Believe It

I was fantastically moved by today’s baptisms at Emmanuel Baptist Church, my home base in Brooklyn. Members, guests, and families applauded, snapped pictures, shed tears as several young people were dipped into water with a prayer for this profound new chapter in their lives. I found myself covered in goosebumps.

I felt a sense of deja vu: I was instantly reminded of taking my own walk with my other mom, Deacon Ruth Corbett, in August 2001. I knew I liked the vibe of EBC on my occasional visits–the straightforward messages, preached to people who looked like me, who struggled like me. I didn’t hesitate, compelled to squeeze past my pew neighbors to join the fellowship. I was welcomed warmly and blessed for my epiphany.

I was baptized on September 19, a week after brutal terrorist onslaughts in the US, attacks that found me in SoHo, on a patio watching firsthand a second plane crash into the towers. What followed was a blur of a colleague’s apartment crammed with trembling co-workers, ash-covered and blank-eyed survivors, frantic check-ins with classmates, friends, sorors, and family (my aunt was in an adjacent tower; we waited an agonizing 10 hours to hear from her). Fourteen years later, no country appears safe from violent, pointless attacks, as witnessed just in the past two weeks. I hope that our new members find community, camaraderie, and a sense of security through renewed faith, as I did. In the meantime, I’ll live day by day, with mercy and grace. I wish the same for us all. Cheers.

NH

Hot Food in Small Hands

I grew up in Clinton Hill apartments off Myrtle Avenue. There were no coffee bars, pubs, or gourmet grocery stores. There was Cino’s, Joe’s, Venice–wonderful Italian restaurants. Kum Kau may predate my birth (back then it was strictly a narrow takeout spot). We had a few diners (including the Greek one on Myrtle & Vanderbilt), I believe we had a Key Food & there were still butchers I was sent to with a list of meat cuts to buy.

The Freemans lived across the hall from my grandmother. Miss Lee and her husband, Mr. Freeman (I’m still not sure of his first name) were an older couple–only slightly younger than my grandma–who were retired and fascinating to me. I didn’t know many older married couples. They had a daughter…I don’t believe they were close and she lived in Europe with her hubby at a time when such things were still considered a bit odd.

I digress. A few years ago, Miss Lee finally succumbed to dementia-related issues. She was a wanderer, once making it as far as the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, at night, in a nightgown, before she was found. That broke my heart & I worried for her husband being alone.

As a child, every other week or so, I was sent across the hall to pick up some Tupperware from Miss Lee. It was always a mystery what I was picking up: greens? turkey wings? okra (absolutely disgusting)? It didn’t matter what it was, my grandma forced me to eat it and be grateful for it. My grandma’s cooking was fine & I never understood that things were lean in our household, that a childless couple was passing along their extras whenever possible to help us out, and that my scowling at a free meal made me seem spoiled & ungrateful.

But I was never ungrateful. That food helped a lot. I bought Miss Lee Mother’s Day cards (with some hesitation; she was a hard hugger) and that’s just the way it happened. We had another neighbor, Robert, who apparently gifted us with homemade rolls and then there was pre-fame Millie Jackson, who took me (at age 4?) for drives in her first Cadillac and gave long-forgotten clothes to my aunts. This was the 12th floor, and it was expected that we were friendly, didn’t blast music, and they would always buy a chocolate bar during my Catholic school drives and generally put up with me as the only kid on the floor.

Mr. Freeman lasted several years without his partner, but passed a week ago. I was devastated, because I can see things through an adult’s eyes now, and I’m incredibly thankful. He was the last of the old neighbors. 20-somethings live there now, singles and couples with babies and dogs. I should’ve visited him more often. I wish I’d seen Miss Lee while she still remembered me. But I’ll always remember their kindness, and their amused smiles when I rang their bell to return well-washed Tupperware, and when asked if I enjoyed the okra I’d pipe up, “I loved it!”

clinton hill

New Year’s Cuisine, Clinton-Hill Style

Before I get to MTV, a quickie on growing up on Myrtle and Clinton Avenues in the ’70s and ’80s.

My grandmother, a southern woman from Virginia, always made New Year’s dinner, including collard greens for money/prosperity, and black-eyed peas & pork for good luck and health. Unfortunately, my family enjoyed every part of pork I hated: pigs’ pigs_feetfeet, pigtails, hog maws, fatback, chitterlings/”chitlins” (the smell of which still makes me dry heave) et al. To make fun of me—the only child and the youngest in a small family—my aunts, cousin, and uncle would all exaggerate eating their meals, dramatically gnawing on gristle and fat, shoving a pungently vinegared pig’s foot under my nose for my horrified Pavlovian response, and generally making me nauseated.

Grandma, however, always had my back. She’d go out of her way to fry one lone pork chop just for me. “No one eats Nira’s chop!” she’d yell, wrapping it in foil and setting it on the pilot light to stay warm while she finished making cornbread and other sides. While everyone mixed their food together, I had my sides on a dinner plate and my chop on a separate little saucer. Nobody was feeling my pathetic little piece of meat (which never looked like the picture on WordPress)–unless I couldn’t finish it. (Then, everyone was putting dibs on the bone.) But the inclusion always made me very, quietly pleased.

My aunt grumbled once she took over the cooking later on: “She needs to try these pigtails. Does she know I can’t buy just ONE of these things?” I was around 20 when I gave this any real thought; I never remember grandma buying a pack of pork chops. There were still butcher shops in the area though, and I’m guessing she was able to politely request one chop, every year, for her granddaughter, who was a picky eater but needed to be a part of this annual family tradition. Because of her I always think of New Year’s meals with fond, giggly memories. I was the one-chop girl, and she helped me be proud of this.

I hope you had a wonderful New Year’s Day with friends, family, or quietly reflecting in solitude. Now, let’s dig into 2014, with its comfy, hearty classics and shiny, new customs yet to be discovered. Cheers.

ny dinner