One question I get a lot is: what did your parents say when you told them you converted to Islam? I usually get this question from non-collard green people (a.k.a Yankees). A southern person doesn’t have to ask how my family reacted. A southern person just knows – with a lot of hollering and cursing. My daddy is real collard green because that is exactly what he did.
Collard green people don’t hang around like flies on the sweet tea pitcher and discuss it from all angles. Heck no! If you tell a collard green daddy you got a mind to stop being protestant, he will shoot up from his recliner like he’s watching college football, and his team just lost a touchdown. Then, he’s going to holler: Oh hell no!…and…No, they just didn’t!…and…What the hell just happened?!”
That is exactly how my daddy reacted when I told him I was a bona fide Muslim.
Then he stormed off and didn’t talk to me for a while. One day, out of the blue, he showed up at my grandmother’s house where I was visiting and said: “Get in the truck, let’s go for a ride!” and of course I did. That was that. We talked about the weather and we’ve been talking ever since.
That’s my daddy…and he’s better than your daddy, so don’t forget it! Keep reading and even you’ll be convinced.
Before I do, I want to confess something smarty-pants about myself, which is that I can read collard green minds. I acquired this genius after a series of encounters with nice collard green folks who said one sweet thing to my face and an entirely different thing behind my back. I became good at translating collard green facial expressions and body language.
When I became a Muslim, and started wearing a headscarf, it was only natural for some folks to think I’d gone….well, crazy. They’d hug my neck and say: “How are you? It’s so good to see you again. You look as pretty as ever,” Later, my sister or friend would call me up on the phone and say: “Do you know what that ugly woman just said about you?!”
I’m not pointing a finger at the judgmental people in my hometown because I love them all from the bottom of my collard green heart, even if they do think I’m a little crazy. Besides, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I know where I come from and I’m grateful. A small southern town needs a nice-sized crowd of judgmental people or it’s not even worth calling home. Judgmental people are part of the back-bone of what makes southern towns so quintessentially fabulous. Southern people are also incredibly generous. Don’t let me forget to tell you sometime about when people from my home town came out, all smiling, in dozens of cars and a bus-load, to attend an inter-faith gathering after I extended an invitation on behalf of the Muslim community. My grandmother was one of the first to walk through the door of the mosque.
If it interests you, I’ve compiled an excerpt of transcripts, compiled from reading all those collard green minds. Here is what some folks said to themselves when they saw me for the first time wearing a Muslim headscarf.
That is just crazy!
What the hell is wrong with that girl? Doesn’t she know she grew up in Winter Garden?
That is the funniest Halloween costume I have ever seen in April…she’s a trip. I oughta’ call her when October rolls around and invite her to my party.
Golly, that precious girl is already gearing up for the Nativity Scene. If there were more Christians like her in the world, we’d be better off!
I don’t know much, but I can guaran-dawn-tee ya’ ….that girl is crazy!
I can’t wait to go home and call up what’s-her-face, and we’re going to have a good time hollering about how crazy that girl is.
Oh Lawd! I’ve got to rush home and call up what’s-her-face and pray for that crazy girl.
Did I drink too much last night, or did crazy just walk in the door?
Come to think of it – her parents are kinda’ crazy.
Her poor parents – how’d she turn out so dawn crazy?!
Here’s the reality. I’d be crazy to ball up all my convictions, like a wad of trash, and throw them away with the coffee grinds and melon rinds. I’d be crazy to believe something to the core of my collard green heart, and then tell people something different. I’d be delusional and even worse…I’d be a stinkin’ liar.
I never sat down with my daddy to endure a deep, subdued conversation, wherein I eloquently expressed all my yearning and belief. I never needed to convince him to love me for who I am. That’s for other fathers. My daddy’s heart is too wise. He might have hollered, but at the end of the day he expects me to “get real,” and he never leaves me guessing. He tells me how proud he is of me- in case he thinks I might have forgotten. If you think otherwise, he’ll tell you too!
He’s not just better than your daddy today – he’s always been that way. Growing up I didn’t know anyone more fun than my father. He used to hitch up a wide wagon to a tractor, fill it with hay and candy, and take all of our friends through the orange groves. When I grew up, he painted his favorite tractor orange and blue for his favorite college football team – the Gators. The first time I ever went on a hay ride outside of the orange grove it was at an official fall festival up north. I nearly fell asleep. I didn’t know hay rides could be boring, and even worse – slow. That would have been a sacrilegious ride in my daddy’s book. I had chest pains that afternoon from missing him so much. My father would have ripped and roared all around the grove and over its protruding tree roots. He would have made up scary ghost stories and told jokes while the stray branches lashed us in the face. The ride would not have ended until everyone was wetting their pants, crying and laughing, and begging for him to keep riding.
He made our home a carnival. Sometimes on Sundays he would cook up bushels of blue crab; he let me help him clean out the guts which I was always honored to do, and secretly devastated when he forgot to ask. We would sit around the kitchen table with hammers and pliers, and mine for crab meat all day long, while my daddy fussed that we were wasting the best parts. He’d act out funny demonstrations on how to extract the crab’s flesh, with sound effects; then, he’d dip it in hot butter and tell us to “eat up.” People from our town liked to stop by and talk to my daddy. He would pull up a chair, or two, or three or four, and make sure they had plenty to eat, drink, and talk about.
My father can make blue crab taste like it ought to be illegal, but did you know- he also made big, fat gooey cinnamon rolls?
He never had a son until I turned thirteen, so he gave me the honorarium. He let me tag along on trips to the hardware store with him where he’d brag about what a good student I was to everyone standing still. Someone always ended up telling me what I already knew, but I loved to hear -that my daddy was one of a kind…”a real good man.” I’d ride around with him all day and he made sure the car was supplied with all the things my mom would never let me put past my lips -sticky candies and ice-cold Coca-Cola.
Under strict supervision, he taught me how to shoot a rifle which I never knew would feel like a mad mule kicking me in the shoulder. He forgot to warn me. His targets were cans of Mountain Dew. I shot the heck out of them, but when quail hunting season came around, he bought me a very fancy sling shot and warned me not to touch a rifle, for fear that I might get hurt. When I asked him how come he was always on the grill cooking for the guys and never out in the deep woods with his rifle hunting, he confessed that he didn’t like the feeling he got from shooting a bird. I felt so relieved and in awe. I wanted to jump up, hug him around his neck and never let go. I wish I had of done that.
My father, like most collard green daddies, considers that owning a rifle goes along with being a grown man; but you know, when my mom wanted my sister and I to have braces for our teeth, he didn’t have anything to sell to pay for it…so he sold his gun. I went to school with sparkling new braces to match the other gangly, rich kids, and ever since I have never been shy to smile wide.
We didn’t need an expensive jungle gym in our backyard because my daddy always found the perfect tree to rope a tire swing, and I don’t remember him ever telling us he was too tired to whirl us around the world “just more time!” Once, he swung up a tire swing high over the creek and I managed to get myself stuck dangling over the middle. I was too scared to get down, so I waited for my daddy to come rescue me, which he did.
When I was close to the age of sixteen, he somehow got hold of an old truck that didn’t have a roof or any window- just the steel frame. He taught me how to drive in the orange grove, with him in the passenger seat. Once I got nervous and couldn’t focus my mind well enough to hit the brake pedal. I put us right through a large branch, but he was quick enough to find the brake with his own foot. We were stuck there in the tree, both rising our breaths like crazed bulls out of shock. I turned to look at him but I couldn’t see his face because the tree branch was smack-dab between us. I could only hear his fiery voice hollering: “What the hell were you thinking?!” to which I replied, “I dunno.” He didn’t give up on me, though. Then, after I turned sixteen he bought me a car with money my parents barely had to spend.
My father was the most fun daddy I knew, but he wasn’t always just for laughs. He knew what to say and how to say it when the ground was sinking. When my favorite dog Maggie died, he met me at the bus stop after school, unannounced, and said, “Get in the truck…let’s go for a ride,” and of course I did. He took me out to the middle of the orange grove where no one could hear me weep, and told me that Maggie was buried. I cried so hard; my body was shaking, but he held me up and told me to get it all out; that it was safe to cry. When I dried my tears we went back down to the house and never spoke about it again.
I cried but he never did. Once, after we got in the car from attending the funeral of his childhood friend, I looked in his rear view mirror to see his reflection in the glass. He had on a pair of black Ray-Bans and I caught the sight of a single tear trickle down his right cheek. I didn’t say anything, but I watched it make its way to the tip of his chin, and then disappear. I thought I had just witnessed a lunar eclipse.
If you could stay put to listen, I could tell you a lot of stories about my collard green daddy, but I imagine you have to get to your next rodeo. One thing I feel obliged to say before you go is that I haven’t always realized how much better my daddy really is than your daddy. Hard to believe, I know, but I’m hard-headed. I feel very bad about that, but since I have hard-headed kids, they may do the same, and you know what they say about pay backs.
If you think your daddy is better than mine (which I highly doubt), don’t be hard-headed. If you are able to, you ought to call him right this instant, and say it out loud, even if he makes light of it and cracks a joke- which is what my collard green daddy will surely do.