By Karen Howard
I remember her so clearly. Chocolate skin and dark tight curls gleaming in the Bahamian sun; frolicking on a long stretch of warm white sand. Always going a little farther down the beach than she was supposed to. I know her bright questioning eyes and full petulant lips that hint at the stubbornness just beneath her smile. The nose that her mother said God had stuck on in haste as she rushed through heavens door eager to start her earthly adventure. I remember how she woke up before the rest of the family brimming with excitement at what the day might hold. Yes, I remember that brave, outspoken girl and I want to hold her in my arms and thank her for the gifts she has given me.
I remember that she wasn’t the pretty one, but she could ride a horse and outrun her brothers and climb a tree faster than the boys next door, and she was pretty sure that counted for something. She wasn’t the smartest girl in the class, but she learned everyone’s lines in the play because you never know when that might come in handy. She wasn’t the popular one but she was friends with everyone, including the girl with a disability who everyone else avoided or ignored. And I remember that in a damaged world, with imperfect parents and broken hearts and cakes that didn’t always rise, her smile was constant and her joy contagious.
Thank you to that girl. Thank you for believing in me and leading the way for the woman that I would become.
Thank you for the gift of finding joy in the simplest things, like dark chocolate and mangoes and matchboxes. And sunrises. And sunsets. And handmade paper and old wooden toys that some child has loved the paint from.
Thank you for the gift of being comfortable in my skin and seeing my inner beauty even when the world did not always celebrate my outer beauty. Thank you for those often tangled curls that grew into the locs that remind me every day that I come from a long line of brown-skinned women with full breasts and swaying hips who held themselves tall and proud, even in the face of indignity.
Thank you for the lightness of my heart, the ease of my smile and the mischievous twinkle in my eye. Thank you for introducing me to music and for playing the starting notes. For teaching me to sing whether or not I knew the words or could hold the tune and for thinking that my songs were worth sharing. Thank you for reminding me that I was once a poet, an artist, a maker of things and that I don’t want to die with my gifts still inside me. Thank you for the melody.
Thank you for the gifts of patience and acceptance and love. Love for dogs and flowers, abandoned houses and old people with stories to tell. Love for my special child whose challenges remind me that I am a soft place to land. Patient and kind. Thank you for my love of starry skies just before the break of dawn when the discordant chatter of the world has yet to begin. And for the trees and rivers and rocky paths.
To that brave and beautiful girl, thank you. Thank you, you precious little angel who cleared the way. I hope you know that I always loved you. When you failed and tried again. When you felt lost and confused but still kept going. When things did not go your way and life did not turn out as you had planned but your light still continued to shine. I think I loved you more. Every now and then I catch a glimpse of you. Sometimes you are in my belly dancing class or in the audience when I am speaking. I’ve felt you near me when driving the beautiful countryside or walking in the woods. I’ve seen your smile in the mirror when you didn’t know I was looking. It’s good to know that you are still around. I’ve got more living to do and I am so happy to know you’ll be there for the ride.
about the author
Karen Howard moved to Chatham County twelve years ago in search of a good place to die; she is a recovering attorney, county commissioner and mother of six incredible, challenging and inspiring young people who demand that she put on her big girl panties every single day.