Willie Mae Samuel

Willie Mae Samuel, founder and director of the African American Connection for the Performing Arts in Rome

Dear Sharon, after traveling down the expressway of life for the last 15 years of your 70 years, you saw that you were coming up on your exit, and when you reached it you got off. For these last 10 years, I saw you suffer in pain, but you continued to press the pedal and speed on because you had not reached your exit. For the last six months it seems you knew that you were fast approaching your exit, because we laughed more and you came out more to eat catfish on good days or bad. We even disagreed on issues more. Now Rosemary will not have to fight you over sharing your catfish. But you forgot to come out for the last meal. I made your special potato salad. Hardy said it was the best. Hardy still has fish with your name on it in the freezer. I am sure he will cook it for Rosemary. No longer will Hardy have to turn your car around for you. I am so glad he always did it with such gladness.

Your departure lets us know that as we travel down the expressway of life we will all approach our exit and must get off, no matter how much unfinished business is on the table or in the closet, or how many incomplete manuscripts are in the computer. You put your foot on the gas and exited without looking in the rearview mirror. If you had glanced in the rearview mirror and had seen us you would have turned on your blinker and tooted the horn as we sped past your exit, knowing that ours was coming up sooner or later.

We never knew what to call each other because of how we treated each other. Some days you wanted me to be your mother, other days you wanted me to be your sister, and yet on other days you wanted me to be your spiritual counselor, and God knows I tried to fill those roles. Now that the numbness has ceased I can feel and think and remember our rough and joyful journey together on this side of the sun.

I remember when it all began. I never had a project, community or otherwise, that you were not willing to help me with indirectly. And I, too, was always a part of your projects. You refused to take a role in any of the 30-plus plays, but out of the 30-plus years you did not miss attending them, and because you believed in faith, family and friends you always had a following of faithful people who believed in you and wanted to be around you, even if it meant a “little dressing down every once in a while.”

Our friendship started out rocky because we were opposites. You would loud-talk me in front of people, try to bully me around, send ugly messages to me by a mutual friend. It would be the same basic message each time. “Go back and tell Mrs. Samuel that she is not a chief but just a regular Indian. Tell her to come to my office, and I will show her how to do a chief dance and actually cause it to rain. Tell her to stop thinking that she is a chief, and she will be better off.” That was your way of getting to know me. I would tell Brenda to do a chief dance and make some noise like she was at a powwow. That friend would do that and you would laugh and send an even stronger message back.

I taught all your siblings, but you graduated just before I began teaching at Main High, so we knew not about each other. One day, after realizing that you could not destroy anything that God had ordained, not even a friendship, you gave in and began to talk to me and not about me.

After we began talking directly, I messed up and shared something with you that was for our ears only. It was not long that the bone was brought back to me. I approached you and said, “Sharon, what I shared with you the other day was just for us.”

You said, “Oh, did I tell something that I was not to tell?”

And I said, “Yes, you did.”

You said, “Okay, Mrs. Samuel, let us get one thing straight. When you tell me something that I am supposed to keep, all I want you to say is, ‘Sharon, do not share this,’ and I won’t share it. I will take it to my grave.”

I did not have to call you a bad refrigerator ever again after that day.

Willie May Samuel will continue her homage to her late friend in next Sunday’s Rome News-Tribune. Samuel is a playwright and a director in Rome.

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