My Aunt Jane Lee and her fiancee Herman, circa 1950
My Aunt Jane Lee was one of 14 children and a twin. One of 4 sets of twins born to my grandmother and grandfather. She also is one of 6 of those 14 children to die from Alzheimers disease. Yes, 6 of my fathers brothers and sisters have died of Alzheimers disease. She left this world on November 1, 2012. Jane Lee had class, a natural leader in my father’s family of 10 sisters and 4 brothers.
She was sophisticated and smart. She loved to travel and she lived on Manhattan’s Riverside Drive for decades. When her husband Herman fell in love with her and she him, he left his family for her, it created the biggest scandal and greatest love story in my family. Despite that drama and devastating effects on his first family, they had a lasting marriage until his death. She was a leading matriarch among my daddy’s brothers and sisters. My memories of her conjure the photographs in my family’s albums. There are pictures of my young father walking her down the aile at her wedding. Her presence eminating from my parents wedding album, in a group photograph she is standing in front of all the males in his family.
My Aunt Jane Lee was strong, a country girl from North Carolina, she had ambition to be somebody and a determination to ascend higher than her humble upbringing. She gave me the example of how to present and hold oneself with grace, to have dignity, always strive to go higher, and never forget family.
Donna Summer was not just a “Disco Queen” but a Real Queen. As a little girl I remember seeing her and thinking she was one of THE most beautiful women next to my mother that I had ever saw! I was so proud to see a representation of myself in her. Besides being talented, she had this sweet sexiness that was intoxicating. This electricity emanated from her. My mother has seen all the great entertainers perform Otis Redding, Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Rick James. Once I made her write a list and it was pretty long over 50 LEGENDARY artists, Donna Summer in my mothers words “she was just different and refreshing!” For me she was truly HEAVENLY to watch. She drew you in with her cool fire, that honey chocolate skin, that big silky mane of curly hair, those perfect, well defined, full lips, that fabulous figure poured into incredible sequined gowns, made her just Delicious! Possessed with a Powerhouse voice that was like velvet, she shot to Superstardom! Farewell my Queen.
I love Little Edie and Big Edie in “Grey Gardens” because at times she reminds me of my mother and I. The dynamic between mother and daughter, infused with admiration, love, a healthy dose of aggravation, humor and a once proud history that weaves back and fourth in their relationship. They spend their days together reminiscing over the past. The revelation of how their once wealthy old money high society existence could dwindle and deteriorate away to the point that their living standards are soooo deplorable. Amazingly deplorable! Even so there is a richness, a humor, a nostalgic past that they hang on and cling to. In their deepest darkest moments this past revives them, gives them the strength to live another day. A past and a history that tells them - I am, was somebody, and I can be that again anytime I want.
I can’t help be fascinated by Little Edie, a woman on the edge, but she’s alive, powerful, vibrant, full of life and spirit. This is where she reminds me of myself. We’re fighters, never down for long. She lives in squalor, but never loses her flair for fashion. She’s still beautiful, and funny. We share the desire to be loved, to live, to be needed, to give, but you won’t find us on our knees begging, well not me anyway. As a Woman of Color you might think what do you have in common with these white, rich, priviledged, crazy, old, ex-monied women? Their humanity speaks to me, their insanity speaks to me, the desire that still lives in Little Edie speaks to me. They are women, and I LOVE WOMEN! Mostly all of her chances are gone, no one is coming for her. I understand that. It speaks to this sadness deep inside of me (Blanche DuBois) of the same possiblity. All the company she has is her mother, the raccoons, and cats dead and alive that she lives with. Mine are my mother, sister and my beautiful daughter who is a gift from God and the ancestors. A gift given to me so I will have a purpose in life. To fill my days not with selfish thoughts but, to give to another. To send forth into the future, another generation that is proof that I’m alive, I was here (go forward babygirl and multiply!).
Little Edie’s line ended with her. I got lucky, thank God I was born at a different time and generation! I don’t have to be ashamed because I chose to have a baby out of wedlock! I didn’t make the fucking rules, I only broke them because they weren’t fair. God knows I’m not the first! The odds were stacked against me but I realize perhaps Little Edie too… It’s been said that Little Edie is a feminist icon, and she definitely is. The way she rejects societies expectations. The demands to conform, to do what was expected from a family such as hers. A family that produced a First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. I love and deeply admire women like Michelle Obama they serve as my role models, but in my heart there’s a Little Edie in there. Everyone can’t be perfect… to Little Edie’s everywhere.