The Spir­its in My Mother’s Head (excerpt)

Gina Athena Ulysse

PMS 8 | 2008

Mother is the firstborn of eleven children. There had been thirteen but two of them (both girls) passed away in infancy. She says very little about life as a child. There are occasional stories about growing up. I know that her parents worked the land and lived off the fruits of their labor. Their lives were simple. Her father was a peasant farmer and Mgran was a mashan (market woman). She had been born and raised in Pli Blen in Haiti. She was one of nine children (five boys and four girls). Mgranfather, as I refer to my mother’s father, was from an area called Kay Peshot, about three miles down the way. He had four siblings (three sisters and one brother). Rumor has it that he had been interested in Mgran’s sister and Mgran worked her charm and snapped him up.

Mother becomes a different person when she talks about her father. On the few occasions when we would get to hear about him, she boasted her feelings. She loved and adored him. The feeling was mutual. They did everything together. They tended his garden together, planting corn, pumpkin, peas and pitimi (millet). She had been his firstborn. In her recollections of him, she talks about how he took her everywhere with him. He was a respected man of conviction and power. A light-brown skinned man whose lean and muscular body reflected his métier. The other thing that everyone in the community knew about him was—as one of our popular saying goes—li pa manje anken pâté fret: he didn’t eat any cold patties. In other words, he didn’t take any bullshit. He too comes from a long line of voudouisants. The most powerful spirits in his family danced in his head. They walked with him. And for that reason, he was the kind of man that no one dared to mess with because he was just and could protect his own.