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"Aristocrats"



Louisa is a lady, and I use the word advisedly
because I mean the guaranteed authentic article.
She dedicates herself to old traditions now - -
she is the last leaf on her famed ancestral tree.
She likes to make a ritual of little things
like candles on the table every night,
where far too often now she dines alone,
resplendent in her black lace gown and pearls - -
her mother's pearls. I imagine I can hear her say.
" There's something ostentation now, I think,
about most jewelry, diamonds especially.
Of course I have them - - heirlooms, Dear, you know,
but safely put away downtown. I much prefer
my mother's pearls, elegance without show.
There's too much ostentation nowadays."
She likes that word; it fittingly describes
a firm distaste for anything not ladylike.
Her invitation is a bright command - -
today it was my turn to bend the knee,
although ostensibly I just dropped in for tea.
She had the setting faultlessly arranged;
a little fire, discreetly welcoming,
was glowing in the grate and gentle light
laid its approving fingers on her face.

Just then old Dinah, with her days' work done
came in to say that she was going home.
Louisa looked at her in sharp surprise.
"Why, Dinah, aren't you wearing a new coat?"
Dinah's voice was proud. "Yes ma'am, I is."
A hand reached up to stroke the velvet collar
while the light recoiled from all her purple length.
She said, "Dah ain't no othah coat like it 
in all dis town. Ain't no one else I know
Goin' walk around in purple velvet coats.
Dat's why I got it. Mammy allus say
Big Mammy say huh pappy was a king
way back whah she was took fum Affica.
And his pa was a king. Foh all I know
I got folks ovah dah dat still is kings.
So when I seen dis coat I thought it fittin'
dat I should do the family up proud."
Louisa held her tongue till Dinah left,
Her little hands, like plump white butterflies.
fluttered above the antique china cups,
and then she laughed, a tiny, well-bred sound,
and said, "She's so amusing! Fancy that!
A line of kings! Big Mammy was a slave - -
grandmother's maid before the Yankees came
and burned the Big House in Virginia,
and her grandfather was my Grandpapa's valet
when he was a Congressman in Washington!"
Then suddenly she stopped, almost aghast.
Good taste would not condone a proud parade
of family before a guest less nobly born.
And I watched old Dinah walk around the corner,
the velvet collar bright against her throat,
her head held high as if she marched in tribute
to kings, for whom she wore a purple coat.

--


Nell S. Jenkins
Copyright 1998, all rights reserved




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