so many stories…

Marion Coleman, and her fabulous hair

The last time I saw Marion was on February 6. After much negotiating there finally came a day that she felt well enough for me to see her. I was also there to pick up her quilts for our Defining Moments exhibit. That had been a very tough conversation to have, asking her to loan me her work for our exhibit. I finally just summoned up the courage and asked. She agreed that I should take responsibility for the work so I would not have to bother her family after she was gone. So that was the day I picked up her work.

She greeted me from the seat of her rolling office chair. She had already discovered that the medical grade wheelchair was not as mobile as her office chair. So she scooted around in that. She showed me the “mess” that was her studio, which to me looked like a genius resided there.

We looked at the quilts as she told me the story of each one. She said she needed me to photograph two pieces, as she had not had the energy to get them over to Sibila Savage, who had photographed her other work. We talked shop about our exhibit, potential venues I had not yet applied to, questions she needed to ask Dr. Mazloomi, the catalog etc. She even gave me a check to cover my expenses. The epitome of class, that one.

We talked for about an hour, holding hands, both well aware it was the last time we would meet. Finally, she said she needed to return to her bed, which I knew was my cue to go. I stood up to hug her goodbye, one last time and damn if I did not catch my earring in her hair! My very first thought was don’t touch the hair!

Early on in my friendship with Marion, I touched her hair. She didn’t say anything at the time, but I learned a few years later, you NEVER touch an African American woman’s hair! EVER. When I heard that I equated it to the tallgirl stuff.

I knew all too well about the intrusion of people telling me I am tall. Newsflash, I already know that!  Marion and I used to joke so much about that, how we as tallgirls were often seen just for our stature; and how so many clueless people think they need to tell us! We had heard it all. We came to own it, to refer to ourselves as strong, proud, aging, tallgirls. It was our right to do so. It is not anyone else’s, unless we give permission! So I came to see the caucasian’s persistent need to touch a black woman’s hair as a similar intrusive ritual. Just don’t… touch the hair!

So here I was entangled in her luxurious & soft mane. How fitting for our final dance! I had to remove my earring while bent over, trying not to drop my weight farther onto her frail body. Then I had to disentangle the earring from her hair. We both laughed through it. What a beautiful and quirky finale to our wonderful friendship!

Some months ago she asked me how many African American women I knew as well as I knew her? I said maybe 4-5. She said, no, I mean as well as you know me; who you can talk to just like you do me? She continued that she thought she knew far more white women than I knew black women. She was right, I agreed with that and it really made me feel sad. It’s not like I was closed off to meeting people of other races. I just maybe had not taken the time.

Going forward, I plan to make the time to learn other people’s stories. And I promise I won’t touch your hair, especially if you don’t tell me I am tall. I already know.

4 Responses to “so many stories…”

  1. Vivien Zepf says:

    Love this post that shows the messiness and loveliness of a close personal relationship with a dear friend.

  2. Martha Ginn says:

    I knew a little about your friendship and collaboration with Marion but did not fully comprehend all of what you were doing until I have begun to see some of the quilts on FB. They are powerful and raw and I’m sure only scratch the surface of the emotions felt during the making. Your exhibit will touch many people. You (and she) are to be congratulated on this monumental undertaking!

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