Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down. — Oprah Winfrey
My mom and her friends were having a girls’ night at our apartment. Everyone was drinking and eating take out BBQ on colorful paper plates with French fries and coleslaw.
The coleslaw sat in little round cups that looked like tiny accordions. The BBQ was soaking in sweet hot BBQ sauce. Mounds of French fries sat in the overrun sauce from the meat, sopping up the goodness. The meat was so tender they were eating the ribs with their fingers, dipping the fries back into the BBQ sauce to pick up more of the sauce.
Mama and her clique were combing, washing, conditioning, and hot combing each other’s hair. We did not have the money for my mom to go to the hair shop to get her hair “did.”
There were also a few wigs that were getting their comeuppance in the kitchen. One wig looked like a beehive. My mom and the other women took turns putting the beehive on and admiring themselves in the small mirror in the kitchen.
There were two six-packs of beer covered with ice in the mop bucket. Now and again, one woman would reach in and pull out a cold one. The ‘psst’ sound the canned beer made when opened rang through our small apartment.
No men were present. Good thing too because they were one subject of the ongoing conversation. Love came up over and over again as the women laughed and talked.
My mom and her friends were in the kitchen because the kitchen had a big sink. It was hot in the kitchen. The back door was open to let in air.
I was supposed to be asleep. All the kids slept in one bed. My brothers and sisters tossing and turning had woken me up.
I snuck out of bed and was sitting, just out of sight, listening to the grown folks laugh, talk, drink, and play records.
The smell of the hot combs mixed with the BBQ, fries, and slaw was delicious. Hearing the hot combs being drawn through greased hair sticks with me to this day. They called my mom, Nat.
“Nat,” they said. “Put some music on.” My mom brought the little portable record play into the kitchen. It was a square box about so big.
One of her friends asked, “You got that new Aretha Franklin.” She had it. My mom put it on.
The activities in the kitchen stopped as Aretha began to sing, “I ain’t never loved a man the way that I, I love you.”
My mom and her friends yelled the tag line like the love of their lives was standing with them in the kitchen.
It was magical. I would have been ok if Mom had played the record once. I was so stunned by the musical shot to my heart, I had not moved through the entire record. But, no. My mom played Aretha again. And when the chorus came, I joined in the singing from my hiding place. I couldn’t stop myself.
I had to sing.
“Kiss me once again
Don’cha never, never say that we’re through
’Cause I ain’t never
I aint never, I ain’t never, no, no
Loved a man, the way that I, I love you”
I Never Loved A Man — Songwriter: Ronnie Shannon
Ma let the record finish before sending me back to bed after giving me a small piece of BBQ.
At 12, I didn’t know what the words meant, but I knew the feeling. Aretha’s voice was the feeling of love, sadness, hope, power, and despair braided together.
That night Aretha played in my head repeatedly as I thought about the women laughing, drinking, and singing in the kitchen.
When I grew up, I wanted my friends to drink, and sing songs with me. The delighted thoughts of all the friends I would have danced in my head until I went happily to sleep.
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