Mary Ellen Noone (MN)
MN: My great-grandmother was born before the turn of the century. Her name was Pinky Powell. She was a petite woman – probably, um, 95 pounds weight – but very strong. She would tell us that she could pick a hundred pounds of cotton by lunchtime. She never smiled but I could tell when I looked in her eyes that she really loved me.
One night, uh, I was sitting, painting my nails, and she said to me, ’You know, there was a time we couldn’t wear no fingernail polish.’
And I said, ’Why, Mama Pinky?’
And she explained that when she was a girl – and this was around 1910 – she lived on a plantation in Lowndes County, Alabama. She that she would wash and iron for this white woman and that one day the lady had thrown away some of her old perfume and nail polish that had dried up. So she took it home and added some ingredients to the nail polish that made it pliable.
Well, when Sunday came she got all dressed up and painted her nails and put on that perfume and went to church. On Monday, she went to the general store and when she was ready to check-out the white owner asked her, ’What are you doing with your nails painted-up like a white woman?’
He proceeded to pick up a pair of pliers and he pulled out my grandmama’s nails out of its bed one by one. I often wondered as a child why her nails were so ruffled and so deformed. Every time I look at enamel red finger polish, I have a flashback and I see red. I still have that anger inside of me that someone would have that control over one person just because they wanted to feel like a woman.