You are on page 1of 18

AFTERWORD

By AliceUhlker
Looking for T,ora
"On Jaxaary 16, 1959,Zora NealeHarston, wfeiry fiom tbc effcctsof
a ttroAe and uiting painfilly it longband, composeda letter to tbe 'editorial
department' of Harper & Brotbersinqtiring if tbex uoild be interestedin
seeing'tbe bool I am laboing trpon at prerent-a life of Herod tbe Great.'
One lear and tue/ae dayt later, Zora Nea/e Harston died uithoat fuds to
prodde for ber burial, a resident of tlte St. Lacie County, Floifu, Welfare
Home. Shelies today in an unmarAedgrate in a rcgregatedcemeteryin Fort
Pierce,Florida, a rettixg place generallysymbolic of tbe blacAwiter's fate il
Ameica.
"Zora Neale Hurston is one of tbe most signtf;cant unread aatlton in
America,tbe autbor of tuo minor classics and foilr otber major booh."
-Robert Hemenway;"Zora Hursronand the EatonvilleAnthropology,"
from Tbe Harlem Rexaissance Remembered,edited by Arna Bontemps
(Dodd,1972)

ON Aucusr lt,1973,I wake up just as the plane is lowering over


Sanford, Florida, which means I am also looking down on Eatonville,
Zora Neale Hurston's birthplace. I recognizeit from Zora's description
in Mu/es and Men: "the city of five lakes, three croquer courts, rhree
hundred brown skins, three hundred good swimmers,plenty guavas,
two schools,and no jailhouse." Of courseI cannorseerhe guavas,but
the five lakesare still there, and it is the lakes I counr as the Dlane
preparesto land in Orlando.
From the air, Florida looks completely flat, and as we near the
ground this impressiondoes not change. This is the first time I have
seenthe interior of the state,which Zora wrore abour so well, but
there are the acresof orangegroves,the sand, mangrovetrees,and
scrubpine that I know from her books.Getting off the plane I walk
through the hot moist air of midday into the tacky but air-conditioned
airport. I searchfor Chadotte Hunt, my companionon the Zora
Hurston expedition.She livesin $Tinter Park, Florida, very near
Eatonville, and is writing her graduatedissertationon Zorz. I seeher

297
298 Afteruord

waving-a large pleasant-facedwhite woman in dark glasses.\7e have


written to each other for severalweeks, swapping our latesr finds
(mostly hers) on Zora, and trying to make senseour of the massof
information obtained (often erroneousor simply confusing) from Zora
herself-through her storiesand autobiography- and from people
who wrote about her.
Eatonville has lived for such a long time in my imagination that I
can hardly believe it will be found existing in its own right. But after
20 minutes on the expressway,Chadotte turns off and I seea small
settlement of housesand storesset with no particular pattern in the
sandy soil off the road. \7e stop in front of nteatgray building that
^
has two fascinating signs: EAToNVILLEPOSTOFFICEand eAtoNvrrn
CITY HALL.
Inside the Eatonville City Hall half of the building, a slender,
dark brown-skin woman sits looking through letters on a desk. \fhen
she hearswe are searchingfor anyone who might have known Zora
Neale Hurston, she leansback in thought. BecauseI don't wish to
inspire foot-dragging in people who might know something about
Zorathey're not sure they should tell, I have decided on a simple, but
I feel profoundly aseful, lie.
"I am Miss Hurston's niece," I prompt the young woman, who
brings her head down with a smile.
"I think Mrs. Moseleyis about the only one still living who might
rememberher," she says.
"Do you mean Mathi/da Moseley,the woman who tells those
'woman-is-smarter-than-man' lies in Zora's book?"
"Yes," saysthe young woman. "Mrs. Moseleyis real old now, of
course.But this time of day, she should be at home."
I stand at the counterlooking down on her, the first Eatonville
residentI have spokento. BecauseofZora's books,I feel I know
something about her; at least I know what the town she grew up in
was like yearsbefore she was born.
"Tell me something," I say, "do the schoolsteachZora's books
here?"
"No," she says,"they don't. I don't think most people know
anything aboutZora Neale Hurston, or know about any of the great
things she did. She was a fine lady. I've read all of her booksmyself,
but I don't think many other folks in Eatonvillehave."
"Many of the church people around here, as I understandit,"
299 LooLingforZoro

sayscharlotre in a murmured aside,"thought zora wasprettv loose.


don't think they appreciatedher writing about them."
" S f ell, " I s ayto th e y o u n gw o ma n , ' ,th a n k you for your hel p."
she clarifiesher directionsto Mrs. Moseley'shouseand smilesas
C h a r lot t eand I r urn to q o .

"Tbe letter to Harper'sdoesnot expotea pub/isber'srejectionof an


anAnounmasterpiece, btt it doesreaealltou the brigltt promiseof the Har-
lem Renaissance deteiorated for rzany of tlte writers wbo sbaredin ix
exuberance. It alsoindicatesthe persona/tragedl of Zora Nea/eHurston:
Barnardgraduate,autbor of four norc/s, tuo booAsof fo/A/o/e,one aolumeof
autobiography,the most inzportantcollectorof Afro ArrzeicanfolAlorein
Ameica, reducedb1 pouertyand circunzstance to see{a publisher by
untolicited mai/." -Robert Hemenway
"Zora Harston uas born in 1901,j902, or l9}3_depending on how old
sbefelt lterselfto be at tlte time someone
a:Aed.,'-Llbrarian.Beinecke
Library,YaleUniversity

THr Mosnrsy HousErs sMALLAND wHrrE and snug, its tiny yard
nearlyswallowedup by oleandersand hibiscusbushes.charlotte and I
knock on the door. I call out. But there is no answer.This strikesus as
peculiar.$7e have had time to figure our an age for Mrs.
Moseley-not datesor a number, just old I am thinking of a quivery,
bedriddeninvalid when we hear the car. we look behind us to seean
old black-and-whiteBuick-paint peeling and grillwork rusty-pulling
into the drive. A near old lady rn a purple dressand whire hair is
strainingat the wheel. She is frowning becausecharlotte's car is in the
wa_y.
M rs. Mo se ley lo ok s at us s us pic ious ly . "y es , I k n e w Z o r a N e a l e , "
she says, unsmilinglv and with a rather cold stare at Charlotte (who I
imagin e fee ls very w hf ie at r hat m om ent ) , "but r h a t w a s a l o n g t i m e
ago, an d I d on 't wa nt r o t alk about it . "
"Ye s ma 'am," I m ur m ur , br inging all m y s y m p a t h y t o b e a r o n
the situ atio n.
"Not o nlv th at," M r s . M os elc l. c onr inues , "l' ve b e e n s i c k . B e e n
in th e ho sp ital for a n oper at ion. Rupt ur ed ar t er y . T h e d o c t o r s d i d n 't
believe I was g oin g to liv e, but v ou s ee m e aliv e, d o n 't y o u ? "
"L oo kin g well, t oo, " I c om m ent .
lvlrs. Mosele y is out of her c ar . A t hin, s pr ight l v w o m a n w i t h n i c e
300 Afteruord

gold-studded false teeth, uppers and lowers. I like her becauseshe


standsstraighr beside her car, with a hand on her hip and her straw
pocketbook on her arm. She wearswhite T-strap shoeswith heels that
show off her well-shapedlegs. {.
"l'm eighty-twoyearsold, you know," she says."And I just
can't remember things the way I used to. Anyhow, Zora Neale left
here to go to school and she never really came back to live. She'd
come here for material for her books, but that was all. She spent most
of her time down in South Florida."
"You know, Mrs. Moseley,I saw your name in one of Zora's
books.
"You did?" she looksat me with only slightly more interest."I
read some of her books a long time ago, but then people got to
borrowing and borrowing and they borrowed them all away."
"I could send you a copy of everythingthat's been reprinted," I
offer. "$7ould you like me to do that?"
"No," saysMrs. Moseleypromptly. "I don't read much any
more. Besides,all of that wasro long ago. "
Charlotteand I settleback againstthe car in the sun. Mrs.
Moseleytells us at length and with exactrecall every step in her recent
operation,ending with: "What thosedoctorsdidn't know-when they
were expectingme to die (and they didn't even think I'd live long
enough for them to have to take out my stitches!)-is thatJesusis the
best doctor, and if He saysfor you to get well, that's all that counts."
With this philosophy,Charlotteand I murmur quick assent:being
Southernersand church bred. we have heard that belef before.But
what we learn from Mrs. Moseleyis that she doesnot remembermuch
bevond the year 1938. She showsus a picture of her father and mother
and saysthat her father wasJoeClarke'sbrother.Joe Clarke, as every
Zora Hurston readerknows, was the first mayor of Eatonville;his
fictional counterpart isJody Starksof Tbeir Eyes ll/ere lYatcbing God.
We alsoget directionsto whereJoeClarke'sstoreuas-where Club
Eaton is now. Club Eaton, a long orange-beigenightspotwe had seen
on the main road, is apparentlyfamousfor the good times in it
regularlyhad by all. It is, perhaps,the modern equivalentof the store
porch, where all the men of Zora's childhood came to tell "lies," that
is, black folktales,that were "made and used on the spot," to take a
line from Zora. As for Zora's exactbirthplace, Mrs. Moseleyhas no idea
After I have commentedon the healthygrowth of her hibiscus
bushes,she becomesmore talkative. She mentionshow much she
301 Loortingfor Zoro

/oaedto dance, when she was a young woman,


and taiks about hoq.
good her husband was. When he was alive, she
says,she was
completelyhappy becausehe allowedher to be completely
free, ..1
was so free I had to pinch myself someti;es to tell
if i was a marned
woman."
Relaxednow, she tells us about going to school withZora. ,,Zora
and I went ro rhe sameschool.It's calledHungerford
High now. It
was only to the eighth grade. But our teacherswere so good
that by
the time you left you knew collegesubjects.Vhen I went
ro Morris
Brown in Atlanta, the teachersthere were just teaching
me rhe same
things I had alreadylearned right in Eatonville. I wrote
Mama and
told her I was going to come home and help her with
her babies.I
wasn't learninganything new."
"Tell me something,Mrs. Moseley," I ask, ,,why
do you suppose
zora was against integration? I read somewhere that she
was
schooldesegregationbecauseshe felt it was an insult to "g"inrt
black teacliers.,,
"Oh, one of them
[white people] came around askingme about
rntegrarron.One day I was doing my shopping. I heard ,em
over rhcre
talking about it in the store,about the schools.And I got
on out of
the way becauseI knew if they askedme they wouldn,t
, like what I
was gotng to tell 'em. But they came up and askedme
anyhow. ,What
do you think about this integration?'oneof them said. I
acted like I
thought I had heardwrong. ,you're askingme what
1 think about
tntegratron?'I said. 'Vell, as you can seeI,m just
an old colored
woman'-I wasseventy-fiveor seventy-six then-'and this is the first
trme anybodyeveraskedme about integration.And nobody
askedmy
grandmotherwhat she thought, either, but her
daddy was ore of you
all.' " Mrs. Moseleyseemssatisfiedwith this memory
of her rejoinder.
she looks at charlotte. "I have the blood of three racesin
my veins,,,
she saysbelligerently,"white, black, and Indian, and nobody
asked
me anltbing before.
"Do you think living in Eatonvillemade
integrationlessappeal-
i n g to y ou?"
"vell, I can tell you this: I have lived
in Eatonvilleall mv life.
and I've been in the governingof this town. I've been
euerythingbut
Mayor and I've been assistantMayor. Eatonville was
and is an all-black
town' we have our own police department,post office,
and town hail.
Our own schooland good teachers.Do I need integration?
"They took over Goldsboro,becausethe
black peoplewho lived
there neverincorporated,rike we did. And now I
don't even know if
302 Afteruord

housesup there around the


any black folks live there' They built big
and we don't sell
l^k.s. B,-,twe didn't let that happen in Eatonville'
here'"
land to iust anyboiy. And you see' we're still
\w henweleav e, M rs .Mo s e l e y i s s ta n d i n g b y h e rcar,w avi ng.I
black newspaperblasting
think of the letter Roy vilkins wrote to a
the integration of schools'
Zora Neale for her lack of enthusiasmabout
she was coming from'
I wonder if he knew the experienceof Eatonville
from a self-contained'
Not many black people in lmerica have come
unity are taken for granted' A
all-black community where loyalty and
place where black pride is nothing new'
said that botheredme'
There is, however,one thing Mrs' Moseley
it that thirteen
"Tell me, Mrs. Moseley," I had asked' "why is
has been put on her grave?"
yearsafter Zora's death, no marker
she doesn't have a stone
And Mrs' Moseleyanswered:"The reason
down in South
is becauseshe wasn't buried here' She was buried
really knew where she
Florida somewhere.I don't think anybody
was."
sbe
"On$ to reacha uider aadience,needsbe eter uite books-because
her youtlt sbe was aluays
is a perfect booh of entertainmentin herself'In
and tbingsfrom uealtbl ubite people' someof wbom
getting scbolarsbips
tbe Negroracefor them' sbe
simpfi paid beriutt to sit aroand and represent
anecdotes'bumorous
did it in such a racl fasbion' Sbe wasfull of sidesplhting
her tife in tbe Soatbas a
tales,and tragicomrcstoies, rememberedout of
makeyou laugb one mn'
daagbterof a trattelingministerof God' Sltecoald
no doabt' sbe wasa
ilte and cry tbe next' To meny of ber wbitefriends'
term-tbat is' a nafue'
perfect 'darhie,' in tbe nice meaningtbey giae the
cbildlihe, sweet,bumoroxs,and bighly coloredNegro'
/et collegegfue
"But MissHarston utu! cleaer,too-a stadent ulto didn't
pretensions'academicor
her a broad 'a' and ubo had greatscornfor all
otheruise,Thatisufusbeuassacbafinefolklorecollector,able'ogoamong
tbepeopleandneaeractasifshebadbeentoscboolatal/.Almostnobodl
and meastrebis bead
e/secould stop tbe awrageHarlemite on LenoxAaenue
not get bawledoat for tbe
uitb a strange'looiing,anthropologicatdeaiceand
uhose beadlooAedinterettixg'
attempt, exceptZor4, uho usedto t'op unlone
(Knopf)
and meastre/. "-Langston Hughes' Tbe Big 'lea

,,|Ybatdoesitml,terwbetwbitefolhsmastharethoagbtabout
ber?"-student,"BlacklWomenVriten"class'\(cllesleyCollege
303 LooAingfor Zora

Mns. Sanau Pner ParrnnsoN is a handsome,red-hairedwoman in her


late forties,wearingorangeslacksand gold earrings.She is the director
of Lee-PeekMortuary in Fort Pierce,the establishmentthat handled
Zora's burial. Unlike most black funeral homes in Southernror,r-ns thar
sit like palacesamong the generalpoverty,Lee-Peekhas a run-do*'n
snzall look. Perhapsthis is becauseit is painted purple and white. as
are its Cadillacchariots.Thesecolorsdo not age well. The roomsare
clutteredand grimy, and the bathroom is a tiny, stale-smelling prison.
with a bottle of black hair dye (apparentlyused to touch up the hair
of the corpses)dripping into the face bowl. Two pine burial boxesare
restingin the bathtub.
Mrs. Pattersonherself is pleasantand helpful.
"As I told you over the phone, Mrs. Patterson,"I begin, shaking
her hand and looking into her penny-brown eyes, "l am Zora Neale
Hurston's niece, and I would like to have a marker put on her grave.
You said, when I called you last week, that you could tell me where
the grave is."
By this time I am, of course, completely into being Zora's niece,
and the lie comeswith perfect naturalnessto my lips. Besides,as f,aras
I'm concerned,she rr my aunt-and that of all black people as well.
"She was buried in 1960," exclaimsMrs. Patterson."That was
when my father was running this funeral home. He's sick now or I'd
let you talk to him. But I know where she'sburied. She'sin the old
cemetery,the Garden of the Heavenly Rest, on SeventeenthStreet.
Just when you go in the gate there's a circle and she's buried right in
the middle of it. Hers is the only grave in that circle-because people
don't bury in that cemeteryany more."
She turns to a stocky, black-skinnedwoman in her thirties,
wearing a green polo shirt and white jeans cut off at the knee. "This
lady will show you where it is," she says.
"I can't tell you how much I appreciatethis," I say to Mrs.
Patterson,as I rise to go. "And could you tell me something else?
You see, I never met my aunt. \fhen she died, I was still a junior in
high school. But could you tell me what she died oi and what kind of
funeral she had?"
"I don't know exactlywhat she died of," Mrs. Pattersonsays."I
know she didn't have any money. Folks took up a collection to bury
her. . . . I believe she died of malnutrition."
''Ma/nutrition? "
304 Afterutora

head againstCharlotte's
Outside, in the blistering sun, I lean my
hot metal only intensifies
even more blistering cartop' tht 'tittg of the
my anger.
condition hasn't
"Malnutition," l manageto mutter' "Hell' our
died of malnutrition!"
changedany sincePhillis \flheatley's time' She
;Really?" saysChadotte, "I didn't know that'"

"One canno,oaeremphasize tbe extentof ber commitment'It uas so


Sbeenuas short'lirted'
great tbat her madage in the sping of 1927to Herbert
tbe tuo separoted
Tttfoogt, ditorce did not comefficially antil 1931'
to continueber collecting'Slteento
amicabiyefter onl a feu months,Hurston
ottend MedicalScbool."-Roben Hemenway

climbed into the


"\7sar $ YouR NAME?" I ask the woman who has
back seat.
voice' as if she is a
"Rosalee," she says.She has a rough' pleasant
and has an air of ready
singer who also smokesa lot' She is homely'
indifference.
the grave she
"Another woman came by here wanting to see
little short' dumpty "'white
says,lighting up a cigarette' "She was a
or Daytona' But let
l"iy fri- o.t. of these Florida schools' Orlando
All I know is where the
me tell you something before we gets staned'
that grave' You better go
cemeteryis. I don't kno* ot'e thing about
back in and ask her to draw you b map"'
diagram of where the
A few moments later, with Mrs. Patterson's
grave is, we head for the cemetery'
\( edr iv epas t bl o c k s o fs m a l l ' p a s te l -c o l o re dhousesandturnri ght
a mll curving gate' with
onto 17th Street. At the very end, *e 'u"th
fading into the stone' I
the words "Garden of the Heavenly Rest"
drawing' to find a small
expected,from Mn. Patterson'ssmall -
gravefive or ten pacesfrom
circle-which would have placed zora's
.,circle'iis over an acre large and looks more like an
the road. But the
din road and scrapeagainst the
abandoned field' Tall weeds choke the
that I step out into an active
sides of the car. It doesn't hclp either
anthill.
don't even belicve
"I don't know about y'all," I say' "but I
that is trad.itional
this." I am used to the haphazard cemetery-kecping
this neglect is staggering' As
in most Southern black communities' but
30J LooLingfor Zora

far as I can seethere is nothing but bushesand weeds,some as tall rs


my waist. One graveis near the road, and Charlotteelectsto
investigateit. It is fairly clean,and belongsro someonewho died in
1963.
Rosaleeand I plunge into the weeds;I pull my long dressup to
my hips. The weedsscratchmy knees, and the insectshave a feast,
Looking back, I seeChadotte standing resolutelynear the road.
" A r en' t y o u c o m i n g ? " I c a l l .
"No," she callsback. "I'm from theseparts and I know what's
out there." She meanssnakes.
"Shit," I say, my whole life and the people I love flashing
melodramaticallybefore my eyes.Rosaleeis a few yards to my right.
"How're you going to find anything out here?" she asks.And I
stand still a few seconds,looking ar the weeds. Some of them are
quite pretty, with tiny yellow flowers. They are thick and healthy, but
dead weedsunder them have formed a thick gray carpet on the
ground. A snakecould be lying six inchesfrom my big toe and I
wouldn't seeit. $7e move slowly, very slowly, our eyesalert, our legs
trembly. It is hard to tell where the cenrer of the circle is since the
circle is not really round, but more like half of something round.
There are things crackling and hissing in the grass.Sandspursare
sticking to the inside of my skirt. Sand and ants cover my feet. I look
toward the road and notice that there are, indeed, two large curving
stones,making an entranceand exit to the cemetery.I take my
bearingsfrom them and try to navigate to exact center. But the center
of anything can be very large, and a grave is not a pinpoint. Finding
the grave seemspositively hopeless.There is only one thing to do:
"Zoral" I yell, as loud as I can (causingRosaleeto jump), "are
you out here?"
"If she is, I sho hope she don't answeryou. If she do, I'm gone."
"Zorat" I call again. "I'm here. Are you?"
"If she is," grumbles Rosalee,"I hope she'll keep it to herself."
"Zoral" Then I staft fussing with her. "I hope you don't think
I'm going to stand out here all day, with these snakeswatching me
and these ants having a field day. In fact, I'm going to call you just
one or two more times." On a clump of dried grass,near a small
bushy tree, my eye falls on one of the largestbugs I have ever seen. It
is on its back, and is as large as rhree of my fingers. I walk toward it,
and yell "Zo-ra!" and my foot sinks into a hole. I look down. I am
306 Afteruord

six feet long and about


standing in a sunken rectangle that is about
the two gatesare'
thr.. oifour feet wide. I look up to seewhere
anyhow' It's
"\7ell," I say, "this is the center, or approximately
this look like a grave
also the only sunken spot we've found' Doesn't
to you?"
these bushes"'
"For the sakeof not going no farther through
Rosaleegrowls' "Yes, it do'"
more to be
"rJfait a minute," I say, "I have to look around some
grave' But you don't have to
sure this is the only spot that resemblesa
come."
tough'
Rosaleesmiles-a grin, really-beautiful and
l ' l fe e l s s o rry fo ry o u ' If o n e of thesesnakesgot
"Naw, " s hes ay s ,
laughs' "I
ahold of you out here by yourselfI'd feel realbad"'She
done come this far, I'll go on with you'"
"Thank you, Rosalee"' I say' "Zora thanks you too.''
she says'and
'Just as long as she don't try to tell me in person"'
together we walk down the field'

example'
"Tbe gasto and flaaor of Zoro Neal[e] Hurston'sstorytelling'for
and Men' and otber boohs'
long beforetbe yarnswerepublisbed in 'Mules
becamea locallegendwbicb migbt ' ' ' haue spread fartber under dffirent
cottld baaemade tbem best-
conditions.A tiny thift in the centerof graaity
sellers."-Arna Bontemps,Personals (PaulBremen'Ltd'' London;196l)

especialfiin tbe blacA


"Bitter oaerthe reiectionof herfolhlore's aalue'
ber to co"aert the Afro'
commanity,frustrated b1 ubat sbefelt was failure
HurstonfinalQ garte
Ameican uoild aieu into forms of prosefiction,
uP. "-Robert HcmenwaY

\UHEN CHARLOTTE AND I DRIVEuP to the Merritt Monument


I want'
Company, I immediatelyseethe headstone
. . Howm uc his t h i s o n e ? ' ' Ia s k th e y o u n g w o m ani ncharg-e.'
asZora herself must
pointing to a tall black stone' It looks as majestic
from those root doctorsdown
have been when she was learning voodoo
in New Orleans.
Ebony Mist.''
"Oh, that one," she saYs,"that's our finest. That's
"Vell, how much is it?"
in relief,
" I don' t k now' Bu t w a i t," she says,looking around
"here comessomebodYwho'll k n o w ."
307 LooAixgforZora

A small, sunburned man with squinty green eyescomesup. He


must be the engraver,I think, becausehis eyesare contractedinro
slits, as if he has been keeping stone dust out of them for years.
"That's Ebony Mist," he says."That's our best."
"How much is it?" I ask, beginning to realize l probably can't
afford it.
He gives me a price that would feed a dozen Saheliandrought
victims for three years. I realize I must honor the dead, but berween
the dead great and the living starving, there is no choice.
"I have a lot oflerters to be engraved," I say, standing by the
plain gray marker I have chosen.It is pale and ordinary, not at all like
Zora, and makes me momentarily angry that I am not rich.
I0(e go into his office and I hand him a sheet of paper that has:

ZORANEALEHURSTON
.A
GENIUSOF THESOUTH''
NOVSLIST FOLKLORIST
ANTHROPOLOGIST
1901 1960

"A genius of the South" is from one of Jean Toomer's poems.


"\fhere is this grave?" the monument man asks. "If it's in a new
cemetery,the stone has to be flat."
"Vell, it's not a new cemereryand Zora-my aunr-doesn't need
anything flat becausewith the weedsout there, you'd never be able to
seeit. You'll have to go our there with me."
He grunts.
"And take a long pole and 'sound' the spot," I add. "Because
there'sno way of telling it's a grave, exceptthat it's sunken."
"Vell," he says,after taking my money and writing up a receipt,
in the full awarenessthat he's the only monument dealer for miles,
"you take this flag" (he hands me a four-foot-long pole with a red-
metal marker on top) "and take it out to the cemeteryand put it
where you think the grave is. It'll take us about three weeksro ger rhe
stoneout there."
I wonder if he knows he is sending me ro another confrontation
with the snakes.He probably does. Charlotte has told me she will cut
my leg and suck our the blood, if I am bit.
"At leastsend me a photographwhen it's done, won't you?"
He sayshe will.
308 Afterutord

"Hurston's return to her folk/ore-collecting in December of 1927 uas


made possible b1 Mrs. R, osgood Mason, an elderfu uhite patron of the arts,
who at uaious tinzes ako belped l^angston Hagbet, Alain Loch,e,Ricltmond
Bartbe, and Miguel coaarrubias. Hurston apparent/y c'me to her attention
through the intercession of Locke, wbo frequently sented as a aind of litison
between tbe loung black talent and Mrs. Mason. The entire relationship
between tbis wonzan and the Har/enz Renaissancedesenes extended study, for
it representsmuch of the ambigaitl inaolued in uhite patronage of blaca
arti$r. A// her artists uere instracted to ca// lter'Godmotlser'; tltere uas a
decided ernpbasison the 'prinzitiue' aspecx of b/ach culture, apparentl1 a
lto/doaer from Mrs. Mason's interest in the P/ains Indians. In Harston's case
there were special restictions imposed by ber patron: altbough sbe uas to be
paid a handsome salaryfor her folalore collecting, .rhe was to linzit her
conespondenceand pub/ih notbing of ber researchwithoat pior
approaal."-Robert HemenwaY

"You baue to read tbe chaplers Zora left oat of her


autobiography."-Student, SpecialCollectionsRoom, BeineckeLibrary, Yale
University

DR. BENTON, a friend of Zora's and a practicing M.D. in Fort Pierce,


is one of those old, good-looking men whom I always have trouble not
liking. (lt no longer bothers me that I may be constantly searching for
father figures; by this time I have found several and dearly enjoyed
knowing them all.) He is shrewd, with steady brown eyes under hair
that is almost white. He is probably in his seventies, but doesn't look
it. He carries himself with drgnity, and has cause to be proud of the
new clinic where he now practices medicine. His nurse looks at us with
suspicion, but Dr. Benton's eyes have the penetration of a scalpel
cutting through skin. I guess right away that if he knows anything
at all a bo ut Zo r a Hur s t on. he will not believ e I a m h e r n i e c c .
"Ea ton ville ? " D r . Bent on s ay s , leaning f om ' a r d i n h i s c h a i r , l o o k i n g
flrst at me, th en at Char lot t e. "Yes , I k now E a t o n v i l l e , I g r e w u p n o t
far from there. I knew the whole bunch of Zora's family." (He looks
a r th e sha pe of m v c hc c k bones . t he s iz e of m v e v e s , a n d t h e n a p p i n e s s
o f rn v ha ir.) "l k new hc r daddv . The old m an . H e w a s a h a r d w o r k i n g ,
Ch ristia n man . Did t hc bc s t he c ould f or his f a m i l v . H e w a s t h e m a v o r
of Ea ton villc fir r a whilc . v ou k now.
"Mv ta thcr n' as t hc m at ' or of G olds bor o. Y o u p r o b a b l y n e v e r
309 LooAixgforZora

heard of it. It never incorporatedlike Eatonville did, and has just


about disappeared.But Eatonville is still all-black."
He pausesand looks at me. "And you're Zora's niece," he says
wonderingly
"IJfell," I say with shy dignity, yet with some tinge, I hope, of a
llth-century blush, "I'm illegitimate. That's why I never knew Aunt
Zora."
I love him for the way he comesto my rescue.,,you,re not
illegitimate!" he cries, his eyesresting on me fondly. ,,All of us are
God's children! Don't you even tltinA sucha thing!"
And I hate myself for lying to him. Still, I ask myself, would I
have gotten this far toward gerting the headstone and finding out
aboutZora Hurston's last dayswithout telling my lie? Actually, I
probably would have. But I don't like taking chancesthat could get
me stranded in Central Florida.
"Zora didn't get along with her family. I don't know why. Did
you read her autobiography, Dust TracAson a Roa&,,
"Yes, I did," I say. "It pained me ro seeZora pretending to be
naive and grateful about the old white ,Godmother' who helped
finance her research,but I loved the part where she ran off from home
after falling out with her brother's wife ."
Dr. Benton nodded. "Vhen she got sick, I tried to get her to go
back to her family, but she refused. There wasn't any real hatred; they
just never had gotten along and Zora wouldn'r go to them.
She didn't
want to go to the county home, either, but she had to, becauseshe
couldn't do a thing for herself."
"I was surprisedto learn she died of malnutrition."
Dr. Benton seemsstaftled. "Zora didn,t die of malnutrition," ne
saysindignantly. "\7here did you get that story from? She had a
stroke and she died in the welfare home." He seemspeculiarly upset,
distressed,but sits back reflectivelyin his chair: ,,She was an
incredible woman," he muses. "sometimes when I closedmy office,
I'd go by her house and just talk to her for an hour or two. She was a
well-read, well-traveledwoman and alwayshad her own ideas about
what was going on . . . "
"I never knew her, you know. Only some of Carl Van
Vechten's
photographsand some newspaperphotographs. . . . \[hat did she
look like?"
"\fhen I knew her, in the fifties, she was a big woman
, erect.
310 Afterutord

Not quite as light as I am [Dr. Benton is dark beige], and about five
foot, seveninches, and she weighed about two hundred pounds.
P r obably m or e .Sh e ... "
"\Vhat! Zorawasfat! She wasn't, in Van Vechten'spictures!"
"Zora loved to eat," Dr. Benton sayscomplacently. "She could
sit down with a mound of ice cream and just eat and talk till it was all
gone."
While Dr. Benton is talking, I recall that the Van Vechten
pictureswere taken whenZora was still a young woman. In them she
appearstall, tan, and healthy. In later newspaperphotographs-when
she was in her forties-l rememberedthat she seemedheavierand
severalshadeslighter. I reasonedthat the earlier photographs.were
taken while she was busy collecting folklore materialsin the hot
Florida sun.
"She had high blood pressure.Her health wasn't good . . . . She
used to live in one of my houses-on School Court Street. It's a block
house . . . I don't recall the number. But my wife and I used to invite
her over to the house for dinner. S/te a/uays ate well, " he says
emphatically.
"That's comforting to know," I say, wondering where Zora ate
when she wasn't with the Bentons.
"Sometimes she would run out of groceries-after she got
sick-and she'd call me. 'Come over here and see'bout me,' she'd
say. And I'd take her shopping and buy her groceries.
"She was alwaysstudying. Her mind-before the stroke-just
worked all the time . She was alwaysgoing somewhere,too. She once
went to Honduras to study something. And when she died, she was
working on that book about Herod the Great. She was so intelligent!
And really had perfect expressions.Her English was beautiful." (I
suspectthis is a cleverway to let me know Zora herself didn't speakin
the "black English" her charactersused.)
"I used to read all of her books," Dr. Benton continues, "but it
was a Iong time ago. I remember one about . . it was called, I think,
'The Children of God' lTbeir Eyes Were ll/atching Godl, andl
rememberJanie and Teapot [Teacake]and the mad dog riding on the
cow in that hurricane and bit old Teapot on the cheek . . . "
I am delighted that he rememberseven this much of the story,
even if the namesare wrong, but seeinghis affection forZora I feel I
must ask him about her burial. "Did she really have a pauper's
funeral?"
311 Loorting
for Zora

"She didn't have a pauper'sfuneral!" he sayswith great heat.


"Everybody around here loaed Zora."
"\We just came back from orderinga headstone,"I say quietlv.
becausehe zi an old man and the color is coming and going on his
face, "but to tell the truth, I can't be positivewhat I found is the
grave. All I know is the spot I found was the only grave-sizehole in
the area."
"I rememberit wasn't near the road," saysDr. Benton, more
calmly. "Some other lady came by here and we went out looking for
the grave and I took a long iron stick and poked all over that part of
the cemeterybut we didn't find anything. She took some pictures of
the general area. Do the weedsstill come up to your knees?"
"And beyond," I murmur. This time there isn't any doubt. Dr.
Benton feelsashamed.
As he walks us to our car, he continues to talk about Zora. "She
couldn't really write much near the end. She had the stroke and it left
her weak; her mind was affected.She couldn't think about anything
for long.
"She came here from Daytona, I think, She owned a houseboat
over there. \fhen she came here, she sold it. She lived on that money,
then she worked as a maid-for an afticle on maids she was
writing-and she worked for the Cbronic/e writing the horoscope
column.
"I think black people here in Florida got mad at her becauseshe
was for some politician they were against. She said this politician built
schoolsfor blackswhile the one they wanted just talked about it. And
although Zorawasn't egotistical,what she thought, she thought; and
generallywhat she thought, she said."
\When we leave Dr. Benton's office, I realizeI have missedmy
plane back home toJackson, Mississippi.That being so, Charlotte and
I decide to find the house Zora lived in before she was taken to the
county welfare home to die. From among her many notes, Chadotte
locatesa letter ofZora's she has copied that carriesthe address:1734
School Court Street. \7e ask severalpeople for directions. Finally, two
old gentlemen in a dusty gray Plymouth offer to lead us there. School
Court Street is not paved, and the road is full of mud puddles. It is
dismal and squalid, redeemedonly by the brightnessof the late
afternoon sun. Now I can understand what a "block" house is. It is a
house shapedlike a block, for one thing, surrounded by others just
like it. Some housesare blue and some are green or yellow. Zora's ts
312 Aftenttord

squattywith flat
light green.They are tiny-about i0 by 10 feet'
the others' but that is
roofs.The houseZora lived in looksworsethan
dirty children sitting
its only distinction' It alsohas three raggedand
on the stePs.
camera'
"Is this where y'all live?" I ask' aiming my
looking at me earnestly "\We
"No, ma'am," they sayin unison'
house; but she in the
live over yonder' This Miss So-and-So's
horspital."
while I take more pictures'A car
.we chatterinconsequentially
in it' They scowlfiercelyat
drivesup with a yonng tl^tk couple
friendliness'eithef They get out
Charlotteand don't look at me with
street.I go uP to them to-
and stand in their doorwayacrossthe
used to live right acrossfrom
explain. "Did you know Zota Hurston
y ou?" I as k .
curiously
"Vho?" They stareat me blankly' then become
at t ent iv e' a s i fth e y th i n k l ma d e th e n a me up' TheyarebothA fro-ed
and he is somberlYdashiki-ed'
"It's too long a story"' I say'
I suddenlyfeel frail and exhausted'
streetwho's livec
"but tell me something,is there anybodyon this
here for more than thirteen Years?"
..That old man down there'', the young man says,polntlng. )ure
three housesdown He has
enough, there rs a man sitting on his steps
is a weaknessabout him' He
gr"yilg hair and is very neat, but there
reminds me of Mrs.
't.r..r.r', husband in Their Eyes l{/ere trYatching
as if his featureshave been
God. He's rather "vanishing"-looking'
was beautiful' he was
sandeddown' In the old days,beforeblack
has wavy hair and light'
probablyconsideredattractive,becausehe
has ceasedto be its own reward'
brown skin; but now, well, light skin
thing I want to know:
After the preliminaries,there is only one
house'" di d
" T ell m e s o m e th i n g " ' I b e g i n , l o o k i n g dow n at Zora' s
Zora hke flowers?''
of fact"' he says'looking
He looks at me queerly' "As a matter
her former house'
regretfully at the bare, rough yard that surrounds
gardener'She loved
"she was crazyabout them' And she was a great
vine [morning gloriesl' and
azaleas,and that running and blooming
Sht kept a
she really loved that night-smellingflower [gardenia]
collardsand tomatoes
vegetablegardenyear-round,too' She raised
and t hing s l i k e th a t.
Hurston'
"Eu.ryon. in this community thought well of Miss
313 LooAingforZora

\When she died, people all up and down


this street took up a
collection for her burial. \fe put her away nice. "
"Why didn't somebodyput up a headstone?"
"Well, you know, one was never requ€sted.Her and her family
didn't get along. They didn't even come to the funeral."
"And did she live down there by herself.r"
"Yes, until they took her away. She lived with-just her and her
companion, Sport."
My earsperk up. "\7ho?"
"Sport, you'know, her dog. He was her only companion. He was
a big brown-and-white dog."
\fhen I walk back to the car, Chadotte is talking to the young
couple on their porch. They are relaxedand smiling.
"I told them about the famous lady who used ro live acrossthe
street from them," saysCharlotte as we drive off. ,,Of coursethey had
no idea Zora everlived, let alone that she lived acrossthe srreet. I
think I'll send some of her booksto them.,'
"That's real kind of you," I say.

"l am not tragtcallyco/ored. Tltere is /,o great sorou damned ap in my


soal, nor lurhing bebind n2! e\es. I do not mind at alt. I do not belong to tbe
sobbing rcbool of Negroboodulto bold that natare rcmebou basgiaen tbem a
lowdoun dirtl deal and wltorcfeelings are all bart obout it. . . . No, I do not
ueep at the world-I am too busytbarpeningnl oyter Anife.,'-Zora Neare
Hurston, "How It Feelsto Be ColoredMe," Iyorld Tomorou, l92g

THenE ARETrMES-and finding Zora Hurston's grave was one of


them-when normal responsesof grief, horror, and so on, do not
make sensebecausethey bear no real relation to the depth of the
emotion one feels. It was impossiblefor me to cry when I saw the field
full of weedswhere zorais. Partly this is becauseI have come to know
Zora through her books and she was not a rcary sort of person herself;
but partly, too, it is becausethere is a point at which even grief feels
absurd. And at this point, laughter gushesup to retrievesanity.
It is only later, when the pain is not so direct a threat to one's
own existencethat what was learned in that moment of comical lunacv
is understood. Such moments rob us of both youth and vanity. But
perhaps they are also times when greater disciplines are born.