tagInterracial LoveLove Knows No Color Pt. 16

Love Knows No Color Pt. 16


We awoke Good Friday morning, to the smell of breakfast cooking. The night before, after we'd washed up in the shower, we'd made love passionately until we fell asleep. Now, it was early, just after daybreak. Shavonda chose her outfit, a beautiful knee length red halter dress I'd never seen before. It was cut down to her cleavage in the front, and wrapped around her waist in the back. "When did you get this?" I asked.

"Got this just for our trip," she said. She looked as beautiful as ever. During the week, she'd gotten her hair cut so that the asymmetrical look was gone, and both sides were now the same length. Shaunice had wanted her to get it dyed but Shavonda preferred the natural, jet black color.

We walked downstairs to find Dad eating breakfast before heading off to the paper mill. "Morning, son, daughter," he said. "You look good." Shavonda set the baby carrier down next to the table. Miracle lay asleep, her head full of cute little dark brown curls.

"We are doing rather well," I said. "Things have really calmed down for us. The kids are doing well, the baby's healthy, what more could we ask for?"

"Glad to hear it," he said. Turning to Shavonda, "You know how happy you made him? He was sad for so many years. He didn't think we noticed but we did. But there was nothing we could do about it. After Rose he was devastated. I honestly never thought he'd let anybody get that close to him again."

"We needed each other," Shavonda said. "Together we are so much more than we could be apart. I'm never going to hurt him, and I'll be damned if I'll let anybody else hurt him."

Mom put plates of pancakes in front of us and we ate. "What are y'all planning for today?" she asked.

I looked at Shavonda. "Well, I'd like to go up to the tunnel for a little while. It's so peaceful there. After that, we'll probably head to turn for ice cream."

"Leave the kids here. They'd much rather play around here than ride in the car all day."

"I will," Shavonda said, "but we're taking Miracle with us. I need to be able to feed her."

"You have bottles in the fridge. I'd love to feed her," Mom said.

"Maybe later," Shavonda replied. "For now, I'd rather have her with me."

"Mom," I said, "She doesn't leave Miracle alone very often. Von only leaves the baby with Althea on rare occasions. She doesn't mind other people taking care of the baby when she's there, but she'd rather be around Miracle at all times. She even takes her to work with her."

"I waited so long to have this baby. I'm sorry, but I'd worry about her if we didn't take her. Maybe once she gets a little older things will change. But for right now, I want her with us."

Soon Brittany and Ethan came downstairs, lured by the smell of good food. Mom had made a big pan of scrambled eggs, and we all enjoyed them. Finished with breakfast, the kids went outside to play, while Shavonda and I did up the dishes. We kissed the kids goodbye and promised them we'd bring back some ice cream, then took off in the Jeep.

We arrived at KR about 8:30 in the morning, and were surprised to find a coal train stopped there at the signal, waiting to enter the tunnel. "I like the way that one looks," Shavonda remarked. "It looks like it means business." The lead locomotive of 3 was a long nosed SD40-2, with about 9 feet of hood in front of the cab. Shavonda was right, it did look like you didn't want to mess with it, kind of like a straight hood Peterbilt on a road full on sloped hood trucks. I walked over, baby strapped to my chest and camera in hand, and took photos of it. When Shavonda posed next to it, the engineer leaned out of the cab window and asked. "Ever been in one of these?"

"No," Shavonda yelled up at him as I snapped a photo of her talking to him.

"Come on up! We got time."

I helped Shavonda climb the steep stairwell to the end platform, then we followed the catwalk around the front of the engine to the cab door on the other side. Entering the cab, we introduced ourselves to the conductor sitting near the door, and the engineer sitting on the other side of the cab.

"I think I remember you two from last summer," the engineer, Scott, said. "I think we caught you two in a compromising situation." He laughed.

"That was us," Shavonda replied.

"We don't see many train watchers out here anymore. This spot is kinda remote."

"My family lives just below Ray tunnel, and we usually come up here when we visit," I explained. "That old iron bridge just below the tunnel connects our middle and lower pastures."

"We had a rockslide this morning, between Mack and Ray, and it has one of the tracks shut down. We're waiting on another train coming up the mountain," the engineer explained. "Mack is the other end of the tunnel, but they don't want to stop us on the downgrade so they held us here."

"Von likes your engine," I told him. "She thinks it looks powerful with the long nose."

"There's a story behind that nose," he replied. "Back when I got promoted to engineer they bought 8 of these for the zigzag trains. "

"What's a zigzag train?" Shavonda asked.

"You're on one right now," Scott replied. "They are export coal destined for the port on Chesapeake Bay. Here in the mountains, they split them in half. The first half goes over to Moss Run and waits for the zigzag to follow. We take the second half over, combine the two trains, and head back to Wolf Creek with just our engines. We have 3 on the front and 3 on the back. So later this afternoon, you'll see us come back as 6 engines and no cars. If we get back in time, we'll take another half train over the mountain."

He continued, "About 30 years ago, management got the bright idea that they could eliminate a crew by making the helper on the back remote controlled by us on the head end. The extra-long nose held the radio equipment for the remote control. The even numbered locomotives in this group had the radio transmitter, and the odd numbers had the receivers. We had an extra set of controls so we could independently run the helper engines. We called them master and slave units." Turning to Shavonda, he said, "No offense, dear."

"None taken," she replied.

"Problem was, the radio control didn't always work in the tunnels. When the slave lost the radio signal, it and any other locomotives in its consist would automatically go to idle. When you are down to ten to fifteen mph pulling uphill, that means your train stalls out. Unless you have enough speed built up to get the slave somewhere that it can pick up the radio signal again, then it throttles back up and you're okay. So, they put antennas in the tunnels to solve the problem. Soon management got the bright idea we could take the entire train over the mountain, by putting the slaves in the middle, and manned locomotives on each end. It worked for a while."

"What happened?" I asked. We were curious now. I found the story fascinating.

"They ran into problems in Moss Run cutting the locomotives out of the middle of the train. The trains ran with a brakeman, who would drop off the head end near the crossover switches in the middle of the yard. He'd direct the engineer by radio where to stop the train, then he'd uncouple the slaves from the front of the train. After we'd pull clear of the switches, the brakeman would uncouple the slaves from the rear of the train, line the crossover to the adjacent track, and tell the engineer to run the slaves out of the way. He'd then line the crossover back and the helper engineer would push the two halves of the train together. Once this was done, and the brakeman hooked up the air line, he'd get back on the slaves and ride them to the rear of the train where they would combine with the helper locomotive and return to Wolf Creek. The man running the slaves by remote control was 75 to 90 cars away and couldn't see what he was doing. He relied on the brakeman to radio him when to pull ahead and when to stop. One rainy night, the brakeman slipped and fell while trying to board the slaves as they moved through the yard. He rolled under the locomotive and got his leg cut off. Nobody knew anything was wrong until they noticed he wasn't on the locomotive when they went to combine them with the helper. By the time they found him, he'd bled to death. After that, we refused to run the slaves. We even went on strike for a couple of days. Eventually, the railroad discontinued the use of remote controlled helpers."

"That's so sad," Shavonda said. "So, what happened to the engineer?"

"They fired him for violating some safety rule. But he'd accidentally killed his friend and was never right again after that. He's still around, but he's a drunk now. You wouldn't want to be around him."

We talked awhile longer, and Scott showed Shavonda how the controls worked. She was fascinated. Meanwhile, Miracle had woken up and was cooing and laughing at the conductor, who made funny faces at her. We took photos of Shavonda sitting at the controls, then me and Miracle in the same spot. About that time, the other train came blasting out of the tunnel, and once it cleared the switches, the signal turned from red to green.

"That's our cue," Scott said. He wrote down his address on a slip of paper and handed it to me. "Please send me some pictures." We thanked him, and I helped Shavonda down off the locomotive. We waved as Scott throttled up and the heavy train slowly began to move. The train slowly moved past until the helper locomotive got to us. With the heavy train on the downgrade, the engineer had already throttled back and the helper whined past in full dynamic brake mode.

"That never gets old," Shavonda said. "I get shivers in my spine every time I watch them thunder past here."

"I know," I said. "I'm just glad you understand the attraction."

We stayed a little while longer, watching the signal to see if another train was coming. A yellow or green light would tell us if the dispatcher wanted to let another train pass by. But the signal stayed red, so we left. Shavonda drove the Liberty down the country road to Covington, where we got our ice cream at the Food Lion like we always did. We returned to the farm just before noon, heading straight for the kitchen.

We made ourselves a couple bowls of ice cream, and put the rest in the freezer. Shavonda followed me as I walked to the back porch, where I'd heard Mom's voice and another I couldn't quite place. "Hey everybody, we put ice cream in the freezer if anybody..." I stopped in the doorway and stared at the brown-haired woman in her late 40s sitting on the porch with the rest of the ladies of the family.

"Jason, what's wrong?" Shavonda asked, almost bumping into me.

"Hello, Aunt Nora," I said to the brown-haired woman.

"Hello, Jason," she replied.

"This is my queen, Shavonda," I said, taking my wife's hand.

"Thought she was your wife," Nora said with a chill in her voice.

"She's that, too. She's also my ebony goddess. But queen fits the best," I explained. Shavonda smiled and extended her hand, Nora didn't move.

Grandma tried to defuse the situation, "Your Grand pap used to call me his squaw. I knew it meant he loved me, just like calling Von queen."

Shavonda and I sat down in the folding chairs, ice cream bowls still in hand. We ate in uncomfortable silence. Finally, finished with my ice cream, I spoke. "We missed you at the wedding, Aunt Nora."

"I don't believe in what you are doing," she replied. "That's why I didn't come. Same with your Grandparents."

"Whether or not you believe in it, she is still my wife and you will respect our right to be together," I said, not liking where this was headed.

"Then marry somebody worthy of my respect," Nora snapped. "Not this, this..."

"Oh, shit," Sally muttered.

Shavonda rose from her chair and glared at Nora. "So, I'm not worthy? Is that it? How exactly am I not worthy?" Turning to me she said, "Jason, you stay seated. I GOT this."

"Well, for one thing, you are different from him..."

Shavonda cut her off. "Is it because I am a buh-lack girl?" She intentionally drew out the word black. "Because if it is you're missing the point. Marriage is about love and building a life together. And we've done that. Am I dark? Hell, yeah. And Jason LOVES my darkness. But I am so much more than that. We aren't that different. I am a lot more like Jason than Rose ever was. Matter of fact, I'm a lot more like my husband than YOU are."

"Nora, are you sure you want to go there?" Mom asked. Sally and Grandma watched us to see what we were going to do next.

"Yes, I am. This needs to be said. Those sort of marriages never work." Nora was indignant now. "God doesn't like them."

"We are married in the eyes of God," I said. "And since you want to bring religion into it I'm sure you are aware Moses wife was Ethiopian." Nora was silent.

But Shavonda was not satisfied. "Our marriage will work. It has worked. I been blessed with both a good husband, and a baby I never thought I could have. Speaking of which, Jason has Miracle wrapped to him, in plain view. Yet you never asked to see her. You rather pick a fight with us over being together. Don't you want to see our baby, your niece? Or have you decided you don't like her either?" Nora made no move. She was speechless. "Is it because she a swirl baby? Our baby is beautiful. What kind of person doesn't like a baby?"

And still Nora made no move to see the baby. Miracle was awake, and cooing at me as I rocked her gently. Sally came over and sat beside me, making faces at Miracle, who laughed. Shavonda was staring Nora down, her dark brown eyes afire. "Say something else," she said. "I dare you to say something else."

"Aunt Nora," I said. "With all due respect, why are you here? Did you come to make us miserable, because you can't accept that we might actually be happy? How is your marriage going?" I stuck the knife in and twisted it. "OH, that's right. Yours went up in smoke years ago. Now you can sit around and be miserable all you want. But don't take it out on us. We don't deserve it. You could have gained a niece and a baby. Instead, you lost a nephew. One more thing, don't you EVER talk to my queen like that again. Not that she can't handle herself, but I am not going to stand by and let you insult her."

I got up, grabbed Shavonda's hand and left the room. I was sick and tired of this. Of having to prove over and over that we were a legitimate couple. That we deserved the same respect that would have been automatically given if Shavonda were white. We went upstairs to our room to calm down.

"Jason, remember to close the window," Shavonda said. I put Miracle in her carrier, then walked to the window. I motioned Shavonda over next to me. "If they can hear us we can hear them," I whispered. "Want to know what my family REALLY thinks of you?"

We could hear the voices from the porch below. "He's very protective of her," Mom said.

"But did you hear the way they talked to me?" Nora sputtered. "No respect."

"Well, you did insult his queen," Sally said. "You didn't show them any respect either."

"You did insult them. She is his wife. More than that, she is part of this family. And she is my friend as well," Mom sounded frustrated. "Who are you to judge? You don't even know her. Other people have thrown so much at them, and it only drives them together. You aren't going to split them apart. You can't even tell where one ends and the other begins. There is no crack between them for you to exploit. Don't even think you are trying to 'talk sense' into them. They did the only sensible thing, and got married. When you love somebody the way they do, and that love is returned, you build a life together."

"I don't like it," Nora said. "I don't like her. Did you see the way she was dressed? Halter dress, breasts hanging out, no bra. She's a floozie. She has no class."

"No, she's not," Sally said. "She's a woman who is confident in herself. She's also breastfeeding. Do you really think she should have to cover everything in three layers just to please you, when she'd have to remove it all to feed the baby?"

"I think she has a lot of class," Grandma said. "He calls her his queen. And she is elegant in the way she carries herself. I was skeptical because of her color. But I always liked the girl. I've been around a long time, and I don't think he could have a better wife."

"Nora," Mom said. "Honestly, you need to just shut up, sit back and watch them. Just the little things they do. She is his world, and he is hers. Watch the way they talk to each other, the way they touch. You'll see it. He'll rub her feet without being asked. She'll massage his shoulders just because."

"Oh, so now y'all are turning on me?" Nora asked indignantly.

"Nothing of the sort," Mom replied. "I'm just asking you to sit back and observe them. Don't bait them, or try to embarrass them. You couldn't embarrass Von anyway. Anything she does with Jason she is not embarrassed by. Just leave them alone and watch them. You will see how wrong you are about her."

I shut the window and we crept back to the bed. "It would seem my family loves you. Mom called out her own sister over you."

We stayed in the room for a while. I held Shavonda close until we both calmed down. Funny thing, Aunt Nora's comments didn't hurt nearly as much as having the confrontation last year with Grandma did. Shavonda decided she wasn't going to let idiocy drive her from sitting on the porch with the family, so we grabbed the carrier and went back downstairs. Besides, Shavonda wanted to see if Miracle would sit up for Mom like she had for us earlier in the week.

As we sat down, all eyes were upon us. "Did you get him calmed down?" Sally asked.

"Yes," Shavonda said, "but I was a good girl this time."

"Well, Jason you certainly are looking good. Obviously Von takes good care of you," Mom said.

"I've been drinking a lot of milk lately," I said. Sally stared at me, mouth open like she wanted to say something. Nora stared as well. Mom smiled knowingly at Shavonda.

"Milk, it does a body good," Shavonda said without embarrassment. Sally laughed. Nora squirmed uncomfortably. "What? The baby only drinks one!" Nora turned beet red. Shavonda laughed.

"Didn't I tell you, Nora?" Mom said.

"Wait till Kenny hears about this," Sally laughed. "He'll have a field day."

"Nope," Shavonda replied with a laugh. "Not likely. I know a few things about him and Edie."

We hung out on the back porch for a while. Miracle was getting a little fussy, so Shavonda put her on the porch floor on her belly. "Watch this," she said. Miracle tried to get her legs underneath her body, but had a little trouble. She rolled over, and using her arms, sat in an upright position.

"When did she learn that?" Mom asked.

"Tuesday was the first time," Shavonda said. "It surprised me. I wasn't expecting it so soon. I thought she'd crawl first."

"Don't worry," Mom replied. "She'll be crawling soon. And when she does you won't be able to stop her." I picked my baby up and sat her on my knee, holding her carefully while I gently bounced her. Miracle's laugh filled the air.

Shavonda said she was hungry, and went off into the kitchen. She returned a few minutes later with a couple of pot roast sandwiches on a plate. "Made one for you too, Jason," she said. I rubbed her back as she ate. I ate my sandwich with the other hand. Nora watched us as we ate. She didn't say a word.

Later, Kenny and Edie stopped in. Nora's eyes grew wide when she saw Edie with Kenny. In a way, I felt sorry for her. Little by little we were turning her world upside down. "Kenny MacFarland!" she scolded. "Not you too!"

"Don't start with me, Nora," he replied. He knew what was up. "We didn't come here for bullshit. We came to hang out and play music."

Nora turned to Mom. "Where did he get her?"

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