Since we are in a ceremony meant to celebrate Brenda, I have to admit she would be pissed if I didn’t tell this story. Years ago, I invited her and my mother to the Opening of The Color Purple, my first show on Broadway. When we got to the red carpet event, she stood before a cluster of my esteemed colleagues and corrected my introduction: “No, no, I’m his ghetto auntie Brenda. Those other ones you meet are just faux aunties.”
I had been trying forever to get my mother and aunts to try the Lush store lotion, Sympathy for the Skin. Not normally one to buy into cosmetics zeal too much, I thrust this product upon them, justifying the price tag with regular accounts of how moisturizing it is.
This is what I use now at the hospital. I find that when our loved ones can’t do for themselves, all we can do is pick up where they left off. With stage four cancer, most of it is up to God. But the parts that we can cover, we cover.
Of course beyond her address on Marcelle, there was very little ghetto about my ghetto Auntie Brenda. She took care of most of the people in her life, took no short cuts, and saw far beyond the immediacy of her environment. Inasmuch as I’m a dancer/aerialist, she is far more brave. Tried exotic foods. Invested in new workouts before it was a thing. Bungee jumped from the Queen Mary when she was 56…
She doesn’t believe in ashy skin at all, is as pissed that nobody has addressed it as she is that the partial paralysis from the stroke has left her tongue motionless to say anything. Fortunately, my luggage was still in the car, Lush sympathy for the skin in it. So I lotion her legs, letting her know that my mother would fall completely apart before she could even get it on her hands.
She was a baby boomer who refused to live her life in fear, who understood loyalty and taught me, by example with Mom, how to be a good friend. And she constantly chastised me for taking too long to take over the world.
I start to feel odd, halfway expecting Auntie to jump up and holler at me for the impropriety of it all. A nephew had no business rubbing anything on her thighs. Mid-thigh would have to be as far as I went. The crime is amplified by my aunt’s usage off these legs – she had become so skilled at salsa over the past ten years that I dared not attempt to dance with her, my vocabulary unsuitable. The temptation to insist the nurse conduct this moisturizing passes; she has been more than kind so far. I watched her turn my aunt over on her side earlier to prevent bedsores.
If Auntie could talk, she would say to pull the plug, except that there wasn’t one to pull. This was bout number three with cancer; stellar genetics and will helped her win the first two. Her family has several cancer survivors, and a few octo- and nonagenerians, so she is prone to outliving loved ones. She is also a realist. With a mouth. “You know, nephew,” she told me only a few weeks before, “you have to hurry up and make some money cuz me and yo mama are too old to be out there on the corner. Don’t nobody want no old snatch, and you have to take care of us.”
So it makes sense that this festivity is about living, really living, since she showed us, her family, friends, associates and colleagues how to do it. We’re all blessed because she helped fashion nooks of heaven right here, long before she got to the real one. I'm sure if she is in the ghetto there, every angel wants an invite.
[Brenda Josenberger passed 10 weeks ago after a second stroke related to deterioration from a chemo/radiation combo treatment. The italicized text is from remarks I made at her homegoing celebration August 17.]