How do you reconnect with someone you’ve never really met?
I’d never met Ms. Simpson, but I grew up hearing about her. She was a big deal in our small town. She owned and operated (and still does) a school for etiquette & manners, and she was also into local politics. The older folks used to say, “She smart and got a head for numbers. She know how to make thangs happen, get thangs done.”
Though I’d never met her personally, her dad, also well known in the community, was very good friends with my folks, and he’d routinely drop by for a visit once or twice a month.
Recently, I had the opportunity to reconnect with Ms. Simpson. I told her who my peoples were, because in the Black community, “your peoples” is your calling card. Equally important is, where your peoples are from. Once this information is gathered and the name dropping starts, it doesn’t stop until a common name is set upon, and then that name is stretched, bended, and folded over until everyone somehow ends up being related or connected in some way. This process is always fascinating to me.
So Ms. Simpson, 20 years my senior, compared my list of peoples with her own list of peoples and was very quickly able to call off the names of many of my kin, where they’d lived, and who they’d been married to. “You had an Aunt Lovelace that used to live down in the Circle, didn’t you?” She asked.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, fascinated once again at the process.
Also, I told her that I wanted to share with her a story about her dad (who’s been deceased for some time now). “Oh, please do,” she said. And this is what I told her:
Your dad, whom my folks simply referred to as Simp, would often come by and visit. He always dressed very sharp and always came in and sat on the same sofa. Above this sofa was a large fancy, filigree clock with a ceramic cherub on either side of it. He would sit with his leg crossed at a nice, hard angle and his arms stretched out across the back of the sofa.
Side Note: What I’d gathered (from being a ten year old who was constantly run out of the room for “sittin up under grown folks,”) was that before Erma Lee became a devout Christian, or as she put it, latched her hand to the Gospel plow, she and Mr. Simpson had belonged to the same crowd, and it was a partying, drinking kind of crowd. So when he came to visit, he would fill Mama in on what was happening in the old neighborhood: Runfacover (because everybody had nicknames) was away on vacation… for six to ten. Tire Lee had gotten shot for messin’ with So and So’s old lady… and so on.
So after bringing Mama up to speed on everyone’s WHYs & WHEREFOREs, Simp would get around to talking about some party he’d gone to or some kind of mischief he’d gotten into, and Mama would say, “Simp, why don’t you come on and dedicate your life to the Lord?” And he’d laugh and shudder and wave his hands in protest, and so the visit and conversation would go… And this, basically, was what every visit with Simp was like.
But this one particular afternoon when he was visiting and regaling Mama with his exploits and she made her plea for him to give his life to God, he made a sarcastic comment about God knowing where to find him if He wanted him. And as soon as he said those words, one of the angels fell off the wall and hit him in the head. He jumped up, grabbed his head, and shouted, “What’d you do to me, Erma Lee?” Laughing fit to kill, she said, “I ain’t did nuttin to you, man. You cain’t mock God and get away with it.” Simp threw his hands in the air and said, “I’m getting out of here, all y’all crazy!” Mama was laughing so hard she couldn’t even get up to see him out. All I could hear was his car tearing out of the driveway.
Of course he still came back to visit, but he never sat on that sofa again. And if the weather was nice, he wouldn’t even come inside; he’d just sit and visit on the porch. Whenever my dad would ask, “When’s the last time Simp been by?” Mama would say, “You know he don’t come by like he used to, not since the angel went upside his head.”
Hearing this story, Ms. Simpson laughed herself to tears. “I can see him sittin’ all big on that sofa, braggin, and lookin and smellin good. That was my daddy, sure enough!”
I was so happy to have shared this story with her. I felt as though I’d returned to her a lost family heirloom, like I’d given something back to its rightful peoples. It’s true; our loved ones do leave us, but they never leave us empty handed. Their stories, as long as we tell them, are perpetual.
And by the way, who’s yo peoples?