Gumbo Pots, Tomatoes and Dreams

My grandmother was the best. She is so much better than yours. Why? ‘Cause she mine. She raised 10 children on a less than high school education, and possessed the kind of rock in her blood that let me know that my nana, MY GRANDMA, was nonfuckwitable. She  taught me how to garden, love plants, and the power of silence and presence. She died almost 4 months after I married my second husband, taking every secret and joy with her into glory.

Her house stands empty now, grass uncut, sewing machines and dishes as ornament to the mausoleum that has become her house. The last time I went into it, her bed was still made. There were things in her living room, and dining room, and basement. The house had a smell that dictated it hadn’t been cleaned. The house was full of–her.  I wanted to weep and scream, but I was way too busy to feel anything. I was looking for bedrails for the beds I was getting, I couldn’t be consumed or taken in by the lack of my anchor, my grandmother.

One of the things my family would do, especially before she got sick again, was cook. She made the most excellent homemade barbecue sauce (Like me, it was sweet and hot!). She could make cakes from scratch, and my ambrosia was her greens and hot water cornbread. It was so good I would eat it cold. I would be barefoot in her house, and eat and soak up all that it was to do that day, every sight, every sound, every everything. This made losing her, that much harder.

All I have of my grandmother, and the intertwined 32 years together, is a red wallet, a handful of pots, some linen and 2 beds. The one thing I wanted, was her cast iron pots.  These pots of magick that she would conjure candied yams, gumbo, rice and chicken and any other dish her imagination and groceries would offer up. From pots and spoons, she soothed, she softened and she loved–every last one of us. From that love, I could do anything.

In the summer, as her garden gave us its wealth, my favorite were the tomatoes. She would snap them off the vines and stems, sometimes have us wash them, and gave them to us to eat with salt. It was the best thing for summer heat. Sometimes, I would watch her as she gardened. Her big straw hat, and old clothes, and so deft and agile between rows of flowers or vegetables. Indeed, my grandmother had black girl magic. I think she would have called it, ‘just doin ‘bess I can.’

From that love, and the space she gave to us, I was able to dream. I was able to start writing silly stories and reading them to my aunt. I was able to enjoy girl hood, and know that in her house, this same house, it was my castle. It was my fortress, it was my kingdom with a magic drawbridge that shut out all of the outside world. Her passing made me vulnerable, and tenacious. It made me seasoned, steady, as everything else seemed to be swirling round about me.

I understand that death has a long grasp, and cool, cruel grip, but it was merciful to me. It took my grandmother, after seeing almost all her children and her great-grandchildren before leaving the world. She left us the reminders of all she tried to do, had done all she had yet to do, and all she tried to give all of us:  herself. I supposed all those well-lived warriors leave evidence of their travels through this life. It is up to us to sometimes sift through what remains in order to see what else can be saved, and passed on. You see, even memories fade.

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Craving The Black Girl Space

I’m going into my 36th year of this Black Girl/Black Woman space and life, and I could not BE more thrilled. I appreciate everything that I am, will become and learning to love the woman I am becoming. The woman that my mother saw that I would be when I was running amok between 14-22.  With that, I have thought of my childhood, and things that made it special. In those recent moments of reflection, I find one theme apparent–black women made space.

From getting my hair washed for the first time in my grandmother’s kitchen sink, to my my aunt teaching me how to do it myself, to my first time getting my hair pressed, even my first library card facilitated by my mother, black women made space for me. They made space, sometimes at the risk of their own peace and bodies, for me. The memories of teaching me to jump rope, how to cook, even how to shop, flood my mind as I begin the legacy of space-making for my own daughters.  The space-making that tells them over and over again, “you matter” and “you matter to me.”

I value that space. I create such space in the midst of abject and object daily crazy. I FaceTime my best friends, I cackle loudly with the black girls at work, and go out of my way to make sure these same women are okay. I become space. I miss that space when I don’t have access to it–I rage against the tiredness that would tell me that I don’t need it, that the diversity of friends I have is sufficient. My heart knows that it isn’t, won’t ever be, true.

Of course it is fabulous to have friends of mine that are along the social spectrum:  different nationalities, religions, jobs or even economic backgrounds. I enjoy that I am invited into their spaces, their lives and even into the lives of their children–a psuedo aunt  in some cases. I could not be more thrilled. I welcome the wise to teach,  just Jill Scott says;  I don’t shy away from new experiences, thoughts or teachings–no matter the teacher. I teach my children the same thing. However, as I age, as I go through this life, I am excited about the black women that I know, that I love to know more about and the space we create:   the access we as black girls, ultimately black women, we grant and make for  one another.

I love the slang we use, the laughter that kicks up, and the colloquialisms we use:  from hot combs, to edge control, to the black girl dance we do to get into the jeans we love, and how when we were little we were told not to “sweat our hair out.” The laughs that are released are healing , they are affirming, they let me know that I am not alone.

In the black girl space I am pretty, I am known, I am lovely and oh-so smart. I am a survivor, I am a warrior and a secret sister-keeper. I get to see our corporate mortal-goddess nature splayed and bandaged. I get to be a part of the social ancestry that I saw in my grandmother’s kitchen while she picked greens, my mother’s living room when her sisters visited or did road trips and on back porches that grown folk put those same nosy girls on to talk open or participate in ‘grown folk conversations.’ I am now an access point, a healing vessel and a beginning of the keeper the these traditions of not just occupying space but showing my daughters how necessary that it is.  I get to show them how necessary the building up of the women that look like you is. I get to show them the support of the women that look like you is indeed invaluable. I get to show them how you can make family and have it mean more than blood kin or how it can replace it.  I get to show them how to own all that makes them black and woman and how wondrous that is.

In these spaces, created because of necessity, duty and in out right spite of the world around us, we get to be US. We get to be free.  We get to take off the armor for a moment, and breath deep. We get to pour out the day or absorb it. Nappy edges, ashy knees, and heads wrapped up, we get to be free. I love that. I get to show them that making space in this world is indeed an anchor and they are not above needing that reassurance from women who walk a similar path. That space hewn for them, made for us, shown to them, allows them to remember how valuable they are. From that valuing, they can know they can become anything, conquer anything.

 

I look forward to those times where I can breathe and be. I look forward to the coffee talks, the late dinners, and the impromptu laugh fest at best friends houses. I look forward to time where I can add my love, my light and my strength to the roux that makes this space exceptional. Every woman needs the space where she can be both girl and Wonder Woman. We are no exception.

#BlackWomaning

There seems to be a thread in my family regarding service and caretaking. My grandmother wanted to be a nurse, but spent her working career as a nurses’ aide. Sprinklings of cousins are nurses. My godmother is. My mother, whom is one of the strongest women I know, was a nurse for forty years. I, myself, have chosen that path of service in the form of nursing and social work. In the almost year I have worked at a local hospital, I have encountered prejudices, sorrow, faith and the elemental need for the appreciation of the human condition. This week, I saw evidence of something else:  resilience.

This week, there is a older woman on my floor 2 years younger than my grandmother would be if she were living. I have watched her fight to survive for the last 2-3 days. From moving to breathing to medicine. Tonight, while she was breathing heavy, labored and restless, I helped her to the bathroom. After that, I helped her back in bed, bore her up as she stood to clean her up. As I helped her back in bed, she sat on the side of it–winded. When she let me help her into bed again, oxygen in her nose, heart leads on her chest, and fluids running, she as able to lie down. As she looked to get comfortable, and finally was, I almost wept and hugged her.

Why?

Here’s why.

This nation, in all its sovereignty,   has never allowed us the luxury of black women to rest. Demure is not the nature of soldiers in times of battle. We have never have the luxury to not have  and develop the stamina to survive, fight and be resourceful. Our peace is because of war:  the world outside, inner turmoil, protection and girding of family. There’s a reason why there is this toughness to black women, this inner-tapped strength. We were hewn from rock so our anchors hold. We are shown to hone and use every slight, every broken place and piece for our good, and betterment. We have used these slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and  used, armed, weaponized them to turn what was meant to kill into salvation. We know what it’s like to not have and need and make up as you go along. It is the fire that made us, because it dared consume us.

These invisible lessons gleaned and seen teach us that life is not fair but if you fight, there is justice. And in order for there to be justice, there must be one willing to see it and fight for it. If not for them, but those that will come after. The path must be laid for them, through their own pressing it is made straight. Beaten and worn because they were shown where to go, and how to get there by one wise enough, strong enough to endure…when it would be easier to give up.

Fortune, indeed, favors the brave.

Black women, too, are brave.

The New Slut Shaming

Primogenature-

noun. 1. the state or fact of being the firstborn of children of the same parents. 2. Law. the system of inheritance or succession by the firstborn, specifically the eldest son.

One of my favorite Shakespearean plays is Hamlet. I enjoy the imagery, the drama, and the conflict he has. I always have. As I pushed towards the meat of my English major and its culmination of the degree, I was graced to have University of Missouri-St. Louis Professor Kurt Schreyer  in a ENG 4670 class-Shakespeare:  Tragedies and Comedies. Incredible class, and revelation in that class, I loved it. He started it full speed with Othello, and we eased into Hamlet.
And to that…I learned the dirty secrets of Shakespeare’s prophetic nature.
The premise of the story is this:
Hamlet is the Prince of Denmark whose father is murdered by his brother after a fight with a foreign King. His brother married, usurped his throne, wealth and kingdom–and his wife. The Prince of Denmark, in the pursuit of revenge hoisted onto him by his father, plays ‘mad’ in order to pursue the inevitable murder of his Uncle, Step-Father, and King.
However, there is another element to this:  Hamlet’s mother, Queen Gertrude.
Now, understand, Shakespeare wrote this in Elizabethan time and language. Elizabeth I ruled the English Kingdom, with no King. But despite that, this play is relevant for this purpose:  she married a man, after having a child, determined to live her life in the face of other people. Hamlet told her not to have another child with Claudius–because that child would then move in front of him in the line of succession to the throne of Denmark.
What am I saying?
Whenever women decide to move on with their lives in the face of the thoughts and actions of others, there will be and are those that will be arrows towards your past-especially if it involves children and a man. There will be those (most recently in the case of Ciara and Russell Wilson) that will say her moving on with another man is “wrong” and “what about her son with Future?” and my favorite:   “She shouldn’t have no other man around her son!” The identity of mother is not the encompassing title and responsibility of woman. In short order:  That’s just one component of whom we are as people, especially women.
Because a woman moves on with her life, after a bad relationship, failed marriage, or even widowhood, does not mean her desire for companionship, love or even sex diminishes. She should not be treated as less than because she has desired something greater for her life–namely more from it.
I get so tired of people whom have allowed themselves to die in the area of sex and relationships to dictate what other people should do in theirs. Immediately, even in my own life after my divorce, there were women in my life that told me that I should be single until my children were grown, so they could be protected from any molesters or other nefarious childhood craziness. They told me that to deny myself was the only way to truly be engaged with them, and that denial of self would be the best thing for them.
Now, I agree that there is a definite wisdom to what was told to me and other women in similar situations. However, life isn’t so clean that way. Sometimes, the soul mates comes in a football jersey, on a mail truck, or even at the aisle of a grocery store. My chance to be in love again, treated well, shouldn’t be discounted  because ‘people gon have somethin to say.’ Of course, you should be mindful of whom your children are around, and be knowledgeable of their needs, fears and wants. Neither should you make habit to allowing your children to think it’s okay to jump from relationship to relationship with people because you don’t want your own company. Your children shouldn’t think that its normal to have people walk away from them because things are hard. They are owed stability and the normalcy of that stability.
And so are the women that invite men into their hearts. We are owed the chance to start over, to heal, to remember what it was like to be special and cared for. Just because you’re dating and have children does not mean you are only seeking escapades and rendezvous to make up for lost time. And even if a woman or mother decides to do that, the onus of that decision falls on her–and it would behoove her to be selective in whom she allows herself to be in sexual contact with, because she is worthy of respect.
Shame me if because I had a baby.
Shame me because I had a baby by a man I wasn’t married to.
Shame me because I had the nerve to take my body back and be with someone else.
Shame me because…now I’m  happy.
The wonderful thing is, there is no room in the space for your happiness for other folk to have weight and stake in it. They’ll call you all matter of sluts anyway, because there is no pleasing people, and you will never find your peace in the hands of other people. Live your life, regardless of who is watching.  Plus, if they watch, give them something to see. I guarantee they’ll be looking.

In The Beginning

“Better is the end of a thing than the beginning…”  -Book Of Proverbs

It is always ugly to start something. It is uncomfortable and dirty and complicated. It’s hard to begin something that only you and see or understand. It’s hard to be ‘the one to go first.’ It is the fear of the start that hinders us. The fear that we won’t be able indeed complete what we want to, what we have set out to do. 

The beginning is supposed to be rough and rough looking. New things, world changing things, often take on the wobbly nature of learning to ride a bike:  eager, off-balance, mistake laden. However, it requires one thing–mentoring. Having some one to show you how to ride these ebbing and flowing waves of the commencement of something new is monumental. Being able to share fears and triumphs with one that has been to a similar summit, or near it, allows the journey onwards and towards what is set before you less scary. It makes the journey less leery and the one on that road less skiddish.

Mentors are invaluable in the launching into the new things and for deepening waters. As they wipe tears, dust off knees, they compel us to listen, despite then pain and pushing of discomfort. They implore us to remember the path, what is at stake, and to keep going. In the pursuit of the making the beginning a reality in the end, we must not lose heart. Mentorship in it’s power equips you to go forward, it’s your rocket fuel to scale mountains of doubt or to burrow under walls of fear that have been erected to push you away from what you have determined you want.

Never lose your ability to dream, or be afraid to call off your bike. If you do, I promise you will find someone, or someone will find you, to help you up again. Brilliance can only go as far as help and opportunity will take it.

Of In Love

Love is risk. You have to invest wisely and have tenacity enough that if it goes left, it’s not irrepairable.

Love is a curious weapon as well as it can kill in it’s absence, its presence heals. It shouldn’t be played with, mocked bc if it’s power. With that power, fueled by the people that hold it for each other, we decide to invest that vulnerable self in someone else—in turn gives that vulnerable self to us.

That it remain an instrument of healing, asylum and joy. The thing we fear most is that investment with no return or surplus.  Again, it is, indeed better to hold it for him, them or she, that is chosen that to pour all that is quiet yet alive in you, a portion of the divine, than form someone to misuse it.

For to regain that portion of you that is able to perform such romantic heroism takes time to repair after such a blow…in order to search and do it again for one worthy.

Revolutionary Is Self-Care

“Women are powerful and dangerous.”  -Audre Lourde

The most crucial thing I have been able to notice and admit, is my own mortality and need for self. The need to do things that make–no demand–my soul to stretch. Even the bravest warriors sleep and smile.

In the age of everything instant, I have learned to make myself priority, and my voice strength and not an echo. But in order to do that, I have to acknowledge my mortality and my need for rest. I acknowledge my need for light, compassion and companionship. I acknowledge my need of…me.

I realize that I can’t give anything to anyone if I am depleted (not just empty)! I have determined that acknowledging my mortality keeps me in touch with my humanity. 

I do things that make my soul smile, things that make me think, things and people that pour back into me. I have made me a resource, a priority and a love.

In the circles I travel, I am and have become a bastion, an anchor and a help to others–often at the cost of self. Too often at the cost of time:  the most irrecoupable thing I have. 

In redeeming time, I learn to breathe. I learn I can’t always fight. I can’t always be on red alert. There cannot be, will not be time to slay every dragon if only because I am but one person.

In this realization, in this self honoring truth, I tell myself this:

The light you fight for everyone else to see, you must, too, look up to see it. You are entitled to its warmth and heat and healing. Breathe, and look up.

And so should you.