Memories & Blood

Found this post that was supposed to be published on 7/20/13 *shakes head in despair*. On the other hand, since it’s about one of my ancestors and Black history month is just around the corner, today seems altogether appropriate.

See? You can always turn it around. 😉

MEMORIES AND BLOOD

I’ve been running about like a wild dog in the heat, cursing and sweating. The sweat pouring down my face brings my Great Grandmother to mind.

Strange but true.

She too despised the heat and had a per-spir-ation problem lol.

Tactile memories.

Geneva died when I was 12 years old and she was 72 years young.

This Sunday, I will be 45. Yet, she remains with me, a strong, warm, supportive, loving and tough as nails woman who as long as she drew breath, was always there for me… and all her family.

In my mind’s eye, I see her black wig, with one grey streak, askew, raving about the water pouring off her and the damned heat, damp tissue clutched in hand. Then, just like a movie scene, the focus shifts to her hands.

Hands that were rough but beautiful, careworn. Hands that could make magic out of food, or wicked hospital corners, scrub knees, or slap you like lightning if you got fresh.

Hers were the first hands I ever noticed, imbued as they were with character, and it inspired a lifelong love of hands.

She was a beautician.

They don’t say beautician anymore but that’s what my Grannie was…making beauty out of nothing much.

Standing on her feet sometimes twelve hours a day, gossiping with her booth mates, listening to the cares of her customers, offering sage advice, cursing about the Numbers, sending me off to play the Numbers, raving at her Soaps, stuffing her purse in her bra and laughing heartily. Everything Geneva did, she did heartily.

I remember her real hair, pure silver, usually in pigtails beneath her wig. She was big boned, as they used to say, about 5’9 and moved with alacrity and purpose.

She worked for everything she had and never do I remember her complaining a single day.

If you were in need and she had it to give, you had it.

When I was all grown up my mom told me that she never knew what real suffering was until Geneva passed. Every year, she’d call my mom at school time and ask what I needed without fail.

She loved to shop and taught me about the value of a good shoe and bought me kick ass clothes. I remember outfits to this day that she bought me. Gorgeous butterscotch gauchos with a chocolate banded floral ribbon around the hem and a cream skirt suit with puffy sleeves inlaid with lace. For a twelve year old, no less.

She wholeheartedly believed that you needed good, expensive shoes or you’d ruin your feet. So, when I lived with her, I was the best shod kid in my class. I will never forget Buster Brown on 125th and Lenox. Only many years later did I realize that her shoe obsession probably had to do with being deprived of shoes as a child and the red dirt roads of Virginia in the early 1900’s.

Like every Leo I’ve ever known, she was a morning person. We will never forget her snatching back the covers with a cry of, “Rise and shine, give God your glory.” A cry that was the joy and bane of the next three generations.

The only time she sat still was in church, when she fell asleep reading “the paper”, and after she ate. She’d fall asleep in a chair, spectacles sliding down her nose, paper in her lap. The very picture of repleteness.

So many memories wreathed in laughter…

Geneva had a zest for life that was unparalleled. She made time to have fun and she traveled. By bus, by plane, on foot, she was always on her way to, or from somewhere.

The year she died, she went to San Francisco and came back full of tales that she walked barefoot across the Golden Gate Bridge. And even now, I remember the joy and pride with which she said it. Maybe, that was because she had traveled so much further than she was supposed to go, as the daughter of a slave. But at 72, she still had the heart, the backbone and the spirit to actualize dreams.

As long as I draw breath, I will never forget that.

Even as a little girl, I respected her and loved her madly. Somehow, the child in me knew that I stood in the presence of greatness, gusto and grace.

The adult in me now marvels at the trajectory of her journey and the wherewithal required. Sometimes when I am lost, I cry to her for strength and remembering her example try that much harder so that she would be proud of me.

33 years later and I’m still trying.

I wish to snatch back time and tell her just what she meant to me. Tell her what I suspect that she already knew, she was the glue to my family and how sad it is that since she’s been gone no one had the strength to keep up that torch she held so high. How I wish that she could come back and remind them of what family is supposed to be. How I hoped to be that person for my children and I just need to know how to handle dreams that die, fleeing like petals, from my grasping hands.

I want to talk to her, woman to woman, share our trials and tribulations and know how she made her stand.

I want to know…

What it was like to live through segregation and the Civil Rights Movement and who did she believe in, Malcolm or Martin.

How did she meet and come to love the Cherokee Indian who was my Great Grandfather, whom I was never privileged to meet.

What stories did her mother tell her perched on her knee of slavery and survival?

Then, time skips forward.

I nod my head accepting what is and was.

Does it ever get any easier to accept? The finite nature of human existence and our quenchless thirst for the unknown?

The little twelve year old girl now turned 45 nods her head…

“Just a little,” is her knowing reply.

I am grateful for the roots from which I spring

and that Geneva’s blood runs still –

through my veins.

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6 thoughts on “Memories & Blood”

  1. What an incredible tribute. I could actually picture your Great Grandmother ambling around the salon, telling the tale of the Bridge. She was one of those gems, sadly I think most of us will only know one (or maybe two) in our lifetime. But what a gift to know them, especially if they are family and we can carry on their legacy. I think you do so well, Coco.

  2. I abso-freaking-lutely LOVE this, Coco! Spirited, colorful, palpable. “barefoot across the Golden Gate Bridge” – that short phrase epitomizes your Geneva’s zeal and unbridled passion for Life. I can almost feel her spunk coming off the page.

    What a beautiful reflection and tribute to her! She did more than make folks look beautiful. Her mere presence seemed to make LIFE itself more beautiful for those who were blessed to know her.

    Thank you for sharing her with us for a spell. 🙂
    SomerEmpress

  3. This is a beautiful, heartfelt post, Coco. I can feel Geneva’s presence in it and I wish you’d had the chance to know her for a longer time than you did. It’s funny but I recently got to interview a woman who is 72 years old now. And do you know what she did for a living? She was a cosmetologist. So you’re right, it’s no longer beautician. It’s cosmetologist. The woman I interviewed is a San Diego local hero, and I’ll be posting her story soon, just in time for Black History Month. I’ll let you know when I do.
    Happy Birthday, Coco. Hope you have a truly memorable year.

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