Authors: J. California Cooper
Also by J. California Cooper
Some Soul to Keep
A Piece of Mine
In Search of Satisfaction
Some Love, Some Pain, Sometime
The Wake of the Wind
All characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
by J. California Cooper
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Anchor Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Doubleday in 1991. The Anchor Books edition is published by arrangement with Doubleday.
Anchor Books and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Cooper, J. California.
The matter is life / J. California Cooper. — 1st Anchor Books ed.
Dedicated with Love
Joseph C. and Maxine R. Lincoln Cooper, my parents
Paris Williams, my chile
Zora Neale Hurston James Baldwin Langston Hughes
Stevie Wonder Gladys Knight Patti LaBelle
Pharaoh Akhenaton, Eighteenth Dynasty
Dian Fossey and her gorillas
Alice Walker’s horse, Blue
Beryl Markham’s horse, Wise Child
(past and present)
Siasen, Pretty Girl, Peace, Peace, Buzzy, Charlie, TuNu
Toto, Muggins, Icy, LaLa, Rainy and Wild Red
All the people who suffer under the word “Untouchable” in India. You are not Untouchable. Consider the source
To all those of you who have encouraged and supported me. I need that.
My daughter, Paris, who lifts me with her support and love.
My sister, Shy, who actually reads my work!
Warren D. Smith, who runs hither and yon, doing things for me so I will have the peace and support to do my work.
To Temma Kaplan, Barnard College, for her large, generous kind heart full of thoughtful doings. Barbara Tatum, Barnard College, for her sweet, thoughtful kindnesses.
Amistad Bookplace of Houston, Texas. Thank you Rosa and Denice for all the valuable help you have given me.
To Reid Boates and Karen and the two little sons that make Reid the most wonderful man/agent I know.
To the wonderful people of my last publisher—Michael Denneny, Michele Hinkson, Sarah, Keith, all of them who were, and are, always so considerate and kind.
To the most wonderful new people of my new publisher, Doubleday—Sallye Leventhal, Evelyn Hubbard, Arabella, Heidi, Tina, Nancy and others, for their encouragement, faith and, yes, thoughtful kindnesses. I hope never to let them down. Martha Levin, too!
My deep abiding appreciation to Nina Mehta and her assistant, Russell Perreault, my publicists at Doubleday/Anchor, for their consistent attention to, and knowledge of, their profession and mine. They are excellent in their jobs and perfect for me. Besides being efficient, they are very considerate, kind, and quick.
Joarvonia Skipwith has been a thoughtful friend and supporter. I want to thank her.
To Jehovah God. Oh, what would I do without Him?
I give a lot of thought to the matter of Life. I mean to make mine as good and easy as possible. I stay as close to God and His wisdom as possible.
Some people say it takes courage to face the matter of death. Then … we are all courageous. Facing death, inevitably, to the end of our lives. Every day.
I believe it takes more courage to face Life. To survive the everyday matters of the mind, body and heart. Every minute is of great moment in the matter of Life. There may be no small matters. A penny piece of candy can choke you to death, like a penny piece of lover can kill your soul. A person alive at two o’clock may be dead at two ten, accidentally, from a wrong decision. A simple thing like boredom (which is really not simple) can create havoc in a life; it has the power to destroy. All in Life there is to decide upon is important to our living, in that it determines the quality, even the length, of our days.
Some people spend their lives in prisons.
Some, in the prison of Drugs … or Sex … Alcohol … Loveless Unions … in Hate … or Greed … even sell themselves, their lives.
There is Loneliness, Losing and Lack (and more).
There is Love, Laughter and Longevity (and more).
Everyone wants to matter.
Everyone wants to know what the matter is.
So … I name this book what I believe.
That, Always, no matter what the matter is …
THE MATTER IS LIFE
very morning when I raise my head up from the bed, I say to myself, “Another morning. Good morning!” Then I slowly get up and commence my day. Cept this mornin … I lay awhile to talk to myself.
I am a frightfully old woman, somewhere near up to ninety years old. I don’t know and I don’t care no more. I’m older’n everybody else anyway!
But this day was a different kinda day cause it was the big day, a funeral day of a old, old man friend of mine who had lived to be ninety somethin years old too! Had a good life tho, cause he had a good wife, a young wife. Young for him. She bout fifty-five or fifty-six years old.
He had done married when he was forty-five or so, to a young, pretty girl bout sixteen years old. Everybody called him a fool cause of that and cause he was always laughin, smilin or teasing. Was a fine fellow to be around. A lot of fun. She, his wife, just wanted to get way from that house full of children at her home, and never enough money for nothin or nobody!
But he fooled em! He made that girl happy and kept her on up to now. Forty-five years. Somethin like that. They had some children, way grown now, and they stayed together. He been sick and down these last five, six years. But that woman … cause that’s what she is … took such care of him, with such love that I seldom seen anywhere in my life and you already know I been here a long time.
Just think, if I’d a married him, I’d a had somebody to keep these old bones warm all these years my bed been empty. But … he wasn’t the man for me … I wasn’t the girl for him. I picked my own man, he died. Another one, I left that triflin fool and he was the best lover. Another one, we was together a long while, he wasn’t no real good lover, but he was a good man. He died. I was tired then. Nuff, enough.
Anyway, today my old friend’s funeral, his big day. We all got to go, cause when you gets his age you know everybody and they know you. Sides that, his laughter made him lovable.
Anyway. What was I sayin? I ain’t ready for all this talkin. Cause I’m sad. I hate to see people I like die, but I like funerals cause then I get to see people I ain’t seen in a long time. And all the new ones too. My memory was always good, ain’t changed a bit so I see from where all them people
been to where they done come to. I like that, when it don’t make me sad. You be surprised how many things I knew was gonna turn out like they did! Sure nuff!
Anyway, this morning my grandchile, or great grandchile, was in the kitchen stiring things up for fixin. She hollered to me, cause I’m the slowest one, “Biggun!”
They use to call me “Mama,” then “Big Mama, then there was so many mamas in between, they just call me “Biggun” now. I don’t ’low no “granmaw” stuff cause it sounds like somethin you snatch off a hog.
I called back to her, “I ain’t ready.”
She looked round my door. “Time now, Biggun. I be in to wash you up in a few minutes and get you some breakfast.”
I gave her a mean look cause they spect that. Said, “Told you I ain’t ready.”
She laughed, said, “You never ready to do nothin somebody want you to do. Now, get to gettin up.”
I smiled to myself, cause I am loved, chile.
The early morning went by, everybody gettin ready to go. Me, I’m the longest, slowest one. I sit, or open drawers and stare in em for awhile, then shut the drawer. Done forgot what I was after. Maybe I open another one, cause I like to see what’s in em. Or I go to my closet and pull that curtain back and stare in there. I ain’t lookin for nothin to wear. They gon see to that. I be just lookin at all the fine, new things that love done brought me. Them children always buyin me somethin nice. Specially the ones is away. These here, too, but these here DO things for me. Things I really need. I done forgot, with all this good memory of mine,
which of my grandchildren blong to which child of mine. But I do know each man each child of mine blongs too!
Well. Now, they all ready. I ain’t. They done washed me, dressed me, sat me, combed me, brushed me, all like that. I rather do it myself, but they rather do it too. After I fuss awhile, tellin em I ain’t ready, and I ain’t, I let em do things cause I like to feel their hands on me. Hand touch of love.
I hear em gettin the little ones in the car. I sit down. They hollar for me. I hollar back, “I ain’t ready.” And I mean it this time! Cause I don’t want to go to his funeral after all. Cause I know mine bout be next. They come in and get me and I get on out, fussin. But everybody look so pretty and bright, I smile, then laugh at em and with em.
Well, now, we drive down these roads I use to walk barefoot on and love to see, even now. I see all these big, tall trees and all them thickets and wild flowers in all them pretty, wild colors. Back of all that is the wild blue sky, fulla them big fat clouds justa floatin up there all free and fulla water, not worrin bout dyin at all. And everytime I go out, I notice some new little houses wasn’t there last time I went that way. So you can see these people don’t never take me nowhere too much.
By and by, we gets to the Big Church. It’s a little church with big leanings. Wood old, wire old, pipes old, piano old, but good. Preacher old, choir mixed up … good. I like a good choir and I sure like a good piano. Seems like I got one playin in my heart when I hear em.
They always sits me where I can be sure and see everybody and everybody can see me and tell me how good I look. I always answer em, “I ain’t ready to look no other way!”
It gets real crowded. He was a good man. Course, lots of
em here are all related. Well, we all is in some way, cause it’s a lot of sneakin done down here cause it’s a small town. Just like all over the world, I reckon.
I look at the crowd. See all those beautiful colors, faces and clothes. Ahhhhhhh. These womens is wearin Sunday best. The widow has got on a bright yellow dress with large white flowers in it, but her face looks like a flower that died. Poor chile. I look back at the crowd and see more bright yellows, glowing reds, deep blues, smooth greens, even some of that aqua color, some black, few purple, lotta white dresses on little children. And all them mixed colors justa moving and sparklin in the sun. My dress is a pretty gray. The mens is mostly in blues and blacks and gray suits. I pay them no mind. I like to thrill my eyes with the other colors that seem alive as they burst in and wake up my dim eyes.