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Vignette from Chapter 3, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Author: Maya Angelou

Angelou, Maya. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Ballantine Books, 2009, 15.

Her grandmother’s store in Stamps, Arkansas was home to Maya Angelou as a child. It was a place where people congregated and where she was capable and comfortable. She was intelligent, and, even at the age of 6 or 7, skillful at weighing out quantities and making calculations at the register.

Weighing the half-pounds of flour, excluding the scoop, and depositing them dust-free into the thin paper sacks held a simple kind of adventure for me. I developed an eye for measuring how full a silver-looking ladle of flour, mash, meal, sugar or corn had to be to push the scale indicator over to eight ounces or one pound. When I was absolutely accurate our appreciative customers used to admire: “Sister Henderson sure got some smart grandchildrens.” If I was off in the Store’s favor, the eagle-eyed women would say, “Put some more in that sack, child. Don’t you try to make your profit offa me.”

Then I would quietly but persistently punish myself. For every bad judgment, the fine was no silver-wrapped Kisses, the sweet chocolate drops that I loved more than anything in the world, except Bailey. And maybe canned pineapples. My obsession with pineapples nearly drove me mad. I dreamt of the days when I would be grown and able to buy a whole carton for myself alone.

Although the syrupy golden rings sat in their exotic cans on our shelves year round, we only tasted them during Christmas. Momma used the juice to make almost-black fruit cakes. Then she lined heavy soot-encrusted iron skillets with the pineapple rings for rich upside-down cakes. Bailey and I received one slice each, and I carried mine around for hours, shredding off the fruit until nothing was left except the perfume on my fingers. I’d like to think that my desire for pineapples was so sacred that I wouldn’t allow myself to steal a can (which was possible) and eat it alone out in the garden, but I’m certain that I must have weighed the possibility of the scent exposing me and didn’t have the nerve to attempt it.

DMU Timestamp: February 21, 2020 23:45

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