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By Camisha Williams

 

       I remember when I first learned that I’d be blogging for The Basin Blog this month. I feared many things. What would I write about? Would my writings be long enough? Would anyone be interested in what I write? Where would I even start? I must admit that I’ve really surprised myself. Particularly I’m surprised that my grandmother came up so much in many of the blogs I’ve contributed.

         Now as I sit here preparing my final contribution, looking out at the sunny Texas sky, I remember feeling and saying that I wanted readers to join me as I made Texas my home. And now as I say good bye, I remember that there is seldom a good bye without a hello. When we leave the nest to go on to school or our chosen future endeavors, we say good bye to our comfort zone and hello to the new world we’ve made ourselves a part of.

         So today I say good bye to you all, as my month as the featured writer comes to an end, yet I also say hello as I’ve excitedly began something new. I’ve started something that I’ve wanted for such a long time . . . an herb garden.

         Those that know me know that I love to cook. I enjoy it to no end. Had it not been for grandma, I would have gone to culinary school. The thought of going to my own garden and picking up my vegetables and herbs is one that has seduced me for years. But I must admit, my thumb is not green, red or black maybe, but definitely not green. My sons are so tickled at the very thought of me trying to keep a plant alive, that they usually hold internal bets as to how long it will take me to kill it. My sixteen year old says that I kill everything green but money. But I’ve wanted to do this for so long and the more I’ve been here, in Texas, the more I’ve learned that  . . . I can do anything. Just like my mother and grandmother said.

         So keeping with the spirit of finding my heart, traveling outside of my comfort zone, and learning who I am away from all that has been around me all of my life. I realized that no matter how many plants I’ve inadvertently killed in the past, I still want to master the art of actually growing something. I want to work hard at something, nurture it, and yield the fruits of my labor . . . sort to speak.

         So this week I decided to finally plant my herb garden.

         I started with six landscape logs and an idea of what I wanted it to look like. That is all. But when I got home I realized that I had no way to cut the logs and I knew no one who could do it for me. So back to the chair thing that grandma instilled in me. I stood on my own and returned to the home store and purchased an electric circular saw. And so it began!

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         Examining my backyard for the perfect spot I remembered that I am a stickler for how things look and I wanted to make sure that if I did this project, I did it right. As you exit my back door, there is a small area that I initially thought would be perfect. Simply because it is right there and would require no work from me at all to extract herbs from it. However I was wrong. It was not the most ideal spot for the garden.  One of the things about getting older is realizing that you’re not always right and more importantly, that that reality doesn’t have to be and intimidating one.  

         So I began to really survey the yard and what I can only describe as a whisper spoke to me and said, “go to the side of the house.” I followed the whisper and it was beautiful over there. A long, wide strip of land stretching approximately twenty five feet long and ten feet wide, I knew immediately that was where the garden should go.

         Yet another great thing about growing older is that you also grow wiser. I felt it might be a good idea to watch and see how much sun the side of the house received. So I watched, and watched, and watched. For nearly ten hours the sun never left the side of my home. That was definitely the spot! And I was ready!

         With my spade and shovel in hand I began my work. After a while my iPod joined in, then my sun blocker, then my Off bug repellant. I hadn’t planned for any of these things to attend the garden party, but years of learning can come in handy and subconsciously when you least expect it.

         There is something about creating. There is something about starting from nothing and seeing, I mean really seeing what you can do. Achievement I think they call it.

         By the time it all started to come together I was in the backyard, dancing to Marvin Gaye, the Black Eye Peas, and Booney James. Dancing and digging, dancing and digging. And in the quiet of my own backyard I began to feel a peace unlike any I’ve experienced ever.

         I feel good. I’m older. I’m wiser. I’m secure. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. And I’m loving every part of my life. I think about my grandmother and wonder what would she say now? What would she say seeing me shovel dirt and haul it away in the beverage cooler? What would she say to me coming to the yard, working, and thinking . . . “oh I can do this,” which always prompts another ride to the home store. What would she say to have seen a patch of green go from a mundane part of the yard to what is to become my herb garden? What would she say had she seen me pick up an electric circular saw, put my two countertop stools next to each other to make a makeshift saw bench? What would she have said when I pulled out my black and pink tool set, the one I keep hidden from my boys? What would she have said when I sat in the grass to stain the wood so that it doesn’t turn ugly in years to come?

         The beautiful thing about having had a relationship with someone is that they don’t have to be here for you to know what they would have said. I knew her and knew her well. We talked about everything. We shared everything. And as I continue to identify the fact that I no longer look for my heart, I’ve found it and I learn more about it every day. I also carry my grandmother in it. She is with me. She is a part of me. She made me. And I never have to wonder what she would say. I can hear her more clearly now than I did when she sat over me as a young girl.

         She would look at me. Her eyes would become glassy. She would look at my tools. She would look at my gloves. She would look at my garden. Then she would look back at me and say simply, quietly, peacefully, and meaningfully . . . “my Misha.”

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          Grandmom used to always say “Camisha, every chair must stand on its own bottom.” I’d listened to those words for more than half of my life. Sometimes she would say them when I hadn’t completed my chores and she had to remind me in her motherlove voice that not only was she not going to do them, but that I better do them before she finished her afternoon Pepsi. In that context, I never partially, let alone fully, understood what a chair had to do with the dirty dishes that I had to wash that I hadn’t completely gotten dirty all by myself. Other times she would say those words as I’d become an adult and I called her regularly to complain about someone, most often my ex husband. And still she would say to me, “baby . . . every chair must stand on its own bottom. Again, I had no clue why my grandmother was still talking to me about chairs. I would call to cry, yell, vent, and anything else she could tolerate and all she would ever give me is something about chairs and all that. Still she never stopped repeating those words. Her entire life she’d formed a relationship between me and these chairs yet it wasn’t until she had passed away and I needed to talk to her but couldn’t call her that I really heard the words, “every chair must stand on its own bottom.”

          There in my room, alone, after my divorce in 2009, I sat on the balcony that extend from my bedroom, something I never would have been able to afford in Chicago, and I talked to my grandmother. I wondered what was I going to do. How was I going to make it in a new city, a new state, alone with three boys. She was no longer around and my mother was a good 2000 miles away. What was I going to do. For the very first time in my life, at the age of 37 I was alone.

          I pictured my grandmother sitting on the porch of her home on Fair street. I pictured her before the need for tanked oxygen, before the need to have someone else come in and clean the house for her because she could no longer move about from one room to the other without running out of breath or feeling tired. I pictured her younger days, when she would braid my hair as I sat between her legs. She masterfully balanced a cigarette out of the corner of her mouth while her left eye narrowed in on the fine corn roll she was planting on my head, meticulously so that not a one hair was out of place. I pictured the colorful dusters that she wore around the house, some Afrocentric, others colorful or thematic. I pictured my grandmother younger. The young Joyce Jean that had so many sayings about life that she shared with me knowing that one day I would appreciate them. One day I would understand them. And as I sat there thinking to myself, talking to my grandmommy, wondering how I was going to manage it all byself I heard her words, “baby every chair must stand on its own bottom.” And I finally understood.

          It was time for me to stand on my own bottom. Not my mother’s, not my grandmother’s, not my exhusband’s, not even my best friend’s, just mine.

          So in just those few minutes the seeds that she’d planted for so many years had taken root without me even knowing. They were a part of me and knew me before I knew myself. They were actually directing my steps as I began to plan this new life ahead of me. My bottom was firmly planted, it was just waiting for me to have a seat. So I did and have been ever since.

          This week was no different. I decided that it was not a bad thing to be alone, that I should cherish it as a gift, because really and truly we are never ever completely alone. There is always a presence with us. Whether it is that of our elders or our God, we are never alone.

          As I consider what this statement means, I look back at my life and realize that this year marks the final year of my third decade. It is the end of my youth actually. I’ve grown more within the last three years than I had ever allowed myself to previously.

          I decided to continue that growth by going somewhere alone. No children. No mother. No sister or brother. Just me and my God.

          Together we went to New Orleans. That’s the wonderful thing about living in Houston. New Orleans, the very first place I ever visited, is merely a five hour car ride away. It is a relatively inexpensive get away. Two full tanks of gas, one hotel night, one night of valet parking, and all the Po Boys, oysters, gumbo, and beignets that I can comfortably afford.

 

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          Initially I was scared to death. I remember calling Stan and hearing him say “Baby be careful.” I did my best to put on my brave voice and let him know that I was going to be just fine. I’d prepared my GPS system, had my laptop and my Clear disc, had my cell phone, and knew what to do and what not to do. Most importantly, I knew to be in by 11 o’clock.

          I remember looking researching the routes that it would take to get to NOLA. I must admit that I’d never done anything like that before. My road trips were limited to traveling to Dyersburg with a car packed with family, some Church’s chicken, a few ham sandwiches and a ton of pop.

          But there I was on interstate 10, the one that promised to take me straight into NOLA.

          My first time in New Orleans was in the year 2002. I presented a paper there arguing that the Black Arts Movement should be written into ever literature curriculum. I’ll never forget the day before I presented my paper. I’d never traveled outside of Chicago or Dyersburg. So to me, everything was supposed to look like one home or the other. That wasn’t the case in New Orleans. The buildings were hugged so closely together, each in its own color. Then some had balconies while others adorned shutters. It was not home. But I loved it immediately.

          I remember standing in the middle of Canal Street looking down Bourbon at all the buildings, the people, the bricked pavement. I was in such awe. My return years later was no different, but for very different reasons. I’d done something that normally I never would have imaged, nor anyone who’d known me for so many years. I’d traveled by myself. . . and was happy.

          Along interstate 10 I looked at the buildings to my left, trying to remember where I should exit the expressway. To be honest I don’t remember what street I exited on, but I do remember that it felt right. It felt as if I were going in the right direction. And with a few straight traveled miles, a left here and a right there, I was back in the place that started my curiosity.

          I made a list of all the things I would do in the very short twenty hours that I would be away from home. Beignets and the Praline Connection were on the list of course. Then I would go to Two Sisters, the restaurant I never made it to in 2002. But first I had to get checked in. Immediately I went to the hotel that I’d stayed in before, the Sheraton on Canal Street.

          I pulled up in my Mustang, I’d let the top down the moment at the first red light that stopped me after the expressway exit. The valets were really nice and let me go in to see if there were rooms available, which there were not. But in New Orleans fashion, the Concierge looked up a few of the hotels in the surrounding area and directed me toward the Intercontinental. I found my way with no problem at all.

          After checking in, my night was short but filled with excitement. I walked down St. Charles Avenue and stopped on Canal Street to watch the Gold Man perform for the corner crowd. After which many of us put a dollar or two in his bucket in exchange for a photo. He reminded us all that we could find him on Facebook. Then I headed down Canal in search of Acme Oyster Bar. Arriving there just in the nick of time before closing, I ordered a half dozen oysters on the half shell and read the wall of the Oyster Hall of Fame. I knew that I wouldn’t be making that list, for lack of trying of course.

          And so the night progressed. I made a few friends. A nice woman from Liberty Texas asked me to help her learn the electric slide that a crowd was doing in front of Howl at the Moon. I tried to teach her. She tried to learn. In the end I think she’ll probably stick to the Texas Two Step. But we both had a ball.

          I spoke to Stan a couple of times that evening, the last time I was on my way back to the hotel. Again he told me to be careful, and that he loved me. Again I thought to myself, where have you been all my life? and told him “I will. And I love you too!”

          I returned to my room, locked the door, and after the regular nightly festivities, I sunk into a luxuriously soft bed covered in the whitest sheets I’d ever seen. Knowing that I would get up in the morning, find a great place to have an authentic New Orleans breakfast, and head back home when I felt the time was right, I began to drift off with this new sense of maturity. I’d done it. As a grown woman I’d planned something, didn’t make any excuses, didn’t lean on anyone else, kept my loved ones close at heart, and I’d actually done something for me.

          As my eyes got heavier, my breathing slowed, my body weakened, I looked over at the hotel chair that sat near the window, the window that looked over New Orleans. I thought to myself, Good night Grandmommy.  

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By Camisha Williams

 

          “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”  Well I’m no man, but that is the one characteristic I share with many of them. I love food, all kinds. From junk food to Italian food to soul food to any food, I am truly an equal opportunity foodployer!

 

          Eating, and especially eating with those that we love, is such a seamlessly surreal experience. Many of us never bother to put into words how joyous, complete, nurturing, and inspiring it is to share a meal with the ones that we love. We merely do as we are accustomed to doing. We simply enjoy.

 

          I was raised by a wonderful group of women that believed the way to anyone’s heart was indeed through their stomach. Having an empty refrigerator was not the norm for my family. Not seeing a pot of something cooking, no matter what time of the day it happen to be, was always a sure sign that something was not right  or that something needed to be tended to. We are all cooks. I, my sister, my mother, my grandmother, my aunties and my great grandmothers, we are all women that put their hearts into the meals that feed those we love. After all, when we feed others we are nurturing their souls with love from our hearts and ingredients from all of God’s gifts.

 

          My mother was raised in Dyersburg, Tennesse, the small town in which I spent many of my summers.   During that time, Dyersburg bragged a population of less than thirteen thousand.

 

          It always was and still is a very interesting town. All the whites stayed to the north of the railroad tracks. Their homes were usually made of brick or some type of modest vinyl siding. All the blacks stayed to the south of the railroad tracks. Their homes were usually made of old used wood. They were small and box like. The porches often doubled for extensions of the kitchen. It was on the porch that the extra refrigerator sat alongside a table or two.  There in Dyersburg, Tennesse,  I first learned to love not only food, but the people who prepared it.

 

          From smelling fresh growing tomatoes in the neighbor’s yard as I made my way to my grandmother’s house on Fair Street – the one that her father built for her and his other two daughters – to introducing myself to my summer neighbors as Joyce Jean’s granddaughter, merely to ask for a plate of smoked pork that I could smell smoking on their grill. Food holds such a special place in my heart, in my soul.

 

          So in the spirit of continuing my journey to make Houston my home and “find my heart,” for my first blog inspired outing I chose to find a new Sunday brunch venue in Houston.

 

          Everything is big in Texas. This holds true for their restaurants as well. I remember when I first arrived in Houston. It was no Dyersburg, although, I’m discovering Dyersburgish areas all the time. It was no Chicago, yet there are many areas that reminded me of home’s beauty, diversity, urbanness, and unfulfilled potential.  I was blown away by the number of restaurants that surrounded this great city. Traveling along highway 59, it is virtually impossible to count all of the restaurants waiting to feed locals and tourist alike. Still it was hard to find a great breakfast spot that was not commercial but instead was like being at home.

 

          Finding a great breakfast kitchen at home was as easy as going to 79th street, 87th street, 75th street, or anywhere on Western Avenue. I think of the smothered pork chops at Izolas, served with eggs over easy – just like I like them so that I can drown them in ground pepper and just a little salt. At Army and Lou’s I remember the enormous pancakes and homemade sausage. I was never able to finish a plate there. And on hurried mornings when mom and I had very little time, we’d hit White Castle on 79th street to grab a great “just like grandma would make” egg sandwich, always with two strips of bacon.

 

          There is no Army and Lou’s here. No Izola’s, and definitely no White Castle. But those flavors still remain on my pallet. The aromas still tickle my nose. The remnants of fullness continue to haunt my heart. The taste of home still lingers in the private place between my tongue and my frenulum (fancy word huh! I googled it).

 

          But my stomach is empty! Really!

 

          After writing last week’s blog, I immediately began to look for a new place to experience and share. I knew that I’d be dining alone, so I began to work early on accepting the fact that there was no mom to call, no sister to call, and no last resort friend to treat just for the company. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be alone at all. My son DeVon had flown in from Dallas and he was all too willing to go grab a free meal with his mom. So off we were to Rio Ranch on Westheimer in Houston for Sunday Brunch.

 

          Rio Ranch was technically about twenty minutes from my house. Since I’m more familiar with where things are in Houston, but not necessarily how to get there, the trip took us about forty five minutes and a half of a quarter’s tank of gas, much more than necessary. Still, the ride was really cleansing.

 

          DeVon is approaching twenty years of age and is on his own for the first time in our lives. We’ve both hit a rather rocky road towards his manhood, but we are starting to come upon the more scenic and enjoyable parts of our trip together into his own. The extra twenty minutes gave us time to talk about his new home near Dallas, the friends he’s met there so far, and his progressing plans. It was nice, talking to the son I’d raised, the one that disappeared on me for a short time.

 

          Rio Ranch offered an enormous buffet selection. I’ve had to get used to the idea of breakfast tacos since I’ve been here. They’re actually pretty good, and Rio Ranch does a wonderful breakfast taco station with refried and charro beans, guacamole, salsa, huervos, pico de galo, and flour tortillas. Then there was my favorite station at any brunch buffet, the waffle and pancake station. In addition, there was the omelet selection, where the gentleman dressed in chef’s white with a black baseball cap, made whatever type of omelet one could imagine. In the middle of the breakfast area sat a vast array of sweet and ripe fruits, yogurts, cereals, potatoes, pastries, bagels with cream cheese, lox, capers, and Bermuda Onions and an assortment of meats.

 

          We sat close to each other and just like he used to do whenever we went out “cheating” on his brothers, he waited for me to go to the buffet first. I returned with just a few fruit items, my half of a waffle with strawberries, and an Activa. I really need that these days.  Then it was DeVon’s turn.

 

 

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          In true DeVon fashion, he returned with a plate full of pancakes and French toast, both drowned in berries, pecans, whipped cream, and maple syrup. His other plate contained a couture omelet full of his favorites; bell peppers, onions, ham, jalapeno peppers, bacon, tomatoes, and chives. Then of course his meal wasn’t going to be complete without his two meat selections. He chose both sausage and bacon.

 

          I topped off my meal with a great $4 mimosa. As for Devon, me being the wonderful mother that I am, I ordered my growing almost man an ice tall glass of milk! And finally . . . we talked.

 

          While the waiter cautiously, politely, and considerately monitored our table to see when we were in need of anything, I listened to the son I’d worked nineteen years on. As the manager came and asked us if we were okay, I looked at the son I admired with all my heart. As we overheard the couple  seated next to us and laughed about how nurturing the woman was being to her husband, almost motherish, I looked at my growing manchild and remembered that Dyersburg feeling. I recalled that feeling of eating collard greens cooked with smoked meat and served with garden fresh tomatoes. I remembered that feeling of watching my grandmother Joyce slowly sip on her second Pepsi of the day, before 3pm. I lingered on that feeling of knowing that while grandma kneeded her dough, I’d have to wait until the next day to actually eat what was to become freshly prepared yeast rolls. I recalled what eating was and what it wasn’t.  It’s never really about the food at all. It’s almost always about the company. Thank you Rio Ranch for a great Sunday brunch. Thank you DeVon for the great company.

 

–Mom

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By Camisha Williams

  

               By now everyone has heard the old phrase “Home is where the heart is.” Generations ago, that phrase may have been quite appropriate. You see then, our hearts couldn’t be in too many different places. Beginning generations lacked the postal service. Many generations lacked the telephone.  Other generations lacked television. Several generations lacked the internet, email, Facebook, MySpace, and the like.  “Once upon a time” all we had was each other and what was immediately in front of us. Times have changed however.

               There is so much now that captures our hearts. For generations we have had the luxury of sending and receiving mail. We’ve been privy to picking up the telephone and calling loved ones, no matter how far from us they may have been. During those times our only concern was ensuring that we didn’t talk too long or didn’t call too much, no matter how much we missed those that we adored. No one liked long distance phone bills, a term that my sixteen year old would contemplate with a great deal of confusion but no concrete conclusion. “Home is where the heart is.” can encompass a multitude of expressions now.

               As cellular phones have made it a wonderful joy to afford long distance anywhere in the country, as long as your calls stay in the country, and Facebook enables us to find our most beloved kindergarten friends from over . . . well let’s not get carried away with the insignificant details of the number of years, we now find our hearts all over the place.

               Chicago was my heart, and I left it in 2007 to move to Houston. While in Houston, I remember the very first time I realized that my heart was in Chicago. I was in Walmart trying to find the bread. Their aisles were so completely different than ours in Chicago. Although I had no doubt that their Walmart had existed long before ours had, Chicago had just recently started to sprout the infamous we have everything you could ever want or need, cheap stores. The ones in Chicago, the ones at home, just seemed to make more sense. Their layout was more rational and realistic. But in Houston, everything seemed to be all over the place, except the bread. I couldn’t find the bread for the life of me.

               So there I stood, in the middle of some aisle crying, breaking down, because I couldn’t navigate my way around the unfamiliar familiar store to get a funky loaf of wheat bread. What did I do? I called my mother. Together we worked through my melt down and she began to remind me of how smart I can sometimes trick people into believing I am.

               “Baby, where are you.” She spoke in her nurturing voice. Although she herself was going through the pain of her first born being gone for the first time ever.

                “I’m in aisle four.” I replied through tears and other body fluids I dare not mention.

                “No baby, I mean what is in the aisle that you’re in? Toilet paper, spaghetti, what.”

                 I began to look around and for the first time after hearing my mother’s voice I started to size up the store and actually get my footing. I noticed that the produce was in the front, yet to the side. Like many stores at home. The main difference is that the produce wasn’t along a wall like at home. It was actually its own aisle. I looked around and then decided to walk to the end of the aisle. It was then that I noticed the next few aisles were refrigerated aisles. So my assessment of the store began.

               It took me and my mommy a good fifteen minutes to locate the bread. We were actually studying the layout of the store so that in the future there would be no more break downs.

                I haven’t had a break down since. And slowly but surely, I’m finding my heart here in Houston.

               When I arrived in Houston, I was a wife and a mother of three. I had no job. I knew no one.

              I am now divorced, living with two of my sons, missing my family yet kept company by a few new and great associates, and I have a wonderful job. As I blog this month I thought it would be a great idea to find new places in Houston and tell you all about them, fixing two meals with one ingredient I like to say. I hate that saying “Killing two birds with one stone.”

                As I make Houston my home, as I find my heart, I would be honored if you will join me.

Welcome to HTown!

Camisha   aka   Darien D. DeVon

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Photo courtesy of Debbie Portwood

Now residing in Houston, Texas, writer and educator Camisha Williams, pen name Darien DeVon,  is a Chicago native who completed her MFA at Chicago State University’s Gwendolyn Brooks Writing Center and holds an M.Ed from the University of Houston.  A finalist of the 2002 New Millennium Competition, her work “Death Came Bearing Gifts” sparked the completion of her first manuscript, A Father’s Love, an intimate look at the role a father’s absence plays in the life of his daughter.  Her works have also appeared in the journal, Reverie, the Sugar Land Magazine, and Helium.com.  An avid writer of creative nonfiction, Camisha enjoys writing about the human experience. Her work digs deep into the true spirit of emotions with a raw, in-depth, and sometimes painfully truthful exploration of the motivation behind those that love, and ultimately those that also hurt. When not taking pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, Camisha can be found spending her days teaching English at Houston Community College, learning the Houston area, cooking and writing, and spending time with the man whom she proclaims to be “the love she always should have had”  and her three boys.

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