Reverend Howard Thomas, the presiding church elder in the district, visits Stamps every three months. He stays with Momma on Saturday and delivers a sermon in church on Sunday. Maya and Bailey hate him because he always eats the best parts of Sunday dinner.
Momma does not believe it is safe for black people to speak to whites and certainly not with insolence. She does not speak too harshly of whites even in their absence unless she generically refers to whites as “they.” Maya says that Momma would have called herself a realist rather than a coward. Once, a black man accused of assaulting a white woman took refuge in Momma’s Store. He eventually left, only to be apprehended later. In court, he testified that he had stayed with Mrs. Henderson. The judge subpoenaed Mrs. Henderson only to realize to his surprise that the accused had referred to a black woman as “Mrs.” This unusual title, usually reserved for whites, indicates Momma’s high status in her community.
A light shade had been pulled down between the Black community and all things white, but one could see through it enough to develop a fear-admiration-contempt . . .See Important Quotations Explained
One Christmas, Maya and Bailey’s parents send them gifts. The children go outside and cry, wondering what they did wrong to be sent away in the first place. Having convinced themselves that their mother was dead, they find it hard to imagine that she could “laugh and eat oranges in the sunshine without her children.” Momma admonishes them for being ungrateful. Later, Maya and Bailey destroy the blond, blue-eyed China doll their mother sent.
Big Bailey, the children’s father, comes to visit Stamps a year later unexpectedly. He owns a car, and he speaks like a white man. His height and his handsome features astound Maya. He stays in Stamps for three weeks before surprising the children with the news that he will drive them to St. Louis to see their mother. Momma seems sad, but she simply tells the children to behave well. Maya cannot believe that Big Bailey is her father and she regards him as a complete stranger. Her brother, Bailey, jokes and laughs easily with Big Bailey.
When the children see their mother for the first time, Vivian’s beauty strikes Maya dumb, and Bailey falls in love with her. Maya surmises that the intensity of Bailey’s feelings stems from the fact that he and his mother resemble each other in physical beauty and personality. When Big Bailey leaves for California a few days later, Maya feels indifferent because she considers him a stranger who has now left her with another stranger.
Having landed in St. Louis during the heyday of Prohibition, Bailey and Maya meet all kinds of underground organized crime figures. Vivian’s mother, Grandmother Baxter, entertains these men, and she has influence with the police. Vivian’s brothers have city jobs, positions rarely held by black men, and they have a reputation for meanness, beating up on both whites and blacks. Maya stands in awe of her uncles, whom she describes as mean, though never cruel. They treat the children well and share stories about them as toddlers, even telling Maya how she got her nickname. When Bailey was less than three years old he learned that Maya, whose birth name is Marguerite, was his sister, and he began calling her “Mya sister” and then simply “My,” which later morphed into “Maya.” Uncle Tommy even tells Maya that she should not worry about not being pretty, because she is smart. Bailey and Maya live with their maternal grandparents for six months before moving in with Vivian and her older, fat boyfriend, Mr. Freeman, who feels insecure about his relationship with Vivian. The shift in location does not affect Maya, who never feels like she belongs anywhere. She feels that she and Bailey have been fated to live differently from other children.