Mama’s family never could afford to send her to college.  From as far back as I can remember, she promised it would be different for me.  “You are smart and you are beautiful,” she’d tell me.  “You are going to go far.”

Of course I believed her.  Why wouldn’t I?  I didn’t know it cost money to go to college.  It didn’t cost anything to go to public school.  Mama made all my clothes and sometimes Aunt Ruby Dear would help.  Mama’s older sister Ruby Dear lived with us too.  She was as sweet and chubby as a toddler, singing Raffi songs and chanting the rhymes she’d learned on Sesame Street.  She liked to clean and sort, so Mama would set her to work in a different room each day, tasking her with putting things into boxes and bags.  Somedays I’d come home from school and find all my socks and underpants arranged by color into empty Kleenex boxes or my dolls and stuffed cats sorted by size and hair color into big brown grocery sacks.  “It keeps her peaceful,” Mama always said as she sipped her black coffee.  Mama herself was always peaceful, despite her ever-present cup of coffee, forever hot and black early morning and late at night.  

I was in junior high before I began to wonder how Mama paid the rent and kept the lights on.  I didn’t have a daddy and as far as I could tell I never did have one.  Mama seldom left the house like other mothers did, so she didn’t seem to have a job.  If she was working from home, I hadn’t noticed.  There were no papers or notebooks, piecework or envelopes, no cakes or sewing or other people’s laundry.  I couldn’t imagine any other way to earn a pay check.  “Don’t you worry about it,” she’d tell me.  “I’m handling it.”  Sometimes there was the scent of cigarettes or musky cologne.  “Oh, Ruby Dear was sorting through some old items musta belonged to your Grandfather,” Mama’d say.  “Let’s open the windows and let the house breathe.”

On day I came home early from school with an earache.  Mama and Ruby Dear were in the back yard, collecting something into a metal tackle box.  I stood by the gate and watched, thinking Mama was helping Ruby Dear sort blossoms—the blue hydrangeas from the pink, the yellow roses from the red, the calla lilies—oh, the calla lilies, as waxy and white as vanilla butter cream frosting, they deserved a big bucket all to themselves.  

Mama was leaning over them pulling what looked like slips of paper out from among the sticky green leaves. She folded them up like raffle tickets as she handed them to her sister.  “Another twenty,” I heard her say.  “Oh, a fifty!  Nice!”

It was money.  Greenbacks in high denominations. 

“Mama, what are you doing?” I exclaimed.  

Mama nearly tripped into Ruby Dear’s lap.  “Regina!” she blurted.  “You nearly scared the piss out of me.”  She shook her head and recovered fast.  “What are we doing, you ask?  Well, we are collecting manna!  Manna that has fallen into our yard.”

“But—”  I paused in confusion.  “Where did it come from?”

Mama flashed a sly smile.  “Where all manna comes from, Reggie Dear.  From Heaven.  And that’s all you need to know.”

Photo by Winston Chen on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Manna

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.