Sometimes I’ll hide behind my cousin who died when I was about 14 years old. Or my sister who died 9 years ago. There you will also find me searching for my grandmother and stepfather, who both died before I was ready for them to go, long before my cousin and sister. This world can’t hold souls too kind to live here.
My grandmother, singing about God’s love and grace before the worms and sun could yawn. The breath filled sewing machine stitching unexpected life into a dress or skirt. Boiled yellow yams, dasheen, yucca, bananas and dumplings love the warm comfort of sautéed callaloo and salt fish on a plate too small to fit them all. Mama, as everyone called her, made the disgusting powdery taste of liver transform into a moist flavor filled gourmet meat. Only she could conjure the love needed to make liver taste good. Eighty something years old and could run—oh my, could she run. Daily walks to Dyre Avenue in the Bronx to pick up “food”. The bustle of white collar Manhattan workers disembarking from the number 5 train didn’t scare her—they became victims of her authentic smile that infected everyone who caught it. Church bells didn’t need to ring, she would be there when the keys slipped into the lock to let a rush of air into the holy place. Gallant white hat and faux gold embossed black bible tucked deep inside a soft stuffed purple purse. A pink embroidered handkerchief peeked out from inside. With amens complete and the afternoon young, the kitchen would smoke and boil and sizzle with victuals meant for one but shared with five; it was her way. No one should go away hungry or thirsty.
My stepfather, jolly yet serious. Teasing yet solemn. A quarter inch of Wray and Nephew overproof rum at the bottom of a glass, the rest orange juice. Sounds of jazz vibrating everything not nailed down. Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Miles Davis, Donald Byrd, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Sil Austin—The Blue Note Years were deep and sad, even feisty and rebellious. The history books that spanned no less than 300 years, read between lodge visits and cricket; they were an extension of the man who knew too keenly the ills of the world, yet could still turn a phrase and a joke that would leave everyone in unrelenting laughter. He was father and chef, husband and historian, electrician and cheerleader. He loved in a way we often forget.
All this is tucked away inside me, memories of the ones who left too soon. It is here you will find me, inside me, waiting and wanting to have porch side swing chats with those who ushered me into womanhood and maturity by showing me that life is too short not to be lived, and lived well. They stand on the other side of tomorrow’s wind waiting for me.
So I play jazz, and laugh and share a slice of bread meant for one with four people. I dance and sing and make love by sunlight and moonlight. I walk in graveyards to remind me of how fortunate I am to be here, for one more day. With my left hand I eat yellow yams and dasheen, yucca and dumplings; with my right hand I flip open the pages of a history book and read myself into understanding and remembering.
Life is sweet and sour.
But I am here, inside myself, sometimes hiding, sometimes searching, and sometimes waiting for a quasi Elysian fields to manifest so that true freedom can find me where I hide.