At a long table I found myself sitting between my mother and father, a position I couldn't recall ever being in before. The last time I was even present when my parents were in the same space was in the 812 New Jersey backyard in the eighties. Ebony was about four and Leigh was yet to be born. I took a picture of my mother and father sitting on a bench that day, which had been my only photographic evidence that the two had ever known each other. But now I'd have another. My sister had her camera. My uncle had his. In between the salads and the ribs and the large Coca-Colas, we got lots of pictures. Many smiles. Some genuine.
The next day Nelson Elmer drove my mother and me through Newport News and over to Hampton, to Leigh's graduation. Perhaps when I was two or three I'd ridden in a car with them, and maybe once or twice as an older child. What is a commonplace occurrence for most of the world was a revelation for me. In the short journey on Highway 64 through Newport News to Hampton, two small cities my mother and father had spent their childhoods in, it hit me just how lucky I was they hadn't stayed together. These two Virginia-bred, New York-seasoned folks were as incompatible as two people could be, something that had become apparent to both not long after I was born. It's fashionable (and traditional too) to argue that families, especially black families, need to stay together to raise truly healthy kids. Well, I gotta say I don't believe my life would have been as productive or fulfilling if Nelson Elmer George and Arizona Bacchus had not led separate lives.
So I sat in the backseat, a half smile on my face, as my father talked and my mother frowned. She didn't like his jokes, or his cocky attitude, and really, really hated his driving. I just sat behind them, watched this awkward scene, and chuckled to myself, acknowledging that everything had actually worked out as it was supposed to.