My true name is...well, we don't know each other well enough for that. Do we? So, in the interest of "getting to know one another," let's grab the rudder of the SS Friendship and take a different tack.
My given name is DeRicki Johnson.
I know it is an unusual name...strange...because, whenever I sign up for things like email accounts at Yahoo, MSN, or Google, I can always use my name without having to accept some dumb automatically generated alias like "DeRicki4889". The first time I ever tried it, Yahoo was claiming 25 million subscribers, and yet it took my first name for an email address just as cool as if I was present for the birth of the Internet, or something. Don't bother trying to email me at that address, though, I dumped it years ago.
As far as I know, "DeRicki" is not a family name. I think my given name was just a whim of the person who named me. Maybe that would be a good way to tell you about myself. I will tell you a story about my grandmother and me.
My late grandmother is the one who named me.
My mom had me when she was still in high school. She joined the army just after I was born. Back in those days it was quite scandalous to have a child out of wedlock, so my grandmother, Maudie, and her current husband, Albert Johnson, adopted me...rescuing me from the shame and stigma of being raised a "bastid chile."
I have never met my natural father. He is supposed to have been some itinerant civil rights worker who passed through Fort Worth with a group on a quest to win for blacks the same rights as white Americans. I have been told his last name was Christmas. I don't think I have ever been told the whole truth about my birth father…so, I am not really sure about this. Don't get me wrong. I don't hate mom or phantom dad...if it were not for their bit of unsanctioned connubial felicity, well, I wouldn't be here. Only God can judge her, him, or me. And that's all I'm going to say about that...
As a young woman, my grandma moved to the big city of Fort Worth, TX from the small country town of Tyler back in the 1930s, and immediately began working to earn money to bring her family to the big city, one person at a time.
I loved and feared my granny. She was a larger-than-life person. I recalled her as an independent woman, tough but fair, who carried a .38 caliber pistol in her purse until the day she died. Some time I might tell you about my adventure getting caught going through the metal detector at DFW airport with granny and her "loaded" purse. But, as they say, "that's a story for another day."
Apparently, she wasn't afraid to use her pistol, either.
Family legend has it that she shot one of her philandering husbands in the ass, while he attempted to flee through downtown Fort Worth after being caught in a somewhat compromising, not to mention, perverted, position. I never met that husband, but I have always admired his quick thinking...after all; getting shot in the butt at least meant he had the clarity of mind to RUN!
Grandma Maudie married four times. Her fourth husband, Albert Johnson, is the one who gave me his name. Albert was younger than my granny, and I remember him as being very, very cool. He always had the dopest rides, with the thumping-est stereos. As a young boy growinng toward puberty, the high point of any visit back to Fort Worth was cruising the hoods as grandpa Albert holler'd at various neighborhood notables from behind the wheel of his latest chariot sublime. Beep-beep.
My grandmother raised me until I was 5, and my mom, who was married with two children by then, came back for me. During those 5 years my grandmother taught me many things, one of her most clearly remembered lessons was the importance of being independent.
The clearest memory I have of one of her lessons on "independence" is one that occurred on a partcularly warm and sunny North Texas summer afternoon. The lesson came after one my frequent rides to the grocery store with granny. I was perhaps four years old at the time - yet too young to realize what a rare accomplishment it was for an African American to own a car. Come to think of it - yet too young to realize I was African-American, for that matter.
We - my granny and I - had a well established tradition, a ritual, that at the end of such excursions Granny would come around to my door and open it. Then I would follow her into the house.
But, this particular day was different.
This fateful day, she turned to me, her arms full of groceries, and said, "You're old enough to open your own door. Open it and come inside."
Wha-what...WHAT? Open my own door? Was this woman flirting with insanity?
I was outraged at this seemingly cruel and unfair breach of established protocol, and let her know it by promptly throwing a temper tantrum. From her retreating back came her reply, "Crying won't help. Come inside when you figure it out."
The audacity of this woman, I thought.
Well, maybe not in those exact words…after all, I was only four. But, I was plenty shocked and angry. So, I stubbornly jumped up and down in my seat and turned up the tears; managing, after some time, to cry myself asleep.
When I awoke, the sun had set. A gentle evening breeze rustled the leaves in the yard's great old trees. The back door's screen glowed with a warm yellow light, and soft adult voices murmured through the open kitchen door.
When I awoke, I was different. I had cried myself to sleep, a baby. But, I awoke a self-reliant human being.
When I awoke, I opened the car door and I walked to the house. I was hungry.