When I Think of Home. . .

When I think of home, I think of a place

where there’s love overflowing~”Home,”~performed by Stephanie Mills

What do you think of when you think of “home”? Not the place where you currently live. I mean the place where you grew up. For me, the best way to explain it is: It’s complicated.

I have some lovely memories of home. Most often they involve my grandparents who watched over me–making sure that I always had everything that I needed, even when times were lean; making sure that I attended church; and making sure that I was a “good girl” and “got my lesson” (finished my schoolwork).

But all of my memories are not warm and fuzzy. For many years, I lived with my mother and a stepfather who was an abusive alcoholic. This, of course, was not conducive to a normal mother-daughter relationship. He was volatile; we never knew what would set him off. His appearance always made my stomach churn, and I avoided him like the plague. Unfortunately, there were also others in my extended family whose lives were often out of control because they abused alcohol. In spite of–or maybe because of–the love and support for my grandparents, I knew that I had to leave home to create a different life for myself. I could not be what I wanted to be–even though I didn’t quite know what that would be–if I stayed home. I infamously told my mother when I was a junior in high school that I could not wait until I finished high school, so I could go to college and never come back.

I was unable to keep that promise/threat, nor did I really want to. But I returned for only one summer while I was in college. I was usually working–trying to get my hustle on. Afterwards, I visited once or twice a year. Following the death of my grandparents, it became easier just to pay for my mother to visit me. So, now it has been four years since I was “home.”

It has been many years since I boarded a Greyhound bus, with my money hidden in a handkerchief (can’t tell you where) and a box a chicken to eat on the 18-hour ride to the University. And now I have a job opportunity that is taking me back home, not to the same city but the same state. Ironic, isn’t it? I’m going back to the place I’ve been running from all these years. Will be difficult? Can I make peace with the ghosts of the past and the realities of the present?

I don’t know, but I wonder where this road will lead.

 

 

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Wacky Wednesday: What Do You Like Most about Winter?

Da Realist 1

Christmas wreath on my front door

Christmas wreath on my front door

What do I like most about winter? Oh, that’s easy-peasy. Christmas decorations–the tree (I prefer real), lights, ornaments, wreaths, poinsettias, personalized stockings, tablecloths, napkins, salt-and-pepper shakers, kitchen towels. I have it all! (No Christmas sweaters, though. I decorate my house, not myself.)

Like so many things that I treasure, decorating for Christmas makes me think of my family. I was the official tree-trimmer for my great-grandmother. She had a small artificial tree in her living room closet, and she always let me decorate it, probably because she didn’t want to be bothered with it. But it made me feel important that she saved that job for me. At my house, my mother and I always trimmed the tree together. We had special ornaments, some of them I made at school in the 5th grade.

Many people have commented on the joy I seem to get out of decorating for Christmas. Last week my husband noticed that I was quite jolly when I got out the box with all of our Christmas goodies. “You loooove Christmas,” he observed. I had a friend in college who referred to me as “The Christmas Elf”–a not so veiled reference to my height, I’m sure–because of all the Christmas-themed paraphernalia I had in my apartment.

Da Hype 1

apple ciderWhat I like most about Winter is everything warm. It’s the contrast of coming in from the cold outside, to getting into my warm bed that I love. A hearty thanks to Da Realist 1 for the electric blanket she bought for me. Anyway, I love the idea of drinking hot caramel apple cider, Earl Grey lattes, and other hot drinks. I long for the moments in which I sneak a half hour or more and sip my favorite drink, turn on the fire place, and read my favorite book in my favorite chair. That is my Great Winter Escape!

Like Da Realist 1, I also like the Christmas season. What I really enjoy about Christmas is listening to Christmas songs.  I won’t tell you my favorite Christmas song; come back to next week’s Wacky Wednesday for that!!

These are my Confessions: Making Friends with your Kid’s Friend’s Parents

birthday partyOne downfall of parenting is the many conversations I have with people I otherwise would never even talk to. Countless times, I have found myself at a birthday party of some kid in Nina’s class, where I was forced to have some of the most mundane, most pedestrian conversations with people I am not remotely interested in getting to know. But, I endure these painstaking chats, in hopes of not making my child a social pariah.

The more I think about it, though, mundane conversations are probably the safest way to go because any conversation on religion and/or politics is certain to create a situation where my child is alienated on the playground.  In the end, though, I always chastise myself for forgetting to take a shot of Jack and for forgetting to sing Public Enemy loudly in my home in preparation for what is certain to take place. (Don’t judge me, I know that I am not alone.)

One time in particular, I remember a woman going on incessantly about how much she misses her husband when he is out of town, because it forces her traipse their children around town all alone to do the necessary shopping. “People must think I’m some poor single woman!” she blurts out before a chuckle. Everyone else lightly chuckles and nods as if they agreed that being a “poor single woman” would be an unfortunate label for the story teller. Meanwhile, the real single mother in the crowd backs away, feeling alienated and wondering what exactly did she mean by “poor.”

Very recently, I took Nina to another birthday party and was hemmed up in another unfortunate conversation. The basketball court in our neighborhood was caught on fire and it melted (don’t ask me what it was made of, I was just as shocked as you). This became the topic of conversation among a few parents. One of the parents said, “Well, you know, there has been a lot of issues on that court. Since they opened, there has been nothing, but . . .” She looked at me and continued, “let’s just say, thugs.”

Did I mention that I am almost always the only black parent at these parties? So, it was clear that she minced her words in my presence. There was talk in the neighborhood of all of the black boys that play on the court since it opened this summer, and that they were not from the neighborhood. This is problematic for a number of reasons: 1.) They could not imagine that these boys were from our neighborhood, when in fact, many were. 2.) They immediately considered the boys seen on the basketball court as thugs. 3.) The picture shown on the news of the suspect who was videoed committing the crime, was indeed a white boy.

The conversation reminded me of my earlier post, “From Don Imus to Zimmerman: Tracing Conversations on Race & Victimization,” that addressed the court’s inability to consider Trayvon Martin as a victim. So, I was boiling hot at the assumptions made by the parent. Luckily for me, the party ended shortly afterward.

So, when your parents tell you all they sacrificed for you: 18 hours of labor, all of the money they contributed to your wardrobe, your violin lessons, dance classes, gymnastic classes, cheer leading uniforms, etc., be certain to add all of the countless times they were forced to engage in some of the most pedestrian, oftentimes obnoxious and offensive conversations with people they would otherwise never talk to.

Veterans in my Family

My cousin's name on the Vietnam War Memorial

My cousin, Charles V. Redding’s name on the Vietnam War Memorial

On the day Charles V Redding III’s body was shipped back to the United States, my uncle was working. He was a part of the United States Air Force, and from my understanding, his role was to tend the bodies of soldiers who were shipped back home. And, although he was an uncle through marriage, our families were very close and he had no idea that it would be Charles’s body he’d see. I am not certain if he knew Charles, but he certainly knew his father and the rest of the family.

This is the narrative that my father tells of the loss of his nephew. My father, a Veteran of the Korean War himself, is still moved by the story and sometimes I think that it is the imagery that he constructs in his head that moves him most–the imagery of what it must have been like to be a witness to a familiar body coming in. I cannot imagine that experience either, or the experience of many other soldiers who witness, not just the lifeless bodies, but the actual incident in which their fellow soldier had fallen.

My father hardly ever discusses war or his years in service, but on occasion, he mentions a story or two. One story that he has begun to tell in more recent years is a story that addresses why he won’t fly from Maryland to Tennessee to see me. The story goes . . .

Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial

It was 1952, while awaiting a flight to Hawaii, a buddy came up to my father to give him some money he owed him. As the soldier fumbled looking for the money,  my father told him not to worry about it and that he could give him the money after they landed. His friend and soldier said okay and they waited to get on their planes. His friend boarded a plane and my father, at the last minute, was told to board another plane. His friend’s plane crashed and he never saw him again. That narrative is also deeply ingrained in his memory. Those are the types of stories that soldiers remember.

This Veterans Day, I thought deeply about the my father and his experiences in the military and I considered the fact that there is still so much more I would like to ask him about the time he served.

These are my Confessions: Making Friends with your Kid’s Friend’s Parents

birthday partyOne downfall of parenting is the many conversations I have with people I otherwise would never even talk to. Countless times, I have found myself at a birthday party of some kid in Nina’s class, where I was forced to have some of the most mundane, most pedestrian conversations with people I am not remotely interested in getting to know. But, I endure these painstaking chats, in hopes of not making my child a social pariah.

The more I think about it, though, mundane conversations are probably the safest way to go because any conversation on religion and/or politics is certain to create a situation where my child is alienated on the playground.  In the end, though, I always chastise myself for forgetting to take a shot of Jack and for forgetting to sing Public Enemy loudly in my home in preparation for what is certain to take place. (Don’t judge me, I know that I am not alone.)

One time in particular, I remember a woman going on incessantly about how much she misses her husband when he is out of town, because it forces her traipse their children around town all alone to do the necessary shopping. “People must think I’m some poor single woman!” she blurts out before a chuckle. Everyone else lightly chuckles and nods as if they agreed that being a “poor single woman” would be an unfortunate label for the story teller. Meanwhile, the real single mother in the crowd backs away, feeling alienated and wondering what exactly did she mean by “poor.”

Very recently, I took Nina to another birthday party and was hemmed up in another unfortunate conversation. The basketball court in our neighborhood was caught on fire and it melted (don’t ask me what it was made of, I was just as shocked as you). This became the topic of conversation among a few parents. One of the parents said, “Well, you know, there has been a lot of issues on that court. Since they opened, there has been nothing, but . . .” She looked at me and continued, “let’s just say, thugs.”

Did I mention that I am almost always the only black parent at these parties? So, it was clear that she minced her words in my presence. There was talk in the neighborhood of all of the black boys that play on the court since it opened this summer, and that they were not from the neighborhood. This is problematic for a number of reasons: 1.) They could not imagine that these boys were from our neighborhood, when in fact, many were. 2.) They immediately considered the boys seen on the basketball court as thugs. 3.) The picture shown on the news of the suspect who was videoed committing the crime, was indeed a white boy.

The conversation reminded me of my earlier post, “From Don Imus to Zimmerman: Tracing Conversations on Race & Victimization,” that addressed the court’s inability to consider Trayvon Martin as a victim. So, I was boiling hot at the assumptions made by the parent. Luckily for me, the party ended shortly afterward.

So, when your parents tell you all they sacrificed for you: 18 hours of labor, all of the money they contributed to your wardrobe, your violin lessons, dance classes, gymnastic classes, cheer leading uniforms, etc., be certain to add all of the countless times they were forced to engage in some of the most pedestrian, oftentimes obnoxious and offensive conversations with people they would otherwise never talk to.

Wacky Wednesday: I Am Blessed for Having . . .

Da Hype1

As soon as I began this post, the words of Jill Scott’s song “Blessed” popped into my head. In fact, when things are a little rough and I need me a pick-me-up, I play that song. The hook of the song:

“I woke up in the morning feeling fresh to death/I’m so Blessed, yes, yes/I went to sleep stressed, woke up refreshed/I’m so Blessed, yes,yes” She then goes on to address how thankful she is that her grandmother almost lived to see 92, her son was born healthy, and that she has the love and support of both her parents. This song reminds me that there is so much to be thankful for.

So, what exactly am I thankful for?

I am so thankful that I made the choice to see my aunt before she died last year. Last summer, my aunt passed away, leaving a void in our family that can never be filled. She was my mother’s sister and she succumbed to cancer after a long battle. It was terribly painful to lose her, as she was like another mother to me. I spent every weekend at her home growing up. She was undoubtedly the matriarch of our family.

A couple of months before she passed away, and when it was clear that she wasn’t doing well, I packed my bags and went to visit her. My husband and little one came in tow. In fact, all of our family came from far and near. We came from Tacoma, Washington; San Antonio, Texas; and Nashville, Tennessee. We all gathered in the waiting room and would take turns visiting with her. She was so happy to see our faces. I will never forget that look of happiness. She couldn’t speak, but she waved and smiled. Only she could fill a hospital room in that way.

While in town, we all gathered at another aunt’s house. We took a family picture, not knowing that this would be the last time we would all be together with both aunts.

I am so Blessed to have had the opportunity to spend those last moments with them both, and I feel especially Blessed to have the pictures to remember that moment.

We developed the picture and placed it in the room of my aunt who was hospitalized. While sitting with her, she would look at that picture and smile at the vision of her family all together. She was always happiest when she was with her family.

Da Realist 1

When I began to consider this topic, I also thought of a song, “Count Your Blessings” by Nas and Damian Marley.

I’ve got love and assurance/ I’ve got new health insurance/I’ve got strength distantrelativesand endurance/So I count my blessings

And give thanks to the master/That through all the disaster/We’re still here/Together after/Better count your blessings.

There is something wonderfully soothing about Damian Marley’s voice as he urges listeners to count our blessings. At the risk of taking the song too literally, I am blessed for having both my health and “new health insurance.” I consider myself to be in good health, although I could certainly stand to lose a few pounds. But I don’t have any major health issues. I can see my physician for preventative medicine and go to the hospital in case of an emergency.

According to Census Bureau statistics, there were 49.9 million uninsured people in the United States as of 2010. This recession has been a difficult time for many Americans. So many have lost their jobs and, along with it, their insurance. I realize that “there but for the grace of God” go I. So, for health and health care, I count my blessings.

Ok, 2Dope readers, What do you feel blessed for having?

A Poem for My Great-Great Grandmother

In yesterday’s post, “Looking for Love and Finding it in our Foremothers”, I talked about my discovery of the lives of my Great Grandmother, Susan Bean, and her parents, Martha and Thomas Bean. I spoke about the love that I imagined Martha and Thomas Bean had for each other. Below, is a poem I wrote for Martha Bean.

Martha Don’t you Moan

For my Great-Great Grandmother, Martha Bean

I heard you speak to me from the tobacco fields you worked

and gave birth in

time and time again.

Your voice came to me;

your words poetic

and spoken in the cadence of your mother’s West African tongue.

You whispered so sweetly

the name of your lover

your husband

my forefather

who walked in the night,

passed the unspeakable,

passed the unthinkable,

passed the unimaginable . . .

passed narratives told only in the dark

and passed stories forgotten by morning

(because the memories hurt too much when spoken aloud).

He showed up enough times to make your belly swollen

one, two, three, four

times.

And,

on the nights he couldn’t make it,

you closed your eyes and breathed in air

you imagined he shared only a few miles

away.

But,

He came back.

He always came back.

He always came back

until 1864,

when he didn’t have to leave

anymore.

Copyright 2011 Christie Williams