NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Vol 17.1: Winter 2017 - Page 14

memoir

Enid and Bobby ’ s Jitterbug

Jitterbugs ( V ), ca . 1941-1942
By Hermine D . Pinson
6
p
Jitterbug V , ca . 1941-1942 William H . Johnson
Honor thy father and thy mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee .
Exodus 20 : 12
Now , it is true that the nature of society is to create , among its citizens , an illusion of safety ; but it is also absolutely true that the safety is always necessarily an illusion . Artists are here to disturb the peace .
James Baldwin , “ An Interview with James Baldwin ” ( 1961 )

I .

Enid and Bobby Dance
Enid and Bobby bend and rip , tumble , twist and clinch in un-love . Stationed in our different places in the room , we blanch in their peripheral vision . This night they each will teach us by playing their parts . He must demonstrate control , smiling at the elaborate efforts of his wife to resist his will ; she must demonstrate how one conducts one ’ s self when one ’ s dignity has been undermined and one ’ s integrity has been impugned . She rolls up her pedal pushers and leaps headlong into his arms .
“ Yes , you did !” she says to him apropos of what we don ’ t know , not being privy to the genesis of their conflict .
“ This is my house , woman , and you will obey me !” The muscles in his back ripple and strain under his button-down shirt as he lifts her , kicking , off the floor , and she screams , “ I will not . I will not . I will not !”
They achieve momentary stasis in a clutch , then fall into grotesque and angular postures of flailing arms , grunts and moans , while the air whistles with their misses , from the living room into the cramped space of the dining room . Pinned as she is on her back , still she makes Bobby ’ s job difficult , as she bristles and scoots to escape his grip . His cotton shirt rips as easily as her silk camisole . In desperation , she attempts to bite his leg . He laughs and kicks to shake her off , inadvertently banging her head against the wood floor .
“ You fucker !” she says through clenched teeth .
For a little eternity , my father pauses , his surgeon ’ s hand raised to slap or grab . My mother avoids staring into his face but watches his hands with the avidity of a student of chirognomy who reads her own fate there .
“ You cursed me ?” he says to her , still holding her tight with one hand . His sweat-streaked face is strained and invigorated by his anger , becoming a mask of incredulity . “ You ’ ve never cursed me !” His surprise is calibrated to a sense of propriety that only the two of them understand , as if there are boundaries of civility in this dance . They are the real-life couple in our living room , unlike , say , the impeccable Rob and Laura Petrie we watched on tv on weekdays on the Sixties sitcom , The Dick Van Dyke Show . Before Mary Tyler Moore became the first single woman and “ make it after all ” in The Mary Tyler Moore Show , she played Laura , a dancer / housewife whose most damning criticism of Rob was a tearful look and her famous cry , “ Oh Rob !” And Rob ’ s response was an exaggerated double-take and vaudevillian pratfall over furniture placed there for just that purpose . No such order in this universe on Scovel Street for us , whom poet Sterling Plumpp calls in “ Blues Not Gonna Die ” ‘ citizens of chaos .’ 1
Enid Ivy , daughter of a Presbyterian minister and school principal from Oxford , North Carolina , and a school teacher from Tennessee , was prepared by her parents to uplift the race , her maternal grandmother having worked for the American Missionary Association in the late nineteenth century .
PHOTOGRAPH BY SMITHSONIAN AMERICAN ART MUSEUM , GIFT OF MRS . DOUGLAS E . YOUNGER .