Hopeful. It’s supposed to be a town, but the truth is it’s not much more than a wide spot in a road that runs through Georgia. It ain’t on any map, and only a scattering of people have heard of it. But me, I was raised here. My mama’s the one who named the town, named it like she’d name one of her young’uns. Mama said she didn’t know a lot about a lot of things, but she knew plenty about being hopeful.
That’s how Mama was. She grabbed onto things she loved and gave the names to her babies. I got a brother named Free, a sister named Honeysuckle, and another one named Rosebud. All them was things she loved. My name’s Canasta, but Mama never did say why. When I asked Daddy, he laughed like his belly was gonna bust open.
“That’s your mama’s secret,” he said. He promised she’d tell me when I was old enough, but she never did.
Mama was a woman with more than her share of secrets. When one of us kids would offer up a question she didn’t feel like answering, she’d say some things was too ugly to be talking about and that was the end of that. You could ask ‘till you turned blue in the face, and you’d still get the same answer.
Mama was a real pretty woman. So pretty that Daddy George asked her to marry him the very first time they met. She had four kids and a twisted leg, but he didn’t care. He was getting on in years and had a hankering for something sweet. He told her, “Caledonia, I got money and I got land, but I ain’t got no wife and family. You got plenty family but no money, so I’m thinking this would be a fine match.” Mama agreed, and they was married the next day. Back then, Daddy George owned all the land that’s Hopeful.
Them was real good years. Rows of corn, beans, and peaches stretched out far as the eye could see, and when Mama rang the noonday dinner bell a dozen hungry workers came running. They ate ‘till the plates were licked clean, then went back to work in the fields. Some days Mama would be left with a pile of dirty dishes tall as me, but it didn’t trouble her none. All the while she was swishing a soaped-up rag across those dishes, she was whistling a happy tune.
My job was to do the drying, and I told Mama I’d be a whole lot happier if those men did their eating elsewhere. She stopped whistling for about half a minute and said, “Canasta, you be careful what you wish for. Those men work for your daddy, and they’re what keeps this farm running.” After that she went back to whistling and washing, and I went back to drying. I looked over at Mama and could see the proud showing itself like peacock feathers.
Back then we had no idea what was waiting down the road.