able to come home again, so I just wrote about him in my letters to BarJean and on paper sacks around the house. When I was done writing the letters I mailed some of them to my big sister. Some of them, I hid in the old smokehouse in the backyard. Yes, I hid the truth. A lot of truth is hidden around here. If only the trees could talk or the dirt could sing.
I remember like it was yesterday when this whole mess that forced Uncle Buddy to leave us started. Sometimes when I think about what happened, I feel twelve again. That's how old I was in June of 1947. I'm telling you I can just relive it like it's happening now. Right now.
This June morning is no different than any other hot summer day on Rehobeth Road. The moon was full last week and I'm sure it is about to change all our lives, just as my grandma said full moons do. Last year when the full moon came my grandma said she saw death in that moon. Surely enough my cousin June Bug, my aunt Rosie's boy, who was only ten, went ice-skating with no skates over on Jackson Creek. Well the ice was too thin and both June Bug and his cousin Willie on his daddy side fell in and drowned. They held a double funeral for them and everybody was crying.
Now every time a full moon comes, I just get scared, scared, scared. When the full moon came last week, I thought old man death would surely be back for another one of us.
To my knowledge every one of us with Jones blood are up this June morning clothed in our right mind. So I pray the full moon won't bring no sorrow this time. I'm up early to pick cucumbers. It's Friday and the heavens opened last night and let out enough rain for Ma to announce that we wouldn't be going in the cotton field to chop today. We chop for Ole Man Taylor, who owns this land, this house, and most of Rehobeth Road. His great-great-granddaddy owned all of this land during slavery. He lets Ma plant whatever she wants on the land that he don't use. Working our crops, not his, suits me just fine as I happily roll out of the bed. Softly, my feet touch the old sack that we use as a rug. Soft enough for me to not wake up Ma, who is sleeping across the kitchen in what we call Ma's room. My room is the girls' room, because that's where my sister BarJean and me slept together when she lived at home. Her real name is Barbara Jean, but no one is called by their real name on Rehobeth Road. That includes me, who would prefer Patricia to Pattie Mae any day. There's a boys' room upstairs next to Uncle Buddy's room. That's where my big brother Coy, whose real name is McCoy, slept until he moved up North at sixteen back in 1945. So I guess it ain't nobody's room right now.
BarJean moved up North last year and she said she ain't never living in these sticks again, never. So I guess this ain't the girls' room no more, it's my room.
When I was really little, we all slept upstairs in this big old brown house. Not one drop of paint on it. By looking at it no one would ever know that rich white folks lived here first. When it was white, this house was the main house of the plantation. After the white folks left, the slaves moved in. That's why we call it the slave house. But it was surely a plantation main house first. Taylor's Plantation. It's still carved on a silver bell that's hanging from a tree in the backyard. Big letters -- taylor's plantation. Ma said during slavery that bell was used for ringing at feeding time. Not the animals, the slaves. I think that old bell is worth some money because Mr. Spivey, who owns the antique store over in Scotland Neck, has been trying to get Ma to sell him that bell for years. Ma told him, "You know I don't own this house, so I shoo don't own that bell. You need to ask Ole Man Taylor." Mr. Spivey ain't going to ask that mean man nothing, so that bell just hanging there reminding us of slavery.
Maybe revenge is sweet because my grandpa, Braxton Jones, who lives right down the road on his own land, said that the Yankees ran all them white folks away after the Civil War. He said the Taylors didn't come back for years to claim this land. My grandma, Babe Jones, said, "Braxton don't know what he's talking about because he wasn't even born then." Grandpa said, "No, I wasn't born, but I knows what my pappy Ben Jones told me." I don't know who's right and who's wrong, but Uncle Buddy said, "It don't matter because don't nobody but poor-ass niggers want this raggedy damn house now."
He better not let Ma hear him say that after she let him move in with us when I was seven. Yep, right after breakfast the day Uncle Buddy arrived, he came home with us and never left. When he moved in, Ma packed all our stuff and moved us downstairs on top of each other like sardines in a can. Everybody except Coy. Just because he is a boy, he got to stay upstairs. There was plenty room upstairs for all of us. Ma says every day that God sends, that it don't look right to folks here on Rehobeth Road for her to be sleeping upstairs with a man that ain't blood kin. Raised in the same house and she talking about he ain't blood kin. But she said Uncle Buddy is more than welcome here, because he gives her $35.00 a month for rent and food. That money goes a long way because he doesn't eat here much. As a matter of fact, Uncle Buddy ain't hardly here at all. He's up at 4:00 and out the door by 5:00. Off to the sawmill in town where he been working since he arrived. He is the only colored at Quick's Sawmill. I don't think the white folks there like him very much, because he said they think all coloreds belong in the cotton field.
He told me the only cotton he picking is his T-shirt up off the floor. Uncle Buddy works half a day on Saturday, but he always hangs around in town to wait for me so we can have meat skins biscuits together while Grandma gets her grocery. That's the only day a week I get to go into town other than school days. I am Grandma's official grocery helper. She doesn't know it, but Grandpa gives me a quarter every week for going with her. Grandpa doesn't know it, but I would go for free just to be with Grandma and to go into town.
I best stop thinking about town and my quarter and get myself in that cucumber patch. I get myself past Ma. Past the old breakfast table with chairs that don't match and out the door. I close it with ease and Ma never move. It don't seem like nobody up on Rehobeth Road but me and my dog Hobo. Uncle Buddy gave him to me four years ago. He found him wandering around at the sawmill. Nobody claimed him for a month and he became my dog.
I don't want to explain to Ma why I am trying to get these cucumbers off the vines so early. Ma thinks it ain't never too hot to work. I prefer not to get too black, myself. But that ain't my only reason for trying to beat the sun today. I want to finish my cucumbers and help Grandma with her strawberries all before 4 o'clock. That way I can rest before going into town with Uncle Buddy for my first picture show tonight. That's right. We are going to the movie house for the first time in my life. My clothes are all laid out on the bed down the road at Grandma and Grandpa's. I took them yesterday so I will be ready tonight. I'm wearing my blue and yellow checked skirt and my blue top. I hope Ma don't say nothing about me wearing my Sunday go to meeting shoes on a Friday night. She definitely will, so I better get ready to hear her fuss. Uncle Buddy and me will be leaving right after supper. First things first. I got to get these cucumbers picked.
As I lean over to pick my first one, I remember the stick that Uncle Buddy made for me to use to push the vines back. I keep it hidden on the third row. That's my row to pick, so I know Ma won't find it. Nothing fancy, just a stick with a hoop on the end. Uncle Buddy said I was going to ruin my hands if I don't stop working like a 1947 slave on this farm. If that happens, according to Uncle Buddy my chances of becoming a city girl are over. We talk about the North all the time. No matter if he was born here, my uncle Buddy is a New York man and you can tell it when he talks. He ain't all-countrified like me and the rest of the folks on Rehobeth Road. He's dress different even when he's going to work. You could never know Uncle Buddy ain't blood kin. He is tall like Grandpa and Coy; and as black as midnight. I've never seen teeth as white as his. And don't nobody in Rich Square shine their shoes like he does. "You can tell a real man by the shoes he wears," Uncle Buddy declares at least once a week. And he don't believe in the country stuff we believe in, like getting off the sidewalk to let white folks pass by. Uncle Buddy don't even believe in hanks. Folks on Rehobeth Road call ghost hanks. Uncle Buddy call ghost ghost and he don't believe in them either. Yep, he's a city man all right. For the life of me I will never understand why he came back five years ago. Nobody knows for sure. He just showed up that Sunday morning after writing a letter and didn't say why he was coming or why he won't be going back. BarJean claims she know, but I don't think she know nothing. She claims some folks in Harlem said Uncle Buddy left because he could not have the woman he loved. A woman that belonged to somebody else. A light-skin woman! She claim Uncle Buddy heart was broken. I can't imagine going North for twenty-two years, then moving back here. I definitely would not leave because I could not have some man. I would just find me a new one. That's what Uncle Buddy should have done. Found him a new woman to love. A dark-skin woman! Anything except come back here. I live and dream of the day when I leave this place and go to New York. Not just New York, but to Harlem. Not even Ma can get into my dreams.
0 Guess I spoke too soon.
That would be Ma. Trying her best to get into my dreams; yelling like I'm halfway cross the field somewhere.
"Mornin' my foot, what you doing in that field so early?"
I want to yell back, "Trying on my new diamond earrings."
Ma ain't much on people joking with her so I better not say that.
"Just trying to beat the sun."
"Trying to beat the sun. Child, you can't outrun God. You better stop listening to Buddy about that light-skin, dark-skin mess. Now come on this porch and wash your hands while I finish breakfast. I already put water in the face tub."
Lord, when I get to Harlem I'll be done with using face tubs. BarJean told me she got running water and yes, a bathroom. I put my stick down and Hobo and me slowly walk back to the slave house. I don't know who use to live in it, but I know I feel like a slave this morning. Just look at this place, all run down. But Ma keeps it so nice and clean. Cleaner than them white folks' yards in town. Probably cleaner on the inside too. They just got paint on the inside and the outside. This place ain't seen no paint since the Civil War. The closer I get to the slave house I want to scream, "I hate these fields. Please, BarJean, take me North!" By the time I make it to the porch Ma has turned around and gone inside. But not before I notice she is wearing a dress. I hope that I will be as tall as she is when I'm a woman. I saw on some of her important papers that she is six feet tall. Tall and beautiful with skin the color of a brown paper sack and hair that has as many waves in it as a newborn baby. When Ma walks, all the men look at her hips that are round and shake like Jell-O. Mr. Walter Garris likes Ma's hips so much that he screams, "Lord have mercy!" when she walks by. That makes Ma really mad. Uncle Buddy says I am going to be a pretty woman like Ma when I get older. He says probably not as pretty as Ma, because it's a "Sinfore God to look as good as Mer Sheals." Her name is Mary. Somebody replaced the "a" with an "e" and dropped the "y" years ago, just like they took "tricia" off of Patricia and added "tie Mae" to my name. That's just how it is on R...
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