The One and Only: Stevie Wonder

We were both born in the city of Detroit in the same year of 1950. He made his entry into the world four months before me. The difference? The world knows him, but they do not know me. He is the one and only Stevie Wonder or Stevie Wonderful. We first heard of him when his song Fingertips came out right after our family arrived in Chicago. 

Somehow, we ended up being a part of The Great Migration by traveling north after leaving the Jim Crow southern city of Memphis. My father, a northern-born man, had gone back south to retrieve his family. He had gone ahead of us after trying to deal with working in the South. He got a job in Chicago, an apartment in Woodlawn and a car with his sister’s assistance and came back to get us. 

So, as we tearfully settled down at 6140 So. Kenwood and new friends and music saved us. Stevie sang Fingertips and later, My Cherie Amour as Motown made its debut in everyone’s hearts and put the Motor City on the map. And thus, Stevie Wonder has been and still is one of the steady musical backdrops of my life. 

Quite like a dependable friend, he has always been there with a new song to help me remember the major and pivotal points of my life. He is like the tick marks on a number line. I could easily add a year above each song and tell anyone where I was and what I was doing at that time. 

When I moved into my first apartment in 1972, I think of songs like Been So Long or lyrics like, ‘Mary wants to be a superwoman and try to boss the bull around…” Then the song moves into a slow heart-warming tempo that asks,” Where were you when I needed you last winter? My love?” The hits and albums kept rolling like loose tires down a hill. We sang to albums like Talking Book , Fullingness First Finale and Innervisions, to name a few. 

I woke up many mornings singing, “You always creep into my dreams,” or “Boogie on Reggae woman.” As life moved forward, Stevie’s music played in the background whether washing the dishes, moving to another apartment, driving to work or even trying to make sense of a tattered love affair. 

And then, quite like a revolution? Boom. In late 1976, he had the audacity to create an album with two records. And this was pre-CD’s, so there were two LPs, in his album Songs in the Key of Life. And my, it was so much material that everyone could find something to love such as Mister Know it All or As. I was also going through a revolution because I decided to quit my teaching job and make a quantum leap. I headed to the Deep South to attend graduate school at a HBCU. 

Later in the 80’s when I settled down in Memphis again, he had mellowed even more. I think of lyrics such as, “These three words” and other love songs like Part-Time Lover. And boom. We heard he was coming to town. I do not remember the location of the venue, but they had him on a circular stage and he went around as he sang.

My friend Michelle later said, “I touched him.” I was like, “What?” She said, “I touched him.’” He had walked pass us as he entered the one level room, so she was like the woman who touched Jesus. I shook my head and I guess that he is used to it whenever people can get close enough to steal a touch. 

The Steve Wonder stories could go on and on, but after seeing him this past Sunday on the American Music Awards, I was inspired to write this piece. He still looks great and revealed his great sense of humor when he told Wayne Brady to, “Begone” as he was talking to him outside of his dressing room. Surely his ability to laugh at life has kept him young and he can safely rest on his laurels from now on! 

Lynn M. 
November 26, 2022 

Attempts at French!

While reading Book 3 of Beth Haslam’s Fat Dogs and French Estates, she triggered a memory for me when she decided to take a French class before moving to the south of France. Her new instructor was firm and reminded her to speak in French only ‘ou parler en français seulement.’ It made me think of my many attempts to learn the language and I basically never got there. 

In high school, I took four years of French. My teacher, Ms. Nessman was kind and named me Margarite’, the most French version for my middle name, Margarita.  We spent countless hours in the foreign language lab in our headphones while listening to French dialogues and scripts. We conjugated verbs until the proverbial cows came home. But I still could not converse with a person in French other than saying hello, my name or goodbye. I probably can write it better than I can speak it because I understand the layout of the language which is like English as a Romantic language. 

In college, I took a couple of French courses. One woman catered to those who sat close to her in the front of the room and spent most of her time teaching the French map. But when I left there, could I have a conversation in French? Non. However, I can locate cities on the map of France as I follow Beth Haslam’s journeys through the country.  So, I should thank the teacher.

Years, hence, I was able to take a couple of free classes while teaching at Chicago State University in the early 90’s. I chose French and Modern Dance. My French instructor was a young woman from Senegal, and she too was steeped in the textbook version of learning the verbs. We loved her but I only had one semester with her. Perhaps if I had had more time under her instruction, my French would have taken off. Yet to no avail, I was not ready to have a conversation with anyone from France.  

Eventually, someone realized the fact that the textbook versions of the language were not working. Not everyone was able to afford the Berlitz immersion classes so, finally conversational classes emerged. Aha, I thought. Later, while working as a librarian at South Suburban College, I took a Conversational French class. I really wanted to learn and stayed after work to further study French. 

My instructor first reminded me that I was no longer to be addressed as Mademoiselle but would be called Madame due to my age, married or not. Great, I thought. That was a real confidence booster. Anyhoo, she did her best and I do recall us labeling furniture pieces in rooms on a graphic page to enhance our French vocabulary. She also spoke in French during class. 

Her efforts were not lost because I did leave her class with enough confidence to go ahead and purchase a ticket to France when the opportunity presented itself. When I got there, I tried using the phrase, je voudrais (I want) at a McDonalds. They looked at me as if I was an alien that had just dropped down from Mars. They talked amongst themselves to figure out what to do. So, I resorted to pointing to what I wanted. 

And that is how I spent the rest of my trip. I operated as a mute who pointed and spent a lot of time in my room. The man on the hotel staff tried to give me a lift and confidence booster and told me to at least try. I met another American who told me that she just pointed to what she wanted. We laughed. Luckily, the staff at the hotel and nearby train station where I got daily directions both spoke in several languages. 

I took several stabs at the steak of learning French. I had a host of teachers who had limited time to share the language they already knew. I believe that living in a bilingual environment is the real answer to mastering another language. Or perhaps, teach it to the very young child because as the saying goes, It’s hard to teach old dogs new tricks

Lynn M. 
November 23, 2022 

An Abundant Life!

Abundance is a state of mind, 
It gathers when we are most kind. 

Yes, dollars and wealth are a part, 
But a warm heart helps map the chart. 

Some have much money in the bank, 
But can’t cope when emotions tank. 

A clear conscience, strong faith and love, 
Help balance life like a sweet dove! 

Lynn M. 
November 19, 2022 

Venting Safely!

Solo librarians can be like bartenders! People often come into their workspaces and bear their souls. Quite like the patient bartender who has heard many a tale, so has the solo librarian. I say solo librarian because if staff members walk by and see that there is no class in the library, they may stop and chat.

An empty library can be like an oasis with a silent welcoming wave whispering, “Come on in.” Those staff members may respectfully stand but they fill the empty room with their thoughts and feelings as they voice their concerns during their few available minutes.

In my case, they were all welcome into the library for none had a beef with me. They just saw this as a grand opportunity to say what they needed to say. Their vents ranged from job situations to personal concerns. They just needed a place to breathe deeply, get whatever out in the open and gather a new point of view. Yes, a think-aloud.

It has been said that if a person can vent and hear his or her own thoughts, they can find a solution. Whether they were talking about things that caused deep angst or merely reflecting on past events, they were able to purge a little, hear themselves think and unburden their souls.

Listening is a skill that many simply do not possess. They look as if they hear, but they are simply waiting on their turn to speak. Good listeners will interject comments in all the right places and the speaker knows that they have truly been heard. The responses are timely, noteworthy and thought-provoking.

And very importantly, there is a silent trust and confidence, and the speakers feel certain that the conversation will not be repeated up and down the corridors and hallways of the building. Nor will it be put on social media nor any other public format. What is said in the room stays in the room.

So, quite like the bartender who continually polishes the glasses or rearranges the bottles along the shelves, the solo librarian continually reshelves books or works on the inventory while the speaker speaks. As the person is promenading back and forth while unloading, they get it out of their systems knowing that their words will stay safely tucked inside the walls of that space. Afterwards, they can sigh and continue on!

Lynn M.
November 12, 2022

Church Homes!

As a young child in Detroit, I used to watch my father get ready for church. To me, he seemed to be his happiest. He shined his shoes as he got ready and I remember him tying down his hair with a white handkerchief to make certain that he looked his best. 

It was an era when people of color genuinely believed in dressing up in their Sunday best to honor and worship the Lord. He also sang as we prepared to go to church. Those were happy times for our family. We lived in a house out in Wayne, but we drove into Detroit for church services.

There was a high ledge outside of the church that we children balanced ourselves on as we played. I slightly remember the services and the music, but I do strongly remember going into breakout rooms in the basement. I will never forget when we once bobbed for apples. There was a huge tub on the floor filled with water and apples. We had to hold our arms behind us and get on our knees and try to bite down on an apple and make it our own. It was a challenge and I do not recall succeeding in getting an apple. 

Church has been an important part of my life over the years. Going to church and listening to spirituals offer nourishment for the soul. The songs alone have helped me to hold on and keep the faith until the tide changes when things are looking bleak. It is the human condition to feel uncertain when working through a problem. Those songs help me to know that “every problem has a solution” as Stevie Wonder sang in You Will Know.”

With those early lessons in mind, I have made it a top priority to find a church home whenever I anchor down in a new city. I have attended Hillside Chapel in Atlanta; Unity and First Church of Religious Science (readings) in Memphis; Christ Universal Temple in Chicago and Christian Science in Boston and currently.  All of the beliefs and principles have helped to shape me into the person that I am today.

Thank goodness many churches now stream online when we cannot get to a physical church building. YouTube is also filled with great gospel and spiritual songs ranging from the old-school or traditional to the newer inspirational artists. The bottom line is to keep the faith and to find whatever the soul needs to keep the feelings of despair at bay. Whether it is hearing a good sermon, listening to a powerful choir, or picking up a good self-help book or pamphlet, it is imperative to find a healthy balance. I have followed in my father’s footsteps and as Robert Frost wrote in The Road Not Taken,And that has made all the difference.” 

Lynn M.
November 5, 2022

November Morn!

The clear November morning, 
Creeps into my window like a mist. 

Birds chirp softly bidding us farewell, 
Before their winter flights to warmer places.

I hear gentle and subtle nudges whispering, 
“This is the way. Walk ye in it.” 

Thus, I continue my ever-meandering journey, 
Going forward to meet more good, without a backward glance. 

Lynn M. 
November 2, 2022 

African Pieces~

Gem-stone necklace, coin purse & Ivory necklace

I took a few virtual tours on YouTube of Kenya after finishing Hemingway’s True at First Light and Susie Kelly’s Safari Ants, Baggy Pants and Elephants. Both books took me on safaris there, so I added a visual look into the rural countryside and on into Nairobi. Though each author had varying missions, both unmistakably loved the beauty of Kenya. I can easily see why each fell in love with this East African nation. 

Then, after listening to a Calm App sleep story about the South Africa’s Blue Train, I took a virtual ride on the Blue Train. The journalist was wise in that he muted all sounds and let the viewers feel as if they were riding the train with him and his traveling party. It is a luxury train, and they were treated like royalty as they enjoyed the scenic landscapes.

While in South Africa virtually, I thought about Val Poore’s books such as African Ways and African Ways Again. She has written very descriptive memoirs about her times while living there. So, I took virtual tours to Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town, to name a few. I also thought of my new Twitter/Author friend Kalenga Mulenga, who is the author of 21 children’s books. He too hails from Johannesburg! 

I then ventured over to the lower western countries to Ghana. I had a wonderful teacher-coworker from there who used to calm me down by repeating, “No mind. No mind.” He was telling me to not give the upsetting things any attention. He has since left Chicago and returned to his homeland. I thought of him as I traveled to Ghana on YouTube. I also have a beautiful handmade fan from Ghana that I purchased at a bazaar, here in Evanston.  

I thought of the people that I have met through work and remembered a math teacher from Cameroon and a French teacher from Senegal. But most poignantly, I thought of one of my close friends that married a Nigerian. So, I added Nigeria to my virtual tour. I will never forget when her sister wrote and told me that she had moved there. I thought, “How brave!” She and I corresponded over the years and I had postcards from the University of Ibadan and the University of Ife, where her husband taught psychology. 

She often brought me gifts when she came home. As I viewed the Nigerian landscape, I thought of them as a young couple along with their three children. Two were born there. They are all grown up now and the whole family is back here in the States. There are simply too many stories to share about her years there in this short space, but I do remember the gifts. I had a snake-skinned or crocodile-skinned coin purse. I had it for several years and I kept a cross and some foreign coins in the front pouch. It stayed in the glove compartment of my car.

Then, I had a heavy necklace which her friend, Essie brought me. It was so pretty but nothing that could be worn with everyday wear. I wore it once to the 95th floor of the John Hancock Building in downtown Chicago as I dined. It turned heads and was indeed a conversation piece.  I also had an ivory elephant tooth necklace that I regularly rocked as I taught high school in the 70’s. The chain, however, was quite delicate, so I had to handle it with care.

And lastly, I had a long, colorful batik cloth with a woman standing and paddling a boat. There were several colorful fish underneath the canoe-like boat. It hung in several of my apartments as I moved around from place to place. However, during my nomadic life, I have lost these items, so I attempted to replicate them here in this drawing. They will be forever etched in my memory as I think of Africa, the Motherland!

Lynn M. 
October 29, 2022 

Love and Happiness!

The one and only Al Green’s records or shall I say, soundtracks will be forever etched in my mind. One would have to have the time with no agenda to truly enjoy his many soulful tunes from the 70’s such as Love and Happiness.  And perhaps, a tad of maturity to boot would not hurt.

Those with a few tracks on the romance railway would truly get it and identify with Al Green’s message. When he was at the height of his career, like many of those in the spotlight, he had an unfortunate incident in his hometown of Memphis. Someone threw hot grits (an African American thing) and some woman lost her life during the wildness of a party night. For a while, he was jokingly called Al Grits.

But to him, it was no laughing matter. When interviewed, he kept asking, “Did it happen?  What happened?” It was surreal to him and those who have been at alcohol-fueled parties know how quickly things can go from joy to everlasting pain. Yet, overtime, he overcame it and moved on to become a minister with his own church there in Memphis.

I was out at a club once with a friend who was working as the deejay in Gary. He was spinning records and playing the music to keep the crowd happy. It takes a level of skill to be able to read the room and decide what type of music and which musical artists will bring the most joy to the people. He could see if they were swaying to the beats, dancing or if they were sitting stiffly as if waiting for time to pass.

He chose to put on Al Green’s Love and Happiness and oh my! The place came alive as if setting off a wildfire.  The club had rocking couples and singles and when he thought he had brought pleasure to many, a tall gentleman came over to me and said, “Ask him to play it again.” He handed me a couple of dollars, so I passed it over to my deejay-friend and whispered, “Play it again.” He did. This happened at least three times and the man continued to come up with his cash because he obviously needed to relive some affair from his past.  I will never forget that event!

Love and Happiness?  There is nothing like it. So, when you have time, push play and take a walk back down memory lane with Mr. Al Green!

Lynn M.
October 22, 2022

True at First Light- a book!

Ernest Hemingway’s book, True at First Light was assembled from his writings by his second eldest son, Patrick Hemingway many years after his death. I have read many of Hemingway’s major works such as A Farewell to Arms, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Sun Also Rises and even taught parts of The Old Man and the Sea. I can still see Spencer Tracy in the movie as he sat there in that boat while contemplating life. 

I went on to rent the movies after finishing his books to compare the likenesses and differences. I was impressed with how well Hollywood stayed true to the script, but we avid readers know that a movie can never fully embody a book, itself. And then, around 2011, author Paula McLain wrote The Paris Wife, and it reawakened my interest in Hemingway. 

Her book featured Hadley, his first wife, and their early years in Paris. Hadley believed in him wholeheartedly and was highly instrumental in helping him get his career off the ground. He never stopped loving her and in his later years, after the world became his oyster, he often reflected on those simpler times in Paris with her and their son, Jack. 

After reading The Paris Wife, I finally knew that it was time for me to make that trek to Oak Park. There are not that many great writers from Illinois, so I had to go see his museum for myself. The women who worked there told me that Paula McLain had recently been there for a book signing. There were artifacts from his life everywhere such as old typewriters, news reels from WWI where he fought, huge movie posters from movies featuring his books and we could even hear his voice from some news clips.

Also, I had the opportunity to walk about a block away and see his Boyhood Home and the docent was very knowledgeable about every detail of his life. We saw the library, the kitchen, the bedrooms upstairs and I could see the Marshall Field’s trucks leaving from delivering the mother’s finery, which he thought his doctor-father often could not afford. 

Afterwards, I furthered my study of his life and read Mary Welsh Hemingway’s book How it Was. I remembered it being a bestseller in the early 80’s when I worked at a bookstore. It is over 600 pages long as she gives a detailed account of their lives together. She was his fourth and last wife and many call her the real Mrs. Hemingway. She stayed with him for over 25 years and was there on that fatal day in 1961 when his life ended. She too was a writer and foreign correspondent and she learned how to let him have his plateau but would also argue with him when she felt he was wrong. 

So, True at First Light is not a tale nor a writer’s birds eye view of the happenings going on all around. It is more of a memoir told in a first-person narrative about he and Miss Mary’s (as he affectionately called her) time in Kenya in 1953. Here, we get to see how he felt about several issues, how he relaxed and what kept him up at nights. 

We see him in the role as Papa-one who had late night talks with his beloved Mary and one who even had an African girlfriend, Debba (fiancée) who wanted to become his junior wife. (Of course, Mary was not having that!) But it was told in a light tone that did not stress nor concern the reader. He was by that time, a Nobel Prize winning writer that pretty much ruled his own world. 

Mary is determined to kill a lion in the novel to prove whatever and though she gets the job done, he and another shooter had to help put the lion totally down so it would not retaliate. Her shots did not fully kill the old lion. But more importantly, we see him hunting on a regular basis to make certain that all depending on him ate and had regular meat. We see him as a doctor administering aid to those who were sick. We see him reading and cherishing news and updates in the mail, and we see him getting up and sitting by the fire to think things through when everyone else was sleep. Many relied on his judgment and depended on his ability to lead and by that time, he was known as Papa to those around him.

True at First Light is a light book but cannot be read in a rush because it is filled with dribbles of wisdom and life lessons for those who are truly attuned. I laughed out loud when he received a letter from a woman in Iowa telling him that he was immature, that he had four wives and asking him when he was going to write something substantial. He thought,” I have written something substantial.” He later referred to her as the Iowa bitch, two times. I hollered!  

I am so glad that I picked up this gem from a secondhand store. It has been sitting on my shelf, but I was working before and not really ready for this treat and trip to Kenya. But then the time came. Yes, it took me a little longer to get through it but all who know Hemingway understand that he is no one to be read in a hurry. Each word is a bite to be tasted, chewed and savored! 

Lynn M.
October 15, 2022

Ossie Davis!

I was looking at an old Bonanza episode the other day and paused when I saw a black cowboy. I looked closer and saw that it was Ossie Davis. I did a little research and saw that it was originally televised in 1969. He was playing a black man in the Antebellum South, trying to protect his family in a hostile environment. “Ossie Davis!” I thought as I sat up taller. He was here for so many years and then he left us quietly as if someone gently blew out his candle in 2005. 

I do not think that I had ever seen him that young on the screen. I normally thought of him with his wife, Ruby Dee in their latter years. They did a lot of work in the Spike Lee movies, and I especially remember his pivotal role as the concerned patriarch in the movie Jungle Fever. They had roles acting as the voices of reason and conscious in Lee’s films.  

Years before, Ossie Davis was known for writing the play Purlie Victorious where he played the leading role of Reverend Purlie Victorious. It was a breakthrough play for blacks back in the early 60’s. I do recall seeing it staged in downtown Chicago, back in the day. And then there was the movie, made in 1963, a year of so many iconic films.

It was called, Gone Are the Days where Ruby Dee, his wife, played Lutiebelle and Ossie Davis played the Reverend Purlie Victorious. It was produced and directed by Brock Peters and Nicholas Webster and Godfrey Cambridge, Alan Aida, Hilda Haynes, Sorrell Booke and Beah Richards were outstanding in their roles. I found out that it on YouTube, viewed it and it is a blast! It held me spellbound. So superb. Afterwards I wrote this jingle,

There was a great actor named Ossie 
Who had Ruby Dee as his posse. 
Yes, together they made good, black art. 

Both of them playing a vital part!”

In the 80’s while living in Memphis, I heard that this husband-and-wife dynamic duo would be speaking over at LemoyneOwen College. I simply gassed up and made the trek over to the campus Whenever notable talent made its way to the Sunny South, we knew to snatch the opportunity because those events were few and far between. So, I went to lay eyes on them while they were there in the Bluff City.

 I am so happy to say that I saw them because we are all mortals who pass on sooner or later. They were in the college auditorium and there was standing room only. They spoke as a unit as they sat close to each other, revealing their mutual love and understanding for each other. I do not remember a word that they said because I was relishing each moment. I just knew that I was breathing in the same space with Ossie Davis along with his beautiful and gifted wife, Ruby Dee! And yet, I marvel! 

Lynn M. 
October 8, 2022