by Julie Lorenzen
John Edgar Wideman was brilliant when writing Sent for You Yesterday. I never knew there could be so many thoughts and ideas packed into two hundred pages. I, however, did not feel brilliant enough today to tackle the ghost-like qualities of Brother and his connection to trains, nor even Wideman’s commentary about the prejudice that existed amongst African American people when it came to light versus dark skin tone. Another question difficult to ponder was who served as the central character? Brother Tate stood out, but it was hard to think of him without thinking of Carl and Lucy. Could it be possible that the three of them form a unit that acts as a central character? Perhaps. I’m not sure. What I do know is that Lucy’s role in this book was important and I’d like to analyze a remarkable passage about Lucy for this response.
I wasn’t interested in writing about Lucy until I reached page 186. Up until then I’d thought I would be discussing Brother Tate because his character made me think. However, for some reason, the character of Lucy captivated me after reading the following passage that started on page 186 and continued to page 187:
“Garbage needed to go out. She’d get Carl to take it out when he left. And tomorrow she’d clean the house top to bottom. Even the rooms nobody used anymore. Because old was letting your filth pile up around you. […] Old was too many sacks to count A wall of your mess higher than your head and one day it crashed down and buries you. She never let the line of bags beside the icebox get longer than three. […] Old was people busting the locks on your door after nobody’s see you for a week and you lights burning all night and a stink worse than garbage seeping out from under you door they got to bust in when nobody answers the pounding. In Homewood people used to watch out for you when you got too old and feeble to take care of yourself. Now they ship you to the Senior Citizens High Rise over on Kelley Street or Mayview all the way out Frankstown Road. But plenty old people dying alone in rooms full of garbage. And young ones dying alone in alleys.”
At first I thought about the keen perception about getting old and what it meant to get old in Homewood at the time Lucy was thinking these thoughts. I thought about the change in Homewood that was represented in that passage and how the people went from caring about their elders to discarding them from the neighborhood. Then, I thought about who was doing the thinking and what getting old meant to her.
Lucy had always taken care of Brother even though she was younger than him. She made sure that his skin was well protected with a hat and protected his fragile reputation by concealing the frilly hat with the hood of the buggy. She helped to make sure Brother was clean and assumed the full domestic responsibilities of the Tate household when Mrs. Tate became mentally incapacitated after Albert Wilkes was shot to death by policemen while playing the piano in their home. She even took the responsibility of cleaning the mess that was left after the policemen left the house even though she was really young at the time. Then, after Brother died she made sure to check on Samantha who had been in Mayview since Junebug’s death.
The afore-mentioned passage is powerful to me because in my opinion
it reflected Lucy’s fear. She seemed afraid of what would happen to her
if she became unable to take care of herself. She always took care of everyone
else, but who would take care of her when the time came?
It was interesting to me that on page 198 Lucy blamed her-self and Carl for the deterioration of Homewood. As she talked about how the people made Homewood real she said “That’s why Homewood was real once. Cause they were real. And we gave it all up. Us middle people. You and me, Carl. We got scared and gave up too easy and now it’s gone. Just sad songs left. And whimpering. Nothing left to give the ones we supposed to be saving Homewood for. Nothing but empty hands and sad stories.” I’m not 100 percent sure what she meant here but I thought maybe she was too scared to marry Carl and have children thus failing to continue the legacy of Homewood by passing down it’s values. Instead of passing a legacy that would keep Homewood strong, she ended telling “sad stories” of what Homewood used to be like to Carl’s nephew Doot.
In conclusion, in the passages of 187 and 198, Lucy’s thoughts about
the deterioration of Homewood were revealed. The thoughts were filled with
sadness, fear and responsibility. She was sad that the younger generation
wasn’t taking care of their elders and that she didn’t pass down the values
of Homewood to another generation. Finally, although she had always taken
care of people such as Brother and Samantha, she too feared that she would
someday be discarded or forgotten. Despite those thoughts and emotions,
Lucy continued on keeping her tiny part of Homewood clean and her memories
of the entire neighborhood alive by passing on her stories to Doot.