“You should have seen how fat you were.” Pop said, recalling the day of my birth to explain why at times he called me, a thin a little girl who grew up to become a slender woman, fat. I listened, sitting next to him on my couch during a commercial break for America’s top rated reality show. Soon the parade of bad singers would return and I would lose interest in this story I heard many times before. I, the daughter of Daniel, was named Ebony Danielle Washington. As my middle name suggests I am a daddy’s girl. Daniel was already a father of two boys when he laid eyes on his baby girl. All he could say was baby girl and Baby Girl would become the name he called me most often.
To the rest of the family I was Princess. It was more of an identity then a name. That is exactly who I was a small coffee colored child with a big smile in a bigger ruffled dress with bows adorning my hair. I completed my Bronx royal family. “A princess that’s what we need”, mother must have said. Princess, the name that defined my early childhood and the weekdays I spent at my Grandma’s house in Queens indulging in as much sweet decadence as possible. It was easier for me to stay there while my brothers were in school; my mother went back to school for her bachelor’s degree and Pop worked long hours. I was with Grandma and I accepted a call each day from my mother, but hearing Pop’s voice was always special.
“Every time my Pop calls me, my heart flutters,” I told my grandma at four years old.
On Friday nights, I would wait for his Buick to approach Grandma’s house. Pop had an affinity for American cars and candy. I would get a hand full in the back seat snuggled between my brothers and ride off for another weekend home and would fall asleep before reaching our destination. Pop would carefully pull me out of the car and carry me to our door. I later admitted I was only pretending to be sleep. He told me he knew. “Baby girl, you talked the whole ride home and fell asleep right before I parked.” I had not yet developed my acting abilities, but I knew Pop would make sure I got to my destination.
“Princess” I told my kindergarten teacher Ms. Angram when she asked me my name on the first day. She was confused as she looked through her rolls. She asked my mother’s name and I pointed across the room to her. She says, “Oh your name is Ebony.” That was the first time I remembered being called by my actual name.
“Fool you knew your name.” My mother said as I recounted the story as an adult.
Perhaps I did. Ebony seemed so natural even as Ms. Angram inserted it into the princess story she read that afternoon. I would get used to hearing my real name outdoors even though I would not appreciate it until I began to perform. Ebony, a black revolutionary first name coupled with Washington a colonial last name. It is a much of a contradiction as I am. I was once confronted by a poet who wanted to know why I chose to use my sir name with its oppressive implications. I told him I got it from Pop.
“Baby girl, I am coming to see American Idol.” I was an adult now, finally on my own. I had my heart broken once was in a relationship, but Pop was the one man which I could depend. Just like he carried me through the streets, Pop continued to carry me though out life and he would always be there, I thought. I was living in my first apartment Pop had moved me into a year earlier. Then Pop called me on a random Wednesday night to watch American Idol. It was odd. Pop hated American Idol along with all the other reality television shows I forced him to watch when I was home. It was our tradition, me wanting to watch some absurd show, Pop complaining but turning the channel to it anyway. It began with Punky Brewster in kindergarten. We had one television back then. Pop missed 60 Minutes for a year before Punky Brewster was finally cancelled.
When Pop came that night and everything seemed normal except for a consistent cough and the fact he wanted to watch American Idol. “Next week you have you have to come to the house and watch. I didn’t know it, but he began Chemotherapy that winter. David Cook won Idol and that was the last season I watched.
Pop would call me Baby Girl until he his voice became a whisper. I would no longer be Baby Girl. Now I listen to for those words in the wind and I wait for the patter in my heart that a four year old girl once felt.