I remember Mrs. Kimber when I was young. I don’t think I ever called her Mrs. Kimber. I don’t think I’ve ever said her name. I was still a shy teenager when our families joined, still afraid to be that intimate with anyone who was older and that full of life, anyone who had a place in the world, as a mother, a wife, a woman, with the type of magic, I’ve come to learn only black women can possess. I remember her sitting in a chair at the kitchen table surrounded by people at some family party, the way her body moved when she talked and how poised she looked as she drew herself up to meet the others who were standing. There was a crowd of people in that room, all signifying and strutting around to make their point, but she is the only one that I remember.
There are some people who, even with the slightest encounter, will imprint part of themselves on you, leave an impression that lingers like the smell of citrus in summer.
Mrs. Kimber was that kind of person.
Because I did not know her well, I am left with only my impressions to create the image of a person. One who touched my Uncle in a way that humbled him, made him seem vulnerable, human.
In my imagination she is the music that lives in the space between notes. If you close your eyes you’ll hear her laughter in the cymbal crashes of a swelling symphony. You’ll see her legs stretch across a rolling crescendo and watch them fade into forever.
Those hips that tempo’d her stride will always conjure the dancing spirits of her ancestors.
If she were jazz, she could only be avant-garde. A muse to Coleman, Mingus and Monk.
She was a percussive instrument, the kind that banged up against life maybe with the intent to understand its rhythm so that she could be the writer of her own song.
I imagine that her humanness had as much depth as her eyes and that her smile projected both her pain and her joy. I imagine that she was a woman with all the love, mystery and complexity that the word, woman, implies.
I thought of her at Christmas not too long ago, I heard that she was unwell. Moved by the memory that I carried all these years, I wanted to comfort her somehow. I decided to get her a candle, something I thought would soothe her body and feed her senses. It was a risky endeavor because everyone is drawn to their own kind of sweetness. I told Bobby that I stood in the store for an hour smelling different fragrances, picking up cups of colored wax and putting them back down, repeating this inane ritual until I was light headed and sick. But it was important to me that she have the simple pleasure I thought the warm flame and candied air would provide.
When I was told that her last days included laughter, I thought about the day I saw her sitting at that table, when we were both much younger, when I didn’t have the words to say her name but I recognized, even then, a beauty and a spirit that belonged solely to her.
May she rest well.
Andrea Roach is a writer of memoir, essays, and creative non-fiction. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University.