Novels: The color purple: Alice Walker: Chapter 8

Now that I know Albert hiding Nettie’s letters, I know exactly where they are. They are in his trunk. Everything that means something to Albert goes in his trunk. He keeps it locked uptight, but Shug can git the key.

One night when Mr. and Grady went, we open the trunk. We find a lot of Shug’s underclothes, some nasty picture postcards, and way down under his tobacco, Nettie’s letters. Bunches and bunches of them. Some fat, some thin. Some are open, some not.

How are we gon to do this? I ask Shug.

She says, Simple. We take the letters out of the envelopes, leave the envelopes just like they are. I don’t think he looks in this corner of the trunk much, she says.

I heated the stove, put on the kettle. We steam and steam the envelopes until we had all the letters laying on the table. Then we put the envelopes back inside the trunk.

I’m gonna put them in some kind of order for you, say Shug.

Yeah, I say, but don’t let’s do it in here, let’s go in your and Grady's room.

So she got up and we went into the little room. Shug sat in a chair by the bed with all Nettie letters spread around her, I got on the bed with the pillows behind my back.

These are the first ones, say Shug. They postmark right here.

 

You’ve got to fight and get away from Albert. He ain’t no good.

When I left you all’s a house, walking, he followed me on his horse. When we were well out of sight of the house he caught up with me and started trying to talk. You know how he does, You sure are looking fine, Miss Nettie, and stuff like that. I tried to ignore him and walk faster, but my bundles were heavy and the sun was hot. After a while, I had to rest, and that’s when he got down from his horse and started to try to kiss me and drag me back into the woods.

Well, I started to fight him, and with God’s help, I hurt him bad enough to make him let me alone. But he was mad. He said because of what I’d done I’d never heard from you again, and you would never hear from me.

I was so mad myself I was shaking.

Anyhow, I got a ride into town on somebody’s wagon. And that same somebody pointed me in the direction of the Reverend Mr.’s place. And what was my surprise when a little girl opened the door and she had your eyes set on your face?

love, Nettie

The war of the worlds: How I reached home: Chapter Seven

 

Dear Celie, 

I keep thinking it’s too soon to look for a letter from you. And I know how busy you are with all Mr.’s children. But I    miss you so much. Please write to me, soon as you have a chance. Every day I think about you. Every minute.

The lady you met in town is named Corrine. The little girl’s name is Olivia. The husband’s name is Samuel. The little boy’s name is Adam. They are sanctified religious and very good to me. They live in a nice house next to the church where Samuel preaches, and we spend a lot of time on church business. I say “we” because they always try to include me in everything they do, so I don’t feel so left out and alone.

But God, I miss you, Celie. I think about the time you laid yourself down for me. I love you with all my heart,

Your sister, Nettie

Dear Celie, 

By now I am almost crazy. I think Albert told me the truth, and that he is not giving you my letters. The only person I can think of who could help us out is Pa, but I don’t want him to know where I am.

I asked Samuel if he would visit you and Mr.  

 , just to see how you are. But he says he can’t risk putting himself between man and wife, especially when he doesn’t know them. And I felt bad for having to ask him, he and Corrine have been so nice to me. But my heart is breaking. It is breaking because I can not find any work in this town, and I will have to leave. After I leave, what will happen to us? How will we ever know what is going on?

Corrine Samuel and the children are part of a group of people called Missionaries, of the American and African Missionary Society. They have ministered to the Indians out west and are ministering to the poor of this town. All in preparation for the work they feel they were born for, missionary work in Africa.

I dread parting from them because in the short time we’ve been together they’ve been like family to me. Like family might have been, I mean.

Write if you can. Here are some stamps.

love, Nettie

  

Dear Celie, 

I wrote a letter to you almost every day on the ship coming to Africa. But by the time we docked I was so down, I tore them into little pieces and dropped them into the water. Albert is not going to let you have my letters and so what use is there in writing them. That’s the way I felt when I tore them up and sent them to you on the waves. But now I feel different.

I remember one time you said your life made you feel so ashamed you couldn’t even talk about it to God, you had to write it, bad as you thought your writing was. Well, now I know what you meant. And whether God will read letters or not, I know you will go on writing them; which is guidance enough for me. Anyway, when I don’t write to you I feel as bad as I do when I don’t pray, locked up in myself and choking on my own heart. I am so lonely, Celie.

The reason I am in Africa is that one of the missionaries that were supposed to go with Corrine and Samuel to help with the children and with setting up a school suddenly married a man who was afraid to let her go, and refused to come to Africa with her. So there they were, all set to go, with a ticket suddenly available and no missionary to give it to. At the same time, I wasn’t able to find a job anywhere around town. But I never dreamed of going to Africa! I never even thought about it as a real place, though Samuel and Corrine and even the children talked about it all the time.

Miss Beasley used to say it was a place overrun with savages who didn’t wear clothes. Even Corrine and Samuel thought like this at times. But they know a lot more about it than Miss Beasley or any of our other teachers, and besides, they spoke of all the good things they could do for the downtrodden people from whom they sprang. People who need Christ and good medical advice.

One day I was in town with Corrine and we saw the mayor’s wife and her maid. The mayor’s wife was shopping—going in and out of stores—and her maid was waiting for her on the street and taking the packages. I don’t know if you have ever seen the mayor’s wife. She looks like a wet cat. And there was her maid looking like the very last person in the world you’d expect to see waiting on anybody, and in particular not on anybody that looked like that.

I spoke. But just speaking to me seemed to make her embarrassed and she suddenly sorts of erased herself. It was the strangest thing, Celie! One minute I was saying howdy to a living woman. The next minute nothing living was there. Only its shape.

All that night I thought about it. Then Samuel and Corrine told me what they’d heard about how she got to be the mayor’s maid. That she attacked the mayor, and then the mayor and his wife took her from the prison to work in their home.

In the morning I started asking questions about Africa and started reading all the books Samuel and Corrine have on the subject.

Did you know there were great cities in Africa, greater than Milledgeville or even Atlanta, thousands of years ago? That the Egyptians who built the pyramids and enslaved the Israelites were colored? That Egypt is in Africa? That the Ethiopia we read about in the Bible meant all of Africa?

Well, I read and I read until I thought my eyes would fall out. I read where the Africans sold us because they loved money more than their sisters and brothers. How we came to America in ships. How we were made to work.

I hadn’t realized I was so ignorant, Celie. The little I knew about myself wouldn’t have filled a thimble! And to think Miss Beasley always said I was the smartest child she ever taught! But one thing I do thank her for, for teaching me to learn for myself, by reading and studying and writing a clear hand. And for keeping alive in me somehow the desire to know. So when Corrine and Samuel asked me if I would come with them and help them build a school in the middle of Africa, I said yes. But only if they would teach me everything they knew to make me use as a missionary and someone they would not be ashamed to call a friend. They agreed to this condition, and my real education began at that time.

They have been as good as their word. And I study everything night and day.

Oh, Celie, there are colored people in the world who want us to know! Want us to grow and see the light! They are not all mean like Pa and Albert or beaten down like Ma was. Corrine and Samuel have a wonderful marriage. Their only sorrow, in the beginning, was that they could not have children. And then, they say, “God” sent them Olivia and Adam.

I wanted to say, “God” has sent you their sister and aunt, but I didn’t. Yes, their children, sent by “God” are your children, Celie. And they are being brought up in love, Christian charity, and awareness of God. And now “God” has sent me to watch over them, to protect and cherish them. To lavish all the love I feel for you on them. It is a miracle, isn’t it? And no doubt impossible for you to believe.

But on the other hand, if you can believe I am in Africa, and I am, you can believe anything.

Your sister, Nettie

Dear Celie,

While we were in town Corrine bought cloth to make me two sets of traveling outfits. One olive green and the other gray. Long gored skirts and suit jackets to be worn with white cotton blouses and lace-up boots. She also bought me a woman’s boater with a checkered band.

Although I work for Corrine and Samuel and look after the children, I don’t feel like a maid. I guess this is because they teach me, and I teach the children and there’s no beginning or end to teaching and learning and working—it all runs together.

Saying goodbye to our church group was hard. But happy, too. Everyone has such high hopes for what can be done in Africa. Over the pulpit, there is a saying: Ethiopia Shall Stretch Forth Her Hands to God. Think what it means that Ethiopia is Africa! All the Ethiopians in the bible were colored. It had never occurred to me, though when you read the bible it is perfectly plain if you pay attention only to the words. It is the pictures in the bible that fool you. The pictures illustrate the words. All of the people are white and so you just think all the people from the bible were white too. But white people lived somewhere else during those times. That’s why the bible says that Jesus Christ had hair like lamb’s wool. Lamb’s wool is not straight, Celie. It isn’t even curly.

What can I tell you about New York—or even about the train that took us there! We had to ride in the sit-down section of the train, but Celie, there are beds on trains! And a restaurant! And toilets! The beds come down out of the walls, over the tops of the seats, and are called berths. Only white people can ride in the beds and use the restaurant. And they have different toilets from colored.

One white man on the platform in South Carolina asked us where we were going—we had got off the train to get some fresh air and to dust the grit and dust out of our clothes. When we said Africa he looked offended and tickled too. Niggers going to Africa, he said to his wife. Now I have seen everything.

When we got to New York we were tired and dirty. But so excited! Listen, Celie, New York is a beautiful city. And colored own a whole section of it, called Harlem. There are colored people in more fancy motor cars than I thought existed, and living in houses that are finer than any white person’s house down-home. There are more than a hundred churches! And we went to every one of them. And I stood before each congregation with Samuel and Corrine and the children and sometimes our mouths just dropped open from the generosity and goodness of those Harlem people’s hearts. They live in such beauty and dignity, Celie. And they give and give and then reach down and give some more when the name "Africa" is mentioned.

They love Africa. They defend it at the drop of a hat. And speaking of hats, if we had passed our hats alone they would not have been enough to hold all the donations to our enterprise. Even the children dredged up their pennies. Please give these to the children of Africa, they said. They were all dressed so beautifully, too, Celie. I wish you could have seen them. There is a fashion in Harlem now for boys to wear something called knickers—sort of baggy pants, fitted tight just below the knee, and for girls to wear garlands of flowers in their hair. They must be the most beautiful children alive, and Adam and Olivia couldn’t take their eyes off them.

Then there were the dinners we were invited to, the breakfasts, lunches, and suppers. I gained five pounds just from the tasting. I was too excited to eat.

And all the people have indoor toilets, Celie. And gas or electric lights!

Well, we had two weeks of study in the Olinka dialect, which the people in this region speak. Then we were examined by a doctor (colored!) and given medical supplies for ourselves and our host village by the Missionary Society of New York. It is run by white people and they didn’t say anything about caring about Africa, but only about duty. There is already a white woman missionary not far from our village who has lived in Africa for the past twenty years. She is said to be much loved by the natives even though she thinks they are an entirely different species from what she calls Europeans. Europeans are white people who live in a place called Europe. That is where the white people down home came from. She says an African daisy and an English daisy are both flowers, but different kinds. The man at the Society says she is successful because she doesn’t “coddle” her charges. She also speaks their language. He is a white man who looks at us as if we cannot possibly be as good with the Africans as this woman is.

My spirits sort of drooped after being at the Society. On every wall, there was a picture of a white man. Somebody called Speke, somebody called Livingstone. Somebody called Daly. Or was it Stanley? I looked for a picture of the white woman but didn’t see one. Samuel looked a little sad too, but then he perked up and reminded us that there is one big advantage we have. We are not white. We are not Europeans. We are black like the Africans themselves. And that we and the Africans will be working for a common goal: the uplift of black people everywhere.

Your sister, 

Nettie                                                                                                                                    

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