Monday, December 21, 2009

You're What Kind Of Santa?

My sister came home with a B.B. King record one day, and our housekeeper promptly let our parents have it, but good.

The boozing, the women, the utter depravity of the life of a bluesman! She was outraged that my parents would permit their teenaged daughter to bring something like that into the house. At first, I thought that was the just typical Ella Mae churchwoman lecture-I mean, she used to scold me for leaving undressed dolls lying about. Yes, dolls. Because it wasn't proper. For some reason the Chrissy doll sitting unclothed bothered her more than anything else, though it is true that Mrs. Beasley had her knickers sewn on to avoid just those sort of situations.

"I knew him as a baby in Mississippi. I watched him."

After so many years, I can't remember if there was one of those slow-motion type lags you see in movies where the person is trying to process something they've been told before the camera screeches back to the startled person muttering:

Our housekeeper was B.B. King's babysitter. I guess there wouldn't have been any reason to share this fact prior to my sister bringing home that record, but still. At that time (and probably still to a degree) B.B. King was probably the most famous bluesman alive (OK maybe Muddy Waters was higher on the fame scale, but B.B. King was pretty damn famous-in Chicago anyway).

"You what?!"

Oh, she liked him fine when he sang in church-that was swell, but all the drinking and women and so on-that was too much for her. I thought she was right insane, and I laughed her outrage off as the ranting of an old woman. Until this evening.

I was washing up the dishes after dinner, and listening to the radio. NPR had a Christmas blues show on. It wasn't until I heard B.B. King singing about being "Your Backdoor Santa", that I understood just what she found so offensive. Oh, I know, he didn't mean that backdoor-but it was still a pretty over-the-top song. Sneaking in to romance ladies when their men were out drinking. Bringing gifts for the children so they will leave mama alone to get romanced! Yep, I was starting to see Ella Mae had a point-it just took me forty years to understand it.

It seems so unfair-by the time I'm old enough to understand things, the people I'd love to share it with are all dead. I never get the chance to tell people they were spot on because it took me four decades to get it. So many times I wish I could call my grandmother to let her know I understand reusing plastic bags, or saving string in a jar on the windowsill. I get it now. I do. And it breaks my heart that I can't let her know it.

Ella Mae, wherever you may be, God rest your soul, you were right. About so many things. I wish I could have admitted it while you were still here.

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