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
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
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
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.
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