While the music of the young people is great, the stories that Aunt Hager tells Sandy provide an insight into how deeply the old people feel things. It’s a little sad as Aunt Hager has each one of her three daughters, including Sandy’s mother, move away from her. Sandy is left alone with his grandmother and becomes the man of the house helping with the wash that Aunt Hager does in order to pay her mortgage.
Some of the talking that Aunt Hager does in this chapter might not meet today’s standards; however, through the rough times, the grandmother has managed to keep an eye on love and I’m not sure love needs any standards to live up to:
…years of faith and labor, love and struggle filled Aunt Hager’s talk of a summer night, while the lightning bugs glowed and glimmered and the katy-dids chirruped, and the stars sparkled in the far-off heavens.
Here are my other posts about Langston Hughes’ Not Without Laughter:
I guess I’m especially enjoying the chapters in Langston Hughes’ Not Without Laughter that have something to do with music. In chapter VIII, “Dance”, Sandy’s Aunt Harriet and her boyfriend, Mingo, sneak him out to a dance. Getting to see this through the eyes of a ten year-old boy is great enough as he stands around looking innocent while the older teenagers give him a nickel here and there to buy creme sodas.
But what makes it even better is the poetry and lyricism that Hughes uses to describe the music. Each instrument takes on its own personality:
Wah! Wah! Wah!…The cornet laughed with terrible rudeness. Then the drums began to giggle and the banjo whined an insulting leer. The piano said, over and over again: ‘St. Louis! That big old dirty town where the Mississippi’s deep and wide, deep and wide…’ and the hips of the dancers rolled… while the cynical banjo covered unplumbable depths with a plinking surface of staccato gaiety, like the sparkling bubbles that rise on deep water over a man who has just drowned himself…
Yeah! That’s it! And then this:
Whaw-whaw!…Whaw-whaw-whaw! As though the laughter of a cornet could reach the heart of loneliness.
Only Aaron Crawford wasn’t white; quite the contrary. His skin was so solid black that it glowed, reflecting an inner virtue that was strange, and beyond my comprehension.
The main plot points of John Henrik Clarke’s “The Boy Who Painted Christ Black” can be found in the title. As the reader though, I still wanted to see what it was all about and some nuanced details here and there makes it well worth reading.
Aaron Crawford, a very intelligent student and gifted artist, paints a picture of Christ as a black man. One of the nuances comes in the form of a teacher’s reaction to the painting. Bewildered? Yes. Condemning? No. The principal of the school also encourages Aaron and allows the painting to be displayed with other artwork at the school’s commencement ceremony. It’s not surprising that both the teacher and the principal are black.
Of course, at the commencement ceremony, the superintendent makes an appearance and sees the painting and decides it’s sacrilegious. The superintendent is white. As the principal stands up to the superintendent, expected negative consequences ensue.
The next nuance occurs as the principal and Aaron walk down the street with a sort of victory stride – as described by the narrator.
The narrator could also be considered a nuance in that we don’t know exactly who they are. My guess is that it’s one of Aaron’s classmates. Even if its easy to overlook, their reaction to the whole thing builds to the important ending.
All in all, it’s a short story that doesn’t have tons of surprises but doesn’t need them to express its powerful intent.
This story is included in Black American Short Stories: A Century of the Best also edited by John Henrik Clarke. I read it when I selected the King of Spades for Week 35 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
In the starry blackness the singing notes of the guitar became a plaintive hum, like a breeze in a grove of palmettos; became a low moan, like the wind in a forest of live-oaks strung with long strands of hanging moss. The voice of Annjee’s golden, handsome husband on the door-step rang high and far away, lonely-like, crying with only the guitar, not his wife, to understand; crying grotesquely, crying absurdly in the summer night…
Langston Hughe’s 1930 novel Not Without Laughter is formatted like many novels from the 19th century. Each chapter has both a number, a title and its own “mini” story that ties into the novel as a whole.
Chapter V is titled “Guitar” and it takes a break from the previous four chapters in that Jimboy, Sandy’s father, has come home after being gone for a while looking for work and eventually finding it. Sandy’s mother, Annjee, works as house keeper for a white family and Annjee’s mother, known in the community as Aunt Hager, does laundry in her home. Aunt Hager isn’t a fan of her daughter’s husband in that she doubts how hard he actually looks for work and how hard he tries to keep it. The fact that Jimboy is gone for long periods of time doesn’t help.
But in this chapter, the evening sets in and Jimboy pulls out his guitar and plays for the family and the neighbors. Even Aunt Hager puts her feet up and grudgingly enjoys the time of relaxation. It doesn’t matter that much for a brief moment how ambitious Jimboy is. His music lets everyone know that they can lay back and take a break from work – and life.
In an understated manner, maybe Hughes says that Jimboy’s talent has a place, too. He and his guitar have a purpose and benefit for his family and friends even if it doesn’t bring in the money they need. I get the feeling that Aunt Hager isn’t done with her doubts about her son-in-law, but for one evening, it was nice to see them possibly come to an understanding.
Innocence involves an unseeing acceptance of things at face value, an ignorance of the area below the surface. In that humiliating moment I looked beyond myself and into the depths of another person. This was the beginning of compassion, and one cannot have both compassion and innocence.
Maybe it’s because of the pandemic or maybe it’s because I’m getting older or maybe both, but I’ve noticed myself noticing little things more often. Little things that maybe I didn’t notice before. Little things that maybe provide a brief moment of joy or a small sense of accomplishment that in the past I would have simply brushed over. Realizing this about myself gave this next story more significance to me than I would have thought a story about marigolds could have.
Miss Lottie, in Eugenia W. Collier’s “Marigolds”, lives in Depression-era rural Maryland in a small shack with her mentally-challenged adult son. In the midst of the dirt and dust and in the midst of seclusion from those in her community, she’s able to grow a small patch of marigolds. It’s this small patch of joy and hope that gets destroyed and trampled on.
This, in and of itself, would be a great story with huge emotional impact. What makes it go beyond great, though, is that Miss Lottie is the secondary character. The narrator is the adult who did the destruction and trampling when she was fourteen. She’s able to tell the story with both regret and wisdom – wisdom she didn’t have at the time of the story she’s telling. She tells the story looking back on her inability to understand the complexity of emotions her teenage self faces in the midst of poverty.
This is the closest I’ve come to tears with a story in a long time. It’s now the one to beat for favorite this year and it certainly is on my list of all-time favorites.
This story is included in Black American Short Stories: A Century of the Best edited by John Henrik Clarke. I read it when I selected the Four of Spades for Week 34 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
This night again was fair and brilliant and calm, and Humphreys lingered almost as long at his window. The Irish yew came to his mind again as he was on the point of drawing his curtains…
“Mr. Humphreys and His Inheritance” is the last story in Volume 1 of M. R. James’ complete ghost stories.
It’s one of James’ longer stories and might be described as laborious – but not in the manner of being boring or too detailed. It’s more laborious in the sense one might feel trying to make their way through a maze.
Of course, that’s the main aspect of Mr. Humphreys’ inheritance. In addition to an estate and all the servants that come with it, there is also a maze. The library in the estate (there’s almost always a library) gives some clues as to how and why the maze was set up. The maze is enough to provide fright; however, the supernatural does show up in a few places but it wouldn’t be fair to give these details away.
So that’s all of M. R. James ghost stories. It’s been quite fun reading through all of them. I think my favorite is still “‘Oh Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad'” which I read a few years ago. But so many of them come close to being just as great.
‘Nope. Theys wood to be chopped up North, too,’ and she passed on leaving the corner agog.
The scene in Zora Neale Hurston’s “The Country in the Woman” in which Caroline Potts strolls down New York City’s Seventh Avenue with an axe over her shoulder, at least in my imagination, is a scene to behold.
Caroline and her husband, Mitchell, have moved to New York City from a small town in Florida. In Florida, the town knew Mitchell as a woman-chaser who continually cheated on Caroline. In Florida, the town knew Caroline as a wife who creatively and successfully sought revenge on every woman with whom Mitchell had a fling.
Now, in the Big Apple, Mitchell thinks things have changed – for Caroline. She just needs to accept that up here Mitchell’s behavior is normal. Of course, that’s not Caroline’s way of thinking. I think the point of the story comes down to the contrast between Mitchell not thinking he has to change while wondering why Caroline doesn’t.
Overall, the story is funny and insightful – like the other Zora stories I’ve read.
This story is included in Zora Neale Hurston’s collection Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick: Stories. I read it when I selected the Three of Hearts for Week 33 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
‘…and I hope to God…that she will be with you by day and by night till an end is made of you.’
This week at Mirror With Clouds, I’ll be playing catch-up from last week in which my schedule was a little off.
First up is the penultimate story from Volume 1 of M. R. James’ complete ghost stories – “Martin’s Close”.
If I recall correctly, I don’t think trial scenes have played a role in any of James’ stories until now (feel free to correct me if I’m wrong) and, of course, the trial is not in present time – it’s a transcript from 1684, several hundred years prior to the story’s present.
George Martin is on trial for the murder of Ann Clark, a young girl who, in his mind, ruined a better marriage prospect for himself. He is accused of the murder because of the way he reacts to what most consider to be Ann Clark’s ghost.
I won’t ruin the story by stating the outcome of the trial but one might guess based on the story’s title. While the ghost isn’t questioned as a witness, even if that would be kind of interesting, it seems the ghost is key to the accusation and even the judge doesn’t question its existence as evidenced by the above quotation.
This matter began, as far as I am concerned, with the reading of a notice in the obituary section of the Gentleman’s Magazine for an early year in the nineteenth century…
While the above first line of M. R. James’ “The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral” may not be the most exciting or scary line of the story, I couldn’t help but immediately be fascinated with its understatement. The narrator finds the beginning of his story in reading an obituary “as far as [he was] concerned”. I also immediately asked the question “who else would be concerned”?
As I’ve found it to be customary by now for M. R. James, this story unfolds from an obituary to the old diaries and papers. In this case, they belong to the archdeacon of Barchester Cathedral. The narrator obtains the papers from a librarian and then proceeds to put together the pieces of the story.
At least in this story, I the find the putting together of the pieces to be just as exciting and interesting as the supernatural scary aspects – and those are quite good, too. It’s tough to get past a demon cat attached to an ancient carving in a church. But the connecting of numerous diary entries builds the suspense.
More than once on the way home that day Mr. Dunning confessed to himself that he did not look forward with his usual cheerfulness to a solitary evening. It seemed to him that something ill-defined and impalpable had stepped in between him and his fellow-men – had taken him in charge, as it were.
M. R. James’ “Casting the Runes” has a slightly different tone than his other stories in that the “scary dude” actually gets his comeuppance – in a rather humorous way.
Mr. Dunning rejects a paper that the “scary dude” submitted to a museum regarding alchemy and the occult. Turns out, the “scary dude” had a paper rejected in the past and he cast runes on the guy that rejected it. Not wanting to suffer the same fate, Mr. Dunning does some of his own research regarding alchemy.
It’s interesting that most of this story is told through conversation at a dinner party and then a conversation on a train. We don’t run into the author of these papers until the end. It’s not surprising that the ending is dark even if the good guy wins. It’s not surprising that its funny, either!