Inside urban tenement walls, in Pittsburgh's Uptown...
...and moved far too many times before...
stuffed in every corner, of every room.
Pieces of her dwell in sweet-smelling
cedar chests and weathered cupboards,
that when opened,
Mama's essence of lilacs and dried tea roses
waft up from inside.
Thinking back 51 years, to Mama, braiding her
silky, black hair in her mother's mirror,
my heart fluttered as silver strands took hold...
I said, "Mama, how old are you?"
"Young yet," she'd always say.
"Mama, you're never gonna die on me... Right?"
"No, Baby," she'd always say...
I'm gonna be 'round for a good while."
But, I watched as her breathing
became more labored while she slept...her
so slow and hard, yet, rhythmically,
that I could see it pressing up
through her soft, flannel night gown.
Sometimes I'd just lie there in the
dark, listening to Mama's life-symphony.
Even at 12, I knew...I just knew...she was going to leave me some day.
On a steamy, August morning, five months past my 13th birthday, Mama went to work in her white nurses uniform...but not before she stopped to plant a cheek kiss and reached over to do a little foot tickling. "Get up, sleepyhead. Gracie's gonna wash your hair this morning. I'll braid it this evening after work."
But, later that morning, with my hair soaking wet, smelling of Prell Shampoo...a call came through to Gracie..."Is this 5139J12, the operator said?' "Yes," replied Gracie. Seconds later...we were in the car with PapPap, speeding along Route 837, up Chess Street, to Dr. Hughes' home office in Mon City.
Mama was found...this lifeless angel...still warm, so peaceful...arms by her side, lying face up on Dr.Hughes' kitchen floor, a shattered coffee carafe lay on the floor nearby...her eyes were open...as if she didn't want to leave me...my chest felt very heavy...I remember sitting on the doctor's front stoop, feeling well-hollow...my heart fluttered...clinging to "Rags" the family dog, both of us panting from the heat...I waited for what was to come when someone dies...the mournful cries from her daughter, Gracie, kneeling, ...and rubbing her body over and over...listening for a heart beat... begging the Dr. to try and save her. The empty words from Dr. Hughes cut through my spirit...I held my breath... "I'm very sorry, he said, "there's nothing we can do for her now." I felt my breath release...and realized that my life would change forever...My love, my Aunt Minnie aka Mama, was gone.
Two days later, my heart traveled with her down south to Mount Airy, North Carolina, in the belly of an airliner...her first and last plane ride.
Minnie Fulton-Jackson was buried in the family cemetery down the road from the Old Ararat Baptist Church.
Two white, turtle doves flew overhead while last words were said over Mama's bronze casket...The smell of fragrant tea roses and end-of-summer flower blossoms christened Mama's departure...and signaled my loneliness...
I guess I kept just enough of Mama's heart-
essence in me to keep on living...
because I'm still here...attached to Mama's things... my own hair turning silver in her mother's mirror...
Jus' incase, anybody's askin'...
I'm gonna be 'round for a good while.
11/3/2009 1:55 AM and counting