Thursday, November 15, 2012

The End of This Chapter


This isn’t easy to say which is why it has taken us so long to say it. But so many of you have asked and continue to ask when the next book is coming. Our answer has been somewhat oblique and indefinite “We’re taking a break…” or “We’re not working on anything now…” because it was less complicated than explaining what’s actually happening with us.

So here goes…

No, neither of us is ill.

Yes, we are still bestest friends.

However, our writing career is officially on “HOLD”.

We are stepping back, down, out—for now. We’ve been in the publishing business for more than twenty years and we’ve had a great ride, but the business has changed…in ways not necessarily to our liking. And we have changed. For more than half of those twenty years, we were lucky enough to write full time and support ourselves (TWO OF US) from our novels!! This is something we know not many authors get to say—and we are hugely grateful to all of you who have supported our work –and those who will continue to buy and read our books, because they aren’t going anywhere. But we now find that is no longer the case, nor is it likely to be that way again. Back when we started this journey we were 20 years younger and working full time and writing full time seemed doable—because it was. It isn’t any more. Period. As any of you who’ve ever written or attempted to write a novel know, it is so much more than a notion. It is an all consuming undertaking.

We are not the kinds of writers who can pump out a book every six months—we think and plot and outline and think and plan and think and write. Every single solitary word we put down is important. We have spent tens of thousands of hours working on our novels—probably somewhere around 5000 hours a book. We have missed holidays and family vacations because of deadlines. Despite all that, it used to be fantastic. It used to be fun. We were doing what we loved. We got to travel far and wide. We got to hang out together all the time. And we got paid!! How cool was that?! But these days the publishing industry requires authors to do WAY more work, for WAY less money. Write a book (or more) a year. Tweet, Facebook, Blog, Tour, Skype, Pinterest, YouTube without ceasing. The internet and the ease of self publishing have been both a curse and a blessing. For us the business of writing has become a grind. To be successful these days being a good writer is not enough. You must become a brand, a salesman, marketer, publicist, travel agent and a friend to all! Great books are written. Bestsellers are manufactured. It’s exhausting and at the moment, we don’t want to do it any more.

The authors at the top—you know the names, are doing just swell. Their books sell on their names alone, they get gobbled up by Hollywood and the beat goes on. Those at the bottom are eager and willing to do whatever is asked of them, including work very hard for very little. We fall somewhere in the middle and like the rest of the “middle” the squeeze is tight—especially for black authors. When we started, there was no African American category. We wrote contemporary women’s fiction.  Then they created a “Black Box” for “us” (one publisher actually did this—with a real black box) and in many ways decided what would go in that box. And as they put more and more of what they wanted in the box, the space for the kind of books we write became smaller and smaller.  We’ve been asked to do things we’re not interested in or willing to do. “Can you put in more sex?” “NO!” “How about making this more ‘urban’—a little more ‘street’?” “NO!” “You could write erotica under a pseudonym…” “NO!” “You guys are so good, you could write anonymously as a white author…” “NO!”

We have written seven novels. They aren’t going away and neither are we. You’ll always know how and where to find us. We have no idea what the future has in store for us. Donna has some writing ideas she’s exploring and she’s started a not for profit called Footsteps to Follow that helps NYC school kids learn about career opportunities they might not otherwise know about. Virginia is still trying to finish Cute Still Counts, her book of advice for women about getting older and she’s started a social media business and the New Brunswick Jazz Project –an organization that presents live jazz events in her area of New Jersey. One day there may be another novel or another seven…who knows? We’ve adapted What Doesn’t Kill You into a one woman stage play—one day it may get produced….who knows? One day one of these film options could finally come to fruition and one of our books will be coming to a movie or TV screen near you…who knows?

So we said all this to say—there are no more DeBerry and Grant novels in the pipeline. Whew…that was hard, but also a relief.

We’re writers without a deadline, and for once we’re working without a plot so we won’t know the twists and turns until we get there, but, we’re living life and exploring new possibilities. And whatever we’ve got going on, separately or together, you’ll be the first to know. We are grateful for the support, enthusiasm and encouragement we have received from readers along the way. That has been an extraordinary gift--one that keeps on giving, and we THANK YOU!!
posted by DeBerry and Grant at 11:21 AM 0 comments links to this post

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Life & Death & Birthdays


Yesterday was my birthday and a couple of days before, I sent this to a long list of friends-but because I got such a huge and wonderful response--and saw many unexpected faces at my impromptu birthday parties (yes I had two), I've decided to share it here as well... This has been a tough year emotionally for me---way way too much death. So this was/is what was on my mind as my birthday approached. 

-------
This is long and I apologize already...and you already know my birthday is around the corner. But I wanted to send this to my friends because...I lost (...not like in "can't find"...in like "dead") a lot of people this past year—and I am marking a twelve month cycle beginning and ending with my birthday, because I see a birthday as a New Year’s of sorts. Since my birthday falls just a bit past midyear, for me it’s like having a New Year holiday twice--two major occasions each year for reflecting on beginnings and endings.
 
As I sat down to write this,  and looked at photos of those no longer here, I felt like the “In Memoriam” retrospective they do at the big awards shows--albeit without the poignant orchestration. On these occasions, I am always surprised by the number of names and faces of the dead stars I “knew”/recognize and how many of them died since the last big awards show. You know, they die one at a time, but when they’re all assembled in one group you see how many there were in a year. Needless to say, as I get older, that group grows more familiar. Many of them I remember when they were young and I think of my parents (a couple of decades or so ago) saying the same thing about the stars they “knew.”
 
But this year, it was the numbers of loss in my own life that startled me. I remember posting a lot of  “Funeral today” as my Facebook or Twitter status. I knew it was a lot, but I didn’t want to count, but count I did. Eleven. In the span, from July 2011, to July 2012, eleven people I knew are gone. That’s almost one a month. I like that it’s an odd number. I like that I didn’t get to a full dozen.
 
Of this group of friends and family who died this year, only three were sufficient in years that in another time it might be said that they died of “old age”…their passing, while sudden (no long drawn out illnesses), was not unexpected—they were in their 80’s and 90’s. They had lived full lives. The others were, as far as I’m concerned,  far too young. As I approach my mid 60’s, dying in your early 40’s to late 60’s feels like “too young,” to leave the planet. But we know that age, like goodness, is often irrelevant when it comes to death. We all pass on to whatever is next. So being left with nothing to rail against or complain about the un/fairness of, I looked for a way to deal with my sense of  loss…and I found it.
 
The only way for me to get past the loss, the sadness, the anger, the disappointment, the feeling of being cheated of more time with loved ones—was to LIVE. TOP SPEED. FLAT OUT. FULL TILT.  Do not wait. Life is on the move. You must be on the move too. Your time is NOW. Suck up each and every second of each and every day. Take nothing for granted. Not the sunshine or the rain. Not the great review or the scathing critique. Not your family. Not your friends. Not your “used to be” friends. Not your breath. Not your health. Do not take one single solitary thing for granted, because in less than the blink of an eye, it could/can/WILL be over.

Breathe deep. Look at the stars and the snowflakes. Smell the roses or the dahlias or the daisies. Celebrate moments big and small. Laugh with your whole body. Love with all your heart. Eat. Drink. Be Merry.  Be happy in silence. Let songs and stories fill your empty places. Commune with yourself. Commune with God or who/whatever your spirit guide may be. Commune with your friends and family. Give everything you have every day—you’ll have more to give tomorrow if you’re lucky enough to have a tomorrow.   Enjoy everything you can and complain less. It could always be worse. If you wake up. It’s a good day. Period.
 
Which brings me to the point of this--while this is not a major birthday—no round numbers with big fat zeros at the end or fives to mark halfway to some year that we think is important—I’ve decided that they are all major. And I am grateful for every year I have. Every year I CAN celebrate.
 
So if you’re around…join me if you can—Thursday July 5 for jazz and fun at Makeda or on my actual birthday, Friday July 6, for the same at Sophie’s …or both…no presents or speeches, just great music, excellent food and a good time. If you can’t be there, then PLEASE instead of a gift for me or guilt for not doing/being what others need or require, take a moment to do something joyful for YOURSELF –as long as you celebrate…life is too short not to!
posted by DeBerry and Grant at 1:06 PM 0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

PRE & POST FATHER'S DAY BLUES - BY DONNA GRANT


Every Father’s Day I work really hard to not feel crappy. Usually I’m good at it. I focus on the wonderful men I have met who are great Dads. The kind of men whose  kids adore and respect them, and who go way above the rim when it comes to the important things, like love, understanding, discipline, fun. None are Dad to me, but I tell myself that witnessing outstanding Daddy-ness is enough. Except this year it wasn’t.  I have spent more than half a century as a fatherless daughter—that missing limb is not supposed to pain me anymore, but a week after the big F Day, I am still on the verge of tears, and I don’t cry. I think I decided crying made people feel bad so I wouldn’t do it. Or maybe I decided my tears made me seem like a chump and that wasn’t acceptable. In any case, I had mastered that skill by the age of four, which is three years and ten months after my father last saw me. I don’t remember the occasion.

At this point, I’m not mad at him.  When I was 25 I found out he had been dead for two years.  Mad is irrelevant, but something is eating me. And I have spent much of my life eating whatever was handy to soothe myself into numbness and/or control. But I am forty pounds down after giving that up—again— which leaves me without a go-to coping strategy.

I suppose my heightened agitation resulted from the recent public release of the 1940 U.S. Census records. I have been anticipating them for… let’s see, the last thirty years or so, ever since I first actively pursued information about my absentee parent.  Mostly, I have waited patiently, except as the release date neared I got edgy. I went on Ancestry.com jags and yet again searched every scrap of information I had, hoping the next click would turn up some tidbit that was new to me, like his mother’s actual birth name. I have three different surnames for this theoretically biological grandparent, and I have lost count of the number of spelling variations. Ditto for his father, who also seems to have exited, stage left.  When nothing turns up I want to hurl my laptop into the wall, so I step away from the desk.  I have already gone through his military records. The 1940 Census seems my last hope for new info—then what, DNA testing? Searching for primogenitors from whatever continent won’t help my curiosity for more immediate information, like an address I can stand in front of.

As of today, nothing has turned up and I have made myself stop looking for a while.  I’m not sure how I will feel when I come across his name on the Census grid—or when I don’t, and have to face the fact that I may never know any more than I do now. There is not a cookie or a cocktail that will take the hurt away. What I will have left, are my Mom, the memories of Granddaddy and Nana, my husband, who while he is not blood, is most certainly my family and the friends I have enjoyed  through the years, who are, as Virginia and I have written in many books,  the family you get to choose. So I keep striving to be fully me, to have faith that I have been graced with all that I need, and to accept that faith involves believing what we cannot ever fully know. 
posted by DeBerry and Grant at 3:40 PM 0 comments links to this post

Saturday, June 16, 2012

A re-post of our Father's Day essay...because we feel it's a story worth repeating...



Much like the "Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus" story that reappears every Christmas to remind us of what's important about the season, and will, we suspect, continue to do so throughout eternity, we once again share our essay about our very different "Dad" experiences, hoping that it too will remind each of you about the importance of Dads in our lives. Only the length of our friendship and # of books we've written has changed since we first wrote this piece back in 2000.



A Tale of Two Fathers

...it was the best of times...it was the worst of times...

In the course of nearly thirty years of friendship (and writing seven books together), we have discussed pretty much every subject under the sun at least a dozen times, and in a variety of moods from jubilant to melancholy. Whether the subject is the men we've dated (or married or divorced) or how to cure hiccups, we've found that one of the recurring themes is the strong presence of one of our fathers, and the total absence of the other's. All of this talk has made it clear ---in a way that's personal, not theoretical--- that whether pops was at the dinner table or in the wind, what he did or didn't do is critical. As daughters, we are generally quite aware of our mother's legacies. We are like her. Or unlike her. Happy to follow in her footsteps. Determined to avoid them at all costs– even if it means stepping on a crack or two. Or we are "our own person" and in complete denial about any correlation at all. But equally fateful for daughters is our relationship, or lack of one, with our fathers.

In Search of Donna's Father
I decided to look for my father after printing "unknown" yet again across the portion of a medical history dedicated to maladies that run on his side of the family. He left and took his family with him when I was an infant.
One of the three pictures I've seen of him was taken the day of his last visit. He smiles with an ease that belies any turmoil. My mother said he wanted the two of them to be free to travel, so I should be deposited with my grandparents. She wouldn't do it and thus, the split.
For years I denied any curiosity about my father. Mom loved me, and worked hard to keep us from the economic quicksand that swallows many solo mothers and their children. To show interest in a man who had dissolved all emotional and fiscal ties seemed treasonous. Then another medical form would nag at me, and I'd wonder, didn't it ever bother him that he had a daughter he hadn't said "boo" to since she was too young to remember?
Where do you look for someone who has been gone for decades? Phone books yielded nothing. I knew he had been in the Air Force, unusual in itself for a black man in the 50's. In the second photo he sits at a Paris sidewalk cafe, very dapper in his seriously pressed uniform. His grin is confident, even cocky, guaranteed to set the heart of his lady love in Harlem aflutter. His posture says he could take all comers. So what was so scary about a baby girl?
The Air Force sent me copies of his induction papers and assignments. He enlisted at 17, after tenth grade. His duties ranged from painter to supply records specialist, not much excitement for a young soldier crossing the threshold into manhood.
His fingerprints on the enlistment form startled me. Each filled its allotted box. I measured my fingertips against his, and for the first time in my life my hands seemed small. Those prints were more tangible to me than a snapshot. I could feel that hand, imagine it surrounding mine in the fatherly way I hear tell is protective and loving. If I met him would I hold this hand, or stand, arms folded, awaiting his rendition of a story I knew by heart from my side of the fence?
Often I have listened to woman friends recount fond stories of their fathers, and I get wistful with a dab of envy. One told of Friday midnight pizza runs. She and her siblings would gallop to the kitchen in their pajamas to join their dad for a slightly naughty snack. Another recalls the quiet moment when her father assured her that no matter what, he was in her corner. Knowing that one man on the planet cares for you without ulterior motive seems impossibly wonderful to me. Then I stop daydreaming. There are fathers who get drunk and wallop the first thing that moves, or those present in body, but unable to give love they perhaps never got. My father made a clean cut, not as jagged or ugly as some. Was I picking at a wound that had healed as well as it could? I didn't know, but I was not close enough to finding him to make myself answer.
At the Department of Health the clerk said I couldn't get a copy of my father's birth certificate unless he was already dead and pointed me toward the death records. I was annoyed. He was too young to be dead, but in the interest of thoroughness, I checked.
And there he was, in the ledger book for 1979--Charles Herbert Goins, my father. I stared at the page, waiting for some emotion besides shock to surface. He had never been real to me so I had no tears. He took up no space in my life, so I couldn't feel empty. Nothing came, not anger, satisfaction or sorrow.
My father had lived and died in the Bronx at the age of forty four, not very far afield for a traveling man. Had he changed much from the twenty one year old I had seen in his wedding picture? Dressed in a dark suit, he seemed very grown, but I have been twenty one. At that age we are often better at the guise of maturity than the details.
I copied the pertinent facts so I could complete what would only ever be a rough sketch of him. If I find members of his family, they can only tell me about him. The things I most need to know could only have come from his lips.
I have added heart disease to my list of hereditary ailments. That's what killed my father. The information is somewhat useful. I have heart problems of my own, so I guess the broken ones come from his side of the family. Yet, more than a hint at future ills, I suppose I wanted a cure for the recurrent ache I feel from being left without an explanation or a second glance. I guess it's like the arthritis that runs on Mom's side of the family. It's not debilitating. Some days are fine. Others, the pain is sharp, so you take an aspirin and keep going until it passes, but you know it will always be with you.


In Praise of Virginia's Daddy (pictured)


I'm the one whose father made midnight Friday pizza runs. He also teased and taunted my brother, sister and me through raucous games of Pick Up sticks on snowy Buffalo winter nights and in the summer brought us Sweet Marie candy bars from his pre-dawn Sunday golf games at Niagara Parks in Canada—or better yet, took us with him to the driving range to watch him hit a bucket of balls. He cleaned up vomit soaked PJs at 2 am, proudly signed each and every report card we received, and sent all of us off to college. My first dance was standing on Daddy's feet. Years later, he gallantly "gave me away", and danced with me at a wedding he knew was a mistake. When time proved him right, he never said "I told you so".
No, I was not raised by a single father. My mother was a full and active participant in parenthood, but this is not about her. This is about my father, a man who was always there for us. Sometimes he wasn't physically present. Many of those dreadful Buffalo winters forced him on the road, with his dusty, canvas tool bag, in search of work, but we always knew he was coming home. I don't know how or why we knew, probably because my mother knew he was coming back home.
My father laid brick. Hard, honest, ordinary work, but we kids thought it was anything but ordinary. He worked for big construction companies and small ones and with two friends, even formed one of his own--Sloan Masonry, back in the '50's when the idea that a black man and two white men could go into business together was pretty much unheard of. They couldn't get enough work to sustain Sloan, but my father, Dave and Ray remained friends throughout their lives--apparently, another odd occurrence.
Piled in the family car (a series of decidedly “unfamily” convertibles) on summer Sunday evenings, the wind in our faces gobbled up our laughter and ooohs and aaahs from the back seat while Daddy pointed to sparkling new schools, sprawling hospital wings, sleek, modern churches and tracts of ranch-style homes he had "built". He told construction tales about each one, some funny, others harrowing (or at least it sounded that way to us). I still hear his voice when I'm home and drive past St. Rose of Lima church or the Maryvale school.
My father didn't plan to be a bricklayer. He wanted to be a doctor, and served in the Army Medical Corps during WWII, (spending more time cleaning kitchens than wounds). After discharge, even with the GI Bill, medical school was beyond his grasp. Somehow, undertaking presented itself as an alternative. Frequently he pulled out his diploma from the Atlanta School of Mortuary Science. "I can do your hair," he would tease my mother, my sister and me, "if you lie down." He cracked up every time he said this. We did too. But Daddy had too much life in him to spend his days with the deceased. He discovered that being a mortician was not even a poor relation to being a doctor, so he learned to lay brick, like his father and his older brothers before him. The proudest day of Daddy's life came when my brother graduated from medical school—a choice  my father didn’t force on my brother, I supposed it was just in his DNA.
My father believed in learning, for himself and for us. He told us repeatedly that his job was to go to work and take care of us. Our job was to go to school and get good grades—so we could one day take care of ourselves and our own families. But I also learned a lot from him: how to properly water a lawn, make oyster stew, drive a nail straight, and grate fresh coconut for a real coconut cake. He taught me to believe in myself and be proud of being smart (like him), to laugh, deeply without reservation, to think quickly, respond decisively, and cleverly (I can go from dead sleep to a wisecrack in six seconds flat). He taught me that to have a friend you have to first be a friend and that character, not race was what I should be concerned about. He taught me how to be comfortable around men, how to hold my own ground, and not be intimidated by them. He taught me how to order a proper cocktail. He taught me how to walk tall and proud into any room, anywhere and be comfortable in my own skin. He taught me how to live, love, give and trust. I thank him for these lessons.
I don't know where my dad learned to be a father. His father died when he was a small boy, leaving my grandmother to raise him, his four brothers and one sister alone in rural North Carolina. I'm not even sure he planned to be a father, but he certainly learned somewhere.
Don't get me wrong. My dad was not a saint. But he was a good man, which despite so many images to the contrary, is not an oxymoron. He didn't think what he did was remarkable. He loved his wife and children and he showed it. He did what he was supposed to do, the right thing. When I was growing up, my cousins and childhood friends lived more or less like we did. Everyone's father lived at home, went to work, grumbled about fixing broken bicycles and bought you ice cream cones from the Mr. Softee truck. It was all I knew. My father was smart, funny, wise and strong. I thought so then, I think so now. I took Daddy for granted, he was always there--like air. Wasn't I supposed to? I was thirty before I fully comprehended that my father's extraordinary, involved, loving presence in my life made me unique among friends and acquaintances.
John Lafayette DeBerry II died in 1984. I still miss him every day, but I also feel his presence sometimes in a passing shadow or a fleeting thought. And every now and again his presence is as real as he was. On a visit with my mother a few years ago, I brought her some clippings and reviews of our latest book because I knew she enjoyed them. She directed me to the den and told me where to find the scrapbook. “I had to get another one,” she announced. My puzzled expression told her I had no idea what she was talking about. That’s when she informed me my father had bought it when I embarked on yet another of my many careers--plus size modeling. “I fussed at him for getting such a big book,” Mom said. “He told me not to worry. You would fill the pages.” Two years later my father died, and my restlessness with being told what to wear, where to stand and how to look, led me briefly to the business side of modeling, before I found my way to writing novels. “It wasn’t from modeling, but your father was right anyway,” my mother said. “You filled it up and last month I had to buy a new one.”
Until that moment I hadn’t even known about the scrapbook and the faith it showed my father had in me, but I didn’t have to---I’d felt it. I have walked my path with that unconditional love, support and belief I could do anything, as the foundation of my entire life.

So whether he gave us a good foundation or left us standing on shaky ground, a father's influence on his daughters is undeniable. For one of us Daddy is a lifelong reason to give thanks--on Father's Day or any old Tuesday. And one of us still works at feeling good enough, at believing that being disposable is not her birthright although it was her father’s legacy. Because in the best of times or the worst of times, at the core of who we are as women...and how we perceive ourselves, is the very first man in our lives--our father.
posted by DeBerry and Grant at 12:07 PM 0 comments links to this post

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Whitney...


I (Donna) saw Whitney Houston when her first album was just out. I don't think I had even bought it yet. She was opening for Jeffrey Osborne. That's who my friend and I had really gone to see. The concert was at Westbury Music Fair, a small theater in the round in Long Island, NY. I can still feel the way her voice washed over me and took my breath away from the first notes, the tingle of her elegant, powerful music. Although they were a big part of her show, you didn't go to watch her dance, or gawk at the costume changes. You came for that sound. Her sound.

Yesterday, she took my breath away again. I had reached to turn off the radio in my car, when I heard the bulletin that Whitney had died. I had to sit there and collect myself. Whitney's life seems to have had some devastating lows. I hope they were not because of the soaring highs that her singing brought to her millions of fans. Why does great talent so often seem coupled with great pain? Is it the gift that is hard to bear, or the grind of having so many people to please...or disappoint? I have no answer. I can only hope that somehow, somewhere, she found some peace.

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 4:22 PM 0 comments links to this post

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A re-post of our Father's Day essay...we feel it's a story that's worthy of repeating...

Much like the "Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus" story that reappears every Christmas to remind us of what's important about the season, and will, we suspect, continue to do so throughout eternity, we once again share our essay about our very different "Dad" experiences, hoping that it too will remind each of you about the importance of Dads in our lives. Only the length of our friendship and # of books we've written has changed since we first wrote this piece back in 2000!

A Tale of Two Fathers

...it was the best of times...it was the worst of times...

In the course of nearly thirty years of friendship (and writing seven books together), we have discussed pretty much every subject under the sun at least a dozen times, and in a variety of moods from jubilant to melancholy. Whether the subject is the men we've dated (or married or divorced) or how to cure hiccups, we've found that one of the recurring themes is the strong presence of one of our fathers, and the total absence of the other's. All of this talk has made it clear ---in a way that's personal, not theoretical--- that whether pops was at the dinner table or in the wind, what he did or didn't do is critical. As daughters, we are generally quite aware of our mother's legacies. We are like her. Or unlike her. Happy to follow in her footsteps. Determined to avoid them at all costs– even if it means stepping on a crack or two. Or we are "our own person" and in complete denial about any correlation at all. But equally fateful for daughters is our relationship, or lack of one, with our fathers.

In Search of Donna's Father

I decided to look for my father after printing "unknown" yet again across the portion of a medical history dedicated to maladies that run on his side of the family. He left and took his family with him when I was an infant.

One of the three pictures I've seen of him was taken the day of his last visit. He smiles with an ease that belies any turmoil. My mother said he wanted the two of them to be free to travel, so I should be deposited with my grandparents. She wouldn't do it and thus, the split.

For years I denied any curiosity about my father. Mom loved me, and worked hard to keep us from the economic quicksand that swallows many solo mothers and their children. To show interest in a man who had dissolved all emotional and fiscal ties seemed treasonous. Then another medical form would nag at me, and I'd wonder, didn't it ever bother him that he had a daughter he hadn't said "boo" to since she was too young to remember?

Where do you look for someone who has been gone for decades? Phone books yielded nothing. I knew he had been in the Air Force, unusual in itself for a black man in the 50's. In the second photo he sits at a Paris sidewalk cafe, very dapper in his seriously pressed uniform. His grin is confident, even cocky, guaranteed to set the heart of his lady love in Harlem aflutter. His posture says he could take all comers. So what was so scary about a baby girl?

The Air Force sent me copies of his induction papers and assignments. He enlisted at 17, after tenth grade. His duties ranged from painter to supply records specialist, not much excitement for a young soldier crossing the threshold into manhood.

His fingerprints on the enlistment form startled me. Each filled its allotted box. I measured my fingertips against his, and for the first time in my life my hands seemed small. Those prints were more tangible to me than a snapshot. I could feel that hand, imagine it surrounding mine in the fatherly way I hear tell is protective and loving. If I met him would I hold this hand, or stand, arms folded, awaiting his rendition of a story I knew by heart from my side of the fence?

Often I have listened to woman friends recount fond stories of their fathers, and I get wistful with a dab of envy. One told of Friday midnight pizza runs. She and her siblings would gallop to the kitchen in their pajamas to join their dad for a slightly naughty snack. Another recalls the quiet moment when her father assured her that no matter what, he was in her corner. Knowing that one man on the planet cares for you without ulterior motive seems impossibly wonderful to me. Then I stop daydreaming. There are fathers who get drunk and wallop the first thing that moves, or those present in body, but unable to give love they perhaps never got. My father made a clean cut, not as jagged or ugly as some. Was I picking at a wound that had healed as well as it could? I didn't know, but I was not close enough to finding him to make myself answer.

At the Department of Health the clerk said I couldn't get a copy of my father's birth certificate unless he was already dead and pointed me toward the death records. I was annoyed. He was too young to be dead, but in the interest of thoroughness, I checked.

And there he was, in the ledger book for 1979--Charles Herbert Goins, my father. I stared at the page, waiting for some emotion besides shock to surface. He had never been real to me so I had no tears. He took up no space in my life, so I couldn't feel empty. Nothing came, not anger, satisfaction or sorrow.

My father had lived and died in the Bronx at the age of forty four, not very far afield for a traveling man. Had he changed much from the twenty one year old I had seen in his wedding picture? Dressed in a dark suit, he seemed very grown, but I have been twenty one. At that age we are often better at the guise of maturity than the details.

I copied the pertinent facts so I could complete what would only ever be a rough sketch of him. If I find members of his family, they can only tell me about him. The things I most need to know could only have come from his lips.

I have added heart disease to my list of hereditary ailments. That's what killed my father. The information is somewhat useful. I have heart problems of my own, so I guess the broken ones come from his side of the family. Yet, more than a hint at future ills, I suppose I wanted a cure for the recurrent ache I feel from being left without an explanation or a second glance. I guess it's like the arthritis that runs on Mom's side of the family. It's not debilitating. Some days are fine. Others, the pain is sharp, so you take an aspirin and keep going until it passes, but you know it will always be with you.

In Praise of Virginia's Daddy (pictured)

I'm the one whose father made midnight Friday pizza runs. He also teased and taunted my brother, sister and me through raucous games of Pick Up sticks, brought us Sweet Marie candy bars from his pre-dawn Sunday golf games at Niagara Parks in Canada. He cleaned up vomit soaked pjs at 2 am, proudly signed each and every report card and sent all of us off to college. My first dance was standing on Daddy's feet. Years later, he gallantly "gave me away", and danced with me at a wedding he knew was a mistake. When time proved him right, he never said "I told you so".

No, we were not raised by a single father. My mother was a full and active participant in parenthood, but this is not about her. This is about my father, a man who was always there for us. Sometimes he wasn't physically present. Snowy Buffalo winters forced him on the road, with his dusty, canvas tool bag, in search of work, but we always knew he was coming home. I don't know how or why we knew, probably because my mother knew he was coming home.

My father laid brick. Hard, honest, ordinary work, but we kids thought it was anything but ordinary. He worked for big construction companies and small ones, with two friends, even formed one of his own--Sloan Masonry, back in the '50's when the idea that a black man and two white men could go into business together was pretty much unheard of. They couldn't get enough work to sustain Sloan, but my father, Dave and Ray remained friends --apparently, another odd occurence.

Piled in the car on summer Sunday evenings, we would gape out the window as Daddy pointed to sparkling new schools, sprawling hospital wings, sleek, modern churches and tracts of ranch-style homes he had "built". He told construction tales about each one, some funny, others harrowing (or at least it sounded that way to us). I still hear his voice when I'm home and drive past St. Rose of Lima church or the Maryvale school.

My father didn't plan to be a bricklayer. He wanted to be a doctor, and served in the Army Medical Corps during WWII, (spending more time cleaning kitchens than wounds). After discharge, even with the GI Bill, medical school was beyond his grasp. Somehow, undertaking presented itself as an alternative. Frequently he pulled out his diploma from the Atlanta School of Mortuary Science. "I can do your hair," he would tease my mother, my sister and me, "if you lie down." He cracked up every time he said this. We did too. But Daddy had too much life in him to spend his days with the deceased. He discovered that being a mortician was not even a poor relation to being a doctor, so he learned to lay brick, like his father and his older brothers before him. The proudest day of Daddy's life came when my brother graduated from medical school.

My father believed in learning, for himself and for us. I learned a lot from him: how to properly water a lawn, make oyster stew, drive a nail straight, and grate fresh coconut. He taught me to believe in myself and be proud of being smart (like him), to laugh, deeply without reservation, to think quickly, respond decisively, and cleverly (I can go from dead sleep to a wisecrack in six seconds flat). He taught me that to have a friend you have to first be a friend and that character, not race was what I should be concerned about. He taught me how to be comfortable around men, how to hold my own ground, and not be intimidated by them. He taught me how to live, love, give and trust. I thank him for these lessons.

I don't know where my dad learned to be a father. His father died when he was a small boy, leaving my grandmother to raise him, his four brothers and one sister alone in rural North Carolina. I'm not even sure he planned to be a father, but he certainly learned somewhere.

Don't get me wrong. My dad was not a saint. He was a good man, which is not an oxymoron. He didn't think what he did was remarkable. He loved his wife and children and he showed it. He did what he was supposed to do, the right thing. When I was growing up, my cousins and childhood friends lived more or less like we did.Everyone's father lived at home, went to work, and grumbled about fixing broken bicycles. It was all I knew. My father was smart, funny, wise and strong. I thought so then, I think so now. I took Daddy for granted, he was always there--like air. Wasn't I supposed to? I was thirty before I fully comprehended that my father's extraordinary, involved, loving presence in my life made me unique among friends and acquaintances.

John Lafayette DeBerry II died in 1984. I still miss him every day, but I also feel his presence sometimes in a passing shadow or a fleeting thought. And every now and again his presence is as real as he was. On a visit with my mother a few years ago, I brought her some clippings and reviews of our latest book because I knew she enjoyed them. She directed me to the den and told me where to find the scrapbook. “I had to get another one,” she announced. My puzzled expression told her I had no idea what she was talking about. That’s when she informed me my father had bought it when I embarked on yet another of my many careers--plus size modeling. “I fussed at him for getting such a big book,” Mom said. “He told me not to worry. You would fill the pages.” Two years later my father died, and my restlessness with being told what to wear, where to stand and how to look, led me briefly to the business side of modeling, before I found my way to writing novels. “But your father was right anyway,” my mother said. “You filled it up and last month I had to buy a new one.”

Until that moment I knew nothing about the scrapbook and the faith it showed my father had in me, but I didn’t have to---I’d felt it. I had walked my path with that unconditional love, support and belief I could do anything, as the foundation of my entire life.

So whether he gave us a good foundation or left us standing on shaky ground, a father's influence on his daughters is undeniable. For one of us Daddy is a lifelong reason to give thanks--on Father's Day or any old Tuesday. The other still works at feeling good enough, at believing that being disposable is not her birthright although it was her father’s legacy. Because in the best of times or the worst of times, at the core of who we are as women...and how we perceive ourselves, is the very first man in our lives--our father.


posted by DeBerry and Grant at 11:44 AM 0 comments links to this post

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Golden Rule of Partying With Friends—Take Care of Each Other!


At least once a year there is the case of some young woman who was out partying with her friends. She gets very drunk and leaves alone, or her friends put her in a cab alone, or she goes off with some man alone. The result—she ends up raped and/or beaten and/or dead. Our first question—WHAT KIND OF FRIENDS LET YOU FEND FOR YOURSELF WHEN YOU ARE, FALL DOWN, THROW UP, BLIND DRUNK!!!!

On Thursday there was a verdict in a trial that resulted from one of those cases. NY Police Officers Kenneth Morano and Franklin Mata were accused of raping a very drunk woman after they were called to help her out of a cab and into her apartment. They were found not guilty of all but official misconduct charges. We have no way to question their guilt or innocence—the jury has spoken. (Despite the acquittal, the officers were fired from the NYPD.) But if one of her friends had gone home with her in the cab, the whole situation would have been avoided.

The golden rule of partying with friends—Take Care of Each Other! Most of us (that includes BOTH of us) have had nights where we were a little to indulgent with the margaritas, martinis, cosmos, beer, wine, Jell-o shots—fill in your beverage of choice. Presumably we are all adults, which should mean we can take care of ourselves, but when alcohol is introduced, all bets are off. And mostly you can tell whether your friends are over the line, whether she is attempting to pole dance with a stop sign, is talking out of her mind, is slumped and glassy eyed at the bar or pukes on the dinner table (which happened to someone we know well. She is eternally grateful that her friends covered it up with the tablecloth, left a very big tip, and took her home).

Sometimes friends thank you for your troubles. Sometimes drunken friends are belligerent and insist they can handle it. Do whatever is in your power to keep them safe. Take car keys, hail a cab and get in it with them. You might decide you are never going out with them again, but take care of them this one last time. Your friendship may be over but this one last time you may keep them safe, or even save their lives.

Please share this with your friends, daughters, sisters, nieces—all the women you care about.

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posted by DeBerry and Grant at 11:59 AM 0 comments links to this post

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