I’m Lena. My story is, I was a teenager, I walked from West 4th Street to 132nd Street and Lennox Avenue with my boyfriend. I didn’t get tired. We stopped on the way, looking in the windows on Fifth Avenue, and then we kept on walking.
But then one store we stopped and I said, “Oh, that’s nice!”
So he said to me, “Oh, you like that?”
I don’t even know what I said was nice. He said, “You could get anything you want.”
I said, “No, I don’t want nothing.” That’s because my mother raised me: ‘Don’t be taking things from men, you don’t know what they’re up to or whatever.’ He was really a new boyfriend, not somebody I knew a long time. And I didn’t want to say “I want something” because I didn’t know how he was going to take it.
So he was a good friend to my brother. And we went uptown. And then he said, “You all walked all the way from 4th Street up here? You’re not tired?”
We said, “No, we’re not tired.”
So he said, “I asked your sister what she wanted, when she was looking in the window, if she wanted anything, and she didn’t want anything.”
I said, “‘She didn’t want nothing?’ You had no money to buy anything!”
He said, “Yes I did. I had $600 in my pocket.”
I said, “Well, too late for that now. Keep your $600.”
And we went on and had a little fun uptown. And we came back home on the subway and that was it. But I often think about that. I said, “This man had all this money in his pocket: $600! And he asked me what I want and I didn’t get nothing! You are crazy, Lena.” That always stuck in my mind.
Then he came one Sunday when I was coming from church. He came to the house at dinner time. So we sat down.
I said, “Sit down and eat.”
So he said, “OK.”
So what happened was, I already had cooked that morning before I went to church, because I was cooking since I was ten years old. My mother made me cook. That Sunday I had prepared a Sunday meal before I went to church. And so he sat down and he said to my mother, “Thank you very much for this, it’s very nice.”
She said, “Don’t thank me. Thank Lena.”
He said, “Thank Lena?! What for? What am I going to thank her for?”
She said, “Because Lena prepared our meal today. This was her Sunday to cook.”
He said, “Lena ain’t cooking no meal. She can’t cook.” That’s what my husband said. He said, “She can’t cook. She ain’t cook nothing. She doesn’t know how to cook.”
My mother said, “Oh, yes, she can cook! She cooked since she was ten years old. And I didn’t teach her how to cook. She just went to the store and started cooking.”
And then after that went to the movies. And then he wanted to go someplace, and I told him, “No, I’m not going there. We’re going to the movie. So he grabbed me by my hand. I said, “We said we’d go to the movie, and that’s where we going.”
Make a long story short, he said, “OH COME OVER HERE.” Just like that.
I said, “What do you mean, grabbing me like that?!”
He said, “I don’t care if you don’t want to go. You’re going to be my wife.”
And I said, “Did I tell you I’m going to be your wife?”
He said, “No, but you’re going to be my wife.”
And sure enough, I was his wife. It was something about him that… I don’t know how to say this really, but it’s something about him that I really had loved.
A couple of months later, he gave me an engagement ring. I said “Engagement ring! Wow! He gave me an engagement ring!” So I hid it from my mother. I didn’t tell my mother. I hid it.
And I think it was a couple of weeks later, it was my birthday, so she said, “Well, what did he give you for your birthday?”
I said, “He gave me a ring.”
So she said, “A ring? That ring is an engagement ring. That’s not a birthday present.” Just like that.
I said, “Well, the birthday present is going to come later.”
She said, “That’s an engagement ring.”
I said, “Yes. I know.” I said, “I didn’t know how you’d take. You’re probably going to be beat me.” Because my mother didn’t spare the rod on me at all, because I was the only girl. I got more beatings than my brothers did. She wanted me to be a nice woman when I grew up, that’s what I got old enough to realize. That’s why she would beat me more than she did the boys.
My mother had remarried. My stepfather said, “I don’t know what no boy give a girl a ring, and ain’t coming to ask for a girl. What he mean giving you a ring and didn’t ask for you?”
I said, “Well, I don’t know.” Like I say, I was young. I didn’t know what’s going on with no engagement, what men had to do or whatever. But my mother and my stepfather, they were from the old school. That’s how they was brought up, that they had to ask for the woman and all that kind of stuff. I didn’t know about that.
So that died down, it went on and on. We made a date for the wedding and that was that.
When I got the ring, I was 17 years old. My mother was very strict with me. Very strict. I was almost 18, I mean, 19 when I got married, though. I was very young and crazy. Didn’t know nothing about life, or men, or nothing like that.