Angelou: Chapter 7

Chapter 7: Return to Stamps

We were on the train going back to Stamps, and this time I had

to comfort Bailey. He cried for hours as he walked down the

coach, and pressed his little-boy body against the window

looking for a last quick view o f his Mother Dear.

I have never known if Momma sent for us, or if the St. Louis

family had just had enough o f my unpleasant presence. I cared

less about the trip than about the fact that Bailey was unhappy,

and had no more thought o f our destination than if I had been

only heading for the toilet.

The quietness o f Stamps was exactly what I wanted, without

knowing it. After St. Louis, with its noise and activity, its trucks

and buses, and loud family gatherings, I welcomed the quiet

streets and lonely little houses in dirt yards.

The calmness o f its residents encouraged me to relax. They

38

showed me contentment based on the belief that nothing more

was coming to them, although a great deal more was due. Their

decision to be satisfied with life’s unfairness was a lesson for me.

Entering Stamps, I had the feeling that I was stepping over the

border lines o f the map and would fall, without fear, right off the

end o f the world. Nothing more could happen because in Stamps

nothing happened.

I crept into this shelter.

For a long time, nothing was demanded o f me or o f Bailey. We

were, after all, Mrs. Henderson’s California grandchildren, and

had been away on an exciting trip way up North to the fabulous

St. Louis. Our father had come the year before, driving a big,

shiny car and speaking with a big city accent, so all we had to do

was stay quiet for months and enjoy the benefits o f our

adventures.

People, including all the children, made regular trips to the

Store, “just to see the travelers.”

They stood around and asked, “Well, how is it up North?”

“See any o f those big buildings?”

“Were you scared?”

“Whitefolks any different, like they say?”

Bailey answered every question, and from a corner o f his lively

imagination told a story that I was sure was as unreal to him as it

was to me.

Momma, knowing Bailey, warned, “Now, Junior, be careful

you don’t tell a not true.” (Nice people didn’t say “lie.”)

“Everybody wears new clothes and has an inside toilet. Some

people have refrigerators. The snow is so deep you can get

buried right outside your door and people won’t find you for a

year. We made ice cream out o f the snow.” That was the only fact

that I could have supported. During the winter, we had collected

a bowl of snow and poured canned milk over it, put sugar on top,

and called it ice cream.

39

Momma grinned and Uncle Willie was proud when Bailey

entertained the customers with our experiences. We brought

people into the Store, and everyone loved us. Our journey to

magical places was a colorful addition to the town, and our

return made us even more the most enviable o f people.

I never knew if Uncle Willie had been told about the incident

in St. Louis, but sometimes I caught him watching me with a faroff

look in his big eyes. Then he would quickly send me on some

errand that would take me out o f his presence. When that

happened I was happy and ashamed. I certainly didn’t want a

cripple’s sympathy, nor did I want Uncle Willie, whom I loved, to

think o f me as being sinful or dirty. If he thought so, at least I

didn’t want to know it.

People, except Momma and Uncle Willie, accepted my

unwillingness to talk as a natural result o f an unwilling return to

the South. And an indication that I missed the good times we

had had in the big city. Also, I was well known for being “tenderhearted.”

Southern Negroes used that term to mean sensitive, and

considered a person with that problem to be a little sick or in

delicate health. So I was understood, if not forgiven.

Angelou, M. (1969). I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. [http://www.academia.edu/8078608/I_Know_Why_the_Caged_Bird_Sings_-_Full_Text_PDF]. Retrieved from