With a new car and summer job, my time in New York was supposed to be perfect, at least that’s what my friends and others thought because of my cosmopolitan ways. “You’re going to love New York. It’s so you,” they would say to allay my trepidation of leaving my up south city and going east to bright lights in a real up north city. But this 22-year-old girl from Detroit had real culture shock and homesickness when I smelled the garbage in China Town, saw street mayhem in Times Square, looked for my lost car in Brooklyn, and heard I had to work on Long Island and in Manhattan. I was somewhat petrified. Well, a lot really that I talked about cutting my 10-week internship short by eight weeks. I wanted to go home. Instead I called my praying grandmother—again—and she gave me some scriptures and words of encouragement—again—and I felt better for the moment—again, but I needed something more, someone, and I found her the day I ventured to Bridge Street AME Church.
The members smiled and greeted me after the pastor had visitors to stand and she was among them, Ernestine I’ll call her because I don’t remember her name but I remember her. She wore a brightly colored print bubu and black pants complete with rusty blond hair peeking from under a kufi. Probably in her early 60s, Ernestine gave me a wide smile, strong hug, introduced herself and insisted I call her by her first name. I felt warm and was so glad my fear didn’t cause me to stay at home. But after service, I briefly wished I had. Members hurried about to talk to friends, make dinner plans and serve at church information tables. I glanced about as my pew emptied then gathered my things to leave. As I moved slowly down the pew to the aisle, Ernestine waved to me from among a throng and made her way to invite me to spend the day with her. I readily agreed.
We went to her Brooklyn brownstone before she took me to a street fair and a lecture by the famous historian Dr. John Henrik Clarke. As she changed her clothes, I admired her wood furniture, African carvings and paintings, mahogany fireplace and a picture of her mate. He had passed a few years back, a brief illness I think. Now in a summer sweater with her black slacks, she fixed a snack of peanut butter toast and coffee and told me about her “king.” That’s what I remember. She kept saying, “He was my king!”
In that moment, I knew I wanted a love like hers, to love like her, to be in a place where I had no problem reverencing my man. I wanted sweet times and golden memories that would make me shriek “he is my king.” And I have that now, due in large part to Ernestine, a woman confident in her femininity, comfortable with her Christianity and African culture and the strength of her man where she didn’t mind calling him her king.
In New York I did come to love Chinese food delivery, hanging out in the Village and on Harlem’s 125th Street, and going to Junior’s on Brooklyn’s Atlantic and Flatbush. But above all I loved a woman whose name escapes me but the memory of her love for life and her man will remain with me forever.
Copyright 2010 by Rhonda J. Smith