There is always something that pulls my mother’s (Ibaiye) energy into my day. A song, the flowers on my ancestral shrine, one of her many mannerisms I see in myself or my sister like humming while we cook or snapping our fingers when we feel sassy. Sometimes she shows up as a thought like “you get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” or “you’re going to wear a slip under that skirt, right?” Yes M’am. More often than not, she is fully present in my own reflection in the mirror…silver hair, broad nose, crooked smile. Yeah, there she is.
She is always there and yet I miss her physical presence still and sometimes in an aching way that cannot be explained to the uninitiated to this sacred club. I cannot explain how desperately I want her hands to scratch my head or rub my back. How much I would love to come home and find one of her “hot” little notes on my bed providing me with the breadcrumbs I needed to stay on the right track or the encouragement to get back up when I’ve been knocked on my ass. At 47, I am in a new phase of life and I have so many questions to ask her and though she has been present in my dreams listening to my musings about this life, this moment, this body, this energy. Me asking and seeking guidance and her nodding with assurances…I still miss her.
Today, she showed up twice. First in the form of an early morning text. Today is the 84 birthday of her oldest and dearest friend, my “Aunt” Barbara. My “cousin” Andrea texted me today to remind me to call Aunt Barbara to wish her a Happy Birthday which I did with all the flourish of a tone-deaf lounge singer (it was awesome!). Then later this morning, I received a call at the end of our Monday staff meeting from an unrecognized number from Virginia. I usually don’t answers those calls, but because Che has started an internship, I imagined it might be him on the other end of the line. The voice on the end of the line said, “Good Morning Billie”. Hmmm, only family members or friends from high school or college still call me Billie. I responded “Uh, Good Morning?” and then I heard a low laugh and the voice on the other end said, “It’s your Aunt Cora”. My “Aunt” Cora, who is also not my Aunt by blood, was along with my Aunt Barbara and my Aunt Carrie a part of my mother’s holy trinity of best girlfriends and my sister and I ADORE them. They were the sisters she never had and they were ever-present in our lives. I squealed with delight to hear that she was in North Carolina and close enough for me to see her and her son Reggie.
When my sister and I were little, we had our signature colors. Georgette always work pink and I always wore yellow. The one thing we had that matched always, were our little red jackets. The jackets were bright red of the windbreaker variety with a white zipper. They hung by the front door in our house and were always a signal to us of an adventure outdoors and the best adventures often involved our holy trinity aunties. I cannot remember a time when they were not in our lives. Aunt Carrie, who is 95, is known as Mama Carrie by folks in New Bern. She never gave birth to any biological children, but has mothered more than I can count. She is the grande dame of the trinity. Her home is full of antique baroque style furniture and her hat and jewelry boxes hold countless church hats and baubles that could keep us occupied for HOURS growing up. When Michael and I married, Aunt Carrie, Aunt Barbara and Aunt Cora stood in as proxy for my parents (Ibaiye). At the reception, we asked the elders to toast our union. My Aunt Carrie’s toast was to ask for God to provide flowers in our front yard and babies in the back–so I always tease her that our old egg Taj is her fault. Her father, Daddy Mo’ (Moore) lived to be 103 so we expect her to be around for quite some time to enjoy watching him grow up.
My Aunt Barbara was the first womanist I met before I know what a womanist was. She was the youngest daughter in a family of 10 children–smart, awkwardly beautiful, funny and independent. She left home to attend North Carolina A &T State University at the same time my mother left home to attend Bennett College. After college, she was Brooklyn bound. She named her daughter after herself (Andrea’s first name is also Barbara ) and raised her alone after she divorced her husband in 1967. She taught public school in Brooklyn for over 30 years, dated a man called Hen Foot she knew from “back home” for over 2o years until he passed, but never re-married and never wanted to. There are four generations in her home including herself, her daughter, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. Every summer from 1975 until 1981, we would spend our summers split between Brooklyn and New Bern. Her apartment off Empire and Flatbush was a place of legendary living room concerts, Italian ices, disco music, Gin and tonics and Creature Feature scary movies. Epic.
My Aunt Cora is the baby of the bunch. At 70-something, she looks 20 years younger and with her slender frame and large brown eyes, she still turns heads. When we will very young, maybe a year or two after my father passed away (Ibaiye), Aunt Cora came into my mother’s life like a breath of fresh air. Her daughter Robin was our constant babysitter and her son Reggie became our instant big brother and protector. Aunt Cora
had haslegs that are 10 miles long and in the 70’s nobody could rock hot pants like her. Like my mother and Aunt Carrie, she was a nurse and as fate would have it, before she retired, she worked her last ten years as a hospice nurse. On the day my mother passed away, I called my Aunt Cora to let her know that Mommy was not going to make it through the night. She jumped in her car and drove from Virginia, arriving at the hospital shortly before she made her transition. At the moment my mother took her last breath, my Aunt Cora and my friend Charles were with me. After the night nurse came in with the doctor and pronounced a time of death, my Aunt and I anointed my mother’s body from head to foot with frankincense oil I had been carrying in my purse. The oil had been given to me by a dear friend when she heard of my mother’s condition—“in the event I needed it”. I did…Thank you Afefe. After we anointed her body, my Aunt Cora said a prayer that she ended by saying, “Lord, this is your child Mary, please accept her spirit into your bosom”. Amen. Ase
When I arrived at the hotel, Aunt Cora and Reggie were sitting in rocking chairs waiting for me. As I walked up, she said, “Lord have mercy child, look at you Mary Burney” and with that she hugged me close and tight as if she were hugging my mother again after such a very long time. She stood back and looked at me at arm’s length and said, “if you ain’t your Mama…Lord Lord Lord” and with that she hugged me again like she too needed to feel my mother’s presence through me. We talked and caught up on life. As I left the hotel to drive back to work, I looked in the rear view mirror and winked at myself, another Mary mannerism. Thank you Mommy for making your presence known today. We feel you…We see you.
We lost one of the “Holy Trinity” over the weekend. On Sunday, June 22nd, Carrie Moore Godette began her journey to the ancestral realm. She is being guided by Divine perfect light and she is with those who have journeyed before her. In that number is a dear sweet friend, my mother Mary (Ibaiye). I know they are delighted to be in each other’s company again after all this time. Love you Aunt Carrie, Rest in Power (Ibaiye).