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You Know Better

Chapter One

"Miss Moses?! Is that you? Good God, I thought you were dead!"

They were the first words that I spoke to that dear old lady. And I did not merely speak them. I shouted them -- from across the street -- out the window of my automobile.

Can you believe it? That was the first thing out of my mouth: "I thought you were dead!" It was so unlike me. But then again, as my little granddaughter and her contemporaries say, "I was stressed!"

I rolled down the window and shouted it all the way across the street right out of the car. Of course, I was mortified. I was beyond mortified. I had spent my entire life conducting myself in an exemplary fashion. Any deviation from that role disturbed me.

In my embarrassment over that coarse slip, I almost forgot for a moment that I was out after midnight on a Saturday morning scouting around the streets of Mulberry, Georgia, looking for my almost, nineteen-year-old granddaughter, LaShawndra, my only grandchild.

That was the reason I was in what used to be downtown Mulberry, outside the local nightspot called The Club, located on the corner of Broadway and Cherry Street, looking for LaShawndra even though I knew the establishment had closed at midnight, nearly an hour before. If LaShawndra had gone there, I figured I might still be able to catch her little butt hanging around outside looking for a ride.

But the only little figure I saw on the corner of Broadway and Cherry Street that dark early morning was that of old Miss Moses, Mulberry's pioneering educator. Georgia.

The clouds chose just that moment to shift in the sky, exposing a moon directly over her head that was split right down the middle, like half a pie.

Seeing that old blind lady in the middle of downtown Mulberry at almost one o'clock in the morning more than shocked me.

At first I almost thought I was having a flashback from some bad drugs I took back in the sixties.

I couldn't help myself. I was stunned to see Miss Moses standing right under one of those high-crime, high-intensity streetlamps with an umbrella hanging over her arm -- proudly -- as if she were fully prepared for anything. I lowered the window on the passenger's side and yelled across the seat, almost expecting her to vanish before my eyes. But I knew I was seeing the old woman's face clearly. There was no mistake about it. It was Miss Moses.

The first reason I was so surprised to see Miss Moses, even in the midst of this crisis with my granddaughter, LaShawndra -- besides the fact that it was nearly one o'clock in the morning -- was that Miss Moses was all by herself. And I couldn't believe that Miss Moses was the kind of elderly blind person who went off on a jaunt by herself.

I knew a blind masseur I would go to sometimes. Extraordinary man. He told me that as a teenager he regularly jumped the fence of the Mulberry School for the Blind and ventured out at night to buy beer for his dormitory cohorts at the corner 7-eleven. Imagine the nerve that took.

But I could not imagine Miss Moses jumping any fences at night to come out to The Club. My God, she had to have been ninety-five if she was a day.

Miss Moses looked like a dainty little wrinkled urban poppy growing up through a crack in the middle of all that weathered concrete. And between the bright streetlight she was standing under and my increasing farsightedness -- you know I can see farther off now that I can close up -- I could see her just as clear as day. She was dressed in this red and purple flowered voile dress that nearly came down to her ankles. And it had a high neck with some grayish-looking crocheted cotton lace around the collar. The sleeves of the dress were long, all the way past her wrists, but you know how you can see through voile, so I could see her little stick arms through the sleeves.

Planted on top of her head was a small, round, pink straw pillbox hat -- I had not seen one of them in thirty years -- with a strip of hot pink grosgrain ribbon for a band. And planted on top of the pillbox hat was a huge -- I mean huge -- lavender cabbage rose.

All of which made her gray nappy hair, kind of tucked in in some places and sticking up in other places, look like a tuft of dried but living grass sprouting around the pillbox.

You know she had on a sweater. In fact, she had on two sweaters. One on top of the other. But she didn't have either one of them completely on. Both sweaters were merely thrown around her shoulders. And I was worried about her standing out there on a street corner in the cool. Her little gray sweater with yellowed satin ribbon woven throughout was just wrapped around her bony shoulders, and the two top buttons were fastened to keep it on. And another buttercup yellow cotton sweater with pink and blue flowers embroidered on it was tossed on top of that first one. And its top two buttons were fastened, too.

The second reason I was surprised to see her there was I was almost sure I had seen the notice of Miss Moses's death in the Mulberry Times a few months before. I read the local newspaper cover to cover each weekday morning before I leave for work and in the afternoons on the weekend. Most mornings I'm up to hear the thump of the paper on my front porch. I could have sworn I'd seen Miss Moses's obituary! GRACE MOSES, LOCAL EDUCATION PIONEER, DEAD AT 95. Or something like that. The death notice had…

Excerpted from You Know Better © Copyright 2002 by Tina McElroy Ansa. Reprinted with permission by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

You Know Better
by by Tina McElroy Ansa

  • hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow
  • ISBN-10: 006019779X
  • ISBN-13: 9780060197797