This past Memorial Day weekend, I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Glorious as it is, it was not the site of my most impactful, and emotional Black experiences. They happened at “The House.”
A few months ago, my friends Taylor and Ben invited me to roll down to the NMAAHC along with their crew: a beautiful, Black and blithesome assortment of achievement. I, of course, screamed Yes! Please!
Taylor told me that her – and now, also my – friend Elena had reserved the exclusive tickets months in advance, and that we’d also be staying at her uncle and aunt’s home in PG County (Prince George’s County – the nation’s highest-income majority-Black county). At the thought of legacy alone, I was excited.
As the trip drew nearer, a host of inconveniences almost canceled us: I tore my Achilles tendon and wouldn’t be able to drive, as originally planned; Taylor and her friends, who recently graduated from Brooklyn Law School, were thinking that they might stay and continue studying for the upcoming Bar examination; given these things, Ben was feeling a little disenchanted with it all.
But, we found ourselves all gathered at Ben’s apartment on Friday night, the meeting place from which our two-car convoy would set out. Ben was to drive my car.
I packed my sleeping bag, a pillow (and my satin pillowcase, because, well, naturalistos unite), a comforter, a towel, and a loofa. It was more than enough, I thought, for Elena’s family to put us, a stranger group of New York-living millennials, up in their house; a nice corner of the living room floor would’ve been lovely for me.
We ended up leaving Ben’s place later than expected, and arriving at Elena’s uncle and aunt’s home a little after 2:00 a.m. Uncle – as we’ll call him from here – had been waiting up for us; the only one in our car whom he had met was Taylor.
Elena and the rest of the crew pulled up as Uncle, in silhouette, emerged from the garage. They had reached Maryland before us, and were now returning with takeout from IHOP.
“You won’t need that sleeping bag,” Elena said as I hobbled into the garage (I’m in a walking boot). “Everyone has a bed.”
Six of us made the trip to Uncle and Auntie’s – as we’ll call her from here – home; four of us unacquainted with Uncle and Auntie, and yet, each of us had fully made beds to sleep in.
Uncle made sure we were all settled before wishing us a good night. Elena led me to Auntie’s quaint, mid-sized home office, where there was a bed, neatly made, tucked between book shelves full of thoughts on Black history, and contract management. It was about 3:00.
I slept well.
Better than well, in fact. I popped up a little after 7:00 Saturday morning. Bacon was in the air.
I showered, dressed, and made my way to the kitchen. Uncle was there, cheffin’.
“Good morning, sir,” I said. “Can I help you with anything?”
He told me that I could lend a hand by sitting down and eating. “How’s the foot feeling this morning?” he asked.
We chatted for a bit before the others made their way to the kitchen.
Uncle had made eggs, bacon, grits, washed some strawberries, and put out some croissants. He had gotten up a little after sunrise to cook for us.
Auntie soon joined us at breakfast. “I’m sorry I couldn’t have seen you all last night,” she said, smiling. “Some folks just can’t hang. I’ve never been one who could hang.”
We all laughed and ate.
As we readied to leave, I went through logistics in my head: “Where will we park? Are we all riding together? Perhaps we should because it’ll be easier to find parking. Remember to get your handicap parking pass from the car.”
But, Auntie had already figured it out. She would drive.
She had planned on seeing the exhibitions that she had missed during her first visit to the museum.
We spent darn-near six hours there. So of course, we were ravenous upon returning to Aunty and Uncle’s home.
While we were gone, Uncle had prepared lunch for all of us. Tin trays full of chicken, macaroni and cheese, a large bowl of string beans, and salad. And we grubbed.
We ate, and joked, and ate, and laughed, and were full of all those things.
Elena suggested that we head to the local market for dessert.
Auntie insisted that, when we returned, we all watch Get Out.
And we did. All of six of us, and Auntie.
About a quarter of the way through, the doorbell rang. Auntie opened the door, and in came Family. Cousin and Daughter, Granddaughter and Cousin, and Cousin and Granddaughter.
“Hi!” they all said.
“Hi!” we all sang back.
Elena and Auntie introduced us, and then we finished watching Get Out. Now, all ten of us, scattered around the living room; stretched out on the floor, and the couches, laughing, gasping, a chorus of teeth sucking when the moment called.
We all stayed put after the movie, and learned about each other. Soon, the doorbell rang again. In walked Son-in-Law, and Grandson.
Uncle came and joined us. We sat and talked until after 8:30. Originally, we – the crew who had come from New York – had planned to leave at 7:30.
A little before 9, we said our goodnights, and headed out for the evening.
We returned around 3:30. Perhaps it was closer to four. We all went straight to our beds.
Elena woke me up around 9 on Sunday morning with a knock on Auntie’s office door.
“Breakfast is ready,” she said.
This morning smelled of biscuits, which I have been craving, intensely, for like the past two months.
Uncle hadn’t made biscuits, but pancakes; and eggs, bacon. Another full, full, breakfast.
A little after 9:30, Cousin and Daughter, Granddaughter and Cousin, Cousin and Granddaughter, and Grandson and Cousin were at the door.
“Good morning,” Daughter sang as she led the family in. They live only up the road from Auntie and Uncle (Grandma and Granddad).
They made their plates, and we all sat, eating in the kitchen.
“Thank you for breakfast, Dad,” Daughter chimed.
When we were finished, we all stayed, at the table, asking, laughing, listening.
One Granddaughter told us of all she was achieving, and filled us in the schoolyard news on a need-to-know basis.
She would start a story, “So-ands-so said,” and pause to explain, “So-and-so is this way or that.”
We all sat for hours. Not one of us leaving the table. Even when we weren’t talking about much.
As we sat, Auntie began preparing lunch.
We migrated to the living room, where we had all grown close the day before, and watched television as we waited to eat again. Some of us slept, right there, while others talked.
My parents texted me: “When do you think you’ll be back in NY?” they asked. “I’ll let you know as soon as I know. Eating lunch with this lovely family,” I told them.
Auntie called for lunch to be served, and even allowed us to eat in her living room, but offered an affectionately stern, You better not make a mess, word of caution.
Those who were sleeping woke to eat, and we all tried to decide on what movie to watch next.
Auntie was having problems with the remote. She battled with it for like an hour-and-a-half, intent for us to watch Wizard of Lies.
Elena finally figured it out, and again, just like the day before, we all watched. Scattered around the living room. All of us. Spanning four generations. All of us. Little ones learning about Bernie Madoff. Pausing when one had to get up. Sometimes not. Answering questions. Ignoring others. It was majestic. It had all been majestic.
And these feelings – of belonging, familiarity, responsibility, umoja, ujima – had been bubbling within me. And until then, I hadn’t known what to call them.
All weekend, my eyes had only seen only shades of brown; tongue had only known rich greens, and cheesy yellows; nose had been serenaded with songs from linen cabinets; ears had only heard the accent of love, and familiarity, and appreciation.
And it dawned on me: I had never been a stranger here, in this house. The House. Where only family comes.
Surely it was Kwanzaa exploding in my chest.