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

What’s In Your Wallet?

Sunday night I watched a movie called, “The Grey” with Liam Neeson on Netflix.  I watched the film with my mother, grandmother, grandfather, and my mother’s boyfriend.  We aren’t the stereotypical Black American family but we do try to make a habit out of Sunday dinner. Sunday dinner isn’t like the movie, “Soul Food.” We don’t eat artery clogging food and gossip. We’re too uppity for that. We eat whatever health conscious yummy meal my grandmother makes and then we watch a movie on Netflix. Most of the time we ad lib through the whole film so it’s necessary to put the subtitle feature on just so we don’t piss anyone off. We jumped and gasped through the whole film. While this is going on, the neighborhood hustle man is outside washing every car in the household inside and out for about $5 a pop.  Can’t beat that price! So whoever has seen this film knows there’s a part where the main character collects the wallets of the each man as he gets murdered. His intention is to bring them back to the deceased mens families. In one very dramatic scene he’s lookIng through the photos in the mens wallets. My mother interjected and said, ” That’s not realistic. No one keeps pictures in their wallets anymore! You would have to go through their cell phones. They’d probably have a lock on the phone. Or a password on the gallery. ” I ignored her but she persisted. She asked her gentle-spirited ultra-romantic boyfriend who must have given her some sweet reply. He’s so soft-spoken that no one heard him but her. He probably said something clever like,” Your face is painted on my soul so I don’t need your photograph.” Anyway, she asked me and I told her (while simultaneously trying to watch the movie) I have an infant photo of my 9 yr old god-daughter. I have a couple photo of a high school friend who’s now married that I don’t even speak to anymore. I have a group photo with some college buddies from queens day at Roy Wilkins park 3 summers ago. So my wallet is in no way a reflection of my immediate family. To support my mothers case…Wolf- killing hunter survivor sad man would have to find my cell phone!  Of course for some men…they’ll probably have a shot of Kim K as their cell phone wallpapers—->  The moment that touched me was when my mother asked my grandfather. My grandfather can be very serious due to his military background and Caribbean descent. Yet he is mostly known for telling some inappropriate joke at inopportune moments. This time, he reflected on the question. He looked away from the television. He stared at my grandmother intently and said ,”I think I only have a picture of Shaun.” I don’t know how everyone else in the room felt but that sure was special to me. His cell phone wallpaper is a picture of my sister and I. This would still leave my mother, grandmother, and uncle out. My whole life my grandfather has been diligently playing the lotto. Once an entrepreneur and now a retired sanitation worker, he’s always obsessed about money. I don’t expect anything to be in his wallet but cash and lotto tickets. But I’m in there.

If my grandfather was in that depressing dramatic and dreadful movie, the camera would scale over a shot of his wallet and I would be there. From a cinematic point of view, it would seem as though I mean a lot to him. Maybe it was time for us all to redecorate our wallets. Or buy new ones (because every man had a genuine leather  brown wallet).

The movie was also about fear and faith. It was about coming to terms with your accomplishments (or lack thereof). If you could replace your fear with faith and move forward, you’d either live or make peace with your death. Then those faces in those brown leather wallets would have fond memories and someone to be proud of.

What’s in your wallet?

Tell me whats in your wallet in my comments section.  Add us on twitter @shutyamouthnow.