Category Archives: A Backwards Glance

My Aunt Norma in Puerto Rico circa 1955

My Aunt Norma in Puerto Rico circa 1955.

Her name was Norma Giraloma Congilosi.  She had jet black curly hair, olive skin, sloe green eyes. She was the epitome of culture, style, and grace.   She could also curse like a longshoreman and saw no contradiction in that.

Norma Giraloma Congilosi, San Juan, Puerto Rico, 1955.

Almost entirely self-educated and no sufferer of fools, she started her post-secondary education at a community college only to leave, disappointed, because she was more well-read than her instructors.

She worked for United Airlines and traveled the world, often alone, which was considered unusual at that time.  She spoke French, Spanish, and Italian, including the Sicilian dialect her Sicilian/Ethiopian/North African father spoke at home.

She was a poet, a feminist, activist, and fighter for civil and equal rights way ahead of her time.

I was fascinated with Norma and her stories of beatniks, revolutionaries, poets and playwrights in San Francisco and NYC.  

Her contemporaries were white, black, brown, straight, lesbian, and gay.   She wrote poetry under the pseudonym Nya Gailord Carver. 

I loved how she simply took her freedom; she didn’t wait for it to be granted or sanctioned.

The nasty comments sometimes thrown her way were a small price to pay for autonomy.

Somewhat surprisingly, her mother, my grandmother Maria Grazia Amato Congilosi, a devout Catholic Sicilian paired in an arranged marriage with her father’s tinsmith apprentice, my grandfather Alfonso Congilosi, not only did not judge her iconoclastic daughter harshly, but seemed to vicariously enjoy her adventures.

She worried about her unconventional daughter, but she never tried to clip her wings–not even when she fell in love with a Jewish doctor and began classes to convert to Judaism after he proposed.

Norma  packed a whole lot of living into her first twenty-seven years.

She was stricken with MS at age twenty-six; she stayed independent as long as she could.

She weathered abandonment by her Jewish fiance, the loss of her spectacular San Francisco apartment, her job, and her independence,  with a feisty spirit and a salty tongue.

By age thirty she was confined to a “rest home” where she continued to curse, laugh, smoke a hookah, and shake her fist at God.

As a child, I both loved and feared visiting her there. She lived to age sixty-two; I had a hard time forgiving God for her thirty-two years in a hospital bed.

As happens in families, I was often mistakenly called by her name by my mother and grandmother.

  In our family, her name was synonymous with style, verve, and a sensibility on a first name basis with originality. 

I took it as a compliment. 



Author’s Note: I wrote a poem, Sweet Revenant, to her memory,  and paired it with Kristin Fouquet’s gorgeous photos of Ingrid Lucia.



Riding With Miles, and Max, My First Car

Riding With Miles and Max, My First Car


My first car was a huge old boat of a vehicle, a wine-red circa 1975 Plymouth Gran Fury found for $1100 in the inner sanctum of Newport News, VA , via the Virginian-Pilot Classifieds, when I briefly lived in Hampton with my soon-to-be-first-husband in 1988.

I named my new old car Max; he looked much like the shiny model pictured here, the same color, if a bit worse for wear.

M ax
Me, age 26.

I was twenty-six, new to Virginia and a newly minted driver; I’d failed my first driver’s test in NY after a month of driving lessons with one Miles Frommer, of American Driving Academy, an elfin man with a dark 1950s-style suit, Malcolm X eye-glasses,  and a deadpan hybrid Brooklyn/ Chicago accent.  


When I squinted at him behind my shades, I envisioned him as him as one of the lesser known, shorter  Blues Brothers.

First you get mad, then you get sad, then you get glad, he said by way of explaining the stages of submitting to driverhood.

While we waited at stop lights he told me about his wife, an accountant, and his addiction to bread. Apparently he kept his breadbox locked in order to thwart his wheat jones.  

To my mild surprise, he also felt comfortable enough, mid-way through our summer of lessons, to warn me against moving to Virginia to be with my submarine sailor boyfriend.  

Not a chivalrous lot, those Navy men, he intoned blandly, in between jokes about the true nature of submariners.  Thirty men go down to the sea; fifteen couples come back up.

Inappropriate humor aside,  Miles was an endlessly patient teacher, who barely blinked as I faced my near paralytic fear of commandeering a ton of steel and glass along the mysterious backstreets of Kingston, NY.

Though I lived in New Paltz, Kingston housed the nearest DMV office.

Miles remained as mild and comforting as an old monk,  no matter how many times he had to slam on the dual control brakes, but my DMV driving test proctor was a screamer.


Five minutes into my test I lurched the test car into the crosswalk as he screamed at me, Now you’ve killed several pedestrians! This test is over! Pull over! Pull over!

The pedestrians were hypothetical; my road test failure was not.

I waited until I’d relocated to Virginia and had a few more lessons before tackling the driver’s test in Denbigh rather than Hampton on the advice of a new friend.

She was right.

After simply driving straight for a few miles I was asked to turn right, turn left and then simply park.

No parallel parking,  no crossing lanes of oncoming traffic, no chance of crosswalk carnage, no screaming or forehead veins bulging.

The first time I drove my new old car alone, to my temp job with a VA Beach architect, I thought I’d fly over the guardrail of the first curving overpass I had to drive at 55 MPH.

I white-knuckled it all the way there and back to Hampton.  I never stayed late at that office to avoid driving in the dark.

My fiance found that hilarious.

A month later,  when another young woman was kidnapped from the office parking lot after hours and murdered,  I thanked my fear-based intuition

Almost everywhere I went, especially car washes, and junk yards where we looked for esoteric car parts, elderly Black men approached me to admire old Max.

I repeatedly heard some form or other of: Young lady, what are you doing with my car? or Now, THAT’S my car.

I loved hearing the stories of their glory days; as they talked I could recall seeing fine young Black men cooly driving similar cars.

With one hand on the steering wheel,  they’d glide through the streets of Poughkeepsie back when I was a teenager shopping for 45s at the Black Power record shop,  deep at the far end of the Main Mall .

The tiny record shop wasn’t really called Black Power, but the two men who ran it favored the tight pants, leather jackets, perfect Afros, Black Power fist Afro-combs, and the revolutionary literature of the Black Panther movement.

When I went there with my older,  Black boyfriend the two of them ignored me as they exchanged dap with him.

Me, age 13.

When I shopped there alone the taller man would flirt with me, and ask me to repeat everything I said; the smaller, older man usually folded his arms over his chest and gave me the side-eye.

I chalked it up to my age, my racial ambiguity, and my slight stutter; I kept coming back, always averting my gaze from the long sticks of incense on the counter labeled, “Pussy”.


One of the undocumented features of my vehicle was the wine-red roof upholstery that had loosened over the years and hung down over the back seat like an exotic tent curtain that made me think of the inside of the magic bottle in “I Dream of Jeannie”.


The swooping swathes of maroon velveteen gave the car a funky, slightly trippy vibe; I always felt like I should be wearing patchouli, fringed leather, and feather earrings while listening to Chaka Khan and Rufus amid the haze of Nag Champa incense.


I felt safe traveling in that outsize car; it really felt like a big old land yacht rolling down the freeway, music playing (8 track!), it’s big old prow parting the air before me.

My then-husband was an impatient man who didn’t possess the values of conservation and preservation; when something went wrong with Max after two years he relentlessly pressured me to trade it in towards a Saturn.

I should have seen it for the red flag it was; but I was still blindly loyal, and in love.  I missed quite a few of them.

The Saturn was new and shiny and candy-apple red, but not the same as old Max, not by a long shot.


African Lullaby Giveaway Has Ended with A Winner!


The African Lullaby Giveaway has ended with a Winner!***If You Won, please email me at ! Thank you!***

The winner is of the giveaway now being verified by and will be sent the African Lullaby CD shortly.  The identity of the winner will not be revealed to me due to Amazon’s privacy policies.

That said–if YOU are the winner, please reach out and let me know, or let me know how you like the CD once it arrives.

I appreciate all of my supporters so much.  However, I have to share with you that although 30 readers entered the giveaway, only a handful actually followed through by 1) following me on Twitter 2) Liking the Giveaway Blog post and leaving a comment and 3) subscribing to the blog to get updates and new posts.

Actually, NOBODY left a comment on the blog.

Not one of you rascals!  Really?


Well, live and learn.  I will be using a different entry/award process for my NEXT giveaway.

Yes, there will be others.   Especially closer to the holidays.  Please do subscribe to The Moxie Bee by entering your email address in the form on the upper right hand sidebar. (Note:  I do NOT spam or sell address lists.)

I appreciate all who participated and I leave you with my son Ibrahim’s favorite lullaby, when he was small, “Diyore” by Abou Sylla,

The song is special to Ibrahim, and in some ways to me, for a few reasons.  Sylla is one of his father’s family names. His father, Mamadouba Sylla was related to Guinean ruler Sekou Toure; when Toure was deposed his friends and family started turning up dead.  The Sylla family quickly and quietly moved to Senegal and took on the Diolla name of Badji, which actually has its roots in India.  (I’m saving that story for another day.)

Also, Mouminatou Camara, family friend of the Badji/Syllas and renowned  Guinean dancer/drummer/singer/teacher, sings the background vocals for Abou Sylla on the African Lullabye CD .


I’ve met her a few times at classes and performances; I can testify she is a swirling force of nature and talent.

Ibrahim’s father, Assane,  a drummer/dancer/fire-eater/dance teacher from Kindia near Conakry, Guinea, taught me a different version of this song, the one Ibrahim’s grandmere Fatou Sylla sang to Assane as a boy.

He could only remember part of it, so we sang the first part to Ibrahim twice and then repeated the last line.  When he didn’t want to hear the CD, he wanted his father’s version, which went something like:

Bo Bo Bo, Bo Bo, Casalaba. Nan de mafulay.

Kin da sa buray. 

Bo Bo Bo, Bo Bo, Casalaba. Nan de mafulay.

Kin da sa buray. 




Back then, when Ibrahim was an infant, I asked Assane what it meant; he explained that basically it’s saying Don’t cry little child, your mother had to go to work, but your aunt will make you something nice to eat when you wake up. So go to sleep.

A few years after, when Assane and I separated and later divorced, I didn’t want to sing his version because it made me feel sad, not for me, but for my son.  Yet,  Ibrahim was insistent; he wanted his song.

So, I sang it. We sang it together, and soon it stopped feeling sad.  It became our song then; it still is.  And, I’m still trying to find a full translation.

Any SuSu speakers in the house?