Clay and Concrete
Simone used to love to ask her Aunt Emma to braid her hair. Aunt Emma would turn her head from watching the occasional passerby outside her bedroom window and motion softly for her to come lay her tousled head of thick hair in her lap. Simone was not beautiful then or even little-girl cute. She had dark, dark brown hair that graced the upper third of her back. Her skin was like a mismatched peanut butter , a few shades lighter than the hair that teased it. Her large-square shaped bucked teeth stuck out from her violet gums and she was pre-teen chubby.
But Simone would curl up under Aunt Emma as if Aunt Emma blocked the direct burn of the sun. And when Aunt Emma braided Simone’s hair, her strong, elderly fingers would pull the three sections of Simone’s hair together in a stiff grasp and begin to braid it into sets of two. She affectionately called them “cowhorns.” Each braiding motion tugged slightly on Simone’s roots and as she would go section by section Aunt Emma would light up with stories and short songs from a time that only seemed to exist on her fingertips and in the lightness of her speech when she braided hair. In a working middle class Prince George’s county neighborhood in the mid-90s, the backwoods of old Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, seemed like a barren land of wasted dreams. It was a place that was left, a place of ancestors, or a place descendants visited just to pay homage to a past that seemed incompatible with the present.
But, with Aunt Emma that past was tangible for Simone. She loved her even more for her bearing of the past. She read her softness as sensitivity to the supernatural, a manifestation of what was. To Simone, she was packed with spirits, not haunted, but influenced, and her brown face naturally tucked round plums on the seat of her cheekbones. So, Simone always imagined that those plums were where the most benevolent spirits sat. They always kept Aunt Emma permanently smiling, even when there was no reason to. Like when her older sister died in her and Simone’s arms or when the root doctor could not create anything to save Aunt Emma’s brother from a quick, but devastating bout of cancer that took him in less than two months. The plums on her cheeks remained there.
Simone, found herself caught between the southern, rural mystique of her Aunt Emma, who took care of her as a child and the modern, professionalism of what surrounded them. Simone, the slightly chubby, buck-toothed, style-challenged girl was comfortable in the plot of running in red from the monkey woman hiding in thorny bushes and she forever craved the years gone by in Aunt Emma’s stories-Lulabelle and the glasses of water that caught spirits, the salt and pepper in pockets that kept balance. The modernization laid by concrete could never blanche out the rugged earthiness of North Carolina clay-could never blanche out the rugged earthiness of North Carolina clay.
*This piece is dedicated to the indelible spirit of my Aunt Emma. She is tattooed to the very core of me. RIP January 28, 2014.
Copyright @Nichelle Calhoun 2014