I was in fifth grade when I first learned about Langston Hughes. My teacher, Mrs. Whitehead, who would come to class wearing head wraps, African-print ponchos, and dangling earrings adorned with cowrie shells, was teaching us about the Harlem Renaissance.
She assigned each of us a poem from the era to recite in front of the class. I was given “Mother to Son.”
I must have rehearsed my lines a thousand times. I’d start and restart it trying to perfect that southern drawl. Or my idea of it anyway. I’d only heard it on TV.
But it was Hughes’s poem “Dreams” that stayed with me all of these years. Back then, it was just pretty words that in all honesty, I was too young to fully understand. But I get it now. I get it when he says “Hold fast to dreams/for if dreams die/life is like a broken-winged bird/that cannot fly.”
And I get why he says it.
Y’all, I’m not even going to lie, it’s been h a r d. Like, really hard believing I can have the desires of my heart, staying motivated and for lack of better words, holding fast to my dreams. I think I feel more anxious about it now since I got married, but that’s another story for a different day.
That’s why I insisted Channing take me to Hughes’s house. On his stoop, we held hands like little girls during recess. Eyes shut, we said a writerly prayer for discipline and courage to become the writers we want to read. You could say we were trying to will writing juice from the typewriter that still sits inside.
That was the first time we stopped by his brownstone.
The second time, was purely for blogging purposes. Only this time when we showed up, the door was open and on the right side was a sign about a hair clinic.
Initially, I was disappointed thinking that’s what became of the property. But then three researchers came out and you can say curiosity killed the cat. I poked my head around the door where the sign was posted, finding a hanging chandelier and intricate molding on the ceiling.
Just then, a couple walking past asked what’s going on inside. They lived a couple doors down and were also surprised that the door was open. We told them we didn’t know and wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to pop in to ask. That’s when one wearing a Yale sweatshirt turned to us and jokingly said “y’all look like two girls up for an adventure unless I’m reading the situation wrong.” It was time to put on our big girl undies.
As we approached the door, we almost walked into researchers coming out. That’s when we learned more about the clinic and what they’re studying. A woman with a real southern drawl tried telling us whose house it was (as if we didn’t know) yet she couldn’t remember his name. I lightly squeezed Channing’s arm. Then she told us the owner was inside and asked if we wanted her to introduce us.
All I could do was nod my head.
Walking up those last couple steps was one of the hardest walks of my life. My legs felt like weights were pulling them down with each step I took. Inside, I noticed just past the double doors was a large white (clearly original) standing mirror.
The southern woman introduced us, telling the owner we were taking photos outside. That’s when somebody began to talk about Langston Hughes saying he passed away in the house. From where the owner stood Channing and I both noticed that behind her sat a small old typewriter on a mantel piece. Channing asked to take a photo of it, but I…I couldn’t move.
All I could do was stand there like a statue thinking back to my fifth grade class. Thinking ‘I’m in Langston Hughes’s brownstone.’ I was in this great poet’s living room who was part of the reason I spent most of my high school days in my bedroom writing poetry. This was actually happening. In New York where I dreamed of living. In Harlem where it all happened for Hughes. And where I’ve recently decided I want to live if I ever move to New York.
Tears slowly began rolling down my cheeks. One of the researchers noticed asking “are you crying?” Again, all I could do was nod. I think that’s when it hit them too where they were and the significance of it.
The owner showed Channing Langston Hughes’ piano that sat behind a white presentation board almost toppling over when she went to move it to give us a better view. That’s when she turned and asked us if we wanted to see something cool. Even though her hip was bothering her, she took us up to the third floor of the house to a small shelved room. On the walls were old deteriorated newspaper clippings that she said were there when she bought the house in her mid-thirties. She tried to preserve what was left placing a thin wooden frame around the couple of pictures and words that were recognizable. I assumed that’s where he kept a record of what was being said about him.
She showed us the bathroom next to the room, which was literally just a toilet. It reminded me of the toilet scenes from “The Help”. Each room had a fire place and they were all connected allowing you to easily walk through from one to the next. But in this case, look through.
As we headed down the stairs and out the door, blue, red and yellow shone through a small stained glass window that was adjacent to the staircase. I needed another moment. I was still in disbelief.
I still am.
But the opportunity to tour Langston Hughes’s brownstone is proof enough for me to hold fast to my dreams. I hope you’ll stick around for what’s next to come.