The following is a continuation of A Life To Remember and was meant to be included in a full novel titled Forever Dru by myself.
It is the second official option in my BringItBYKE2021 ‘project’ that I announced in my previous post.
Please enjoy, leave your thoughts, and Happy Reading!
Lucinda leaned against the doorframe of her grandmother’s bedroom, watching silently as Lucille stared out the window. She did this every day, sitting in her rocking chair and looking down at the world below her as she waited for something.
She was a tiny woman, frail with her clothing sometimes engulfing her. No matter what new clothes Lucinda bought her, to fit her, Lucille always found her way into a familiar drawer with the clothing she loved most. She and the room smelled of her favorite lilac perfume. Her graying hair pulled back neatly in a bun with her favorite pair of glasses hanging around her neck. Every so often, she’d lift them to her eyes, chuckling to herself when satisfied at whatever she was trying to see more clearly. Her coffee cup, empty, pushed to the side while her breakfast plate sat half empty. And before long, her thin and wrinkled hands would steadily be working at unwrapping a peppermint.
There was one slight change today. One that didn’t happen often. In the corner of the room sat a record player, and from it, lowly, flowed the soothing voice of Sam Cooke. Lucille was listening, and every few minutes, she’d hum along or do a little dance in her seat.
“Nana?” Lucille said nothing, continued humming as bits and pieces of the melody came to her. “Nana, how are you feeling?”
Looking away from the window, Lucille smiled. “Are you my new nurse? I-I think someone came to see me already, but I don’t mind company. I think it’s a fine day for company. What’s your name?”
Lucinda immediately checked her emotions, returning the smile. “No, I’m not a new nurse. I’m here every day. You’re my grandmother.”
“Yes. My name is Lucinda. Sometimes you call me Lucy, and sometimes you call me by my middle name.”
For a moment, it seemed as a moment of realization washed over the elderly woman’s face, bringing a bit of relief to Lucinda. However, her hopes jumped a little higher than they should have. “Lucy, that’s a pretty name. You’re very pretty. Much too pretty to just be somebody’s nurse.”
“I’m not your nurse, Nana. I’m here to take care of you because I love you, not because I have to.”
“We know each other?”
Lucinda nodded, making her way into the room and towards her grandmother. Carefully, she helped Lucille out of her seat, holding on to one of her arms as they began to make their way towards the door. Lucinda urged her grandmother to take her time and walk slowly so that she wouldn’t grow too tired too quickly. “You had a daughter named Robbie. And I am Robbie’s daughter. I am your granddaughter. We’re family.”
“Ohh, that’s nice. It’s nice to have family around, and to have them care for you.”
“Where are we going? It looks real hot outside. I saw some little kid running around shirtless outside the window. We don’t have to go out in that sun, do we?”
“No Nana, we’re going to the living room. There’s someone here who wants to see and meet you.”
Lucille stopped walking, looking back at Lucinda as best as she could. “Someone I know?”
“But they want to see me?”
Lucinda nodded. “She knows of you because of some things you used to do.”
“What did I do?”
“I’m hoping that you can remember and tell us a few things yourself.”
They were quiet for a few more moments before they began to walk again, Lucille taking her time as she willed her body to move along with each step her mind told her to take.
When they reached the living room, Lucinda spotted Sullivan standing by the largest window of the living room. There rested a table with photos from Lucille’s later life placed across it. She waited until her grandmother was seated comfortably before announcing their presence.
“Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to get so wrapped up in the photos. She seems to have led a marvelous life after leaving the film industry. Well-traveled, with so many gorgeous pictures to look back on.”
“Yeah, she and my grandfather did a lot before she lost him. It’s always been my understanding that the fact that they had to deal with so much made their love for one another much stronger. He lived to see her happy, and traveling was one of the things that made her happy. He took her everywhere she wanted to be.” Clearing her throat, Lucinda began a formal introduction. “Ms. Watts, this is my grandmother Lucille Rodgers. Nana, this woman is a journalist. Her name is Sullivan Watts and she’s going to be writing a book. An autobiography.”
Lucille smiled. “I think I’ve always liked unconventional names for girls. And girls with names better suited for boys. I don’t know why.”
Walking over, Sullivan gently shook Lucille’s hand before taking a seat after she was offered one. “I can’t tell you how much of an honor it is to meet you Ma’am.”
“Me?” Lucille looked up at Lucinda, confused. “What’d she want to meet me for?”
“Well, I believe at some point in your life you were just as special to many other people as you are to me.”
“Me, in this wrinkled old body?” Lucille sat back in her seat, holding out and looking at her hands before she grunted. A mug spread across her face and she soon grew silent.
Sullivan sat up straight, horrified that she may have just ruined the moment. “I’m sorry, did I say something wrong?”
“No, of course not. I think, like most older people, she remembered a moment when she was young. Not an important memory to us, but you know, being able to move better. She’s always getting up, trying to walk around, and growing frustrated when she tires out quickly or gets no further than her bed or rocking chair. I think no matter how old some people get, that loss of independence, the thought of it upsets them at the drop of a dime.” At least, that had been the case for Lucille. Whether she was of sound mind or having one of her episodes, it always dawned on her that she was of old age and under the care of someone, whether she remembered who it was or not. Not all days were as calm as this. Not all days did Lucille ask if Lucinda was just a new nurse. Not all days was she able to, or willing to speak without yelling or making the least amount of sense.
Seeing that her grandmother had zoned out, as she often would, Lucinda moved and took a seat next to Sullivan. “Not sure how this meeting is even going to help you. But, if you wish to go forward with your book, with what you know and can find out through research, you have my permission. I’m eager to learn anything I can, any way that I can.”
“I was thinking I’d like to make copies of some of these photos, but I wouldn’t even know how to explain any of them. Is there anything you know, anything at all?”
Lucinda shook her head. “Depends on what is already public knowledge. The children in some of the photos are me and my brother, but I don’t remember most of those trips.”
Sullivan nodded, taking a few moments to think. “You mentioned your grandfather. I don’t see a man at all in the photos where she traveled.”
“He took the photos. Never liked having his photo taken, though I never understood why. He was a beautiful man.”
“One of the greatest dancers in the world, a film legend and Carlyle Davenport didn’t like being in front of a camera, I find that hard to believe.”
Lucinda shook her head. “That’s not my grandfather.”
“Absolutely not. My grandfather’s name is Lawrence Wilkes.”
Sullivan sat stunned. “Wow. I mean, there’s only one marriage ever confirmed.”
Lucinda shrugged, looking back at her grandmother for a moment. Lucille sat quietly, staring down at her hands. “It wasn’t uncommon for people to divorce and remarry back then, just taboo and frowned upon. If she left the industry, I highly doubt she found it necessary to keep reporting her life. Maybe having her life public ruined the first marriage.”
“Maybe. Um, is there anything that you can tell me about your grandfather? What was his profession? Did they ever sit with you and discuss how they met?”
Lucinda smiled, shaking her head. “No. He was into living in the moment. Though they shared the same don’t focus on the past outlook, I’ve always felt that his reason was different from hers. He just loved life, understood we weren’t promised the next minute so you don’t dwell on what was or what had been. All I’d ever known him to be was a carpenter.” Lucinda smiled. “In fact, a song he always sung to her was If I Were A Carpenter. The Four Tops rendition. She’d reply to the questions in the song with I already did all that and you’re stuck with me. He was burly, manly, but sensitive and gentle at the same time. The biggest heart, so loving and understanding. Patient. He was taking care of her during the earliest signs of her Alzheimer’s. So worried about her, didn’t even know he was sick himself.”
“So this was recently that you lost him?”
“About six years ago. I’d just come home because he wanted to explain to me what was happening. I caught my first glimpse, but I was naïve and thought it wasn’t and wouldn’t ever be that serious. Lucille is tough and stubborn. Nothing gets her down, nothing knocks her down. There is nothing in this world that will bring an end to her spitfire personality. Absolutely nothing.” Lucinda sighed heavily, looking down for a few seconds. “But then I feel like, that’s who it happens to the most. Like it, the disease, has something to prove. You know, the diagnosis is always grim when they give it to you. She’ll have about three to nine years, life with declining quality. I think she’s so damn stubborn she’s fighting back and prolonging it, without even realizing that she’s doing it. She has great days, some come out of nowhere and she’s out again at the drop of a dime. The great days are just not as frequent anymore.”
“How frequent, if I may ask?”
“Once, maybe twice every seven or eight months. And all the other things they mention; motor skills, bodily functions that begin to go south, it’s all happening one by one. My grandfather and my brother had high hopes that it would just go away, but of course, that’s not how it works. My brother could probably tell you a lot more than I could. For a long time he was here, he was the caregiver, even though he was just a kid. Tuh, knowing how nosy Harper is he probably dug up and found something I never could.”
“And where is he?”
“Somewhere in Baton Rouge. He uh, he couldn’t handle seeing Nana this way. I don’t blame him, it’s hard and you’ve got to really be strong to deal with it every day. He would do what he could if he could.”
Lucinda and Sullivan both jerked their heads towards Lucille. Lucinda was most surprised, thankful for once to be called out by her nickname. “Yes, Nana?”
“Where’s Harper? I told him go and get me some groceries and I haven’t seen that knucklehead since.”
“That was a while ago Nana. He bought them back. You weren’t feeling well so he went home.”
“Well I want to see him. I want you and him both here.” Lucille refocused, looking back and forth between her granddaughter and the young lady sitting next to her. She wasn’t certain how she got to the living room. She didn’t remember being here last. “Who’s that?”
“I introduced you two already, Nana. This is Sullivan Watts. She’s a journalist and she’s looking to write an autobiography.”
Sullivan gave a faint smile. “On you, Ms. Rodgers.”
“Me? Child, go on somewhere and find you somebody worth writing about. Try Diana Ross.”
Lucinda interrupted them, getting up and immediately moving beside her grandmother. “Nana, I need to ask you a few questions.”
“What is today?”
“I don’t know. The days start running together after a while when you’re retired.”
“It’s Wednesday. Do you know where you are?”
“As hot as it is, it feels like hell. But I’m going to be smart and say Louisiana. Because your grandfather loved it here, I’m sure I’m still in Laurel. In the middle of nowhere.”
Lucinda laughed, trying her hardest to keep her tears at bay. “What year is it?”
“Child, what is wrong with you?”
She smiled, gently hugging her grandmother. “I’m just happy you’re here right now, that’s all.”
“Girl, you act like I went somewhere. You and your brother. Y’all are the ones that run off, leave me all alone all the time. You moved in when Larry died and don’t even stick around.
“Nana, I promise you that I am always here. You just…” Lucinda stopped herself, deciding not to ruin the moment. “I’m sorry, I promise I won’t leave you alone. I won’t ever leave you alone.”
Lucille hugged her granddaughter back before refocusing on Sullivan. “What are you trying to write about me for? What do you know?”
Sullivan chose her words carefully, mentally checking herself about her tone and approach. She didn’t know much about Alzheimer’s or Dementia. If Lucille could snap to out of nowhere, she could only imagine what would trigger a setback. “Well, Ma’am, I know that you used to be an actress during the 40s. I know that you were a singer, that you released an album in the late 50s. I know that you danced, and that you only stared in films that featured all black casts.”
“Miracle in Harlem. It’s one of my favorites.”
Lucille let out a deep sigh, turning her head when Lucinda asked if it were all true. Lucinda, on the other side of things, was praying that this moment was an extended one. She needed a long break in between her grandmother’s new life and state of daily confusion. “Who told you all of that?”
“Well, Ma’am, I’ve always been quite interested in Black Hollywood, especially the Golden Era of Hollywood. While most of the films of that period are magnificent, some of the most glorious came from actors and actresses like yourself. Actors and actresses that looked like me and my siblings. Black, in all shades, portrayed as more than poor slaves and maids. I’ve always found you entrancing to watch because your characters were educated, eloquent, beautiful, strong, and bold in your delivery.”
“What else do you know?”
“That your screen name was Dru Davenport.”
Lucille slouched in her seat. “I’ve always said it, and I’ll keep on saying it; acting ain’t never done nothing but come back to bite people in the ass.”
“You leave the life and it still haunts you, hunts you down. With all due respect to you Little Girl, as I’m certain you’ve traveled a long way-”
Sullivan nodded. “Yes Ma’am, I have.” She braced herself, she just knew her goal and dream was about to be shattered.
“I don’t want to talk about that life of mine. As far as I’m concerned, Dru Davenport is dead and the sooner everyone can forget her, me included, the better.”
“With all due respect, Ms. Rodgers, I don’t agree.”
“You don’t have to agree. I’m not talking about it. No one around here knows about it, and it’s going to stay that way. It was nice meeting you, but I’d appreciate it if you left.”
“I don’t have anywhere to stay for the night, Ma’am.”
Lucille stared at Sullivan for a few seconds before nodding her head, recalling that she still ran her late husband’s boarding home. “Rent a room, and be on your way after you’ve rested, showered, and eaten. And Lucy.”
“Tell your brother I want him here.”
As she began to stand, Lucinda helped her grandmother walking slowly as she guided Lucille back to her bedroom.