My grandmother was old-school. And when I say old school, I mean it in the colonial pre-abolitionist sort of way.
She was under the unyielding belief that white people were not only superior, more beautiful and smarter humans (particularly those with blonde hair and blue eyes) but they were also never to consort, under any circumstance with people of darker shades (unless they happened to be Italian–the only group of acceptable dark people) and had a skin color that wasn’t any darker than Café au Lait–heavy on the lait and light on the café). These defective bipeds could not be seen entering our home (unless it was through the back door and they were dressed in uniform) where we welcomed only white, beautiful and preferably rich people. Any combination of two or more of these attributes was most esteemed.
Unfortunately these pestiferous people composed the majority of our country’s population making them hard to avoid, constantly popping up at our places of leisure and infiltrating themselves in our schools. My grandmother was increasingly threatened by these people’s growing audacity, so in order to keep her kids away from them, she had not allowed them to have any friends at all growing up, thus avoiding the possibility of one of these darker agents seeping through the cracks.
My mother, who was not only sheltered and naive but also desperate for a friend, threw out all common sense and decency and became friends with one of these people, consequently unleashing my grandmother’s ire and determination to eliminate such unseemly friendship.
Out of all the strategies available to her, my grandmother went for the smart approach: a folkloric form of local witchcraft which entailed the use of a broom and some magical incantations. The bewitchment consisted of placing an upside-down broom behind the door of whichever room the undesirable happened to be seated in. According to unwritten local accounts, the energy the broom emitted would make the abominable creature leave never to be seen again. This would take a few tries, as only the most committed of apprentices could make it happen on the first visit, while my grandmother relied mostly on her natural God-given wizardry.
It became standard procedure that whenever my mom’s friend was over, the upside-down broom would be placed behind the appropriate door. I accompanied my grandmother while she carefully positioned the broom and then I would run to the other side, to the room where my mom was seated with the troublemaker and impatiently lied in wait to see the magic happen. I watched this ritual with a delightful sense of mischief and wonder as I eagerly awaited to see if the broom trick worked.
On one of these occasions my mom’s friend unexpectedly opened the door while my grandmother was busy hiding her underwear (she was convinced these people were after it, and would steal it at the first chance they’d get to sell as padding for post-op breast cancer patients) and saw the broom fall to the ground. I don’t know whether my mom’s friend was aware of its intent and was offended by it or if it was the broom’s powers that made her leave. Either way, we were all in awe of the broom’s magical aura over the entity and became convinced of my grandmother’s witchery. We lived in fear of the possibility of her using her considerable powers on us. So we never again dared bring over to our home anyone who wasn’t as beautiful or as smart or as blonde as we were, but as it happened, none of us were particularly brilliant, beautiful, rich or blonde. Just white (ish). Oddly enough, her underwear stopped disappearing.