For the Rest of Your Life

RIP Nana Bea

My one year old runs her fingers over the tattoo on my arm.

I remember when the tattoo artist said, “It’s still professional. A long sleeve dress shirt will cover it.” I wasn’t concerned with that back then. That was a tattoo I got at a shop on Merrick Blvd in Jamaica Queens. It was shortly after my 23rd birthday. I was excited about it because I finally knew what I wanted to honor my grandmother with.

My Nana Bea was a wedding and party coordinator. She spent a lot of time in her balloon shop. My aunt Darlene was the assistant manager. We worked closely in that business, many days a week, side by side. My grandfather would often have my cousins Jason and Tyson do push ups in the back. He would “toughen them up.” All the while Nana would groom us young women for running a business. I had so many “cousins” as young black children often do. Family wasn’t designated by blood. There were friends of family, neighbors, and extended family who all worked alongside us. We turned bare rooms into magical wonder lands. We made dreams come true. We built memories.

You see, my grandmother wanted to be successful.  She wanted to be a staple in her community.  She wanted a legacy.  She loved her children and took great pride in the accomplishments of her grandchildren.  I used to listen to her brag to her clients and suppliers about articles and poems I wrote. She kept our pictures near her cash register. This was best way for us to spend time with her. We worked to learn and earn money but we also worked to be close to her.

We ate vanilla ice cream, Pepsi or ginger ale and plain potato chips on breaks. These were big treats to me because my parents kept healthier options in the house. Those were some of her favorite things. Sharing them with her added to its sustenance. They were items she could eat quickly, on the go, so she could get back to work.

As Easter approaches I remember Easter baskets with big mylar balloons with my name on them. Inside was always chocolate, bubble bath, lollipops, and a stuffed animal. She never missed an Easter or birthday. We always knew what the business meant to her but we knew even if she showed up at 9pm, she’d be there.

She’d come over in her white minivan with my grandfather at the wheel with goodies. She was warm. She was always smiling. As an adult sometimes things get fuzzy. My Nana Bea passed when I was 19 years old. She died right before Thanksgiving. I wish I’d asked her in all the time I had with her, what it was like to be a woman of color with her own business. I wish I asked her what sacrifices she had to make. I wish I knew what she’d do differently. I would love to see how’d she react to social media and how quickly information and advertisements travel now. I remember dressing the store front windows for the next holiday. It was an honor. If she picked you to help dress the store window or put up a new display it meant she trusted you artistically to make her look good. Recently someone asked me, “Who encouraged you growing up?” It was always my grandmothers. My paternal grandmother wanted us to be reaffirmed in our beauty and she called me Princess my whole time with her. My maternal grandmother wanted me to feel intellectually confident. She helped with school assignments, establishing routines, and life skills.

Those of us who have tattoos are often reminded we are wearing veritable choices. We will have these pieces of art inscribed on our bodies for all time. I love my balloons.  Everytime I see it I see the smiling face of Beatrice. I feel myself standing in that building with confetti and broken clips (that held the latex balloons in clusters) on the floor. I remember the taste of Tiger Pops. I hear the older girls telling stories about the young men they were dating.  I hear music. I hear arguing. I feel her curly hair. I smell her lotion. I remember rummaging for the sharpest scissor to curl the ribbon with. We would decorate baby shower chairs with toole and silk flowers. I can hear her yelp when she’d burn her finger on a glue gun and then keep going until the job is done. I see my faded balloon tattoo and I see love in all of its wholeness. Imperfect. Mine.

By:Shaun Liriano

Perfect (Cold Sweat Series)

I like fushia skies
I like old couples fussing at one another and smacking each other’s asses.
I like short walks that have more quality than long ones
I like flowers
I like cheese
I like the fact that Jimi Hendrix couldn’t even read music.
I like people from your past that don’t bore you with small talk. They just nod and smile.
I like sleep
I like the full disclosure of children
I like when doctors heal, restore, repair and do it masterfully
I like working hard but I despise not being recognized for it.
I love being a mom.
I like 3am, the stillness, the moonlight and the freedom.
I like the kind of breeze that feels like a touch from an angel.
I like surprises but I hate waiting.
I like life
And living
But I love being alive.

By:Shaun Nickens

image

Have A Seat. Let’s Talk. I’m Listening

image
http://josevrodriguez.squarespace.com/

Dexter walked in the hospital with no urgency. With his cane in hand, he took his time going in. He had been warned, his friend suffered a stroke and may have dementia. He adjusted the cap on his head and entered the room. He hoped his friend would remember him. He hoped his friend would be okay.

Bill looked up at the door as Dexter entered. His eyes were fixed at the top of Dexter’s head. 
That ruby red Kangol hat.

“Hey”, Bill said. “Isn’t that the hat I gave you a few years ago? Yup! Sharp as a tack! I think it was Christmas 2011?”

Dexter’s eyes lit up with surprise.

“Hot dog! Aw man you’re alright! You ain’t dying!” Dexter’s voice oozed with both humor and relief.

“Nah,  I’m hanging in there so my kids can’t spend all my hard earned money.  Greedy tricksters are probably picking out my headstone already! ” Dexter and Bill roared with laughter.  They talked about the moments when they thought time would stand still for them. Hard working hustlers. They talked about the plans they had when they were young men. Dexter did a lot of listening that day. The Master forced him to be still and be attentive and be grateful.
_______________________________________ When I started this blog in 2012 I said it would never be an advice type of forum.  I am not a life coach! Who qualifies you for that type of position?  Too much pressure! What would you do if you found out your therapist is a Looney Tune? Like a bonafied nut! Would that discredit him? To be a life coach would my life have to be perfect?
There’s a very popular woman. I will leave her nameless.  She has books about women being their best and being extraordinary.  She has a YouTube stream.  She runs bootcamps from her brownstone. She gives women advice about attracting and keeping a man too. I remember reading the online backlash from women who “discovered” she doesn’t have a man and she isn’t married. Whoa! They went nuts! The ring she wears is because she is committed to herself!  I cracked up laughing.  So what?! All of a sudden she doesn’t know what she’s talking about???! Did she help you? Who certifies good advice?

Doesn’t perseverance through imperfections and the ability to analyze such experiences give you some credibility? 

When you call a friend and tell them about your relationship or your career (or lack thereof), do you ask for their counseling license?  No. You just appreciate them listening. In most cases they are just reaffirming your views. You need someone to listen because you are tired of talking to yourself.  The act of listening is an act of love. Supporting a friend probably makes most people feel good. Do you hesitate because you are afraid of the reaction you will get? Or do you just give your time and your talents?

Sometimes it is hard to balance everything.  You are still adjusting to your new or appointed roles in life. You are trying your best to wear your many hats. Then it happens. Someone you love is hospitalized,  a baby is born,  a friend calls in crisis and you are forced to slow down. You are forced to use your emotional eye. 

Sit down and listen before life, time and God force you to. Don’t take communication for granted.  Don’t take anything for granted.  Dear Kettle,  take it from the pot, YOU CAN manage your time better.  YOU CAN show your loved ones they matter.  YOU CAN be a finisher or you can ShutYaMouthAndCallMeUgly.

By:Shaun Nickens
Featured Illustrator: Jose Rodriguez
http://josevrodriguez.squarespace.com/