Crumb #71: We who know enough about the past know enough to hope. –Ruby Dee

JUST HOW IT FELL

Mom had visitors on Sundays.  Her friends. Our friends.  Food, music photos. Lots of slapping five while talking about history and current status of designing the infrastructure for the Struggle.

The visitors came when they could, and the folks who showed up on those days were perfect combinations of a life span of extended family, neighbors, friends, actors, musicians, activists, writers, and  sometimes just us.

This particular Sunday, Susan Taylor, Kephra Burns, Ambassador Shabazz, Pamela Poitier, Sherri Poitier, and Gina Belafonte came to visit. That’s just how it fell. We sang Oh, Ruby, Ruby to her a la Smokey Robinson.

We talked, ate, laughed, and cried.  Each of us took private moments with her.  All of us surrounded her. Held her hands.  Rubbed her arms and kissed her. While we were visiting, Mom said quite clearly and completely out of the blue:  We who know enough about the past, know enough to hope.  it was the last crumb she dropped.

Crumb #60: You know you’re getting old when ordinary things seem like miracles. –Ruby Dee

 

Mom and I were eating at the kitchen table, and I told her that she looked good. She laughed and quoted a birthday card that I had given her a few years back, “It’s nice to see you doing so well at your age…You know, breathing and everything,” and we both fell out laughing. Then she said: You know you’re getting old when ordinary things seem like miracles. And we fell out again. Mom kept making funny remarks about aging until we dropped our forks and lost our breath.

 

Crumb #46: Sitting is the new running. One foot in front of the other is the new workout.

 

You know how 30 is the new 40 is the new 50?  How Thursday is the new Friday, and gray is the new black (Not orange, but that’s another story)?  Well sitting is the new running.

I challenge myself to exercise everyday. I have done 65 Bikram yoga classes in 65 days. I’ve alternated swimming, walking, running, Gyrotonic, and yoga for 30 days straight.  During a more recent 30 days, I did whatever I deemed to be exercise, and couldn’t make the 30 days.  I feel that my body is begining to take longer to recover.  Now I plan to exercise 7 days a week, but I’m satisfied with 6.  I know that at least by day 15, I will have to take a break.

I also know that there will come a day when exercising everyday; when swimming a mile or doing yoga in a hot room for an hour and a half will be too much to expect of myself. Putting one foot in front of the other will be the best I can do.  Sitting down will be my new workout.

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY

Fathers are for their children

Mountains to look upon

Chiseled masses

Worthy of a special journey

 

Embraced by meadows at their feet

Children climb these mountains

And cross the terrain

 

No matter their ages

Children reach for their father’s

Hands and arms

And the warmth of their chests

As their fathers rock them

Dance with them

And show them the way

 

No matter how close they are

No matter how strong or not

Fathers are for their children

A pulse in their lives

Momentum for movement

A reason for being

Children who climb mountains

-Dr. Hasna

LOOKING FOR MY MOTHER

I’ve seen my mother in dozens of performances. And although I connected with the characters she played, I always looked for a layer of my mom; not Ruth or any of the other names she would slip on, but Mom. No matter how closely she wore her characters as an actor, I usually found just a hint of her in her hair, her voice, or the expression on her face. I knew that the woman on stage, on screen, or on television had not been consumed, and that I’d have her back at the end of the day.

It was when she played the roles of William Shakespeare and the Greek Theatre that I could not find her. No matter how much I tried, I found instead Kate in The Taming of the Shrew, Cordelia in King Lear, Gertrude in Hamlet, Cassandra in Orestei, and Iris in The Birds.  My mother had disappeared, and someone else emerged to tell the story that thrust my imagination like good theatre and good actors always do.

During every performance of The Taming of the Shrew, I secretly wished that she would not be tamed. That she would defy her suitor and live single and triumphant.  When she flew onto the stage in The Birds, I was less her daughter and more her fan as my little girl mind believed that she was really flying. After the performances, I would rush backstage to find her.  She would still have on her costume and exaggerated makeup that looked so natural from the stage—red lips outlined in black, penciled brows, lots of eye shadow, and thick black eyelashes.  Her gowns flew behind her as she reached for me.  I would touch the thick brocade and hug the heavy velvet or delicate lace as if I were playing in her closet, and she was Mom again. She’d hug me and leave a lipstick smile on my cheek.

Visitors would interrupt our conversation with compliments and roses. She’d introduce me as her baby who was already taller than she. I’d carry her pocketbook, her glasses, and the bouquet of flowers and walk out of the stage door in front of her like a guiding light. She spoke with people and signed Playbills all the way to the car where Daddy waited to take us home. I didn’t know then that she was the first black woman to perform in the American Shakespeare Theatre.

My mother gave many memorable performances, and I continue to be mesmerized by her talent, skill, and craft as an actor. Each of her performances evokes a personal memory of Ruby Dee—the mother, the actor—but her Shakespeare and Greek Theatre performances have a special place in my heart. –Hasna.

Photo from THE BIRDS, Ypsilanti Greek Theatre, 1966.

HAPPY 100TH BIRTHDAY DADDY!!!

I’ve been posting about this centennial celebration all morning. My brain is aglow from the emissions from my computer. Murphy’s Law, Mercury retrograde. You name it, it got in the way. Between us on the team: we sent the wrong video; posted the wrong video and had to repost; couldn’t post on one place; didn’t know how to post on another; someone’s electricity went out; a date on the Centennial announcement was wrong. And then GoDaddy went wrong. But you know what? It’s all good. ‘Cause at the end of the day, it’s about how I remember my Daddy today, his 100th birthday.

I can hear him now complaining about all the fuss, but loving every minute of the family gathering that we would have at 44, the house in New Rochelle where we grew up. He would ask us about ourselves and tell us how proud he was and how important family is to whatever picture we had painted. He would eat his favorite food that would invariably include peanuts, okra, and sweet potato pie. He’d wrap his lips around his glass of chardonnay and take a long sip, then tell us jokes and stories that would make us all laugh. Stories we had heard before, but never tired of hearing again. He’d probably fall asleep in his favorite chair as we continued the conversation without hm.

I remember most my father’s hugs. His arms wrapped around me as he kissed my face and called me baby. I knew that, in that moment, nothing mattered more to my Daddy than me. I learned from him the value of grace especially in times of conflict and confrontation. I learned from him the power of the written word.

Today, I hear his words of affirmation. I feel the reassurance of his embrace. I sense his love for me. His pride. How blessed I am to have grown up with such a father. I know I am still wrapped in his hugs no matter how far his arms may be.

CRUMB #1: DON’T TELL THE SAME STORY OVER AND OVER

I’ve been dropping crumbs since 2009. I was listening to my mother tell me something that I had already heard, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her to PLEEEEASE not tell that same story again. I vowed that I would remember when I was repeating myself; that I would stop myself in mid mouth movement if I was telling the same story over and over no matter what “doggon shame.”

I’m sure that retelling stories is the human technology upon which rewind, replay, and rerun buttons are based; a remnant of traditional story telling by griots and those who recited scripture. I remember asking my father to retell a joke over and over and over. I would crack up and almost pee in my pants each time I heard the punch line. I would ask my mother to recite “We Real Cool” by Gwendolyn Brooks. Each time her slick, low melodic voice let me in on the secret place between the words and the snap of her finger. And I always loved to hear my grandmother tell me stories about my grandfather who was missing one part of his finger because of something with a gun. He died when I was two, and repeated stories about him were the only way I got to know him.

Some stories are worth retelling and some are not. The key is to remember which one is which.

LESSONS, PRAYERS, AND GUIDANCE

How and when do you learn what is important? I ask that question from the perspective of an adult who learned about what is important from my parents and subsequently taught those lessons to my children. Lessons that were co-mingled with those learned by my husband from his parents. Lessons that I revise in my head for the grandchildren I hope to have.

Like all great teachers, my mother and father talked to me and exemplified what was important.  There were no classroom chairs or chalkboards, rather the dining room table, the garden, and expeditions to cities or theatres or rallies served as my training ground.  My parents demonstrated what was important in the stories they told and by the history they highlighted.  They exemplified the importance of love.  Love of self, family, spouse, and the building of relationships. There were lessons about the habits of living.  Basic things like spirituality, education, health, cleanliness, honesty, survival, equanimity, struggle, respect, responsibility, order, and perseverance—stick-to-itiveness as my mother called it.  There were those step-here-a-minute-sit-your-ass-down-do-you-hear-me-talking-to-you lessons and there were those invisible and silent lessons that were the by-products of sharing a home and spending time with one another.  There were also lessons, prayers, and guidance written in my parents’ letters to me. In their absence, I often re-read their letters and cards and find in them the sound of their voices, the warmth of their arms, and the extent of their love for me.  Always exactly what and when I need to hear about what is important in life.  Especially today:

May your 14th birthday be full of surprises—gifts (or the promise of them)—and newer, deeper insights into the beauty of the human spirit as manifested through friends and those who love you.

May all your birthdays be a celebration of the discovery of the best possible in all people and all situations.

May you have the strength and determination to conquer—to overcome—all negative visions that dull the luster of your profoundly beautiful soul.

May you search for and find those aspects of work and pleasure that satisfy all your inner hungers.

And may this search of your own rich treasures bring forth a greater selflessness and dedication to truth.

We wish you a long, rich life, with good health and much deep joy.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

—Love Daddy & Mom & Daddy & Mom

 

I challenged my parents when I could and strayed from their guidance from time to time, but I believe that I hold and practice what they deemed to be important as what I now deem to be important.   Some of the realizations came a while ago like when at 16 and I announced that I would not be going to college because I thought it was irrelevant.  My mother’s response lasted just a few seconds, and I have since gone on to get a doctorate.  Some of the realizations like the importance of planning and managing my time came much later.

Seemingly through osmosis, what you learn as important shows up throughout your adulthood.  It comes out of your mouth as the words of your parents as well as their temperament. It stares back at you when you look into the mirror.  And you can only hope to see it in the faces of your children who, when you have with them the conversations that your parents had with you, remind you of yourself.

Certainly, however and whenever you learn what you deem important changes with experience and time. I believe that the most important lessons and guidance from my parents were in their prayers for me; the hope that I would find and facilitate joy in my life and in this world.  Reading the lessons in their letters to me is like finding pages from the Instruction Manual for Life along my path.  Crumb navigation indeed.

Crumb #94: May every lesson, each prayer, and all guidance create a path to joy and compassion—the truly important things in life.

 

HAPPY 95th BIRTHDAY MS. RUBY DEE-VA! – She Lied About Her Age

(1922-2014)

My mother instilled in my brother, sister, and me the importance of hard work, equanimity, and integrity, but Mom used to lie about her age. At various points in her life, Mom was between 2 and 14 years older than what was recorded, reported, or otherwise divulged. Mom had one age on her birth certificate, another age on her driver license, yet another on her passport, and another in the media.

Growing up, we knew better than to ask her how old she was. As we got older, she preferred for us not to divulge our ages. Conversations about age turned into conversations about how older actors were passed over for roles. She was already black. She was already a woman. She wasn’t about to be old too.

When Mom needed a new driver license, and when Homeland Security got involved with visits to the White House, Mom had to align her documents. Even then, I still didn’t know her age. After Daddy passed in 2005, their attorney blurted out, “Oh Ruby, you know you’re the same age as me. Eighty-two.” When she didn’t correct him or deny it, I covered my mouth and gasped. It was the first time I knew for sure how old she was.

My mother did not claim her real age publicly until 2012 when we celebrated her 90th birthday with a screening of, Life’s Essentials With Ruby Dee. It was then that she embraced her age and talked about galvanizing the elders to get their walkers and wheelchairs and roll against the injustices that never eluded her outrage.

Every once in a while Mom would say profound things. Once she turned 90, her pithy remarks were mostly about living and aging well. Noodling Ninety, she called it. Crumb Navigation features some of Mom’s quotes seasoned with  her wisdom, courage, grace, and her inimitable sense of humor about aging and life in her nineties.

There was no one like my mother. She was a generous, selfless, hopeful, rough, and rusty street fighter who loved her family. Along with my brother, sister, and our families, I will always be humbled by her compassion for us as well as for the People. She was a true believer in the human spirit, and marveled at what she called the “God stuff” in every living thing. She was proof that life is an incredible set of circumstances.

 

Photo by Anthony Barboza