MEET the WOMEN of ANNA MAY and the PREACHER
Anna May and the Preacher: A Collection of Short Stories, 2nd Edition, is populated by an assortment of African-American women whose foibles, flaws, yearnings, and choices define, inform, and affect their attitudes and actions. Together they comprise an assortment of courageous sistahs who do the best they can with what they have, even if their efforts leave the reader anguished, angry, bewildered, or depressed. Some triumph over their circumstances, others succumb to victimhood, weary and worn out from trying. Their experiences beg the question, who hasn’t walked in their shoes at one time or another?
There are three kinds of women in the world:
Sistahs who make things happen;
Ladies who watch things happen; and,
Gals who wonder what happened?
Meet the women of Anna May and the Preacher, decide for yourself who is who – and why.
“…On this morning, tears filled her eyes…While she never really understood what he felt…she now accepted, belatedly, she had not invested much time, effort, or energy in his ambitions, dreams, or desires, let alone his wants and needs…”¹
Cecilia Jackson Jones-Mayes is, alternately, the protagonist, and the antagonist of this chronicle. She is a truly beautiful, elegant, and worldly figure forced to confront the losses and realities she has willfully chosen to evade: the tragic death of her first husband, and the depths of her spouse’s unhappiness. These circumstances combine to create a moment in time where she must own up to the implications of both situations, and do so within the context of Tony’s decision to leave her. How will his actions affect her future, his, and the marriage she had, unintentionally, taken for granted? Humbled, and enlightened, she embraces her vulnerability and the next moves she can make.
Anna May and the Preacher
“…I understand…he’s not married. Now how you like them apples? New Bethel’s new pastor is single! You know these sistahs gonna be out in they best come Sunday mornin’…”²
Anna May and Big Tee are the Sheroes of the title story. It opens with a jaw-dropping announcement. Anna May wants to attend church, specifically to check out the newly accepted pastor of a congregation in flux. First things first, though: she isn’t among the faithful, although Big Tee, the narrator, appears to be. Anna May’s declaration of intent is so significant, Big Tee has to tell somebody. These two women are longtime friends, and Anna May emerges as an enigmatic figure. Big Tee agrees to accompany her sister-friend to see and hear Rev. Dr. Forbes at his first service. Both women come loaded with expectations they haven’t expressed. Anna May’s emanate from a place she didn’t know existed, and doesn’t recognize. She’s a single woman who hasn’t entertained commitment since she and her husband separated decades ago, because of his philandering. Big Tee, who is married, is a veteran church-goer astonished by her friend’s eager, and forcefully stated desire. Once they get to church, Big Tee hilariously breaks down the worship experience, painting a verbal portrait of the differences between herself and her girl, Anna May.
A Much Married Woman
“…Yeah, child, I done had my share of husbands an’ lovers…I been roun’ the block more than once. And Aunt Bertha will tell ya somethin’, ain’t nuthin’ wrong with tryin’ till you get the right one…” ³
Iris, Geneva, Earnestine, and Aunt Bertha are the Sheroes of this novella. Iris is grappling with her past as she endeavors to begin a new chapter in her life. Having lost her husband to another woman – someone he met before they married – she questions her worth, particularly as it pertains to the man who loves, and wants to marry her.
Iris confides her concerns to her Godparents, who are also her grandaunt and uncle: Bertha and Benny Stallings. Aunt Bertha is an eighty-plus year-old woman who unabashedly relates her experiences with men, relationships, and marriage. She describes, vibrantly, honestly, and unflinchingly her search for love and how she found herself in the process. As this story unfolds, we meet Geneva, ‘Neva, who, as a youngster, was forced into a life of prostitution. She has had every child she gave birth to taken from her. She is the woman to whom Iris loses her ex-husband.
Earnestine, Aunt Bertha’s first mother-in-law, is a scrappy, emotionally scarred sistah whose personal sacrifices have left her angry, empty, embittered, and hurt. Iris, Earnestine, ‘Neva, and Aunt Bertha are all women who wrestle with needs they can’t define, including issues of self-esteem. They have all endured abuse, both mental and physical. “…Two men put a hurtin’ on me – with my help…I gotta say it baby – even though I thought I was too smart to get messed over…” 4 Each one’s response to the assaults on her womanhood form a recurring theme.
The Dutiful Wife
If you are reading this letter, then you already know I am gone. I hardly know where to begin, but I guess the day of our wedding is as good a place as any to start. You see I owe you an apology of sorts. I married you for the wrong reasons. It sure wasn’t for love. And forget about companionship…” 5
Leylah Rose summons the internal fortitude to exit her staid, lifeless, and unimaginatively contrived marriage. She also discovers her voice, and, in a strongly-worded, and poignant, missive she painstakingly lays out the reasons for her departure. Her mother-in-law, Clara, is a minor character whose influence over her only baby boy pervades this tale of a journey from perceived needs to self-acceptance, offering a chilling perspective on the relationship between men and their mothers. “…she must see to your every need,” Clara solemnly told her precious little boy. Over the years she hammered into his consciousness an ironclad edict: a good wife is a dutiful wife…”6
“…as he listened to Phyllis’ hauntingly beautiful rendition of lost love, he thought about Audra reliving the sweet sensation of their first kiss, the tenderness of their love, and a future limited only by their imaginations. Those memories left him feeling distraught…Being in love was like living in hell. He had been there, he ought to know…”7
Audra is a naïve, well-intentioned woman whose bridal fantasy, which revolves around a real-life man, explodes. While cautiously picking up the pieces, she reaches back to the one who really loves her. They come together, at her request, one evening: one with unexamined and unarticulated hopes and desires intertwined with desperation, and the other with a heavy heart and lots of questions.
Single and Straight
“I am not married. You read this right – I am a good-lookin’, forty-plus sister who is single and straight…
‘Tis true, I am well educated, drop dead gorgeous, gainfully employed, financially secure, and gasp! HORRORS…HAPPY WITH ME!!!…”8
The unnamed sistahs in this tale clash – head on – over entrenched societal and cultural perceptions on sexuality, homophobia, and their collective misunderstanding of themselves. A woman’s right to choose – to be unattached, not to be a mother, and what it means to be part of a posse of man-hunting females – is the elephant in the room which pervades the ambient environment of what was intended to be a pleasant and enjoyable event. The single sister is crudely challenged, by the other sistahs, for being friends with a gay guy and his husband. She holds forth, speaking her truth on unions transcending gender and sexual orientation. She declares her right to be an unmarried woman, by choice. She blunts the cruel pontifications of the other females by elucidating on her insight into the noesis of women who chase men.
TOO BUSY BEIN’ A FOOL
“…It never ceases to amaze me how good lovin’ or just plain sex – if you want to call it what it is – can make a woman lose her natural mind! Does this happen to men, too? I sometimes wonder. I sure hope so – I can’t believe this affliction is strictly a woman thing, know what I mean?”9
Deedee is an every-woman sistah. She opens up about the negative influences men have had on her. She freely admits to their role in shaping her decisions. She shares the story of a high school romance whose trajectory lands an old flame in her life at inconvenient times. Against the backdrop of her shadow dance with the past, she has a current friendship to contend with. It is predicated on mental abuse and cruelty which comes as a startling, yet emancipating revelation. As her worlds collide and conflate, she comes full circle about herself and her self-worth.
Sisters in the Name of Love
This story brings five sister-friends together for an afternoon of fellowship, food, and fun. They are in various states of being, as defined by traditional societal norms: married, single, looking, unlabeled-therefore-threatening…yada…yada…yada… Their ages range from thirty-something to mature womanhood, and they’ve made a pact to remain sister-friends for life.
“…LaVera moved slowly around their table laying a single long-stemmed rose in front of each woman. She hit three florist shops before finding one with the combination of colors she wanted. She purchased peach for Stanice, yellow for ‘Freda, white for Sharyn, blue for Paulette, and a multicolored bloom for herself. Each of her friends reminded her of some aspect of Mother Nature. She thought of them, herself included, as a garden filled with flowering plants, shrubs and hedges…
…Her choice of colors revealed her insight into each woman’s personality. She found Stanice loving, kind, and accepting of people whatever their walk of life. Everything about her said, I like you for who you are. She reminded LaVera of pastel colors and fresh fruit…
Sharyn reminded her of mankind’s innate struggle to be true to one’s self. The white background held bloodstains, dirt, sweat, and the funk generated by the tug of war from one battle to the next. It magnified the fierceness of fights which sometimes ended indecisively. She knew how hard Sharyn fought to be her own woman and accepted her kin. She also knew Sharyn was the one person who could appreciate the hypocrisy of white as a symbol of purity…Paulette was their woman warrior and blue suited her purpose and cause…”10
Alfreda, LaVera, Stanice, Paulette, and Sharyn are bound together by the bonds of a sisterhood which has exposed, supported, and nurtured needs, wants, yearnings, temperaments, and the challenges of being Black women. They’ve experienced loss, abuse, disappointment, and as they come together, once again, they address violence against women, abortion, social media, promiscuity, desires, and the meaning of friendship, all over a good meal.
A Wrong Turn
“…For the last two or three months, maybe even longer, Chuck’s been going through major changes about his wife, his kids, himself, his marriage. I’ve been waiting to see where or when the dust is gonna settle. Every time we get together, there’s a new revelation, a different twist, another angle. I’m tryin’ to get a handle on all of this, tryin’ to understand him – us…”11
Nedra fell in love with a married man. Is there anything else to be said? Does an extra-marital affair, rife with the problems it carries, constitute abuse? What happens when great sex, an illicit relationship, guilt, and unfulfilled desires collide unexpectedly, and at the main character’s expense? Does it matter if the other woman is intelligent, brilliant, beautiful, capable, and has her act together? Are these qualities negated by poor choices?
Sing a Song of Sorrow
“…You weren’t supposed to leave now…We were so good together and life was truly sweet…”12
Letting go: Ophelia’s husband dies suddenly. A solid, strong, and loving marriage comes to an abrupt end, leaving a widow to figure out how to get on with her life. This story is a condensation of the last chapter of my tentatively titled novel, Bright Glory, which is the narrative saga of Ophelia and her beloved, now deceased, husband.
“…’There’s something very, very wrong here,’ she thought…’I feel lost, alone, and angry. My life has lost all its flavor all because Mother’s Day is coming? This can’t be right.’…”13
Lavonne, engulfed in deep despair, faces up to the sorry state of affairs defining her life and marriage. Her intentionally constructed existence is falling apart and Mother’s Day is around the corner. Her youngest daughter, seventeen-year-old Yolanda, is an unwed mother who is desperately trying to hold on to her baby daddy. Her father blames her mother for the pregnancy.
She and her charmless, self-absorbed, and brazenly ambitious husband always spend Mother’s Day with his mother, however she suddenly finds the very idea repulsive. It’s something she can no longer stomach, let alone go through with. She has spent her adult life slavishly devoted to him and their children. Her fairy-tale feels more like a never-ending soap opera. What does a fed-up wife and mother do? She runs – like hell – to find refuge with the only friend she has.
Harriet, her mother-in-law, is a pretentious, demanding woman who believes her children must celebrate her on Mother’s Day. This particular Mother’s Day, while Lavonne pulls a disappearing act which confounds, infuriates, and frightens her husband, Harriet, Rozelia, the baby’s other grandmother, and Yolanda face a different kind of Mother’s Day – one none of them will ever forget.
The sistahs of Anna May and the Preacher are fascinating. They inspire, outrage, titillate, uplift, and entertain as they negotiate the joys, sorrows, burdens, and blessings of friendship and womanhood.
“…Every woman should have a friend like Wanda. She loves me for who I am, cuts me no slack when I behave badly, and sees me through every woman-made, male-order catastrophe I walk into even after she has quietly warned me there’s danger ahead. I want to be like her when I grow up…”14
¹ Bennett-Wilkes, Theresa, Anna May and the Preacher: A Collection of Short Stories, 2nd Edition, ©2013, Theresa Bennett-Wilkes. Holly Tree Publications, LLC, High Point, NC.