it’s the birthday of james brown.
i grew up convinced he was my grandfather. before you laugh, just know that it’s not impossible, he was in the right place (south carolina) at the right time. i later learned that he is most likely not my paternal anything, but by then the familial bond was already formed.
like anyone cut off from accurate ancestry, i looked for his face in mine and my father’s, i shuffled wildly across dance floors convinced i had his moves in my hips, i wailed in private song sessions, imagining myself part of a wild counterpart to natalie and nat king cole.
i frowned when allegations came out that he beat his adrienne, his wife. aw, please don’t be that kind of man, not on top of the sin of abandonment (the only explanation for why i didn’t grow up on grandpa’s lap, backstage at festivals) which i am already trying to reconcile in my kid heart.
i overlooked his incomprehensible interviews and apparent conservative politics, like many of us do with our grandfathers. even when mysteries heard by my child ears were crystallized into actual stories, and those stories didn’t appear to back up the connection i felt, i still held a soft place for him in my heart, paused when people said his name, wondering if they knew.
when i told people, they often laughed. i told a girl who traced her family back to the mayflower, and she was so impressed. yeah, james brown beats your colonizer lineage any day. a weak, magnetic individual, a master of something magnificent, even as he failed at love and commitment. however human lives are measured, his was one dynamic enough to be claimed, to be linked to.
and who knows, really – what makes the bond real? blood or belief? so join me, as i whisper a little happy birthday in his direction, just in case.