Wednesday, April 3, 2013

'D' is for Dotsie - Blogging from A - Z April Challenge

Dotsie Caples 1920 - 1976

Dotsie told me I was blessed.

Our family was unusual in that my sisters and I were each born seven years apart, and our parents were married seven years before they had their first child. Mother had difficult pregnancies, and said I was several weeks late. It was a strange time. I don't understand why these things happened, but not only was Mother put to bed for a month, her doctor also insisted she wear a girdle every day. She wasn't supposed to do anything except wait. So that's what she did. I know it was difficult for her because she was a very busy person. That's when my parents had to hire help.

A lady who later taught me how to crochet, came to stay with our family. Mama Lee was my mother's youngest sister's mother-in-law and lived walking distance from our house, a few doors away from my grandmother. Of course, I was busy hanging out in the darkness, being cinched-in by Mother's undergarments so as far as I know I was clueless about what was going on. One of Mother's older sisters gave birth during that time. That was eighteen days before Mother, so there was a lot of excitement surrounding my new cousin, Tina Lynn. And there was a lot of excitement as the family waited for me. Then Mother's daddy passed away on Halloween night, exactly nine days before I was born.

Mother's mother, Mama Stringer, had recently dealt with colon cancer. She was tiny, frail, and unhealthy at age sixty-six. I don't think there was much she could do at the time. As close as we were I never remember her picking me up or holding me. She couldn't do it, but Mama Lee felt that it would be good if Mama Stringer took her place at the house. She told my parents that my grandmother needed a diversion. So, she stepped aside, and Mama Stringer came to help. And so did Dotsie Caples.

I was Dotsie's baby. I've always known that. "Baby," she'd say to me, "when you was a little girl I used to hold you in one arm and iron with the other."

Dotsie, who was born on Independence Day, began working for my parents before I came home from the hospital, and she continued until her death when I was eighteen. Originally from Detroit, Michigan, Dotsie had lived in Mobile for a while, but I don't know how long. She was married to a nice man named Jimmy Caples who worked at my school. Dotsie rode the bus to our house all the time. Once a year she rode a different bus from Mobile to Detroit. I missed her terribly when she was gone. I miss her today.

Dotsie taught me how to be polite. She taught me how to be kind. And she kept me out of trouble when I wasn't doing such a good job. One day my next door neighbor, Cheryl, and I decided that we would have a Kool-Aid stand and make some money. Dotsie suggested that we set things up in the back yard because that was safer. To make bad matters worse when Cheryl and I looked in the kitchen cabinets we couldn't find any Kool-Aid. Undeterred, we improvised. A short while later, Cheryl and I stood behind the pic-nic table, which Dotsie helped us cover with a red and white gingham check table cloth. We were ready with plastic cups, and a pitcher of red ice water.

Right away we sold our first drink to Patricia Wally. She paid a nickel, was immediately dissatisfied, and demanded a refund. Cheryl and I refused on the grounds that Patricia couldn't return the product.
The whiney baby ran two doors down to get her mother, while Cheryl and I ran and hid in the detached garage at the back of the drive. We could see the kitchen door as we peeped through a crack in the wood. I think we both held our breath.

In my mind, and my memory, I can still hear the music that played when the wicked witch carried Toto off on her bicycle to teach Dorothy a lesson. I think we heard the ground shake. I remember trembling as we heard Patricia's mother stomping through the yard, walking onto the back stoop, up the steps, and opening the screen door. She rapped hard on the back glass, so hard that it sounded like it might crack. I looked down at my feet and saw a frog standing on my little toe. "I'm gonna get a wart," I whispered to Cheryl.

Dotsie came to the door. "Mrs. Wally, What can I do for you?"

Patricia's mother held a keen switch in her hand and she waved it around insisting that she was going to switch Cheryl and me. She was there to teach us a lesson and also to retrieve Patricia's money. Mrs. Wally tried intimidating Dotsie, she tried to get her to move aside and tried pushing her way into the house so she could find us. Cheryl and I huddled together quietly. Dotsie stood firm. She put her hands on her hips and took a broad stance as Patricia's mother continued to insist that she move aside, insisting that she wanted to speak to Mother, or Mama Stringer. Mrs Wally wasn't about to back down. "Girl, listen to me. Listen to me."

Dotsie listened for a little bit before she kindly, but firmly raised her voice and said, "You listen to me Mrs. Wally. You're gonna have to go through me before you get at my babies!"

Elation! We exhaled, smiled, and silently clapped our hands. Safe and happy, we stayed put and watched as Patricia's mother dropped the switch to her side, backed off the steps and headed home. Cheryl and I did a little dance as our nervousness turned into quiet giggles. That's when the garage door swung open. Frozen, Cheryl and I looked up at Dotsie looking down at us.

Cheryl and I walked two doors down with Dotsie standing behind us. We knocked on the door and sheepishly asked Mrs. Wally if we could see Patricia. We handed her nickel back and said, "We're sorry for selling you colored water."

Patricia said, "thank you." Dotsie walked us back home.

When I was in the second or third grade our phone rang in the middle of the night. Daddy dressed and left the house. The next day we learned that Dotsie's son had been murdered in Pensacola. Somebody shot him in the head. I didn't know she had a son. Why didn't I know?

Dotsie died when I was a senior in high school. That was early June, 1976. Dotsie had a bad doctor who did a bad surgery that I have been told shouldn't have happened. She never got well. Daddy took me to the funeral home so that I could say "good-bye." I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that Dotsie wore the prettiest sky blue night gown I've ever seen. She was gone. Then Daddy took me home and went back to visit with Jimmy at the house. Jimmy sent me this picture.

Three years later I got married. Nineteen years later I got divorced. Thirteen years ago I met my current husband, moved to Ann Arbor, and now live very close to Detroit. My friends don't understand what I'm trying to say when I tell them that I'm really a sweet black woman from deep inside the city. So much of who I am is her.

One night I woke up crying. I walked into my office and searched on the computer for a long while. I wanted to know what I didn't know. I couldn't believe that I didn't. I looked and looked and finally thought about searching for social security numbers. That's when I learned that Dotsie was fifty-six years old when she died. All those years and I never knew her age. A multitude of feelings hit me. I was blessed because Dotsie Caples loved me.