There were too many M’s.

My mother, generally referred to as Mickey or Mitten.

My grandmother, whom we called Mama or Mama Gertrude depending on the situation.

And my great-grandmother, who insisted upon being called Mammy.

Mammy’s grandmother, as she told me when I was ten, was a ‘woman of color’ from New Orleans.  She whispered and hissed the information to me as if confessing a terrible shame upon our entire family.  Considering that Mammy was lily white, and adding in the fact that Mammy’s generation (she was born roughly twenty years after the end of the American Civil War) believed that even a tiny bit of dark blood made one black, my “woman of color” ancestor could have been very light-skinned.

She told me about this because I wanted to know why she was treating Mama so badly.  Kids notice those things, because they have not yet developed the selective blindness of many adults.

Mama was a throwback.  Dark skinned with black curly hair.  Mammy was ashamed of her daughter, her only daughter.

Mammy had married at 14 and had her first child at 15.  John Henry Frizzelle, her husband, was ten years older than she was.  John Henry was a New Englander and a card-carrying socialist with progressive views.

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