Chapters 1-6

In this classic autobiography, the accomplished poet and writer recounts her childhood and teenage years.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. musty
    stale and unclean smelling
    When I was three and Bailey four, we had arrived in the musty little town, wearing tags on our wrists which instructed—“To Whom It May Concern”—that we were Marguerite and Bailey Johnson Jr., from Long Beach, California, en route to Stamps, Arkansas, c/o Mrs. Annie Henderson.
  2. porter
    a person employed to carry luggage and supplies
    A porter had been charged with our welfare—he got off the train the next day in Arizona—and our tickets were pinned to my brother’s inside coat pocket.
  3. segregated
    separated or isolated from others or a main group
    I don’t remember much of the trip, but after we reached the segregated southern part of the journey, things must have looked up.
  4. ply
    keep offering or supplying something desirable to someone
    Negro passengers, who always traveled with loaded lunch boxes, felt sorry for “the poor little motherless darlings” and plied us with cold fried chicken and potato salad.
  5. affluent
    having an abundant supply of money or possessions of value
    Years later I discovered that the United States had been crossed thousands of times by frightened Black children traveling alone to their newly affluent parents in Northern cities, or back to grandmothers in Southern towns when the urban North reneged on its economic promises.
  6. renege
    fail to fulfill a promise or obligation
    Years later I discovered that the United States had been crossed thousands of times by frightened Black children traveling alone to their newly affluent parents in Northern cities, or back to grandmothers in Southern towns when the urban North reneged on its economic promises.
  7. troubadour
    a singer of folk songs
    On Saturdays, barbers sat their customers in the shade on the porch of the Store, and troubadours on their ceaseless crawlings through the South leaned across its benches and sang their sad songs of The Brazos while they played juice harps and cigar-box guitars.
  8. lye
    a strong solution of sodium or potassium hydroxide
    Before she had quite arisen, she called our names and issued orders, and pushed her large feet into homemade slippers and across the bare lye-washed wooden floor to light the coal-oil lamp.
  9. inordinate
    beyond normal limits
    In later years I was to confront the stereotyped picture of gay song-singing cotton pickers with such inordinate rage that I was told even by fellow Blacks that my paranoia was embarrassing.
  10. wince
    draw back, as with fear or pain
    I winced to picture them sewing the coarse material under a coal-oil lamp with fingers stiffening from the day’s work.
  11. abacus
    a manual calculator with counters on rods or in grooves
    When Bailey was six and I a year younger, we used to rattle off the times tables with the speed I was later to see Chinese children in San Francisco employ on their abacuses.
  12. rancor
    a feeling of deep and bitter anger and ill-will
    She seemed to hold no rancor against the babysitter, nor for her just God who allowed the accident.
  13. nonchalance
    the trait of remaining calm and seeming not to care
    His nonchalance was meant to convey his authority and power over even dumb animals.
  14. abomination
    an action that arouses disgust or abhorrence
    The ugliness and rottenness of old abominations.
  15. aghast
    struck with fear, dread, or consternation
    Aghast, the ladies would ask, “Die?
  16. clabber
    raw milk that has soured and thickened
    We wiped the dust from our toes and settled down for schoolwork, corn-bread, clabbered milk, prayers and bed, always in that order.
  17. appellation
    identifying words by which someone or something is called
    All adults had to be addressed as Mister, Missus, Miss, Auntie, Cousin, Unk, Uncle, Buhbah, Sister, Brother and a thousand other appellations indicating familial relationship and the lowliness of the addressor.
  18. smidgen
    a tiny or scarcely detectable amount
    Nobody with a smidgen of training, not even the worst roustabout, would look right in a grown person’s face.
  19. indignity
    an affront to one's self-esteem
    What new indignity would they think of to subject her to?
  20. filch
    make off with belongings of others
    Because of the kinds of news we filched from those hushed conversations, I was convinced that whenever Reverend Thomas came and Momma sent us to the back room they were going to discuss whitefolks and “doing it.”
  21. hominy
    hulled corn with the bran and germ removed
    Eggs over easy, fried potatoes and onions, yellow hominy and crisp perch fried so hard we would pop them in our mouths and chew bones, fins and all.
  22. ordain
    order by virtue of superior authority; decree
    But on the Sundays when Reverend Thomas preached, it was ordained that we occupy the first row, called the mourners’ bench.
  23. aversion
    a feeling of intense dislike
    So my interest in the service’s potential and my aversion to Reverend Thomas caused me to turn him off.
  24. savior
    a person who rescues you from harm or danger
    Our savior came for neither of these reasons, but because Bailey yelled so loud and disturbed what was left of the service, the minister’s wife came out and asked Uncle Willie to quiet us down.
  25. hysteria
    state of violent mental agitation
    Laughter so easily turns to hysteria for imaginative children.
Created on October 22, 2013 (updated January 10, 2018)

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