I grew up on Huntingdon Street, an average-sized block off of 22nd and Lehigh Avenue in North Philadelphia. It was in a working class Black neighborhood with a playground, recreation center, swimming pool and quite a few Black-owned businesses. A staple was Mr. Herman’s, or Boogie Herm’s as the kids called it.
Mr. Herman owned a corner store, and rumor had it that he picked his nose often. But for a mere dollar you could get the best frozen burger in the neighborhood. I’m still not sure how true that rumor was, but it never hindered his burger sales. The grill was always clean so that was good enough for us. (No judging. LOL!) There were two video games that we were allowed to play each morning until 8:00 sharp. At 7:55 he gave a last call; at 8:00, he would literally yank the plug from the wall. If you had a quarter in the machine because you were up next, that was your lost. Then, we weren’t allowed back in until after 3:00.
For us, penny candy actually cost a penny, and instead of petty brawls ending in death, they were often the beginning of long friendships. We were part of a community where we were watched over, prayed over, reprimanded (hard when needed), and loved. Although, many of us have since moved away, life and Facebook have kept us connected.
* * *
Lorraine, or Peaches as we call her, is part of that experience. She’s just a few years older and lived around the corner and two blocks up on 22nd Street. You often saw her with her mother, Ms. Lena, a kind and dignified woman, or her constants to this day – Jackie, Tiffany and Dawn.
Time passed and a simple Facebook request connected us again. In a space that can feel overwhelmingly angry and depressing, Peaches’ page of warm posts is like sifting through a family album. At a time when many women wear their independence like a Purple Heart, she revels in a life that many thought only existed for our grandparents. She’s married to a man whom she adores even all these years later. Three cooked meals a day is her proud norm, and she’s delighted to have her children and grandchildren with or near her. Even as she journeyed through school earning all A’s, or when she put in full days in a career that that she thoroughly enjoyed, nothing was, or is, as precious to her as her family and friends. She never claims nor tries to present perfection, but she boldly radiates happiness, thankfulness and love. She’s genuine, and that energy is infectious.
* * *
In March, Peaches revealed it to me. With the precision of a veteran oncologist speaking with a new patient, she explained the symptoms that lead to the diagnoses of a disease suffered by far too many. Treatment would begin almost immediately, and it wouldn’t be easy. “It’s a hard pill to swallow and it’s going to take some time to process,” she had said, “but I’m going to fight!” She’s been true to her word.
At a time when most would have cocooned into their most intimate circle and bid Facebook farewell (and rightfully so), Peaches let others in. She declared her strength – I am the storm – and committed to transparency. Since then, we’ve witnessed her shoulder length locs vanish, less pictures of her proud home-cooked meals, the effects of grueling treatments, and her truth about harsh moments. But what always follows is: But I’m still fighting or I’m standing strong or I’m not complaining.
Nothing has altered Peaches’ beauty or her heart. Her page still reads and feels like a cozy family album, now with a little more extended family added. She’s thankful for prayers and small reminders of how brave and amazing she is. She beams delightfully when someone surprises her with her favorite candy, or a card, cute pajamas or a head wrap. And when she posts her picture, her smile is never absent. Through it all she has remained grateful and full of love.
Peaches is my reminder of the beauty of creating the life that you sincerely want. She’s an echo of the value of committed love and human connection. She’s proof that while you can’t control life, it’s in your power to choose how you respond to it. And everyday, she reminds me that the simple things are amazingly beautiful and that they matter just as much.
Peaches is the storm, and I’m honored to be in her path.
So long for now. Until the next time, live each day to your fullest!
P.S.: Peaches, thanks for sharing your journey with me. And, yes, fuck cancer!
You can reach me via Facebook@Monique Danielle; Twitter @MoDanielle_08; Instagram @Mo_Danielle8; and email @ firstname.lastname@example.org.