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After twenty-one years Micah (Mike) Winship is making the big move--she's going home for a visit. She hasn't been back since 1963, when her father threw her out, but now he is dying and asking for her. And although she is armed with her succesful journalism career and the strength found after her divorce, she is nearing forty and her sophisticated urban lifestyle is falling apart.
Heading home, Mike is unprepared for a past that has lain in wait for her--one that includes an old love, a spoiled sister, and a plot to seize her family's land. And in trying to understand her long-forgotten self, she learns at last those lessons best learned early about love and loss, family and forgiveness, and the undeniable need for a place called home.
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Even before she opened her eyes, the child was afraid. Coming out of sleep, she was not sure where she was, only that it was wrong. She should not be in this place. He would be very angry. She was eight years old, and she had been afraid of him all of her life.
She lay still and listened, and heard the rain. The rain came riding on a vast gray wind, to pepper the flat tin roof and sing in the tops of the black-green pines in the woods across the road from the cabin. Over it, much nearer at hand, she heard the chink of the iron poker in the cooling fireplace, and the visceral, thumping wail of the Atlanta jigaboo station on the radio Rusky had given J. W. for Christmas.
Without opening her eyes, the child burrowed her head under the flaccid feather pillow and dragged the quilt closer around her. Her body was warm in the piled nest of quilts and blankets Rusky had heaped over her during the night, but her feet were icy and her nightgown must be up around her neck, because her legs were cold up to her thighs. She took a deep breath, inhaling musty bedclothes and the ashy, dark smell the cabin always had, made up of smoke from the fireplace and the smell of Rusky and J. W. themselves. It was not sweat, though that was part of it, it was more, was the fecund essence of the Cromies, who lived in the sagging cabin behind the big house on Pomeroy Street. It was a rich smell, deep and complicated, somehow very old, the essence of all Negroes Mike had ever known.
"Why do Nigras smell like ashes?" she had asked Rusky once.
"'Cause dey spends so much time tendin' to white folkses' fires," Rusky said, thumping the iron down on the ironing board in the big, square, sweet-steamed kitchen. "And 'cause de Lord give 'em that smell, same as he give you a smell like a new li'l ol' puppy. Kindly of sweet and sour at the same time. It ain't polite to ax folks why they smells like they does, Mike. It hurts they feelings."
"Are your feelings hurt?"
"Naw, but I'm yo' family. Don't you go axin' nobody outside yo' family why they smells like they does. "
"Why are you my family if you're black and I'm white?"
"Go on, now, I got to finish this arnin' and get on to them beans, or ain't none of you gon' get any supper. You just axin' questions to hear yourself talk. "
The child's name was Micah Winship. She did not want to open her eyes, to lose the cocoon of the bed and the covers. She drifted for a space of time, her legs and feet drawn up to her body, willing Rusky to remain silent, but she did not.
"Git up, Mike. Time to go over yonder an' start breakfast. You know you daddy don't know you over here.
"I don't want to get up."
"I don't care what you wants. You really be in a fix if he come back from his walk an' fin' you over here with me. I promise him the las' time I ain't gon' bring you home with me no more. He like to fire me if he catch you sleepin' over here with me, an' then what you all gon' do?"
"I don't care. I'm not going to get up.
"You promise me las' night after that nightmare an' all that hollerin' you doin' that you get up when I call you if I let you come home with me. Big girl like you, in the third grade, yellin' an' hollerin' like that. Git up, now. Move yo' self."
"I don't have to. You can't make me."
"Well, I know somebody what can make you, an' right quick, too. Come on, J. W. We gon' go tell Mr. John Mike over here in the baid an' we cain't git her out."
"Aw, Mama . . . " J. W. said from the shed room off the cabin's main room, where he slept winter and summer.
"I'm gon' out dis door, Mike, J. W.," Rusky said, and slammed it to emphasize her words.
HomeplaceBy: Anne Rivers Siddons