I did these sketches (above) many years ago. When I first drew these, I was trying to capture what the women in my family look like on any given Church-Sunday. I remembered this sketch today in thinking about Mother’s Day and so added some words: Today I thank every woman who ever kept me… [Yes, this post is a re-mix of previous mother’s day posts. Click here for those.]
I have strong memories of being a little girl when adults, especially my family and close neighbors, asked me: “who keep you when your momma work?” OR “who keepin you right now?” (the second question was when I was on a part of the block where I wasn’t supposed to be or at the corner store without permission). Who keep you? That’s always been one of my favorite expressions. No one in my family or immediate kin network ever asked “who babysits you?” I was never babysat. I was always KEPT.
Let my elementary and junior high school friends (and mom) tell it, I once had a rather unhealthy infatuation with the legend and genius we have come to call Prince. I stopped adoring celebrities in that kind of way long ago but I have always been someone who would ride or die for everything before Purple Rain (For You, Prince, Dirty Mind, and Controversy) + “If I Was Your Girlfriend” + “Adore” + so much more. At eleven years old in 1982, Prince’s 1999 was the first vinyl album I ever bought for myself, by myself, with my own money earned from babysitting. No borrowing or asking adults when it came to this album! The track, “Lady Cab Driver,” was my ultimate center of gravity though I couldn’t possibly have understood what that song was talking about (see the music player above).
“Purple Rain” seems to be literally playing in homes, cars, stores— all around me— right now, a song whose coupling of deep sadness and triumph I am only now appreciating. It had never occurred to me that I would take Prince’s loss this hard, though the OldSkool block parties here in my hometown of Brooklyn sure do make the mourning so much sweeter. There will be memorials and tantalizing stories of Prince’s death in the days to come, I am sure. During all of that (pending) mayhem, I’m going to just sit with my 11-year-old self and the woman I am now who understands “Purple Rain” so much better.
After my mother lost her job in the recession crunch a few years ago, I had to do some financial wizardry and move her from Ohio to Brooklyn and become a new head-of-household of sorts (I have always been able to make a dollah outta 15cents but this took a little EXtra creativity). As I get older, I realize that most of us daughters will be facing similar circumstances in caring for aging parents. My mother, however, does not consider herself aging so we go to a Jazz Brunch/Bar in Manhattan every Mother’s Day and by Jazz, I mean a real quartet that does covers like “All Blues” from Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, NOT that Kenny-G-Twinkle-Twinkle foolishness. It has only been in the last few years that I have even been in the same city as my mother on Mother’s Day so I figure we may as well go all out. And the older I am and the more older sistahs I know (who remind you to count the blessing of your mother’s time with you), I realize that every moment counts since having lotsa time with your Mama is no longer something we can take as much for granted.
“Fruit of Generosity” by Leslie Ansley (exhibited at the August Wilson Center for African American Culture in 2012)
I must admit that I like a day to put it all on pause for mothers. For me, that means all the women in my family who have raised me… which is a lot. I have strong memories of being a little girl and various adults, especially my family and close neighbors, asking me: “who keep you when your momma work?” OR “who keepin you right now?” (the second question was for when I was on a part of the block where I wasn’t supposed to be or at the corner store without permission). Who keep you? That’s always been a favorite expression of mine. No one in my family or immediate kin network ever asked “who babysits you?” I was never babysat, I was always KEPT.
My father and his closest friend, a man I call an uncle, discovered an easy way to save money: always wet your toilet paper and paper towels. Apparently, once these rolls dry after you have wet them, they no longer roll as easily because ripples have been created. This will slow down your roll, LITERALLY, if you take too much toilet paper when you are on the throne, for instance. People use less paper products, the fewer paper products you need to buy, the more money you save: it’s all a vicious cycle. I hover back and forth between two adjectives for this practice… CHEAP…and… RIDICULOUS. It does, however, offer me endless opportunities for shit-talking with my father. I could tell any array of such stories to convey how frugal my father is, but I hope this lumpy toilet paper saga will suffice.
Unlike some of my peers, I was never the type of child to be embarrassed by my father’s frugality, not even them $2 grocery store sneakers. I think a lot of people could use the character building that comes from building a real sense of worth rather than buying labels as the sole sign of worth. Given the high price African Americans have had to pay for every advancement we have achieved (think back on the parents who sent their children into the terrordome of Central High School in 1957 Little Rock, Arkansas as just one example), paying yet another high price for something as insignificant as a clothing label seems, at best, redundant for us. Continue reading