Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Open Window

Bernadette Adora

Letting go is to allow for more. I honestly believe that resisting change, holding on can thwart our personal as well as our collective development. Letting go allows for peace of mind and a strengthened spirit when love is lost, abandoned, or even awakened. Letting go assists with shaping and refining our dreams whether they are sweet, bitter, or just phony-baloney; dreams are the stuff that helps deliver our daily bread be it a salty, bland, or fine loaf. There should be a letting go of the old and the worn-out, whether or not we ourselves brought it in from out of the cold.

The night of November fourth, two thousand and eight, I began letting go in earnest. The window swung open wider than I knew possible – not in my lifetime I had thought. But, it swung open nonetheless, and I began to let go and acknowledge dreams deferred; fears untold; and a deep, abiding despair inherited from those, who had loved me dear; mine, who would wish me safe, if only I could stay small enough, hidden somewhere out of harm’s way. I am the great-granddaughter of a man, who survived the Klan when being sought through the back country in Georgia for being thought uppity and above his station in life. I am the granddaughter of a man, who was born a slave in the hills of Kentucky. I am the granddaughter of a woman, who stepped through the doors of a prestigious college only to clean homes of the rich until arthritis and old age took its toll, and she could no longer bend or kneel. I am the granddaughter of another, a midwife and nurse to folk denied the care afforded those with the proper birthright by color or caste. I am the great-granddaughter, granddaughter, daughter, mother, sister, niece, auntie, and cousin of teachers, a judge, bus drivers, politicians, nurses, lawyers, artists, government workers, machinists, salesmen, doctors, housekeepers, students, athletes, union members, housewives, soldiers, chief cooks and bottle washers!

Sit up straight and carry yourself thus, I would tell my daughter when she was little; you are descended from kings and queens. I taught her by word to be large, visible, and always in the right way, while I stayed smallish, somewhat hidden, and well, mostly out of harm’s way – but not too much it now seems. Do as I say, not as I do – what a mixed message my daughter received. But as she moved forward with more courage in her young life than I ever dared, I continued to carry bags packed with deferred dreams, stuffed with fears yet to be told, and heavy with despair, which unbeknownst to me was going out of the first open window. The night of November fourth, two thousand eight, I began letting go.

And, yes, there still exists too much of the hatred and ignorance that chased after my great-grandfather nearly a century ago. And there remains the naysayer and the disheartened along with the madness and sadness of the human condition. My ancestors would caution me if they could in lowered voices with knowing shrugs and furrowed brows, all the while taking firm hold of my shirt sleeve to help spirit me away to a safer place. Yet, through a window opened wide, an odd assortment of old baggage floated up, out, and away on a November night. A new smaller bag replaces the old, where I have begun to add an immeasurable amount of trust in all things good. This is my bag that I open that I pack that I close that I pick up that I carry that I set down and that I empty at will; I respectfully discard those limiting ancestral patterns.

I am letting go of what no longer serves me or mine by embracing the present as one tiny conduit for tomorrow’s today. I wish to welcome the descendents of all the kings and all the queens everywhere as a granddaughter, daughter, mother, sister, auntie, cousin, friend, neighbor – as one good woman amongst so very many!

BA 11/08

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

It's Most Telling . . .

Bernadette Adora

I gave up asking a long time ago. To explain: my daddy liked to recall a particular incident, one of many that happened when I was about eight or so. We were visiting family in Appalachia and there abouts -- he was born and raised in Barboursville, Kentucky. My cousin, Patty, was with us on that trip. We had driven from Detroit to and through the Smokey Mountains and back again one summer; I loved every moment.

At some time during our vacation, daddy took us to a beach where we could enjoy the water and have a picnic afterwards. I believe, we were in North Carolina by that time or maybe it was West Virginia – the family was up the mountains and down into the valleys and all around those parts for a few weeks. With pride, daddy showed off that vast land, which he loved more than life itself. It was an afternoon of splashing around in the water when Daddy instructed Patty to show me how to swim. Patty was a pretty, chubby little girl with long, thick, wavy hair – Indian hair my mother called it. I, on the other hand, was short, skinny, and seriously afraid to get my hair wet --- you’d be too if you had to sit upright and perfectly still in your mother’s kitchen with a hot iron sizzling and crackling overhead as your hair was pressed smooth, strand by strand. Nappy hair was a dreaded consequence back then of rain showers, water balloon fights, humid summer nights, settling back in the bathtub, and swimming. So I don’t know it was the water or the fact that she was doing it all wrong – of course she was doing it all wrong, I’d had a lesson or two earlier that summer, and I just knew, Besides, I hadn’t asked her, not that I couldn’t or didn’t know how; it never dawned on me to ask. I was fine; this was my daddy’s big idea – and my hair was already wet around the edges and moisture was seeping up under my water-proof swimming cap with every splash and dunk. It was then that I stopped playing around and explained to Patty, in no uncertain terms, how to teach me to swim.

Daddy stood nearby in the water only up to his ankles laughing as my mother prepared lunch far away from the water’s edge. Mother told me later he had said that he knew I’d be all right in life and stated something like, “that girl is gonna be all right, we don’t have to worry about her.” “She can’t swim a lick, but she sure can tell somebody how to and how not to!” He got that right – and I’ve also come to realize why I became a woman, who tells – and yes, asks only when necessary. It was not a matter of being “bossy” or an issue of control; it was about having received permission to be myself, early on. I was often congratulated, expected to step forward when it came to matters of self, of self interest. I was given this gift from both my parents.

Then there is the matter of the community that helped nurture me. Back when, there were two kinds of girls out there: weak and strong -or- big and little. I was tiny in stature but I was a “big” girl, who wanted to grow up like the women all around me, strong women. The girls and women, who acted first and asked (maybe) later, were common place for me and mine. The women, who I knew, were strong willed, determined know-it-alls, who could and would tell you everything you needed to know whether or not you needed that information. It was later, much later that I learned: we “tellers” can be a big pain in the butt! I have also discovered that telling can be a disguise for a fear of being thought less rather than more. It can be a cover-up lest our insecurities and our “little girl” within be known by all. Better wrong, dead wrong than weak is the motto here. Better a big girl pain-in-the-you-know-what than a little girl wimp.

Asking is an art form -- is humbling, where I come from. It’s something one did in stillness with the Lord, mainly …”give us this day our daily bread….” But now, as a New Thought Christian, even the Lord gets instructions – daily bread is no longer a request, it is a statement, it is a sure thing. Mercy, me!

So while I think of myself as a big girl, a strong woman, if not a strong-willed woman, I have come with time to better understand the measure of this woman. Not unlike those beautiful hills of Kentucky, I have gone up my mountain and back down again to dwelled in the valley below. I care about those who grace my life, and I have come to learn that I know no more and no less than anyone else – and still unafraid to tell you so; I may understand it differently is all. It is only now that I ask more and tell less. I ask out of caring; I ask out of respect; I ask out of knowing that I don’t know – and that maybe one day I will get to that place of Knowing. Yet, I believe that should I arrive at that place, I won’t need to tell and I won’t need to ask because, I won’t need. Now won’t that be lovely?

But until then, I will continue to ask for directions, about the price of things, about your day, for the time, for an occasional day of peace and quiet, and for help when it is clear I can’t get it all done alone. And most importantly, I will try and remember to ask those nearest and dearest, if it is okay for me to be a pain in the butt – once in awhile.

BA 10/08

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Sweet Potato Pie

Bernadette Adora

When I was young, sugar was the medicine that helped soothe the soul, sugar along with savory flavors that tickled the senses and brought about a huge smile on the faces of young and old alike. Savory flavors, sugary goodness plus Rhythm and Blues -- and to be perfectly honest, put all together, it remains a soul soother. But unlike today, sugar was a weekend or holiday treat that took the form of homemade cake: double chocolate, yellow coconut, or maybe a light-as-air pound cake with a big scoop of fresh sugared strawberries on the side. Sometimes, it was a pie not long from the oven: savory sweet potato; lemon meringue; or even warm, spicy apples surrounded and protected by a perfected flaky crust. A double crust fruit cobbler was wonderful too, especially peach, but I couldn't get with cobblers made with berries -- a personal thing I suppose. But I have fond memories too of a dented metal pan brimming over with banana pudding, a large glass bowl of creamy rice pudding with more raisins than one would considered reasonable, and a modest size tub of a favorite summertime treat: vanilla ice cream cranked by hand – mercy! A small but important note here: Unlike a little sweet treat or two in a chipped dish from time to time, R&B was everyday, if not all day.

My daddy loved my mother’s cooking! I honestly think that if my mother had not been gifted in the kitchen, she would have died a spinster – or maybe married some sour face man with no need or appreciation for the smells and flavors that wafted from a kitchen on Sunday afternoons after church – sometimes on Saturdays too depending on family plans. Baked ham covered in cloves with huge round, sweet pineapple slices; pork chops smothered in gravy; lamb roast lined from top to bottom with slivers of fresh garlic and homemade mint jelly atop the stove waiting to finish; fried chicken, crispy from an egg batter dip, rolled in flour, and then seasoned just right; rabbit stew simmering in sweet-red wine sauce with spices that defied the imagination; catfish, whitefish, perch, or trout fried up in an old black, well worn, cast iron pan – daddy fished throughout the summer on the Michigan lakes and rivers; he caught our fish and brought them home, enough oft times to share with the neighbors. He lugged a pail sometimes two of ice filled with fish into the back door late night around bedtime, him smelling a little of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer and pleased to be home to take hold of his wife, who didn’t have time; she busying herself for our Sunday feast and shooing him away - most times. Then there were the jellies, jams, peaches, pickles, corn, to name a few, that were canned -- fruit and vegetables prepared by the bushel full from late summer to early autumn. Collard greens and mustard greens seasoned to perfection served with Louisiana Hot Sauce, never Tabasco, go figure; fried and cream corn fresh from the cob before finding a way to the pan; green beans with baby white potatoes along with bits of sugared ham; warm, light biscuits; corn bread piping hot; and not to forget the sauces and gravies for barbecues and roasts and nearly anything hot from the oven. Yup! My daddy loved my mother’s cooking – those few Saturday nights and those regular, can-depend-on Sunday afternoons right after church!!!

The problem for me, the only child in a household with a way-older brother off and living his life with a beautiful, young wife, is that I was often times in the way. I was a reader and a dreamer; the kitchen was the place that I spent evenings washing up and sweeping the floor; Saturday mornings on my hands and knees with a rag, a hot bucket of water, and Mr. Clean. My mother, bless her heart, was a nervous woman much of the time, and it was easier to delegate cleaning to me and do the cooking herself. Besides, there would be plenty of time to pass along the recipes and family secrets and sleight of hand famous for making her dishes a delight. But that time never came, my daughter did reap the benefit of some lessons and a bit of craft, but by then, daddy had passed, mother retired, and I was grown -- time was too precious. Thank goodness for an early marriage to a man whose mother never cooked, if she didn’t have to – that man was so grateful for everything I attempted in those early months that eventually I learned from the school of trial and error. I should go looking for that man, long moved on and out, just to thank him for his patience and optimism. I learned to cook thanks in part to his encouragement and appreciation – ahh, too bad that’s all I can recommend there. But then, that, as they say, is another story.

Today, I have tucked away a few of my mother’s precious recipes and special touches. It is with loving pleasure I share: Sweet Potato Pie. Since my daddy had a serious sweet-tooth, my mother kicked up the sweetness of that pie quite a bit. Most people keep the sugar reduced, especially in this new day and age, so I leave it to you. Here is a recipe, lighten up on the sugar if you wish and cheat on the crust if you must, but remember, my mother made all her pie crusts from scratch and that is what I’m including. Her pie crusts were her pride and joy. To my mother, a perfect flaky pie crust separated the woman from the girl.

Enjoy! Now don’t forget to switch on a little Rhythm and Blues to go along with this simple but sweet delight, both in the preparation and in the eatin’. Feel free to move about and swing a bit to the beat should the spirit move you; it is without question, the right accompaniment.

BA 09/08

Saturday, August 16, 2008


Bernadette Adora

My relationship to money is fairly simple: hopeful. Hopeful for me, for the world’s poor, for every doggone body – I suppose, I’m something like the Miss America, who wishes for world peace! Growing up in the fifties in a family that was working class with decidedly middle class expectations, expectations eventually realized, may be the reason I copied my mother’s more materialistic ways of living. My dad, on the other hand, had more basic needs; he appreciated the simple life.

Many expired credit cards later, as a mother of an adult daughter, I decided a few years ago that my work was done. It was time to look at the “next step”, the one that would lead me toward my dreams postponed, one of which included early retirement. I chose a book to start me rolling; I was behind in planning for the future – I had a lot of catching up to do. “Finances” was a dirty eight letter word, and I needed a little self-help, which I found in one book that for a discounted, $14.95 not including tax could boost my attitude toward the subject. The exercise I chose sent me in the following direction: every morning, I wrote myself a “pretend” check beginning with $1,000 on Day One, which increased each day by an additional thousand dollars – the only caveat: I was required to spend the entire amount within 24 hours. Further, I was required to keep a record of each daily credit and all debits. It was suggested that if the exercise was followed faithfully for one year, 66 million pretend dollars would be mine for whatever my heart desired. I made it to nearly four months.

I devised an elaborate routine for receiving and managing this miracle windfall with the aid of online shopping sites and catalogues to acquire STUFF, a whole lotta STUFF, I set out on new my prosperity mission. I became a frequent visitor of Tiffany’s – for me, family, and friends; I even placed a deposit one day and picked up a not-so modest, full equipped BMW the next. In one month, I was able to make a sizeable down payment on a houseboat on a bay clear across the country, by month two, I begain maintaining a small but comfortable apartment in New York (I live in Chicago), I set-off building a pretend closet full of designer clothes, and as I noted earlier, went about acquiring lots of other STUFF!

After about six weeks, I was stuffed - stuffed up and bored. Eventually, it became a chore to spend this imaginary money each and every night, which I did at bedtime. I began staying up later and later trying to be true to the task at hand and the fun ran out – it was all gone! But being task oriented, I stayed the course. It was nearing the eighth week while in a hurry one night, I created a scholarship foundation in my mother’s name for children growing up in a Detroit neighborhood she had loved dearly. It was quick and easy to do and so, I did it. A few days later, I created a second foundation, one for my daughter, who is an attorney and an advocate for juvenile justice. A week later, a third and final foundation was created, one for housing and educating the street children in Cape Town, South Africa. Now the fun was back in the game and what fun I had building three separate and wonderful foundations. And once again, I became a stranger to Tiffany’s and exclusive online shopping. I created business plans (simplified, but plans nonetheless), hired staff, purchased equipment, leased property, quit my job to manage these full time endeavors (but remember, we are still in imaginary mode.) By beginning of the fourth fun packed but exhausting month, I stopped. It dawned on me that I understood the exercise, which had helped change my mind-set. So what happened with my plan for tomorrow? I readjusted my thinking. I learned that when it came down to it, it was not about STUFF after all and growing old with a lifestyle that I never found comfortable, if truth be told. It was about building a life, my life more sincerely, which did not mean driving large or living large or appearing large, it was about moving the largess to my true heart’s desire. I acquired a prosperity consciousness that did not resemble the one I started out imaging on Day One. After getting out of my own way, I fed my spirit easily, joyfully, and productively. Each evening, I turned to new endeavors with a hopeful and creative attitude, and it all came together for me. I began to understand my relationship to money.

It has been only a couple of years since playing at that game, yet a sense of hopefulness continues to seep into more and more of what I think and what I do. Somehow in getting out of my ancient groove and out from under purchasing …stuff… “my cup overflows” took on new meaning. It has become more about what I feel and what I create and the possibilities for new creation rather than obtaining objects. And while, I might hear a collective, Dahhh, following this statement, don’t we usually pay attention to the objects, the stuff? Now, I’m still a beauty junkie; however, acquisition is no longer a main sporting event, it is an occasional pleasure. And if my memory is correct, it is not written, “my credit card overflows and so does my closet.” I think I finally got it. So for now, I remain an optimist, a woman, who sees her finances in a hopeful, positive way, one that is empowering through the use of creativity, feelings, imagination, and yes, some good old fashion sweat equity. There is more than light at the end of this tunnel, there is a bright beam leading my steps straight ahead ‘cause I’ve learned to remain hopeful.

BA 8/14/08

Once Upon a Time

Bernadette Adora

It was an old black ‘n white photograph stuffed into a fancy silver frame that a dear girlfriend reached up and grabbed off my book shelf; she began immediately to tease me. After studying the seventeen year old girl in a full length gown with her daddy in tails proudly escorting her onto a ballroom floor, the young girl’s patent-leather hair still glistening through the faded image, my friend pronounced, “Definitely, ‘once upon a time when we were Colored!’” And then she threw her head back and laughed, and I shook my own head, which was cut in a short, clean-lined Afro and demanded, “Give me that back, you don’t have any respect!” After which, I laughed hard myself, ‘cause she was right; she was right-on!

Growing up in Detroit in the fifties and sixties was for me, a fine time to be Colored, to be Negro, to be Black, to be African-American, to be who I was and who I could and would become despite segregation; my father’s hard working, hard drinking ways; our little bitty money stretched to its limits. There was a whole lotta hope and determination for so-called, better times; it was then that we could and we would nearly always envision more . Be it the new thought understanding that is prevalent today in books and on Oprah, or just because we gave it our all despite what society said we could and could not have or could and could not be -- better times did come to pass. Quite simply stated, it is my unadorned and unabashed belief that it remains a privilege to help keep the dream alive, to help keep those so-called, better times just keep on keepin' on. Period.

BA 6/30/08

Thursday, June 26, 2008

End Game

Bernadette Adora

I do not pretend to know the strategies that make up the game of chess; I’m far too right-side-of-the-brain to care much about it all. But, I comprehend the basic rules of the game and follow instructions fairly well, so years ago I took a little time to learn the game of chess, and play a little on the computer. It’s far easier that way since I’m a person, who remains stuck at the beginner’s level with absolutely no interest in progressing further – at least not in virtual-time.

To be honest, my interest in the game of chess is more visual if not tactile; I like the game of chess as a thing of beauty that can bring together the sense of sight, touch, and smell. The feel of natural stone or wooden pieces carved and rubbed smooth with edges rounded, sitting atop a sleek board – this is what pleases me the most. I like to describe it as the game of chess in relative-time.

For one who has reduced the game of chess to an easy and simple pleasure, it came as a surprise to me more than anyone when I learned that I play the game of chess each and everyday in earnest. There are days, sometimes weeks that I play several games simultaneously only to arrive at the end game with the board overturned and pieces flying in righteous indignation. I call this the game of chess in real-time.

There is a fellow, who I work with; he helps me, I help him, and together we try and help everyone else make sense of the world when it starts going sideways rather than straight ahead. Recently, he told me that most men just muddle through when it comes to their relationships with women. And I was just being told this! Later, I thought about what he said and wondered if I had stumbled onto this information years sooner would I have had less expectations, more patience, better ------ not! Let me stop myself right here. I already have a huge problem with seeing the potential in nearly every person I meet rather than seeing the “deal.” Not unlike that old school (no pun intended), special ed teacher I’ve admired, I see good and talented souls, who, with a little hard work and a whole lotta love, can be all that they hope to be, if not more. That part is important, please don’t gloss over: “if not more.” However, and this is a big, HOWEVER, I’ve recently come to understand that each and everyone of us is simply muddling through.

Right-side or left-side, the game of chess is a real-life phenomenon in real-time for too many of us. New thought thinkers point to ego, point to fear, point to illusion, point and then point some more as I, along with others, continue with the game of chess. All the while, promising to disengage only to engage again.

At this stage of my life, I have gotten tired of playing the game of chess in real-time, particulary with those of the opposite sex. I am bone weary of the end game and all my misplaced stuff that comes along with it. I just want to cease muddling through, turn a beautifully carved piece gently over on its side, take a few deep breaths, gaze at the man sitting across from me, and recognize him not as an opponent but rather as an extension of my weary boned self -- smile truly, reach over, and gently touch his hand and lovingly suggest that he and I remain present. I want to hear, as we stand up together and move away from the board, about his joys and no more about his sorrows; I want to hear about his hopes and no more about his fears; I want to hear about his today and no more about his yesterdays, and then I want to be invited and welcomed to share the same. I want to be able to savor each instance of sitting still, of standing, of moving along side he, who I now recognize as being a part of me, who together transforms momentarily into a “we.” In my imagining, the end game is just that – an end to the game now transformed into a myriad of new beginnings, new possibilities that flow together moment to moment --- yes, even in real-time.

Bernadette Adora