When I was in first grade I got to spend the weekend with my teacher and her husband, I don’t remember either of their names, but I remember that their house was filled with light. They had a hound dog and we ate Grape Nuts for breakfast. Memory can be such an odd thing. I don’t recall what we did that weekend, but that memory feels like happiness, smiling, and love. I had lots of people, places, and moments like this in my life that were completely essential in helping me make it through my tough times. Looking back, I truly feel as if every time I thought I couldn’t make it or wanted to just drown myself in a sea of my own, tears something or someone wonderful would be integrated into my life. Most times it was ephemeral, but it was always enough to keep me in afloat with dryland in sight.
My mother had nine sisters and brothers. That means that I had three crazy ass uncles that offered little to nothing to my development except provide an example of who and what to avoid. I also had six aunts each provided a little of what I needed to get by, some more than others due to proximity but all were positive women. I didn’t use them as a mold for my “real” mom because it was too painful to have a real-life representation of your ideal life in front of you. Using a real person that you ate at Bar-B-Qs with, played cards with, and laugh with on a regular basis could be too much. I just allowed myself to fully enjoy being around my aunts without getting overly attached. Having so many aunts also meant that I was blessed with a bunch of built in friends, cousins! I love my cousins! I have somewhere close to fifty first cousins and I love them all but, I am really close to about ten or fifteen of them, mostly due to age and proximity. They were the kids I could be free with. They never judged me, never made me feel less than, never asked question and they always made me laugh. All of them had more than me, some of them a lot more than me but none of that mattered because I could make them laugh, I would sing very loudly (also very badly), I would drop them freestyle bars on them, we would dance, and just be kids. Now as adults we don’t see one another or talk as often but whenever we are together it is still the best thing since sliced bread.
One of my favorite cousin memories (I have a ton and will share them as we go) is a simple one that I’m sure my cousin Diahan doesn’t even remember. My aunt Denise lived in an old Victorian brick house on Euclid avenue back in the 80s. Again, this memory is of nothing fantastical, it’s just of me hanging with her and chilling in her room. Her room was so girly and pretty. She had buckets of berets and little racks in the shape of poodles to hold her earrings. I was happy to be there, no jealousy or anger, I was happy that she got to have all those things. Yes, it would be nice for me to have a life like that, but I just didn’t think it was her fault that I didn’t have it and I didn’t want for her to not have it, she deserved to be happy just as much as I did. We spent the day laying on the floor talking about I don’t know what listening to her mom’s Stacy Lattisaw and Deniece Williams albums playing Let Me Be Your Angel and Silly of Me over and over making sure to hit all the notes! I was happy even when I had to go back to my life, because I got to carry that happiness with me. For years I held on to the image of that little poodle earring rack. Vowing that my daughter would have one just like it some day. Another source of comfort was the fact that I could still hit them notes all the live long day no matter where I was.
That was my mom side of the family, my dad’s side was a little different. My dad had two brothers and a sister. One of his brothers lived in Cali, I rarely saw him or his family. My uncle Torrance fell into the category of crazy uncles, but he was more approachable because he was such a big kid, always willing to give me a horseback ride. He had this crazy laugh that would make you laugh simply because he was laughing.
My aunt Andrea (my dads sister) was my heart. I am getting tears in my eyes just remembering all the weekends spent in her care. She was a tough cookie every weekend would start with thoroughly cleaning the house from top to bottom but always ended with cookies, cakes, pies, with movies and games in the basement the rest of the weekend. On my dad’s side, I didn’t really have real cousins for quite a while, but I did have about four or five “play cousins” (Andrea was married to their granddad). We grew up together like real cousins and got into mess like real cousins so real is what we were. We had so much fun doing random dumb stuff like the time we slid down the laundry shoot and smoked a cigarette or the time we found the box of hustler humor comics in one of the guest room closets! Her house and my aunt Josie’s (my mom’s sister) would always be what I imagined a real home to be like.
Outside of family, I found happiness in so many small things; like dropping Osage oranges off the roof of our apartment, catching lighting bugs in the summer, roller skating on the street, building club houses with my cousins, the sound of cicadas echoing all over the city, buying penny candy from the candy lady, the way the sky got all orang and purple on fall evenings and of course reading. I don’t know how it works but I have always allowed myself a predetermined amount of time to feel negative feelings, and when that time was up I would watch the sun set and tell myself “things will be ok, just Look at all of the good that you have in your life.”
I am still collecting sunsets….