A woman on TV suggested it, making a list of all that's going right in your life. On nights you can't sleep, she said, concentrate on the positives, on what you've accomplished.

The woman sounded so proud of herself for thinking this up, so excited about telling it to all the folks watching her program. But Sophie can remember her mother saying pretty much the same thing, not about getting to sleep, just about life in general. Sophia Lucille, she'd scold, you better count your blessings.

On this hot sticky August night in 1970, Sophie decides to give it a try. She concentrates on the positives. She counts her blessings.


Number one on the list: The hospital where she works is air-conditioned.

She has friends there.

She just got a promotion. She's a supervisor now, with a tiny little office where she makes up the schedules for the housekeeping staff. She still has to clean bathrooms and mop floors with the rest of them, but she's paid a little more for it. She'll earn even more if she passes the GED.

She gets a free physical every year. For a forty-eight-year-old black woman, she's holding up pretty well. Sometimes her heart races for no reason, but that hospital doctor never notices and she sure doesn't tell him.

She has two healthy children, Jeremiah and Hanna, and a healthy grandson, Peter Jeremy. PJ is almost two and walking now.

She and Del have stayed married. She's not sure why and tries not to think about all that anymore.

Del's healthy enough, even though he smokes too much and drinks too much and probably does drugs when he's on the road.

The whole family, including PJ, are living under the same roof. The roof, in north Philly, needs replacing, but that's the landlord's problem.

The only other time they were all together was back in 1958, in Knoxville, Tennessee. Del had been released from jail, and they were waiting for Jeremiah to finish high school. Good thing Jeremiah joined the Army then, because at first there wasn't room for him in Philadelphia.

The schools in Knoxville are integrated now.

In Knoxville, she was colored. In Philly, she's black. Or African American.

Del wasn't convicted of murder. He had a good lawyer in Knoxville, a white man. Charles Madison.

The first thirteen years she worked for them, she and Hanna shared a room in the Madisons' basement. Away from Del.

Away from Jeremiah.

Del did a good job of raising his son. He was a good father to Jeremiah.

Finally, after all those years apart, she and Jeremiah are getting to know each other.

Finally, Del is treating Hanna like she's his daughter.

Jeremiah is thirty years old and engaged to be married. He proposed to his girlfriend at her favorite restaurant, a place called Chubby's over in New Jersey, on Black Horse Pike or White Horse Pike, Sophie can't ever remember which.

Jeremiah's putting himself through Temple University and wants to teach high school math and coach football. The way things are going, he'll be the first one in the family to graduate from college. Hanna, who went right from high school to Howard University, was supposed to have been the one.

As the person in charge of the schedule, Sophie can give herself day shifts only. This summer, Jeremiah's waiting tables at night, so he can take care of little PJ during the day.

Del and Hanna and a white guitarist friend of Del's named Solomon are making good money in Canada. The O'Shades, they call themselves, from the first two letters of their names: SO, HA, DE. They are three shades—black (Del), white (Solomon), and somewhere-in-between (Hanna)—singing for all the draft dodgers up there who are homesick for some down-home American music.

If Del still worries about who Hanna's father is, he pretends not to.

Pierre, PJ's father, is still in Haiti, where he belongs.

Sophie loves being a grandmother. This should've been at the top of the list. PJ is a lot more important than air conditioning.

She loves PJ. He loves her back. He has bright eyes and a sweet little smile that says, This is our secret—don't tell anyone.

Hanna seems to be over Pierre. Not to the point where she can say to her mama, You were right, but that's okay. A mother tries to protect her children. Hanna knows that now.

Randy Barker is dead, has been since 1956, killed with a tire iron in his horse barn outside Knoxville.

Except for her light skin, Hanna doesn't look at all like him.

A woman who has been raped never forgets. What she does is put one foot in front of the other and try to get to the other side of it. What she does is have the baby that may or may not be her husband's and love and protect that little girl the best way she knows how.

Hanna can sing like an angel. She's the star of the O'Shades. Everybody says so.

Del has a good voice, too, but his real talent is playing the piano. Hanna's better at guitar.

This fall, Hanna's going back to Howard University to finish her degree. She couldn't get her scholarship back, the one she gave up when Pierre dragged her off to Haiti, but she'll have something called financial aid.

Hanna and Jeremiah are both majoring in math. Two kids good at math when about all their parents can do is add and subtract.

All those years working for the Madisons in Knoxville were so lonely. No one to talk to. But here in Philadelphia, Sophie has plenty of friends. Still, she's never told anyone, except for Del and that police officer. And then the Knoxville News Sentinel let the whole town know.

Stop right now. Positives only.

Gail Madison and Hanna are still friends. Gail lives in Baltimore and came up to Philly when PJ was born.

Gail's pregnant, due next February.

Bessie Madison will soon be a grandmother.

Does Miss Bessie belong on this list? A lot of adding and subtracting needed to figure that one out.


Sophie closes her eyes. What will the world be like when PJ is trying to earn a living? Will he still have that sweet, sweet smile?


Title image "Itemized" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2016.