Often, those people we tend to dismiss, have the most interesting stories to tell, if we only take the time to listen. lmr
First there was that pronounced slam of the hallway door. Then came the booming noise of her slow arrival.
My brother and I would snicker in our childishness: “It's Hattie Pugh? Pewwww-weeeeee!” Whenever Hattie
came to visit, our whole house quaked from all 300-plus pounds of her heavy flesh, and caramel-skinned
aggravation. She was always tired; huffing and puffing, breathless and bitching from climbing the steps to our
project prison. She was a force. Always lording about, she'd practically Bogart our small apartment and crudely
belch LOUDLY, at our dinner table! Tragically, she lacked all of the social graces, and in between belches, she'd
complain about mama's cooking and curse out our father for failing to visit the outskirts of her humble abode:
“Do y'all think y'all too good fo Hattie? Huh? Do ya, Larry? Well lemme tell ya rat now
in front of yo yella wife and yo skinny-ass keeids: Y'all muthafuckas ain't shit!”
She'd sit on our couch, passing gas, and belching, throughout the entirety of The Ed Sullivan Show, as a cherry
bomb of silent laughther threatened to explode inside our bellies. She enjoyed The Mamas & The Papas, most
especially, “Mama Cat!” Knowing the woman was called “Cass,” we'd howl, “Mama Cat?” To which, Hattie
replied, with much authority, “Yeah, she a big ol' fat heffa, but she sho can sang!”
Being a young'n, I laughed extra hard at the wildness of Hattie Pugh. But now the ignorant sound of that laughter
has ceased... and I sit, before the history lessons of her life, like a newly enlightened student to Hattie's story.
Back then, all I could see was this obscenely obese, country-crude, black woman who could not control her
mouth... nor her bodily functions. No one ever mentioned, how, she was a dreamer, like me... a laughed at,
totally dismissed artiste; a poetess who wanted to wrap her lips around the inherent melancholy of a blues song...
She longed to let folks know how this whole damned world had done her wrong. She wanted to make them feel
all those Stormy Weather moods inside her... to remember the salty tatse of tears; to shiver from the quick and
sudden rumble of thunder, and let folks know the lyrics to that long, drawn, wailing song of her colored life.
Impossible to imagine she was once a thin girl on a Greyhound bus, heading north; steeped in the sedate ways of
the south, with a trace of Farmville, Va, still singing on her tongue, and yet, that girl once existed. She had
walked through 1950s New York City, all the while, reveling in the topography of its bustling crowds and
its hyperactive streets, its bad breath alleys, and the deeply musty underarms of its subways.
She made steady time on those long, non-chalant legs, as shiny marcel waves rippled like The Nile upon her
skull. Oh! Such a pretty girl Hattie was, smiling from a sepia photograph. This was her heyday. She was brand-
new to the world. But no one warned her to beware of that big bad city, full of tricks and harsh games. No one
prepared her for the profane touches of certain men oozing with the smoothness of a '56 midnight blue caddy.
What she offered was youth, a stubburn determination, and a raw talent. But these attributes would lead her
inside high-end jazz dens, and even seedier nightclubs; each killing her dreams with flat chords of rejection. She
would continue to hear those same foul notes played again and again, but an assist from fire water helped to
numb the sting. More pain awaited in the form of a tall dark urban prince inside a dim Harlem bedroom. It was
there, where strong insistent hands collided with a girlish shadow, and she surrendered to the force of temptation.
Then, what she believed was the face of love was only the lust in faceless men; and the babies came... first one,
two, her twins, and then, the back street abortions, when she couldn't bear the screaming anymore. Sadly, so
many tears slid by like lost dreams... and those blues songs got caught between the trapdoors of her throat. She
only grew fat, more bitter and as mean as the streets. Soon her babies began making newer babies. Years passed.
They would all turn away from her. As a salve upon this chronic bruise called, American Loneliness, they shot
dope. Every hope she ever had was wiped clean from her eyes. Hattie became just another old-ass, played-out
blues-keeper. A vital part of her self had died. What else was left, but, to assume the role of an ethnic cliche', a
cautionary tale of a wayward soul? In the end, she would become, yet another, sad story-telling-neighborhood-
woman no one wanted to hear from, much less endure her singing voice, as if fat black women don't have their
stories, or never feel any pain. Her jet-black marcel waves were replaced by careless strands of gray. Those lost
years of denied dreams crashed to the pavement, with no net to break their fall... and no one left to catch them.
It was then that I met Cousin Hattie, so full of belches and crude poems tumbling from her lips like dregs of rust
from a drying well. There she was, walking on swollen legs up a long staircase, wanting Sunday's dinner to taste
better because she was hungry... because her belly and her dreams, and her life were hungering for a larger plate.
Hattie would forever hunger for a piece of dignity, and some wonderful, kinder fate that was never meant to be.
“Y'all think y'all too good fo Hattie? Huh? Do ya, Larry?
Well... lemme tell ya rat now! Y'all muthafuckas ain't shit!”