My family isn’t haughty, but quietly pleased because underneath all of our bones and blood are tiny kernels of magic. We are a people as much descendent from red dirt and centuries-old pine trees as we are from our human ancestors. We come from not only a great love, but a great story, so in us is more than the kisses, the genes, the sperm, the nighttime whispers. We owe our existence also to the wood nymphs and starry nights. The Bible says babies are special because they were created in love, but we are different because we come from love and a fairy tale.
My great-grandmother was Queen Esther Cecile. You’d think a name like that would mean that her mom loved her. I mean, whenever I hear of a little girl named Gisele or Solange, I think her mom must have really loved her. Not this mom. She just pulled some royal title out of the past, and mixing it with the delicate Cecile on a whim, bestowed the name on a baby she left with her mother and disappeared somewhere into the expanse of magnolias and longhorns like a phantom.
So the life of this old woman, my great-great-great grandmother, became intertwined with that of a tiny living piece of onyx, a child so dark and pretty everyone who saw her was stunned by her “seal” skin. So instead of being a Queen of the sultry Texan days, she was changed into a sea creature she had never seen. Ignoring her humorous tongue, artistic ability, and maternal heart, she like Nefertari, Sleeping Beauty, and Belle was named solely for her looks. She was called Seal. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Snow White, she was in the same kettle of fish. The woods were torture for each of them, and in the place of their true mothers were witches. Trees never looked like magical African baobabs, or Biblical sycamores, or romantic plumerias to either of them. Snow White’s mother sent her into the jungle to be slaughtered like an animal seen by tourists on a safari. Thank God the pygmies saved her. As for Mamo Seal, in the forest she was beaten constantly for fifteen years until her body bore ridges like the stitching on a baseball. But she didn’t despair like a star-crossed mermaid turned to foam on the sea, for wedged among the terror, the sorceresses, the blood, and the orchards are men who lose their horses and hear you singing, or give a pig’s heart to your mom in exchange for your own, or hunting squirrel according to their tribal traditions, see in the middle of the pine an ancient Toltec statue of a maiden. Surrounded by lizards and crowned by birdsong, the statue moves and the man praises his God, in whatever language it is he speaks, because now the galaxy has all of its songs and the rainbow has been completed.
Papa was eighteen years old when he fell in love with fifteen-year-old Seal. He proposed to her, but she felt she was still a child and didn’t want to get married yet. So for the next three years, Papa never looked at another girl as he waited for Seal to mature. And as soon as she was eighteen, they were married – a marriage that lasted seventy-five years until my great-grandmother’s death. They loved on all of the levels. Their longtime companionship didn’t replace the crushes they had had on each other. They always acted more like boyfriend and girlfriend than husband and wife. Seal was Queen again. For instance, if she wanted something, though it lay a few inches from her but was across the room from Papa, she’d call to him to get it, and he’d silently do it, peacefully, like out of all the things he did – preaching, driving the school bus, raising crops and kids, that’s the thing he was most meant to do, take care of her. She wasn’t bossing him around; she was just receiving the care she had wanted for so long.
Queen Esther loved children, and Papa was willing to let her have as many as she wanted. He didn’t know she’d take him up on that offer nine times, but he kept his word. She used to ask each one of them what they wanted for breakfast in the morning, and then cook nine different things. And no skimping; one would get biscuits made from scratch, the next jelly she made herself, the next pancakes, again from scratch. There was no way her babies were going to hurt like she did.
They were all so in love with each other. I remember when she was ninety and in the hospital, a nurse noticed that the bed looked a little lumpy. It turned out a couple of her senior citizen daughters had sneaked into bed with her, and although it was against regulations, they convinced the nurse to let them stay.
Happily ever after can be amazing. I know. I’ve seen it. When Papa and Seal looked at each other, it seemed as if they were gazing from the underside of silk, in bliss so lustrous it made their spirits wax with silver like intangible moons. Their love was sun and they were the Sahara, soaking the heat and light in day after day. Their souls lay in each other. They were L. Queen Papa Esther C. Cecile, one being cast in separate bodies so that their unity could be appreciated – one kernel of magic.
Shannon Prince is a creative writing major at Dartmouth College. In addition to writing, she is an activist for indigenous and African issues, a ceramics maker, and a travel addict. Her favorite activity is dancing the salsa with the elderly people she serves at a local Salvation Army community center. She writes poetry, creative nonfiction, and fiction that covers everything from nature and love poems, retellings of fairy tales, and the oral histories of marginalized peoples. She has been published in Frodo's Notebook, Falcon Wings, KUHF magazine, Imprint, and Rice University's Writers in the Schools Magazine.
© Shannon Prince