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Nearly Half a Century

By Kathy Y. Wilson · April 23rd, 2014 · Kathy Y. Wilson

(Heavy sigh)

This is the obligatory column about aging.

The best parts of growing older are experience, grace, laughter, wisdom and memories and growing older itself because the alternative is death and I wouldn’t trade the raggedy edges of my sometimes uncertain life for all the death I once lusted for. Because if I leave this Earth by my own hand I’m not so sure I’d ever again see my dear mother, my niece, Kennedy, or Ed and Mary Hill, the only grandparents I’ve ever known.

So with each birthday I choose more and more life.

Experience matters because inherent in it is mistakes; grace because that’s what we need to navigate life’s nastiness; laughter because life is mostly funny — except AIDS, child abuse and school shootings; wisdom comes from paying close attention to life and holding that knowledge close (soon enough it shows on the face); memories, finally, are the entire package and time must pass before any are made or remembered.

I will be 49 years old on the 26th, a fact that is more evident in my whitening hair and my uncooperative and traitorous body than in my three-part laugh, my sneaker collection, my gaggle of friends 15 to 20 years younger than me or my lovingly goofy way with children.

Depending whose calendar you consult I either missed being a Baby Boomer by one year or I just sneaked in. 

Either way, I don’t feel like a member of any tribe or group; rather, I feel comprised of the history I have lived through and the history I know, like my very cells remember.

I was born two years after President Kennedy’s assassination. President Johnson was my first president. I was 22 days shy of my third birthday when James Earl Ray murdered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and five by the time race riots had long been punctuated by the stab of the Black Power fist and the Afro was the simultaneous icon of many movements.

The funk, the lapels and the bell-bottoms and platforms of Soul Train on Saturday mornings and the rigors of memorizing the books of the Bible during vacation Bible School during wavy-hot summers have formed my consciousness.

I was baptized by the Rev.

Lamont Shazier at Israel Baptist Church on Seventh Street in Hamilton when I was 6 years old and I understood completely what was about to happen to me as he led me to the tepid waters of the baptism pool above the pulpit.

Not long after, Mom bought me a diary with a red leather cover and a lock.

She knew.

I became a writer because I had no choice and because Randy cut up our mother’s good sheets as backdrops for his one-man puppet shows in the backyard when I was his sole audience member and because Kenny read the encyclopedia like it was fiction. So to keep pace I copied entries on the Russian revolution in my own hand as practice for documenting my own time and place. 

Later, I’d copy the words of Hemingway and Baldwin in their measures, paragraphs and punctuation, teaching myself rhythm, syntax and language.

I knew I’d never be traditionally educated.

I felt my soul for the first time the rare Saturday afternoon Mom and I had the house to ourselves and she was cooking Sunday dinner while probably a Dionne Warwick record played on the stereo and I sat in the plush dark carpeting of the living room floor reading album liner notes.

I was nearly 7. My parents would soon be divorced. 

Mom came into the room bringing with her the aroma of greens and meat and the yeast of her infamous rolls and she sat down with me, scooping me into her lap. I rested my head against her chest, listening for her heartbeat through her clothes.

“You hear that?” she said.

I did.

“That’s my heart. That’s how much I love you.”

I got it and it never failed me. 

When I was in the seventh grade she gifted me with a Smith-Corona typewriter, a pack of onion skin erasable bond paper, a dictionary and a thesaurus. 

I still have everything but the paper.

Through marriage and birth in our Hamilton Era I have five brothers and one sister. I always wanted to be someone’s older sister and when I was 13 our mother, divorced for the second time from everyone’s father, fell in love with a man young enough to be her adult son and became pregnant with Devin, a white-yellow baby crowned with a mass of black seaweed for hair, whom I named after a character on All My Children.

In a picture Kenny took of me and Devin outside Israel Baptist Church sitting on the low brick wall — the same wall where we’d wait for Mom after church — after our mother’s memorial service in 2005 my hair is shorn close but looks like a low even carpet. 

It is black.

A few days or weeks later (I’m not sure — time is blotted by my Ambien dependence back then) I looked in the bathroom mirror and white-gray hairs flecked my hair and a thicket of white had formed above my right temple.

They were as thick and coarse as piano wire; each one a little film strip of mistakes, bad relationships, excuses, joys, victories, learned lessons, trips, embarrassments and family dramas.

Mine is a head like a soap opera.

No matter.

There is something magical about April in its brightness and its breezes and I just want to thank my parents for their timing, because for at least 20 years I’ve stopped relying on anyone else to recognize my day — my month — and I’ve taken responsibility for my own happiness at this time of year.

My aging is my business and so is the joy I build around it.

So Happy Birthday to this life, ever aging and ever wonderful.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: letters@citybeat.com



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