Happy Birthday Hat to me

By Ricki Stevenson, special to shades Magazine

(Editors’ note: In 1997, former Bay Area radio and TV personality Ricki Stevenson moved with her daughter, Dedie, to Paris, France. She planned to stay for one year, but fate had another plan and today, she continues to call the European capital home.

Beginning with the November issue of shades, Stevenson will share her life abroad and cover the stories, issues and concerns of the thousands of other women of color who reside in Paris.

The follow is a preview to her monthly column.)

After going through the 40-week process of carrying and giving birth to my daughter Dedie on Aug. 28, 1986 – the baby some doctors said I would never carry to term – I came to the conclusion that it is mothers who should be honored and showered with gifts each year when their offspring celebrate another birthday.

With that in mind, I made it my own tradition to give my Mom flowers or some gift of remembrance each Oct. 17 – my birthday – to thank her for taking on the awesome task of being my Mom.

Joann Stevenson not only gave me life, but she (and Dad) would do so many things that would shape the life I live today.

I thank Mom for taking me to see Josephine Baker when I was 3 years old and again when I was a young teenager; for dressing elegantly (on a budget) and always making evenings out with Dad special by wearing basic black, pearls, beautiful hats and Chanel #5; for making me believe I could accomplish anything I so desired; for encouraging me to read by ordering books that were delivered to our door every month; for urging Dad to take a side trip to Windsor, Canada, that summer we were in Detroit so that I could hear people speaking French and try out the few words I knew.

I thank her for making sure we saw every black entertainer who ever appeared on the Ed Sullivan or Nat King Cole Show and those who came to the Orpheum Theater or Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco and then talked about the lives they lived in Paris. I could go on for pages.

Mom made her transition July 17, 2009. That means I’ve now seen two birthdays without her … and it’s been challenging.

Last year, I was in a fog. This year, after a month in California and a quick trip to Montclair, New Jersey, I was back in Paris to celebrate my birthday over brunch in Chinatown with my French” family” Victor and Marie Adjoubel and a journalist friend from Cleveland. We laughed, talked and ate way too much delicious food at Jardin d’Asie, one of my favorite “Pan Asian” restaurants. I thought of Mom as “Happy Birthday To You” was played over the restaurant’s loud speakers and diners clapped as I blew out the candle on my manioc topped with coconut milk.

While all of this was going on, all I could think of was how much I miss talking and laughing with my Mom, giving her gifts for my birthday, sharing my joys and dreams.

As we ate the last bite of dessert, Marie suggested we pay a visit to Hotel Scribe near Opera to show our guest the entire second floor dedicated to Josephine Baker, including the two-story suite where Baker regularly stayed when she performed in Paris or brought her Rainbow Tribe of 12 children to town for special events.

As we strolled the hushed, plushly-carpeted corridors, looking at her Paris career told in pictures, we marveled at images of an entertainer who put her fame and career on the line to be an outspoken pioneer in the U.S. Civil Rights movement. A woman who put her life on the line to serve as a decorated spy for the French Resistance during WWII. The first entertainer to adopt 12 children of all races and colors … to prove to those looking from America that people of different ethnicities could live in harmony.

Getting back in the car, we noticed a hat hanging from the antenna. It was a chic, hand made, black velvet pillbox with a black veil and black ostrich feather on the side – the type of 1950s drop dead elegant hat that Josephine Baker would wear. A hat Mom also would wear.

Where did it come from? Did it drop from the sky? The doorman didn’t know nor did the parking valet.

Back at home, I put the hat on and found it perfect with my short mixed gray/golden hairdo. That was when it hit me and I cried for a minute. Maybe the hat was a gift from beyond, from my Mom, her way of saying she is still with me, watching over me, urging me to continue to live my dreams.

Of course, I’ll never know where it came from, but I do know I will always remember this birthday, Oct. 17, 2010, and the hat with the black veil and black ostrich feather.

Oakland, California, native Ricki Stevenson, is a former Bay Area radio/television personality. Stevenson is the founder and lead guide of Black Paris Tours – walking-bus tours that focus on the rich legacy of African and African-American history in Paris, the “City of Light.” Reach her and learn more at www.blackparistour.com.

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One Response to “Happy Birthday Hat to me”

  1. Reverent June Juliet Gatlin October 20, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

    Beloved Ricki:
    I love, honor, appreciate your Divine Aliveness, grateful for your Presence breathing within My Loving Life. Interestingly when Mother’s Day (every day We breathe) and Father’s Day be celebrated I always call My Beloved Son, saying: “Happy Mother’s Day!” If not for His preordained birth I would not BE: Breathe Eternally being HIS Mother albeit I am Mother to Children of The World. And to His Father I would say, also, “Happy Mother’s Day” because if not for His contribution, well…
    We have so much to be thankful for and I am most certainly flowing forth, thank filled to Most High for placing We together.
    Paris, Europe, USA, every present place of magnificence is fortunate You love living presenting and sharing (smile). Black Paris Tours lives because YOU breathe. CongratYouElations!for Being.
    I love You.
    Ever Reverent I Breathe Being,
    Rev. June Juliet Gatlin

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