Sunday, November 16, 2014

Mother Squire

Mother Squire spat in my Dad’s face. I imagined it was hot, red, tobacco-laced saliva filled with bile and disappointment. My father spat back at her. It was their first and last meeting.

Mother Squire was my great grandmother and the matriarchal anchor to my family’s name. We only knew her name as Mother Squire, like the Queen Mother or Mother Russia. She was in her late 90s by the time she passed away a shriveled, bitter pit. I never met her, but I feel her in my bones.

I can deduce certain things about Mother Squire from the bits and pieces I have gathered over the year, as well as a few pictures. As a young woman, Mother Squire was beautiful and striking. When I was a child, I saw a portrait of her sturdy, proud frame fitted with an elegant day dress. Mother Squire had numerous physical advantages. She was strong without seeming hulking. She held a shrewd look in her eyes without coming across as craven. Her hair was straight and falling to her shoulders.

She was beautiful, and by that I mean that she was light-skinned. She could ‘pass’ for something other than pure Negroid. For many blacks this was advantageous. Pure, unmistakable blackness was a curse in and outside of the African American community. Mother Squire could pass for -if not white- then at least half of something: Cherokee, French, Spanish.

In family folklore she was walking down the street one day when a couple of mean-looking Irish men were staring at her. One of them asked the other ‘who is that?’ The reply that came back was of boastful providence: that’s the woman I’m going to marry. That was my great grandfather.

It was a match made in mutual disdain, anger, and atheism. The young and fair Mother Squire had arrived from Barbados. Her initial encounter with the black community met her redoubled horror at a) the poverty of education and economics assigned to the general group and b) the realization that she was -despite her best efforts- a part of the un-touchably cursed class.

My great grandfather (who I will call “Dale” not just because it seems to suit his nameless face but also it’s my Dad’s middle name which he was given in honor of a great relative he never saw) was an Irish man, newly arrived in the country who worked his way down to Central Florida. Dale proposed to the young Barbadian beauty. They were married almost immediately, for Mother Squire’s satisfaction of moving herself out of the untouchable class through matrimony through the lowest class of white, the Irish; Dale the reasons for sudden marriage were probably more lustful in aspiration.

The young couple started a life together in Central Florida, two island immigrants who were probably not fully aware of what their racial classifications meant in the new world. Dale either changed his name to ‘Squire’ to pass for English land gentry back in his homeland, or adopted the new title upon arriving in America. The truth is that it didn’t matter because when Dale met his future wife he was dirt poor.

At the end of the 19th century, Irish and Blacks shared a similar status in America until Irishmen learned how to ‘pass’ into the mainstream. Poor, divided, and at the bottom of all status, there was an furious rage that transformed into purges:  paroxysmal spasm of Irish riots, lynching, shootings against their black brethren. This volcanic river of sulfurous rage carried the couple into marriage, family, life, and death.  

The crumbs and shreds I have pieced together is that Squire’s were very mean. As they grew older they got meaner until Mother Squire met my father one day and decided she didn’t appreciate his greeting toward her, or perhaps she was so senile that she mistook everything as an affront. The spit flew. My father had the same mixture of Irish whiskey and Caribbean run that inflames our blood, so he promptly spat right back at her, in her wrinkled cataract-milky eyes. A mutual understanding was born from that point on between the spitters and they would never speak to each other again.

I imagine my father’s spit must have been clear, smelling of Coca-Cola and hope. There was probably none of the chalky bile of disappointment in that first shot. I can see her red spittle, thick and sparsely dispersed like shotgun pellets, hanging from my dad’s hair.  

These are the lasting visual pictures I have of Mother Squire: one as a young, pretty girl being tailed by a ruddy-faced Irishmen with only 20 cents in his pocket. The other picture is as an old, dry, bent switch; a branch snatched off from the tree to inflict punishment and express anger.

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