No more apologies for being a Daddy's girl

Last year, I ran a heartfelt tribute to my father on Father's Day. Then I was kinda taken aback by people that had real issues with Father's Day and didn't want to hear other people's happy stories. So I ran this post and a small ruckus broke out. I'll just accept that this holiday means different things to different people and keep it moving.

This year, we're keeping it simple. How cool is this picture? I came across this while rummaging in the family strongbox for my original birth certificate (gotta have those papers, doncha know). These are my dad's naturalization papers. He officially became an United States citizen in 1961, thus paving the way for me to run for President and not have to prove my nationality. (Jokes)

On this Father's Day, a simple commemorative toast to one of the greats. Rest in Peace, Daddy.

My own personal holiday...

Yes, that's young BougieMe. I'm really not sure what BougieMom was thinking with this fit. BougieSis may thank me now for not showing the one where she's in the matching outfit. For the record this "For Real Tho?" look has remained in my facial expression rotation.

Why the picture of young Chele? 'Tis my birthday. That special, special day where I alternately bemoan the ticking of days off the calendar or celebrate the fact that I'm still here to tell the story. This year I feel more like celebrating. There a great song from a Stephen Sondheim musical - Follies. The song is called "I'm still here" - here's my favorite part:

Good times and bad times,
I've seen 'em all and, my dear,
I'm still here.
Flush velvet sometimes,
Sometimes just pretzels and beer,
But I'm here.
I've run the gamut.
A to Z.
Three cheers and dammit,
C'est la vie.
I got through all of last year
And I'm here.
Lord knows, at least I was there,
And I'm here!
Look who's here!
I'm still here!

I'm off to celebrate (or maybe just write some more and plan on celebrating this weekend). At any rate - later Bougienistas. 

The Conflicted Day that is January 15th

Every year since 2000, it's been the same. I wake up early and just a little bit out of sorts on the 15th of January. On the one hand, it's a day of celebration. The day we commemorate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr on the anniversary of his birth. On the other hand, his birthday was shared by my father who passed away a little over ten years ago. Both men gone too soon in my humble opinion. And while an entire country does not commemorate my father's life, I can't help but think he's up in heaven high-fiving MLK and saying, "Thanks for the holiday."

As a self-professed Daddy's girl, the absence of him is truly one of the voids in my life that time has never fully healed. There is an anchor that comes with having a father who loves and supports you unconditionally and raises you to know your worth. We shared a sense of humor, a love of roses, a birth month and the gift of gab... to name a few. When the anchor is gone, the memory remains. The values remain, the feelings remain but they are no longer as weighted. 

Then again, I have a nephew. He was named after his father and grandfather. He was also born on January 15th. He is an old soul in six year old body. The child is just naturally joyous. When he does cry, it's only for a moment. He has my father's charm and sense of humor. The eerie thing is when he looks at me like my father used to with a "girl, what is wrong with you?" look. I have to remind myself that things I would put up with from my father out of respect, I'm not taking from a child with a cute smile.

So it's a conflict. I reflect on the past, good times and bad, what was learned and lost. But I also look towards the future with more than a little bit of optimism. 

Dad and I also had eclectic tastes in music. He thought some of the stuff I listened to was "pure junk" and I thought life could be lived without calypso. But I had swayed him to my way of thinking with Sting. When I played this song for my nephew he said, "That's awesome." And so it continues. Enjoy "Fragile" by Sting:

Seems appropriate for the day. Enjoy your weekend!

Celebration of... Divorce?

Blogger's Note: This post was penned with full permission of BougieYoungerBro (ByB).

After fifteen plus years of marriage and five (5!) kids, BougieYoungerBro officially divorced from his wife Wednesday. And while I understand that the breaking apart of a family is in so many ways tragic, a part of me couldn't help but want to Snoopy-dance around the room waving champagne. Even typing that, I feel a little terrible... but let me explain.

Misery is not pretty and there comes a certain point in time in a relationship where the two people are just so damn unhappy that they are making everybody around them unhappy as well. It's like a toxic cloud of inescapable misery.

My younger brother was always the smartest of the four of us (bookwise anyway) and had a naturally sunny disposition that used to drive me crazy since I'm known for random bouts of moodiness. When I came back from California six years ago; my happy-go-lucky, the-world-is-my-theme-park, life-is-what-you-make-of-it brother was gone. In his place? Same wit. Same charm. Same quirky sense of humor. But Bro was salty. Tart about life, love and the pursuit of happiness. He poured his joy into his kids and worked 21 out of 24 hours in a day to support them and a woman who had decided to do well... nothing.

I'm not going to spend any time trashing talking about my former sister-in-law. But I will say that she is responsible for my ONLY public display of non-bougie behavior in the last ten years. I stood in the middle of a front yard swearing, screaming and spewing profanity that I didn't even know I knew... at her. And then I vowed to never utter another word to her while my life lasts. I don't know if I'll be able to keep that vow but I think it's better for the world at large if I do. [Think Nuclear Holocaust type rage]

Growing up, it was me and ByB. The older two fled the nest and it was us against the world. To say we were close was a huge understatement. So it pained me to see him trying like hell to keep a very broken relationship together. Long story short, the woman he picked to be his wife was not an asset, a helpmate, or a team player. Since he was the only one holding up the foundation, when he tired - the whole house crumbled and it was a sharp steep downhill slide from there. 

So I'll continue to make sure the kids get what they need and be the best Aunt possible (I really rock at it). I absolutely adore those kids and clearly they didn't ask for this hand to be dealt. But I can't help but be relieved that at least this particular season is done. The divorce is no longer a threat or a possibility, it's a done deal.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven" ~Ecclesiastes 3:1

Maybe that's why I feel celebratory  - because we're in the season of healing now. He can move forward and pick up the pieces and embrace what's ahead instead of dwelling on what's past. Just finished talking to him, he is drinking beer and watching The Wire. Even though this has been a long process in the making, it's going to take time for him to turn the corner. But he told me I was allowed to dance and drink champagne for him until he's ready to celebrate with me.

I always thought it was cliché when people would say of a divorce, "It was for the best." But tonight ByB said just that, "It's kinda tragic but for the best. We'll probably be better people apart." BougieMom who is the world's biggest advocate for marriage even said, "Well, maybe they can start to heal now."

BougieLand, what do you think? Is it wrong to celebrate divorce? Do you think there's such a thing as a "good" divorce? For our divorced folks out there - amicable or no? What advice would you give someone newly divorced? Random thoughts? General comments? Wise insights? The floor is yours...

Let’s sip a Peach-Mint Iced Tea – It’s BougieMom’s Birthday

Seventy-eight years old and still going strong. Wit still as rapier-sharp as ever, side-eye honed to laser intensity, Bible-quoting and bougenificent. Today we celebrate the birth of Nellie Mae, also known as BougieMom. Here's a woman who clawed her way out of the hood (and I mean hood) of Baltimore with grit, determination and brainpower.

BougieMom is old school, she believes a lady should have a string of pearls, a butter knife and money of her own. I don't know what the deal is about the butter knife but she is adamant that it is the true sign of a well-bred lady to possess one. I have two, just to be safe. J

BougieMom is a light weight drinker. My Dad used to tell a story about taking her to Birdland in New York City where there was a two drink per person minimum. He ended up drinking 3 ½ of the drinks. That was the last time he took her to a place with drink minimums. She does however like her flavored teas. So lift up a cool glass and send a shout out her way.

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Two fingers of Crown for Father’s Day

It's a tough day in BougieHousehold. I was (and still am) a daddy's girl. Doctor Bougie passed away in 2000 and Father's Day has been bittersweet ever since. Instead of going into a whole tribute (which could take weeks), I'll just say that as much as I adore my Mom, there was nothing like the unconditional love of my father. He was unequivocally my champion. He truly felt that we were the brightest bestest kids in the world and expected us to act accordingly. None of us lack for self-esteem, none of lack for brains, none of us lack for personality. That's genetics mixed with motivation and constant validation.

Frank was born on the edge of a sugar cane field in Georgetown, Guyana, South America. (Literally, we saw the shack) He was the youngest of fourteen. His father was a ship's captain who sailed over to Barbados, met a beautiful woman and married her. She became the cook for the King. Against all (unbelievable) odds, my father was the one that got out. He came over to America on a tiny ship, worked in the Tootsie Roll factory to save up money until he was accepted into Morgan State University on a tennis scholarship. He pledged Alpha Phi Alpha and was quite the player on campus. He and his friend from the homeland were known as the Guyanese Thieves because they stole so many hearts. The one woman who was about business and not paying him any mind was a serious accounting major who was pledging Alpha Kappa Alpha. This is how BougieMom and BougieDad met.

So there they were, a charismatic and ambitious man from Guyana with the easy smile and seriously studious Baltimore native with a sly wit and tinkling laugh. What they had in common? A deep respect for the purposes of education, an urgent desire to live better than their parents and conventional ethics. Somehow his West Indian sensibilities and her Southern code of values meshed. Unless they didn't. One day during their courtship, he decided that they were too much of a couple and he told Nellie he needed some space. She disappeared. If she saw him coming, she went the other way. It got to the point where he literally had to chase her down. They married two years later. He was brilliant to choose her.

They had four kids; I was the third of four, the youngest daughter. I was born three days after his birthday and he used to say that I was the best present he ever got. We were similar spirits. I have his stubborn streak and his ability to put strangers at ease in his presence. My older brother got his sense of humor, my older sister got the driving ambition, and my younger brother got the ability to turn a chicken-shiggity situation into chicken salad. But he gave all of us the belief that there's no such thing as falling down and staying down. He gave us the tools, the education and the confidence to take whatever life throws at us and keep it pushing.

He loved my Mom, he loved being a doctor, he loved being a father and wow did he love being a grandfather. He was strict as hell as a father, no man I ever dated was good enough, he wanted A's with bonus points and thought C's were for the lazy. The older I get the more of is stuff I seem to pick up. The cooking, the baking, the grilling, the cultivating roses, wanting fresh veggies, the love of Duke Ellington and the big band classics.. is it a matter of time before I'm swigging back two fingers of Crown Royal?

I feel blessed to have had him as a father. Happy Father's Day to all the current and future daddies out there. Respect to the good ones, it's a legacy absolutely irreplaceable. Lift them up and enjoy the day.

Sunday Good News Story: BougieHousehold minus 1 ½ men

I love my family. I truly do. They can work a good nerve down to the bone but that does not diminish the love. As you may or may not know, when I moved back to Texas from California (has it been six years already?!) I did so with the express purpose of securing a home large (and bougie) enough for me and BougieMom. We found a place with 4 bedrooms (one of which I use as my office), 2.5 baths, two separate living areas, great kitchen, minimal upkeep, energy efficient. We can spend as much or as little time together as we like. Sometimes it works well, other days we stick to our separate floors saying "Good Morning" by the coffee maker and that's that. Some days a little bit of family goes a long way.

That being said… BougieYoungerBro showed up on my doorstep in mid-December needing a place to stay to get his head together for a few weeks. He just moved out this past Friday… bless his heart. He and I have always had a bit of a "us against the world" mentality. Our whol family is very "cradle to grave/womb to tomb". So when his youngest child, three year old BougieNephew3 was in need of temporary daycare for a few weeks, I agree to watch him since I work from home. For a few weeks. Seven weeks later (this upcoming Monday), he's heading to an actual day care for the first time. I will miss having them both underfoot around but glad to see onward and upward progress out of both of them.

Here's some of what I learned:

  1. Grown folks really need their own bathrooms
  2. Three year olds do not like the word "nap" (though I came to love it)
  3. Grown men don't appreciate you telling them to "bust them ashy ankles"
  4. Everybody loves an ice cold juice box
  5. I may be a little more anal than I thought, an on again/off again control freak and a tinsy bit germaphobic
  6. Mothers at the park are hella-competitive (and my nephew wins every time)
  7. Three people with really strong personalities and opinions makes for interesting times.
  8. Girls today are named Madison, Savannah, Taylor and Georgianna – and they all fell in love with BougieNephew3
  9. It is absolutely true that men come home and want a beer, a plate of food and silence.
  10. Kids are great fun when you can send them home at night… same thing with younger brothers

So starting tomorrow, it's back to just BougieMom and me. It will be interesting going back to a house that says quiet, crayon-free with toilets seats down. Whatever shall I do? J Truthfully, the glee on BougieYoungerBro's face when he rolled out told me he was just as happy to be leaving as I was to see him go. It's all love though.

This week, I'll only be posting "shorts" (brief updates) because it's deadline time again. I have a short story called "White Mocha" due to my publisher by June 1.

As a grown-up now, I've lived with my folks, my Mom, my sister and my younger brother. Have not attempted living with my older brother, I suspect we'd come to blows or quit speaking all together. Tell me BougieLand, could/have you lived with family as a grown-up? How'd you do? Would you do it again? Do share…

Raise your Mimosa up – It’s Mother’s Day!

I've always had a healthy respect for Mothers (fathers too but today isn't about ya'll). My mother raised the four of us and had I been her; I would've thrown my hands up, asked what happened to my sweet-faced babies and walked away from the lot of us. As a matter of fact, there were days that BougieMom had clearly had it up to here with the lot of us. Growing up, we were in a house where the master suite was down a long halfway that had a door (with a lock) midway through. Some days Nellie Mae would retreat down that hallway and lock that door. We would stand at the door and knock calling out, "Mom!" She would reply (rather tartly), "She left town. Come back later." We knew she was too through with us and to leave her alone for a while. BougieDad would come home, see the door and say, "You kids send your mother out of town again?" We would nod shame-faced. He would swig his scotch and go on back there to repair whatever damage we'd done.

A few times she would just give us all The Look, toss her Harlequin in her purse and head out the door. Later, we found out she used to go up the street and just chill in a room at Holiday Inn for a few hours. I can respect that (more and more as I get older).

BougieMom would carry a kite stick in her Caddy. When folks got to acting up in her car, the stick came out and she would swat the hell out of whoever was acting up (or happened to be the path of the stick). One day, BougieYoungerBro and I decided we needed to do something about that stick. In the skewed logic only young children can have, we decided that if we painted the stick in her favorite nail polish she would love it too much to use it against us. (I don't know- we were delusional) So yes, he got the stick and I got the Revlon Frosted Cherry and we painted. Set it in a vice grip to dry overnight and then put it back in the car in the morning. The next time we were in the car, we got to tussling over something in the back seat and out came the stick. She took one look at that Frosted Cherry and may I say she broke the stick AND hurt her arm tearing us up that day. I can still hear her voice coming up through clenched teeth, "RUINED. MY. STICK. USED. UP. MY. GOOD. NAIL. POLISH!" Um, yeah – we didn't try that one again.

Lately, I've been babysitting my 3-year old BougieNephew. He's sweet as can be (when it's not naptime) and usually here for 6 – 9 hours. By hour 4, I'm ready to check into a Holiday Inn my darn self and there's only one of him.

Miz Nellie is now referred to as The Saint. Women of all ages flock to her and ask for advice, often punctuated with the awe-filled question, "How did you do it?" Out of the hood (serious hood) by age seventeen, double-degreed and married before 30 (back before that was doable). 45 years of marriage, 4 kids all degreed and breathing... she's still sane. Go 'head Nellie.

It's an awesome thing to make the supreme sacrifice that comes with motherhood and do it well. Literally your life is not 100% your own ever again. You are responsible for creating and molding human life. It really gets no more elemental than that. So hat tip, standing ovation and everlasting respect to all the moms, moms to be, grandmothers, aunties-acting-like-moms, and caregivers with no titles. Much respect and enjoy your day!

Anyone want to shout out their Mom today? Go for it… oh and of course... the mimosa recipe. (Please drink responsibly!)

Celebrating Violet and the Unicorns…

As a follow-up to yesterday, I'd like to share the story of Miss Violet – my "maiden" aunt who was in all ways my grandmother and lived to somewhere around 100 years old (no one is really sure).

My Aunt Violet was no joke. She was the second oldest female in a family of thirteen kids born and raised (literally) next to a sugar cane field in the Northeast Region of Guyana, South America. She assisted in raising all of her younger siblings, sacrificing her own schooling, ambitions and marriage options to do what was best for the family. My father was the youngest and ironically, the one who headed out for America first. He was, she often told me, the best and brightest of them all. He reached America, got worked like hell and eventually sent money to bring over as many of his older siblings as possible. My Auntie Vi came over and settled in New York City for a while. After my father moved to Texas and established his medical practice, he put the down payment on a house for her and told her to come on down.

She was in Dallas by the time I was born. I never knew her when she was young, she was already in her sixties when I came on the scene. What I always knew about Violet is that she put up with no nonsense, had a strange penchant for that lime-jello dish with the fruit and marshmallows in it (ew), loved her nieces and nephews dearly and was never married. Violet never finished high school but could quote Shakespeare and classic literature from memory. She was not great at math on paper but could not only pinch a penny until it screamed bloody murder but also tell you exactly what a $99.99 suit would cost with sales tax off the top of her head. She paid back my Dad and paid off her mortgage by running an in-house day care for years. She was a God-loving woman who loved her spirituals, never missed a Western re-run on TV and dressed to kill when she left the house. She never learned to drive but she was always on the go, well into her eighties. I recall swinging by to say hi once to find her pulling on a gold slingback shoe – "I have plans, Mich-Mich, you'll have to come see me tomorrow." I asked no questions and left.

When I was born, she told my mother – I won't live to see her walk. Then when I started walking she said – I won't live to see her enter school. Then it was driving, then graduating high school, then college, then getting a place of my own. Her last proclamation was – I won't live to see her get married… well, sorry about that one Auntie. J

It always struck me as so sad that an amazing, attractive woman like that never had the chance to have a family of her own. And I can't even recall how many times I have said, "I just don't want to end up like Aunt Vi."

I thought about my Aunt on Monday evening as I spent time chatting with an anomaly group… according to popular culture and mainstream media, they do not (or should not) exist. And yet, here they were on my phone alive and well. I spoke with a group of happy, content, successful unmarried black females over the age of 50. Not a cat-owner in the bunch, not a man-hater among them, no bitter over/undertones, just intelligent professional women. They called themselves the Unicorns.

Some had been married, some not. Some had kids, some not. What each of them had was a clear understanding of who they were and what their lives all about. Asked to describe themselves, I noticed a trend. No one started with "I'm a lawyer or Vice President of a Fortune 500 company." No one started with "Single mother of two or divorced grandmother." They started by describe things that made them each unique, they started each sentence with… "I'm a woman who-" and then they finished the sentence. An example of one I loved: "I am a woman who gardens, loves the color red, keeps family close and drinks more red wine than I should. I read voraciously and travel to Europe once a year. I need to pray more and curse less. I fight with my hair and my hips and refuse to bring work home. That's who I am."

I spoke with them at length about how they coped with the societal pressures to be coupled up and even probed to find out how some of them got to where they are professionally and personally. I asked if they still got lonely and how they dealt with it. The answer: yes and a moment at a time. Some have "special friends," some were still actively dating. One lady said, "Sweetheart, I've been dating since I was fifteen and I just turned fifty-five, I have this down to a science. Two minutes in and I know if it's a breadsticks and salad, full entrée or after-dinner drinks kind of date." Hilarity.

The other brilliant thing about chatting with the Unicorns was that there was not a life scenario that I threw at them that somebody hadn't lived with, survived or witnessed. I could write a month's worth of posts celebrating their stories. They formed this "club" about 10 years ago by accident. Three of the women regularly met for drinks and shopping, each of them brought a friend and so on and so on. One of the ladies just got married for the first time at 52 years of age; ironically to a man one of the other Unicorns had dated, not clicked with and introduced her to. Now that's maturity! At any rate, I know that my Aunt Vi would have been in regular attendance at the Unicorn get-togethers. Laughing and sipping her champagne (which she enjoyed with two cubes of sugar added in).

In retrospect… there are far worse things that could happen to me than living the life Aunt Vi had. That woman still woke up singing (in a really thready soprano) until the day she died. How can you not wish for that? Living to be a hundred (or so) and still in possession of all faculties, debt-free, secure as a person with literally hosts and hosts of people who loved and admired her. Really, when I think about her life – what a study in triumph. I hope to have a quarter of the class heading into my golden years.

Now BougieLand, I'm not prepping for eminent spinsterhood, I just thought after yesterday's rant, it would be nice to hear a story for perspective. So what if we think like the Unicorns for a second? How would you describe yourself outside of profession and relationship status? Fill in the blank: I am a woman/man who ____________________.

I'll start. I am a woman who loves all things purple but not the scent of lavender. I wear pony-tails too often and have a tendency to snipe when I'm tired. I've a penchant for fruit flavored rums and vodka but I'm allergic to fruit. I've developed an addiction to my Wii Tennis game; sometimes determined to play until I win every set. I take a spa vacation at least once a year and I hope to meet Maya Angelou one day. That's who I am.

And now the floor is yours…

It’s my birthday and I’ll blog if I want to…

Go Chele, it's your birthday. We're going to party like it's your birthday.

Hey all, before I make this day all about me, me, me – check out my Call to Service post from Friday. Get out there and give back. Okay then… moving on.

So back to me, today is the anniversary of my late night arrival into the world, fists balled up, kicking and screaming. (I no longer kick and scream in public but much else remains the same). So far folks have sent me books (love 'em), gift certificate (always classy) and cash (gift that keeps on giving). My ex sent me some chocolate suede boots that feel like butter. I saw no strings attached. I went to BougieMom and asked if I should keep them or send them back. BougieMom said, "He was dumb enough to send them, you're smart enough to keep them." Done. I guilted Sprint into upgrading my BlackBerry into the new purple Curve for free (SCORE!) and BougieOlderSis scooped me up some leather goods while she was in China.

But the best gift was from BougieYoungerBro who found photo albums that have been missing for years. It really was like being giving my childhood back. I got unreasonably sentimental looking back (wayback) at life in BougieHousehold. Really, before he found these, we thought all of our baby pics were lost forever. In addition to the gems above , I found this revelation:

BougieMom and Dad with former Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller. BougieDad had political aspirations at one time and was a registered Republican until they ticked him off in the late 60s and he switched affiliations. But sometimes we need a reminder of just how fly our parents were before we came along and beat them down with our foolishness J. BougieDad was G'ed up and BougieMom's hair was laid, wasn't it?

At any rate, later on, I'm heading out to see Book of Eli… expect a Bougie Movie Review to follow. Have a great day! Seen any childhood pictures of yourself recently? What did you learn?