Friday, February 3, 2012

"Jimmie Amanda Marjorie Celestine"

"Aunt Jimmie" was my mom's first cousin on her dad's side. Her mom Ruby Turner Pullen was one of my moms' fathers' (Clint Osborn) many sisters. They were all from Roanoke, Va and although Jimmie was 6 or 7 years younger than my mom, they were very close and remained so over the years. As adults they all landed here in Ct and raised their children together and we, like they, were/are close. When it was just my sister Kim, my mom and I we lived in Bridgeport while Jimmie, Serge, Monte and Page lived in New Haven. Whenever a "trip" to New Haven was on tap Kim and I would go nuts dancing and singing, "New Haven, New Haven!" to the tune of " la cueca racha" on the porch until Toot would shut us up. Visiting our cousins in New Haven was the third best thing behind Christmas and our summers in New Jersey! Monte and I wouldn't even bother to say "hi"- we would just immediately pick up our wrestling match where we'd left off. In fact, he gave me my first black eye (it was a sucker punch). As we got a little older my mom moved to New Haven and Rob and Jule were born. Our parents would go out and leave all of us kids together in the house to "watch" each other  - for what seemed to us days but in reality was probably overnight. Back then you could do that without fear of getting charged with risk of injury to a minor I guess...Yep, the good ol days.

Once Jimmie, Toot and Serge found Jesus along with a core group of the family including us "kids" (now grown) the dynamics of Toot and Jimmie's relationship shifted . They became prayer partners, confidants, pilot (Jimmie) and co-pilot (Toot) for the commute back/forth to church in Bridgeport. Both of their sons were ordained as elders in the grand old Church of God in Christ under their uncle Butch at Rehoboth. Once Rob left to pastor, Toot and Jimmie started a slow drifting apart. Other than the scheduled COGIC conferences or an isolated funeral they really didn't see each other. It would remain so up until my mother lay dying in hospice. Shame...

One day as I was going in to see my mom, Jimmie, Jasmine and "Aunt Edie" were leaving. I'd cleaned out mom's room at the nursing home earlier that day and still had some of her stuff in my car including an off white, wool dress coat. Toot and Jimmie were about the same size/age so it occurred to me that Jimmie might have use for the coat. She and Toot always did dance to a different fashion beat so I told  Jasmine to stop at my car on their way out of the lot and grab it for her grandmother. Both of us holding back tears, Jimmie hugged and thanked me, telling me that it "meant a lot to her." I guess it did to me also since I'm still remembering it. 

Toot wanted to be cremated and have her ashes scattered on "an island" , so since his father Carl Pullen had been in hospice dying along with my mom, my cousin Robbie  and I 
decided to spend Christmas in St. Thomas accommodating my mama's wishes and getting some much needed down time for both of us. On Christmas day while making and receiving the usual holiday calls and texts except from the beach overlooking crystal clear aqua waters, Robbie's sister Dina informed us that Aunt Jimmie had been hospitalized since Friday. They didn't know what was wrong with her and were running tests. Since Robbie is a doctor he went into doctor mode and tried to reach Monte. It seemed nobody had much information other than they were "waiting for the test results" which wouldn't be back until Wednesday - the day we'd be returning home. I shot Monte a text encouraging him and prayed for our family. It didn't help that Robbie started getting a flurry of calls for the rest of the day regarding his own mom, Gaynelle being hospitalized in Philly for a mysterious ailment. We just kept looking at each other saying, "enough already."  The following Friday, on my way into the funeral home for Michele Pullen's sisters' memorial in New Jersey ( she'd died Christmas day) Monte called and said they were giving his mom "days" to live. By the time I'd returned to my dad's house later that night I got the call from my brother Rob that Jimmie had passed.

Friday, January 6, 2012

6:20pm:  Today, like the rest of this month so far has been quite mild by New England January standards. I had stopped at the barbershop for an edge up after work, went to help clean my church as I do most Friday afternoons and now I was fresh and clean for the funeral. I'd heard something about the family wearing white the night before while at Butch and Michele's but that just wasn't happening for me. "I'm not too good at following rules." Instead I opted for a black semi-mini dress (yeah I'm 52 years old and will still rock a mini - within reason of course and tastefully, but yes!) Black tights, black knee high boots, a vintage, 2 foot long patent leather clutch bag that belonged to my step mama, matching wide patent belt and to set it off, a faux leopard cropped jacket. Ready for the world. 

I get to Trinity Temple - again, the scene of many family weddings and funerals although nobody in the family is a member anymore - but it  IS the biggest COGIC spot in the area. As I approach the entrance I see the line to get in is outside and on the stairs! I know this isn't the family processional since I'm good and late for that plus I didn't recognize anybody in line other than the isolated former church member here and there. Now Jim Bo Bim was quite popular and between her kids and siblings certainly a lot of people knew her but this? This was bordering on celebrity action. Heck, I'd covered, I mean attended Heavy D's funeral a couple of months ago and I breezed right in. I was not trying to stand outside on these concrete stairs in heels. Nah. I was going IN. I spotted some churchy folks I knew who were near the doorway and got along side them, ignoring the subtle screw face looks I got by throwing a couple of ill looks right back at 'em.  Working my way into the vestibule I saw Butch chatting with Bishop Bordeaux' wife and gave his shoulders a brief squeeze before resuming my stolen spot in line.

6:40pm: I've inched 3/4 of the way towards the open casket when one of Howard K. Hill's female staffers walks up and asks if anyone in line is family   - I am the only one. She instructs those of us within the sound of her voice to "not stop and greet the family after viewing the body" since that was obviously what was causing such a backlog with the line. I have no problem with this as I'm well versed in funeral etiquette, besides it's hard enough trying to hold it together without having somebody snotting  and crying all over you in sympathy. Joel Pullen is in the pulpit overseeing this mayhem but not addressing it. I'm a get that boy...Howard K. Hill appears out of nowhere at my left side. "I just had to come over and speak to you, Superstar," he leans over to me and says with his hands clasped behind his back. I nod once at him in acknowledgement, "Mr. Hill."

6:50pm: I'm finally at the casket and I can see she doesn't look anything like I want to remember her. She has on her white missionary's habit complete with the hat. Fitting. I side mouth to the HKH staffer, "looks like nobody's taking your directive to heart", nodding towards the family on the front pew and the mourners who are draped all over them. She said, "yeah, I know I'm just doing what they asked me to, but..." she shrugs helplessly/ hopelessly. Hey now, Michele and Monte both have post retirement hustles working for HKH Funeral Services but I guess they're both too distracted to notice this boiling hot mess taking place right in front of them...

I keeps it moving stopping only to ask Kyle-Hashim where his mother was.  He gives me the "duh" look and jerks his thumb to his right. Ummm, see my blog on Heavy D regarding my inability to see what's right in front of me when in large crowds. I hand her the mother of pearl and rhinestone eyeglasses I'd found when cleaning out my mom's apartment that she said her mom (Aunt Ruby) had a pair just like that she could never find. Up the side aisle I spot my nieces Brandi and Mimi and my sister Kim squeezed in with a bunch of cousins. They make room for me as cousin Bandy gets up to leave, reminding me that the last time I saw him I told him he looked like a fat Mexican. Kim, cracking up, says, "oh Willette, you didn't!" I said, "ok, a fat Guatamalan then."

Joel calls for anyone who wished to come and share their "Jimmie stories" and just about all of her grandchildren line up to honor their grandmothers' memory. I decide that I'd like to share the last time I was with her. Khris' daughter Madia came up behind me and whispered, "Aunt Willette, will you stand with me - just in case?" Of course. I introduced myself as Jimmie's cousin - her being my mom's first cousin and along with her older sister Martha and my mom's Aunt Jessie they were all more like surrogate sisters to mom. I shared how we'd experienced several deaths in our family in a short amount of time recently and a family gathering we normally had (Harvest fest on Columbus Day) had been all but forgotten until Joel called for its' resurrection at his home. I hadn't attended one in a few years and was glad that I made the effort this year since as it turned out, it was the last time I'd see Jimmie. We were sitting outside and she made a phone call on her cell. After a fairly lengthy conversation she hung up and Monte asked, "Ma, who was that?" She said, "I don't know, it was a wrong number but he said he was a cop in Middletown so I told him I had a son who was a cop and that I was a retired Parole Officer and I had another son who was a retired corrections officer." We were like, "you're kidding, right?!" Nope. She then went on tell how she called the White House to speak to President Obama "all the time" although she never got put through. I told her I'd written him a letter prior to his healthcare bill being passed encouraging him to not back down and how important I felt it was for his initiative to go forth. We laughed and said that we were both probably under surveillance and on some CIA watch list! I ended my reflections by recounting how once while I was supposed to be away at college I had snuck home to see my boyfriend. I ran into Jimmie on the street and begged her not tell my mom that she saw me! To my knowledge she never did and that had forever put her in the cool column in my book.

I step aside as Madia takes the mic, visibly upset.  She states matter-of-factly how when she became pregnant while still in high school she was ashamed and embarrassed as she felt she was the only one in the family to have this happen to her (not true). It was Aunt Jimmie who encouraged her, telling her to keep her head up and to continue to pursue her life goals. 

7:15 ish: The funeral processional with the attendant scripture readings, prayers and family hymn - "Oh, how I love Jesus" - all go forth along with the acknowledgements and remarks by the clergy, potentates and other important folks. Page is officiating at this point and Monte is handling the musical aspects of the service. Nice brotherly tandem. When it's Bishop Brewer's (pastor kinda sorta of Trinity) turn to have remarks Page introduces him as "our Bishop" and how much "we love our Bishop" etc. Since Page has been living out of state the past few years I'm not sure if he realizes that none of the COGIC folk in our family are in Brewer's jurisdiction anymore (side note : non churchy/COGIC folk, you can skip this part since it really is just a ball of confusion) but are under Bishop Hester Bordeaux. Brewer seizes the opportunity, from his wheelchair perch, to whoop a little bit - sort of like a "HA! Y'all thought I didn't have it no more, huh? Yeah, well this is still my church..." So anyway.

8:15 ish: The family choir gives a mini concert, my butts' gone numb and I take a bathroom break. They're still singing when I return and somebody's killing in the soprano section except no soprano is singing directly in a mic. Sitting in between my nieces they both ask me, "who IS that singing?" I study the choir and figure out it's Channing working a falsetto with plenty of vibrato. 

Older sister Martha Everson gives a fairly dramatic family tribute ending with the admonition to "Live!" I didn't see it but apparently there was some - and I'm using this term really loosely - pushing between Butch and Duper when Duper didn't move quickly enough to assist his mother Martha up to the microphone.

Jimmie's only daughter Jule was rock steady reading her mom's obituary referencing her mother's lifelong devotion to her husband Serge,  eliciting  laughter from those of us who know it to be an absolute truth. Jimmie's youngest sister Jackie ministers the same song for the fourth funeral in four months in our family, "Safe in His Arms". Her nephew TJ, her cousin Toot, her brother Carl and now her sister Jimmie. She does not waver, her voice doesn't crack. This is her assignment.

Monte sang an anointed  "My Soul is Anchored". I was proud of him and I know Jimmie would be too.

8:45? 9pm?: the acknowledgements, some condolences and proclamations are read by Michele and then Butch is up. He is listed in the program as the Eulogist but states that this is one of those times he needs to be brother, not Pastor and so he's passed the mantle on to our surprise guest - his first cousin Bishop Lemuel Thuston from Kansas. Butch and Lem's mother's (Ruby and Roberta Turner) were sisters and COGIC mothers. Lem hadn't made it to the 3 previous funerals and tried to cover them by doing a little time traveling. A truly gifted and learned theologian he kept it pretty in the pocket this time, reminding us saint and heathen alike, life WILL hit you up with some funky stuff (my words, not his) so you're better off prepared than not. At least that's what I got out of it...Throughout ALL of the singing, acknowledgements, remarks and preaching there is a pretty steady parade of friends? Relatives? Coming up to the first 2 pews of Jimmies' family and hugging/kissing them! The first time it happened most of us seated behind them were perplexed since we didn't recognize any of them. I guess that opened the floodgates for others to follow suit because they did, right through the eulogy...

9:30pm: HKH funeral staff do their presentation thing and then start the final viewing. When I tell you it was the exact same scene as when I FIRST came into this church I am not exaggerating. I think it may have been worse. Let me just park here for a minute and say this: everybody deals with death differently, heck everybody is different period. Personally, I can do without all of the hugging and kissing and whatnot. But then again, I don't thrive on attention.  So anyway. 

10:00pm: the viewing/greeting is still going on, it's finally reached our side of the church. I've been up and at 'em since 5:30am and I's tired. Make that with a capital T. I sure ain't feeling "superstar-ish" no more and real talk, I'm funeral'd out. Yes, 4 family funerals in 4 months, along with 2 of my girlfriends' moms, Michele's sister and a co-worker. Not to mention my best friend's husband who died while seeking cancer treatment in Mumbai the day after Christmas and another girlfriend in Houston who's mom died on Christmas day too - I'm kinda done. Yes, me - 'Funeral Fanny' (my Aunt Ruby Turner Pullen was 'Funeral Flossie' and Butch is 'Funeral Floyd') has had enough! 

I decide to skip the final viewing when Howard comes and stands at the end of our pew, extending his hand. Scott Pullen is leaning against the wall looking pretty shell shocked. I peck him on the cheek as I pass by and he says, "yeah, I think I'm out too", and continues with the 100 yard stare. Unbeknownst to me, Monte's ex wife, Audrey and current wife, Pat are having a little cat fight behind me. Audrey had been sitting directly behind me and I had said to myself, "this should be good" when she got up to go view/greet - but my exhaustion got the better of me...Of course there are several versions of what happened during the exchange between the 2 wives.  Could I make some calls to verify? Sure. Will I? Nope. SCUTTLEBUTT has it that Audrey (who's mom passed away earlier in the year) went to grab Monte's hand in a soothing/commiserating gesture and Pat knocked it away. Audrey called Pat a "hood rat" and said she "must be really insecure in her marriage." Welllll now, it sounds like there's enough insecurity to go around...But I will say this - I'd pay to see THAT fight before I would to see Chad Dawson and Bernard Hopkins fight again!

In these past few months of this dying season I've prayed, cried and questioned "why?" often. Now, although there are some people in my family who  claim to have regular ongoing chats with God, my mom and other assorted dead people, I am not one of them. However I DO believe God opened my spiritual understanding to this: there are people who get up, go to work or school or whatever and come home only to find their entire family has been wiped out by a tsunami, earthquake, fire, maniac with an AK47 or some other disastrous event. Willette, would you rather have time to process and grieve between your losses or get hit with them all at once? I'll take "process and grieve" for $2000 Alex.

My family is my family with all of our flaws and foibles. We fight, we laugh, we talk about each other we defend one another, we worship and vacation together. Jimmie and Serge helped make my dream vacation to Brazil a real thing back in my twenties. We. Had. A. Blast! In the end, I think Toot and Jimmie knew what we are learning in this season as a family going through the grief process over and over - we are better together than we'll ever be apart.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


September 21, 2011 was a picture perfect first day of autumn here in Connecticut, my mom's adopted home for the last 50 or so years of her life. She'd had a stroke exactly 2 weeks before that the doctor's told us she had no realistic chance of recovering from. On this morning around 10:45 am she started her transition from this life's realm to the next. Nothing to eat or drink for 14 days, in dying as in life, my mama was a tough old bird. Every day except the last day, for those 2 weeks of waiting/watching I'd troop up to hospice and sing, pray, massage her or just nap in the window overlooking L.I. Sound until someone else came up. My heart ached and rejoiced alternately and still does...

My Tootie wanted to be cremated and because she always marched to a different beat we decided on a memorial celebrating her and life as opposed to a traditional funeral service. I'm just not up to blogging her entire service but let's suffice it to say that if you didn't make it no worries - there wouldn't have been anywhere for you to sit. Gwen Busch SANG, the tributes were sincere (her grandson Jonathan's recollection of her saying how she could "hear a rat piss on cotton" caused some of the bishops/pastors in attendance to choke trying to hold in the laughter!) Bishop John Thompson gave a pre-eulogy tribute which ordinarily would have ended everything right then and there EXCEPT my brother Rob KILLED the actual eulogy - "It is well." I've always known but for the uninitiated - that nigga can preach! Yep, I said Nigga!

My tribute to her included a poem and it went a little something like this:

As you all can see from the pictures of my mother she was a beautiful woman, however to my way of thinking she didn't have a particularly beautiful life. Her mother died when she was a young girl and she was on her own by 17 or 18 years old. She raised my sister, brother and I pretty much on her own and always worked to take care of and provide for us - no public assistance or housing - often with some relative living with us in our already small apartments. Yet she never allowed her circumstances to make her bitter or hardened.

My mom developed Alzheimer's dementia and for a time my sister and I and to a lesser extent 2 of my nieces took care of her at home. It was very difficult for me since I was working 2 jobs at the time and in between the jobs I'd go to her house to clean/feed/medicate and spend time with her. I'm sharing this with you all even though I'm still very ashamed of myself but it will give you a glimpse of the type of woman my mother was. I had established a bedtime routine where we would pray together before I'd leave. One night after a particularly hellish day at work I was really weary and just wanted to get home. I asked her what she wanted to pray about and she said, "I don't know, what do you want to pray about? " I was like, "come ON! Not tonight!" I said, "I wish I was dead." My mother looked at me and in a moment of lucidity asked, "Why?" I said "because this is too hard." She said, "I've been through harder than this." I was like "oh man, she's getting ready to drop some knowledge on me and I've got this really brief window to get it before she slips back into la-la land! I said, "Yeah? Like what?!" and then the phone rang. The moment and her answer was lost to me forever. It's taken me to now to realize that was it - she'd been through harder things - and survived and so would I. I wrote this poem for my mom while she was still in hospice as a tribute to her, y'all didn't know I was a poet did ya? I'm gonna ask my man Boom (the organist) to give me a little jazzy something and my baby Brier (the drummer) just follow him please.

"My mom was that rare salty sweet treat - Virginia born beauty with an ironman grip.
Giving YOU her last dime - "we're having pancakes For dinner kids!"

Our humble home an open sanctuary for lost and wayward kin,
Her kitchen a meeting place-coffee shop-literary round table-prayer council-confessional-boxing ring-soul food shack extraordinaire-clear the air-bare your soul forum.

Tough love always on tap, check out her Mimi-whipping rap: "I don't care if it was Shontel, Montel or Do-tell - YOU know better than to let somebody pull my flowers up! Now go somewhere and take a nap!"

Yep, yep a salty sweet treat - working mad hard to make ends meet - with bad knees and bad feet - she'd knee knock her way through the house cleaning and humming a very off key beat. She's been grey, brunette and blonde - with eyes like hers - c'mon - she couldn't go wrong. Never left the continent of this U S of A but was SMART and wise as Tom the consigliere.

She called getting busy the "Humpty Dance" and what was cool to you to her was the "joint!" She loved Helen Baylor, Ron Kenoly, her cousins Butch and Lemuel and her baby boy's preaching and the higher heights her grandchildren and Shayla were reaching.

Whether rocking her shoulders to Stevie in her wheelchair or throwing snappy comebacks to the nurses like she just didn't care - her laugh was infectious, her faith too - this might not make the funeral blog - but Howard K. Hill and Heaven - this one's for YOU!"

Snap, snap...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

"Hev" Sunrise May 24, 1967 - Sunset November 8, 2011

I distinctly remember when the rap game broke out from being a largely underground musical genre heard pretty much in the clubs and afterhour spots in the Bronx and Harlem where I'd hung out back in the late 70's. Sugarhill Gang's "Rappers Delight" was THE radio friendly jam that appealed to everybody - black/white/young/old but trust me when I tell you, there was a WHOLE lot more rapping on disco 45's before Sylvia Robinson produced that now classic chart topper. I recall hanging-out with a really wealthy - not rich - wealthy, white kid while studying in London for a semester and listening to "Rappers Delight" in his parents mansion before hitting some clubs. He asked me if I thought rap would last or if it was just a passing trend. "It's a fad," I said with a dismissive wave of my hand. Probably because I was an African American he seemed to take my word as gospel and nodded in agreement. Hey, I never thought Law & Order would get cancelled either. So I was wrong...With that said, I confess now AND then - I've never been a rap fan per se - listened to it, danced to it and even quoted some of it but I've never, ever bought it. I can tell you straight away why Heavy D appealed to me - his ability to dance. I was on the treadmill at my gym at 5:15a.m. Wednesday, November 9 when I saw  t.v. images of Hev performing. "Hmmm, hope he's o.k." I thought to myself as the song on my Ipod ended. I couldn't imagine why early morning, local news would be reporting on Heavy D otherwise - unless he was in town...

Friday, November 19, 2011

8:50a.m.: It's a brisk, blue-skyed November morning as I get a later than anticipated start down the Merritt Parkway towards Mt. Vernon, NY to attend Dwight "Heavy D" Myers' funeral. I'd been directed to be at my friend - the current mayor of Mount Vernon's mother's home "between 8:30-9, please, please, please" for our pick up by his driver. I knew as I got to Fairfield at 8:20 that traffic was not going to cooperate and I'd be getting there on CP time. I hate that...

9:10a.m.: I parked and walked/skipped up the stairs to the house relieved not to see the shiny, black SUV idling out front yet, unless of course they'd left my late, black butt. Nah, they would've at least called to tell me they were leaving me, right?

9:45a.m.: On the dot "Tony" our driver's ringing the doorbell after the Mayor had called and said he'd be there at 9:45. Mama Mayor, Sister Mayor and I jump UP into the backseat of the Tahoe and we are whisked through the streets and police barricades right up to the front entrance of Grace Baptist Church. On the way over Tony said, "I think that's what's his names' car - the one with the pregnant wife," in a barely detectable Caribbean accent. "Who? Jay-Z?" Sister Mayor and I ask simultaneously. Mama Mayor turns to me and asks "Who?" I answer, "You know - Jay-Z, Beyonce's husband?" Mama Mayor is 89 years young after all and says, "I don't know him but I know Beyonce." "Well, it's Mr. Beyonce then!" Sister Mayor says and we laugh. "How do you know it was Him Tony?" I ask. "Because I heard he bought that same kind of Mercedes van that just went by," was his reply as I observed a totally blacked out van pass in front of us. I guess - especially if you're rolling with an entourage...

We enter the vestibule and are greeted by attractive young men and women with clipboards and headsets. A couple of middle-aged, white uniformed church ushers walked right up to us announcing to the headsetters, "this is the Mayor and his family" and escorted us right past them - no questions asked. Someone on our right handed us a slick, oblong program and someone on our left gave us a small note card with a picture of Hev rockin' a black derby being tilted up off of his face with a silver tipped walking stick. While in the car the Mayor remarked that he'd been told Diddy was paying for the funeral but HE was paying for everything that went on outside of the funeral - i.e., police/other municipal workers that would keep things orderly and legit. The church was a fairly modern structure; the sanctuary a horseshoe design with the pulpit/musician's area/choir stand at the opening of the "U". High, wood panelled ceilings, tall stained glass windows and comfy red velvet pews completed the vibe. SOMEBODY was paying tithes and giving offerings here. A whole lotta somebodies. The usher directed us to our pew, telling us as we sat "nobody but the Mayor's staff can set on this pew." Cool with me. Two guys that had been in a SUV behind us slid in on my right and a chick with a tight, black dress and platform peeptoe Tim's squeezed in on my left. So much for the comfy-ness. This was going to be tight. There was a constant stream of people moving up/down the aisles, a brother with a red fez minus the tassle and black framed schoolboys walked back and forth looking really official but not really doing anything I could see. I don't know - I guess it was the hat but I just figured he was part of some muslim security detail - except nobody else had a fez on - red or otherwise. Just him. It's a look.

The viewing was still going on and many people were gathered near or waiting in the center aisle to get to the casket. I had the sinking feeling that I'd fought traffic to make it all the way here and I wasn't going to be able to view and pay my respects up close and personal-like. We'd also been instructed by the usher after seating us that in so many words, "you move you lose, the barbershop rules" so I dared not get up. The church was about two thirds full by this time and it looked to seat maybe 700-800. Not gonna be big enough.

10:40a.m.: More people press in, the celebrities are beginning to arrive in earnest. Will and Jada, Latifah, John Legend, Usher, Allen Payne (I swear that's a texturized toupee - it's always the same length!), Jay-Z, MC Lyte, Yolanda Adams, Andre Harrel, Steve Stout, Diddy, oh and Al B. Sure. Can't leave him out. He wore a stingy brimmed fedora pulled low on his brow and the requisite dark shades. More beefy than when I last saw him (about 15 years ago at some showcase in Manhattan). He seemed to be taking it really hard - crying on just about everyone he embraced. And there was a LOT of embracing, handshaking and dapping going on. It was almost like people were relieved to be in the land of the living and grateful to be able to interact on a truly real level - absolutely no pretense. Heck, Jada had a black headwrap on, knotted in the back with big, dark sunglasses - like she just got off the red-eye from L.A. and came right to the church from the airport. Yolanda Adams had the rattiest ponytail I've seen outside of reception at the Welfare Office - with a turquoise rhinestone covered beret and a black and white striped knit dress. Latifah's naturally wavy hair was pulled up in a loose bun on top of her head, no makeup, none needed. Her skin was flawless. Usher, thisclose to being pocket-sized but with a really big head. Or maybe it was the afro mohawk.

The service was scheduled to begin at 11a.m. and there was no way I was going to make it without going to the loo. Blessedly, Platform Tim's whispered to me she needed to "go." I seized the opportunity and went with. On our way back to our seats we grabbed the chance to go view the body and extend sympathies to the family. Side note: I don't know the family. I met Mr. Myers years back at Mama Mayor's 75th birthday party at a country club in Rye. A very nice gentleman. Hev's only sister Portia sat on the end of the families' pew. Her thick, black, wavy hair pulled back into a big, curly ponytail. She wore dark shades and a simple black dress, the top was sheer black and I could see a medium sized treble cleft tatoo over her left shoulder. Clearly Diddy spent a buck or two - I can't even tell you what the casket looked like I was so awed by the flowers! Gorgeous white calla lilies in individual pots of tiny white flowers bordered the bier. A bed of creamy white gardenias blanketed the casket. Two huge, carnationed hearts anchored an equally huge black/white still photo of Heavy in profile, sans shades - looking pensive. He appeared absolutely peaceful in repose. An elegant dove gray suit, a crisp edge up, his eyelashes way longer than the half-falsies I was wearing, hands folded over his stomach. He wasn't "heavy" or fat - just a big guy. I noticed he had a peach ribbon pinned on his lapel as did a select few others. I wondered what it symbolized. I didn't want to linger as though I was studying him which of course I was - but offered a brief prayer for his soul and continued journey. Diddy, his arm in a sling brushed past me saying "excuse me". Everyone is being ultra polite in this crush of bodies. His mom Janis kept her long mink on as she sat and greeted industry folks from her perch on the front pew. I've got to say I was less than impressed with her blonder streaked blonde beauty supply store wig. Enough with the dark brown skin/blonde thing, o.k.? Enough. I left Platform Tim's hugging and kissing on the family and took the scenic route back to my seat. Even though I was wearing my now legendary vintage "Toot" eyeglasses I could only see what was squarely in front of me. Whenever I'm in large crowds I never see faces - just people. Unless you call my name, I don't even see you. So I could've passed Barack Obama on my way back to my seat, just didn't see him. Five minutes or so before the final viewing Heavy's young daughter Xea came down the aisle to my right holding Diddy's hand. He led her to the casket and soon a bunch of Hev's boys surrounded her as she bid her final farewell to her daddy. Ever hear 1000 people sniffling at the same time?

11:05a.m.: The funeral processional begins. The family is seated, the clergy which includes Rev. Al Sharpton take their spots in the pulpit and Don King passes by on my right with an American flag draped around his neck. The same flag I suspect, he accessorized with at Joe Frazier's funeral the week before. Psalm 27 is read for the Old Testament scripture and 1 Corinthians 15:50-58 for the New - both read by Heavy's aunts. In between and aft Kim Burrell sang "Trust in God" and Johnny Gill PERFORMED Marvin Sapp's "Never Could Have Made It". I'm not a big fan of either of these singers and neither song changed my opinion. A really long prayer of consolation was offered by Rev. Louis Sanders and I took that time to take a quick power nap waking up in time to join in the congregational hymn "Great is Thy Faithfulness", one of my all time favs. Anthony Hamilton, every bit as small as Musiq Soulchild, sang what he said was a song Heavy "made him record" - "A Change is Gonna Come" - the old Sam Cooke classic. It was recording worthy.

11:35a.m.: The Mayor, who had just been defeated by the former encumbent whom HE defeated in the last mayoral election in this fair hamlet takes the podium. I must say he is crispy clean - and not just because he's my friend. He smugly introduces himself as the "Mayor of Mt. Vernon. Correction, the Mayor of Money Earnin' Mt. Vernon!" to a rousing applause. Ahhh, self-aggrandizement wrapped in a lil' political posturing maketh the heart merry, no? He goes on to note that Heavy put Mt. Vernon "on the map" and that along with the "World Series rings, Oscars, Grammys and Superbowl rings to come out of Mt. Vernon it was Heavy who put others on his shoulders" and helped them ride the train to fame. He ended with "We've got nuthin' but love for you Heavy" and a big ol' unexpected embrace for Mayor-elect as he took the podium after him. Last time I saw him he was still rockin' the #2 pencil thin grey dreads. All bad. So I didn't recognize him at first with his cleaned up, respectable older gentleman look he was giving us. I just remember him saying, "Diddy, you put Mt. Vernon on the map too." Like,  how dare you neglect to mention Sean - afterall, this is his event! Or at least that's what I read into his little shade throwing remark.

Yolanda, tall and model thin with what the plastic surgeon who I consulted with explained to me as having a "concave" stomach muscle (flat stomach) as opposed to the "convex" stomach muscle (guttage - like mine) is up next to sing. She says that she'd been with Hev in London recently for the Michael Jackson tribute and how she, along with so many others had been the beneficiary of his bear hugs and what a genuine brother he was. She gave the nod to whomever was running the sound system to start her track for "Just a Prayer Away" and then waited and waited some more before finally just opening her mouth and KILLING the song acapella. I immediately forgave her the ratty ponytail.

11:45a.m.: 2 of Hev's nieces sing the duet they say they sang for their uncle - Hev's brother - one of 2 who preceded him in death - "His Eye is On The Sparrow". The young girls have pretty voices and they start out strong but start to dissolve in grief. Auntie Portia gets in between the 2, grabs a mic and with a beautiful strong alto fills in their sorrowful blanks. They aim for a harmonic ending but it just isn't there.

11:50: Heavy's daughter is first in the line up to give tributes. A sweet faced girl of about 11, she's well spoken and composed and for her own sake as well as ours, brief - stating simply that he was a great father and that she loved him and would miss him. His friend Lew Tucker who I'd met when he was working for Bad Boy some years ago spoke of how Heavy had all of his secrets and would thankfully take them to his grave. His cousin from Jamaica, Dale Delapenha - a thinner version of Heavy made us laugh with his cultured accent and tales of their exploits in Jamaica. "When my father died Heavy called and said he was going to pay for the funeral. I felt as his son it was my responsibility. Heavy called me and said, 'Nigga PLEASE! He was my uncle before he was your father!" and that was the end of that. Andre Harrell preceded Yolanda Adams, regaling us with the story of how he and Heavy met. "He called one day and asked to speak to Russell Simmons. I said 'He's not here.' He said, 'Can I speak to you then?' I said, 'No.' And he called back again and again until finally he asked me, 'How you doin' man? How's your day goin?' I thought to myself 'I'm having therapy with this guy! He's asking me about MY day!' He told of how he took Heavy to a party where Janet Jackson would be and once they got there Janet grabbed him and he never saw Heavy again that night. The next thing he knew Heavy was rapping on Janet's hit song, "Alright".

12:05p.m.: Diddy's up. His sunglasses and suit jacket off, clean shaven, he looks young. He begins with how much he admired Heavy and how Hev didn't ever see himself as a big guy and how light he was on his feet. It is a common thread in everyone's expressions. He said he had a "master plan" of how he'd meet Hev - he found out where he lived and he'd walk up and down the street figuring Heavy had to come home sooner or later; he'd see Diddy, Diddy would say, "Hey Hev, what's up?" Hev would roll his car window down, they'd introduce themselves, talk and Diddy would ask to be his manager. Boom.Except he said Hev would just keep driving past him, ignoring his "Hey Hev" opening line. He moved to Plan B and started hanging at the pizza place Heavy frequented. They met, Hev was encouraging to him, giving him an internship at Uptown Records and the 2 became fast friends. Once Hev invited him to his house where he had "wall-to-wall carpeting. really - the walls had carpeting on them. I thought he was BALLIN'! They talked long into the night of their dreams and aspirations, how they would live once they made it big and how most their dreams had come true. He said Heavy didn't like to fly so when he asked to come stay at Diddy's place in Miami recently for "3 days" while meeting with Latifah and Shakim, he thought this was the grand opportunity to show Heavy how he was ballin'. "I called my chef and told him Hev was coming and 3 days turned into 3 weeks." He said he loved apple turnovers and had asked chef to make some for him one night except he didn't want to eat the sweet treats so late at night and instead planned to have them in the morning before working out. "I ran down to the kitchen all ready to have my apple turnovers except the plate was there, the plastic wrap that covered them was there but there was no apple turnovers. I was pissed. I got on the intercom and called everybody down for a meeting to find out who ate my apple turnovers. Nobody admitted to eating them. Heavy - i know you ate my apple turnovers!"

Rev. Al spoke of how he didn't really bother to attend "these funerals" anymore. He'd grown weary of making up good things to say about not-so-good people. "Are you that big of a star that the people on the ground can't look up to you?" Heavy was an exception. He joked about how when he first met Hev, he himself was much heavier and since Hev was so big on hugging it was difficult for the 2 of them to embrace so they "invented the fist bump!" He surprised sweet Xea with a personal letter written to her from President Barack Obama. More tears.
1:10p.m. Pastor Richardson, aware of the lateness of the hour gives a relatively heartfelt eulogy in about 15 minutes aimed mainly at comforting Hev's family. He kept calling Xea, "Drea" until somebody finally figured out who he was talking about and corrected him. He observed that the family could've held the funeral at any number of churchs in the NY area but chose Grace Baptist because it was their family church. He says that when Xea and Portia went for their private viewings at separate times they both said the same thing, "That's not him." They understood one of the more difficult concepts in the death experience. Our bodies are just temporary dwelling places, "earthly tents", in the more meaningful spiritual journey we're all on. Funny, I spoke the same words when I viewed my mom's "tent" 2 months ago for the last time - "that's not her." He tells how when he spoke to Mrs. Myers the first day her voice was heavy with grief. It was the same on the second day he spoke with her. "But on the third day she sounded different, stronger. I asked her what happened, you sound different? She said,'Jesus stopped by!'"

1:30p.m.: We're serenaded by Hev's "Peaceful Journey" as we exit the sanctuary. It was a dignified Homegoing celebrating a man who clearly used the gifts God had given him along with the talents he'd cultivated to the fullest. Rapper, Producer, Record Exec, Dancer (!), Actor, Daddy, Brother, Uncle, Friend, Son. I just saw him in Tower Heist last weekend while in Jersey hanging with my nephew. I loved him in one of his first roles as "Bo-Kane", the wise neighborhood dealer in 'New Jersey Drive' back in '95 or '96. Really, how many of us can say we've made the most of the hand we've been dealt? His light shined really bright for 44 brief years. The third of his parents' 4 sons to be buried. I'm so sorry - that's enough to break the average person DOWN. Yet the love and strength the Myers family exhibited was just the encouragement I needed 2 months after my own mom's death to bolster my faith walk. You never know who's watching you as you go through life's challenges. As my pastor always says, the devil ain't after you - he's after your faith. With out faith, you're done.

The Overweight Lover has left the house.
God keep him.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

"An Irish Wake?"

Sandy is my work buddy/sister. I should probably say, "was" since I'm seriously doubting that she'll return to work, especially after this latest episode in her life. I've got to say,watching Sandy exhausts me. She's 3 years older than I am, has 4 grown kids, at least that many grands - 2 or 3 of which she has custody of, she's plus-sized, smokes, works the full and a part-time job, is a dutiful daughter to her elderly parents and she spells relief by working the slots at Mohegan Sun Casino - an hours' drive away. I have no idea how she does it - I'm not sure I want to know since I might be tempted to try it too. We've worked together for the 24 years I've been employed with the State of CT; she was pregnant with her oldest daughter when I started. Let's just say, like most of us, she's been through some things.

I call her my "work sister" since like sisters, we fight, laugh, cry, don't speak for a week or two, hurt each other's feelings, feed one another, encourage each other, will say when the other's hair looks crazy or sharp, commiserate over broken zippers, heels and romances. We make each other laugh loud and hard. Her laugh is infectious and distinctive. Her good natured goofiness makes me yell at her at least 2-3 times a day, "ya NUT!"

She married Larry, the father of 3 of her children about 10 years ago after he'd survived a serious stroke and with much water under their unified bridge. The kids were nearly grown and he was almost 20 years older than her but Sandy had hung in there and got her man. He'd been fighting cancer for the past year or so and lost the bout March 8.

Sunday, March 13, 2011
East Haven, CT

6:00p.m.: Sandy had adopted Milan as her "work daughter" pretty much the day that Milan was assigned to our unit a couple of years ago. That meant Milan had to do pretty much whatever Sandy "asked" her to do - be it fetching food/drink, stuff off the printer, faxing, or revealing the exact color/price/name of the wig she was wearing so Sandy could get one too. And wear it. The same day. Milan's since transferred to another state office for a closer commute but being the respectful "daughter" she is, thought it not robbery to press her way down to New Haven County for Larry's wake. This is relevant since Milan's been out of work for over a month recuperating from foot surgery which meant somebody else had to drive her down here - somebody that doesn't know Sandy OR Larry. That special somebody was her BFF, Kim. They scooped me up and we trouped together. It had been a sunny, relatively mild (for southern New England) March day so I didn't bother with a coat, figuring the pantsuit jacket would suffice since I'd just be going from house-to-car-car-to-funeral home. A good thing too, since as we stepped into the funeral home I hit a wall of heat that I KNEW was not of my bodies' making. The faint sounds of Diddy's "I'll be missing you" floated over the sound system - Kim and I exchanged "WTW??" glances as we made our way to the sign-in book. Not exactly the musical choice I'd expect for an old Irish guy's wake - oh, did I neglect to mention that Sandy/Larry were an interracial couple? Yeah, so anyway...

The funeral home is oddly configured and the narrow entry way we were in opened into the "parlor" where Sandy, in a black velour sheath dress with a silver-glittery jacket was meeting/greeting in front of Larry's open casket. The room was long and fairly narrow and upon first glance (and later, with closer observation) it appeared to be divided along racial lines. That is to say, most of the white people were up front on couches/settees/armchairs and the people of color were sitting towards the back of the room on the folding chairs. Larry was laid out in a tweed blazer,accessorized with a coordinating kangol, smokey lens'd aviators and a rosary in the grip of his stick-o-unsalted butter-pale hands. He didn't look a day sick. Just chillin'. Little did I know at the time, but the rosary was as close to a religious vibe this affair was gonna get. I knelt and offered a prayer for the repose of his soul. After greeting a smiling but teary-eyed Sandy and getting my black pin-striped suit covered with her glittery fairy dust, she introduced me to the family members seated on the periphery. There was her step-daughter Dawn with a perfectly cut bob looking drawn and tired but who managed to stand and hug me, her step-son, Larry Jr., and her oldest daughter Brittany who after hearing my name smiled, greeted me with a hug and thanked me for coming.

The 3 of us took seats right behind the family, largely due to Milan's need for space to angle her crutches/booted foot and partly so I could do what I do. Y'all know. More co-workers and friends came/greeted/sat/chatted. Earth Wind and Fire played, Milan/Kim/I caught up with each other and other arrivees. It was so hot by this time, I was starting to sweat in places that I normally never would and poor Milan was starting to look like Whitney Houston after a 2 hour performance, complete with the sweaty upper lip.I made mention of the fact that the atmosphere was absolutely not funereal and that if there were drinks involved it would actually border on festive. The girls agreed and we greeted/sweated/chatted some more. Sandy's oldest son, Christoper appeared with his young niece & nephew. She'd told me when I asked about him that he was "downstairs with the kids." He looked sad and out of place, leaning against a wall, almost aloof. I was always used to seeing his huge grin, identical to his mom's but when I tried to get his attention and wave hello, he never looked up. I pointed him out to Milan since Sandy was so very proud of his accomplishments - he's in med school - saying maybe she'd finally get to meet him. Brittany's youngest, who appeared to be 1-ish was giving her dad (?) a work out, squirming out of his grasp repeatedly as though it were a game. I saw a few faces I hadn't seen in a while and used the opportunity to catch up with them.

6:15pm:I'd noticed in the small foyer where we signed in a photo collage and as I'm always intrigued by photos of people living their lives I asked the girls if they wanted go check 'em out with me. There was Sandy & Larry back in the '80's - the hair/clothes a dead giveaway, the kids at various ages, Larry at work with one of his oil delivery trucks, at Christmastime, with his brothers - none of whom were well enough to travel to his wake - and so on. I pulled a passing Sandy over for clarification on some of the photos and she called her other step-daughter, Renee over, introduced us and told us she'd put the whole display together. Although she said she felt she hadn't done the project justice it was obvious she'd put a lot of thought and love into every bit of it - from the model-sized etching of his first oil truck, to a miniature sailboat "he loved to fish"; and tree/shrubbery symbolizing his love of outdoors/landscaping. I was impressed and as a big 'ol daddy's girl myself, was almost misty-eyed by her commitment to his memory.

6:30pm: I saw a woman that looked familiar sitting alone with a cane by the doorway. I asked a mutual associate of Sandy's who she was and she told me it was Julie - Sandy's BFF whom I hadn't seen since my second Maxwell concert back in 2001 (I keep ALL ticket stubs). As I approached her she broke out in a grin saying "Hey Willette!". Still very pretty, she'd gained weight to the point that I didn't recognize her. It was great seeing her and we covered 10 years in about 15 minutes. Two of Sandy's grands had come back upstairs and were frolicking in the open area in front of the casket. The little boy, dressed in a grey vest and matching long pants with a fresh, nearly shaved head climbed up onto the edge of the coffin and had one leg in before Julie called out to him to stop and Larry Jr. grabbed him. I'd noticed an older white woman with too much makeup and hair-gone-wild, sitting with Larry's first set of kids. I'd wondered to Milan if that was Larry's first wife. Julie confirmed that it was. Sandy joined us and I confessed to them that Larry looked more alive than #1 wife...I asked Sandy if she knew when or if she'd be coming back to work - she just shook her head and said, "I don't know Willie - I've got a lot of stuff to take care of." I can only imagine.

6:55pm: I looked over the room from Julie's perch and saw what I sensed - the great divide - and Sandy's original family (mom/sibilings) watching her created family but no interaction between the two. I didn't see Kim and Milan or my pocketbook so I figured they must be ready to roll out and their disappearance was my cue. One can't take liberties with other people's time or wheels.

I pray that Sandy makes it through this latest chapter of her never-a-dull-minute life. She once told me that she was going to write her autobiography and title it: "House Nigger No More". I was never quite sure if she was serious about the title or not - she seemed to walk the color-line in her marriage and outside of it quite nimbly. Especially for someone from our tail end of jim crow/brink of civil rights era. Ours is the generation of cautious hope that we can transcend all of the racial crap. We've benefited from all of the dogs/waterhosing/lynching/marching/beatings in ways that our children and grandchildren, nieces and nephews will never comprehend or probably care about. But we know.
Sandy loved and took care of that old man almost up to his 72nd birthday.

Last week was my birthday and although I haven't seen or spoken to Sandy since the wake she showed up at the job to drop off a gift for me. My heart was blessed to know that in her time of grieving she thought of me. My natural sisters didn't even check for me on my birthday. It's all good though - I've got a BUNCH of "sisters" - everywhere I turn.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Big Daddy/Hawk"

I've been trying to remember exactly when I first met "Professor" William Stefon Hawkins. It seems to me he's always sung with us (Kergyma - 'ker-gee-ma' - Community Choir) he's always been the same age and he's always had a head full of hair. I know none of this is true - but it is what it seems and for me, so it is. Stef's a funny, bright, whip-smart, fashionably avant garde musician, singer, director and all around renaissance 27 year-old man who got my portion of gifts and talents along with yours. Don't believe me? Watch him work with any one of the 4, 5, 6 - I've lost count - choirs/groups he sings/plays for/works with for half an hour and tell me otherwise. If you believe in auras, his would be a kaleidoscopic prism, undefinable by one particular color or pattern. His unequivocal love of the Lord and God's obvious anointing on him makes for the good cake mix that is Stefon. He gets it: delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. He's working the Word and reaping the benefits.

Stef got one-two'd by life last week in the early morning hours when his dad was found dead in his home. His father's only living child, he was about to get a crash course in responsibility with an annex class on grief. The tests that no body can take for you. No cheating allowed...

William Henry Hawkins, Jr.
Sunrise, November 18, 1947 - Sunset, August 10, 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hamden, CT

10:50am - I arrive at Bible Gospel Center Church in Hamden on the epitome of a perfect, summer's morning. Not a cloud in the cornflower blue sky. Windows down, sunroof back, enjoying the breeze I wave at Howard Hill and make a k-turn to grab a parking space on Leeder Hill Dr. directly across from the church. Although I'd love to stay and help out in any way I can, I've got 2 appointments I couldn't reschedule at work so getting caught up in the parking lot afterwards isn't in the game plan. I give my "howdy-do's" to the funeral home staff and enter the vestibule behind a group of other women. We sign the guestbook and are greeted by one of Kergyma's founders, AJ. He admires the huge, silk, hot pink bloomed rose I have pinned on my black sheath in accordance with dress protocol ("black & white with a splash of color!") and directs me to another choir member for my monetary donation for Stef. I'm told that those of us who are singing are to sit in the front of the sanctuary across from the pulpit. Since there was nobody there yet I opted for a seat along the wall in the absolute back of the church. Bible Gospel Center is in a large industrial building and although I've been here for musicals, a wedding, a memorial service and now a funeral, I'm really not sure just how much space it truly occupies. A few years ago the pastor of the church, Rev. John Goode died and now his wife is carrying the mantel. The chairs are wide, padded and comfy and just as I felt a nod coming on one of Bible Gospel Center's favorite sons, Norman "BooBoo" Thomas greeted me and told me if I was singing I could go up front.

11:05 - A group of us Kergymians filled up some seats across from the closed, flag-draped casket and watched the assembling crowd watch us watch them."Tomorrow" by the Winans played softly in the background over and over again. In fact, it had been playing since I arrived. I ask Tory if it was Mr. Hawkins' favorite song or something. I've made the song selections for my homegoing service well known: every version of "I'll fly away" you can find and just run it. Hey, ya like what ya like...

11:15 - More singers take their seats and more people fill the sanctuary but the family still hasn't arrived. My prayer for Stef and his family these past few days have been for peace among them and favor with those who could help smooth this whole funeral planning process out for him. I'd been told that he had a difficult time locating his dad's paperwork and it was adding to an already stressful situation. Readers, please let this be an important life lesson: whether you live in a household of 10 people or are a borderline hermit like me, do everyone a big solid and put all your important papers (insurance policies, medications, dr.'s, bank info, etc.) in ONE place, preferrably somewhere fire /water proof. Thank yew...

11:21 - The family has arrived and the processional begins. Stefon's pastor, John Cotton is the officiant and he leads the way with Rev. Dawna Thomas - Norman's statuesque wife, head and shoulders above him - at his side. The tastefully printed programs arrive simultaneously and I'm torn between pouring over mines and watching the processional. Wisely, I choose the processional since I don't know anyone in Stef's family other than his big sister Jackie and her two children Marcus and Jasmine. Stefon, sporting a short-waisted, tweed Windsor jacket, a co-ordinating Kangol, skinny black slacks and his trademark oversize bowtie and cornrows, is escorting his mom and Jasmine, poor dear, is almost doubled over in grief. All total, they take up the first 3 rows of seating and Cotton stays right on task asking that the hymn, "Draw Me Nearer" be sung. Boom, Kergyma's original Musical Director and friend to the room, is on the Hammond and starts the melody. Nobody's singing. He plays another bar - crickets. Tory announces to those of us within earshot: "we should be singing." Boom plays another bar, maybe 2. I don't know and I don't know this song. I didn't grow up in any particular church and trust me, after attending the grand old COGIC for nigh unto 20 years of my adult life, that was NOT a song we EVER sung on a Sunday morning. I told Tory I could lip synch as I picked up the hymnal from underneath the chair in front of me and flipped to the index. Tory does the same and soon everyone down the row is following suit. It's comforting to know that no one else knew the song either. She and Erica Wilkins, both strong sopranos, find the song first and pick it up wherever Boom's at. True to my word, I lip synch until we reach the chorus and actually add a little volume. Thank God there are no mics in the vacinity to pick up this boiling hot mess. I refuse to look at either Stefon or Cotton, my shame ever before me. This is not a sweet, sweet sound to the Lord's ears. Or mine.

11:30 - The invocation is given, the Old and New Testament readings offered and Kergyma, one of the many musical ministries Stef labors with (and I don't use that word loosely)is called on for the first musical selection. About 15 or so current and former members crowd the pulpit. Gathered around 3 mics we get the celebration of a life lived started with Stefon's own revamping of the old standard, "Jesus is Mine." It's always a crowd pleaser and we always enjoy singing it. It always tickles me to see people's reaction to that song when first hearing it - like "is it really o.k. to bop my head, and groove like this in church???" Yessir, and it's fun ain't it?!?

11:45 - Those who've been asked to give reflections are called. This is always key for me, especially if I'm not familiar with the deceased since it gives me more insight to what kind of person they were. The first fellow wasa cousin or nephew and spoke of how his uncle was always ready with advice and supported his move to New Haven from Bridgeport. He remarked that Mr. Hawkins would come to his home for dinner on a weeknight only to find that his wife had prepared not one but "two meats - on a weekday!" telling him that she was a "scratch-off boy! don't let her get away!" The next young man was also a relative and was so overwhelmed he nor we thought he'd make it through his reflections. A female relative came to offer support and he was able to tearfully press his way. Another fellow followed and he, too, broke down. Mr. Hawkins was a veteran and had retired from the V.A. hospital after 20 years. So did my mom - wonder if they knew each other? His comrades from the local VFW post were in attendance and the commander, an elderly gent, his crisp, multi-emblemed Class A hat jauntily perched on his head, strode to the podium to represent them. He stated that "Hawk was a night owl" (love the play on words!) and he had a habit of showing up at the post right near closing time. Of course the commander would be compelled to keep the establishment open in order to accomodate Hawk and he'd end up shutting it down sometimes at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. And that was that. Mr. Hawkins' Pastor, Kennedy Hampton of Shiloh Baptist in New Haven was the last to be called upon to have remarks. Him was absent.

Gospel Mission's Choir, another of Stef's "babies" was up next to minister. Stefon takes over on the Hammond. AJ thought it would be a good idea if we all went up to sing the James Hall classic, "No Joy, No Strength" with them. "C'mon, y'all know it, right?" Nooooooope. Tory and I remain planted as do a few others. My motto - let the young run. Tory said her feet hurt. Come to think of it, mine did too.

12:00pm - Cards and expressions of sympathy were read along with the obituary/"Scroll of Life". "William will be best remembered by his love for life..."Hawk" would never leave home without being "dressed to impress!" He was always the life of the party and did not mind letting you know he was in the room. William was a generous man." Sounds like Stefon is a chip off the old block....God's Gift, yet another group Stefon sings with prepares to minister. The quartet of young women which includes his niece Jasmine and Stefon on lead synchronize, harmonize, angelicize us with "Great is the Lord." Just beautiful. Pastor Cotton invokes us to worship as they finish and before introducing the Euologist - Reverend Dawna Thomas. This is a treat for me since I'd never heard her preach and I'm all about girl power!

12:27 - Norman sings - I'm sorry, styles the sermonic solo, "Just a prayer away", a capella as he is known to do. Why I didn't record it is anyone's guess...Killed it.

Rev. Thomas is a stunning woman with fine, chiseled features, cheekbones to die for and a perfect smile. Her voice matches her. Elegant and confident but with a calming undertone. Nothing about her says brash or overbearing. She puts me in mind of a favorite teacher - the one who you just knew you were her pet - except everyone else thought they were too! She starts by drawing an analogy between her scripture (John 14:1-6 "Thomas said to Him, 'Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way? Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.'") and man's natural inclination to NOT ask for directions when clearly lost. It's real simple: Jesus is THE way. The ONLY way. In 13 minutes she put the gospel message DOWN and gave it feet.

12:40: Stefon is summoned for his remarks and although composed, he seems nervous at first. It is a daunting task. He notes that he didn't think he'd be in "this" position so soon in his life. My heart breaks for him. He acknowledges his mom's presence, help and friendship to his Dad, "who ain't even her man!" She shies away from the attention. That's what's up - just 'cause two folks don't make it in the romance realm, there's no reason why they can't remain friends - especially when there are children involved. I mean unless of course somebody's just a flat out jerk. It's obvious the influence his dad had on his life - and how he'd prepared him for life with out him. He said he wasn't sure at one point if he'd have to postpone the funeral. But God. He said he'd attended a concert on Monday night and praised God for all he was worth. A sacrificial praise. On Tuesday everything fell into place. That's what was called for in this time of loss - to wear the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. He admonished us to do the same. Boom and Aaron were on top of it. He ran down off the pulpit to grab one of his aunties from the first row, spoke a Word of healing to her and told her to offer God her praise. Caught a bit off guard, she complied nonetheless before returning to her seat. Another auntie jumped up, shoes flung off, bandaged toe no longer an issue I'd guess and tried to get 1st auntie to join her in a shout. 1st auntie looked at her like she had 2 heads. Did. Not. Budge.

12:50 - Pastor Cotton gives a closing prayer and thankfully includes a call to salvation. So many times this is left out at funerals but for me it's as good a time as any to make that move. Shoot...You could be next. My head was really bowed and my eyes were really closed so I really didn't see who or how many raised their hands in response to the ultimate invitation. All I needed to know was that it was a good day for the Kingdom.

Howard Hill's personnel take over, minus Howard. Guess you can't be everywhere. However, his more than capable staff hold it down, unfurling their now standard gift of a tapestry with the deceased's likeness printed on it. It garners the appropriate "oohs and ahhs" and he majestically draped it over Stefon's back. He wept. We wept.

1:00 - Back outside on this glorious day, I slowly make my way through the crowd towards the sidewalk. Jackie, always a classy chick, is coming back into the church, looking for her son who'd been on the drums. I take the opportunity to grab a hug from her. She tells me she loves my recently chopped down hair - I tell her I love her funky mohawk. I remember now that it was through her that I met Stefon - her baby brother - back when she used to sing with us. I know he'll grieve and he should. But he's got one of the best big sister's there is watching his back. Trust - that's what God created us to do.

Monday, June 28, 2010

"I'm 2 Lights Away!"

O.k., I've got to give you the six degrees of separaton on this one. As frequent readers of my funeral blogs well know, I don't have to be acquainted with the deceased to attend their funeral. That being the case, my friend Natasha is cooler than a cooler with me and in turn her super sweet, pretty and smart daughter Ashley is too. "Chante" (don't know why - but that's just what I call Natasha) and I met several years ago at a job-related conference and after a very public head-butting we agreed to disagree. After running into one another a few more times we developed a very natural and easy rapport and I now count her among my nearest and dearest. I met a 16-ish Ash when Chante was being honored at a black-tie affair. She was her mom's escort and as Chante put it in her acceptance speech, her "God-send" who held it down on the homefront when her job called for late hours and travel.

Recently, a grown up Ashley worked with me at one of the sites I supervised for my hustle. Unbeknownst to me when I saw her, she was pregnant and I didn't figure it out until it was time for her baby shower! These youngun's and their baggy clothes...

On a hot, sticky Saturday night, Ashley's most adorable baby's daddy caught a coupla hot ones. Let's go to the funeral, shall we?

Lester M. McClease, Jr. (BAM)
Sunrise June12, 1982 - Sunset June 5, 2010

Wednesday, June 16, 2010
New Haven, CT

11a.m.: It's a partly cloudy, cool-ish June morning as I find a park behind the Elks Club on Dixwell Avenue. Unashamedly I invoked my right to use my mama's handicapped sticker with the rationale that ain't no body got no business being handicapped and going to a bar this time of the morning. I picked my way through the parking lot to the Morningstar Deliverance Church, a one-story white structure with lavendar trim which fronts Dixwell. Years ago whilst in high school, it was a newly built, state-of-the-art record store - that's right, I said record - owned by Jerry & Renee Greene's dad, Mr. Greene. Trust me when I tell you, back 'round 1975 it was the hotness! But then, New Haven was a pretty cool spot too. Anyhoo, fast forward 35 years and not unlike most mid-to-large urban cities, the City of Elms has lots of issues, not the least of which is the out of control black male shooting deaths. More on that in a bit.

McClam and Son(s) has the funeral, convenient - since they're like, a block away from the church. They could've left the limos in the lot and carried the casket down - I'm sorry, let me stop myself. Entering the church there's a gang of people hanging about in various stages of grieving. I pass a big'un weeping uncontrollably as someone tried in vain to console her. "Geez", I think to myself, "I haven't been to a crying/falling out funeral in a minute", go in, sign the guestbook and get at the end of the short viewing line. He's laid out in a beautiful ebony casket with a red caranationed 'BAM' spelled out on a diagnol, and a carnationed heart and matching cross anchoring the left and right of the bier. I read the banners streaming from the arrangements and paused when I read the one from his "loving wife"??? There was a cute picture of him and lil' Lester, I mean "Lil BAM", over another arrangement and a banner from Ashley. So Ashley's NOT the "wife", right? I'm just trying to make sure I've got everything straight. Dang, I haven't even sat down yet and my eggs are already getting scrambled. He looked like he'd been dead for a while. He was shot in the leg and head in, oh never mind - read the blurb from the local rag for yourself:

"By James Tinley, Register Staff

The West Haven man charged with manslaughter after another resident was killed Saturday night may claim the shooting was in self-defense, his attorney said Monday during his arraignment.

Joseph Vreeland, 19, told police he shot Lester "Bamboo" McClease during a struggle over a gun McClease pulled out during a drug deal gone wrong in a car in West Haven, according to a police report made public Monday."

So, he looks like what he is - dead for a minute. He was killed almost 2 weeks ago, after the state medical examiner got through with him and McClam did his thing and wait, is that a patched bullet hole in this kid's forehead? Make that a badly patched bullet hole. Oh damn - this has just officially become surreal and again, I haven't even found a seat yet. His long, thick dreds were neatly pulled up and back, rocking a casual off-white button down, probably True Religion, Black Label, LRG or whatever gear kids are wearing now, his hands swollen and waxen allllllmost folded over his girth. I prayed his soul would find rest with God and since I'd never been to a funeral for a young shooting victim I decided on my usual spot near the back on the end of the pew in case I needed to make a quick exit. The sanctuary being a decent size was beginning to fill in quickly with friends/acquaintances/associates/duns/dudes/boys/crew - "or whateva niggas are calling themselves these days" - to quote A Pimp Named Slickback. A crack-ish looking young woman wearing black hot pants, a black t shirt and a red knit hat pulled down over two weaved pony tails meandered back and forth looking for God only knows what. Money? That Shizzle?? The rest of her butt???

11:15am: The funeral procession comes in with Rev. Scott Marks, a self-anointed local activist leading the way. The trail of "family" is pretty long - somewhere in the middle I spot Ash and Chante. Ash has on a blouse and slacks, her hair to her shoulders and the baby-weight gone. Chante is wearing a sleek black dress, tall and model thin. Once everyone's settled in the pastor of Morningstar, Bishop Vincent Smith takes the podium and tries to get something started with the Vicki Winans version of "How I got over" on c.d. Two things: I just hate that song and the c.d. was skipping. All bad. In a church full of what most certainly were un-churched people, the "praise party starter" song fell as flat as - well, a fart in church. Smith kept up with the "C'mon let's give Him some praise! Say Amen! Say Hallelujah!" patter until it became obvious that this would be a tough room, gave up and moved on. The old and new Testaments were read by a middle-aged woman and a Minister Victor Smith was introduced for remarks. I think his name was Victor Smith, but since Bishop Vincent Smith has had a perpetual frog in his throat ever since I've known him he could've been saying Vincent Smith. Anyway, we'll just call him Rev. Smith. He had a slight West Indies accent and gave remarks of how he led young BAM to the Lord at about age 12 but had lost contact with him as he grew older.

11:30am: The acknowledgements and obituary were read (nobody but family got a copy I noticed) and sidenote: the obituary that was printed in the aforementioned local paper had nothing about a "loving wife" but the one now being read did. Hmmmm. The call was made for remarks/remembrances from family/friends/associates/crew etc. and the now standard admonishment to keep it at "2 minutes" - which hardly anyone ever adheres to. A young man dressed in jeans/T-shirt popped up and got straight to the point, saying he hadn't known BAM that long but found him to be a good guy who was always helping people and would do anything for you except he was never where he was supposed to be when he said he would be. His standard response to the oft asked, "Where you at?" was "I'm 2 lights away!" Many of the gathered laughed in recognition of the familiar answer. The young man's reflections and comments were genuine and, under 2 minutes. A gentleman who said his son was a friend of BAM's gave fatherly remarks. A tearful young woman said BAM was her "baby daddy's" good friend and how he'd bring her baby pampers. A neatly dressed young man boldly stepped to the mic and passionately made the following observation: "I see many of you here today are wearing buttons and t-shirts with BAM's picture on it - and that's nice. But how much more of an impact do you think it would have made on his life if when he was struggling in his lifestyle and trying to find a job and do better if when he stepped out of his house he saw all of you standing outside with the t-shirts and buttons with his face on it? You talk about 'riding' for BAM - what if you had lived and LOVED for him?" Point made and taken. I feel convicted and I didn't even know the boy. Many of us stood and applauded him as he made his way back to his seat. Rev. Smith is back and oddly he goes the militant route pointing out how BAM's shooter, a white fellow, has only been charged with manslaughter and has a $250,000 bond. How if "it was a black man who killed a white man he'd be charged with murder and have a $3 million dollar bond!!" Some in the crowd ate that up too - I personally thought it was in poor taste not to mention an unnecessary roiling of a crowd where some of them may be pre-disposed to violence and/or revenge. Bishop Smith in his remarks wisely attempts to put a positive spin on things by piggybacking off of the young man who besought us to "live and love for BAM". Except it didn't have nearly the impact. Let me just pause here and make a point within my perceptions to any who may be contemplating or are in ministry. Un-churched people (or "heathens" as they used to be more commonly known) can smell con, game, phony-ness a mile away. You will be much more effective in your witnessing to them if you JUST KEEP IT REAL. That means no coattail/jock riding, no plagiarizing other preachers (especially someone from t.v. - just cause somebody doesn't go to church regularly doesn't mean they may not be catching some T.D. Jakes or Creflo on cable...) and no testi-lying!! Ya got that?? Now, where was I...

!2:00pm: Bishop Smith announces that after the next song, the next voice we'd hear would be that of Rev. Scott Marks. And then the smooth, mellow sounds of Smokey Robinson drifted from the church's speakers. I was like, "wait a minute (in the Homer Simpson voice) - is that the song Smoke sang at Melvin Williams' funeral in 'The Temptations' movie?!?" Oh yes, it is. A young woman in a pew near the front of the church started sobbing, I looked around and many of the young men sat slumped forward with their heads down - the cool dude's way of crying but not really crying so you can't see them crying. Then a version of "Precious Lord" was played that I'd never heard. It sounded - Baptist-y - and a whole lot of people just got up and started walking back and forth. I can only guess they were going outside since this is a one-way in/one-way out church and the ushers had blocked off the side aisle closest to me for the videographer. People were walking up and down the center aisle so much I thought it was a runway or perhaps something really good was being given away outside! I saw Ash go by with the baby - understandable, he may need changing although he wasn't fretting.

12:15pm: Once the song was over and Marks took the podium he did ask that everyone take their seats. Good, then it wasn't just me that was being made dizzy by all of the back and forthness. I was starting to feel like I was at a Moroccan street bazaar where the only things missing were goats and snake charmers...Marks asked everybody to get up from their seats and go hug somebody you didn't know as he loudly proclaimed "He IS Lord!!" into the microphone. No problem since I didn't know a soul sitting anywhere near me unless you want to count the girl and her little one who sat next to me and offered me an IceBreaker breath mint, which I gladly accepted. I've sung at this church a couple of times and the sound system isn't that great so couple that with a guy who's a bit of a megaphone mouth and you've got some pretty bad surround sound. My ears started ringing and itching. Thank God I wasn't sitting right under a speaker. He takes his scripture from Romans 6 - I didn't hear what verse (I can't imagine why not) but it really doesn't matter since all I heard was him going on and on about his life experiences, his growing up, his dad's parenting skills, the old Fair Haven neighborhood he grew up in, the kid who always got him in trouble, etc. He did reference the "3 stages of death - the natural death, the spiritual death and the eternal death" which I didn't get or care about since I was good and bored by then. He started to expound on his theory but didn't take long to get sidetracked with another self-reference. Bottomline: Dude was all OVER the place. I get it that he was trying to grab/relate to the crowd but also bring a sense of spirituality to the eulogy but what was really needed was some focus and since I had to go back to work, I couldn't wait him out to see if it was forthcoming. After a about a 1/2 an hour of his verbal wandering back and forthness and me getting absoutely no sense that he'd be "bringin' it home" anytime soon (I mean how do you end a rambling eulogy?: "And then I found $5"???) I decided to roll out.

12:45pm: If I had the cure for drug/alcohol addiction I'd be Bill Gates/Oprah/Warren Buffet/one of those Saudi Sheiks all put together rich - for about 15 minutes before "they" put a hit out on me. "They" meaning the forces/entities/people who have made sub abuse counseling/rehabbing, pharmaceutical companies, drug lords, advertising agencies, General Motors and Mercedes Benz,street level drug dealers, DEA, ATF, the latest "Drug Czar", gun and tiny cellophane bag manufacturers, et al a living for so many years. Would it be worth it to get these young men to stop killing each other? This is very sad to me. I'm 51 and there's been a dearth of decent, working, normal, date-able men in my generation for YEARS. What will Ashley and the young women of her generation have to choose from if they keep killing one another in "wars" over what? A CORNER?

"Because you know if money was nothing, if there was no money and everything depended on your moral standards and the way you behaved and the way you treated people, we'd be millionaires. We'd be rich." Lesane Parish Crooks, aka Tupac Shakur.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


I'm not even gonna lie - I'm not feelin' this one y'all but because it's what I do - I'm doing it. The background story in a nutshell is this: When I was in pigtails, about 5ish and my sister Kim was about 7ish we lived with my mom in Bridgeport. Just the three of us girls. Just cool. Until mom took up with "pete moore". Boy did life change for the worse - at least for me it did. pete and mom worked together at Raybestos, a brakes manufacturer in Stratford and I guess that's where they met. I also assume that pete had a whole other family up New Haven way since when mom moved up there years later and Kim and I were in highschool we ran up on pete's son, Pierre. He's been dead but he was the absolute smoothest, chillest guy in school. No doubt. Now let's say he inherited his coolness from his dad and let's say further that's what attracted my mom to him. It sure wasn't because he liked little girls - or did he? I can remember once he drove me to the girl's club. I was riding shotgun (guess back then big brother could care less about little kids getting maimed in car accidents) and he had to brake hard. I flew into the windshield, cracking it and my head. Trust me, I did not feel like running around a gym with other screaming little girls or jumping on a trampoline after that near death experience. But wait, this nigger screamed on me! To wit: "Look what you did to my windshield!!" Not: "Are you o.k.? Do you want to go back home or to the emergency room??" Naw. Nigga just booted me out of the car and sent me on my way - probably with a mild concussion. No matter, since the next time we were all in his car (a long, navy blue Mercury with a white top), Kim and I in the back, I eased the window down and let one of his favorite Kangol's fly out to become one with the blacktop. His whisk broom that he used to brush off the upholstery or his suit or whatever, too. You better know it. Nigga.

He was a lil' fella but to me as a kid he was tall and menacing. He always answered the phone "petemoore", instead of "hello". All one word - like he was famous. Over the years he'd pop up to see my mom and she'd go all giddy and giggly like "ooooo, I must still have 'it'!" The last time I spoke in a vaguely civil manner to him was to correct his pronunciation of my name which the idiot never could or would say right. "It's Will-ette. Say it with me" like I was talking to - an idiot.

ANYway, he's dead. And the world's a better place because of it. And there was NO WAY I was going to NOT go to this low-life's funeral. It could've been the biggest blizzard of the century combined with a nor'easter, an ice storm and a hurricane - every winter weather abberation known to southern New England. I could've been vacationing at my favorite villa in the U.S. Virgin Islands and I would've cut it short just to look down in the coffin of a nigger named petemoore to make sure he was in fact dead. When Kim called me and told me he was dead/in that day's obituary section I got up from my desk, did a happy dance and put in a time off request slip for the funeral date/time. Oh Happy Day! THIS was how you ended a year!!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

10:45a.m.A sunny,bitterly cold day in New Haven, CT The funeral was at 11 so my plan was to get there for the tail end of the viewing - remember I needed to look down on him - and stake out my seat. The funeral was at Bethel AME church and since my girly-girl Gwen's been a member since birth I did a little fact checking on petemoore and his family beforehand. She said he had a wife but she hadn't been to church for a while. He was the Godfather of a former pastor's daughter (ewww! They must've been fresh out of Godfather candidates that year!). Said old pete/elmerfudd had been sick for a minute. Cancer or something. You reap what you sow.

The limousine is parked right in front of the entry way and I think perhaps the family hasn't gone in yet. I can't tell since the windows have a good tint and it really doesn't matter - I'm not caring about this man's family since this man wasn't caring about mine. I speak to the Howard K. Hill funeral guys standing century and leave my card of "sympathy" in the basket below the sign in book. I signed it the way he always f-ed up my name. Oh, but I can be a jerk of epic proportions. I know this church and a few of it's members pretty well. It's not big - 48 or 50 pews and a small 'overflow' seating area to the right of the sanctuary. Rustic, exposed beamed ceilings and dark wooden pews ensure you don't get too comfy. There's a balcony that I've never ventured into - no need to. And there was no need for anyone to venture up there today since there may have been a hot 75 people in attendance and half of them looked like they had one foot on a banana peel.

I walk straight up to the body. There was a carnation cross and a carnation heart with red roses on either side of the mahogany casket. His full head of grey hair matched his suit. He looked old. Dry. Dead. I lifted my sunglasses to my forehead and gave him a thorough examination. His hands looked old. Dry. Dead. Normally I offer up a prayer for the deceased's soul but not this time. Oh no. God would have to deal with this rasputatious nigga's soul without any input from me. I sucked my teeth, put my sunglasses back on and went to find a seat in the very back. So's I could see everything and body. I notice a woman about my age, also alone, on the other side of the center aisle. She's not sitting with the family. Maybe she worked with him at his last job? Maybe she's another one of his kid's the wife intentionally left out of the obituary.

11:00: A woman who sings in the group I sing with and attends Bethel sits down behind me. She's in one of the church's choirs and is dressed in her robe. We chatter until it's showtime. I never even bothered to look in his family's direction while giving old petey the once over, so now I'm totally focused on his wife and sons "Elmer III" and Robert. Kim and I both noticed that his eldest son Pierre was not mentioned in the newspaper's obituary. It's not in the service's obit either. What is that? I know the wife wasn't Pierre's mother but c'mon - he was his son. The obit mentions he was predeceased by a daughter but not Pierre.

11:30: The usual funeral service order is being followed and at a pretty good clip. The former pastor (they switch 'em up pretty regular at the AME church evidently) has remarks , a couple of hymns, the big upping of the widow by the current pastor: "He was a good provider as evidenced by his wife dressing her behind off!"; acknowledgements of cards by another lady that used to sing with me. Some minister or another described someone I clearly did not know with the following, exact words: "Gentle, quiet, dignified demeanor. A trustee. Quiet wisdom. Loving and giving spirit." Then the bull crap hit the fan.

His cousin, 'Reverend Joseph Duke McAlpine' gives the reflections from the family. I've seen this guy around over the years and he looks to be late 70's, tall, lean. I didn't know anything about him being a reverend and certainly never heard him preach anywhere. Whatever. He starts off by saying, "if Michael Jackson, Tiger Woods or Allen Iverson was in the house we'd all stand up. Let's all stand for pete." Coupla things here: #1 Michael Jackson's dead - if he was "in the house" I'd be out of the house. #2 Tiger has been on the ho of the century hot seat for a good 3 weeks now - ain't nobody standin up for him! #3 A.I.? Really? C'mon Pop-pop, you're showing your age. And lastly - stand up for a nigga named petemoore?!? I. Will. NOT. He referenced Ephesians 6:10 about putting on the whole armour of God and what a tough guy elmer was. Well hell's bells, I guess so - being 5'4" tall and having a name like "elmer" you BETTER be tough. How "nobody messed with them" because they "belonged to pete." I bout vomited in my mouth.

11:45: I've had enough of this ol' bullshizzle. I no more wanted to hear this man be honored and lifted up like he was the pillar of some alien community than I wanted to sniff a bum's briefs. I'm out. But you best believe on the first warm, sunny spring day of 2010 I'm gonna put on a cute skirt, go commando, find his grave, spread my legs and piss ALL over it. Or my name ain't "Louette". You better know it.