Browsing Category Holidays

Assessing Easter Sunday

Happy Easter friends.

If you are a churchgoer, enjoy the service. I am spiritual but stopped going to church long ago. However, on Easter Sunday, I often reflect on how it was when my siblings and I were children.

From the time I turned six years old and my sister four, she and I were required to go to Sunday school nearly every Sunday and to church almost as often. Until they grew older, my younger brothers were too little to make the block-long walk with us, so they stayed at home with mom and dad except on occasions when our entire family went to church.

I remember many things about those childhood Easter weekends like mom helping us color eggs and putting them in straw baskets lined with green cellophane grass. Nestling in the grass were chocolate bunnies, multi-colored jelly beans, and yellow marshmallow Peeps chicks. Back then, Easter was the Sunday that I looked forward to more than any other Sunday because I knew that my sister and I would be wearing brand new outfits to church. Cute frilly polyester dresses, fresh, bright white bobby socks, and black patent leather shoes. One year mother bought us pretty matching topper jackets. Mine was pink, and I think my sister’s was white or maybe hers was pink too. Some, but not many details have faded from memory.

As I matured, I realized that children were not the only ones who looked forward to showing off their Easter clothes. Many of the adult parishioners didn’t consider that Easter Sunday was about the resurrection or the message either, it was all about the fashions. People who didn’t go to church all year long showed up on Easter Sunday dressed to the nines, well many did.

Old Mr. John was an exception. The neighborhood drunk lived upstairs in the same apartment building where we lived. One Easter Sunday morning he followed his wife outside. While he hung back, she broadcasted to every neighbor they passed that they were heading to church. A rarity. Mr. John was wearing a battered, wide-brimmed Porkpie hat, probably reserved for attending funerals; a wrinkled, brown pin-striped suit that looked like he had slept in it and overturned brown shoes. An apparent reluctant churchgoer, his scrawny body was tagging a few inches behind his obese wife who was strutting proudly down the street, nearly bursting at the seams in a fitted fuchsia-colored dress. Perched on her head was a huge white hat with so many brown feathers attached to one side that it looked like a sparrow the size of an eagle was clinging there for dear life. Some sights you can’t unsee nor forget.

One day I decided that even if I went to church year round (which I didn’t, but even if I did), I would never go on Easter Sunday. I could hold a one-on-one session with God, as I usually do any day of the week; besides my absence would leave a seat for one of the Easter Sunday only worshipers who will crowd the pews.

There are some things that I miss about my church going days. Things like singing in the junior choir as a teen, watching a minister deliver a rousing sermon while using his white handkerchief to wipe the sweat running down his chocolate face like a melting fudge sickle, and the good, foot-stomping, hand clapping gospel music that seems to shake the rafters and open cracks in the wall.

These days, I need only to look out of my window at some of the churchgoers on Easter Sunday, especially the elder ones, decked out in their Easter hats and fresh outfits to know that there is truth to the proverb, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

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Laughing All The Way

Every year while ambitious people are making New Year’s Resolutions I am not. IF I were to make resolutions, one would be to practice having more tolerance for intolerant people. Since I am an admitted procrastinator, maybe I’d resolve to postpone saying or writing things that other people think, but wouldn’t dare say aloud or publish.

Since people sometimes take offense at my attempt at humor, I suppose I could resolve to write strictly serious content without trying to make folks smile or laugh out loud, but that would be like having the Times Square ball get stuck mid-way during its descent on New Year’s Eve. Imagine if that big, glossy ball suddenly stops while lowering on the pole during the countdown to midnight. Would all of the revelers collectively hold their breath and freeze? Heads upturned, mouths gaping, not a single eye blinking, all movement halted mid-motion, the only souls stirring would be city officials scrambling frantically to get the ball moving again? Perish the thought.

Why should I make New Year’s resolutions? If I’m planning to do something, I’ll do it anyway and if I’m not I won’t. Some optimists busy themselves jotting down resolutions days before the New Year; others do it moments after midnight on New Year’s Eve, while I’m usually sipping sparkling cider and reminiscing about bygone years. I know that change is inevitable, but that doesn’t stop me from longing for some days past – let me repeat, some days – and wishing for a return to the way things used to be. If I could turn back the hands of time, I might make resolutions, and these would be my top six priorities:

Number 6.           A return to normalcy. A definition I once read describes normalcy as “being usual, typical, or expected.” If that’s the case, it seems like hardly anything is normal anymore. Normal was unobtrusively replaced over the years by the so-called new norm. The new norm is a no holds barred, say anything, show anything, do anything, be anything, anything goes – insane world. The younger generation won’t get my point because they are used to the insanity. They were born into it and grew up with it. But many people of my generation get it. I’d like to see a return to normalcy as it used to be generally understood by the average intelligent person. I am not a person who follows everyone else over the cliff, meaning I cannot be persuaded to believe what I perceive to be abnormalities. You will never convince me that up is now down, black is white, left is right, and a natural born woman is now a man or vice versa because of a surgical procedure.

Number 5.           Common sense supersedes political correctness.  Granted the principle of political correctness is not entirely bad, but it’s not all good either. PC is intended to put boundaries on offensive speech and behavior, but when imposing one’s personal or a group’s belief on others, there is always the risk that someone’s rights will be infringed upon. One example of this is the use of the n-word. I hate that word and never use it. However, some black hip-hoppers and other black people use it freely, yet they are offended when members of different racial or cultural groups do the same. In a Vox.com article, author, educator, and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates expressed his opinion – contrary to mine — about the use of that word.

Number 4.           Disciplining unruly children. There was a time when parents, teachers, or other well-intentioned adults could discipline their children or someone else’s minors without fear of being arrested. Back in the day, the worse reaction a non-relative adult would get when scolding a child for wrong-doing was for the brat to say, “You ain’t my mama.” or “You’re not the boss of me.” Today it is not unusual for some children to call the cops on their parent if the parent physically punishes them for wrongdoing. Go get my belt. I’m gonna whip your behind. It is not uncommon for a well-meaning school teacher attempting to discipline an unruly student to be attacked by a juvenile and sometimes even that child’s parent will come to the school with a bad attitude and clenched fists (especially when the parent is as immature as the child). Is it any wonder that there are so many rude and disrespectful youths wreaking havoc in the community and running wild through the streets?

Number 3.           Privacy. Ripley’s Believe It or Not stories of strange or unusual facts or occurrences had nothing on today’s world. Before the Internet, Google, people search engines, hackers, and social media one could expect to have some privacy. Anonymity was much easier to achieve a few decades ago; you could hide in plain sight. Not anymore. Today, if you want total anonymity you almost have to commit a deed that will get you placed in the witness protection program – and even then you may be discovered. Just about anyone from Internet snoops and sleuths to busybodies can obtain your social security number, address, phone number, banking info, medical records, police, court and credit records. They can even identify every one of your baby daddy or baby mamas you’ve ever known.

Number 2.           Telephones.  A non-published or unlisted telephone number once freed you from bombardment by unwanted phone calls. Now, telemarketers and robocallers are relentless. I block more calls on my phones than offensive tackle, Trent Williams does on the football field; but they keep calling. And while we’re on the subject of phones, I long for the days of one phone number per home. A good old landline. I could call the home of a relative or friend and if the person I was calling weren’t there someone would usually answer the phone and tell me that. Now, if I phone someone, it’s likely the call goes to a cell phone. If I reach voicemail or get no answer, and urgently need to speak with someone else – anyone else – in the household I have to call a second, third, or sometimes a fourth number before someone answers their phone. That’s because everyone in the household who is out of diapers has a phone and each of them has a different number.

I have no choice but to live with the issues I’ve cited above. But if there is anything that makes me hope that when the New Year rolls in at midnight, I will awaken to discover that like Rip Van Winkle I had been asleep for a long time and it was all nightmares, it is the Number 1 item on my if-I-could-turn-back-the-hands-of-time list.

Number 1.           There was a different outcome to the 2016 presidential election.

Happy New Year!

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A Christmas Newsletter

Every year at Christmas time since 1993, I’ve received a Christmas newsletter from a former co-worker. I’ll call her Becky. Back when we worked together, Becky and I were friendly, but not friends in the traditional sense. We occasionally went out to lunch together, but we rarely visited at each other’s desks, sharing whispered conversations about other co-workers nor did we telephone each other at home or hang out after work.

Nevertheless, every year, while we worked together and even after I left to take another job, I – and I imagine everyone else on her Christmas card list – have received a Christmas newsletter from her. The annual letter, one full-page long, sometimes two, recaps the previous year’s activities of her life, her long-time, live-in boyfriend, Nick, who I met once when he came to the job, and her other relatives and friends who I never met. Through her yearly newsletters, I learn who in the family got married, got a promotion, graduated from college, who’s sick, who died and how many nieces and nephews she has. Becky never had children. I also learned that a few years ago, she and Nick retired and moved together to Florida.

According to Smithsonianmag.com, the first Christmas newsletters were written sometime before 1948. The site further states that syndicated advice columnist, Ann Landers, who died in June 2002, “published complaints about the so-called ‘brag rags.’”

The first and only Christmas newsletter I ever wrote was in 1985. I remember that because my Aunt Ida saved her copy and recently returned it to me. “A keepsake,” she said. I was surprised that she kept it for all of these years. Since my computer file, containing that newsletter was corrupted and died long before the old computer did, I was pleased to have the copy. Thanks, Aunt Ida.

Back in the day, copier machines facilitated the distribution of Christmas newsletters. They were usually enclosed in Christmas cards. Thanks to technology the annual letter doesn’t have to be mailed anymore. Although some folks believe that the Internet may be the demise of Christmas newsletters; savvy computer users know that a year’s worth of family news and activities can be just as easily distributed via a website as it can on paper.

If your family and friends are on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any other social media, it’s likely that they find out immediately about new developments within the family. They’ve seen photos of new babies and pets, your current girlfriend or boyfriend, the fabulous vacations, the wedding, the new car, or the renovated house. So what’s left to tell? Oh, let’s see, I can come up with a few things.

This will be the first time in 33 years, that I write a Christmas newsletter, but I won’t put it in the mail. Call me progressive. LOL. Since much about my activities and those of some of my family members has already been shared on Facebook, it will be abridged news for some and a recap for others.

This was my life in 2018.

Aside from tri-weekly trips to the gym, my year has been consumed by blogging, feeding my voracious appetite for reading by devouring books, nourishing the activist in me by pursuing non-violent activities, anxiously observing the chaotic political scene, and writing. Speaking of writing, while researching my second book I discovered a significant family secret. No, I will not reveal it here. Maybe I’ll reveal it in the book; maybe I won’t. That teasing statement reminds me of a reflective quote by author, Lisa Unger, (you know how I love worthy quotes), “The universe doesn’t like secrets. It conspires to reveal the truth, to lead you to it.”

Wanderlusts and thrill-seekers may see mine as a rather mundane life. For them, I have two words:  different strokes.

I pulled myself away from routine in September and traveled to the Staton family reunion in North Carolina where I had a good time socializing with over a hundred family members, some of whom I had never met before, and friends. Our time together just wasn’t long enough.

Step back a year to 2017, when I cheered-on my proud Desert Storm veteran son as he participated in his second marathon in two years. As if the Marine Corp Marathon wasn’t a long enough distance, this year he completed the 26.2 mile NYC marathon, the largest marathon in the world. Two marathons in two years. Two medals. Go, son!

Our family had a near tragedy in July when one of my twin grandsons, the adventurous one, nearly drowned on the day after his 25th birthday while vacationing in Miami. Before being released from the hospital, doctors advised him not to fly home. So, he had to endure nearly a 24-hour long bus trip and required a few days more of recovery after that leg-cramping bus ride. Thanks to God and an alert lifeguard he made it back.

Speaking of misfortune, we lost two family members this year. The passing, in February, of my courageous, sky-driving, septuagenarian cousin, Akintunde Kenyatta, and my lovely Aunt Juanita Staton, in July. They will be deeply missed, but they left us with wonderful, lasting memories.

In September, my cousin-in-law, Alton Moore, husband of my cousin Patricia, was elected as Town Commissioner in Williamston, NC. Meanwhile, cousin Velda’s, grandson Justine went off to college.

With US travel restrictions to Cuba lifted, my world-traveler brother, Chico, and his wife, Barbara, took advantage of the opportunity and visited the Republic this year as did Velda and her hubby. Another cousin, Renata, said goodbye to the Big Apple and moved to the Peach State.

One of my most heartwarming experiences this year occurred after my constant postings on Facebook regarding my search for the daughter of a dear friend of mine paid off. I had not seen Phyllis since she went off to college in the 1970s, nor had I had any communication with her since her mother died in ‘83. Thanks to Facebook, we reconnected last month, and through a joyous telephone reunion caught up on old times.

There are other family highlights and tidbits that I’ve omitted, but I’m going to make this a wrap and wish all my family, friends and readers a very Merry Christmas! May you also enjoy a prosperous, peaceful and Happy New Year!

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Mother’s (Birth) Day and other Special Occasions

Had my mother lived she would have turned 91 years old on her forthcoming birthday, October 22nd. Instead, she slipped into eternity early on a warm summer morning four years ago.

I’ve seen where many people wish Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary or post other heartfelt greetings to their deceased loved ones on social media; and if that works for them, that’s fine. But I can’t help but wonder – why?

When my mother’s birthday arrives in three weeks, I won’t wish her Happy Birthday on Facebook nor will I post it in any other public place. Because if the Bible is to be believed – that the dead know nothing (Ecclesiastes 9:5) – then mother won’t know that I wish her a Happy Birthday anyway. And as much as she expressed her disdain for social media when she was alive – by the off-chance that there is Facebook in the hereafter, she surely would have nothing to do with it.

My mother’s chosen religion forbids their members from acknowledging birthdays and other so-called pagan holidays; so when she was alive wishing her happiness on such an occasion often led to a repetitive interchange between us.

Mother would say, “You know I don’t celebrate (whatever the holiday in question).” And I would protest, “But I do.”  The conversation usually ended there, until the next time. Yet, to my pleasure, she never refused to accept the cards or gifts that I gave her on those days. And she always (perhaps begrudgingly, although she didn’t show it) acknowledged the gesture with a polite, “Thank you.”

I regretted the fact that mother would not allow me to take her out to dinner, to a stage play, or someplace special on her birthday, but it bothered me more on Mother’s Day. Even before I became a mother, I relished Mother’s Day and considered the day to be a special occasion for honoring and showing reverence to all mothers and especially good mothers like mine.

Since my siblings and I were adults when mother decided to convert her faith, I have wonderful memories to cherish of earlier times of family get-togethers at my parent’s home on holidays like the Fourth of July (Can you say crab fest?), Thanksgiving, and Christmas. And for a few years, even after my siblings and I married and had families of our own, we’d all bring our kids to the grandparents home on festive occasions. Unfortunately, those happy get-togethers dwindled and eventually stopped; too soon.

In three weeks when mother’s birthday arrives, I won’t publicize it on social media. I will acknowledge it privately. And before the day is over, I know I will smile with tear-filled eyes as I remember a recurring dialog that she and I shared many times in the years before she died.

“You know I don’t celebrate birthdays.”

“But I do.”

 

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Reminiscing Christmases Past

Dad at 5928 - vinyette view My dadMerry Christmas!  Feliz Navidad! Happy Kwanza! Joyeux Noël! Fröhliche Weihnachten! No matter how you say it, when it comes to Christmas time, celebrating the holidays is a long tradition.

Christians say that Jesus is the reason for the season. Skeptics merely see the holidays as an occasion for exchanging gifts. And some folks will tell you that they “don’t do Christmas” at all. Whether or not you celebrate Christmas and all things associated with it, including Santa Claus, that’s your prerogative. And since this is my soapbox, it’s also my prerogative to add that if you don’t celebrate Christmas there is no need for you to be a killjoy for those who do.

I miss Christmases back in the day when I was a child. And yes, my parents let my siblings, and I lend our imagination to the myth of Santa Claus, the tooth fairy and other fantasies that many of today’s contemporary parents consider taboo.

There was one Christmas season that occurred during my adulthood that brings up a sour memory. It was an unhappy experience, but all of my pleasant Christmases before and since then, make up for it.

As I am writing this, I am listening to Christmas music. Nothing takes me spiraling down memory lane to Christmases past faster than when I pull out my stack of Christmas CD’s, especially the oldies like The Ultimate R&B Christmas, Volumes 1 and 2 and The Temptations Give Love at Christmas. I’ve had those CD’s for more years than I can remember. Songs like Do You Hear What I Hear by Gladys Knight and The Pips and Donny Hathaway’s This Christmas. OMG! Those tunes envelop me in nostalgia and send me to Christmas heaven.

Let me share some of my childhood memories of Christmases past.

Days before the holiday, I’d sit near mother and watch her write lots of Christmas cards which she’d later send to relatives and friends. Sometimes she would complain about the cost of a first-class stamp, which until 1958 was 3 cents, but it didn’t stop her from sending cards.

Back then (before global warming) the Christmas season was usually cold, with temperatures averaging 34˚F. And some years we even got snow.

When dad and mom could scrape together enough money to buy a live tree, dad would take the 10-minute walk from our home in LeDroit Park to the Christmas tree stand in front of the Safeway on 1st and Rhode Island Avenue and buy us the biggest Christmas tree that he could afford (which usually wasn’t very big because he couldn’t afford much). Years later, when we kids were older, my folks thought that artificial trees were the way to go. But, in the meantime …

My three siblings and I would delight in helping mom decorate the live tree. The first thing to go on would be colorful string lights with bulbs that screwed into sockets. The lights were wired in a series so that if one bulb was out, none of them would work. We had to plug the string into an electrical outlet and keep changing out bulbs in the strand with extras until we found the bad one. And then, whallah! The string would light up.

Fragile glass bulbs, red, blue, yellow and silver, went on the tree after the lights. Sometimes we’d accidentally drop a bulb on the hardwood floor, shattering it. Oops! After all the bulbs were placed, we’d toss thin strips of foil icicles onto the limbs, and our tree would glitter.

Mom frequently reminded us to keep water in the cup of the three-legged metal stand holding the tree so that the tree would not dry out because those old bulbs could get hot and set the tree on fire. For years, we had live trees. If I close my eyes now and concentrate, I can almost smell the fragrant pine that permeated throughout our living room. Aside from the pleasure of a live tree, as anyone who has had one knows, the downside to it is cleaning up all of the fallen pine needles.

After we decorated the tree, mother set a bowl of mixed fruit and nuts on the coffee table. A finishing touch.

Usually, Christmas dinner would be a fantastic meal like we didn’t normally have. Mother could burn! (Translation – mother was an excellent cook.) A turkey packed with homemade stuffing or a juicy ham topped with pineapple slices and red cherries was a luxury. The smell of cloves stuck in the ham mingled with the aroma of collard greens and ham hocks, corn on the cob or corn pudding, candied yams, and brown and serve rolls was so mouthwatering that even the kitchen walls seemed to salivate in anticipation of our family feast. Sometimes there would be a side dish of carrot salad with raisins, and usually some kind of pie for dessert. And our beverage back then – what else, but Kool-Aid. Mother’s Christmas feast was to die for.

After we all pigged-out, we kids would take a break from playing with our toys and we’d gather in the living room, around our only TV set, an old floor model, black and white RCA, and watch Christmas specials. Frosty the Snowman, Charlie Brown, and Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer were some of my favorites. And if memory serves me correctly, sometimes my other favorites, musicals like Peter Pan or The Wizard of Oz aired during the holiday season.

Some years, my folks would load us kids onto the DC Transit bus and take us downtown to see the animated Christmas displays in the windows of department stores like The Hecht Company and Woodward and Lothrop. Or if money weren’t too tight, we would take the train down south and spend Christmas visiting my grandparents and other relatives.

I remember one year, I might have been around 10-years-old, my Uncle Henry drove us to North Carolina and as we were coming back home, it was snowing heavily. Huge, thick, beautiful snowflakes like you would see in a Thomas Kinkade Christmas painting blanketed the landscape. As Uncle Henry’s old station wagon crawled along the unplowed highway, it seemed that every time we blinked, we would see another car stuck along the roadside. Sometimes one of us silly kids would say, “I hope we get stuck.”  In our naivety, we simply saw an opportunity to play in the snow and delay the trip back home. Nevertheless, my mother’s prayers and Uncle Henry’s skillful driving brought us back home safely.

Till my dying day, I hope to maintain the many, wonderful Christmas memories from my childhood.

Unfortunately, when I look at today’s world when Christmastime is dimmed – like other times — by so much evildoing and horrific tragedies, I am reminded of a line I read recently in The Blaze Newsletter, “Such memories fill us with joys in a brutal world ever more joyless.”

Still, my Christmas wish for all the children of the world today is that they will compile beautiful memories of Christmastime.

And for all my blog readers, I wish you peace, joy, love, and a very Merry Christmas!

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