Wed, 19 April 2017
Adele died on April 18th in the spring of 2015. The forty-year old pink rose bush given to her by Paul Mason was showing off with an early showy first flush. April 18th, on what would become a warm and sunny day, Adele, alone, slipped what had become her painful earthly bonds in the early morning hours sometime between three and eight o’clock. She was not surrounded by family. There was no one holding her hand. I didn’t hear her leave. She died in the house that she had provided for herself so many years earlier. I can only imagine that she ordered the grim reaper to, “Get me the hell outta here.” Early in the day that Adele died her beloved house was occupied by a few early mourners, her eldest and youngest child and me.
The faint whiff of fried chicken livers, grease and rice still lingered. I had tried to fix for dinner what Adele wanted the night before.
“Chile, I sho’ do have a taste for some fried chicken livers,” was all she had to say.
“Momma, you know you can’t eat fried chicken livers anymore. I’ll just fry them real soft, ok?”
"Come’er chile." I leaned over her bed and she grabbed my wrist so tightly that it belied her frailty. “You go ‘head and fry them liver hard and fix some rice too while you at it.”
In that moment, her frustration with broken and wobbly teeth seemed not to matter and simply meant that she ate more rice than livers, She had gotten a last taste of what she wanted. Adele was always cold. The night before she died she asked for help getting into a sweater. Her body had started to wither and prepare for death at least a year earlier. She was lost in the scruffy red polyester blend with the oversized white buttons. In the morning, maggot-like dried rice was found down the front of the red sweater.
My son arrived thirty minutes after my call. It was a short and direct bus ride from College Park at the University of Maryland. Before the medical examiner’s staff arrived he kissed his great-grandmother’s forehead, held her hand and cried quietly in the chair next to her bed. I was proud of him. He had helped care for Adele too—even though he came late to the twisted family baggage of 316 and the cult of Adele. When the woman from the coroner’s office showed up to do her job—with her government clipboard and paperwork, probing thermometer and instamatic pictures—she excused everyone from the dining room that had become Adele’s bedroom. When the pleasant but quiet and matter-of-fact lanky white woman was done, she released the body to two burly attendants who rolled out a body bag on the dining room floor. I questioned to myself if the body bag was new or used and if used, what soul had been its previous occupant. They placed Adele’s body in the zippered black plastic shroud; all the while I videoed the process. I hated that, in spite of all that I had done to help ease my grandmother’s last years, I felt that I had no voice or say in how things would unfold over the next few days and weeks. I guess that’s the role of an outlier and witness. I hated how the impertinent government lackeys handled Adele’s body. I hated that they put her on the floor. I hated that those who came running at the news of Adele’s death, didn’t really acknowledge the conclusion of her life in the blessed and tortured sanctuary that was 316. I wanted to see mourners line the steps and sidewalk, heads bowed in honor of her and of what they were witnessing. This daughter of the south, this underground rail attendant had gone on home. This was Adele’s very last exit, her last—albeit aided—sashay. She would not be coming back through the door at 316 Seaton Place ever again. Everyone was so preoccupied with their own grief, some in the house, some wailing up and down the sidewalk engaged in a style of performance art that can only be seen upon the occasion of death in a Black family, that they couldn’t, in those few moments, honor her leaving the house she loved—the house that had provided so much to so many. The funeral would give people an opportunity to mourn her leaving this life behind. I had envisioned bits and pieces of a New Orleans send off—brass horns and umbrellas included. Nobody gets out of this thing alive. Adele just happened to live longer than most. Nothing special there. Her real crowning achievement was 67 years on Seaton Place as a Black, female homeowner and provider of shelter. That was her legacy. She should have been saluted upon the occasion of her last exit.
The James Family on Seaton Place ceased to exist after sixty-seven years. No one had lived life more fully, more out loud than the country girl from Farmville, North Carolina. Adele, flawed and shameless, was surely more than big tits and great legs.
She was a petulant child of the south, a daughter of North Carolina.
By the time Adele died, she had more White neighbors than Black and her home was about to, again, be owned by White folks. It seemed right for me, the witness, the outlier and the last to occupy the “back bedroom” to turn off the lights and close the door on July 25, 2016—the last James to live at 316 Seaton Place. The real estate agents and developers had been circling like buzzards over a carcass for a year before Adele even died. The situation got even worse after the will was filed in probate court. There were letters and phone calls every day from somebody who wanted to buy Adele’s house, in what seemed to be the hottest neighborhood in the Nation’s Capital. The house sold for $490,000, “as is.” The new owner would gut it and flip it and make a profit of $200,000. For a year after Adele’s death and in the run up to the sale of the house, I was alternately sad, angry or outraged at the pending loss of the house. Shortly after I moved in, and with considerable encouragement from Quilla, Adele, significantly, changed her will to have the house sold upon her death and what each of her children was to receive from the sale of the house.
For all of Adele’s children’s talk about how Blacks needed to hold on to “their” communities and not sell out to the newly landed gentry, their hypocrisy, myopia and willingness to let the house go stupefied me. At the height of the Great Northern Migration and over the course of her life, Adele’s small city row house at 316 Seaton Place, in the Eckington neighborhood of the Nation’s Capital had provided a way station, a modern-day stop on the Underground Railroad, to more people than could be counted. I thought that the house would always be there for others, like me, who could be given time and a "back bedroom" to pull their shit together.
Category:general -- posted at: 5:17pm EDT
Wed, 12 April 2017
Holy Week is upon me. For me, that means a week-long fast. That’s right, nothing but water, tea and juice. Fasting isn’t anything new to me. Heretofore, I never talked about it. It was between me and “Are you there God?” About ten years ago I started a Friday-only fast. Today, it seems absurd for me to eat on a Friday. The only rules I have developed over time is that I’ll eat if it’s a meal with either of my children or a special occasion. I rarely invoke the special occasion rule. And I see my kids so infrequently these days, that to eat with them has been elevated to a spiritual form of communion.
I started fasting because I wanted God’s ear. Ok, for real doe, I wanted his whole, undivided attention. I figured after everything that I’d been through, I deserved his undivided attention. Initially, fasting may have been my way of throwing a foot-stomping, breath-holding, terrible two-style, temper tantrum. I wanted God to tell me that I wouldn’t wind up on the street, be damned to hell for divorcing my husband or for the damage the divorce would surely inflict on my kids. I wanted to be this perfect vessel that God could pour his forgiveness into and who would answer the question: “What comes next?” Something akin to, but just a bit older than Judy Blume’s Margaret: “Are you there God?”
Can a sister get a sign?
Now, my observance of Holy Week is useful as a marker of time and season. Although, the Christian ritual on Maudy Thursday is still moving and relevant to me, along with Mary—not the virgin variety—but the Magdalene, Holy Week has less to do with religion and everything to do with the carte blanche I have taken in transforming myself away from Christianity as it was practiced and perverted in my family and by the Black church and claiming as my own the beliefs and mythology of the many other faiths outside of Christianity. It’s odd to me, the notion, that because I’m African-American, I’m supposed to be a Christian.
The ability to control my appetite for a day or a week is unassailable. Holy Week 2017, my fourth year of undertaking a week-long fast, finds my belief, that I can do anything I set my mind to, cast in stone. But I still question God: “What comes next?” And I no longer feel the need to be the perfect vessel, but I am a chipped, beautifully painted and well-used Spanish pitcher, the kind I bought in Barcelona years ago, pouring out the sacred feminine and never empty. Out of necessity, I have fashioned myself into a Warrior Woman and survivor who sees myself in QuanYin. I tap into my Mi’kmiq and Tuscorora (matrilineal society) roots, observant and considerate of nature, using fresh herbs, spices, flowers and even feathers in my daily living. The Blue Jay as a spirit animal helps. A few years ago, when I started making dream catchers from all natural materials, all of those beautiful feathers that I picked up on my path were put to use. And, of course, my gris-gris changes as needed.
As I have healed from all things “divorce” and mommy and daddy issues, occasionally, I have made the mistake of looking over my shoulder to see all of the things that I have dropped along the way and sadness sits with me for a spell. I have missed some of the dropped things. Some things I didn’t know I was still holding onto. Casting off—letting go—has gotten easier, so has keeping my gaze in front of me. My arms aren’t too short to box with God (for me, that would be a bit of a grudge match that the Almighty would win). My arms are too tired.
So this Holy Week finds me struggling with several issues. One of those struggles will not be making it to Easter Sunday with an empty stomach.
This year finds me not living under my own roof. It’s too easy to say “I’m homeless.” But since I finished the care and feeding of my grandmother for almost five years until her death last year, I have become the Kato Kaelin of the 21st century—the professional house guest of O.J. Simpson fame. Given the extremely structured and abusive way that, I, an only child, was raised, probably too many years of full-time motherhood and most recently, eldercare, a year of few responsibilities has been welcome. I am thankful for the busy and bustling home that I’m living in and the friend that provides it. I feel more like a sister to my friend’s adult sons, even though they call me “Aunty” and the dreaded “Miss Sunny.” I have been allowed to entertain flights of wanderlust and imaginarily whittled down my bucket list. For the time being, I’ve landed in a unique, guilt-free place that “gets me”, allows my writing and the constant editing of my novel manuscript Seaton Place. It’s a way of living that I’m unaccustomed to. It’s a houseful of plain-spoken, laughing and challenging people, but I’d still like to walk naked to the fridge in the middle of the night.
I even stayed with my son for a few months at the end of 2016. The shoe on the other foot-style living—just NO! Now he’s MIA along with a few boxes containing a bit of the jetsam from what was supposed to be my new beginning. I’m concerned. Cue Susan Tedeschi singing “Lord Protect My Child.” My prayers this week are for him too. Are you there God?
My daughter went missing from my life several years ago, preferring the company of her father and his wife. Are you there God? And if I’m leaving it all here on the page I miss her. I’d like to get to know the woman she’s become. Again, the damage of a divorce? Perhaps, I didn’t do an adequate job of mothering? Or maybe God just didn’t appreciate my two-year-old-style temper tantrum. Are you there God?
I often wonder what I need to do to assuage my guilt at my inability to provide a family home, a touchstone structure for the kids and a place to regroup for myself. Was it a gate and picket fence that was missing or maybe the absence of an always burning hearth. Was that my downfall with them? Are you there God? Did I need to provide a gathering place at holidays or a place for them to regroup as life throws curve balls, like I write about my grandmother doing for so many people in Seaton Place and had most recently done for me? Are you there God? But post-divorce, the odds weren’t stacked in my favor. Are you there God?
There are, in fact, things in my life for which I remain hopeful. From a several-time over published author came these words of encouragement about my writing and Seaton Place manuscript.
Are you there God?
Way back in December 2016 and January 2017 I applied for several jobs at NPR. Given the tenuous state of public broadcasting these days and under the new president whose preferred method of dealing with just about everything can best be described as slash and burn, I wait for some continued sign of life and interest in my resume and I choose to hold out hope for a great job at NPR, even if it’s not on the radio—my enduring love.
Can a sister get a job?
So, as I, Warrior Woman and survivor stare down Holy Week—hunger? I got this! But, are you there God?
Category:general -- posted at: 3:02pm EDT
Wed, 13 July 2016
In 2005 I created a news and information podcast. Since then I have been the show’s producer and host. The truth of the matter is that it was talk radio that truly owned my heart. But I always felt that mainstream media, which I worked in for most of my career, was failing minorities and especially women. So down the podcasting rabbit hole I went to express my need to do something about the ridiculous state of news and information served up to the minority community. One such commentary is titled “What is that Smell? Radio & TV Programming for Black Audiences.” http://bit.ly/29OOyEg. The first year of podcast episodes actually came with an explanation of what it was that people were listening to. Times have changed.
As I contemplate officially closing down my podcast site and archives, I consider how much the world, the internet and I have changed in eleven years. I’m sorry for all the lost early voices of podcasting that populated the iTunes store. Those regular folks who had something to say, took their shot and faithfully posted episodes. They created content as a labor of love, but they were always trying to find a way to monetize their shows. I wish that I had the strength to continue being “The Small Voice in the Nation’s Capital.”
My podcast was also a marker of my personal life and times--as a mother of two children who were coming of age, my ugly and protracted divorce, friendships lost and found, and my love for my grandmother, Adele. I put it all out there for anyone who cared to give a listen.
Well, my son has just turned twenty-one, and my grandmother died last year at ninety-eight years old. After my divorce, I moved in with my beloved Adele when she was ninety-four to help see her through to the end. There are several stories on my website that I wrote about the woman I called, “the original badass.” I even fulfilled a dream to write a fictionalize novel about her life and times and the community she lived in (www.seatonplace.net). She died a week before I wrote the last few pages. It’s no wonder then that as my writing and care-giving for my grandmother increased, my internal calling to continue producing, recording, editing and posting new hour-long podcast episodes faded. (Hard to believe, I know, but I’m not sure if there’s that much #BlackGirlMagic in the world. I damn sure tried.)
Almost simultaneously, as I was mastering the care and feeding of Adele, in 2012, Trayvon Martin was murdered. My son, too, was 17-years old at the time and at all times I was knots-in-my-stomach-frightened for him and for all Black boys. You see, in the winter of 1995, my ob/gyn told me I was having a boy. I was home alone when I got the news. I crumpled to the floor in tears that day with prescient accuracy, repeating to just me and my invisible bundle of joy, “How am I going to raise this boy.” Needless to say, most recently, he and his dreadlocks have been pulled over for driving while Black or dreadlocked, I'm not sure which. Let's just say both. And his very first day at the University of Maryland he was stopped and frisked by campus police for carrying a backpack on a college campus. WTF?
The increasingly blatant and hatefully specific misanthropic assault on Black folks over the last several years makes me wanna holler—sing Marvin. I have kept my tears and words in strict lockdown—fearing the flood and anger that I am absolutely sure will follow. But I have cried as I have read spectacular and eloquent writing by people profoundly affected by Black lives bullied, harassed, degraded and lessened in jobs, schools—the elementary through the university variety, on any street and at the always troublesome pool parties. And, of course, there are the Black Lives that have been just haphazardly murdered in whooptys, idyllic parks, by the side of dusty country roads, in the crowded hood, up against super highways, in front of convenience stores, in the middle of quiet neighborhood streets—in broad daylight and under assumed cover of darkness. For the first time just last spring, while I was running on my regular route along the National Mall, right here in the Nation’s Capital, steps from the Obama White House, surrounded by cherry blossom-seeking white tourists, I actually felt like there was a target on my back. For the first time since I left South Boston as a little girl, I felt like a nigger again--like strange fruit. I still wasn’t free. As Jesse Williams said, “Freedom is somehow always conditional here. . . Freedom is always coming in the hereafter . . . We want it now.”
So, I am at a point where most of life’s tethers are worn or have fallen away. My grandmother’s home has been sold and in a few weeks I’ll be homeless. After almost 70 years, what my grandmother worked like a dog to have and to provide shelter for others has fallen to the gentrifiers.
It’s a challenging time to want to be a free, Black woman in America. There so much more for me to do and see. I’d love to take a cross country trip—how safe would that be? I still have my dreams of talk radio. Yes, my voice and my heart still ache to be heard. I’ve never been to New Orleans—I’d like to get into formation with the #BlackLivesMatter protesters wherever they’re protesting. I so want to experience New Orleans, the Grand Canyon and the Pacific Ocean. There’s never been a better time in my life to check some things off of my bucket list. But really, how safe is it out there to be so frivolous and to be thinking I’m a free Black woman in America?
Category:general -- posted at: 8:49pm EDT
Fri, 2 October 2015
Finally, today after over twenty passionate, frustrating and wonderfully engrossing years of genealogy research and two years of using some of that research to write the great American novel--Seaton Place, I'm asking for your help to get Seaton Place published. Here's the Seaton Place website: www.seatonplace.net and here's the link to my kickstarter campaign. Your help is needed and greatly appreciated.
Please visit either site and learn more about me, Seaton Place the Novel and my small but very important part of the Nation's Capital.
Category:general -- posted at: 9:29pm EDT
Fri, 6 March 2015
Another excerpt from Seaton Place on tumblr.
Category:general -- posted at: 10:09pm EDT
Wed, 18 February 2015
Well! Hello again, to you the supporters of the Sunny James Show. Some time ago I wrote about the reason for my radio . . . er sorry (hope springs eternal), podcast silence. I know it’s been a while so here’s an update. My last podcast was in November of 2012, just before President Obama was elected to his second term. I was certain that the next show was percolating and I even did a quick video clip saying as much. But it just didn’t happen. I’ve missed doing my podcast, but between elder care and getting my son through his last year of high school, I was stretched thin. As some of you may know, my son is now a sophomore at the University of Maryland and my grandmother is still going strong at 98-years old.
While on hiatus from The Sunny James Show, I decided that it was a good time to start the novel, the idea and research, which had been on my life’s back burner for over twenty years from the time when my now-deceased aunt told me a bit of North Carolina family history that lit in me an inextinguishable flame.
Whew! 115,000 words and twenty chapters later, Seaton Place, a complex African-American family saga and neo-slave narrative, has found its way onto the page. . .
In 1948, Seaton Place is a street in the Eckington neighborhood of the Nation’s Capital where Black families, sometimes one generation removed from slavery, have staked their claims on fresh starts in homes that frightened Whites no longer want. The new Black homeowners live their lives boldly and publicly. They revel in their freedom and participation in the American dream by whatever, legal or illegal, means that may take. Leading the charge and living an out-sized life on Seaton Place is Adele James, runaway wife, mother and, ultimately, matriarch.
In 1941, Adele, a pretty high yella woman with long black hair, big breast, long shapely legs and from the wrong side of the tracks in Fountain, North Carolina, fled her husband who had hit her for the first and last time. Seven years earlier Adele had hurriedly married into a family of prosperous farmers and former slaves. And on the same night that Roosevelt told Americans about “a date which will live in infamy”, Adele left the South behind including her husband and their four children, all under eight-years old. The Trailways bus deposited her in the Nation’s Capital where in 1948 she bought her home in Eckington on Seaton Place.
Seaton Place is my, now-98-year old, grandmother’s story of dysfunction, abandonment and survival. It’s an account of a woman that wanted to be free of what was expected of her as a Black southern woman, wife and mother. The story reaches back through time to tell of a woman, who escaped the “crazy” DNA from her mother and grandmother but who couldn’t save her progeny. The frayed and unspoken threads of mental illness are woven through Adele’s life and history from slavery, through Reconstruction through to today. To this day mental illness is a conversation that Black families still don’t know how to have. Seaton Place is about the ripples that were created not just by Adele’s genealogy but also by her leaving, the many men in her life, the raucous and open way she lived, how her children tragically dealt with being left behind, her willful lack of accountability, and how my own beginnings with my mother, who at seventeen-years old fled Seaton Place for Boston’s Back Bay, and are tied up with Malcolm X, Ella Collins and an abusive ex-con.
Like I said, "Whew." What better time than Black History Month to share that? I guess I could say that I’ve been researching for over twenty years and writing for two.
I am moving forward with the process of editing and self-publishing as the publishing industry isn’t welcoming to a who-the-hell-is-she, first-time novelist. I suspect a kickstarter campaign is in my future and I’m looking for a few beta readers. Also, I’ll be posting small excerpts from Seaton Place to tumblr at sunnyjames.tumblr.
Some of you have reached out wanting to know where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. I’ve tried to keep my social media presence active. Most of the time, I know it was lacking and ultimately devolving into just reading your updates. I appreciate all of you who checked in on me occasionally.
Thanks again for your support.
Category:general -- posted at: 4:56pm EDT
Wed, 10 September 2014
Since last winter I have been writing the GAN. Come on, you know what that is--the great american novel. After year's of listening to every Tom, Dick and Harry, recite these words--"you should write a book."
As Edgar Albert Guest wrote in his poem "It Couldn't Be Done," I finally "tackled the thing." Until last week, that is, when the words became belligerent and unwieldy. Then it was time for tumblr, my writing in very short-form.
I have spent a great deal of time podcasting, hoping that all roads lead to terresterial radio. But, alas, it just hasn't happened yet. So I write. I love writing almost as much as I love questioning and talking about the issue of the day.
So, here's to the end of the most insidious evil--Writer's Block and a Shiksa's Mikvah
Category:Bits and Pieces -- posted at: 6:29pm EDT
Wed, 21 May 2014
If you’re a long-time listener, you know that from the very beginning it’s always been my dream to work in terrestrial radio but in the last 24-hours even proven radio talent are being axed from great shows. I'm still pissed that NPR ended Michelle Martin's "Tell Me More."
I do wish that I had the financial resources to continue to do my podcast a different way. While I sort out the show’s future, I’ve decided to turn my attention to writing, creating beautiful hand-crafted things and photography. What you may not have known is that during my divorce, my ex took off with my medium format camera equipment (and my home, but that's another story); I was a really good and very passionate photographer. I'd love to work that muscle again. And, yes, I'm still running, swimming and biking (keep reading for my most recent rumination on biking)
Who knew that at this point in my life an artist would emerge and demand to be nurtured? Social media has always provided an outlet for my pent up creativity. (the early adopter that I am, my first years of podcasts always came with a definition for 'podcast') For me creativity comes many ways, the spoken and written word and photography. In addition, I love to merge my love of jewelry, especially beads with paper to create wearable art that doesn’t leave a big footprint on the planet.
So, until I strike it rich and/or I decide what will become of “The Sunny James Show” I hope you’ll take a look at some of the things that I’ll be posting on tumblr.
If you’ve just recently found my show, please do explore the archives. There’s some great work there that I’m proud of.
That being said, here’s my most recent musing on tumblr. "Whatcha Lookin At?" I am a WWWSB—a Woman Who Wears Skirts on a Bike. What is it about a woman on a bike … http://t.co/BC353WIyWN
Category:Show Notes (what the hell am I doing) -- posted at: 5:00pm EDT
Mon, 22 July 2013
I have spoken many times of Miss Adele, my gramma. I have spoken of her as "The Original Bad Ass." She will always be that for me--a girl that didn't have any clue that women had such power until I met her. She is still unbelievably sharp and still has so much attitude--come correct or she'll tell you "you're full of shit." She is just home from being in the hospital. Her cancer has returned and she does not want the doctors "pokin and feelin all over" her. Miss Adele bought the house we're living in 1948. It was a battle. She had to fight redlining, unwelcoming and sometimes violent white neighbors and, of course, the law that said she had to have her husband's signature on the mortgage documents. By that time, Adele and Charlie were still married in name only. Grandad was living in Fountain, North Carolina and she'd be damned if his "bootleggin' and chain gang workin' ass" name was going on the house that she had toiled to have by working in the kitchen of the Mayflower Hotel. The dust and country farming life were not meant for Miss Adele. But she NEVER ever forgot her roots and what it meant to be in need in a new place. Over the years she has sheltered 97 people under her roof. Most from North Carolina sprinkled with a few hard luck stories from right here in DC, including yours truly for a second go'round after a divorce. I will always be thankful that my kids have had the "Miss Adele Experience." She is a history lesson everyday. I listen and take notes--ever the genealogist. But nothing beats watching her eyes as she tells her stories. Of not being able to shop in long-gone department stores--right here in the Nation's Capital (she outlasted them all, take that Garfinkels). Of being stopped and felt up by racist cops in the south and in DC for doing nothing more than walking along the street (although her breast would cause any man pause). And the how and whys of her many many lovers--it would curl your hair! I have bathed and shampooed every inch of her. I have clipped her hair (yes, even there) and toenails. There is sagging skin in every nook and cranny and I have massaged and lotioned the place where there used to be a wonderfully full round breast. This slow and steady march toward death is not what I was prepared for, not what I wanted. But I think I am what she AND I needed. Death has its own grace and power if you lean into it, watch it and accept it. I am thankful for being apart of Adele's life here at the end. She has shown me how to live out loud. She admits her long-ago mistakes but rather matter-of-factly, not with regret--"that's just how it was in those days" she says.
Category:Sunny's Almost Daily Commentary -- posted at: 4:50pm EDT
Thu, 25 October 2012
Welcome to the Sunny James Show!
One badass lady--Annie Edson Taylor goes over Niagrara Falls in a barrel in 1901. She was 63 years old at the time.
Don't you dare tell me how much something cost if I haven't asked.
League of Women Voters needs to stop frontin' and just say all the stuff about being "a non-partisian, political organization that encourages informed and active participation of citzens" is bullshit
-- Mourdocks, Akins and Lies, oh my!
-- Obama drives back into the White House?
-- Will the Electoral College screw us again? Even Mo Roca's 3rd graders know what's fair
-- Reverse migration
-- Elyria, Ohio on race: Enough already of the neverending conversation?
-- Wonder Woman--of course, she's on the radio
-- Nerdland: a nice place for Black folks
For the Musically Stuck in Rut . . . BeauSoleil
Where in the World Is . . . Prague
Sunny's Good Word . . . Excoriate
facebook: I Support the Sunny James Show
Til Next Time