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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

It’s a good day to play the blues

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Sharecropping 2015

The first thing this morning, I logged into the wonderful world of the internet and saw a picture of Lupita Nyong’o looking fabulously flawless in an all-white dress, mid-twirl and with a smile that told a French love story of celebrity life. I love Lupita. I love the richness of her skin and how she never fails to stun everyone no matter the occasion. Her skin catches the Light and shoots it back to the stars. I instantly shared the picture of her on my Facebook page and captioned it as my #Mood.

As soon as my page auto-refreshed itself with my Lupita post appearing at the top, my eyes rolled to the right of my screen to the trending news and that’s where I saw that the Legendary B.B. King had passed away. I gasped so hard and so loud that I surprised even myself. It reminded me of when Maya Angelou passed, almost exactly one year ago. I was so unprepared to receive that news, although I knew she had been in and out the hospital in the weeks leading up to that day. It hit me and it hurt me. I cried at my desk for the entire day after Maya passed away; I felt like my favorite aunt had left me.

Today, when I processed that another icon had taken that final journey without us, I felt those ‘Maya Angelou’ emotions again. The tears ran towards my eyes and my head clashed into itself and started pounding in the front really hard and quickly as I tried to fight off the tears. The thrill is gone? I cried, effortlessly and nearly uncontrollably.

I knew he had been placed in a hospice. I read that just last week so I guess I saw this coming. Oh B.B. King! God bless who you were and how you connected to us through the love of a musical relationship between you and a guitar named Lucille.

The passing of B.B. King was not just the loss of a music giant.

It signified something much more complex that I seem to keep getting greeted by with every passing corner: my childhood is over and I’m getting old. I don’t mean that negatively or even in an ‘aging’ sense. What I’m saying is the older I get, the more this happens. Death – death occurs at faster speed in your late 30s. The pain gets closer and harder to ignore or be unbothered by. People are getting sicker and spending more time in and out of hospitals, nursing homes and rehabs. Bones are breaking easier and memories are becoming harder to remember accurately. Words like ‘sickness’, ‘Dementia’ and ‘senile’ are finding themselves in daily conversations. Late night and early morning phone calls are becoming a fearful phenomenon.  Time is being diagnosed as a brief sentence by doctors who study MRI’s and X-rays and brain scans that detect everything from tumors to the presence of Alzheimer’s disease. Life as I know it is changing. Life as I know it HAS changed.

And there is nothing to be done about it. You can’t stop the clock. I can refrain from logging into the cyber world of shared news and sad stories, but that won’t keep B.B. King breathing next to Lucille longer, nor will that make my aunt know where she is on any given day. Nor will it make my grandmother remember those days we used to go to Fast Eddie’s Diner for breakfast where I would order a waffle that used to be the same size of the plate. Fast Eddie’s is gone and has been replaced many times over through the years. My uncle won’t go back to racing horses and I can’t be that little girl that pee’s in her bed and then runs to sleep with my aunt afterwards. Lockhart Cadillac, the two building car lot my family would get their Cadillacs serviced (or purchased them), is gone. I used to pick out ‘my car’ whenever I rode past.  When I arrived at the corner of 56th & Keystone and saw it encased in fencing and hollowed out, I cried. I remembered times of sitting in the car waiting on my grandmother or aunt to come out. It seemed like we were always there buying or servicing or just talking to the people. Again, my grandmother was the woman who saw familiarity in everyone.

The past is getting further from my grip and the more my life changes and evolves into this beautiful but  tangled, messy ball of imperfect love, the harder it becomes to know that almost daily I am being asked to say goodbye to something special.

Two days ago, my mother sent a text message telling me that one of the card players that used to be really good friends with my grandmother had passed away. She found out from typing his name in google in hopes to find his number so my grandmother could contact him and see how he had been doing. This was two days ago…..he died in November. This was our first time hearing about it. ‘Buzzy’, as he was called, was one of those people who was always around so he was like family. He was a staple of my childhood and used to tell me stories of what it was like being an EMT. Then there was Rufus, who passed about two weeks ago. I remember him pulling up in my grandmother’s driveway in his clean, dark blue Cadillac to come visit my grandmother and grandfather. He always left with a large bottle of Vodka that he would get from my grandfather’s liquor-storage and he loved to go fishing. I can still hear his boisterous laugh and the eye glasses that sat on the rim of his nose.  My grandparents were popular people.The card games that were held in the basement several times a week grew me accustomed to being around all types of people, including a transgender. Her name was Candy and she was another one of my G-Mom’s best friends. She worked at a 24 hour 500 liquor store of which she was robbed at several times. It wasn’t long before my grandmother started going to sit on the parking lot, gun and granddaughter in tow, and make sure Candy left work in the wee morning hours safely.  

There was only one bathroom in G’mom’s house so everyone would come upstairs where my best friend and I would be playing in order to use it. One night when I was about 8 years old, Candy came to use the bathroom and after she left out, she failed to put the toilet seat down. Me and my inquisitive friend noticed this and also saw she had left her purse in the bathroom. It’s funny how I can remember us running back and forth to the top of the basement steps to make sure no one was coming as we decided to invade Candy’s privacy. To us, it seemed like we were the only ones who knew this information and we needed proof of it, so we went through her purse because we were now convinced she was a man. We found and went through her wallet and saw on her ID that her name was “Nicolas’. That was all she wrote. We tried to put the stuff back the way we found it as we excitedly exchanged OMG’s with each other. Who did we tell this to and how?!!

Turns out, Candy was born a male (and most people knew this), but all my life I only knew her as a woman. I also heard the tales and stories of how hard life was for her being trapped in a body she felt little connection to.

Candy is gone now. She passed away when I was in my mid-20s. Lots of the card game players are gone. The adorable married couple, the beautiful Miss Mattie and her husband Smitty left ten or so years ago. She was known for wearing heels and dresses and he always had on a classic brimmed hat. Miss Annette, whom I attended church with sometimes, is gone too. Most of the card players left are in nursing facilities or living with family. There are countless faces with names that I can’t recall, but I remember the smell of the food being brought into the kitchen and the laughter. I remember Thursday nights belonged to man called ‘B.R.’, who resembled B.B. King quite a bit. He would come early in the evening and hang out in the dining room as the poker players slowly trickled into the basement. He’s been eternal for some years now as well. Who could forget the unforgettable smell of coffee, Pepsi and cigarettes? This was back when cigarettes could be purchased from vending machines! Pall Malls and Kool Filter Kings lay claim to the basement furniture in a palpable way. It got in your clothes and hair. No one cared though. All of this, along with the late nights I would fall asleep in my G’mom’s circular bed with the Purple Velvet winding headboard are all memories that seem to be growing further away from my reach. These people had a damn good time with each other and hardly ever was there alcohol involved. No drugs or libations; just money, curse words, cigarettes and people all set to the soundtrack of Al Green’s love stories and the Blues of B.B. King.

Thinking back, I grew up in a party life so it’s no wonder I love to throw my own.  

My grandmother’s memory isn’t the same as it used to be. She’s not the same. As much as she still is, there is so much different about her. She is in her 80’s and has outlived both parents and the passing of two sisters, a massive number of friends, a husband and a love of her life whom she still talks about. I’ve only once seen her with tears in her eyes and it was so foreign to me that I couldn’t decide if she had been crying or excessively yawning. The yard that used to be filled with cars of people and barking dogs has now been replaced by the silence of leaves blowing, vehicles that won’t start and memories. Lots and lots of memories. Lucille’s string-cries are fading into the faint distance of the sadness of reality: My people are transitioning to a place where I can’t access by phone or vehicle.

My aunt, grandmother and uncle are all sick in their own right. All three have been hospitalized at the same time this week and I admit there is nothing but fear that lies within me concerning the amount of time we all have left with one another.

When I read that B.B. King passed, my heart broke just the same way it did when I found out about Maya Angelou. I’m no longer the little girl studying Phenomenal Woman or singing the lyrics to BB King Blues in front of my granny’s friends. Lucille will never have her chords struck by the golden fingertips of the King again, no one has card games anymore and Fast Eddie’s has probably buried all of its former employees by now.

Life as I know it has changed.

Time has continued on and washed thousands of memories to the shore of my mind. These are the days that I miss sometimes and they make it hard to cope with my aging family. I feel a million miles away from those days of my youth and it’s admittedly a bittersweet swallow.

But I can’t do anything about time or life; the beginnings or endings.

All I can do is continue to seize the opportunity of what is left of my life and try to spend as much of that time making new memories that will keep the older ones company. I will stare into the eyes and faces of my family for longer periods and hug them tighter and use I Love You recklessly with their ears.

One day, they will be on the other side where I can’t reach them. Perhaps they will meet with Buzzy and Candy and the rest of the poker players on the other side, and drive Cadillacs to card games and race tracks while listening to Lucille sing B.B. King’s finger songs.

And in their honor,  today and again when that time comes, I will do what Lupita Nyong’o taught me this morning before the tears started: put on an all-white dress, twirl around in the sun and let the richness of my skin refract light towards their memories and the memories of my youth.

It’s a good day to play the blues. 

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