Last week my aunt won her battle with cancer. While many would say lot her battle, I say she won because she left this world on her terms and essentially when she was ready. Her and God not the cancer made the ultimate decision. My blog for this week is dedicated to her, because she was an embodiment of the community I plan to create here in This Single Sole.
My aunt was one of the strongest women I knew; she was also sensitive, tough as nails, and a hustler. She knew how to make things happen and she knew how to carve her space in the world. She knew how to give and receive love, even tough love when necessary and how to be gentle and caring when needed. She was a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, an aunt a friend and a Strong Woman.
My aunt was a cosmetologist by trade. In the early seventies she owned her own beauty salon when most black women were working for others. She was a pioneer and a trend setter. Not only was she a salon owner and beautician, she taught others her craft and became known by her students as the ‘Warden” because she demanded that her students be the best and she took no shit. Even after she closed the salon she continued to do hair in her house, where a small shop was created in her basement which looked like any other beauty shop in the community. This was the place where we, my cousins and I learned that hair was not washed it was shampooed. We learned that there was a complex process to coloring your hair which required the knowledge of the color wheel, texture of hair and the chemical makeup of the products you were using. We often got up early on Saturdays to shampoo hair and earn tips for our weekend money. These were our first lessons in learning how to hustle.
One of my seminary classmates, also a cosmetologist explained it best. Washing hair in her salon she tells us is how many of her clients receive therapy, while she is working the talk and have deep conversations about life and there are times when those problems can be washed down the drain with the remnants of Clairol hair color and there are times when these women just needed someone to listen, so I guess my aunt was a therapist also.
After retiring my aunt had other jobs as a security guard and a fitting room attendant and I am sure a few other things as well. Her work ethic was obvious as she did what she needed to do to not only care for herself but to be able to help those she loved as well.
I can remember sitting with both my aunts and my grandmother listening to stories about the segregated South where color ruled the world. Many things my grandmother had forgotten but my aunt was able to fill in the missing pieces. We would often sit for hours listening to the stories of segregated Mississippi and the struggles and challenges our family endured. Some of the stories amused us and some of the stories frightened or encouraged us to do better because of their struggle. They were women who did what they had to do in the face of seeming insurmountable odds to ensure that we could be the women we have become today.
My aunt taught us about friendships. Many of her friendships have lasted over half a decade and dying or aging parents, divorces, defiant children, dating after divorce, grandchildren, headache, heartache and illness. I have watched her and her friends sit at the basement bar with their cigarettes and drinks in hand while listening to the blues or some other old school music and talk and share and advise and cuss and fuss and laugh and enjoy each other. The importance of those friendships were never lost on them, or on me either for that matter.
My aunt was also a nurturer. I learned from my grandmother that good cooks were those who added love and care in the food just as they added salt and pepper. My aunt was a great cook and her macaroni and cheese is still one of my favorites. I thank God I was able to sit and watch and learn from her how to cook it for myself. Those lessons in the kitchen with her and my grandmother underscored their willingness to share something else with us that they had mastered. My aunts home was also open to so many friends and family. If they needed somewhere to stay she often had a bedroom open and would freely extend her hospitality.
My aunt also taught us how to stand up for ourselves and how not to take shit from anyone. I can remember we had to order food from the local Chinese restaurant under an alias because on several occasions my aunt called or complained in person about the standards and the quality of the food we order. My aunt would cuss you out so bad you often had to look and see if she drew blood from the tongue lashing, but she could just as easily hug and kiss you like life depended on it. She would laugh and cry in a heartbeat and also cuss and fuss in half a heartbeat. She was our encourager, loving critic and constant supporter.
Recently my aunt learned how to manage social media. All throughout the day you could find her on Facebook, commenting on things we had posted. Liking our posts and pictures and sending request to join her in the slot games. Yes my aunt loved her one arm bandits. She also loved Blues music, a good drink and some good food.
There are so many qualities that strong women possess. My grandmothers and my aunts have demonstrated these lessons so eloquently by not only what they taught us but also by how they lived, loved and laughed. They show us how to enjoy life in the good and bad, how to smile through your pain and laugh through your hurt. Even in her final days my aunt was spending her time making arrangements for others not for herself. She was also just as feisty as ever. During one of my visits in the final weeks she was her on earth, her physical therapist came to the house. She asked him “Didn’t the tell you what was wrong with me?” The therapist replied “yes”. She then said “well you know I am not doing too much of this exercise today right?” I am not sure what the therapist was thinking but her did not work her that long or that hard that day.
As I keep living and continue to live life in this crazy and sometimes chaotic world of ours, I hope to be a portion of the woman my aunt was. I pray that I can bend and not break as she did and to receive as I am sure she has beauty for ashes and a crown and garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness this life can sometimes bring.
Auntie, I love you, I miss you and I am happy to now have one more guardian angel to watch of me and our family.