There Were Always Cookies
I have always liked vanilla. I enjoyed it added to warm milk, it helped medicine to go down, I love Vanilla Coke. I never gave it a thought as to how I first came to enjoy vanilla, until I thought about my grandmother.
From when I was about four years old until I left Minneapolis to attend college at Fisk University in Nashville. I lived a few blocks from my maternal grandparents. My grandmother picked my brothers and I up every Sunday and took us across town to Zion Baptist Church where we went to first Sunday School and then the main service. We usually stopped on the way at the car wash where we all got out and conscientiously watched her Chevy Nova go thru the soapy bristles. When we were old enough we could go to her house by ourselves although we were always admonished to watch the traffic when crossing busy Portland Avenue.
We were never required to give notice when visiting. My grandparents were retired and most always home. The one constant was that anytime we visited, ever. There were Nestle Toll House chocolate chip cookies in a large shoe shaped cookie jar. They were straight from the recipe on the package of chocolate chips. Sometimes we got to help make them and of course lick the spoon and get every last bit of cookie batter from the bowl. The vanilla was one of the last ingredients to mix in. It was only a teaspoon and it was darker than the batter and we stirred it in until it disappeared.
My grandmother was an amazing woman. The matriarch of the family. It was only within the last few years that I discovered from my cousin Jacki that my grandmother picked her and my cousin Buddy up once a week to spend time with her which made it all the more remarkable that the cookies were always there.
In this age of programmable cell phones, many people don’t remember their own cell phone number. I do recall mine but the only other number I know in the universe is my grandmother’s. What I would give to be able to call her once again. She was blessed with long life and when she passed away it was Mother’s Day which was somehow fitting. On some days, I will remember her for her strength. On other days for her wisdom. Today it’s for her chocolate chip cookies.
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups (12-oz. pkg.) NESTLÉ® TOLL HOUSE® Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
- 1 cup chopped nuts
“Becoming a strong, faithful black man is about unlearning the messages received since youth regarding measuring your manhood in conquest. It’s about giving yourself permission to turn down a pretty woman because the value fleeting and the cost great. It’s about recognizing that it’s not what you once thought, “it was something you did for yourself and not to your lover” but now knowing it is something you did to your lover. Whether or not you got caught. Growth comes, manhood comes, when you accept the values of friendship, monogamy and mutual respect in place of those you held before. It comes from vulnerability and walking in truth, sharing your pain and weaknesses rather than hiding them and holding them in.”
I’m supposed to be writing something else today. Perhaps I still will but not before I exorcise myself of the “Lemonade” demons infiltrating my thoughts. Much has been written that Lemonade is of and for black women and white people, particularly white men and presumptively black men should just sit this one out and let black women have their day. I would do that, but for the demons that won’t let me move on.
Rightly or wrongly I read many of the reviews of Lemonade, some from total strangers and others from women I know (or at least follow) and respect in an Internet kind of way like Awesomelyluvvie and Ijeoma Oluo along with a Very Smart Brotha Damon Young. So I viewed Lemonade with an expectation of what I’d find and for the first twenty minutes or so I was impressed with the visuals, understanding of the message and trying to see the many things that a black woman might identify with. I didn’t expect to feel all the things I felt as a black man and father, imperfect at both. I won’t even attempt to describe what Lemonade means to black women. Perhaps I shouldn’t attempt to describe it as a black man, but the demons…
Some of my “black man view” is generational. I’m four years younger than Matthew Knowles who I played with on the same college basketball team for a year at Fisk University. The Matthew in the video playing with young daughter Beyoncé is the one I know rather than the music mogul he became. I’m 14 years older than Jay-Z who has faced different pressures than I because of his wealth and fame. That which faces black men in their teens, twenties and thirties may vary but there will be commonalities that we all have to deal with. Side chicks have always existed. One difference is that today it seems more acceptable for side chicks to operate openly instead of behind the scenes, sometimes glorified in urban literature. I’m not absolving black men. Sometimes the attention you get is in direct ratio to the signals you’re sending.
Becoming a strong, faithful black man is about unlearning the messages received since youth regarding measuring your manhood in conquest. It’s about giving yourself permission to turn down a pretty woman because the value fleeting and the cost great. It’s about recognizing that it’s not what you once thought, “it was something you did for yourself and not to your lover” but now knowing it is something you did to your lover. Whether or not you got caught. Growth comes, manhood comes, when you accept the values of friendship, monogamy and mutual respect in place of those you held before. It comes from vulnerability and walking in truth, sharing your pain and weaknesses rather than hiding them and holding them in. Black men are taught to be stoic and proud and those protections may indeed be their downfall until they learn to let others in. Sometimes their defense mechanism instead of sharing with the one you love is trying to maintain the respect of your lover and escaping with another. The end result is destruction, the only variable is degree.
Lemonade also spoke on fatherhood. There is no greater feeling than being perfect in the eyes of your little girl (or son). Perhaps no greater loss when she discovers your flaws and failings and your fear she’ll never see you the same way again. If lucky, you’ll find that the love was strong enough that it will even exceed what existed before. I pray for Matthew and Beyoncé, perhaps because I recognize it could have been me.
Lemonade is powerful. Both poetry and pain. It’s universal and individual and will require further watching and listening to peel back the layers. Maybe one day I’ll watch it and merely be entertained. The demons are quieted, for now, perhaps gone. Besides all the messages for black women which I may never be qualified to describe. There are those for black men also, deserving discussion as well.
I wrote this a few years ago to a friend that was going through. I release it now in hopes that someone else might benefit.
One of the first things we learn as a child is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In its simple fairness, the idea is easily grasped by children and only adults seem to have a hard time understanding the concept.
Unfortunately, for those who live by this rule, there is often no correlating benefit that automatically accrues. Sometimes bad things happen to good people and even worse, sometimes people whom you’ve treated well do not treat you the same. It is in the nature of good people to always be considerate of the feelings of others. It is their nature to be concerned about the impact of their actions and most importantly, to stand by the side of friends and family throughout their ordeals without a second thought because that is what they do.
Because the concept of abandonment is something they would almost never personally consider. When it happens to them it can be a devastating blow from which it can be very hard to recover. There is nothing in their experience which allows them to understand how someone could do to them that which they could never do to another. The selfish person can more or less move on, denying responsibility and utilize their arsenal of defense mechanisms to blame the abandoned and get on with their life. The selfless person has built up no such armory and their natural proclivities to offer comfort and understanding cannot easily be turned within.
When a good person is abandoned, whether by a spouse, child, friend or even parent. Their first instinct is to blame themselves. Because the thought process involved in abandonment is so foreign to them their first thought is to wonder what they did wrong. No doubt the abandoner uttered some justification or perhaps to be extra hurtful did not. The selfless one will take their criticism to heart whether it is deserved or not. While none of us are perfect, their faults were not likely the cause of the problem.
What the abandoned person desires most is a clear understanding of the situation and that may be the one thing they are forever denied. Their quest for understanding may diminish but will likely always exist to some degree until they are healed. Those who are unable to heal may never truly move on. They throw themselves into their work or their children or often go off into different directions seeking to dull their pain but end up only enhancing it.
There are two important steps involved in healing their soul:
- They should know that the blame is not theirs and the responsibility lies with the one who abandoned you. That person for reasons you may never understand has gone in another direction. The way that they left ultimately doesn’t matter. There is no good and honorable was to desert someone and no matter how they do it only ranges in degrees of cruelty. Most often they take the way out easiest for them which is to explain little and leave quickly. Their decision may not be logical and they may often later regret it having learned too late what they lost. It is alright for you to still wish them well and indeed still love them. Just recognize that the departure was their choice and beyond your control. Time to move on.
- The hardest thing to complete the healing is to replace them. The replacing might not be a literal thing like replacing a wife or husband or having another child. What needs to be filled is the space that you had given to another person that is now empty. For those of faith, take the time to be still and let the space fill slowly. Fill some of that space focusing on yourself, remembering the things you enjoy and spending time with those whose love is unconditional. When the time comes to let another actual person into the vacant space. Consult with God as you no doubt never stopped doing for approval of your choice. If the one replaced was a spouse. Make sure you’re equally yoked and that they offer you support much as you would be willing to support them. The tendency might be to hold back but I encourage you to work through that tendency and instead open up more, consulting God each step of the way.
Sometimes there are special circumstances which make your decisions that much harder. Suppose the one shutting you out is dying and you find yourself still responsible for their care. The little justification I can give them is that they may be overwhelmed by their own fear and in their own way they may be trying to make your final separation easier after they’re gone? Whether that’s true hardly matters if they are intent on going out in that manner. You must decide what you are able to give and do no more. This period is finite and it is likely you find yourself unable to leave even though the person has already metaphorically left you. Dream of your better future and protect yourself from current pain. God will indeed reward you for your selflessness although the world and man may not. Don’t neglect your own health and give yourself some of the time you’ve always dedicated to others. Because you have loved, know that you are loved also and take comfort in that. When you have needs don’t be afraid to reach out and share your pain with others as you have always helped others through their trials.
When your joy comes, it will be more than you imagined because God will recognize your service and sacrifice. Speak it into existence (or at least whisper for the time being). You’ll never be abandoned by God who can make up the slack for anyone else!
Encouraged by friends and those of a similar mind I was encouraged to start a blog which manifested itself in Enigma in Black. It’s been almost two weeks and I’m starting to form an opinion and perhaps developing a false sense of security. Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Ignore the Stats: Your blog host will provide you tons of information about your post. You can track each post by the number of views, likes and comments. You can identify views per day and peak hours. If immediate gratification is what you seek you can literally watch the response and measure it against your expectations. It will drive you crazy. The lesson learned is to simply do your best, people will like it or not and your audience will hopefully find you.
- Never sell a poet short: At least half of what I write is about politics. In my mind I’m writing about serious stuff and the fate of the world relies on the proper outcome. Much of what I write is long by nature and not for those with a short attention span. I am generating limited views and likes and very few comments despite what I perceive is the provocative nature of the material. Let me slip in a poem though and the blog erupts. Poets come from other galaxies to like and comment and follow your blog and ask you to follow theirs. I am coming to grips with the possibility that I too am a poet but I confess to being scared of these people. They’re relentless.
- I must be in a honeymoon period: So far I’ve generated not one negative response although I know I’m saying things someone disagrees with. I think the trolls have given me a grace period, waiting for me to drop my guard and then will attack. All I can say is, “Bring it!” I’m actually looking forward to “engaging” those with whom I disagree and you only disappoint me with your absence.
- Write for yourself: I’m writing a book on-line, “The History of American (White) Exceptionalism” and I’m not sure anyone is paying attention. By my outline I need to publish two chapters a week to finish before the election in November and I’m determined to finish on time before assembling what is essentially the first draft and making it a real book. Even if to paraphrase Billy the owner of First Avenue when talking to Prince, “nobody digs your writing but you”. I like my own writing enough to see it through. American Exceptionalism is white privilege on steroids and I’m making clear why.
I thank those who are following and will let you know when I have more thoughts.
Enigma in Black
I wrote this almost five years ago. It is important in times like these to remember the things we’re thankful for. As opposed to those that anger us or cause fear. In the four years since I wrote this. The sentiment has only grown stronger. A few words about my son:
I spent a little time with my son the other day helping one of my daughters move some things. We did some of the things we usually do; talked about sports. I enquired if there was any scenario by which his favorite college football team FSU, could win the national title? He then gave me a complicated list of the several things that would have to happen involving multiple teams he’d obviously previously calculated. Sports can be a metaphor for life between men and his eternal optimism was justified during one Ryder Cup where he “proved” that positivity can be rewarded. It’s a significant factor in the way he lives his life.
I mentioned to him something I’d written on Facebook where I’d confessed to a lax approach to academics during high school. He immediately demanded reparations for all of the punishment he’d received for failing to turn in homework as obviously it was unfair for me to have administered it. He remembered the years during which it seemed he was in perpetual lockdown. I conceded there was a point at which his mother and I had to give him back privileges in order to have something to take away.
Because I thought it might come up while moving things, I mentioned some shoulder pain I was having when I raised my left arm over my head. He responded, “Don’t do it!” He reminded me of every time he came forward with a complaint of pain my inevitable response was to tell him not to do whatever was causing it. One notable exception was one Saturday morning when he came to our bedroom having broken out in Chickenpox. I couldn’t readily identify it and we rushed to a 24-hour clinic to seek remedy.
We all hope that our children will have better lives than we have and that they will grow up to be responsible people. For a father, there is a special relationship where he lives vicariously through a son and those hopes are heightened. I have been blessed to have a son who has turned out to be the most responsible person I know. He’s a good father, husband, person, and friend. Happy Birthday, Alan!