(for Marian Carol)
My father’s side of the family includes the first black
woman ever to play violin for the Kansas City Philharmonic, the highest
grossing black director ever, and a prodigious composer/musician who plays
everything. Then there's me. Still, the most prolific performer in the family was my Aunt
Marian, who recently laid to rest her body and took her wares to stress Peter
at the Gate.
not be fair to eulogize her with only beatific words and gravesite prose. She
would prefer this journal excerpt:
August 9, 2004
[As usual famous people are purposely misspelled ;)]
Truly, Csher’s name was on the marquee and I was on the stage
with her. But Aunt Marian stole the show.
when a new ticket became available earlier that day and her excitement reached
through the phone to grab me by my lapels.
She had on her side that my No’s are flimsy next to her gusto, along
with her ushering hand toward a guilt trip:
Why hadn’t I called her before? Didn’t I get any of her messages? Didn’t
I know she really wanted to go? Hadn’t I heard from other family members she
contacted about her intentions on going? How soon would she be able to find out
if the ticket was free?
relenting, I forked over my best friend’s cell number because I had to put the extra
ticket in his name. She called me back forty seconds later.
“Jamal? This is your auntie again. Is your friend one
of those people who never keeps his phone on?”
probably just in the shower, Aunt Marian,” I assured her.
well you know how your Auntie worries. And is his name Lion?”
Good, chile cuz I didn’t want to get it wrong, chile, okay! And will he remember me?” she asked. Somehow, she had forgotten how impossible she
is to forget.
course Aunt Marian. So just try him
later on and I’m sure he’ll figure out where you all should meet.”
sure he’ll answer his phone?”
promise,” I said, relieved I hadn’t given her his home phone number as well.
I’m so excited I can’t wait. Thank you sooo much nephew!”
welcome. I’ll see you tonight.”
I hung up
immediately, confident that she’d hear the smile in my voice and know that she
needn’t worry. Anybody.
later, when I made it to the packed post-show green room, my name sprouted
thin, translucent wings and zipped between shoulders and faces to land in my
“Jamal! Over here, chile! Jamal…”
Aunt Marian was at the party indeed.
But a few people distracted me before I could acknowledge it. I hugged my
(then) agent, Rodney, shook hands with a few friends of co-workers, and made my
way over to my friends and Aunt.
“Hey everybody,” I said, arms
stretched open for hugs. Appropriately, Aunt Marian was first to walk into them,
her black suit jacket and sleek blouse corseting her snugly.
“Chile you are a
star!” she said, her smile stretching the skin colored like mixed nuts. Her busy face had flashed the sun in some
places more than others over the years. “You were so fabulous, and chiiiiiiile
I enjoyed it so much. I had so much fun, I’m so excited oooh honey you were the
best! I was just telling Lion!” she said, beaming, her words striding like
racehorse legs but louder.
I got worried that someone near
would hear the singularity of her boast.
“Thank you sooo much,” I told
She hugged me again, her ample bosom
conquering my ribcage. I smiled. My Aunt Marian was somehow younger than all of
us and would thus win.
Just then, Aminah, an impressive
dancer’s dancer who had made me wish Britiney Spears would stop getting in the
way during her show, brought her congratulations to the group. She accused me
of the same focus pulling.
When I introduced her to Marian, my
aunt managed more upstaging than Aminah and I in our entire careers combined.
“No! It’s not Marian, it’s Star,
honey!” Marian told Aminah. “I want to be called Star tonight, chile, okay? How
are you, girl?”
“I’m fine,” Aminah said, laughter
spilling. “Nice to meet you.”
“Oooh, chile can you dance? I can
have you be my female back-up dancer because Jamal is going to be my male
dancer and everything. Yeah, girl I’m going to be Polka Dot…” she began.
“I thought you were Star?” I asked.
“No, that’s my working name, but my
stage name is going to be Polka Dot. And I already talked to Rodney over there
and he’s going to be my agent. Now, I
just need a make-up artist and I’ll be ready, chile!”
Aminah maintained absolute
composure while Ryan and my other friends discovered that the bottom jaw has
more range of motion than they knew.
“Don’t look so surprised, Lion,” I mumbled to Ryan.
“You’ve been getting the show all evening, haven’t you? I’m jealous in fact.”
“She called me eight times before
the show,” he whispered out of the side of his mouth. I gave him a look of apology.
The flush was yet to come. Aunt Marian was just getting started. The
embarrassment set in later when I ventured to borrow Sal, my show bookend, from
his family and bring into the small area with mine.
“This must be one of the dancers!”
Aunt Marian said, swinging around to look at him.
“Yes, this is Sal. He’s wonderful,”
“Hi, nice to meet you,” he said.
“Chile it’s nice to meet you too.”
Aunt Marian brushed from her forehead a few wisps of hair that threatened to
obstruct her full-figured grin. “You were wonderful, just wonderful chile. You
were wonderful and great dancer. Just wonderful. Of course, you weren’t as good
as my baby, but you were good chile, I mean good.”
Certain episodes of Ally McBeal
feature moments where maybe a big social goof or the sudden taste of her foot shrunk her to a
Stuart Little version of herself running from the scene. Same thing happened to me. Inside I was
decomposing to run around underneath the snack table.
“Thank you,” Sal said, his eyes
bright with stupefaction.
When a random cute pair of earrings
yanked Aunt Marian’s attention, I pulled Sal close enough to show him I was
sufficiently contrite. He waved it off
and laughed, probably delighted by the new anecdote Auntie Marian gave
“I love you Aunt Marian,” I said,
and then pulled my intrigued co-worker away.
And I did love my Aunt Marian. I
just needed a break. Unfortunately, the break involved a friend of a friend
trying to smuggle photographs of celebrities from the walls of the reception
room. A swift reprimand followed, which included the reminder that he was only
there under the shelter of (but not included in) my family ties and the love
that goes with them, before I escaped back to my people.
Aunt Marian’s momentum had waned
“Chile they need some chicken wings
up in here, okay! Jamal, why don’t they have any good food up in here? You know, Jamal, I asked Rodney and them if
they thought I should get blue or red in my braces, what do you think?”
“You asked my agent what color
braces you should get?” I asked, as if I had not understood her clearly.
“Uh huh, honey yes chile. Because
nephew, I’m trying to get Rodney to be my agent too.”
“Of course.” It was time to go
indeed. “Let’s see if we can find you some chicken wings elsewhere.”
“Like I said, you were fierce, honey! And I
thank you so much for getting me tickets to the show and I enjoyed myself. Lion
was so nice! Csher looked good, too. I didn’t
like that Syndi Laupir chick though, she needs some plastic surgery or
something cuz she is just tired. I can’t stand her.”
“But Marian, she can sing,” I said,
trying not to laugh.
“Yeah, but she just looks
pitiful. And honey she needs some Botox
or some make-up or something. And just when I thought it was over here comes
that chile again, and I was like, Oh Lord not again…”
The next morning at 7:30, Aunt
Marian called. This would be the day to neglect to turn the phone volume down.
Were you asleep?”
“Um, it’s okay Aunt Marian,” I
said, refusing to lie that I was awake but resisting telling her she woke me
“I’m sorry, chile. I just wanted to
call and thank you so much for getting me those tickets. Ooooooh, honey I had a
ball last night and I am just so proud of you.”
“Thank you and I’m glad you had a
good time,” I answered, and then added, “Aunt Marian.” I figured out last time
I was here that she liked to hear me refer to her that way.
“Okay chile well I don’t wanna keep
you but I do want you to know that it was such a fabulous show chile and honey,
I can’t wait to tell my good girlfriend about it when I get to work. Oh and
tell Lion I said thank you, he really is such a nice guy…”