Please welcome guest author Cora L. Hairston. In 2013, Hairston released her debut novel, a story told through the eyes of a coal miner’s daughter ‘on the black side.’ Faces Behind the Dust traces the challenges, triumphs and tragedies of a young black woman’s coming of age in the southern West Virginia coalfields in the 1950’s and 1960’s, towards the end of segregation and the dawning of the Civil Rights era. Hairston is well known in southern West Virginia as a musician, composer of more than 20 gospel songs, concerned child advocate and twenty-year veteran of the Logan County Improvement League. Hairston has also been a speaker at area schools during Black History Month, sharing and celebrating stories of and achievements by African Americans in U.S. history. She often performs “A Rosa Parks Portrayal.” Radiology Coordinator for Logan General Hospital, Hairston retired after 30 years of service. We’re pleased to present this excerpt from Faces Behind the Dust.
“Ya can’t breathe a word of dis,” Aunt Cellie declared. “Promise, Thea-Thea, promise! Ya have to take dis secret to yo grave!
Thea-Thea was standing with her hand over her mouth and a look of complete terror as she said “Ceeee-Leeee, what’s happened?”
Knowing she had frightened Thea-Thea, Aunt Cellie said calmly, holding up her right pinky finger, “gimme yo pinky.” Thea-Thea knew than that there was nothing wrong—well at least not in the family—as this was their childhood way of showing the trust they still carried.
“Sooooo!” said Aunt Cellie, after the sisterly pinky finger oath, “I had cooked a pot of pinto beans, and they was too much for just me, so I took some over to AnnaBelle’s so she could have ‘em for her kids,” she said breathlessly, pacing the floor, wringing her hands.
Thea-Thea, with a worried look on her face, screeched “And….and what Cellie?!”
“Well…I walked up on da porch,” Aunt Cellie said, demonstrating, “and I knocked and opened da screen door, at da same time saying ‘Knock, knock!’”
She got very excited then, and said “CHILD, Cecil had AnnaBelle in a bear hug behind da stove, gitting it ON!”
Thea-Thea said, “Oh Lawd!”
Aunt Cellie flopped down in a kitchen chair and said disgustedly, “He gotta have a burn on his ass, cause he fell back on da stovepipe, as he bent over to pull up his pants!” Thea-Thea covered her mouth and groaned as Aunt Cellie continued.
“AnnaBelle was hysterical. I was apologizing dat I hadn’t knocked ‘stead of busting in,” Aunt Cellie screeched. “But then I got mad—I mean I was ticked! The two of ‘em standing there looking like they had done been caught wit they hand in da cookie jar.
“I started in on Cecil. ‘YOU!’ I screamed.
“He ran like a scalded dog. AnnaBelle was standing there trembling…like a wilted flower, begging and pleading for me not to tell, saying she needed to buy some food, and Cecil was her undercover sugar daddy, and he was da way dat she had extra money to buy groceries.
“Well, as she cried and talked, I softened, and then in a state of shock, I tol’ AnnaBelle dat her secret was safe wit me… but,” Aunt Cellie continued, “not till after I had done gave her a piece a my mind!”
Aunt Cellie stood up and leaned over the table to face Thea-Thea as she had faced Ms. AnnaBelle, saying, “’Now, I’m yo friend, but so is Francine. How could ya do dis to her?’ I screamed! AnnaBelle was crying uncontrollably, saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’
“’Well,” said Aunt Cellie, “now dat’s tween you and GOD. Just member dat when ya up in church sanging like an angel, looking out, and seeing Francine enjoying dat beautiful voice GOD done gave ya. Member just how I’m sorry ain’t good enough…and another thang, for God’s sake, lock da damn screen door!’ I left, slamming the screen door behind me.”
Aunt Cellie continued pacing the floor. “Now dis has done put me in a big bind! I got da chance to corner Cecil by hisself ‘fore I got here. Da rat didn’t have da nerve to go home—he was sitting on da Crow Pole—on da Crow Pole of all places! Da sorry sot didn’t have da guts to face Francine.
“Well, I gave him a piece a my mind! He looked like a sick puppy. I tol’ him what a low down dirty dog he was. I tol’ him, ‘I’m only keeping my mouth shut cause of these women, not for yo sorry ass! Now ya know dis would kill Francine, and ya know AnnaBelle is desperate! Ya no-good SOB!’
“He said, ‘Sho, ya right, Cellie. I’s got ta slow my roll,’ grinning and looking like a chessy cat.
“Now ya done got me involved in dis, ya no-good…ooooooh, I could ring yo neck off, myself!
“He sats there wit his hands in his pockets, jingling change, saying, ‘Sho ya right, Cellie. Sho ya right.’
“Oh, shut da…ooooooh. I felt so helplessly involved in dis mess. He was disgusting to look at. I turned to walk off and whirled around and growled: ‘Don’t pull dat Holier-than-Thou-at-da-Foot-of-da-Cross, Shouting-and-Praising BS Sunday! Don’t! I’m gonna stand up and tell da world bout yo sorry good-for-nothing…oooooh!” Aunt Cellie screamed.
She breathed a sigh of relief as she said, “Well, needless to say, his grin faded, but I felt dirty, cause it seemed as if he was mo ‘fraid a losing his upstanding repatation in da community than anythang else, so I fought to find something to say dat might reach down in his soul.
“I clinched my teeth and walked very close up to him, so dat he could smell my breath and know dat I meant business, as I growled, ‘I might not be much, but I sho as hell ain’t gonna play church, ya rotten so ‘n’ so! It’s men like yo sorry behind dat make me wanna puke!’”