During our last Fixe Jour planning meeting for the Uncaged Birds retreat, Trina asked Lillian to each share stories from our lives. This is in keeping with the retreats theme “Empowerment Means Telling My Story”. During the retreat, we will be providing ample opportunities to tell the stories that make up the fabric of your lives. The stories can be funny or sad. They can describe a happy memory or a more challenging one. They can be stories that describe your personal experiences or they can be stories passed down to your from your ancestors. I’d like to share a story from my own life. (Jemitra Hairston)
Fall is in the air where I live in Holland. Some of the leaves are already changing colors. It reminds me of where I grew up in North Carolina, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, which are known up and down the east coast for their beauty, particularly during the autumn season. My story is my recollection of a phone conversation, I had with my mother perhaps two years before she passed away in 1999. I was still living in Washington, DC and we were reminiscing about my days playing the flute in Carver High School’s marching band. Our band was known throughout the state for our distinctively soulful and rhythmic marching style. Hence the name “The Highstepping Yellow Jackets”. My mother and I talked by phone nearly every day after I left North Carolina as an 18 year old. If I were to guess, I would say this conversation took place in early September–close to this time of the year. During this conversation, she said, “Hey Pooh. How is everything up there? is it getting cold yet? Whatcha eat good today?” my mother always began with a barrage of questions. When I answered them all to her satisfaction, she said, “Fall is certainly in the air here. It reminds me of when you used to go over there with your band uniform on to the football games. I used to be so proud. ou remember them big ugly shoes you had to wear? Them things was sho nuff awful looking, but y’all used to be stepping.” My mother would then pause and gather her breath. “You remember how hard a time you had learning to play the flute. You couldn’t get it to make no sound for the life of you, but you kept on trying ’til one day you could play it. I wonder what ever happened to Ms. Foxx who used to teach you music over at Kennedy. She was a cute lil’ thing. I remember how mad you was when she got married. You remember that?”, she asked. “Yeah, I remember ma, but I wasn’t mad at her though. I just thought she had a cool name”, I replied. “Yeah, that’s what it was. You didn’t want to call her by her new last name. I knew it was something”, my mother continued. I got quiet and waited for what I knew was coming next. “Yeah, I knew it was something like that. I ain’t as crazy as I look.” I smiled into the phone. That was one of my mother’s favorite phrases; one that I’d heard her say time and time again for as long as I could remember. I looked out of the window of my apartment to trees who’d begun to put on their party clothes and were resplendent in orange, yellow, red, and brown. Even though the leaves were changing, there were some things that always stayed the same.