This week’s story is Everyday Use by Alice Walker. I am reading stories by Black writers this month, at first because it’s Black History Month and secondly (and most importantly) these are stories that were not included in the anthologies of my high school and college days. And reading them, they should be. I am surrounded here in Texas with people complaining about change, about including different authors in anthologies and the like, because they thing they had a great education, so their kids should have the same. And therefore, students are missing out. This is how we get over divides, we read each others’ stories and listen and find some common ground. For example the James Baldwind story last week, Sonny Boy, reminded me of my two Italian blue color uncles growing up. One was trying to be everything society told him he should be, and the other suffered greatly in the Vietnam war, coming back with substance abuse issues and mental illness. I am trying to connect to these writers more as humans and less trying to find out why the stories work. The stories work precisely because of that: instead of pulling me to dissect them, they are pulling me to connect.
Judging from the time period (1973) it feels like the adult daughter of the story is about the same age as my mother would have been in 1973. Or close. Everyday Use is about the stuff we have that fills our lives and how families treat stuff. It centers on two quilts, made by the matriarchs of the family. The older, fashionable daughter, wants to have the quilts, not to use, but to display as art. The younger daughter, to whom the quilts were promised, would, in the older sister’s eye, just put them to everyday use.
I see this in a generational way. Right now, millennial and younger groups are into minimalism (of which I heartily approve) which is love and use everything you own. My mother’s generation, the baby boomers, were the Save it for Company/Special Occasions use people I see the older sister here, the saving it, the scarcity. Whereas, when asked what the younger sister would do when the quilts wore out, which they would if used, the mother says, the sister would just make a new one. This sets the older sister off. She believes the quilts to be priceless artifacts, mother and younger sister consider them quilts to be used when it’s cold outside.
So I was raised with the Save the Good stuff and don’t use it mindset, and naturally married someone who thought it was dumb to own stuff that wasn’t used. And the hardest part was not saying okay, let’s use the stuff, but to tell my mother, when she visited, why we were putting nice things to “everyday use.”
So while reversed, this story needs to be in anthologies in high schools and colleges. Because it’s a story about mothers and daughters, about first borns and younger siblings and how generations look at each other. A story about humanity, as well as a Black family.