Now that the forever- funeral is over and the Queen has been lowered into the ground, I’ve had a bit of time to marinate over her legacy and what it means for me and my Mama-grief.
Let me start by sharing this with you: a few weeks ago, days after Ms. Franklin died, I went for my run at a local park. A lone speaker sat in the middle of one of the tennis courts that line the jogging path. Then this came singing across the jogging path: daydreaming and I’m thinking of you, daydreaming and I’m thinking of you, with those haunting cords that seemed to ooze from the treetips, from the joggers’ sneakers. From my skin.
He’s the kinda guy that will say let’s get away, let’s go somewhere ahh. Where, I don’t care.
I was stopped in my tracks. Sweat stuck to my neck like a silk scarf. Forehead pressed against fence. I couldn’t move. I wanted Aretha to sing to me endlessly. I wanted to cry. I wanted not to care if the other runners were gawking at me. I needed that moment with Ms. Aretha. The squawk of the birds, the groan of passing cars, the rattling whine of cicadas, fell away. And I remembered:
Sunday morning, 1974. Mama’s clanging pots and wood-paneled cabinet doors. Aretha is singing to her, over cleaned collards and cornbread begging for butter. Mama is humming to Aretha, Mary dontcha weep. Mama doesn’t stop to listen or tap a house-shoed foot. She’s got Sunday dinner to make. But she hums in homage and agreement. Aretha, sister and friend. Aretha, co-conspirator in Black Mamahood. Girlfriends in the kitchen chopping onions, adding sugar to tea, brown as both their hands.
46 years later and I realize Aretha is bridge between Mama and me. She sings to us both, The song might be different but the melody’s the same. I am raising two little boys, in the ever-present glare of Roblox, in the big city, sirens screaming, in a high rise apartment building full of folks from all over the world.
I grew up in the 70’s, in the South, in a big house with glistening grass and no computer. The streets were tree-lined, driveways had cadillacs and every family was Black, proud and safe (or at least we felt that way). Worlds away from my life now.
I wanted to call Mama and tell her our Aretha had died. I wanted to hear her say, “I know, I heard. Uh uh uh. You ok, Baby?”
Since that couldn’t happen, I drank that moment at the tennis court til the cup was bone dry. Forehead and palms against fence. Listening. Praising. Remembering. Longing. Draped in song and sweat.